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Home / Articles / Identifying Abuse / The Frightening Roles Abusers Can Play

The Frightening Roles Abusers Can Play

Which one fits the abuser you’ve dealt with?

The Frightening Roles Abusers Can Play

You’ve heard people say it’s helpful to put a face to a name, like when you meet someone in person for the first time after only talking to them on the phone.

It works the other way, too: It’s helpful to put a name to a face. We categorize people to help us keep them straight in our head. Ah, that’s Suzie, she’s the ballroom dancer. That’s Dave, the banjo enthusiast.

When Lundy Bancroft wrote his bestselling book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men in 2002, he wanted to give names to the faces of different abusers, names which still resonate some 16 years later with survivors trapped in the cycle of abuse, or those who have escaped and are beginning to sort through what happened.

“It’s so powerful for abused women just to have things to call what’s being done. It helps them to describe to themselves and other people what it is that he does that’s so harmful,” Bancroft says. 

Bancroft should know. He’s spent nearly the last three decades studying and writing about abuse, trauma and recovery. He advocates for the safety of abused women and children, serving as a custody evaluator, child abuse investigator and expert witness. He’s written five books on abuse, after having worked with more than 1,000 abusive men in his counseling groups, attempting to understand abusers’ strategies and tactics, and how they keep women trapped in a cycle of violence.

What he’s learned, he says, is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. 

“This is powerfully true with abusive men,” Bancroft says. 

10 Types of Abusers

While far more details about each can be found in Bancroft’s book, we’ve summarized here the 10 categories Bancroft says most all abusers fit into. There are hardly any abusers who have a style completely unique to him, Bancroft says. And yes, these are all men. Bancroft says he can’t speak to female abusers because there’s almost no research studying them, because they make up such a small percentage of the abusive population. 

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Does an abuser you know fit one of these categories?

  1. The Demand Man. He is highly entitled and becomes enraged if he isn’t catered to or if he is inconvenienced in any way. The partner of this man feels like nothing she does is ever good enough. He criticizes her frequently. When he doesn’t get what he feels he is due, he punishes his partner. He becomes furious if anything is demanded of him.
  2. Mr. Right. This abuser is the ultimate authority on every subject under the sun. He brushes aside a partner’s opinions and finds little value in her thoughts or insights. He is constantly teaching his partner, often with condescension in his voice. His control is focused on telling his partner how to think. When she disagrees, he becomes even more arrogant, escalating to insults, canceling plans, leaving dinner, talking bad about his partner to others, possibly becoming physically violent. 
  3. The Water Torturer. He assaults his partner psychologically without ever raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, often with a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. The impact of this is that his partner can end up being the one frustrated and yelling, at which time he’ll say, “See, you’re the abusive one, not me.” The partner begins to blame herself for everything and may begin to think something is psychologically wrong with her. Physical abuse make take the form of slaps “for your own good” rather than explosive rage.
  4. The Drill Sergeant. This abuser takes controlling behavior to an extreme level, running his partner’s life in every way that he can, from dictating whether or not she can leave the house to what she can wear, even demanding the children report her activities to him. He is often fanatically jealous, verbally assaultive, and almost sure to be physically violent in order to get his partner to submit to his control. This is one of the most dangerous abusers to both live with and leave.
  5. Mr. Sensitive. This abuser appears to be soft-spoken, gentle and supportive, presenting himself as an ally to women, and using a lot of “psychobabble” from self-help books to support his beliefs. This is a façade he is wrapping himself in to cover up the abuse, which the partner is likely to blame herself for when it begins. He will blame his partner for anything he is dissatisfied by in life, insinuate she is hurting his feelings constantly, and will start to exhibit a mean side that no one ever sees but his partner. Mr. Sensitive has the potential to turn physically frightening, but speaks of his violence as “anger” not “abuse” and will blame it on you. 
  6. The Player. This abuser is often good-looking and sexy (but sometimes he just thinks he is). He may be hyper-focused on sex and spending as much time as possible in bed during the beginning of the relationship. After a while, his interest seems to wane and he is caught flirting with or even sleeping with other women. Most of his satisfaction comes from exploiting women. Besides chronic infidelity, he can be verbally abusive and intimidating when his advances aren’t reciprocated, or when he is called out on his behavior. He often claims he suffers from “sex addiction,” though he is only addicted to using women. 
  7. Rambo. This abuser is particularly aggressive with everyone, not just his partner. He gets a thrill from intimidating others. He has an exaggerated, stereotypical view of what a man is supposed to be, and sees women as inferior. He has little patience for weakness or indecision. He may start by making women feel safe and protected, but it is only a matter of time before he turns on his partner, using violence to “keep her in line.”
  8. The Victim. Life has been hard and unfair to the victim. He is constantly misunderstood. He tells heart-rendering stories, often about how he was abused by his former partner, maneuvering a woman into hating his ex-partner and may succeed in enlisting her in harassing his ex. (There are tips in the book that explain how to know if your partner really was abused previously.) The Victim is highly self-centered in relationships. If you stand up to him, you are abusing him as well. He can feel justified in mistreating his partner because he feels you are doing the same to him. He takes no responsibility for his actions. 
  9. The Terrorist. This abuser is highly controlling and extremely demanding, but his worst aspect is that he frequently reminds his partner that he could kill her at any time. This can be like a type of psychological torture, and he may never be physically violent toward her. He may use threats toward the children to terrorize his partner. There is often strange veiled statements (“You have six months left”) or bizarre, sadistic behaviors. He is likely to have been severely abused as a child, but the psychological issues are so deep you cannot help him heal.His goal is to paralyze his partner with fear so that she won’t dare leave him. When she does, he may stalk or threaten her for a long time. 
  10. The Mentally Ill or Addicted Abuser. This is not so much a separate category, writes Bancroft. Any of the aforementioned abusers can have psychiatric or substance abuse problems, but it is important to know this is not the cause of the abuse. It can, however, contribute to the severity.Certain mental illnesses can increase the chance an abuser will be dangerous and use physical violence. An abuser who goes off medication is unpredictable. Those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder have a highly distorted self-image. Many abusers who are mentally ill want women to know they are in order to avoid responsibility for their attitudes and behavior. 

To talk to a trained domestic violence advocate more about the type of abuser you think you’re dealing with, and to plan for a safe escape, visit our Find Help page and enter your ZIP code in the white box at the top. 

Photo by fotografierende from Pexels.