Do you become Abusive, or are you born Abusive?

English: This is the Brother of the set of two...

English: This is the Brother of the set of two “Brother and Sister” carvings by Benjamin Schleifman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The whole Nature/Nurture debate goes on in many realms. After reading the comments on my previous post, I have been thinking about this: Why do some people grow up to be abusive, and some do not? Why do some people endure impossible situations, but come out whole eventually, knowing the value of people and never becoming abusive?

No one knows what happens to make someone cross the line between normal parenting mishap, and actual abuse. I do wonder how many events were carefully planned, calculated, and carried out by my parents to keep us under control, always doubting, fearing, and never loving.

We always look for answers to explain psychopathic behavior, and often I have been asked if my dad was abused as a child. As if that would explain his monstrous behavior. I do know my dad’s dad was alcoholic and unemployed after an injury, but my grandpa died before I was born. My dad’s mother was loud, angry, opinionated, crass, rude, but I don’t know if she was abusive. She worked in a hospital, tending to wounds, so I can’t imagine her as selfish as my dad. My dad’s brothers and sisters are all odd and loud, but as far as I know, they were all decent parents and spouses. My dad was in the air force, but worked as a radio tech, not on the front lines of combat. I don’t think he had PTSD. He seemed to have no conscience, sometimes I think no soul.

Can a child be born without a soul? With no ability to learn right from wrong? Unable to feel guilt or remorse? Or did something happen to make him that way? Was he born the same innocent, precious child as the rest of us, and something terrible happened to mutate his genes and render him incapable of normal emotions? And then, when that happens, is it then inevitable that this person will make hurting others his daily goal? I just don’t understand.

To explain the level of psychosis in my dad I will share a conversation my brother told me he had with him shortly after I told everyone what dad had been doing to me all my life. My brother could not believe it at first, he was still under my dad’s power, still trying to be the good son – no – the best son. He was raised to think of my dad as God, all powerful, perfect. So when he found out his perfect dad was a pedophile, a sexual deviant, that he abused his little girl, it was devastating. My brother confronted my dad, asking if it was true. My dad did not care enough to deny it. In fact, my brother said my dad laughed a bit, and said “Yes of course I touched your sister. I’d have sex with my own sister if given the chance. The world has put these ridiculous rules on who we can or can’t look at, when truthfully every man lusts for every girl and without society in the way, we would all be able to put taboos aside and act on our desires freely.”

Of course this is not the story he told the police, or child services, or whoever else came to question him. They got the charming man, the man who didn’t understand why his ex-wife and daughter could stoop so low and drag his name in the mud. He painted a picture of a money-hungry ex out for revenge that got her daughter to make false claims. Everyone believes charming man, he is so persuasive.

So, he knows what society considers right/wrong, but he does not agree. How does this happen? To most of us, these things are very clearly defined, no question about it. To most of us, it is revolting, horrifying to think of getting sexually aroused and even worse to think of acting on those feelings with a family member, and even worse yet to think of an infant or toddler. So was this man (if you can call him a man) born like this, or created somehow?

I don’t know the answer. All I can say is, being abused does not make you an abusive monster. It may increase the chances, but I think that ability had to be inside to begin with.

17 thoughts on “Do you become Abusive, or are you born Abusive?

  1. My sister and I have debated how out NM came to be where she is. Over the years, we watched her choose the “easy” way, the path of least resistance. Personally, I think these monsters don’t choose at the onset to be a monster, but hundreds of thousands of little choices lead them down the path, and they choose to never turn away from it. Somewhere along the way, my sister and I decided to make different choices, no matter how difficult it might be to change. I think it all comes down to what a person chooses over a lifetime.

    • After reading your comment, and then ntexas, I guess I never thought of each abusive action as a *choice*. I do think of my parents as cowards, too weak to do what is right in most cases. My mom is also powered by her need to *appear* to be a great mom to onlookers. My dad’s entire self is false, but he feels he needs to be in control and that he has never done anything wrong. I don’t think he saw any choices, just ways to do what he wanted without getting caught.

