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The Psychology of Domestic Abusers and Their Propensity Factors for Violence

A sad boy with a piece of tape over his mouth that says "HELP"

As law enforcement investigators, your commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of victims of domestic violence is paramount. Understanding the psychology of domestic abusers is crucial for effective investigation and intervention. In this blog post, we will delve into the distorted self-image, emotional need for control, and various psychological factors underlying these offenses. By exploring evidence related to power and control elements, digital devices and communications, as well as behavioral psychology and patterns of speech, we can enhance our understanding of these offenders and shed light on their motivations and behaviors.

Distorted Self-Image and Emotional Need for Control:

Violent offenders who abuse women and children often exhibit distorted self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth. These individuals may harbor deep-seated insecurities and deficiencies in their sense of self. To compensate for these internal struggles, they develop an intense emotional need for control and possession of people and their actions. By exerting power and control over their victims, they seek validation and a false sense of superiority. Understanding these dynamics is crucial in unraveling the motives behind their abusive behaviors.

Key Characteristics of Physical Abusers:

Violent offenders who commit domestic abuse offenses against their families will typically have key characteristics that define how they operate within their homes and within the world. Most of these offenders will be high in “deep narcissism”, “Machiavellianism” and “assertive control”.

  • Narcissism: Abusers who exhibit high levels of narcissism possess an inflated sense of self-importance and an excessive preoccupation with their own needs and desires. They have a grandiose self-image and lack genuine empathy or concern for others. Their self-love is primarily focused on maintaining their own self-esteem and gaining admiration from others. This self-centeredness often leads them to exploit and manipulate others for personal gain, disregarding the emotional well-being and boundaries of their victims.

  • Machiavellianism: Machiavellianism refers to the personality trait associated with manipulative and cunning behavior. Abusers high in Machiavellianism possess a strong desire for power, control, and influence over others. They are skilled at using charm, manipulation, and guile to achieve their goals, often at the expense of others' well-being. These individuals have a deep understanding of human psychology and use their knowledge to exploit vulnerabilities and manipulate situations to their advantage.

  • Assertive Control: Abusers with assertive control traits have a strong need for dominance and control over others. They believe that their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and desires are the only ones that matter. They exhibit a sense of entitlement and enforce their dominance through various manipulative tactics, such as coercion, intimidation, and psychological abuse. They systematically undermine the autonomy and independence of their victims, seeking to maintain absolute control over every aspect of the relationship.

Abusers who possess these traits often engage in abusive behaviors to establish and maintain power and control over their victims. They use manipulation, coercion, and psychological tactics to achieve their desired outcomes while disregarding the rights and well-being of those they victimize. It is important to recognize these traits and characteristics when working with victims and conducting investigations, as understanding the motivations and behaviors of abusers can aid in developing effective strategies to support and protect victims.

Roots in Childhood and Stunted Emotional Intelligence:

The roots of violent offenders' behaviors often trace back to their childhood experiences. Environmental and sociological factors play a significant role in shaping their development and influencing their propensity for violence. Understanding these early experiences is essential in comprehending the motivations behind their abusive behaviors.

During their formative years, violent offenders may have experienced a lack of secure attachments and proper emotional nurturing. This can result from neglect, inconsistent caregiving, abuse, or other adverse experiences. Without the presence of healthy and secure relationships, they were unable to develop a sense of trust, empathy, and emotional regulation. As a result, they develop an insecure attachment style characterized by a need to seek comfort and stability within themselves.

The absence of secure attachments and emotional nurturing contributes to a self-centered worldview. These individuals become primarily focused on their own needs and desires, lacking genuine concern for others' feelings. Their inability to form deep connections or empathize with others can make them dangerous perpetrators of abuse. They prioritize their own gratification and control over the well-being of their victims, disregarding the harm they inflict.

One significant consequence of their disrupted childhood experiences is the stunted development of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand, manage, and express emotions effectively. Violent offenders may exhibit limited emotional intelligence, behaving and thinking in ways that resemble those of a child, particularly during times of stress.

