can abusers change

Is Change Possible In An Abuser?

People change.

That small, two-word sentence is actually a huge, significant statement that carries a lot of weight. We grow up learning about change — the inevitability of it, the uncertainty it can bring. We change — our opinions, personalities, careers, friends and much more.

Some changes feel like they happen overnight. Others are more conscious, and they have to be, like overcoming an addiction or correcting a personality flaw that’s harmful to ourselves or others.

If you’re the one wanting a loved one to change, it can feel impossible — but we hold onto the hope that they will change, because we desperately want them to, because we remember how they were different in the past (and if they changed for the worse, can’t they change for the better?)

Can an abusive partner really change?

While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so — and even then, it’s a lot easier said than done.

In discussing why abusers abuse , it’s clear that a lot of the causal factors behind these behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege — which can be extremely difficult to truly change. Because of this, there’s a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.

One part of changing may involve an abusive partner willingly attending a certified batterer intervention program that focuses on behavior, reflection and accountability. At the Hotline we don’t recommend couples counseling, anger management, substance abuse programs or mental health treatments for abusers to learn about and deal with their abusive patterns (although oftentimes these can helpfully supplement a batterer intervention program).

How can abusers change?

According to author Lundy Bancroft, the following are some changes in your partner that could indicate they’re making progress in their recovery:

  • Admitting fully to what they have done
  • Stopping excuses and blaming
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior they use
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive their abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long processnot declaring themselves “cured”
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made
  • Not treating improvements as vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (ex. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so it’s not a big deal)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying their weight and sharing power
  • Changing how they respond to their partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing how they act in heated conflicts
  • Accepting the consequences of their actions (including not feeling sorry for themselves about the consequences, and not blaming their partner or children for them)

Learn more about Lundy Bancroft here and check out some of his helpful books, including “Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.”

As Bancroft notes, truly overcoming abusiveness can be an ongoing, often lifelong process.

No one deserves abuse, and it’s never too late to seek help. While we hope abusive partners will change, it’s not always realistic to expect that they can and will. Focus on changes you can control to improve your own life, because you deserved to feel loved, happy and safe.

In the words of artist Andy Warhol, “When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then… You can’t make them change if they don’t want to.”

recommended books

Life After Abuse: Helpful Books to Check Out

Moving on from an abusive relationship can be an incredibly hard process. If you find yourself struggling to cope and heal, consider a trip to a bookstore or the library to pick up one of these books.

1)  After abuse ends, feelings of inadequacy and shame can last. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, author Brené Brown explores these difficult emotions and places importance on accepting imperfection and vulnerability. She guides readers through a process of beginning to “engage with the world from a place of worthiness” and learning to love yourself just as you are.

2) Author Pema Chödrön echoes Brown’s advice in her own book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Through an explanation of basic Buddhist beliefs, she instructs readers on how to cope with the difficulty of the past and present. Her text is filled with positive affirmations while she discusses communication, reversing habitual patterns, using pain to cultivate courage, and more.

3) If you’ve recently left a relationship and you have children, their wellbeing will undoubtedly be one of the most important concerns through your own healing process. In When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, Lundy Bancroft offers advice for how to talk with your kids about the abuse, help them deal with the separation, and rebuild your life together.

4) Figuring out where to begin again after a relationship ends can leave survivors feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock discusses this complicated and frightening time. The book acts as a manual for rebuilding your life after abuse, by focusing on strategies for recovery, learning how to establish healthy relationships in the future, and more.

5) One of the essential ways to begin coping with abuse is to start to understand the dynamics of the abuse: why it happened, why your abuser didn’t change, and why it wasn’t your fault. In Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft addresses all of that and more, painting a clear picture to help survivors (or those still in an abusive relationship) understand what they’ve gone through.

6) Even long after abuse, experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common. Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women by Mari McCaig and Edward S. Kubany is full of trauma recovery techniques called ‘cognitive trauma therapy’ to help cope with the aftermath of abuse. The book contains exercises for breaking down negative thoughts, dispelling feelings of helplessness, and beginning a happier, healthier life.

If you’re struggling with abuse or have left an abusive relationship, what books have you read? Which were most helpful?