      • Somewhere, sometime, they made a choice to ignore their conscience, that little voice in their head that told them they were doing something wrong, and then kept ignoring it. I don’t believe in “no choice.” I have found myself feeling like there is no other choice, but if I look closely it is because the other choice is not something I would consider, but the choice is there. It isn’t an excuse I’m willing to give myself if I can help it. Old habits die hard. Yes, they’re cowards. They choose themselves instead of choosing someone else.

  2. “Can a child be born without a soul? With no ability to learn right from wrong? Unable to feel guilt or remorse? Or did something happen to make him that way? Was he born the same innocent, precious child as the rest of us, and something terrible happened to mutate his genes and render him incapable of normal emotions? And then, when that happens, is it then inevitable that this person will make hurting others his daily goal? I just don’t understand.” This is where the confusion lies, for (I believe) every person who’s lives have been touched by a Psychopath/Sociopath. In my situation, I was chosen from a “line-up” of others. The man claimed “love” and “caring”, and yet he DID seek out to damage and control…from the get-go. It’s one question that will remain unanswered, for me. I’ve just learned to accept it as best as I can. The confusion remains, still.

    As I fight to take back everything that was removed from me, I am finding that the confusion he left (the feeling of it being unsettled) is fading. The question remains, but the turmoil that the confusion created is dwindling.

    I agree with Judy… I believe some are born without a conscience. They are born the animals they are, who’s motions and decisions to hunt are purely instinctual. As humans, we are taught right from wrong. In that knowledge (even if the heart isn’t behind it) even the Narcs and Psychopaths KNOW what they are doing is wrong. They feel it, they want it, they have it. That’s all they know and will accept for themselves, no matter WHO they are hurting.

    • I agree with so much in your comment. My turmoil has also decreased, yet the confusion remains. I am no longer desperately seeking answers, just trying to understand. I know my dad knows what society feels is wrong, but I really don’t think he feels he has done anything wrong, and actually feels like he is a victim for not being able to act on his urges every time he chooses. He does fear jail and so has learned to hide his true self. I know my dad at some point was making choices to control and damage, but I always wonder how it started. Because my parents did not teach me right/wrong, but somehow I knew. I am really wondering if there is a genetic/physical component to these type of abusive people.

      • I have become quite the researcher about these individuals…sociopaths/psychopaths…There are so many varying types, I’m sure genetics do play a factor in “some”, though I also believe some are created. Doc Bonn places that differentiation between Psychopath vs Sociopath. The difference remains between ‘normals’ and ‘psycho/sociopaths’…we have a conscience and care about other’s feelings and well-being. Psycho/socios have no conscience, and NO empathy. They know (what is accepted in society, humanity) right from wrong..they just think their desires are more important that the people they hurt, or that what they are doing/have done is wrong. They just don’t care about anyone but themselves. Sickeningly so.

  3. I’m hesitant to comment, because my view has evolved to a completely different place on this question, but I’ll try to explain the best way I can. During the time that I was still being sexually abused by my father, the message was constantly hammered into me that abused people become abusers, so I grew up as a child who was terrified of adulthood, because I didn’t want to be the kind of person who hurts other people. Because this message had been so indelibly written into my memory, I truly and completely believed that there was no choice about it at all. I was horrified at the thought that I would grow up to be a person like my father — someone who molested young children and caused such widespread pain and suffering. I can remember making the decision, when I was very young still, (maybe 8 or 9), that I would never have a husband and I would surely NEVER have children, because I just couldn’t bear the thought of hurting people. In some ways, before I had even reached puberty, I had already experienced a sort of mourning for the life I would never know (marriage, babies). I believed that because of what my father did to me, that it was inevitable that I would be the same way, so the only obvious answer was to never be a mom.

    I think that “knowing” this was a big part of the reason why I tried to take my own life so many different times as a young person. First, I was just trying to escape the pain of my circumstances, but also, I had no reason to believe that my life might ever improve. I was promised a life where I would become like him; where I would physically and sexually assault children. I detested the person I was going to become, so I started off very early hating myself, (for actions I hadn’t taken, but believed I would take). It was all so complicated. I was too young then to understand that there was any choice about it at all … I was raised as if this were FACT, and not choice.

