The Mentality of an Abuser Many of us know people that are manipulative, abusive, and unstable yet put on a good façade and trick many people (even in the church).  Good questions arise: what is the mentality of an abusive person?  How can we spot him?  What type of thinking, speaking, and acting do abusers display?  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood give us some help in answering these questions (which I’ve summarized/edited for length):

1) The abuser often uses unbelievable exaggerations but makes them believable with remarkable certainty.  For example, in his efforts to convinces us that his wife/victim is to blame and that he is the victim, he may invent ‘facts’ that are simply bizarre.  However, his ability to do so with such conscienceless conviction makes us conclude that it all must be true.  …The way he presents the claim is so convincing.”

2) He distorts reality and rewrites history for his own purposes.  He tells some story and claims it took place, yet you have no recollection of the event; he’s so certain and confident that you doubt your own memory.

3) He is not bothered by inconsistencies in his statements.  Abusers will, without hesitation, present contradictory facts and do so quite convincingly.  Their stories evolve as necessary and if they meet some objecting in us to the logic of what they are saying, they can simply change the storyline.  Again, they speak with such certainty we may be tempted to believe the evolving story.

4) Abusers often act like experts on the subjects they speak about.  When they are questioned further, it becomes evident that their knowledge is actually quite superficial, though they still will not admit it.

5) The abuser uses our own conscience against us.  When he is confronted with the facts about what he did to a victim, he skillfully manipulates what we are saying so that we find ourselves feeling that perhaps we have been too harsh or judgmental of him.  We wonder if we owe him an apology.

6) The abuser plays by double standards.  He will condemn his victim for something, and then, even in the very next sentence, reveal that he does the very same thing (Rom. 2.1).  For example, the abuser sees his wife as a horrible, selfish spendthrift because she spent $50 at the grocery store on food, but his purchase of coke, candy, alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets is quite alright.

7) Abusers are typically immature.  Like a baby, the abuser often screams when his wants are not met, or throws a tantrum when confronted, or displays rank selfishness.

A few others Crippen and Wood list are these: abusers are often into pornography, rarely understand or consider another person’s point of view, rarely show shame, often demand forgiveness while seeking pity, display charm at times, and are able to violate rules and laws without any pain of conscience.  In my own experience, these points are very true (and also can apply to those denying addictions).  This list is worth reading a few times!

As I said earlier, if you’re a pastor, elder, or if you are dealing with an abuser, I recommend this resource: A Cry For Justice by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood.

(This is a re-post from January 2015)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Mentality of Abuse

In the past few years, I’ve written several posts on church bullies and abuse (also here).  These two topics overlap and I’ve studied them on and off for some time.  Another resource that has to do with these topics is Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. Before I say anything else, I want to note that this is not at all a Christian book and I have many major disagreements with this book.  Christian readers will have to be especially discerning when reading it.  To be absolutely clear, I only recommend it to mature Christian readers.

Having said that, it is a helpful resource on the topics of [church] bullies and abuse.  Here’s one section where the author talked about the abusive mentality.  I’ve edited it for length:

  • He is controlling.  A few of my clients have been so extremely controlling they could have passed for military commanders.  Most of my clients stake out specific turf to control, like an explorer claiming land, rather than try to run everything.  A large part of this man’s abusiveness comes in the form of punishments used to retaliate against another for resisting his control.
  • He feels entitled.  Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has a special status and that it provides him with exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner.  The rights of his wife and children are diminished but his own rights are greatly inflated.
  • He twists things into their opposites.  The abuser’s highly entitled perceptual system causes him to mentally reverse aggression and self-defense.  When I challenge my clients to stop bullying their partners, they twist my words around just as they do their partners’.  They accuse me of having said things that have little connection to my actual words.
  • He disrespects his wife and considers himself superior to her. The abuser tends to see his partner as less intelligent, less competent, less logical, and even less sensitive than he is.  He often has difficulty conceiving of her as a human being.  This tendency in abusers is known as objectification or depersonalization.
  • He confuses love and abuse.  An abusive man often tries to convince his partner that his mistreatment of her is proof of how deeply he cares, but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love.  The more a man abuses you, the more he is demonstrating that he only cares about himself.
  • He is manipulative.  If a man is abusive all the time, his partner starts to recognize that she’s being abused, and the man may feel too guilty about his behavior.  The abuser therefore tends to switch frequently to manipulating his partner to get what he wants.  He may also use these tactics just to get her upset or confused, or so that she blames herself and feels sorry for him.
  • He strives to have a good public image.  If you are involved with an abusive man, you may spend a lot of your time trying to figure out what is wrong with you rather than what is wrong with him.  One of the most important challenges facing a counselor of abusive men is to resist being drawn in by the men’s charming persona.
  • He feels justified.  Abusive men are masters of excuse making.  In this respect, they are like substance abusers, who believe that everyone and everything except them is responsible for their actions.  The abusive man commonly believes he can blame his partner for anything that goes wrong, not just his abusiveness.
  • Abusers deny and minimize their abuse.  If the man is abusive, of course he’s going to deny it, partly to protect himself and partly because his perceptions are distorted.  If he were ready to accept responsibility for his actions in relationships, he wouldn’t be abusive.
  • Abusers are possessive.  Possessiveness is at the core of the abuser’s mindset, the spring from which all the other streams spout; on some level, he feels that he owns you and therefore has the right to treat you as he sees fit.

