January 29, 2022

What is Abusive Behavior?

by Del Hungerford (2015)

At what point in one’s life does he/she become labeled as an abuser? How many incidences of “being abusive” does it take? Those suffering at the hands of mean people are often accused of abuse themselves. In a situation involving domestic violence, the manner in which the “responder” behaves, allows the “initiator” to blame the responder for any abuse in the relationship.

The role of the “initiator:”

  • Initiates, or is the first to demonstrate a poor behavioral pattern within an incident.
  • The act of teasing, asking a question, making a statement, making an observation or, giving a certain look to get a response that could be negative.
  • “Saying it like it is” despite how someone else might take it.
  • Will “push through” until he/she feels the partner fully understands what’s being said despite the level of frustration.
  • Although this may be an unconscious decision, feels the need to be in control over an incident, a decision, or how the partner behaves.
  • This person may recognize his/her behavior has upset the partner but continues the behavioral pattern anyway.

The role of the “responder:”

  • Reacts to something someone else has said, often in a negative manner. For example: negative words, gestures, or non-verbal language out of frustration, anger, or hurt.
  • This person may recognize his/her behavior has upset the partner. When this happens, he/she tries to change words, actions, or body language to keep the partner from becoming further frustrated or upset.
  • Will often give in just to keep the peace. The idea is to appease the situation and focus on not making it worse.
  • Wants the conflict to stop and will often do what it takes to ease the tension.

What puts the label of “abuser” on a person is repetitive abusive behavior. He/she may have no concept that what they are saying (or doing) could hurt someone. Many understand, but don't care. He/she often grows up thinking abusive behavior is normal, seeing it demonstrated by authority figures in his/her presence. Because we are often the product of how we are raised, it can be difficult for some to realize that they are acting the way they saw demonstrated in the home. In order to change a behavioral pattern, a person must have a conscience. He/she must first realize that the poor behavior is wrong. Abusive behavior is always demonstrated by an abuser. However, not everyone who exhibits abusive behavior is an abuser.

The key to remember: An ABUSER…

  • Wants control or "power over" the partner.
  • Continually repeats his/her actions of abusive behavior.
  • May say he/she's sorry and then go right back to original behavior.
  • Exhibits many of the behaviors listed under "categories of abuse." (click here for link to list) Abusers engage in all or only some of the categories.

The definition of abusive behavior is words, actions, reactions, and body language that attacks, demeans, minimizes, berates, belittles, etc. another person. In layman’s terms, it’s plain old “being mean.” This is where bullying begins. Because we are human, we are all mean to each other at times, especially when someone upsets us. To put it bluntly, being mean equals abusive behavior.

Have you ever said something you later regretted? The actions and words that we regret can often be classified as abusive behavior. It happens when we "talk before we think." It's that first thought that often comes flying out of our mouth. As my dad used to tell me, "Make sure your brain is engaged before putting your mouth in gear." When we "flap our lips" before we've thought about what is coming out of our mouth, we are in danger of saying abusive words.

Failure to acknowledge that ALL humans treat each other poorly indicates a denial. When it comes to determining who the abuser is in a relationship, it’s important to see that the one being abused may respond negatively at times. This is how an abuser can justify his/her actions. Human nature lends itself to not responding properly on a regular basis. A responder will often react to an initiator with abusive behavior but that doesn’t make him/her an abuser.

An abuser will more than likely accuse the victim of being abusive when the victim responds in a negative manner. It’s important to understand the difference between the abuser and "abusive behavior.” An abusive individual is a person whose abusive behavior occurs on a regular basis. It’s the consistency of his/her actions that eventually solidifies the abusive paradigm within an individual.

We act out what we’ve seen modeled. For abusive individuals, they’ve had a history of poor actions/behavior/words modeled for them. Abusers tend to breed more abusers. How do we stop this trend? The old saying “garbage in; garbage out” has validity to it. When we stop making allowances for abusive behavior and call it for what it is, society may breed less abusers.

Food for thought:

  • How do people treat each other on TV?
  • How do people treat each other in the media?
  • How do the candidates treat each other in presidential races?
  • What kind of abusive behavior do you see?
  • Do you think it’s possible that we’ve seen so much abuse demonstrated in the media, TV, and movies that’s this kind of behavior has “desensitized” us to verbal and emotional abuse?
  • How can we going to put a stop to verbal abuse in society?
  • How does verbal and emotional abuse affect these kinds of relationships?
  • What effects does verbal and emotional abuse have on the viewing audience?
  • How many examples of verbal abuse can you find in a particular TV show?
  • Do you think talk show hosts practice ways to stop verbal and/or emotional abuse?
  • What signs of verbal and/or emotional abuse do you see within various "characters?"
  • Can verbal abuse be seen in harassment?
  • Do you see any warning signs of verbal abuse in a TV or movie relationship?
About the Author Del Hungerford

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