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eden2eve's avatar

In your experience, do abused people become abusers?

Asked by eden2eve (3693 points ) May 26th, 2010

Some time ago, it came out that my ex brother-in-law had been molesting young boys, usually in his capacity as a Boy Scout leader. I asked, and was told that he had been abused by an uncle as a young boy. He served time, and eventually appeared on an infamous talk show, incognito, to tell the world not to trust people such as him, because they would continue to abuse in most cases.

More recently, an acquaintance left her husband of 15 years, and by default, left her four young children. She was not leaving for another relationship, just said that her husband was emotionally distant. At first she visited the children on weekends, but has had no contact for nine months now, not even phone calls. She is about a half hour away from them and has a cell phone, so no physical excuses make sense to me. She was neglected by her mother, and has deep unresolved issues about that. I just don’t get this!

Do you think that it is more common for an abused or neglected person to continue the cycle of abuse, or is that just a myth based on a relatively few examples.? I’d think that someone who had the experience of being abused sexually, emotionally or physically might be more sensitive to the feelings of others and more determined to avoid doing the same thing to someone weaker.

I don’t want statistics or “scientific studies”, just personal observation and experience.

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30 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

My sister is just like my abusive father. My nephew is turning into his mother. I will never have children due to the fact that I see so much of my father in myself. I don’t want to continue the cycle.

I think those who don’t repeat the process are the rarity.

Draconess25's avatar

I was abused by my brother, & I’m extremely aggressive. My mom was molested by her uncle, & became an alcoholic.

Then again, we were already bitches before that shit happened.

dpworkin's avatar

It is almost certainly necessary, though not sufficient, for an abuser to have been abused.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Your ex-brother in law did a disservice, imo, by generalizing his experience and saying everyone is like that. I was molested by my brother and a family friend yet I never molested anyone, never even once considered it and I am now a mother of 2 children.

dpworkin's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir That’s what I meant by necessary, but not sufficient. I was abused but am not an abuser; I don’t think you will find an abuser who was not abused.

Blackberry's avatar

I think this depends on intelligence. I was abused (physically), but I have the knowledge and common sense to know that I do not want to start a vicious cycle and take my past out on an innocent child or animal or person.

CMaz's avatar

“Abusive behavior” can show itself in other forms then in the way the individual was abused to begin with.

Abused individuals can go in two directions, to become an abuser themselves or to continue the dance and find another abuser.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dpworkin I disagree. I think people randomly become abusers too.

dpworkin's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You may be right, but I have never heard of or seen that, and since I spent three years working with sexually abused children, I imagine that would have been taught to me if it were so. I will try to do some research and let you know what I find.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Different people have different coping mechanisms. Some people become abusers. Mine was to withdraw and hide myself for fear of being attacked, which, at the time of my abuse as a child until my early 30s, could be for any reason. I don’t think I would have abused others. I was much too timid and had enough empathy to not want to do such a thing.

My abuser, on the other hand, decided not to get help or talk to anyone about what was most certainly a horrific childhood living with my grandparents, and she abused her son and myself in turn. Actually, when I knew her, she was violent and aggressive toward anyone who she felt threatened her in any way, including adults.

OpryLeigh's avatar

Not necessarily. I was abused as a very young child and like @Simone_De_Beauvoir have no desire to do the same that was done to me. In fact, the very thought of it makes me feel physically sick.

CMaz's avatar

“have no desire to do the same that was done to me.”

That “desire” being a coping mechanisms. Which can manifest itself in other forms.

Draconess25's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Don’t mention it. I love giving hugs!

OpryLeigh's avatar

@ChazMaz I don’t really understand what your point is.

What I meant was I don’t abuse other people or animals and so, in answer to the question, this abused person didn’t become an abuser. The only person that my coping mechanisms effects negatively is myself so I suppose you could say that, because I have trouble trusting people, don’t sleep very well and feel constantly paranoid, I am abusing myself.

ucme's avatar

I’ve thankfully no experience of either.Therefore feel totally unqualified to possibly make any rationalised judgement .So I won’t.

dpworkin's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You are correct, although it does not seem to be random. Here is a quote (I am quoting here rather than posting a URL because you need to have an account to view this material.)

Psychiatric profiles used to classify sex offenders frequently report the presence of an antisocial personality disorder among child molesters, but sex offenders have a heterogeneous range of psychopathology and personality disorders and an accepted system for sexual offender classification and the contribution of perpetrator characteristics has not been established6 (Conte, 1984; Hartman and Burgess, 1989; Lanning, 1992; Prentky, 1990).

