Is Change Possible In An Abuser?
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 process — not 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)
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.”