Are Abusers Victims of Abuse?

childhoodA common myth about abusive relationships says that people who abuse their partners were victims of childhood abuse themselves, and they’re simply perpetuating a cycle they were trapped in at a young age. However, this is something that research just doesn’t bear out. It’s true that many abusers will claim to have been victims of abuse, either by parents or by previous partners, but once they are told they will be hooked up to a lie detector test, those claims suddenly dissipate. Abusers know how to hook people’s sympathy. But what we have found is that abusers are much likely than average to have seen their father figures abuse their mother figures. And an even stronger connection comes with abuse survivors. People who are abused by their partners as adults are much more likely to have been abused as children.

To me, this makes perfect sense. Most of us, in one way or another, attempt to relive our childhood experiences with our adult partners. And when we’re talking about negative experiences, the draw is much stronger. We think, somewhere deep in our subconscious, that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time we can get the person to accept us or love us, and now maybe we can heal.

I saw this in my own experiences. What really finally really woke me up to the reality of my experience was that I would hear my abuser say, almost verbatim, the exact things my own (not abusive but certainly extremely unavailable) father would say to me in childhood.

“I don’t need to know anything about you. Are you clothed? Fed? Then I’ve done my job.”


“I don’t need to know anything about you. Did you pay the rent this month? Good. Then I’ve got what I need.”

Hearing that was the moment I snapped to attention and realized what I was doing. That was the moment I decided to seek therapy and make sure that come hell or high water, I was not living that life anymore.

But think about it. It wasn’t the violence, the terror, the years of paranoia. It wasn’t the persistent insults, accusations, and theft. It was the realization that I wouldn’t be able to heal my childhood pain. The realization that it wouldn’t turn out differently this time. That no matter what I did, this man wouldn’t love me in a way that felt like love. I couldn’t make myself small enough, good enough, giving enough for him to be willing to see me. My Chiron wounds would just keep gaping. My childhood trauma would find no resolution here.

And his? Well, he was very much a textbook case. He wasn’t abused, but his mother was. And to a truly harrowing degree. I like to think that maybe I did help him with that. Because when I finally escaped, when I finally stood up and said, “No. Never again.”?  Well, that was things turning out a little differently than they did for his mother. That cycle ended with me. I can only hope it ended with him as well.

How have you seen childhood experiences play out in adult relationships?

Consult with Midara.



Are Abusers Victims of Abuse? — 16 Comments

  1. I think this is often true in the case of physical violence, but sexual abusers have often been sexually abused themselves. Abuse is really complex… A lot of people that were sexually abused also turn a blind eye to their own children being abused by others as well.

    As a survivor of physical and verbal abuse, I have dated men that were not physically violent but emotionally abusive. I chalk that up to the betrayal I’ve endured by the men in my family—tormented by masculine rage as a young girl or my emotionally unavailable father, as examples.

    But, I was romantically involved with a man that ended up being emotionally and verbally abusive. He had Mars sq. Pluto and early on I asked if he was abused and he said his mother was very verbally abusive to him growing up. So, I don’t know, again, it is very complex… and who knows what else he may not have shared. Abuses are often hidden…

  2. as for my astro — Mars Chiron in 8th opposite Saturn for starters

    Pluto Rising in Scorpio from my 12th opposite Sun

    and yes, what you said about healing and seeking through partners and reliving the experiences for a different ending rings true and of course the crisis of the experience and from the pain, I’ve learned were always reckonings from the universe to wake me up to the pattern… fortunately most of that I worked out in my 20’s… however, always a work in progress

  3. I’m no fan of holding firm on stats, especially because of my experience as a psychology major, in my senior year and doing very well.
    Stats are very biased and are within the W.I.E.R.D paradigm: western, industrial, educated, rich, and democratic. Most stats to don’t reflect the overall reality of any subject, so holding firm on them is dubious.

    But I get your point. The problem is, the truth is mixed, not absolute. Those who perpetuate violence were around it, whether experienced directly or watched. It affects a person either way. There is a real need for help on a community and society level. How to do it? So many answers.

    • Yes violence begets violence. That’s why many men who are have served in the military or are police officers can be domestic abusers. They learn that violence is how to control a situation.
      This is the thing, My ex would tell you he was not abused. His dad died of a brain tumor when my ex was 13. His dad was put in a mental hospital before they found the tumor. So his Dad was having anger issues. He did tell me about a time he said no to his mother when he was 6 and his dad hit him so hard he flew into a wall. He did not think it was abuse but appropriate. Maybe if the stats says they were not abused, the stats might be off as the abusers might not think what happened to them was abuse?

      • I have lots of friends in the military and police, and correctional officers in prison.

        There are those who have the idea that they are meant to be the boss, that they can tell others what to do, and usually those of that mindset who join such public positions are not fit at all. They come from a condescending place, one of unequal standing. And at times, they weren’t abused, just grew up in a world where dominance is the theme, whether from a male or female person because that ideal can be perpetuated from almost anyone, but usually males.

        I, and many others, find that screenings aren’t thorough, that it’s too short, not in depth.

        But regarding stats, it’s just that those creating the questionnaires are bias by nature, and reading the questions isn’t uniform across all people who help gather data for studies. Also, those answering foresee an image of themselves with others in mind, so they answer in particular ways that isn’t honest. Plus, there is now way in hell that every single person in the US or the world answered the questionnaire. So many other details wrong with stats but these are basic, overall issues.

