How to Spot an Abuser Who Claims to be the Victim
(My thanks to Barbara Roberts for her help with this article.)
Update added 12 March 2019. These guidelines for spotting a pseudo victim, while valid, are not universal. Read this comment for an example of how they don’t fit every situation.
I am sure that you have watched police SWAT teams in action at a hostage situation. As the hostages emerge, a strange thing happens. The police treat them as if they were the bad guys. They have them kneel down, hands in the air, frisk them and handcuff them. Why? Because if the police have never actually seen the suspects, they want to be sure that the bad guys aren’t trying to escape in the disguise of one of the hostages. And that is how we need to handle abuse situations, because it is very, very common for the abuser to claim to be the victim – and his disguise can be pretty ingenious. Many hostages are thrown in “jail” while the bad guys go free when it comes to how our churches are dealing with abuse in their midst.
It really is not that difficult to recognize an abuser. Their mentality of power, control, entitlement and justification always betrays itself in their speech and you can hear it if you know what to listen for. To show you what I mean, let me use an example for a not-so-well-disguised abuser who wrote to me recently. He claims to be the victim of his wife’s abuse. I will just paraphrase him so as not to publicly identify him. I suppose on a blog like this I have to protect the guilty. Oh well. Here’s his opening line:
“Too bad you don’t really know what you are talking about. You do not have much discernment and have bought into the lie that all or most domestic violence is perpetrated by men against women, nothing could be further from the truth. I can also tell you don’t have any personal experience in this area, and I do. You, like many others have bought into the lies about DV and you say its mostly women who have come forward to you, therefore it must be only or mostly women that are abused.”
“She lies, deceives, manipulates and much of what you say of what happens spiritually is true, but I am the Christian and she unfortunately is not, I suggest her Catholic upbringing has may have something to do with that. Her family are liars and deceivers…she would come to you and say how I beat her, the kids, control the money and more…and you would believe it…like her family and few friends…but most neighbors, our children and their friends know the truth.”
So, when you are confronted with a man who claims to be the victim, here are some pretty reliable tests you can apply to see if you are talking to a real victim, or an abuser who is playing the victim (thus attempting to win you over as his ally) –
- Abusers evidence a mentality of superiority and certainty. Notice how this fellow goes right on the attack to exalt himself, his knowledge, his wisdom as oppose to our ignorance. He knows. We are fools. In contrast, a real victim is most often confused, uncertain, and has a low self-image, putting themselves down.
- Abusers will evidence a demeaning attitude toward women in general and their victim in particular. They insist that radical feminism has us all duped and that they are the victims of some widespread anti-man conspiracy. Victims don’t see things this clearly and thus are not so dogmatic. They will be more demeaning of themselves if anything.
- Abusers attack their victim with nasty, cruel allegations. For example, the abuser may say “My wife is a drunk, a whore, a lazy *^%$ who only thinks of herself and lies to everyone about me.”
We need to ask ourselves, is what this guy is saying about his wife really believable? Often the abuser’s accusations are bizarre and outlandish. Real victims do not exaggerate their abuser’s conduct; rather, they tend to downplay or not report all the evil things the abuser has done because they are trying to not tell lies and because they may have suppressed memories of abusive incidents while trying to walk on eggshells and survive.
If a victim may has come to the point of realizing the evils the abuser has done, the victim may report the abuse to others to seek help and support, but the victim won’t exaggerate and invent lies like the abuser does.
- Abuse victims, and perhaps especially genuine male victims of abuse, exhibit humility and shame. They are far more reluctant to open up about what has happened to them. They will not insist that they have lots of people who believe them! Real abuse victims, you see, often lack allies. It is the abuser who has them!
If any readers would like to help us identify more signs of an abuser-in-disguise, we would love to hear from you.
For further reading