When People Claim Abusers Don’t Know What They’re Doing

I once saw a meme that basically said to forgive your parents no matter what they have done to you.  They were wounded from their childhood & didn’t know what they were doing to you because of that.  It’s up to you to break the cycle. 

I’ve noticed this mentality is pretty common, & not always with parents.  It can be said with an abusive spouse who was raised watching one parent abuse the other.  It also can be said of the mother in-law mistreats her daughter in-law.  Her mother in-law wasn’t good to her so clearly she must not know how to be a good mother in-law.

The problem with this is this is nothing more than an excuse.  It’s an apologist stand in favor of abusive people.  It is so wrong!

While yes, people whose parents abused them may not know how to be a good parent, but they at least know what not to do.  Those parents know that certain things a parent can do to a child hurt the child, because their parents did those things to them.  As a result, they shouldn’t do those same things to their children.

Many people who survive abuse in some way stop the cycle.  They recognize the behaviors they were subjected to were bad, so they don’t repeat the behaviors.  They try not to be like their abusers.  They probably will make mistakes but they recognize they did things wrong & change their behavior accordingly.  They also don’t act out of maliciousness.  People like this deserve mercy & understanding because at least they are trying.

There are others who aren’t so worthy of understanding. 

A parent who can watch their child cry because of something they have said or done without emotion & makes no changes to avoid hurting their child again is not innocent.

A parent who regularly criticizes their child, even to the point of brining the child to tears or causing that child to feel shame while offering no assistance in improving the problem being criticized is not making innocent mistakes.  That is someone who enjoys deliberately hurting their child.

A parent who laughs at their child or is obviously disgusted with this child also is someone who enjoys deliberately hurting their child by destroying their self esteem.

A parent who keeps their child from relationships with safe people is not protecting their child, nor are they innocent.  They are deliberately isolating their child so they can abuse that child.

A parent who controls their child & makes that child into what they want the child to be rather than allow the child to be the person God made them to be isn’t innocent either.  They are abusive.

While I do agree it is best to forgive abusers in the sense of releasing abusers from you having any expectation of making things up to their victims, I firmly believe that forgiving & forgetting abusive people because “they just don’t know better” when their actions say otherwise is a foolish move.  Doing so only allows abusers to continue to abuse without consequences.  That isn’t good for victims, because it means they will tolerate so much suffering.  It also isn’t good for abusers either, because it means they will continue in their unhealthy, abusive & even sinful behavior rather than having any chance to improve themselves.


Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Christian Topics and Prayers, Mental Health, Narcissism

18 responses to “When People Claim Abusers Don’t Know What They’re Doing

  1. I have heard this A THOUSAND TIMES, usually in AA meetings but in other places. Not only about my parents (who, although they were great in some ways, were terrible in others) but also about every last person whoever abused me. It’s right up there with the New Age “you attract to you your situation” … another version of “it’s all your fault, ya know”.

    It’s incredibly wounding & doesn’t do a thing to help or heal the person in need.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Cynthia, you are so correct, we must hold people to account. And, this is an excuse.

    I would add a comment provided by someone who works for an endowment that supports kids who have been mentally and physically abused. Their goal is to help break the cycle of abuse while helping the child. He referenced a study without citing its name, but I can assure your readers this person is one who believes in measuring outcomes from their funding help. He said the study revealed abused kids had a higher propensity to abuse their kids or marry an abuser than kids who grew up without such abuse.

    To be frank, this study’s results surprised me, as you would think the opposite conclusion would result. That is why he wanted to help reach these kids saying this is not normative or good behavior by the abusive parent. He said if the cycle is broken, the kids would have a lower propensity. Please note citing propensity does not mean they are likely, it just means that more adults who have been abused as kids, have a higher probability of abusing than others.

    Again, this does not let anyone off the hook for abuse. It is wrong. As an aside, I volunteered as a Boardmember to help working homeless families. About 1/3 of our working mothers were homeless because of ending an abusive relationship. They and their kids were abused and lost their home. That caused a higher degree of PTSD in both the mother and children. Let me add, if anyone reading this is in an abusive relationship – find a way to get out. He (or she) will not change. Full stop.

    Good post. Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing that Keith!

      I can believe that. Kinda like someone whose parents suffer from depression. It’s not a guarantee that person will too, but they are more likely to than someone whose parents don’t live with depression.

