Can an Abuser/’Perpetrator of Domestic Violence’ change?
*Puts the therapist hat on*
For this, I’m going to carefully define a perpetrator of violence, aka an abuser, as someone who knows that they are harmful, but keep doing it anyway. In contrast, people who are ignorant will improve upon finding out that they are doing harm. You have likely told the person of the consequence of what they do – the abuser will either pretend incomprehension despite your best efforts to explain it, be indifferent to your pain, or blame you and anyone else for their actions. The abuser may pretend to “do better”, sometimes for weeks, but will then fall back to the same harmful behaviour rapidly.
That is how you will know them.
Can the abuser change?
Technically yes, a perpetrator can change. They have to be genuinely, absolutely, desperate and alone to do so. When it happens, they need to have hit rock bottom. Really bottom. Then sink a bit more.
They need to realise that there is no one else left to blame for what they are doing, and that the only one who can save them from this hell is themselves.
If they are lucky, they’ll get some help. If they do that, and spend a few years recreating themselves, they might become a decent person.
But only to new people. Never the old. Old people will bring out their former self. They’ll not be able to help themself. It might take a few days, or a few weeks, even a year in very rare cases.
Then that old ‘them’ is back. Often worse.
When we experience a relationship with an abuser, we have to realise that so long as we try to save them, they won’t hit that absolute bottom. Without hitting that absolute bottom, they can’t change.
When we meet a former perpetrator, they might tell us the truth, that they have got better; but mostly they will lie and only claim to have got better. If they have improved and turned their life to being good, the worst thing we can do is try to be their friend or partner.
If they’ve truly changed, proximity to their old victim will destroy this ‘new them’.
If they are lying, the best thing we can do is politely decline their offer of a meeting and potential friendship – essentially avoid them. Perpetrators frequently use the moves “but I want to apologise to you!” or “I need closure!” or “be kind to me” or “but I need [X] from you so that I can heal!” to con you in.
No. They don’t need those things.
It is a con.
They are trying once again to hijack your sense of decency.
They’ll seem so sincere, so believable. You’ll think they are truly redeemed.
Just remember that when they conned you into a relationship in the first place, that ‘charming them’ seemed so believable then too – and look at what falling for that cost you.
Just don’t go there.
Even if they are genuine, in that they have changed, they don’t need to apologise to you. Nor do they need your forgiveness. Nor do they require closure to get on with their life.
Imagine that you’d died – what would they do now? They’d have to accept that you were out of reach to apologise to, to get closure from, or gain help from you. They’d have to figure out how to move on without you. They can bloody well do that now.
With therapy, anyone can get there. They don’t need you – they need a therapist.
And if you are a therapist and you are recommending this step to people you have recognised as a perpetrator – stop it. That’s putting the victims in more danger.
You, the ex victim, need to be virtually dead to them. This both protects you from those who lie about being changed, and protects the very rare honestly changed ex-perpetrator from reverting to their abusive self in proximity to an old victim.
So technically, while a perpetrator can become a better person (very rare), they can’t do it while they know their victim in the present or the future. If your hope is that they can become a nonviolent person in your life – give that hope up.
*again, a perpetrator here is defined as someone who isn’t making ignorant mistakes or has only been taught bad habits; such that when you charitably point out there ‘mistake’ and the harm it is doing, a perpetrator of violence won’t ‘learn’ or ‘change habits’ to avoid the harm.
** I have quite a few articles and videos on Domestic Violence and Perpetrators of Violence [Link] if you would like to learn more