Their emotional intelligence may manifest through various childlike behaviors and thought patterns. These can include seeking immediate gratification, constantly seeking stimulation and pleasure, impulsivity, an inability to foresee the consequences of their actions, difficulty communicating emotions and needs effectively, temper tantrums, extreme selfishness, and a lack of impulse control.

It is important to note that although these offenders may exhibit childlike behaviors, they are adults who are fully responsible for their actions. Their stunted emotional intelligence does not absolve them of accountability or diminish the harm they cause. It simply highlights the impact of their disrupted childhood experiences on their emotional development.

Violation of Boundaries:

Violent offenders who abuse women and children often demonstrate a disregard for personal boundaries. However, it is important to recognize that this violation of boundaries typically occurs within the private realm of their own homes and behind closed doors. Publicly, they may present a false image of normalcy, making it challenging for others to detect the abuse and for investigators to gather evidence.

These offenders are adept at maintaining a façade of normalcy and often go to great lengths to appear respectable and in control to the outside world. They may present themselves as loving partners or caring parents, actively concealing their abusive behavior from friends, family, and the community. This contrast between their public persona and their abusive behavior behind closed doors can be disorienting and make it difficult for victims to seek help or for investigators to uncover the truth.

By violating personal boundaries, these offenders exert control and power over their victims. They may manipulate and exploit their victims' trust, often utilizing emotional manipulation, coercion, and intimidation tactics to maintain dominance. In the privacy of their homes, they may engage in various forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological, without concern for the well-being of their victims.

The violation of boundaries within the domestic context can manifest in different ways. For example, the offender may use physical force or threats to establish dominance and control over their victims. They may invade personal space, restrict freedom of movement, and use physical aggression to enforce compliance. Emotional manipulation is another tactic commonly employed, whereby offenders use tactics such as gaslighting, manipulation of guilt, and emotional blackmail to undermine the victim's sense of self-worth and agency.

It is crucial for investigators to understand this distinction between the private and public behavior of violent offenders. While the abuse may remain hidden from public view, it is important to gather evidence and build a comprehensive case against the offender. This involves conducting thorough interviews with victims and witnesses, collecting digital evidence such as messages and online communications, and analyzing behavioral patterns and psychological dynamics within the home.

Impulse Control and Inherent Control over Violence:

While it is true that some offenders may struggle with impulse control in certain areas of their lives, it is crucial to emphasize that when it comes to perpetrating violence and abuse, they are ultimately in control of their actions. It is important to recognize that their abusive behavior is not a result of uncontrollable impulses or external factors, but rather a deliberate choice to exert power and control over their victims.

When examining the timing, location, and manner in which these offenders carry out their abusive acts, it becomes evident that they exercise a high degree of calculation and control. They carefully select when and where to engage in abusive behavior, often choosing to do so in the privacy of their own homes and away from the public eye. This demonstrates their awareness of societal consequences and the desire to avoid attracting attention or intervention from external sources, such as law enforcement or concerned neighbors.

By deliberately abusing behind closed doors, these offenders maintain a sense of power and control over their victims. They are fully aware of the societal norms and legal boundaries that prohibit their abusive actions, yet they intentionally choose to violate those boundaries within the confines of their private relationships. This calculated decision-making indicates a deeper understanding of the potential consequences they may face if their abusive behavior were to be exposed.

Attributing their actions solely to a lack of impulse control would overlook the underlying motivations and dynamics at play. These offenders are driven by a need for power, control, and dominance over their victims, and they carefully plan and execute their abusive acts to maintain that control. They exert power and control not only through their physical actions but also through psychological manipulation, emotional abuse, and the establishment of coercive and controlling dynamics within the relationship.

Recognizing that these offenders have a level of control over their violent expressions is crucial for understanding the complexity of their abusive behavior and for holding them accountable for their actions. It highlights their responsibility and the conscious choices they make to harm their victims in calculated ways. By acknowledging this, law enforcement investigators can approach their work with a greater understanding of the offender's mindset and motivations, which can ultimately contribute to more effective intervention, prevention, and the protection of victims.

