The Story of Abuse Larger Than Adrian Peterson

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Last week it was Adrian Peterson all day every day on the local talk radio shows and in every newspaper sports column in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The sensationalized celebrity football player who whipped and injured his four-year-old child with a switch didn’t have a chance. On and on they went with pious demonization. Appropriate shock, anger, and thoughtful consideration were overwhelmed by the explosion of shadowy energy that brought him from adulation to contempt in a moment.

Many dynamics played themselves out without reflection in the rush to judge and be done with it all: abuse, parenting, Texas justice, corporal punishment, cultural differences, the tearing down of heroic athletes, and the dissemination of illegally obtained police reports and invasive photos of the child.

Finally they drove him out-of-town.

I didn’t think a criminal indictment was necessary: Peterson cooperated with authorities without an attorney present. He voluntarily testified before a grand jury. Based on what we know right now, I think he needs help to unlearn what he experienced as a child more than he needs constant public humiliation. Appropriate shock and anger were understandable and necessary. But a humbled Peterson also deserved our empathy and compassion–not our self-righteous vilification. He will make a plea deal or go to trial before a jury of his peers in Texas. His punishment will be insignificant. I don’t care about his punishment; I care that he demonstrates that he’s learned better ways to discipline children, and I care about his future behavior.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tragic death of four-year-old Eric Dean professionally chronicled by Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl. Eric’s stepmother murdered him. Over many months before his death, people reported 15 instances of child abuse to Pope County, MN child protective services. Only one was investigated and wrongly dismissed. Citizens of Minnesota expressed their outrage but not to the level of the star athlete.

How could that be?

A violent and soul-destroying story underreported as much as the Peterson story was overblown goes on without end every day in the midst of those so upset last week.

Some Minnesota facts:

  • In 2013, men murdered 25 women in Minnesota in domestic abuse situations.
  • Women murdered seven men.
  • People made over 18,000 domestic violence calls to 911 in Minneapolis alone in 2009.
  • Child services in Minnesota does not investigate 71% of reports of child abuse.

Some national statistics:

  • A man batters a woman every nine seconds in the US.
  • An intimate partner has assaulted 25% of US women.
  • Police spend 1/3rd of their time responding to domestic violence disturbance calls.
  • Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.

Emotional, physical, and sexual abuse permeates our society. I never consulted in an organization where emotional abuse wasn’t prevalent. In addition to domestic abuse, some athletes—professional and amateur–bully those perceived to be “soft,” demonize gays and lesbians, and demand silence and conformity in the locker room. Reporters often observe this behavior and their silence colludes with the abuse. Newspapers report ugly stories of bullying and abuse in our schools. And what’s left to say about the Catholic Church? Abuse surrounds us.

Have we become desensitized to what is around us? Do we only react to what is new and sensational?

We need to wake up and see the reality of abuse as it is—not just the celebrity cases that poke our dark sides and gin up dumbed-down anger that is dangerous and unhealthy. Then we need to take on the challenges and with an anger transformed to a relentless determination eliminate abuse of all kinds in our lives, neighborhoods, workplaces, and national personality.
















Ray Rice and The Abuse of Women (2)

Baltimore Ravens football star, Ray Rice, was recently suspended by the NFL for two games after a video showed him dragging his unconscious girl friend (now his wife) out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator.

Yesterday the Ravens fired Ray Rice and the NFL placed him on indefinite suspension after a new video showed Rice punching and knocking out his girlfriend moments before he dragged her unconscious body out of the elevator.

I wondered how, in the first video, did the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens think she became unconscious and unresponsive?

This is the second of several pieces I wrote over the past decade about abuse.



 We separated for one week but he kept calling and crying on the phone. He begged and pleaded and promised to change. I could not take the pressure and told him he could return. He did not change.

Victim of Emotional Abuse


My wife and I spoke about emotional abuse to approximately 85 college students recently.

Millions of women (and some men) live with repeated verbal assaults, humiliation, sexual coercion, and other forms of psychological abuse, often accompanied by economic exploitation. I’ve worked in organizations for 40 years as a leader and consultant, and I’ve never been in an organization that didn’t have abuse as part of its dark side.

Yet few of the students had heard the term “emotional abuse.” It remains one of society’s dirty, dark secrets. Our communities that dehumanize women and children in scores of ways daily need to illuminate their many dark shadows.

We defined emotional abuse as the chronic use of words and acts (including body language) that devalue and frighten another person for the purpose of control. Emotional abusers rule the lives of victims through the power of words and actions and the constant implicit threat of physical assault.

Emotional abuse always precedes physical abuse. Not all emotional abusers become physical.

  1. Scott Peck, M.D. defined evil as the use of power to harm the spirit of another to maintain one’s sick self. Emotional abuse is clearly evil behavior. Each of us can decide for ourselves if we think abusers are evil people.