Currently, Faller has suggested an incest-assault continuum, noting that, although contributing factors from the cultural, environmental, individual, and family context will vary from case to case, sexual abuse requires “an adult who has sexual desires toward children and the willingness to act upon them” (Faller, 1988:115). Efforts to classify pedophiles and incest offenders have also focused on the style of abuse, drawing on information obtained from offender self-reports, criminal investigative reports, and victim reports (Hartman and Burgess, 1989). A series of research studies have sought to highlight critical factors in the style of sexual abuse, such as the degree of violence (Finkelhor, 1984; Wyatt and Newcomb, 1990), the relationships among sexual stimuli and violence stimuli and their respective arousal components (Hartman and Burgess, 1989); the offender-victim relationship (Panton, 1978; Wyatt and Newcombe, 1990), the victim’s and offender’s age (Armentrout and Hauer, 1978); and the offender’s level of education and mediators to negative outcomes (Knight, 1985; Wyatt and Newcombe, 1990).

Although the large majority of adult offenders in reported child sexual abuse cases are male, the increasing number of reports of female offenders suggests an unexplored pathway in examining the dynamics and origins of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor, 1987). Although women have been reported in a smaller number of cases (Finkelhor, 1987), concerns about detection bias, general research inattention to women, and the significance of maternal-child relations suggest that the role of female sexual offenders has been underestimated in research on child sexual abuse. Clinical studies of child victims of sexual abuse as well as adult offenders (based on retrospective studies) indicate that behavioral and perceptual disorders resulting from childhood sexual victimization may contribute to subsequent assault behavior (Becker, 1988; Hartman and Burgess, 1989).

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dpworkin I’ve read that over twice and it doesn’t really deal with what we’re talking about except in the last portion of the last paragraph where it does link the two.

eden2eve's avatar

Someone I know who was a sexual abuser stated in diary-type discourses that they loved feeling that they had power. That seemed to be the motivation. This was a female.

She mentioned this need for power in other aspects of her relationships, quite frequently. She had no reported incidences of sexual abuse in her own life. I had access to all of her medical records from various mental health facilities after her death. I would be inclined to say that there were none, based upon my knowledge of the circumstances. But she was emotionally abused by a family member as a young child. She did manifest, according to the medical records, several mental/personality disorders.

dpworkin's avatar

Maybe I didn’t get enough of the article for you. Basically it supports the idea that prior abuse is not a necessary contributory factor, which I didn’t realize was true, but you seemed to know. So I learned something, for which I am grateful. It still seems that they have to be pretty fucked up to do it, but I guess that’s not surprising.

dpworkin's avatar

@eden2eve That would seem to comport with what I just read – severe disorders, but not necessarily prior abuse.

eden2eve's avatar

Yes. The emotional abuse wasn’t significant, but seemed to be poorly dealt with by the person. From very young she seemed to have little-to-no coping skills. I believed later that the disorders existed from quite a young age, perhaps even infancy.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@dpworkin Have you come across studies that look at the coping skills of the abuser. It seems like some are able to cope with a trauma and some aren’t. The latter become the abusers?

dpworkin's avatar

Well from what I saw today, and I spent a couple of hours reading 2 or 3 papers, etiology is quite complex, and the sequellae from abuse are rather devastating. No one really copes, but not all identify with the abuser.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

The concept that the abuser is sexually attracted to a child and would inflict that type of damage on another human being is just so far out of my grasp.

MacBean's avatar

I don’t know if this will make any difference, but I just would like to note that I haven’t read any of the answers already posted (yet).

Of the abused people I know, I believe more have not kept the cycle of abuse going. However, of the abusers I know, most (and, actually, now that I’m really thinking about it, maybe all) were abused in their past.

shoebox's avatar

Some people go one way, the other ‘some’ go another…. it depends on their own desicions but sometimes the ones who do turn out to be abusers CAN be unfluenced by the past and what has happened to them…. but really, anyone can become an abuser.

There is no rarity, there is no chances there is nothing to it… being molested CAN BE an influence on their motives because its all they have learnt, just like any one can make a choice in life to do right or wrong.

Scarlett's avatar

I’m not sure how to answer this without getting my words mixed up, because I’m still coping with my previous abusive relationship.

When I got out of the abusive relationship (7 months), I moved in with my sister and the family.

After the break up I felt so lost, and missed my abuser. I didn’t know who I was.

I started becoming really bitchy, angry, hurt, depressed. I started lying and manipulating my family.

My sister even told me that I was becoming like my old abuser.

I think that happened was because all I knew was my abuser so I started acting like him and rebelling out – lying and manipulating.

But I would never still, in a million years, hurt my family – or anyone – like he has.

I’m still getting over this and going to go to therapy, I was abused but I can guarantee I wouldn’t abuse other people like he did to me.

tianalovesyou's avatar

yes. My Grandmother was abused in residential school. She abused my mom. My mom abuses me.

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