By: Carol Penner
- Recognizing that you are hurting someone is the first step to change. You can change. You can become a better person. You will need help to do this. You can’t do it alone. God offers hope and healing to all of us.
- The first thing you must do if you want to change is take responsibility for what you’ve done. You need to confess to the person you have hurt and to people who will hold you accountable. If you have sexually or physically abused a minor, you need to turn yourself in to the police, and admit that you have hurt someone. By doing this you are showing that you want to take responsibility for what you’ve done.
- If there is no way you feel you can turn yourself in, then go and talk to someone. You can call your pastor and tell them about this problem. You can go and see a counsellor. They can help you find the courage to take responsibility for your actions.
- Many people feel sorry, or remorseful, about abusing someone, and they think that they can just apologize to that person, and that it will be OK. This is not true. Your number one priority should be protecting the people you have hurt from your harmful actions. That means you need to involve others.
- People who abuse get into terrible cycles of abusing someone, apologizing for the abuse, and then abusing again. You need to get professional help so that you can stop this cycle. You need people to keep your loved ones safe while you are learning why you are abusive.
- Healing from abusive behaviour is not going to happen overnight; in fact, it will take months and usually years of working hard to learn what it is that is inside you that causes you to hurt others.
- Maybe as you are reading this you are thinking, “But they always do this…” or “She did that and then I…” No one causes you to abuse others. You are responsible for your own behaviour, and you can change if you want to.
- You may think that the violence is happening because you are stressed out, or because you use alcohol or drugs. These are not excuses. Lots of people are stressed, and don’t hurt others. Even when under the influence of alcohol, men avoid hitting their partners in the company of others and use techniques that render no visible bruises. Even when drunk, a person has knowledge of the social unacceptability of violence.
- Abuse is not about “loss of control;” it is about control. You use violence to get your own way. You use it because it works. You want people to do as you say and so you terrify the people around you. Abuse leaves terrible scars on the people you hurt, and it also hurts you. It stops you from having normal loving relationships.
- Oftentimes people who use violence have their own emotional and psychological wounds that need healing; but being a victim of abuse yourself doesn’t excuse abusive behavior. Many people who were abused as children never hurt others. But getting help for the pain inside you will help you understand why you are hurting others, and help you to stop.
- You don’t have to be abusive. Reach out and get help.
Names and their effects
- There are lots of names for intimate partner abuse. Sometimes it’s called “family violence” or “domestic violence” or “spousal violence”. Often intimate partner abuse is called “wife battering”, which reflects the fact that most intimate partner abuse is male violence against women. Women can be violent as well, and that violence can be directed at their male or female partners.
- Many people refer to the person who has been violated as a “victim.” People who have been violated often choose to use the word “survivor” to describe themselves, because it sounds less passive, and shows the strength and resilience it takes to live through abuse.
- Many people refer to the person who has violated someone as an “abuser.” If they have hurt a woman, sometimes they are called a “wife batterer,” or if they have sexually violated a child, they could be called a pedophile.
- Since this website takes a Christian perspective, and Jesus holds out the hope of change for everyone, the phrases “person who abused” or “abusive person” are used. Every person has value, and in the church we don’t commonly refer to each other as liars, tax-evaders, gluttons or thieves. We are always more than the sins that we commit.
- Jesus loves you, and wants you to turn your life around. There are Christian communities that will support you as you try to do this.
- At the same time, people who have abused cannot walk away from the consequences of their behaviour and the need for ongoing accountability to society and the Christian community. Being sorry is not enough.
When someone accuses you of abuse
If you are have hurt someone, and you are confronted with what you’ve done, most people respond with denial, minimization, blaming, threats, or anger.
Abusing someone, whether it’s a child in your power, or a partner, damages not just the person you hurt, but it damages you too. You don’t want to admit that you are capable of striking or emotionally hurting a vulnerable person. It would be hard to live with yourself if you admitted that. So instead, most people deflect the blame.
Deflecting blame is not a one-time thing that happens when you are accused. It has probably been going on for as long as the abuse has been happening. You don’t want to think of yourself as someone who has raped a child, so you say:
- “She came onto me,” which blames the victim.
- “She won’t even remember this, she’s too young,” which is a minimization of rape.
- “She is exaggerating. I only did such and such,” which is an attempt to discredit the victim, and protect yourself from more serious charges.
- “This happens all the time in families,” which is an attempt to normalize criminal behavior.
- “If you say that again, I will have to shut you up,” which is a threat.
- “Look how much good I’ve done in the community; this can’t be true,” which is a way of trying to deflect attention from a crime.
These responses are typical from people who have abused others. In order to abuse others you have probably lied and covered things up, and it is hard to break that habit. There is a lot at stake, and you may feel the urge to protect yourself at the expense of the victim, your family and the truth.
If you want to change, you need to take responsibility for your actions.
What if I’m falsely accused?
- Most people who are accused of intimate partner violence or of sexually abusing someone are guilty. Almost all people who are accused claim that they are innocent.
- A small percentage of people are falsely accused. If that is you, you may feel very vulnerable and alone. You may feel that you are being treated unfairly.
- In the past, survivors of abuse were uniformly ignored and silenced. They were simply disregarded. Abuse just wasn’t taken seriously, and so millions of people, mostly women and children, lived with abuse day in and day out and all night long.
- Today, our society theoretically takes abuse very seriously. We say we believe survivors, and people accused of abuse are often removed from positions of power, or from their families, until their case is tried in court.
- While you may feel that the pendulum has swung too far in protecting survivors, in actual fact an extremely small percentage of people who hurt their partners or sexually abuse children ever go to jail. The system is still very weighted in favour of people who are accused of abuse.
- If you are falsely accused, maintain your innocence without attacking or maligning the person who is accusing you. You will have a chance to lay out the facts in court.
- You may feel that it is impossible that anyone would think that you could do this, because you are such a good person. In actual fact, people who abuse their partners or sexually abuse their children are often very “good people,” doing kind things in the community and helping others. They become super-achievers to convince themselves and others that they are innocent, and to cover up their sins.
Remorse is not enough
- If you are confronted with solid evidence of abuse you have committed, you may feel remorse. You may feel sorry for what happened. However, there are lots of reasons people feel remorse. You may be sorry you are caught. You may be sorry that you are going to face consequences, that you are talking to the police, that you may face a trial and go to jail. You may be sorry that your family is broken up, and that you can’t live at home. You may be sorry that this is going to cost you a lot of money in alimony, child support and lawyer fees.
- And you may start to actually feel sorry that you have hurt someone, a vulnerable person, someone you loved. This is the hardest and most difficult thing to feel sorry for, because in order to abuse someone, you have probably minimized what you’ve done, saying it it’s not that bad. You’ve convinced yourself it’s OK. For most people who abuse, it will take years of counselling to begin to feel empathy for the victim and begin to understand what you’ve done in their life.
- Taking responsibility for what you’ve done is a hard road, but it is possible, and there are people who will help you get there.
Talking with men who have used violence in intimate relationships – Interview with Tod Augusta Scott
Alcohol and men’s violence – Interview with Alan Jenkins
Video: A Better Man: excellent National Film Board documentary where a man faces the hurt he caused twenty-five years earlier.
Evolve Family Violence Counselling – Winnipeg
Home Improvement Group- Abbotsford (MCC-BC)