By Richard P. Holm, MD
There was once an abusive man. He was an only-child, growing up loved but overprotected. He always received praise for being a ‘nice guy’, but lacked the discipline to control sudden bouts of rage and anger. In school, he was protected from repercussion because his parents would pressure his teachers, and he dropped out of sports because he was intolerant of direction. His marriages failed because whenever he felt criticized, he would fly into a rage, and gradually the emotional abuse became physical with divorce to follow. When it was time to care for his elderly and dependent parents, he was again abusive. The parents were reluctant to confront him or call for help because they felt responsible. They were terrified of his rage and physical threat, or worse, feared he would ignore them and leave them helpless.
There are many theories for why people abuse others. Psychologists say that every case is different, and every abuser is driven by a different monster. Carrie Askin, a clinical social worker and author who has extensive experience with patients who are abusive, says that people commonly become abusive because they never learn to tolerate criticism and thus retaliate when they hear it. She states that abusers often learn from their youth that she or he is entitled not to hear criticism, has the right to punish anyone who violates that right, and can do so without any expectation of repercussion.
It is paradoxical that the most common reason for people to become abusive is because they did not experience fair discipline as a child. If one is to improve as a person, they must learn to take constructive criticism very early in life. Those who haven’t accepted this life lesson and who respond to every disapproval with anger and retribution eventually live an isolated, ignorant, and unfulfilled life as people run from them when they come near.
There are other reasons why people become abusive. Sometimes it is people who have never known kindness and were abused themselves that become abusive, almost in self-defense. They were taught, by example, that abuse is ‘normal’ and ‘deserved.’ About one third of the children raised in this kind of environment become abusive adults. This means, however, that two out of three raised in a family with abuse do NOT become abusive.
Bottom line: abuse should never be tolerated. Children, spouses, and the elderly should be able to trust the people around them and live in a safe environment. Abused people should call for help from their physician, minister, social services, or even police.