Most victims will hold out hope after hope after hope that their abuser will change. And most victims I know have given their abuser so many chances to do so. And when she does finally break the silence and seek help she is often encouraged to give more chances, hold onto more hope, forgive yet again, and trust the person who has laid her to waste.
And sometimes it looks like the abuser is changing. He is jumping through the hoops. He is acting nice. He may be pouring it on thick. But is it real change?
Lundy Bancroft is one of the most respected experts in working with abusers. (If you want to really understand abusers, read his book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. It is absolutely terrifying.)
Even if others may see some changes (and abusers are master manipulators and excellent actors) Bancroft admits that it really is only the victim who is best able to assess if real change has taken place. Only she can really tell. He wrote this excellent piece that I highly encourage you to read.
And remember that anybody can act the part for a certain amount of time. An abuser can play Dr. Jekyll for a good long time before reverting to Mr. Hyde. Encouraging a victim to trust prematurely is incredibly damaging. Trust has to be earned and it can only be earned when she sees the behavior change withstand the test of time.
That said, what would change in an abuser look like?
Here is Lundy Bancroft's list of of some ways to assess change in an abuser:
- Admitting fully to what he has done
- Stopping excuses
- Stopping all blaming of her
- Making amends
- Accepting responsibility (recognizing that abuse is a choice)
- Identifying patterns of controlling behavior, admitting their wrongness
- Identifying the attitudes that drive his abuse
- Accepting that overcoming abusiveness will be a decades-long process, not declaring himself cured
- Not starting to say, “so now it’s your turn to do your work”, not using change as a bargaining chip
- Not demanding credit for improvements he has made
- Not treating improvements as chips or vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (e.g. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so why are you making such a big deal about it?”)
- Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
- Carrying his weight
- Sharing power
- Changing how he is in highly heated conflicts
- Changing how he responds to his partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
- Changing his parenting
- Changing his treatment of her as a parent
- Changing his attitudes towards females in general
- Accepting the consequences of his actions (including not feeling sorry for himself about those consequences, and not blaming her or the children for them)
(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)