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Can Abusers Change?

Once an abuser, always an abuser? Signs that recovery is possible

  • March 04, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
Can Abusers Change?

It’s a hotly debated topic with no easy answer. Can people change? Sure, we all change as we mature and grow older. And, we even change our unhealthy addictions, like drinking too much or doing drugs. But when it comes to abusers, the question seems to be more weighted. Even if he says he can change, will change, wants to change—can you trust him again?

According to author Kathryn Robinson on The National Domestic Violence Hotline blog, “While people do have the capacity to change, they need to deeply want to and be committed to all aspects of change in order to begin to do so.” Even then, she says, it’s easier said than done. Abusers often abuse because of learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege, which can be difficult to reverse. To start the recovery process, an abuser should locate a certified batterer intervention program immediately.

“Because wanting to stop is not enough,” is the tagline of Emerge, the first counseling and education program to stop domestic violence in the U.S. Founded in 1977 by psychologist David Adams and a few others, Emerge offers resources, education and in-person counseling at their offices in Cambridge, Mass., that focuses on helping correct anger issues. The education is for more than just those who have abused others; it is for anyone who experiences anger they can’t control, who may be abusive in ways other than physically (verbally, emotionally), and also for fathers who want to improve their parenting skills.

But, even Emerge can’t say unequivocally if abusers can be 100 percent reformed. “This question is commonly asked but does not have a simple answer,” reads the website. The fact of the matter is, extensive research and statistics do not yet exist on the topic of abuser reform. “Someone who truly wants to stop … will work to do so. Someone who doesn’t take such services seriously is at greater risk to re-offend,” the website reads.

Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men,” offers up a list of changes that could indicate an abuser is making progress in his recovery, and it’s a place to start to measure change. 

Signs an Abuser Can Change

  • Admitting fully to what he has done
  • Stopping excuse-making
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility and recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Not declaring themselves “cured,” bur rather accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a decades-long process
  • Demonstrating respectful, kind and supportive behaviors
  • Not blaming their partner or children for the consequences of their actions
  • Changing how they respond to their partner or former partner’s anger and grievances
  • Not demanding credit for improvements they’ve made