Tag Archives: abusers

What causes abuse?

With deaths from domestic violence increased under lockdown it seemed like a good time to talk about the causes of abuse.

What causes abuse?

100% of abuse is caused by abusers. They may take opportunities, find excuses and justifications in their circumstances, but the cause of abuse, is abusers.

I got very upset last weekend seeing content on Facebook about how we might facilitate or enable abuse. That if we choose to stay, we are choosing to be abused. Abuse happens in a context, and it is usual for that context to include a process of undermining self esteem, destroying self confidence, getting the victim to doubt their own judgement and generally getting them so mentally fragile that they think they deserve what is done to them. If you think you are too strong, or too clever to be caught up by that, think again. Human minds are fragile.

The people who are most vulnerable to abuse are the people who care and feel responsible. It’s much easier to blame someone who is inclined to take responsibility and try and fix things. People who care are easier to manipulate, and easier to persuade. They give second, third, fourth chances. They hear the pathetic excuses, and the promises to do better. They want to help. And I am not prepared to accept this as a weakness, or an inadequacy, or a way of being in the world that justifies abuse. Taking advantage of someone’s good nature is all about the abuser, and not a failing on the part of the victim.

Of course there are a lot of people who enable and facilitate abuse. They do it by pretending it isn’t happening. They don’t listen to, believe or support victims. They make excuses for abusers. They get on social media with theories about how it is really all the fault of the victim for not holding more substantial boundaries. They pedal untruths about how easy it is to avoid abuse and how they would never stand for it without understanding the mechanics of the process. It’s not kindness and generosity that enables abuse, it’s wanting to blame something, anything, except the abuser themselves.

And yes, some people abuse because of their own pain and wounding, but many people are wounded and choose not to become abusive. It isn’t inevitable. It is a choice.


Why we don’t always believe victims

It would seem a no-brainer, if you are a decent human being, that you would listen to and believe people who report abuse and bullying. But we don’t, and it is important to look at why if that’s ever going to change.

Bullies and abusers don’t go along with being called out. They deny everything, or they tell you that they are the real victim and the person who first clamed victimhood is really the bully. There are bullies who, as part of their routine, accuse their victims of attacking them. If two people are claiming to be victims of each other, the idea of always believing the victim doesn’t stand up very well, because you may not know who it is. More thoughts on this over here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/07/28/calling-out-abusers/

Most of us have a morality that depends to some degree on relationship. So we tend to believe the people we care about and disbelieve the people we don’t know or care about if that threatens someone we like. We also don’t want to believe that we love someone abusive, so we look for reasons to explain away claims of abusive behaviour.

Victim blaming is widespread. Many of us have internalised some of that.

Abusers know what they are doing, and around people who are not their victims, they act in ways that hide this. We are persuaded because they were always so nice to us. In public, they may have seemed like exemplary spouses and parents. They may tell us, with great love and concern how worried they are about the poor mental health and strange beliefs of their victim. We may sympathise, and go on to not believe the victim when they confide in us.

Victims are usually in distress. If they’ve suffered gaslighting, been blamed and made responsible, they may feel it is all their fault. If the bully has persuaded the victim that the victim is the bully, you’re going to have a hard time figuring out what to believe. I am inclined to take care of people who are afraid and distressed and seeking safety. I tend to disbelieve people who are angry and demanding retribution. I look at the power balances. I also figure, if I get this wrong, the angry person is probably better resourced to take care of themselves. It’s not foolproof. Nothing is.

An un-nuanced approach that goes ‘I always believe victims’ can be deeply threatening if you are someone whose abuser has cast them in the role of the bully. If you have had your reality dismantled in this way, this is such a hard thing to deal with. For a long time, I believed myself to be an awful person, deserving of any punishment that came my way. For some years now, I’ve lived in a strange, inbetween place where some days I think I have experienced gaslighting in the past, and some days I think I’m an awful person who deserves everything they get. On the good days, I dare to think I might get over having been made responsible in this way. I’m able to write this because today is a good day.

On a bad day, a flat statement about always believing victims can, and has panicked me. I think about the people (there were several) who were so loud and confident about being my victims, and how knocked down and powerless I felt in face of them. There is always the fear one of them will come back for another go and that they will be believed, and I will not. And the fear that no matter how hard I try, I am so inherently awful that I can only cause harm. On a good day, I think that’s the gaslighting impacting on me.

