A lot of people are coming to this site through search terms such as “how do I stop being an abuser” and “how to stop abusing others”. I have had letters from people asking me for help to stop their abusive behaviour. I have not been able to post those letters on the site as the letter writers did not give me permission to do so but it seems there are people who are seeking help to change their ways.
My website designer encouraged me to write this article on how to stop abusive behaviour but it is not as easy as it may seem.
Most abuse prevention tends to focus on anger management and I plan to write an article for the site on that as soon as I work out how to fit 6 weeks of therapy into a single article.
The problem is there are so many types of abusers, kinds of abuse, and underlying reasons for abuse that one article really can’t cover them all. I have decided, for now, to just write the story of how I personally stopped being abusive towards other people.
The steps I took are steps most people would need to take but this is a very general view of the problem. Most people would need a lot more specific help than this article can possibly give and they will find the real help comes when they take step three.
My journey from abuser to non-abuser began when someone came into my life who was much more important to me than I was. When I gave birth to my son I felt he was a precious gift that I did not deserve. I set a goal for myself, to be the mother he deserved, then realised my goal could not be achieved if I did not change. My goal was important enough to me that I decided I had to change, not just want to, HAD to.
It is important to realise that the goal you set for triggering change needs to be personal not external. My goal was not to just stop being abusive. My motivation was not just to avoid losing my son. My goal was to BECOME someone, someone BETTER than I was, someone I could believe was worthy of, and deserved to have, the precious gift I had been given.
Here are the steps I took to become that person. According to both my children I achieved my goal of becoming a good mother. I hope these steps will help you, the reader, achieve yours too.
Step one – Admit YOU Have The Problem.
The hardest part of my journey was admitting to myself that I was an abusive person. I had never really been violent but I lied and stole to get my own way if it suited me. I played emotional “games” with people to get my own way too. I knew lying and stealing were wrong but it never occurred to me that all of these things were also forms of abuse.
In my mind I was a victim of abuse – not an abuser. I could always justify my behaviour to myself so I never saw it as a problem. My journey towards change began with the birth of my first child because that was when I found out I was, in fact, an abusive person!
I didn’t actually know it was not right to be screaming at an infant but I knew I didn’t like doing it. It felt wrong so I spoke to my doctor who dismissed my concerns and said the main thing was that I not hit my son. I was not entirely convinced he was right but I carried on trying not to get mad at my son and, like all untreated domestic violence always does, I got worse.
I graduated from screaming and yelling to pushing and slapping. The older my son got the worse my anger got and the less control I had over it. By the time he was two he was afraid of me and I was desperate to change.
I had discovered one thing that helped was to talk to other people about my anger and get their opinions on whether it was justified. I did that whenever I could find someone who would listen, stay calm, and talk to me without judging me.
I knew, however, that MY behaviour was the real problem – not my sons. I knew I was an abusive mother and I wanted to change. I was desperate to change.
Step two – Commit To Changing YOURSELF.
Changing yourself is one of the hardest things anyone can do. You need to have very strong motivations to be able to change yourself but I had them. All my life I had believed I was a mistake and should never have been born. When my son came along he provided me with a reason for existing – to raise him. This was my purpose, my only purpose, for having been born. I wanted to do my job as his mother as well as I possibly could.
I wanted to be the kind of mother to my son that I had longed to have as a child. I knew I would not have wanted a mother who acted the way I was acting so I did not want to BE that kind of mother. The problem was, I didn’t know how to be any different, I needed someone to teach me.
My determination to change, my commitment to my role as a mother, led me to search for help and information. I listened to people, read books and pinned a poster on my wall to remind me of my goals. The poster was titled “Children Learn What They Live” and it outlined the way to be a good mother for me. I tried hard to follow the principles it contained but it was not easy. There were things inside me that kept getting in the way. One of them was my anger and another was my ignorance.
Step Three – Get Help.
In those days there was not much help available for abusive people. There were no parenting courses or domestic violence help agencies. Bad mothers simply lost their children if they were bad enough.
I wanted to change but I didn’t know how. I needed someone to teach me how to be a good parent and I kept looking for such a person.
When my son was two I met a man. His upbringing had been the exact opposite of mine and I watched the way he interacted with my son. He was the kind of person I would have loved to have for a parent so I took notice of him and tried to learn from him.
He laughed at things I thought were serious offenses. He explained to me they were normal mistakes or normal naughtiness. He said all kids do such things and, whilst they do need to be taught not to do them, they need to be taught in appropriate ways.
I married him.
He, and his family, taught me many of the things my mother had done to me were simply not at all acceptable behaviour so I stopped doing those things to my children.
He wouldn’t accept certain types of behaviour from me, he said they were unacceptable and abusive towards him, so I stopped doing them.
I learned a great deal about how to be a non-abusive wife and mother from him but, sadly, he had faults of his own. When I went to university I learned about the more subtle forms of abuse and tried to teach him to stop using those on me.
He was not willing to learn from me and refused to accept there was any need for him to change so the marriage ended.
You, the reader of this article, will need to find your own resources to get help from.
You can keep an eye on this site as I will be adding more articles to help you but, while you are waiting, call any helplines you have available in your country. Helplines are a good place to get referrals, particularly domestic violence/family violence helplines. There are some agencies who provide free counselling to people, sometimes there are free community education programmes or parenting courses you can enroll in and helplines are likely to know who they are and be able to give you contact details.
You can also search the internet, as you have done to find your way here already, and find more articles and information.
A good source of help is what is known as a “Role Model”. That was my primary source of help. My ex-husband became my role model because he already was the kind of parent I wanted to be – the kind of parent I would have loved to have. Look around you, is there someone you know who IS the kind of person you want to be in the situations you are looking for help with?
If there is someone get to know them and ask questions. Find out how they think and why they think the way they do. Ask them, if you can, before acting “what would you do or say in this situation” then try to learn from them and behave the way they would behave.
Making these changes won’t come easy but practice makes perfect. The more often you stop, ask yourself what your role model would do, and change your behaviour accordingly the easier it will get and, eventually, you will be acting the new way out of habit and won’t need to make so much effort.
Step four – Keep Learning.
During my studies into psychology I learned about human beings. I learned what is normal behaviour and what is abusive. I learned about human development and the limitations we have as human beings. I learned why we do the things we do and how to change things I did not like about myself as well as how to accept the things I did not like that were normal.
I learned where my anger came from, how to recognise when it was coming, how to control it and I even learned to stop getting angry at all in many cases.
I learned to accept other people had a right to be who they were regardless of how I felt about their behaviour. I learned the only rights I had, when it came to other people, was to accept them as they were or stay away from them.
I learned to alter other people’s behaviour towards me by focusing on them and what they needed from me. It almost never fails that, when you give other people what they need, they tend to want to give to you in return. Those who do NOT are people to avoid!
I learned life skills such as problem solving, negotiation, communication, relaxation, how to resolve conflicts and so on.
I remain open to new ideas, willing to be wrong, willing to learn. I have become the kind of mother I wanted to be so now I’ve set a new goal.
Now I want to be the best ME I can be and that means staying open to new information and being willing to change if it looks like change is needed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect. I can still be quite abusive at times. That is why I have called this my journey. Perfection is a journey – it is NOT a destination.
I hope this has helped point the way for you as you begin your own journey towards who you want to be.