Traits of an Abuser: An Explanation

I don’t know about you, but I’m a dreamer. I’m a full-fledged romantic that has a difficult time taking off her rose-colored glasses. I always assume the best in people…even if their actions speak to not so heroic intentions.

And this is exactly why I couldn’t see abuse for what it was until years after I experienced it.

For years I couldn’t move on emotionally past this relationship because I couldn’t answer the question my spirit ached to answer:


Why do abusers do what they do? Why do their actions speak differently from their words? How can they justify their actions as right in their own minds? How can they see they’ve done nothing wrong?

For the dreamers among us, it can be downright painful to accept the full truth, because it grates so violently against our hopeful disposition.

Jordan Peterson, a well-known clinical psychologist  who is an expert in social and personality psychology, links this fight within us to PTSD. In one of his lectures (which you can view here – highly recommended!), he explains that when a person who has an open and generally positive worldview, believing that man is essentially good – when that person experiences what Peterson calls ‘sheer malevolence’, their minds will not be able to fully understand their experience. This inability to understand the danger they were in causes their minds to overact, creating sleeplessness or flashbacks, because their mind is actively trying to identify what happened so it can avoid a similar situation in the future.

Sound familiar?

Anyone who has undergone abuse has experienced this reaction on some level. When the abuse first happens, the reaction is numbness and shock, because the mind can’t understand that someone could act in such a fundamentally malevolent way. Then the sleeplessness ensues. The depression. The apathy. The flashbacks. The anxiety.

This is why the first key to healing after undergoing abuse is to understand this truth:

everyone has the capacity for evil intentions.

Even the people who say they love us. Even your family. Even Christians. Even pastors. Even friends. 

Even you.

If you are someone who tends to see the glass half full, I would encourage you to take a moment and process this truth. Every human being has a choice in this life, to choose love or to choose power and self-centeredness. Love brings life, but selfishness brings death. Human beings have the capacity to bring death into the world. And this worldview can’t only include the terrorists and dictators. This applies to the people in our community. Every single one of us.

(This shift in thinking removes our assumption that all humanity is fundamentally good. It’s scary, but please! Do not shake your head as I have been tempted to and place those glasses back over your eyes. Be strong, have courage, and remember that you walk with a God who will never leave you and is always faithful. Take His hand and keep your eyes open.)

After we shift our fundamental worldview to include the possibility of evil intentions, our minds still pace in the pursuit of understanding – why?

Which is where this series comes in.

Over the next few weeks we will be discussing some common traits of abusers, including personality disorders, mental illness, and the effects of addiction and unresolved trauma. And together, we will find answers. Together, we will understand why.

And finally, the last truth we must understand before embarking on this journey of understanding abusers is this: the grace of God is great enough to cleanse even the darkest evils of our broken hearts.

This truth does not excuse or permit abuse. This truth does not mean abusers are exempt from consequences. This truth does not mean we have a personal responsibility to reform abusers.

This truth allows us the grace to understand. This truth allows us the grace to see God working in even the darkest of hearts. This truth allows us the grace to perform one of the most difficult tasks we may ever undertake – to forgive.

So please, journey with me as we take off our rose-colored glasses and learn why abusers abuse. Walk confidently with me towards the truth, gaining understanding with a gracious humility.

There is healing for you yet.



Over the next coming weeks, Vanessa will be discussing the traits and characteristics of abusers.  If you’d like to continue learning about the abuse and how to understand abusers, be sure to scroll to the bottom of the side menu and sign up for email alerts.


Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact



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