    I don’t think I ever truly understood that choice was a factor until after I had entered into therapy (early 20’s), when I was dating the man that would become my husband. I had someone who loved me, and who wanted to have children with me, and when I tried to explain to him that we could never have children because I was going to be the kind of parent who molested and abused their children, he was not only shocked and appalled, but thankfully, also patient. He knew me as someone who was tender-hearted and generous and loving, and he kept telling me that I could NEVER become that kind of parent. Long story short, eventually, through lots of therapy, and through seeing myself through the eyes of my fiance, I slowly began the process of learning how to believe that “being abused automatically makes you become an abuser” was false information that had been imprinted into my brain, and that just because I had been taught to believe this information was true, did not make it true.

    That I had a CHOICE about whether it would be true or not.

    That really simplifies the whole process for the sake of brevity, but you get the idea. I grew up believing it was inevitable that I would become an abuser, so I tried to kill that person before they became an abuser. Then I tried to deny that person the benefit of a relationship, and marriage, because I was adamant about not letting the abuser come into existence. Then I denied that person the right to have children, because there was no way in hell I was going to allow that person to surface, nor was I willing to “test the theory” on my own children. I absolutely and without question believed it was a foregone conclusion that I would become an abuser.

    When I went through the therapy process and finally began to believe that there was CHOICE about the end result, I also finally learned that false information had been planted in my head as fact, and this helped me learn how to question lots of other “facts” that had been planted in my head as truths. In other words, I had to unlearn all the false information, and work very hard at relearning new truths. This might have been the turning point in my therapy that helped me finally begin walking down the path towards healing. If that one thought was false, (all abused people become abusers), then WHAT ELSE about what I believed to be true was also nothing more than a lie that had been imprinted on my brain? It was a scary time, because everything I knew as true suddenly became false, but it was also a very empowering time. I started learning about building my own truth, and working towards a life that more closely resembled what I hoped my life might look like.

    That doesn’t mean I didn’t stumble, and even fall, and it doesn’t mean that sometimes I didn’t still catch myself believing all those old lies as truth, but it did, at least, give me another option. It opened the door to the possibility that I could change the person I thought I was “destined” to be, and that was a huge relief.

    One more thought, before I leave the subject, even though I know this comment is waaaay too long. You’ll notice at the beginning that I said I was raised to believe that all people who are abused become abusers.

    I later learned, (much much later), that my mother, who was violently and methodically very physically abusive towards me my entire life, was raised in a strict Catholic environment in which she was never physically abused. She didn’t know anything about physical abuse until she married my father. He began physically abusing her very early in their marriage, and continued physically assaulting her during all the years (12 years) they were married, (breaking bones, knocking out teeth, cutting her with knives, trying to drive over her with the car, pushing her out of second story windows, choking her until she passed out).

    My father was raised in a home where his father sexually assaulted his wife and daughters (and other female family members), and physically assaulted his wife. My father had also been encouraged to sexually assault his sisters.

    So my mother was not raised in an abusive environment, but later became an abusive parent. My father was raised in an abusive environment, and became an abusive husband and parent.

    My father never talked about his childhood. Everything I learned about his childhood came from my Aunts (his sisters). He grew up with the belief that worse than the actual acts of violence and abuse, was talking about it, so he refused to ever speak about it. Even though, much later in our relationship, when he was nearing death and wanted to clear his conscience, and I had already been through lots of therapy and had raised my own family, he really WANTED to talk about it, he still was unable to discuss it. He was raised believing that you should take that to your grave, and he did. To him, speaking badly about his parents was the worst sin imaginable. No, it doesn’t make sense that he was capable of being a horrifically abusive person, but he was incapable of speaking badly about his parents. It was a different generation, and a different time.

    Thankfully, we grew up in the generation that finally began speaking out about the abuse. I am a firm believer that unearthing all those secrets and examining all the lies that are embedded within them is necessary to break the cycle of abuse.

