Thursday Thought — What are some signs that an abuser is not changing?

When asked, “What are some signs that an abuser is not changing?” Lundy Bancroft replied with the following eight signs:

1) He tells you that you should be appreciating how much he has changed.
2) He says “I can’t be perfect” as an excuse to keep doing abusive things.
3) He thinks it’s okay to keep being abusive, as long as the incidents are farther apart than they used to be (e.g. he says, “You are so upset with me, and I haven’t done anything like that in a long time – I’ve been really good”)
4) He tells you that now it’s time for you to focus on the changes that you need to make.
5) He is disconnecting from you emotionally — in other words, the reason he is being less abusive is that he is simply not being anything very much — he’s withdrawn.
6) He is continuing to make excuses.
7) He says “We’re getting along better,” which means that as soon as you start to stand up to him or challenge him forcefully again, he’ll be going right back to his old ways.
8) He still gets impatient when you try to talk to him in a serious way about the things that are really important to you in life, including your desires for the relationship.

(The above quote was taken from an interview at Pandora’s Project website:  Understanding & Breaking Free From Relationship Violence  — Chat Transcript)

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

25 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — What are some signs that an abuser is not changing?”

  1. This completely frightens me. I have tried so many ways – even a DVO – to no avail! Now my health is compromised and my PTSD is at an all time high. My husband dings every bell in these blogs! Yet I am trapped. I pray that the Lord show me the way. Psalm 40:1-3. Amen

    1. You are not alone. This has disabled me physically. My health is destroyed. I have PTSD-like symptoms. And I completely know how it feels to be TRAPPED. I have prayed for you that he will show you the way and deliver you, Kathy. Importune Him until He comes. This is where I am right now, and I will not give up.

    2. Hi Kathy, welcome to the blog. 🙂
      I hope you dont’ mind but I removed the URL associated with your screen name.
      You might like to read the New Users Info tab at the top of the blog as it gives contains some tips for how to protect your safety while commenting at this blog.

  2. Thank you. I was just talking to my therapist about this last night. How will I really know if he is working on changing versus us just being at that stage in our vicious cycle. This will help. It was in fact demonstrated last night when I came home after work and my husband made the comment that it seems like no matter how hard he tries I get further away. At this point, all the “nice” things he is doing is falling on “deaf ears.” I am just waiting for everything to ramp back up again. I hope I can somehow find the strength to not get sucked back into his “niceness” again and become blind to what is really going on. It is hard to see through his niceness, however, I am glad I do now.

  3. This post is so helpful to me, I have been looking for a therapist in Charlotte NC. I need someone that can help me understand all of this. I know what’s going on now with my marriage, but I need help wrapping my mind around things. How to apply core strength and knowledge. My husband doesn’t come at me in the same hard line way he did for years. Only because I broke and told people what was going on, he works in the shadows now. I thought he was changing but, I have begun to see it’s a waiting game. I’m becoming stronger and stepping out in faith to flow God even more now. It’s going to make things harder for me but we can’t keep these abusers in God’s place in our life. I still cry because I allowed this man to intimidate me into putting him in front of my Savior and Lord. I’m stepping out this week and going to a new church my friend goes to, this is not going to go well. I never have understood how a man can say they are a follower of Christ and not want to worship him, and go to his house . They look at themselves as a god. I have far to go but I’m not a sheep any longer.

  4. This list helped me immensely when I was trying to make sense of everything I was going through. I have kept a journal during the two years I have been in therapy and I sometimes re-read it to remind myself what I have been through. I found myself constantly doubting myself when he seemed to be trying and even my kids were saying “give him a break”. But I would write about how many times I had seen the same thing and how often he pointed to my faults and my lack of support for his efforts. In the past year, I have refused to allow anything but real progress to influence me, and there has been none. I started to notice his cycle, and how he reacted to my refusal to give in. He would be angry, make snide remarks, criticize everything, make demands. Then he’d appear to be depressed, moping and looking sad, sighing over how hard he was trying and what a b***** I was for not giving him credit for it. Then he’d get angry again and give me the silent treatment, ignoring everything I said and looking right through me with his disdainful expression. Then he’d try doing things he thought I would like. When that didn’t “work” he’d go back to the angry contemptuous phase. It got to be quite predictable.

    I also wrote about feeling trapped and begged God to help, intervene, even strike him dead so I could breathe. The pressure I was under was insane. Not just from him, but from myself, to just give up and go back to the way things were. But this time around, I was going to stick it out or die trying. There were plenty of times I wished I could die just to end the pain and pressure. My therapist and my doctor both gave me tools to hang on. And God kept me safe when I was at my end.

