Commonly Shared Traits of All Types of Abuse

We primarily deal with domestic violence abuse here at ACFJ, but we often also confront sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and other genres of this evil. This is because abuse of all kinds shares a fundamental mentality — entitlement to power and control and a profound justification to do what is necessary to get that power and control.

The first book about abuse that I read some three years ago now was Scott Allen Johnson’s Physical Abusers and Sexual Offenders [Affiliate link]. This is one of the best books I have ever read on this subject and I highly recommend it, even though it costs quite a lot. Johnson addresses the common failure to recognize that domestic violence abusers and sex offenders often overlap, something that he says has been a neglected area of study. Johnson is correct.

Similarly, Carla Van Dam, in her wonderful book The Socially Skilled Child Molester [Affiliate link], exposes the mentality and tactics of child sexual predators and her words also remind us of the crossover in the various areas of abuse. Listen to these words from Van Dam’s fifth chapter which is entitled Common Misperceptions. As you read what she says about child molesters, I can assure you that the scenarios she describes here will sound spot on familiar to all of you who have been the target of a domestic abuser:

The problem with child sexual abuse is that much of what actually happens is explained away, minimized, blamed on the victim, viewed as an accidental occurrence caused by the alleged offender’s stress, lack of access to a suitable partner, a poor marriage or unresponsive spouse, or the result of drug or alcohol abuse. The behavior may otherwise be accepted as a poorly executed loving gesture, or a misunderstood attempt at ‘sex education.’ Often the abusive behavior is explained as ‘looking after the child’s hygiene,’ or attributed to ‘looking after a medical matter.’

When child molesters are questioned regarding suspicious behavior, or when they are investigated as a result of allegations made, they provide a standard array of stories to explain what was reported, or to soothe concerns about any directly witnessed improprieties. Only by correctly recognizing these stories as the cover stories that they are, can adults avoid becoming bogged down in the slippery details to begin taking the necessary steps to know how to pierce these smoke screens in order to hone in on the actual misconduct. Then they can take the necessary steps to directly protect children.

Child molesters are intrepid liars. They lie because they can, and because those listening want to give them the benefit of the doubt. They lie to themselves, and because they believe their stories, they sound sincere. Furthermore, most people do not expect to be outrageously lied to, and therefore tend to believe the stories. Those who unwittingly encounter child molesters and are not accustomed to the lies are easily conned. Adults who are not already extremely clear about the boundaries of acceptable conduct become easy targets and are easily hoodwinked by child molesters. Those parents who unknowingly are being charmed by child molesters accept the stories because they are not attentive to the inconsistencies.

Accepting any of these lies to avoid the awkward and embarrassing task of expressing disbelief empowers the child molester. Accepting the inconsistencies enables the child molester. Tolerating blurred boundaries ensures the children will be yet more invasively abused. Being too happy to accept favors for nothing, thereby becoming indebted, may put children at risk. Being too quick to overlook warning bells ensures children will be targeted. People unfamiliar with the cliches of these Groomers, their lame rationalizations and their outright lies, will be easily seduced into believing ‘nobody this kind and sincere could be guilty of any impropriety.’

The very same kinds of dynamics, right? The gaining of allies. The lying. The duped friends and family members. The blaming of the victim. Excuses. The whole package.

So when we study abuse, we are studying evil. Evil often in high places, because it is power that evil craves. The study of abuse makes us wise. It sobers us up and brings us out of dangerous naivete.

Frighteningly, pastors and church leaders and Christians most typically receive absolutely no education in this field. Christ’s people, who hold God’s Word in their hands, so often remain woefully ignorant of what that Word is trying to tell them.

(Eph 6:10-12  ESV)  (10) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  (11) Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  (12) For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

[September 14, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to September 14, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to September 14, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to September 14, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (September 14, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

21 thoughts on “Commonly Shared Traits of All Types of Abuse”

  1. Jeff’s words in quotes are what is becoming clear to me:

    (Abusers) “are intrepid liars. They lie because they can, and because those listening want to give them the benefit of the doubt. They lie to themselves, and because they believe their stories, they sound sincere. Furthermore, most people do not expect to be outrageously lied to, and therefore tend to believe the stories.”

    “Accepting any of these lies to avoid the awkward and embarrassing task of expressing disbelief empowers” (abusers).

    I add to this something I am unsure of. Up to now, but in horror, I have extended grace to my husband because he states “he doesn’t remember” giving our daughter a concussion, “he doesn’t remember” threatening to commit suicide if I used the word “abuse” to describe his actions, “he doesn’t remember” yelling at me and getting in my face with commands such as “I must obey him”, “he doesn’t remember” shoving me or backing me into cabinetry while screaming and behaving in threatening ways. I have read about “rage black outs” so have felt required to believe his words that he doesn’t remember. I do know that I DO remember all these things quite clearly. The one who is not in anger and rage but rather feels threatened and in danger remembers like it happened yesterday. Do they remember, or is their brain working on such an emotional level that they are “out of their minds”???

