Five Types of Abusers and Their Characteristics

Are all abusers the same? It seems not. In fact, different authors have made an effort to draw a complete typology of those people who don't hesitate to cause harm to others to achieve their goals. Do you want to find out about them?
Five Types of Abusers and Their Characteristics

Last update: 31 May, 2022

As a civilization, we’ve achieved great technological progress. Undoubtedly, it’s made our lives easier. However, at an ethical, moral, relational, and human level, it seems that we’ve not advanced that much. Indeed, people and animals remain exposed to mistreatment by others.

We’re talking about an affective, behavioral, and cognitive pattern through which another human being (or animal) is harmed and certain control over it is obtained or maintained. In fact, any physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological act with which another person is harmed is considered to be abuse.

Just as there are different types of abuse, there are also different types of abusers. Let’s take a look at them.

Types of abusers

According to Amor, Echeburúa, and Loinaz (2009), there are two classifications that have guided the study and debate on the types of abusers.

Man treating a woman badly, showing one of the different types of abusers.
Abusers often have aggressive and manipulative traits, as well as a low tolerance for frustration.

Gottman et al. classification (1995)

According to this classification, there are two types of abusers, the cobra, and the pit bull. This typology has been defined by referencing the cardiac response of the abuser to a couple’s argument.

Type 1 abusers (cobra)

In this type of abuser, their heart rate decreases in the face of the argument. They’re characterized by being antisocial, aggressive, and sadistic.

The mistreatment that they cause to the other person is planned (instrumental). Furthermore, it doesn’t generate any feelings of guilt or remorse in them.

Type 2 abusers (pit bull)

Unlike type 1 abusers, type 2s have an increased heart rate during arguments. They’re characterized as being passive-aggressive, with chronic anger issues, and an insecure attachment style. Their psychopathological profile shows an avoidant and borderline personality pattern.

The abuse they exercise isn’t planned, but impulsive. This reflects serious problems with impulse control and the expression of emotions.

Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994) classification

The types of abusers in this classification are as follows:

Overcontrolled abusers

They’re violent in the family sphere with their children and partner. However, the frequency of abuse and its severity are small compared to other abusers. In addition, they’re less likely to abuse or sexually assault their partner.

Some of their characteristics are as follows:

  • They present passive, dependent, and obsessive personality traits.
  • They usually regret the mistreatment they commit and generally disapprove of violence.
  • They’re low-risk abusers.
  • They have difficulties in the use of social skills.
  • Their relationships are relatively stable.

Impulsive or borderline abusers

They’re violent physically, psychologically, and sexually. The intensity of the abuse ranges from medium to high. It isn’t only limited to the family environment, as in the case of the overcontrolled abuser. In fact, it can extend to any area.

Abuse is the product of accumulated internal tension. These are its characteristics:

  • Impulsivity.
  • Emotional instability and irascibility.
  • Chronic anger.
  • Abusive personality.
  • Fearful attachment.
  • Poor social and communication skills.
  • Low regret for mistreatment.
  • A history of childhood rejection and abuse.

Antisocial abusers

They make instrumental (intentional) use of physical and psychological abuse. This is expressed in a generalized way in all contexts of their lives. In fact, they use abuse as a strategy to get what they want and overcome their frustrations.

Unlike impulsive abusers, who act in response to accumulated tension, the antisocial abuser uses abuse in a cold, calculated, and planned way. Some characteristics of this type of abuser are the following:

  • Narcissism and manipulation.
  • They’ve suffered severe abuse in childhood.
  • There’s a high probability they abuse alcohol and drugs.
  • They’re high-risk offenders.
  • They possess poor social skills.

General characteristics of abusers

The particular characteristics of each abuser may vary from one to another. However, we can define some characteristics that more or less complete the profile of all of them. They’re as follows:

1. Insecurity

Abusers feel extremely insecure about themselves and the world. Their lack of security makes them distrustful, jealous, and controlling. Although they can come across as really confident people, this is only to compensate for their feelings of insecurity.

2. Poor social and communication skills

Abusers have difficulty relating to others in an assertive and satisfying way. Similarly, they have trouble communicating and expressing their thoughts and emotions assertively. These deficiencies make it impossible for them to resolve conflicts in a non-aggressive way.

3. Lack of empathy

Abusers have problems recognizing and understanding the mental and emotional states of others. Therefore, it’s difficult for them to represent in their minds how the other person may be feeling with regard to their mistreatment.

4. Aggressiveness

Abusive people are aggressive. They try to impose themselves on the other person, using fear, shame, and guilt. Indeed, the act of damaging or injuring is evident in each act of aggression committed against the other person. Without a doubt, aggressiveness is one of the main characteristics of all abusers.

Angry and screaming man
Aggressiveness serves them to maintain control and exercise power.

5. Dependence 

Abusers tend to be dependent. That’s because they need another person with whom they can reaffirm and dissipate their feelings of loneliness and abandonment. In fact, they need the other person to show how strong and confident they are.

6. A low tolerance for frustration

Abusers are unable to self-regulate and endure situations that frustrate them. This makes it difficult for them to manage negative or unpleasant feelings such as stress. Their inability to self-manage is expressed in irritable behaviors.

Each type of abuser is different. That said, the characteristics we’ve described allow us to have a global vision of the way they behave and relate to others.

This particular pattern of interacting is a psychosocial problem. Furthermore, it’s one that we should question profoundly. That’s because it’s not material things that are damaged by it, it’s human lives.

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  •  Amor, P. J., Echeburúa, E., & Loinaz, I. (2009). ¿ Se puede establecer una clasificación tipológica de los hombres violentos contra su pareja?. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology9(3), 519-539.
  • Calvete, E. (2008). Características de salud mental de los hombres que maltratan a su pareja. Revista Española de Sanidad Penitenciaria10(2), 49-56.
  • Gottman, J.M., Jacobson, N.S., Rushe, R.H., Shortt, J.W., Babcock, J., La Taillade, J.J. y Waltz, J. (1995). The relationship between heart rate reactivity, emotionally aggressive behavior, and general violence in batterers. Journal of Family Psychology, 9, 227-248.
  • Holtzworth-Munroe, A. y Stuart, G.L. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 476-497.