How Does Abuse Happen?

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves

As I write this, our country is rightly embarrassed and understandably shocked after learning about prisoner abuse and other atrocities committed by us, and against us, during war.

As a therapist, I know that abuse doesn't occur only in war. I hear nearly every day about abuse committed by parents, partners, and clergy.

How can such horrors happen? What can we do to stop it?


We all have a natural ability to momentarily enjoy hurting others. Such sadistic behavior shows itself strongly in pre-adolescent children. At these ages, boys feel glee at physically mistreating playmates and animals, and girls derive pleasure from gossiping about and demeaning their peers.

After proper, non-violent handling of this misbehavior by the adults, most of us stop doing such things. But the ability to feel very short-lived glee while hurting others is still in our genes.

Adults who were brutally disciplined as children or who live in violent or deprived situations into their adult years can maintain and even strengthen these impulses. These are the people who may choose to abuse.


Both the abuser and the abused need to believe they have no other worthwhile choices. Whether they are children, insecure spouses, faithful followers of some "all powerful" religious system, or soldiers who believe they must please their powerful superiors to survive, the abuser and the abused see themselves as desperate. Only desperate people live with abuse.


Young children have no choice but to believe in their parents' power. Spouses may believe too strongly in their partner, or in the power of love. Those abused by clergy can believe too much in their leaders, or in what the leaders are preaching. Soldiers can believe too much that their country is right no matter what it does.


Faith without doubt is a necessary component of all abuse. It doesn't cause abuse, but it provides fertile ground so abuse can flourish.


"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

'Nuff said!


We can't change human nature but we'd better be alert to it. If we treat others as if they shouldn't have power they will want to use their power on us.

Everyone must have healthy options. The only legitimate use of economic, social, political, religious, and military power is to provide what humans need. Eliminate desperation to eliminate horror.

When your government, partner, religious leader, or military superior insists that you believe something without doubt, you are in danger! Protect yourself by maintaining your right to doubt,
even if you choose to believe. And teach everyone you know to do the same. People who insist that you believe them without doubt may be good, misguided people who love you, but they are wrong. Maintain your right to doubt. Never give up your right to think.

Insist that all power must be shared. Cooperate wisely. Share your power but do not relinquish it.


Most parents, spouses, clergy, and soldiers do not abuse. Most adults do not abuse.

Those who do abuse need their victims to "cooperate" by:
believing they are desperate,
giving up their right to think,
and deciding they are powerless.

Never give abusers the tools they need to hurt you.

Keep your power.

Enjoy Your Changes!

Everything here is designed to help you do just that!

next: Sexual Abuse In Childhood

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 18). How Does Abuse Happen?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: March 30, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info