5 Stages of an Abuser’s Battle Plan? What is this?
The material below is an adaptation of John C. Maxwell’s Relationships: A New Beginning or a Bitter End (1997). These stages are approximate but reflect observable behaviors of those who would be classified as an abuser. The information is not substantiated by research, though there is significant research that addresses each of the following areas. However, what I present here is based on my personal experience as a child and then later, as a pastor abused by some in three churches. These phases also reflect what I’ve observed among friends and associates who have been subjected to spousal or parental abuse, stories from journals and books, and in pastoral counseling sessions.
The U.S. Department of Justice calls abuse in the home domestic violence. They define domestic violence “as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone” (http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm). The information on their website goes on to define and describe the various ways in which domestic violence is exercised. It is well worth reading.
Please note, while there are women who have abused their children and/or husbands, statistically the majority of offenders are men. Therefore, the pronouns in this article are masculine.
What's the point?
The point of this article is to bring to light what people suffer at the hands of domestic oppressors. It also underscores the abuser's strategy and methods for absolute control. Unless you have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, it may be hard to believe it happens. Sure, you see this sort of thing in movies or television news magazine shows yet it can be incomprehensible that these things could be perpetrated by your son or brother or happen to your friends or loved ones. It's hard to accept when the accused abuser is such a nice person and that family always looked so happy. It’s a facade and for many reasons.
In my experience, these things happen in Christian homes with the same frequency as non-Christian ones. Domestic violence occurs more often in fundamentalist churches, patriarchal families, or cult-like Christian groups. People of this ilk also tend to abuse their pastors with pleasure and impunity. The abusive pastor is a bitter reality.
Abusers have a strategy
Abusers (I prefer to call them tyrants) tend to have a strategy of conquering and dominating their prized possessions – namely the spouse and children. This strategy is rarely something they map out on paper. It’s more of an intuitive approach they have learned since childhood; a variety of techniques they have learned that help them gain an advantage to take what they want. To that extent, I call it a battle plan.
Their actions probably but not necessarily indicate a personality disorder or mental illness. Some say it’s just sin. Yet it is a particular type of sin the Bible calls wicked and evil. All people are sinners and sin to some degree but not all people sin with a tyrant’s type of evil.
So what are common stages of an abuser’s battle plan?
1. The Remedy stage: fix the problem or perceived problem.
This means the offender has determined the “problem” is his wife and/or child. Initially, the man will give what we call a presentation problem – what he presents as the cause for the conflict or trouble in his family. It could be the messy house, the disrespectful looks he receives, family members disagreeing with him, robbing him of his money or time, choosing bad friends, or his spouse having horrible parents and siblings.
If these problems are not fixed according to his expectations and demands, then he claims the real problem is his wife or child. “If only she would do ______. Then everything will be fine.” Or, “If my kid would just stop _________, we wouldn’t be having this trouble!” Typically, what he presents are major issues only in the theatre of his warped mind and at most, his analysis of his wife or child is barely half true.
When the abuser tells his story, he paints a picture of a wife or child who is almost always at fault. Rarely, if ever, does he admit to thinking or doing anything that is wrong. He might admit he does this or that thing but it is often insignificant. Often, he will launch into a defensive tirade.
The conflict is not resolved because no one can ever satisfy his expectations and demands. After all, he is the king of his family and does all he can to create a kingdom in his image, on earth as it is in his mind.
2. The Repositioning stage: “who caused the problem?”
I didn't do it!
The focus shifts from solving the problem to protecting oneself. He says he is the victim. His misery is caused by “them.” He begins to tell everyone how bad he has it but threatens his wife or child if they ever say anything bad about him. He did not cause the problems, his wife or child did.
The abuser generalizes things. It is hard for him to explain specific problems. You hear accusations like, “She always does ____________” or “That brat of mine never ____________!” He speaks with hyperbole when he explains what his wife or child is like. He exaggerates what happens to him.
If he does give specifics, they are lengthy and detailed. Further, those specifics are repeated again and again, almost verbatum as if he's memorized a script. Liars and criminals do the same.
Little to no trust
There becomes a diminishing trust level in the family. From the beginning, the abuser never really trusted his spouse and won’t trust his child. He wins over his partner’s trust but hides who he is like. If needed, he will lie to paint a picture of what he thinks she will like about him. He wants her to be impressed by his achievements, brilliance, charm, or good looks. The other tact could be to portray himself as a victim in need of sympathy and rescue.
As time progresses, say, within a few months after marriage or living together, his initial distrust of the woman turns into aggressive jealousy, complaints about what she does that “makes” him not believe her, or outright charges that she is doing something immoral, illegal, or offensive to his standards. He interprets her words or actions through his twisted perceptions.
Cautious and unclear communication
You better not say anything!
The abused person's communication is cautious while the abuser's is unclear. The wife or child is fearful of saying anything that might set the man off. The fear intensifies as time progresses because whether positive or negative, what they say could set off a firestorm of verbal or physical violence.
