Profile of an Abuser

Below is the profile of an abuser that I borrowed from

I think it is essential that church leaders figure this out and get this out there.  States don’t differentiate between psychological, physical and sexual abuse in their mandatory reporting statutes, so we all need to be on guard against the predators out there among us.

In his column, Steve Cornell references Steven R. Tracy’s four general characteristics of abusers from the book Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse. Here’s a rundown:

1. Pervasive denial of responsibility. Tracy says this is the single most consistent characteristic of abusers. They are utterly unwilling to accept responsibility for their behavior. They excuse, rationalize, and justify away their behavior. It’s always someone else who is responsible.

2. Bold deceitfulness. These people create and live in their own self-serving reality. Tracy says they are masterful manipulators. . . and when they are caught, they can “confuse, confound, and put others on the defensive.”  I once had a friend describe someone like this as being a master at Jedi mind tricks. The person had seen the perpetrator in action. When caught, the perpetrator actually convinced the witness that he didn’t really see what he saw. . . until the witness “shook off” the deception.

3. Harsh judgmentalism. In an effort to deflect attention from themselves, they will replace their own shame with blame in order to escape a guilty conscience. Tracy says that self-righteous religious communities function as safe havens for these types of people. Again, I’ve seen this happen.

4. Calculated intimidation. This is the abuser’s “weapon of choice.” They threaten their victims into silence and submission. Sometimes they manipulate in positive ways through gifts, compliments, and affirmation.

Steve Cornell goes on to add a fifth characteristic that I think is dead-on and very helpful. . . .

5. Fear of rejection. Abusers have issues with acceptance and rejection. After studying narcissism for the last several years, it’s increasingly obvious to me that the people who entice and abuse the young are consummate narcissists.

For more of my input on Abusers, see my blog post on it here: What the church can learn from JoePa and Penn State

Here are my tips from the article I wrote above:


  1. Remember that in all reporting cases to keep a strong paper trail of who you talk to, when and what was conveyed.  Record who is the designated agent, when they were informed and what you know of what they did to follow through.
  2. Review your reporting and child safety policies.  Do you have a Designated Agent?  Do they know how to do what they need to do when asked?
  3. If the mandated reporter chooses not to call… yet you feel there is more than enough to call… you still need to make the call.  Realize that often in small church environments, this may get you fired.  You can often do this anonymously… covering yourself (you get a reporter ID number in general).  While you might have some whistle blower protections, your church might not care.
  4. Keep training your staff on these policies and procedures.
  5. Hopefully your church has a lawyer on retainer.  If so ask them if you have doubts.  If not, you can still call that hotline with the information you have, and they will still choose whether or not you have enough information to go on.

Get More Tips on Dealing with all sorts of Hurting Teens and Families here:


99 Thoughts on Caring for Your Youth Group - Physical

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