    1. Do they remember, or is their brain working on such an emotional level that they are “out of their minds”???

      Not being a professional with heaps of experience in counseling abusers, I can only guess on this, and reiterate what I’ve read from the likes of Lundy Bancroft and George Simon. I don’t have quotes from Bancroft or Simon in front of me, but my memory is that they both say that abusers generally know consciously what they are doing, and simply pretend not to remember in order to evade responsibility. But they also mention that it appears that some abusers have so habitually told lies that they end up believing their own lies — in which case their stated lack of memory for an event is not quite the same as deceit which is fully conscious. But to me, going down this rabbit burrow and trying to disentangle how much is the abuser fully remembers and how much he deliberately and effectively forgets is like going into a labyrith: it only twists my minds into unbearable and unending pretzels.

      I am also willing to believe that in some instances of hideous behavior, something demonic has so overtaken the abuser that it is conceivable that they have no conscious memory of it afterwards. After he was delivered, did the Gadarene demoniac remember every instance where he’d broken the chains they’d bound him with and cut himself? I doubt it.

      1. This problem of memory is a troubling one for me; I agree that it is a possibly fruitless and frustrating kind of maze to entertain, and maybe impossible to disentangle, but I’m finding it hard to just…let it go. It seems rather important, in some respects.

        I don’t know, I was recently very hurt by some similar claims from my dad when I confronted him about some things he said in a huge fight with me and my mom. He acted like he barely remembered having the ‘argument’ at all, like what I remembered as a major, painful, extremely damaging and emotionally violent incident was barely a blip on his radar.

        He told me that a) he didn’t say things that I remembered him saying, b) in any case I was misinterpreting them, and c) I was blowing the whole thing out of proportion because I always take things wrong and see him in the worst light. But I was not, at the time, looking for things to be wrong. I had believed that he had made at least some progress in changing his thinking, that he recognised that the things he did were hurtful and causing problems, and I was shocked and horrified to find that he was still thinking and believing some of the things he said that day. Blaming us for his own behaviour, among other things. It destroyed pretty much every shred of progress I had made toward thinking better of him in good faith and trying to regain trust and respect for him as an authority.

        I just don’t know what to think anymore…he’s changed somewhat in his behaviour since then, but I don’t feel like I can trust it. Every time in the past that I thought he was truly changing or sorry for something, I’ve found out later that he was just repressing a lot of things and putting on a front, and inside he was still the same, or worse, plus resentful of having to act like he was sorry, because really it was everyone else’s fault. Or something, I don’t even know, but the inconsistencies between what I remember and what he says he remembers (both this time and others) are really distressing to me, it’s making me doubt myself even when I know that’s a tactic. I’m just not even sure anymore, especially since my brother is kind of siding with him lately. Maybe I am the one who is wrong.

        Questioning my own sanity makes me feel sick. I have too many physical infirmities already, my mind is all I have that’s useful. But it’s not the first time I’ve felt like I was fracturing mentally under the emotional strain of dealing with my family, specifically my dad; I went through a time around 2005 where I was just coming out of an abusive romantic relationship and with family issues on top of that I could literally feel my mind breaking apart. I was lucky to have a few very sane close friends I could talk to, to keep me stable until things got better; I moved away, sorted myself spiritually, got a fresh start. I don’t have either the distance or the support system I had then, right now, and I’m starting to feel like I’m right back in the same place, splintering apart.

      2. Oh Kagi, If you are almost splintering apart, it is only because you are still being subjected to major abuse … from your father primarily, and from your brother secondarily, since he is allying with your father and that causes you to doubt yourself and your perceptions even more. And even when we as victims ‘know’ that our perceptions and memories are correct, and that the abuser is lying and denying and manipulating and re-writing history and blame-shifting, our rational ‘knowledge’ does not always protect us from feeling the emotional tidal wave that we can feel after we’ve been subject to a high decibel yelling rageful accusatory outpouring of verbal abuse from the abuser. Sometimes this tidal wave of feeling can come as a delayed reaction.

        I can remember one occasion when my ex launched into a massive high decibel rage against me (for no logical reason of course) and my brain was thinking while he was yelling, “Nothing he is saying is true, it’s all false, it’s all unfair, none of his accusations of me are true. . . ” In fact, part of my brain was even thinking, “His accusations are so ludicrous they are even amusing — what a clown, what a fool he is to think that he could make me believe all those lies!” But while my rational brain was doing all these rational things, my emotions were being impacted deeply. I had no idea how deeply it affected me emotionally until later that day, when I found myself walking round like a zombie. I knew then that I had been triggered big time.