Evidence in Power & Control Elements:

When investigating cases of domestic abuse, it is essential to recognize the presence of power and control elements. These can manifest in various ways, such as physical dominance, strict rules, and demands for obedience. Offenders may use intimidation, threats, and manipulation to exert power over their victims. By carefully examining the dynamics of power and control within the relationship, investigators can gather valuable evidence to support their cases and ensure the safety of the victims.

The Power and Control Wheel is a helpful tool that identifies various tactics used by abusers to establish and maintain power and control over their victims. Here are some examples of power and control elements within the wheel, along with corresponding examples of how law enforcement might gather evidence to prove each element:

  • Physical and Sexual Abuse: Law enforcement can collect medical records, photographs of injuries, forensic evidence, and testimonies from victims, witnesses, or healthcare professionals who have documented the physical or sexual abuse.

  • Emotional Abuse: Officers can interview victims, witnesses, or family members who can provide accounts of the abuser's demeaning or belittling language, insults, threats, constant criticism, or efforts to humiliate or degrade the victim. Corresponding messages, emails, or recordings containing emotional abuse can also serve as evidence.

  • Isolation: Law enforcement can interview victims, friends, family members, or neighbors who can provide statements regarding the abuser's efforts to isolate the victim. This may include restricting access to communication devices, preventing social interactions, or interfering with the victim's relationships.

  • Coercive Control: Officers can examine digital evidence, such as text messages, emails, or social media interactions, to identify instances where the abuser exerted control over the victim's behavior, finances, daily activities, or decision-making. This can also include evidence of monitoring the victim's movements or online activities.

  • Economic Abuse: Investigators can gather financial records, bank statements, or other documentation that demonstrates the abuser's control or exploitation of the victim's financial resources. This can include evidence of the abuser restricting access to money, controlling finances, or preventing the victim from obtaining employment or education.

  • Threats and Intimidation: Law enforcement can collect statements from victims, witnesses, or those who have heard the abuser making threats or engaging in intimidating behavior. This can also include evidence of threatening messages, voicemails, or recorded conversations.

  • Using Children: Officers can interview the children involved, if appropriate, to gather information about any manipulation or exploitation by the abuser. They can also collect statements from witnesses, school personnel, or healthcare providers who may have observed signs of the abuser using children as a means of control or punishment.

  • Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming: Law enforcement can collect statements or recordings of the abuser minimizing or denying their abusive behavior. They can also interview witnesses or family members who can attest to the abuser's tendency to shift blame onto the victim or others, or their efforts to downplay the severity of the abuse.

  • Male Privilege: Investigators can gather statements or documentation that illustrates instances where the abuser displayed a sense of entitlement or superiority based on gender. This may include statements or actions that reflect a belief in traditional gender roles or an expectation that the victim should adhere to stereotypical gender norms.

  • Cultural, Religious, or Social Privilege: Law enforcement can collect statements or evidence that demonstrate how the abuser uses their cultural, religious, or social background to assert power and control over the victim. This can include evidence of using cultural or religious beliefs to justify abusive behavior or to prevent the victim from seeking help.

Evidence in Digital Devices and Communications:

The digital realm can provide significant insights into the mindset and behaviors of violent offenders. Examination of their digital devices and communications can uncover evidence of abusive patterns, control tactics, and the offender's mindset. They may engage in coercive and manipulative communication tactics, monitor and restrict the victim's online activities, or exploit social media to demean or control their victims. Digital evidence can be instrumental in understanding the dynamics of the abusive relationship and gathering crucial evidence for legal proceedings.

When conducting digital or social media evidence searches on a domestic or child physical abuser's devices or accounts, law enforcement may come across several relevant pieces of information. Here are some examples:

  • Threatening or Harassing Messages: Law enforcement may discover text messages, direct messages, or emails containing threats, intimidation, or harassment towards the victim. These messages can establish a pattern of abusive behavior or demonstrate the abuser's intent to control or harm the victim.

