Be careful who you leave your children with. This is at least one take away from high profile sexual abuse cases like the Jerry Sandusky trial. Parents everywhere will be thinking twice before entrusting their children with authority figures like coaches or priests. Parents sometimes trust these people to seek special advantages for their children, but you cannot be too careful these days.
From what I’ve heard and read, I am inclined to believe that former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky is guilty of sexually abusing many young boys. As a father of three sons, all of whom were athletes at some level including college, I cannot imagine what I would do if I learned that someone had abused one of my boys. Frankly, it scares me to think about it. Allowing due process of law to settle things would be extremely difficult. I pray for the jury in the Sandusky case to have the necessary information, wisdom and courage to reach the right verdict. I pray even more for the alleged victims and their families.
Prosecutors say at least 10 young men were sexually abused by Sandusky. The public focus this case has brought to sexual abuse has been both difficult and helpful to victims in many other places. The painful testimonies of the Sandusky victims have caused some to relive their own abuse and inspired others to deal with their past experiences.
If you’ve been abused, it’s very important for you to process your past with a wise counselor who is experienced in helping abuse victims. I pray that you’ll have the courage necessary to confront the past and experience greater levels of freedom from the damaging effects of abuse. As one who has walked closely with others through this process, I assure you that there is hope for a brighter tomorrow!
In his book, Mending the Soul: understanding and healing abuse, Steven R. Tracy identified four general characteristics of abusers. If we hope to protect our children and society from abusers, we need to be aware of the traits that make up the profile of an abuser.
Before outlining this profile, I should say that I have no interested in looking for an abuser behind every bush or being unnecessarily suspicious of those who display these characteristics. Yet I am concerned about the need for parents to know some of the warning signs for protecting their children. And there is another side to the usefulness of this information.
Abusers are typically groomed in particular kinds of homes with specific character traits. Parents must also know how to raise their children to protect them from becoming abusers. They must provide the kind of healthy love and nurture to fortify their children against such evil. Parents need be able to detect early and correct the traits that lead to abusive behavior.
Abusers are groomed by a failure of parents to provide homes of love and discipline where the traits common to abusers are exposed and corrected. And some parents actually display the traits of abusers in their own lives.
The application of these characteristics extends beyond sexual abuse to all forms of abuse. They are also useful for protecting people who are in potential marriage relationships. If you read what follows and believe the person you’re with is a potential abuser, seek counsel and accountability immediately. Don’t downplay or ignore what you see. Save yourself and many others untold trouble by seeking help from a trusted counselor.
Four general characteristics of abusers
1. Pervasive denial of responsibility
“The single most consistent characteristic of abusers is their utter unwillingness to accept full responsibility for their behavior.” (Tracy)
Abusers are full of excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for their abusive behavior. They play the blame game by projecting on others responsibility for their actions.
2. Bold deceitfulness:
Tracy identified this as a “skill” abusers use to “maintain their innocence, avoid the discomfort of changing long-established patterns of behavior, escape the painful consequences of their actions, assuage their own nagging consciences.”
Abusers create their own self-serving reality and expect others to affirm it. The can be “masterful at manipulating words and actions to confuse, confound, and put others on the defensive.”
3. Harsh judgmentalism:
To deflect attention away from themselves, abusers will often be very judgmental and harsh toward others. They use this mechanism to maintain their “moral facade” and to perpetuate denial of responsibility. They replace their shame with blame to escape a guilty conscience.
“This harsh judgmentalism is also a godless method for unrepentant abusers to deal with their own shame, much of which is a gracious, God-given, internal witness to their sin…” (Tracy)
Legalistic religious communities can be both breeding grounds and havens of protection for undercover abusers. Communities with gospel clarity where people celebrate God’s grace in a context of humble transparency will not be safe places for abusers.
4. Calculated intimidation:
As can be seen, abusers lives are “built around twisting reality” and “avoiding consequences.” Their weapon of choice for keeping people from knowing the truth about them and their abuse is intimidation. Abusers are notorious for threatening their victims into silence and submission. But they also use what might be viewed as a positive means of manipulation. Abusers target people who are needy or come from difficult homes. They buy them gifts and shower them with affirmation as a means to control and abuse them.
It’s not surprising that some abusers are drawn to religious communities with hierarchies of authority. The Catholic priests who abused young boys leveraged their authority to intimidate their victims. Power without accountability can easily lead to corruption and abuse. The lack of accountability among coaches and in Churches encourage abusers to pursue these contexts.
An abuser often has an inordinate need for affirmation and praise. This usually connects with deeper levels of insecurity or histories of rejection. It is displayed in a tendency to project onto the words or actions of others motives and messages of acceptance or rejection. Abusers also typically have unhealthy attachment and detachment issues. They generally refuse to seek help and prohibit their victims from seeking help.
Their deep fear of rejection makes abusers unpredictable and volatile. It’s common for them to carry inner rage that they periodically unleash on those close to them. Not surprisingly, abusers have difficulty admitting to failure or weakness. But, after unleashing rage on others, it’s not uncommon for them to become profusely apologetic to atone for the damage they’ve caused and to manipulate their victims. Any repentance that does not lead to change must be seen as a means of manipulation (see: Seven signs of true repentance).
Some of the characteristics of abusers can be found to certain degrees in most people. Parents must correct their children when they exhibit behaviors associated with abuse. Children learn early in life how to avoid responsibility for their actions, to blame shift and to manipulate those around them — even their parents. Firmly correct them if they tend to bully others to establish feelings of superiority or to make fun of others to feel better about themselves. Help them see through their selfish motivation and lead them to build their security in God’s love displayed in Christ and exemplified through your love for them.
Because abusers prey on vulnerable people, victims often enable their abusers by making excuses for their behavior. If you are doing this, please break free from the deception and recognize that it is neither loving nor wise to allow yourself to remain in an abusive relationship. Insist on getting help whether your abuser is willing or not.
Hear the powerful story of Michael Reagan here.
Another suggested list:
- Low self-esteem
- Extremely jealous and possessive
- Dual personality – alternating between extreme tenderness and extreme aggressiveness
- Inability to cope with anger and stress
- Extreme mood swings
- Grew up in an abusive home
- Socially isolated – has few friends
- Very poor communication skills
- Suspicious – makes accusations
- Forcefully controlling
- Believes in using violence to solve problems or have fun
- Abuses alcohol and drugs
- Blames, belittles, humiliates, intimidates, shames and threatens
- Can be very charismatic