        Maybe you have been feeling like you were splintering apart because you have been deeply triggered by your father’s rage in that argument.

        Offering you hugs, and I will pray for our Lord to be your lighting rod through which the fear and pain and confusion can drain out.

      3. Everything is so subtle, though….he’s trying really hard right now to at least act like he’s sorry and changing, so he’s not yelling as much, and since my brother had a long talk with him about all the things he was concerned about, he seems to be satisfied that Dad is coming around or whatever, and I have barely heard from him since then.

        I feel like they must have decided together that my concerns don’t matter or are out of line, and they’re just going to ignore it since now my dad has a male stamp of approval that he is properly repentant and trying to change. But even if my brother’s concerns are satisfied, mine aren’t, and nobody seems to want to talk or hear about them.

        There’s less yelling but still…intimidation, and stuff that feels like emotional manipulation. I don’t know, I really can’t point to anything that’s specifically wrong, but it feels off, and the things I’ve brought up multiple times that I am concerned about and think need to be addressed have been ignored. There isn’t….things are still wrong, but maybe it’s just me. I can’t trust myself, but I don’t really trust anyone else either, at the moment.

        Part of me thinks maybe, somehow when they were talking, my dad convinced him that I’m just overreacting, that my mom and I are the ones in the wrong, and that I’m just crazy or…out to get him or something. I’m not, I want more than anyone for…something to be salvaged, for my dad to get to a point where we can have some kind of relationship and I’m not always afraid of him, where I don’t cringe at the way he treats my mother, but I’m not convinced that’s happening and I don’t know what to say, or who to talk to. My brother’s been too busy for the last month or so, and I don’t know if he’s actually busy or just avoiding me. Maybe I’m just wrong, all of it’s wrong. I feel crazy, is what I’m saying.

  2. I used to waste time wondering if the abuser truly didn’t remember – perhaps he was confused or upset, or something had just got hold of him and he didn’t really know what he was doing?.He doesn’t remember because it’s convenient for him not to remember, and he believes that other people’s reality can be exactly what he makes it.

    1. “plus resentful of having to act like he was sorry, because really it was everyone else’s fault.” THIS! Seen it so many times. And the bad memory thing. And the abusive incidents that have shaped me and and tortured me for ages barley even being worth remembering. This is evil. Simply evil.

      1. The bad memory business is another reason I recorded his rants. The voice recorder remembers just fine. That way, at least I know that I heard what I say I heard. It happened. He will argue and try to say that I provoked in some way and that the recorded rant is not an accurate sample of what life was like, but I know the truth. And so does Voice Recorder.

  3. Can I ask a question here that’s not exactly related to the post? I’m wondering if you would consider this abuse, and what suggestions you might have about what to do about it. My children visit their father one night per week for 1.5 hours and every other weekend 1.5 hours on Friday and 5 hours on Saturday. During these visits he often insists that they watch movies which they state they do not want to watch and they say frighten them. For instance this weekend he made them watch Marvel The Avengers (PG-13). They are 7,9 and 11. Two of the children said they were scared and asked him to please turn it off and let them play or read. He refused to turn off the movie and literally held them tight on his lap and would not let them get down. This happens often.

    When they are at his place they are only allowed in the living room and in the bathroom. They can never leave the living room except to go to the bathroom. They are not allowed to play with toys or read. They can only play Wii or other electronic games in the living room with him, or watch tv/movies, and they must watch whatever he wants to watch which is often something violent or scary.

    Our Order from the court actually says that they children are not to be exposed to violent or scary movies and that their wishes must be respected, but that’s not happening. I’ve told the children to remind him of the Order and they said they did that once and he yelled and frightened them so much (he’s very intimidating) that they are afraid to say anything about it again.

    On the topic of lying, in the past when I’ve complained about these movies and games (fantasy games he’s played with them with evil creatures and scary, violent themes) he denies it all and accuses the children of lying about it. They remember this and plead with me not to say anything to him because they say he will lie about it and say that they are lying.

    1. Rock and a hard place…sorry. My ex-idiot showed my kids horrible movies all the time. When I could change it I did, when I couldn’t I just supported my kids and let my daughter sleep with me and prayed!

    2. It sounds like he’s doing this for the express purpose of violating the court order. (?)

    3. Fiftyandfree, I would be taking my complaint to the court and having him charged with breaching the order. Clearly he won’t let the children or you reprimand him, and escalates his abuse when you try to do so. If it were possible to get his visitation time heavily reduced or eliminated, that would be a good outcome, would it not? Since he is clearly not prepared to abide by the rules of the order as it stands, the children are being harmed.