    My father would later tell me (after many healing conversations) that he grew up believing it was inevitable that he would become an abuser, but that, as an adult, he had no option other than to eventually acknowledge that it had been a choice for him, rather than a chemically-driven inevitably, or something hereditary that he was powerless to change. He eventually said something to me that actually was very helpful in allowing me to accept his apologies, and move forward. He simply stated that he had been weak against his sexual deviance. Finally, something true.

    For many years he had told himself the same lies your father told — that he was simply acting on his natural urges, and that in a different society, this would be considered normal behavior, and it would not be considered any big deal. My father spouted those lies well into his late 50’s. If he wasn’t denying that the abuse ever happened, he was justifying why the abuse wasn’t abuse, but was just men following their natural urges. It wasn’t until after years of talking with him as I was going through the various stages of therapy, that I was able to confront him and tell him that in order for me to continue healing, I really needed him to take responsibility for his actions, and that I would really appreciate it if he would try to explain WHY he thought this had happened, that he finally, finally, finally spoke the truth. He had been weak. It was that simple.

    I had always seen him as omnipotent … stronger than the gods, even … as someone so evil and powerful that nothing would stand in their way, and even though it took almost thirty years, I finally was able to see him for what he really was … a mortal man who was weak, and powerless.

    I was given the gift of having some healing with both my parents before they died, and I know how fortunate I am to have experienced that …. I’ve talked with lots of women who were abused that never had that closure with their parents, and now their parents have died, and they are still working through the steps of healing. Two of the biggest discoveries that helped me begin to heal was learning that it really was about CHOICE, and also finally understanding that my father wasn’t a monster at all, but rather, just a normal human man who was weak and powerless.

    Knowing this helped me finally begin to believe that I wasn’t automatically going to become an abusive person. It taught me that I could be strong, and I could make my own choices.

    • I have read this so many times. I also knew from a very young age that I would never marry or could not afford to have dreams like other kids. When I was pre-teen though, it was because I thought I was disgusting, worthless, and not really even worth the air I breathed. I thought I was a bother to everyone. The first time I tried to end my life I was in 5th grade, and it was to release the world from my nuisance, not so much to end my pain. I’m just shaking my head as I write that now, can’t believe that was me.

      When I started babysitting as a teenager, I was terrified I would *flip out* and do something horrible. I remember changing diapers and wondering if I had any sexual feelings. I didn’t, but each time I was waiting for it to show up.

      Then when I had my own kids, I was terrified of each strong feeling I had. My first never slept, had colic, and I was overwhelmed and dove into postpartum depression. I would feel frustrated and then numb, and worried the numb feelings would turn into the coldness and cruelty of my father. And then when my kids got older, and started saying NO to me, I felt completely out of control and would get so angry. I was terrified that the anger meant I would hurt them.

      So I get what you are saying, I had always been afraid that I was so damaged, or that I was created from this bad man, so I would turn out that way too – with no choice. The thing is though, is wasn’t exactly a choice I made to not abuse the kids – it never crossed my mind. I never desired to hurt them. Ever. I never looked at their naked bodies and desired to touch them. So I guess my question is, what creates this desire in some people, that they then have to make a choice like this?

  4. Pingback: Nature vs. Nurture « Invisible Shadow

  5. I will say that having been abused, I think that I was less likely to abuse because I knew I could not put someone through what I had been through…because I knew just how horrible it felt and how much it messed me up. People who abuse are weak and feel powerless so they have to bolster themselves by making others feel weaker and even more powerless. Whether this is something they are born with or not, it is almost always the case. Some of us are just made of better stuff than others. I am so sorry for what you went through.

    I recently had a conversation with my mother where she told me I was a liar and that she never beat on me. I told her that she was a liar and that I was not going to listen to her anymore. Then she threw it back in my face how every time something bad goes on in my life she has to listen to me lying about her and saying “well you beat on me”. She still refuses to admit it even to herself. I think that these abusers can sometimes be so convincing that they convince themselves of their lies. It is sad. Almost enough to make you feel bad for them…almost…not quite.

  6. Pingback: Do you become abusive, or are you born abusive? | Psychopath Awareness

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