These points can be found (in full length) in Why Does He Do That?, chapter 3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

How Church Bullies Deceive Us I originally wrote this post one year ago (November, 2015), but it is still very relevant today.  I’m re-posting it with the hopes and prayers it will help Christ’s church even in some small way!


Sadly, there is such a thing as a church bully.  He’s the guy who manipulates, pressures, blames, and coerces people to follow his ideas or agenda (for example, see what happened to Peter in Galatians 2:12).  This kind of person is very similar to an abusive husband (or wife – but most of the time a husband): he plays mind games on his wife, plays the Bible trump card of submission and patriarchy, and tricks people along the way with his compulsive lies.  One big question is, “How do church bullies and abusers deceive us?”  The answers to this question are important.  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood have some helpful answers.  I’ve listed them below and edited them for length.  (Note: Crippen and Wood specifically talk about abusive people, but many of these points could also apply to church bullies.)

1) They create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion.  One of the most common effects of the abuser’s tactics is the creation of a cloud of chaos and confusion around him.  Victims will tell you what it’s like, though early on they can’t even articulate it.  Abusers have many ways of promoting doubt, chaos, and confusion for those who are in their world.  Of course, as is true of all the abuser’s tactics, the purpose of this chaos is quite calculated.  Confused people are easier to manipulate.

2) They make the real victim(s) crazy.  Abusers frequently work to make their victim begin to doubt their own perceptions.  A person who no longer fully trusts in what their senses tell them is a person who is very easy to control.  For example, many (if not most) abusers play dual roles.  One moment they are charming, the next moment evil.  This makes the real victim believe (or start to believe) she’s crazy.

3) They play the victim.  Abusive people are often wickedly cunning in garnering pity for themselves.  One of their favorite methods of choice for garnering this pity is what is called, ‘playing the victim.’  The abuser’s goal is to have people perceive him as the victim instead of the perpetrator.  Then they shift the blame to the real victim.

4) They twist words.  The abusive person is truly adroit in his ability to alter the victim’s words, morphing his/her statements into an altered reality that makes her look like a fool, or crazy, or even abusive herself!  (As a side, when an abuser/bully twists words, it goes together with tactics 1-3 above – spl)

5) They gather allies.  One of the most formidable weapons of the abuser is his ability to use tactics such as playing the victim, lying, and manipulation to with the people in the victim’s relational sphere over to his own side.  He alienates them against her by convincing her relatives, children, friends, and co-workers that she is the real culprit in their marriage difficulties.

6) They minimize the situation.  The goal in this is to make the abuser’s deed less serious than it really is.  Red-flag identifiers of minimization are ‘just’ and ‘only.’  For example, “I didn’t mean it…no harm was done.  I was only joking.”  The abuser will thus neither accept responsibility for his deeds nor will he acknowledge that they are evil; he minimizes everything.

7) They are experts at maintaining a double standard.  What is right for him is wrong for her.  He can spend all the money he wants, but if she spends anything, he punishes her.  He can speak angry, hateful, sexist words to her, but if she raises her voice she is being cruel.  He can treat the children very harshly, but if she loses her temper, she is a terrible mother.

8) They change the rules.  The abuser keeps his victim guessing about what he wants, how he will react, or what time something is going to happen.  He acts unpredictably and inconsistently to keep the her more focused on him, dependent on him, and unable to make her own plans or have her own thoughts.  He does this to maintain tyrannical control.

9) They project their thoughts onto others.  This means the abuser accuses his victim and projects his mindset upon her, but does it maliciously and on purpose.  Because he uses people, he thinks she does too.  Because he is unfaithful to her, he thinks she is unfaithful to him.  Often to unmask this you simply have to listen to his accusations against his wife: most likely they are the exact things he actually did to her.

As you can see, this is a very serious issue.  If it happens in the home, it can lead to physical and mental torture, pain, and harm.   If it happens in the church, it can similarly hurt Christ’s sheep and lead to schism.  If you’re a layperson in the church, watch out for these people!  These aren’t Christians who have a tender conscience and need your open arms and open homes.  In fact, it’s best to stay away from such people.  If you’re a pastor or elder in a church, these bullies and abusers are the people from whom you have to protect the flock!  Be alert for people like this – don’t fall for their deceitful tactics or let them push you around.  Be sure to boldly protect the real victims, which is promoting biblical justice.

On this topic I recommend this book: Crippen and Wood’s book: A Cry For Justice.  The above edited quotes were taken from chapter 3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015