The Path to Abuse

Discover how  a person turns into an abuser,  how many batterers lead double lives, and how abuse victims get to that point.

The abuser mistreats only his closest - spouse, children, or (much more rarely) colleagues, friends, and neighbors. To the rest of the world, he appears to be a composed, rational, and functioning person. Abusers are very adept at casting a veil of secrecy - often with the active aid of their victims - over their dysfunction and misbehavior.

Read about the abuser's tactics and concealment and manipulation here:

Telling Them Apart

Facilitating Narcissism

This is why the abuser's offending behavior comes as a shock even to his closest, nearest, and dearest.

In the October 2003 issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Christina Nicolaidis of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, studied 30 women between the ages of 17 and 54, all survivors of attempted homicide by their intimate partners.

Half of them (14) confessed to have been "completely surprised" by the attack. They did not realize how violent their partner can be and the extent of risk they were continuously exposed to. Yet, all of them were the victims of previous episodes of abuse, including the physical sort. They could easily have predicted that an attempt to end the relationship would result in an attack on body and property.

"If I had talked to some of these women before the attack, I would have counseled them about the domestic violence, but I would not have necessarily felt that their lives were in danger," Nicolaidis told Reuters - "Now I am more careful to warn any woman who has experienced intimate partner violence about the risk to her life, especially around the time that the relationship is ending".


Secrecy is a major weapon in the abuser's arsenal. Many batterers maintain a double life and keep it a well-guarded secret. Others show one face - benign, even altruistic - to an admiring world and another - ominous and aggressive - at home. All abusers insist on keeping the abuse confidential, safe from prying eyes and ears.

The victims collaborate in this cruel game through cognitive dissonance and traumatic bonding. They rationalize the abuser's behavior, attributing it to incompatibility, mental health problems, temporary setbacks or circumstances, a bad relationship, or substance abuse. Many victims feel guilty. They have been convinced by the offender that they are to blame for his misconduct ("you see what you made me do!", "you constantly provoke me!").

Others re-label the abuse and attribute it to the batterer's character idiosyncrasies. It is explained away as the sad outcome of a unique upbringing, childhood abuse, or passing events. Abusive incidents are recast as rarities, an abnormality, few and far between, not as bad as they appear to be, understandable outbursts, justified temper tantrums, childish manifestations, a tolerable price to pay for an otherwise wonderful relationship.

When is a woman's life at risk?

Nicolaidis Reuters: "Classic risk factors for an attempted homicide by an intimate partner include escalating episodes or severity of violence, threats with or use of weapons, alcohol or drug use, and violence toward children."

Yet, this list leaves out ambient abuse - the stealth, subtle, underground currents of maltreatment that sometimes go unnoticed even by the victims themselves. Until it is too late.

This is the subject of the next article.



next: Ambient Abuse and Gaslighting

APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). The Path to Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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