The abuser never wants to be clear when he talks to his victims. This is deliberate because he needs to keep his family off center, confused, and primed for manipulation. He lies and then denies he has lied and blames this “miscommunication” on the family members. He'll state things like, they didn’t hear him right, or they are twisting what he said, or they are making things up because he never said what they claim.
3. The Rights stage: “I am right, so you must be wrong!”
The perpetrator expects his needs and wants will always be met. He is always right. He cannot fathom any notion he could be wrong. If proven, he will deny it or ignore it because his shame is too overwhelming. This is one reason why he hurts others. He wants them to experience more pain than he experiences. The more righteous and correct the abuser believes himself to be, the worse the abuser is. Therefore the greater the impossibility to ever admit a fault or he is wrong. His view, his way, and the little, dark world in which he lives is in the right. All others are wrong.
Any ally his spouse or child finds turns into an enemy that is “out to get him.” He begins by calling his wife or child names, which he says are “harmless” or “teasing.” As time progresses, he labels his wife with derogatory words such as “cunt, whore, idiot, worthless tramp, ugly witch, bitch” and worse. Giving her vile names is intended to diminish her dignity and emotionally beat her into helpless slavery. When he runs out of names, he screams and yells the terms over and over again.
He does the same thing to his child. At first, the child is “silly, a rug rat, little gremlin, or brat.” In time, the tyrant labels the child “a stupid idiot, asshole, lazy slob, worthless jerk,” and worse.
He is a prince when there is an audience
It should be noted that in the presence of other people, the king of nothing will lavish accolades on his family. “My wife is the best” or “my child is a genius like me and can do anything he puts his mind to.” Such contradictory dribble is confusing to his family because that is not what they hear in private. Yet, this is a ploy used to impress others with his possessions (family members) and to bolster his view that what he has is good, right, and superior. They must see him as a perfect prince.
This stage hones in on being right
In this stage, the focus shifts more firmly on winning his battle. It is not enough to possess what he says is his, he must never be wrong and always be right. There can not be a hint from his wife or child that they disagree with his rightness, that they disapprove of him, or prefer anything other than what he likes and wants.
So, if he likes liver and onions and his children don’t it, he will interpret their actions as telling him he is wrong to like liver and onions. He will scold or scream and send his son or daughter off to the room without food. If he hates brown rice but his wife fixes a pilaf with brown rice, he will beat her down with criticism or perhaps beat her physically. He has the right not to like brown rice and she is wrong to contradict him.
Nearly everything becomes a battle in his war to win at all costs. The king of the home becomes a vicious tyrant who imposes his will on his domain with increasingly brutal force.
4. The Removal stage
The above stages are general descriptions found in a home with domestic violence. The level of intensity depends on the tyrant. It also depends on whether there is resistance from his spouse or child, which he would say is defiance and insubordination. Such little kingdoms usually do not go beyond the third stage. However, that is bad enough.
The on-going torment can be likened to a hurricane. For some families, it is a perpetual tropical storm. For others, it is a level 5 hurricane with destruction in its wake. Like those storms, the fury comes and then recedes as the eye of the storm moves through. The respite in the eye of the storm depends on the velocity of the tempest and size of the eye. Then, the other side of the storm comes through and whips up more destruction. With hurricanes, there is an end. With despots, the storm comes around again and again and again with no end in sight.
Time to get rid of the problem
In this fourth stage, the abuser might decide to get rid of his “problem.” He must get rid of his opposition. He comes to this point when he’s tired of his conquest. After all, what fun is there in ravaging a kingdom that’s full of rubble and ashes? On the other hand, he could come to this point when he determines there is a new and better princess to take and a new kingdom to establish. It’s all about the adventure and the conquest.
He must be the victor
When he does leave, he does so as a victor. He needs to. First, he must rally his supporters and seek out others who will come to his aid in this battle. He will recruit anyone he believes will support him in this venture. He makes sure other people know he is absolutely justified in whatever scheme he takes. If he chooses divorce or simply runs away and can get away with it, he will make sure there is nothing left of his old domain. If he chooses to rid himself of his old dominion, he will do what he can to take all the spoils, leaving nothing behind. His success will depend on the capital he has (money, prestige, political influence, or legal associations). He will put up a valiant fight to pillage everything he can. After all, he could not stand to be slighted by anyone who would dare rob him of all that belongs to him.
The abused POW with PTSD
If the trauma has been at a sustained level four, too often the wife is no longer herself. She resembles someone from a prisoner of war camp. The same is true with his traumatized children. Research now tells us that traumatized women and children suffer mental and emotional conditions similar to war zone veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The women and children who are resilient and can fix their sights on a hopeful future will rebound and do fairly well in life. Those who cannot, live in perpetual torment. However, the battle scars always remain and the memories never fade away.
rebel and leave
On the other hand, this stage could be the point at which the wife or child decides to rebel and commit treason – at least in the tyrant’s mind. They begin to fight back in any way they can. When they finally realize this normality for them is not a healthy thing or normal for stable, loving homes, they will do what they can to leave. For some, this means packing up and moving out, filing for a divorce and putting that hell behind them. For others, it means secretly plotting an escape and when a safe refuge is found, fleeing when they can.