      Thank God many people end the cycle. If only all did! My mother was one whose mother abused her (mostly neglected) & to her credit, she definitely was different than her mother. She just went way too far the other way with me & became excessively controlling.

      Liked by 1 person

    • annealcroft

      “Let me add, if anyone reading this is in an abusive relationship – find a way to get out. He (or she) will not change. Full stop.”

      One of the most damaging and horrifying aspects of the kind of abuse you write about, Keith, is that the malignant narcissist abuser will almost always find a way to perpetuate and amplify his abuses by finding a way to incorporate financial abuse in his bag of tricks.

      There is no other way but to get out of the relationship whatever the cost, because even if one goes “no contact” with the abuser, one way or the other he will find a way to set up a trap to ensnare his victim by using the financial weapon.

      The insidious way they calculate, connive, twist, lie, cheat, and then slither underneath it all is absolutely astonishing. These people are beyond evil, beyond disgusting, they are simply filth. Having to engage with them on any level is like being forced to drink waste water. You are right. Full stop. No matter the repercussions, even if it ends up that we are left homeless for a while.

      There have been several times in my life I found myself homeless because of abuse. I am facing another crisis in my life now having to do with my inheritance from my mother’s estate which my father admitted to embezzling, and spending, yet refuses to take any kind of responsibility whatsoever, whether that be repentance, apology, or some attempt at honest compensation. Now he claims he “administers a trust” yet at other times, claims he doesn’t know what I’m talking about when I ask him to provide information about the trust. This invariably engages in a cycle of insanity that ends up being a futile waste of time. There is no holding these people accountable unless one has the financial resources to pull the stops and pursue legal redress.

      He claims he is Christian yet also claims he has no reason to feel guilty for committing adultery with another man’s wife after my mother died. That’s just some of it. It is so absolutely heartbreaking to accept that there is no remedy as it is impossible to reason with someone who has “sold out.” Period.

      Thanks, Keith, for your good post.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I find it hard to believe that my mother didn’t know any better. Why? Because as a small child even I knew what she was doing was wrong. Yeah, I gotta forgive. But no, I don’t have to excuse the behavior that even a child can recognize as foolish and hurtful behavior

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree 10000%! Those who truly don’t know any better are pretty easy to spot. They don’t work to hide their evil deeds. To them it’s normal so why hide anything? But, to those who do know better, they do their best to hide their behavior. They act better around certain people (those they want to impress), & they bully their victims into keeping the abuse a secret. I firmly believe the vast majority of abusers truly know better & those who don’t are very rare.


  4. The adult is always the responsible party. Adults who may have been abused themselves carry the knowledge to make changes in their behavior before it impacts their children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly. They make mistakes doing that (& change their behavior accordingly) but they don’t deliberately hurt their children!


    • annealcroft

      “Adults who may have been abused themselves carry the knowledge to make changes in their behavior before it impacts their children.”

      So very true. Why then, do they chose not to make the changes that impact the lives of their children no matter what age, but instead, persist in their abuses?

      The abuser never stops abusing. Everything they do, every word they speak, is calculated so they can gain dominance over their victims. They have a cunning, slimy, creepy way of slithering out from underneath their transgressions and ultimately they believe that they are fooling God. They have no remorse for the pain they cause their children, the harm they inflict upon others, yet they will actually worship people who exploit them if they think they are climbing the social ladder or if such associations are providing them their narcissistic supply. But sooner or later, when that runs out, then what?

      The bottom line is, these people chose between God and Satan yet are completely convinced they themselves are God. They are really quite disgusting.


      • Naturally I can’t answer that for all abusers who were abused as children. I’ll try some though.

        I think some are simply doing what they know to do because it’s too difficult make changes. Facing their pain is something they’d rather avoid at all costs. Others probably are of the mentality “I’ll hurt everyone before they hurt me!” Some I think might be like my mother who was nothing like her abusive mother. Her mother was ignoring. My mother knew how that felt so she wanted to be different, but went way too far & became engulfing.

        True. Narcissists put themselves on the same level as God whether or not they even realize it.


  5. Reblogged this on Emerging From The Dark Night and commented:
    A very helpful post.. sometimes being told to forgive is just allowing more damage to keep happening.


  6. I agree with what you are saying. We are all accountable for our actions and behavior. We can have a rough childhood, but that doesn’t give us a free ticket to do the same for our children.


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