  4. This was exactly my experience. I was abused by my mother,I married my first husband that was my mother all over again. Yes I did try to resolve the lack of love from my mother with my ex. My mom used to beat me and then cry and say she was sorry. My ex would do the exact same thing. Forgiveness was preached to me since birth.Ah. classic psychology. This is another reason I am so analytical. I just have to understand this. The more I understand the more I can forgive. Some things about my childhood I am still struggling to understand.

  5. I think there was one of the comments in here last week that really got my attention. It was from an older post about bitchy women who had a subconscious Mars.

    Someone noted that it was probably transference. That in reality you’re mad at X – but you haven’t dealed with your anger, so you take it out on Y. That made a whole lotta sense. It’s so common that you could write a song about it, but the issue stands to this day that a lot of us do it. Either in friendships or partnerships.

    For me, that was also why I found emotionally cold men, closed off emotionally. Men who carried so much shame over themselves and a LOT of anger towards women, and they put their shame onto me. As my own mom did, while being the victim of a very abusive partner – my dad. I found partners that made me see how bluidy angry I was with both of my parents. But still – I sought out men to save me or love me as none of my parents had ever listened to my feelings with a lot of empathy.
    Progressed Pluto was in my progressed 7th house all that time. I really noticed what you said, Midara, in your previous post about Pluto in the 7th house: “Who bad can it hurt” – well… pretty bad!

    I did not see my dad for almost 10 years. Then, one day, he was gone – dead – for 4 minutes, due to his alcoholic ways.
    He lived, but with another mindset. We have sort of healed the past with each other. He has been listening and said he was sorry. I have forgiven him for being an asshole my first 20 years. It was very freeing (even if he is not perfect).
    Now, my mother and I are estranged. She has parkinsons. It’s a real mess. These two were like dog and cat.

    This year I have attended my longest and most intensive therapy period. I dealed with some of the mother pain. I began to give the love she should be giving me, to myself. I started to heal myself and accept the break with her. I let go of a lot of things in therapy with her “sitting in front of me in the chair” – it was very cathartic with a therapist by your side. So, yes. Things can heal. It’s not easy. But then, when you know yourself, you will meet THAT man, who loves you for your whole, wonderful and weird self. The man who is not perfect himself, but has the emotional integrity you so much wanted in your parents, that wasn’t there. And so you will commit, in a naturally and fluid process, because your synastry just sparks joy and your North node is conjunct his Sun in the 7th house or such other wonderful aspect, where there is an open invitation to explore the things you can do together, in a comitting, loving marriage-like relationship.

    You might even move in together, even if you swore to yourself that you would NEVER let anyone get so close again, after the last disaster in that department that BBQ’ed your heart in the red coals and ate it with chili sauce for lunch.

    You discover you might have healed enough to let another person so close to you, better, wiser and more mature – you hope… #TrueStory

  6. OMG yes… I unwittingly married my family of origin, aka FOO. The In-laws are the same but just encased in a ‘prettier’ package. They are passive-aggressive whereas my FOO was aggressive. I think the former can be worse. Took me 25 years and the death of my narcissistic mother in order to detach and understand scapegoating and begin the healing process. Long, winding, sometimes back-sliding road to recovery….

  7. I just want to thank you Midara for these posts.
    I am trying to extricate myself from an abusive relationship – as per normal: they do a good job of isolating & creating dependency – so, it isn’t easy & feels impossible, but you’re an inspiration to me
    The book ‘Why does he do that?’ is utterly amazing & eye opening.
    Abusers abuse – there ya go. That simple. No excuses

    • ((CindyRenee))

      That book is amazing. It really helps to demystify abuse and short-circuit the tendency to focus on abusers’ motivations. Abusers are already experts at focusing on themselves. Why add fuel to the fire?

      You’ll make it out of there. You can do it. If you ever want to talk, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. <3

  8. Oh yes very true for me.

    Another thing I heard from a child therapist was that the psychological affects of witnessing abuse are the same as actually enduring abuse (and of course, I hope everyone at this point understand that there are many different types of abuse).

  9. This is such an insightful post and the comments so poignant. I’ve tried to write more about it here but for now will just leave my appreciation for those actively involved in healing.

  10. This Gem had a Cap mother who suffered an affluent but very strict upbringing with no real love but lots of obligations. Approval only came by distinguishing yourself in some way and being the best. My Mom was great at teaching social skills and discipline but just wasn’t physical with her kids. She did believe in harsh physical punishment(sometimes in public!), earning an allowance from a young age and taking away many privileges! We were warned to never embarrass or shame the family. She softened as a grandma I’m happy to say. My sibs and I cut out physical punishment and kept the affection flowing with the kids. We treated them as wanted and loved.

  11. Your father’s and ex-boyfriend’s similar comments ring true for me, too, Midara. My players were my mother and ex-husband. I want and deserve healthy, honest love relationships. My 1H Pisces Moon opposes my 7H Virgo Pluto: love-related power plays.

  12. Both my parents were (overtly and covertly) aggressive, abusive, sadistic, malicious, heartless. I’m the eldest and I was born with a loving heart since I remember myself. Both my sisters were born malevolent. My sisters were pampered as children, treated like royalty, whereas I was treated as a psychological punch-bag.

    If it was true that being abused as a child results in you becoming an abuser later, then I’d be an abuser myself. I’ve never been, I just can’t, it’s not in me. Both of my pampered sisters are getting more malicious as the years go by. I know them since they were born and I’m pretty certain they were born heartless.

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