    Every time I tried to talk to my husband about the things that were wrong in our relationship, it would start out with him being quiet, listening, looking sad and seeming remorseful about the things I was “complaining” about. But it never took long before the accusations, the leveling, the gaslighting, to come in full force. It always shocked me how quickly I was put on the defensive. Finally, after decades with this man, I decided to do what he often asked me to do, shut up and leave him alone. I disengaged. And boy was that hard! I am a take charge kind of person, I prefer to DO something, to get things settled. But this was something new, to just step back and stop talking, stop doing, stop everything. I quit telling him what was going on in the family (he never cared anyway). I quit telling him what I was doing, where I was going, what came in the mail, how I had handled this problem or that issue. I answered all questions with the shortest answer possible.

    The short version of what happened next is that he started to escalate his anger and finally, he went after me in a fight. I left that night and have not been back since. It has been several months, and I am working as an independent contractor, I have a place of my own, and I am at peace for the first time in [over three decades]. There is still turmoil with the kids (we have many, most are adults). There is still stress over finances (he cut me off) and my physical limitations (I have a disability). But I am at peace because I know I did what needed to be done. By every possible measure, he was not doing anything to prove he was going to change in any meaningful way.

    I have been reading from my journal, from last year and two years ago from the current date. I want to see how much has changed. I want to see how my thinking went from despair to and utter hopelessness to peace and hope. I want to see how I watched him play out everything on that list up there, and showed me who he was. I want to remember how I got here.

    I am in touch with a lawyer, but so far have not found a way to pay him. My husband has not filed for divorce, but I hear he is making noises about doing it, mostly because I did manage get ahold of some of his money and that ticked him off. I am being patient about how I will pay for the lawyer, whether it is to start the divorce myself or to represent me after my soon to be ex files. I have seen God provide for me in totally unexpected ways in the past [number redacted] months, either by helping me to use my own skills and resources or by someone coming along with an answer at just the right time. Patience isn’t my strong suit, but it gets a little easier as I go.

    1. SavedByGrace, that is really interesting how you managed to keep your head out of the fog so well that you could watch his cycle and see the pattern! I take my hat off to you.

      For my own sake, I’m going to summarize what you wrote about that:

      His cycle — how he reacted to my refusal to give in.
      1) He would be angry, make snide remarks, criticize everything, make demands.
      2) Then he’d appear to be depressed, moping and looking sad, sighing over how hard he was trying and what a b***** I was for not giving him credit for it.
      3) Then he’d get angry again and give me the silent treatment, ignoring everything I said and looking right through me with his disdainful expression.
      4) Then he’d try doing things he thought I would like.
      5) When that didn’t “work” he’d go back to the angry contemptuous phase.

      It got to be quite predictable.

      I think that many of us will find your analysis helpful. I was never able to dis-attach myself from the whole thing enough to watch and analyse the cycle while I was in the midst of it. But if I had been, I think I would probably have seen similar things to what you saw.

      1. I wish I had been able to see what was going on and disengage much earlier. But the reason it came about was my reaching out for help. I found a counselor out of desperation. I started researching and reading books and blogs. When I first started with my therapist, she thought we were just going to address life issues around getting older, empty nest stuff, etc. It took me a while to look squarely at my situation and call it abuse. It took a bit of time to change my therapist’s focus to that as well.

        Once I started calling it what it was I started paying attention to what had become our usual way of interacting. I started noticing not only his patterns, but mine too. I read Bancroft’s book and reread the parts that fit us so well. Then I decided to put together a multi year plan that could get me out by the time the kids were out of school.
        My timetable got pushed forward a lot, obviously.

        Another thing I did was get Bancroft’s book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” I started working through it slowly, using my computer as a safe place to keep my notes. The book helped me so much, I can’t even tell you. Every exercise gave me such strength and focus. Every time I thought “it can’t be that bad, I’m over reacting” I’d reread my notes and remember what I was really dealing with. I’d remember his patterns and pinpoint which phase he was in at the time. I’d remember what usually came next and prepare for it. I wrote lots of things down, working out various scenarios and my responses so I had sort of practiced them in advance.

        I am trying to not share too many details here, but there are so many pieces to my story that even I can’t believe worked out the way they have. There are so many aspects of our life that were ridiculous in their insanity and soul-sucking affect on me. I can’t understand completely why I stayed and put up with it so long. But I’m even starting to sort that out too.