  • Incriminating Photos or Videos: Investigators may find explicit photos or videos depicting the abuse or injuries inflicted on the victim. These visual pieces of evidence can corroborate the victim's account and serve as compelling evidence in court.

  • Evidence of Stalking or Monitoring: Abusers often engage in stalking or monitoring behaviors to maintain control over their victims. Digital evidence may reveal GPS location tracking, spyware applications, or other means of covert surveillance used by the abuser to monitor the victim's activities.

  • Online Threats or Posts: Abusers may use social media platforms to publicly threaten, humiliate, or demean the victim. Investigating posts, comments, or public messages can provide evidence of the abuser's intent to harm or control the victim.

  • Coercive Control: Digital evidence may uncover instances where the abuser exerted coercive control over the victim. This can include monitoring the victim's online activities, controlling their social media accounts, or pressuring them to share personal information against their will.

  • Evidence of Isolation: Investigators may find evidence of the abuser isolating the victim from their social networks by deleting contacts, blocking access to communication platforms, or interfering with their online interactions.

  • Communication with Third Parties: Digital evidence may reveal communication between the abuser and third parties, such as mutual acquaintances, family members, or friends. These interactions may shed light on the dynamics of the abusive relationship or uncover attempts by the abuser to manipulate or influence others.

  • Online Purchases or Search History: Investigators may find evidence of the abuser searching for or purchasing items related to abusive behavior, such as weapons, restraining devices, or materials used for surveillance.

  • Online Support Groups or Forums: Abusers may be part of online communities that promote or normalize abusive behavior. Discovering the abuser's involvement in such groups can provide insight into their mindset and help build a case against them.

  • Deleted Content or Attempts to Conceal Evidence: While conducting digital searches, law enforcement may come across evidence of the abuser attempting to delete or hide incriminating content. This can indicate consciousness of guilt and a willingness to evade detection.

Evidence in Behavioral Psychology and Patterns of Speech:

Behavioral psychology and patterns of speech can offer valuable clues into the mindset of violent offenders. During interviews, these individuals often employ strategies to minimize, rationalize, deny, and blame-shift their actions. By using their language and the themes they present, investigators can encourage them to inadvertently provide insights into their crimes and motivations. Analyzing their speech patterns and behavioral psychology can aid in understanding their distorted thinking, enabling a more effective investigation.

Here is a list of characteristics, traits, and behaviors commonly associated with men who physically abuse women or children in a domestic context. It is important to note that while these characteristics may be present in some cases, they are not definitive indicators, and each individual case should be assessed on its own merits:

  • Controlling Behavior: Abusers often exhibit an intense need for control over their partners or family members. They may dictate who the victim can interact with, control finances, monitor activities, or isolate the victim from friends and family.

  • Jealousy and Possessiveness: Abusers may display extreme jealousy and possessiveness, constantly questioning the victim's actions, accusing them of infidelity, or monitoring their movements. This behavior is aimed at exerting control and power over the victim.

  • Explosive Anger: Abusers frequently have difficulty managing their anger and may display explosive outbursts over minor issues. They may use physical violence as a means to release their anger and regain control.

  • Manipulation and Gaslighting: Abusers often engage in manipulative tactics, such as gaslighting, to distort the victim's perception of reality and make them doubt their own experiences. They may deny or minimize their abusive behavior, shift blame onto the victim, or make them feel responsible for the abuse.

  • Low Self-Esteem: Contrary to popular belief, abusers often have low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. They may use power and control tactics as a means to compensate for their own insecurities and gain a sense of superiority.

  • Lack of Empathy: Abusers may display a lack of empathy or disregard for the feelings and well-being of their victims. They may be unable or unwilling to understand the pain they inflict and show little remorse for their actions.

  • Cycle of Violence: Abusive relationships often follow a cycle of violence, which includes a tension-building phase, an explosive incident of abuse, and a reconciliation or honeymoon phase where the abuser apologizes and promises change. This cycle repeats over time, with the abuse escalating in severity.

  • Substance Abuse: While not all abusers struggle with substance abuse, it can be a contributing factor in some cases. Substance abuse may exacerbate aggressive behavior and impair judgment, leading to a higher risk of violence.

  • Blaming Others: Abusers frequently shift responsibility and blame onto others for their violent behavior. They may justify their actions by blaming the victim, external circumstances, or past experiences, minimizing their personal accountability.

  • Intergenerational Transmission of Violence: Some abusers may have grown up in households where violence was normalized or witnessed abuse between their parents or caregivers. This exposure to violence during childhood can contribute to their own violent tendencies in adulthood.

  • Emotional Instability: Abusers may have difficulty regulating their emotions and may exhibit extreme mood swings. They may use emotional manipulation, threats, or intimidation to control their victims.

  • Isolation and Dependency: Abusers often isolate their victims from friends, family, and support systems, creating a dependency on the abuser for emotional and financial needs. This isolation makes it more difficult for the victim to seek help or leave the abusive relationship.

Conducting Effective Interviews with Domestic Abusers:

When law enforcement conducts interviews with abusers who are high in narcissism, Machiavellianism, and assertive control, it is crucial to understand their communication patterns and tactics. Abusers often employ various strategies to manipulate the narrative, downplay their actions, and shift blame onto others. Recognizing these tactics and using strategic interview techniques can help investigators gather valuable information and elicit insights into the abuser's motivations and actions.

  • Minimization: Abusers often downplay the severity of their actions or the impact they have on their victims. They may attempt to diminish the harm caused, portray themselves as victims, or emphasize other factors that they believe mitigate their behavior. During interviews, they may minimize incidents, make excuses, or provide alternative explanations to rationalize their actions. Law enforcement must be vigilant in identifying and challenging these minimizing tactics to uncover the truth.

  • Rationalization: Abusers frequently engage in rationalization to justify their abusive behaviors. They may attempt to provide seemingly logical reasons or justifications for their actions, often distorting reality or manipulating facts to align with their narrative. This rationalization can involve shifting the blame onto the victim, externalizing responsibility, or creating false equivalencies. Investigators need to carefully examine the abuser's rationalizations and counter them with objective evidence and logical reasoning.

  • Denial: Denial is a common strategy employed by abusers during interviews. They may flatly deny any wrongdoing, refuse to acknowledge the harm caused, or distort the facts of the case. Denial can be both explicit and implicit, with abusers using various tactics to evade responsibility. Law enforcement should be prepared to challenge denials by presenting contradictory evidence or using techniques that encourage self-reflection and accountability.

  • Blame Shifting: Abusers often deflect blame onto others, attempting to shift responsibility away from themselves. They may attribute their actions to external factors, such as stress, provocation, or the behavior of their victims. By redirecting blame, abusers seek to diminish their culpability and manipulate perceptions of the situation. Investigators should be aware of these tactics and carefully analyze the evidence to uncover the truth and hold the abuser accountable.

During interviews with abusers, law enforcement can use a strategic approach that considers the abuser's language and the themes they present. By understanding the abuser's communication style and actively listening to their narratives, investigators can identify inconsistencies, challenge manipulations, and gather valuable insights into the abuser's mindset, motivations, and modus operandi. By using the abuser's language and themes, law enforcement can create a context that encourages the abuser to reveal more information, implicate themselves, and provide additional insights into the crimes committed.

It is important for law enforcement to approach these interviews with a solid understanding of the abuser's tactics and to maintain a professional and objective stance throughout the process. By skillfully navigating the interview, law enforcement can gather crucial evidence, uncover the truth, and build strong cases against the abusers, ultimately ensuring the safety and justice for the victims.


As law enforcement investigators, delving into the minds of violent offenders who abuse women and children in domestic settings is crucial for effective intervention and ensuring the safety of victims. By understanding the distorted self-image, emotional need for control, and various psychological factors that underlie these offenses, you can enhance your ability to investigate and build cases against these offenders. Recognizing evidence in power and control elements, digital devices and communications, as well as behavioral psychology and speech patterns, will contribute to a comprehensive understanding of these crimes. Together, we can work towards preventing domestic abuse and promoting safer communities.



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