      But good luck getting the court to see this!

      My ex used to make our daughter watch videos that really scared her. He’d insist she sat there with him on the couch and watch them, even though she begged to be allowed to go to her room to play or go to sleep. I had to pray her down from all this terror many times after she returned from visitation. So I know a little of what you are going through.

      What he is doing is trying to brainwash them into Satan’s kingdom where fear and darkness rule, make them desensitized to the horror and immorality of it, so he and his father the devil can then use them for their purposes.
      Of course, you won’t explain it like that to your attorney or the court, but you can certainly explain the harm it is doing to the kids by terrifying them with the movies and intimidating them to not resist his control.

      1. Barbara, I agree. He’s trying to desensitize them so that they will love darkness as he does. I’m not sure what I am going to do about it. I’m afraid to confront him because in the past when I have he turns it around and accuses me of lying, planting ideas in the children’s heads, making them afraid, or parental alienation. And/or he accuses the kids of lying. Or he threatens to take me back to court for custody or more visitation. So, what do you do? If I ignore it, the next movie may be worse. But if I call him on it I may end up being blasted with threats.

      2. FiftyandFree
        this is one of those all too frequent polylemmas that survivors have to face. You might like to tell your attorney about it and ask if he / she thinks there is a good chance of getting the court to reduce his visitation or make it supervised (without you having to pay for the supervision!) because he is breaching the terms of the visitation. And ask the attorney what would be likely to happen if you withheld the kids from visitation because your ex is breaching the visitation order and you believe you have to protect your kids.

        And document all occasions when he forces the kids to watch inappropriate videos.

        Another idea is to let the kids know that it’s okay to fake being sick when they are at dad’s and see if that gets them out of the video torture. . . Like the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoah, Rahab lied to the city authorities in Jericho, they all told lies to wicked power-mongers in order to preserve the lives of the vulnerable people of God. Telling a lie for the greater good in serious matters is not condemned by the Bible. Other instances are Michal putting the bolster in the bed and telling Saul’s men that it was David sleeping there. And there were those two Israelites loyal to David during the his son’s mutiny, who were hidden in a covered well by some villagers.

  4. I have come to realize that when they have been in “denial” of their abuse (sub-conscience defensiveness due to shame) for so long, their “denial” becomes “delusion” and they truly believe their own lies. They will rewrite the past, almost instantly, they repeat the stories the way they believe them so often that it becomes truth in their minds. It truly becomes a mental illness at that point.
    Denial means: (3rd definition)
    a. A refusal to accept or believe something, such as a doctrine or belief.
    b. An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.
    Delusion means:
    a. A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness.

    I think that once they cross over into delusion, it is the beginning of the conscience becoming seared. With denial I think that they still feel guilt and shame, but when they become delusional, the conscience has been silenced.

    1. ” How do I know what abuse is? That it’s not just a me problem.”

      That’s the same question I had! “How do I know if his behavior is appropriate?”

      I received a very simple answer that made me look deeper. A counselor wrote to me that, “what is acceptable/abusive behavior is not that much in question. What is in question is what you are willing to tolerate.”

      That did not answer my question but it did start me on the right track to figuring out what I thought and felt. I can tell you that after being in an abusive/controlling marriage, I had really lost my identity and had no clue what I really thought or felt about anything.

      This blog and the amazing survivors here were my next step in discovering what was truly going on. They call that “coming out of the fog”. This is where I learned that the abuse was not just “episodes” or blow-ups brought on by external stimuli (like stress or depression), that there was a pattern of abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual & sexual) brought on by his thought patterns and beliefs. Along with that I learned that his behavior was intentional – he doesn’t go around putting other people down and bullying them when he doesn’t get his way…

      My advice; keep reading here. Use the search tool to look up different topics. Also a Google search about abuse, verbal, emotional etc can really clear things up. I always thought physical abuse was an easy one to identify, but I was wrong there too. I thought it was being smacked around, bloody noses black eyes, etc. I didn’t know his restraining me on the bed, shoving me into closets or grabbing my arm was physical abuse. It is! All of that eventually led to strangulation, also physical abuse…

      If you are not sure, keep looking! Listen to your gut!

  5. Pastor Jeff wrote:

    So when we study abuse, we are studying evil. Evil often in high places, because it is power that evil craves. The study of abuse makes us wise. It sobers us up and brings us out of dangerous naivete.

    These last few months, hindsight has led me to wonder how my naivete or silence may have unknowingly bolstered someone’s power. That is sobering….

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