        My favorite part of being out now is that the patterns are broken. I’m not doing what I’ve always done. And now, I’m not feeling what I’ve always felt. It’s too bad I suffered through three decades first, but better late than never. 🙂

    2. I, too, after years of trying to get him to see and listen to me and get involved in the marriage, realized I had to give him to God, and disengaged. Wow, did that ever get him to suddenly notice me, and get mad. It is been an unpleasant roller coaster ride since, and I did save all the letters and emails (nice followed by mean, over and over again), but did not have a clue what was going on until an eye-opening incident earlier this year. Then the blinders fell off and the research began, and I now have a bagful of notes and articles of all the things I have learned. If I could fit this blog in that bag, I would! It is all very helpful, and I need to keep reviewing so I don’t get caught up in the cycle again. It is hard to keep focused on the truth, and not fall back into the fog. This list I am sure will be what I have to deal with as I move towards separation (that he initiated) and he resists and blames and fakes repentance with his characteristic hangdog look. The other list that will be with me everywhere I go is Lundy’s one on signs of repentance, also on this blog somewhere. Many days, though, I have so many questions, and no one to ask. But God leads, and I give it to Him; only He can get me and the kids through the challenges this new year will bring, and a lot of changes, too.

  5. Boy does that sound familiar! I’m still there, in the silent disengaged stage. Now he complains that I am giving him the silent treatment. And I think he feels it’s a competition of who can be silent longer. That everything is a competition, actually. He thinks he’s winning, when actually we are both losing out. I think we are at stage 4 right now, with bits of 2 and 3 thrown in. I think I’ll copy that list and stick it in my journal.

  6. Oh my….. reading the comments is as helpful as the original post & that was uber insightful.
    I have posted only a couple of times before but definitely read everything.
    I am away from narcisstic abuser now since March. I kicked him to the curb as he says. For many months he did nothing to prove he wanted to change or get help. In fact he got worse.
    The story is long, typical , and one of my other posts has more details but recently he chose to go to counselor. I think he has him wooed & now says many of the things this post says. So I sent it to him. He said “none of that pertains to me” so the 3 months of counseling has done nothing other than give him another avenue to speak his mind to someone.
    He is a classic narcissist & it has been 25 years of living with it. I stay hopeful because of our large family, faith & complicated life. We do not live together & yet his idea is that he still gets to control & dictate what I do , how I shoukd live etc. Lately his push is for intimacy & to accuse me of not submitting or being a good Christian wife.
    I often only here his voice & am really praying to stay strong & not buy into his niceness so he can get what he wants (sex).
    It is his same way …..he is super nice , generous, etc & then makes the request sex typically) I say absolutely not , he then gets angry, rages, accuses, threatens to find it somewhere else, then pouts, gets depressed moans as to why I don’t see great change. It is all so predictable & pathetic. I see external change but no inward heart change. He sees me as an object to own, manipulate & control.
    It is hard to not think I am the fault as he blameshifts so well.
    My church is supportive & in fact they have removed him from services & groups but I battle believing it’s not me because for so long he has claimed innocence & refuses to admit to anything. There is no one on his side which I am super thankful for but to erase those tapes of abuse / control / narcissism is so difficult. It took me 25 years to leave I hope it’s not another 25 years to stop hearing his voice in my head.

    These posts are SO reassuring & helpful. Thank you, thank you.

  7. – Also I could have written SBG’s last post almost word for word.
    Especially about watching patterns & taking notes.
    I too started taking notes 3 years ago. I voice memoed outbursts, saved every text .
    I do go back and read when I question myself which does help greatly. It also helps to read that there are others living the same insane cycle & life. Not because I wish it on anyone – but rather to know you are not alone & that others understand in a great blessing amidst terrible circumstances.

  8. I am having a hard time with this one. My husband, who most likely suffers from a Cluster C (anxiety based) personality disorder, used to constantly criticize what and how I did thigs around the house. He has stopped now for over a year. He has even told his family member that he is trying to change, to be more like the man he used to be. However, whenever he is anxious or stressed is when his bad behavior and in particular, passive aggressive barbs come out. But these situations dont happen often. But when he says or does something and I try to call him on it he takes no responsibility. It is I’m sorry, BUT..I was stressed, I wasnt mad at you, you just got in the way of it, if I hurt you…..Then if I say how he spoke to me was bad, he might start to say how in the heat of the moment it just comes out. So when I tell him that its okay to be mad, but he needs to act differently, he says that his feelings and behavior are part and parcel of the same thing. He then says that he will try to not get angry, sigh! He has never apologized for the hurt he has caused, not even apologies to others he has hurt. He Is the guilt tripper and emotional manipulator sort, the subtle control type. No name calling or sleights. And some of the hurtful things that he used to say he doesnt anymore. But there is the porn and the email that I found to Ashley Madison (he dumped his account…it might have been more curiosity than anything…but he hasnt gotten any from me in years). And there is a bank account he wont give me the password for. I dont think there is much financially that is the problem, but I wonder if there was an Ashley Madison purhase or other in it that he didnt want me to see.