And I also know that for some people, any experience of being said no to, any criticism, any less than perfectly positive feedback counts as an attack. I know that several of the people in my history experienced me as a terrible person because I couldn’t give them what they needed. I did not prove kind, patient, generous, forgiving, understanding and co-operative enough for them and they experienced that insufficiency as abusive. They’re not making it up, it was their experience of me, and some of them I have seen go through similar issues with other people.

Abuse and bullying are really complicated. A superficial response that says ‘I will always believe victims’ and doesn’t dig into the mechanics and specifics of anything it encounters, is not a magic solution to the woes of the world.

Relating to pagans

In the last few blog posts I’ve alluded to people who claimed to be pagan, but who had some hideous ideas and intentions. I’ve been active in the pagan community for more than a decade, and my experience is that the vast majority of pagans are lovely, genuine people, soulful, responsible, ethical, totally dependable and honourable. There are a few who are foolish and self important of course, and a tiny minority who really are dangerous. I think you could say the same of any social grouping. Where there is any kind of power or status to be found, there will always be people who hunger after that.

So how do you tell if you are dealing with someone genuine, or someone who is actually unpleasant? If you’re just encountering people at a moot and open ritual level, it’s not that big an issue – you’re in a public place you can walk away, so if anyone starts announcing a desire to sexually initiate you, charge you silly money for their ‘wisdom’ or any of the other obvious signs of fraud and insanity, getting out is simple. It’s when we move into closed working groups, one on one tuition and other, more intimate relationships that the need for caution arises.

As with any other kind of relationship, people who are intent on abusing and who are good at it do not start out antisocial. In just the same way that a domestic abuser doesn’t normally start thumping a woman on their first date, so a ‘pagan’ who is using claims of spirituality to harm others won’t make that too obvious early on, because they know any smart person will get away from them. I’ve been mulling over the handful of bad encounters I’ve had, and thinking about stories from the wider scene, and I think it boils down to the same elements as in any other relationship – the closer you get, the more careful you need to be. In ritual, as in romance, trust is essential. Respect should go both ways, and bullying is not ok. Any signs of these, are signs to leave.

Turning the focus the other way, a good pagan, a true pagan, someone who is on a spiritual path and not merely using faith as a way to access potential victims, is a very different creature. They don’t pay lip service to ideas of love for nature, respect and community, they walk it in their daily lives. Most pagans have strange experiences, and most are aware that if you go round making too much noise, people will think you are crazy. The majority of pagans, having no desire to be labelled as loopy, do not start telling you about demons they have fought, how they were burned at Salem in a former life and how they remember all the secrets of the ancient druids, the first time you meet them. It takes time to build enough trust to be able to share stories about moments of uncanniness, fleeting memories of past lives, spells that might just have worked. If someone seems far too quick to trust, they may be very naïve, but then again, they may not.

I think there’s much to be said for considering what someone says, and how that relates to what they do. Talk is easy. If a person is serious, they live it. There are of course a subset of hobby pagans, in it for the novelty, the desire to be alternative, and because pagans wear really cool clothing. They tend to be younger and they tend to move on – irritating sometimes but not inherently harmful. One thing I have learned to watch for is people who are excessively judgemental or dogmatic or people who are too certain about their ‘intuition’. They might well not do it in public, but if someone starts making little comments to you, suggesting very alternative takes on reality, be cautious. Little asides that establish the authority of the speaker, put other people down, insinuate special knowledge, or feed paranoia, are never a good sign.

Again, an issue that applies to all kinds of relationship is, how well established is a person? Even someone who moves round a lot should have older friendships, people who drop by to visit them, friends they allude to in anecdotes. Even the most socially inept people tend to have someone they care about. A person setting themselves up as a teacher, a leader, an active social figure, should have some kind of visible history, and that should include previous students, or friends, some signs of a family. This isn’t foolproof, I’ve known some atrocious people who had all the trappings of normalcy, but I’ve yet to find a person who has no longstanding friendships, without there being considerable reasons for this.

There was a chap who came to the midlands, announced that he was a third degree wiccan, that he was starting a coven, and doing all manner of other things. There were later claims of fraud, and other nastiness. He got away with all sorts of things for years. It was only by chance that someone turned up from the same part of the country he had come from, who knew him, and knew that he’d only been actively pagan a couple of years, and that all his claims were lies. We aren’t always that fortunate in uncovering the manipulative.

Trust is a vital and precious thing, essential for any serious human interaction. But there are predators, users and abusers out there, and some of them will call themselves pagan. To such people, nothing is sacred. Finding a path to walk between the soulfulness of trust and the necessity of caution is not easy.