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

In a Washington Post article from early February, the authors (two state attorneys) describe children who are exposed to incidents of domestic violence as the “invisible victims.” They write:

As prosecutors, we have long noted with distress how often children are present when violent crimes are committed. Kids don’t need to be the target of the violence to be scarred by it. Ask any adult who witnessed domestic violence while growing up; decades later, he or she will still be able to talk vividly of the event and how it affects them today.”

Domestic abuse affects everyone — family, friends, and even the community. As highlighted in the Post article, children often are affected if they are living in a space where this is taking place. They become the ‘secondary’ victims of the abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual, and whether it takes place constantly or in isolated incidents.

Here are some interesting facts about children and domestic violence:

  • Over half of female domestic violence victims live in households withchildren under the age of 12.
  • Research indicates that up to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence know what is going on.
  • In a study of more than 6,000 families in the United States, it was reported that half of the men who physically abused their wives also abused their children. Also, older children are frequently assaulted when they interfere to defend or protect the victim.
  • A child’s exposure to domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
  • Childhood abuse and trauma has a high correlation to both emotional and physical problems in adulthood, including tobacco use, substance abuse, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression and a higher risk for unintended pregnancy.

How Can I Help

One resource for learning how to assist children in these situations is Lundy Bancroft’s “Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse,” in which he shares ways parents can encourage their children to cope, heal and talk about the abuse they’ve seen.

If your child is witnessing abuse in your home, what you’re experiencing is likely made even worse by the worry and concern you feel for your child. It’s important to remember that both you and your children’s needs are important.

Have conversations. Let children know that it’s okay to talk about what has happened. Stress that abuse is wrong, but avoid criticizing the abuser if they are a parent or parent-figure to the child.

Remind your kids that the abuse is never their fault. Make sure that they know that you care about them. Children are extremely resilient, and while the impact of abuse can be long lasting, knowing that they have someone to depend on that loves them will help them heal.

Above all, proceed with caution and listen to your instincts. Tap into what you feel is best for both you and your child. There are often pros and cons of either staying with or leaving an abusive partner. It can be a dangerous situation either way. If you do decide to leave your relationship, consider when and how to best leave. Allow children to be open about their feelings in the process, and devise a safety plan (whether staying or leaving).

Call The Hotline toll free, 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for more information about what you can do.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs

The following blog entry was written by Lundy Bancroft. It has been reprinted with permission from his blog. Lundy Bancroft is an author, workshop leader, and activist on trauma, abuse, and healing. He offers dramatically new ways to understand the behavior of abusers and strategies for holding them accountable. He also brings fresh insight into the emotional injuries that trauma and abuse cause, their lasting effects, and how best to get ourselves free. He believes that all people have the right to live free from abuse and oppression. For more information about his work please click here to visit his website.

One of the questions I most commonly get asked at speaking events is, “Do programs for abusive men work?” My answer is that, when they are run well, they work as well as we can expect them to in the time they are given. A typical length for a batterer program is 52 hours — that is to say, 26 weeks for two hours a week. Sometimes the meetings are only an hour and a half, so the total time is even less. In other words, we are talking about undoing twenty or thirty or forty years of destructive socialization that has made an abusive man who he is, all in six months! The expectation is far-fetched.

I encourage people to make the comparison to substance abuse programs. If a man (or a woman, for that matter) who had been drinking or drugging heavily for five or ten or fifteen years claimed to have licked the addiction through once a week counseling for a grand total of six months, most substance abuse experts would laugh the person out of the room. In the world of recovery from addiction, the common outlook is that if you go to three or four meetings per week for a period of a year, and work hard in the program for that year, you have probably finally gotten a good start on dealing with your issues; if you stick with it for a few more years, you might succeed in really turning your life around.

Why would we expect it to be easier for a man to overcome a problem with violence and psychological viciousness toward women than to deal with a drinking problem? Abusiveness is just as deep a problem as addiction, and every bit as destructive — in fact, often more so.

If society decides that it’s time to send abusers the message that we take their crimes against women seriously, and that we refuse to live in a society that is shaped by domestic terrorists, we will start sending abusers to programs that they have to attend at least three times a week for two to three years. This will bring us in line with the kind of effort, and the length of time, that it takes to make personal changes from deep, destructive, dangerous problems. Until then, we’re continuing the pattern of slapping abusers on the wrist and sending them the message that change is optional. And if it’s optional, very few abusers are going to choose to do the work, and make the sacrifices, involved in learning to respect women’s rights.