Worst case scenario
In the most egregious circumstances, the dictator will do what he can to murder his wife and sometimes his children. Most spousal homicides are caused by the tyrant. This is why the husband is suspect number one until proven otherwise. On the other hand, if the wife or child is pushed to the brink of believing there is no other way to escape, the king could be assassinated.
5. The Revenge stage
This is the point where the abuser refuses to let go of his human chattel. If a family member leaves or if he leaves, some abusers take the position that someone must pay. How dare anyone commit treason like that! How dare anyone treat me like that! At this stage, he is unwilling or perhaps unable to resign himself to his new existence. That being the case, he becomes a fanatic with a cause. And his cause is to get revenge.
It is nearly impossible for such abusers to let go. They believe their fight is right. Therefore, it is immoral to do anything less than win (whatever that means to them).
This is when the tyrant takes his crusade outside of normal social boundaries. His first step is to launch a propaganda blitz to demonize his former wife or child. Nearly everyone he comes in contact with hears about his suffering and how horrible his ex or child is. He tells police, the judge, lawyers, teachers, waitresses, bar tenders, counselors and therapists about those demons. He will send emails to everyone (even strangers), slander his partner or kid on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram or any other media. He may write letters to all who can help him cause problems for his ex or children. Some tyrants seek out reporters or even make false claims to the court in order to have the woman arrested or the child placed in foster care.
He wants it all
The next assault is to use every resource to go after what he believes he has lost but is owed: more time with his children, the return of all of his former property even if the court ruled otherwise (house, car, dog, furniture, jewelry he gave her, toys he bought his child, and then some), a claim on all bank accounts and investments, ad infinitum. The end game is to make sure he has everything and they have nothing.
He might remove his child from his will, sue to gain possession of a family trust, set up fraudulent accounts in her name or in his child’s name to pile up incredible debt and ruin their credit, file false reports to the IRS, or do anything else to bankrupt her or the child.
His appetite for revenge is voracious. He could stalk her to make sure she lives in constant fear. He may threaten her male friends or new boyfriend with violence or death. He could make false reports of her threatening him with a deadly weapon and then file restraining order after restraining order.
He wants them to suffer
This sort of villain would not be content with his wife or child’s death. Instead, he takes great pleasure in the adrenaline rush he gets with revenge. Making sure she barely exists in a unending state of hell gives him wicked satisfaction.
If these vicious actions took place during a declared war, the perpetrators would be in serious violation of the Geneva Convention. Instead, these atrocities happen behind closed doors or as the Bible says – in the dark. They abuse in secret and work to hide behind the lack of evidence or witnesses, and behind charming personalities. He is the elder or pastor in your church, the defacto leader of your club, the principal at the high school, the councilman in your city, or the overall nice guy you call your neighbor.
They abuse because they can
Domestic violence happens because they have a level of freedom to do so and our culture’s penchant to idolize nice guys (or likable gals). Trying to uncover domestic violence is worse in Christian cultures because things like this “don’t happen in churches.” And for a number of reasons, the women or children who report abuse to their pastor or leadership are met with skepticism, disbelief, or outright denial. Too often, the leaders who do give the abused a hearing, will find ways to explain the abuse away. I’ve heard things like, “Abuse isn’t even in the Bible” or “She is overly sensitive.” More often, they deny plausibility because of the man’s public demeanor. So, they will tell the woman to hang in there because he’s going through whatever he’s going through, or tell her to show more respect and submit more. At the same time, such might also tell the child to obey immediately, completely, and without question. and deny there is anything wrong.
Sometimes, a leader in the church will not receive a complaint against the abusive man because he himself is abusive. He may fear if the perpetrator is revealed that increases the possibility he too would be exposed.
What to do?
If you are in a position of authority or responsibility and a woman or child comes to you with a story of abuse, listen and listen well. Believe what she or the child tells you, for love believes all things unless evidence proves otherwise (see 1 Corinthians 13:7). Don’t dismiss it. If it is apparent physical abuse or the family member is in imminent danger, immediately report it to authorities. They can take action and investigate.
Should the spouse or child tell you there has not been any physical threat, then arrange for counseling with a competent counselor or therapist who is a master at drilling down into the truth but is also able to keep from rendering a guilty verdict before hearing and investigating both sides of the story. As Christians, we need to seek the facts and go after the truth. In the meantime, with the one who asserts there is abuse, treat with compassion, gentleness, and tender care. With regard to the accused, see if he has a pattern consistent with any of these stages. Discovery is more than possible.
In the meantime, leaders need to become intelligently informed and aware about the evil of domestic violence. They need to find experienced and reputable counselors or therapists who are proficient and wise about the matter and find resources to aid the abused. Then, they need to develop a protocol for their church or organization to help the abused. And that's just the start.