    So in some ways he has improved, and I think it is real and a lot less often. But it doesnt come from the heart. And honestly, I am not in love with him anymore after years of hurtful behavior. And while I dont walk around wih anxiety, I DO censor myself around him. But except for like three instances of questionable behavior with the kids, he is a great dad. His personality disorder is such that he is the reliable and industrious type, not lazy, helps around the house, that sort of thing. It is messing me up inside. I dont know if I should stay or leave. If he has improved, then I feel obligated to stay. However I keep feeling there is better out there. But I also dont make vows lightly, and. Le sigh!

    1. Hi Blahblah, I am sorry that we took so long to publish this comment of yours. We were not sure whether it might be too identifying. I made the decision to publish it, but I suggest you look it over and if you want to remove it or edit out anything in it, just email myself barbara@notunderbondage and TWBTC

      Also, I think that Should I Stay or Should I Go?: A guide to knowing whether your relationship can —and should—be saved [Affiliate link], by Lundy Bancroft and Jac Patrissi, would be very helpful to you. You can find it in our Recommended Books list.

  9. How do you know when to let go? I have a personality disordered spouse who is not a narcissist (he is a cluster c, but not officially diagnosed) and I have seen improvements in him…no more criticising for over a year, the frequency of emotional abuse has gone down, and he is good wih the kids (only three questionable instances). The things that have stuck around is the inability to take responsibility for causing pain, the lack of apologizing (or I get a pseudo-apology like I’m sorry that you got in the way of my irritation with person x, BUT I was stressed, BUT I was tired from sleeping like crap.

    He basically says that he cant control his behavior when he’s upset, BUT he will TRY to not get angry. He never actually admits that I might have a reason for feeling the way I do, and it feels like he is doing these things to placate his oh so sensitive wife. He doesnt have empathy for me. I also cant go anywhere for longer than about eight to ten hours wihout getting grief about it because he is so stressed out taking care of his own kids for more than a few hours at a time.

    So while he is not criticising anymore and has less abusive behavior, I am sure that it is not heartfelt change even though it is longer term change. So most days are pleasant enough, but I know that any time I have a gripe, it will be met with utter resistance, blame shifting or whatnot.

    Oh and then there is porn use online, not every day (but about two to three times a week). He hasnt gotten any from me in years, but then I am no longer attracted to him. He would have to become the repentant man of my dreams in order for that to happen. But I have a special needs child and he is not bad to my children (and he is most of the time not bad to me).

    1. How do you know when to let go? It’s a difficult question and there is no one ‘right answer’ to it.

      I’m going to leave out the question of whether or not he has a personality disorder (PD), anxiety, narcissistic traits, etc. In many ways, those labels are not all that helpful and they can be a giant distraction because the victim can think “he has a PD so I need to be more x / y / z with him …” And that can block the abused person from thinking about their own safety and their own long term wellbeing.

      I don’t hear you blocking off thoughts about your own safety and long term well-being; but I just think the question of a diagnostic label for your husband is pretty irrelevant to the question you are asking yourself.

      More important is (a) his behaviour and attitudes, especially toward you; and (b) how that impacts you.

      His behaviour. You have listed his regular use of porn, his failure to genuinely apologise for causing you pain, his litany of excuses after he has behaved badly, his disregard and disrespect for how you are feeling, his hardened resistance and blame-shifting whenever you express any grievance, his subtly patronising attitude “I’m only ‘being nice’ to placate my oversensitive wife”, and his expecting you to pull a lot more weight in parenting than he does.

      How this impacts you. You have not stated much about this, but I can see that you have been spending a lot of attention thinking about whether he has changed much, and how deep seated or surface the changes are. And I am guessing you might be restricting the time you spend away from the kids because his abusive behavior escalates when he believes you have left him to look after the kids for “too long” (by his standards). I’m guessing that you are choosing not to try to negotiate much if at all with him, because he resists all attempts you have made at respectful negotiation and mutual decision-making. I am guessing that you are hiding your emotions and thoughts from him a lot, to protect yourself. And I’m guessing there are a lot more things you could add to this paragraph — how his behaviour impacts you and how you are responding to it to try to maintain your dignity, personhood, human rights, self-respect, moral values, etcetera.

      Maybe if you put some thought into all the ways his behaviour impacts you, and how you are responding to it and to what extent your life and personhood is constricted and controlled and constrained by him, that might help you be able to decide when you might want to ‘let go’ — as you asked in your question.

      I hope this helps. If it doesn’t, chuck it into the bin.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.