Consummate name-callers, abusers criticize constantly—nothing is ever good enough. They yell, scream, and drive the victim’s friends away to isolate her. They eavesdrop on phone conversations, censor mail, and expect instant responses to pages, cell phone calls, and instant messages. They control with lies, confusion, and contradictions; they make a person feel crazy. They lurk and they stalk. One abuser said to a victim: “I had to keep you down. I was afraid you would outshine me.”

Emotional abusers belittle the feelings of their victims, denigrate women as a group calling them crazy, emotional, or stupid. They withhold approval, appreciation, and affection to punish their victims. They put down their victims in public, take them out socially and then ignore them, and they prevent victims from working, going to school, or leaving the house alone. They control the money, make all the decisions, and require their permission to do or have anything. They are little gods unworthy of the power they abuse.

If married they might destroy, sell, or give away things the victim (or both of them) own, prevent the victim from seeing her family, threaten to hurt family or friends, punish or keep things from the children when angry at the victim. They often treat the children more nicely than usual when angry at their victim, blame the victim for any problems, real or imagined, with the children, and may abuse pets to hurt their primary victim.

They may accuse their victim of having affairs. If a victim is physically or sexually abused, they say she asked for it, deserved it, or liked it. They may threaten to tell their victim’s employer or family that she is a lesbian to get her fired or to have her children taken away from them.

They then deny that their behavior is abusive or minimize it by calling their victim crazy or stupid or telling her that she made it up. One abuser told his wife often: “You just don’t know how bad you are.”

Victims of emotional abuse live in fear and repeatedly alter thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to avoid further abuse. They lose themselves. Emotional abuse, like brain washing, systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, and trust in their own perceptions. Whether abused by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance, teaching, or advice,” the results remain the same: the victim of the abuse loses all sense of self and lives in confusion. The scars of emotional abuse may be far deeper and more lasting than physical wounds.

The ongoing pattern of abuse follows a cycle:

  1. Tension building: tension increases, breakdown of communication, the victim feels a need to placate the abuser,
  2. Incident: verbal and emotional abuse, anger, blaming, arguing, threats, and intimidation,
  3. Reconciliation: the abuser apologizes, gives excuses, blames the victim, denies the abuse occurred, or says it wasn’t as bad as the victim claims (abusers tend to forget their abuse while victims remember it forever),
  4. Calm: the incident is “forgotten”, no abuse is taking place.

And the cycle begins again.

The long-term effects on victims: Isolation from others, low self-esteem, depression, emotional problems, illness, alcohol or drug use, and withdrawal.

After our presentation, a man talked to me. He said, “I see myself in the traits of abusers.” What did he see?

  1. Abusers tend to have explosive tempers triggered by minor frustrations and arguments when their egos are threatened,
  2. They are possessive and jealous: “I own you. Where were you? Who were you with? What did you do?”
  3. Abusers tend to think highly of themselves: arrogant, entitled, superior, and selfish—everything is always about them, and they always come first.
  4. Abusers have a great capacity for self-deception: they play the victim, always have an excuse and deniability for their acts. They blame others for what goes wrong in their lives. They deny and distort their behavior and cannot give an accurate picture of themselves or of their partner.
  5. They manipulate: they lie always, can be charming in public, and can convince others of their innocence–family, friends, judges, and lawyers get fooled by them everyday—you must look at their behavior over time to see their patterns.

A woman who says she is abused, almost always is.

Emotional abusers learn their behavior, and the man who could see himself in the traits of the abuser spoke for many men who have learned to abuse their power to control others in brutal ways—at home, at work, and in the community.

Abusers don’t change easily or willingly. Author Lundy Bancroft (“Why Does He Do That?) wrote:

There are no shortcuts to change, no magical overnight transformations, no easy ways out. Change is difficult, uncomfortable work. The project is not hopeless—if the man is willing to work hard—but it is complex and painstaking. The challenge for an abused woman is to learn how to tell whether her partner is serious about overcoming his abusiveness.

 The initial impetus to change is always extrinsic rather than self-motivated. The majority of abusive men do not make deep and lasting changes even in a high-quality abuser program

My father taught me to respect all people. I’ve worked as a Secret Service agent, business executive in tough union environments, and a consultant in many anti-human organizations: real men don’t abuse anyone, especially women. Only cowards abuse and bully others.

Good citizens—too often indifferent—need to stand up for our mothers, daughters, sisters, neighbors, co-workers, and friends who are victims and hold abusers accountable for their behavior; they victimize each of us.

Indifference to disrespect is a community’s greatest sin.


“Men Who Hate Women & The women Who Love Them” by Susan Forward, Ph.D.

“Who Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft