WHY do they hurt people? Compulsive abuse

Compulsion is a powerful thing. We humans all have compulsions, it's part of our operating system. It's one of the built-in things that keeps us alive. We are compelled to do things so we don't have to consciously remember to them; we feel hungry, we put food in our mouth. We breathe, we seek warmth when we're cold, we seek shelter, we shut our eyes when something blows in our face. Our involuntary nervous system keeps our heart and our lungs pumping. We sleep, not because we want to, but because we have to. So we do it.

Then there are the compulsions that we all have, that don't really rate as "necessary for survival". An obvious and common one would be drinking coffee in the morning. Another common compulsion that many do, and most would like to stop doing, is cigarettes. Many people have compulsions with certain food. We can feel compelled to keep the kitchen clean (that's not the same as choosing to clean it.) Compulsions about how to hang our clothes, about the way we drive to work, about our clothing, about our teeth, about how much or how often we practice or work on something. We can have compulsions about pretty much anything.

All it takes for a compulsion to stick is some kind of reward that our brain and body can feel. If the thing made us feel good enough at the time of doing it, it can become a habit, and a compulsion. "Feeling good" as in a chemical reward, like a small adrenaline rush. Or a squirt of Oxytocin (the so-called love-chemical). Or an Endorphin rush.

Most people are aware of how some people have a compulsion to cut themselves. This is another compulsion that produces a chemical reward for the person doing it. It may be hard to understand, but that doesn't matter, it's still real, whether some people want to understand it or not.

So it stands to reason that if human beings can get a chemical reward from harming and causing pain to themselves, then it's not hard to see that human beings can get a chemical reward out of causing harm and pain to others.

People who have compulsions often desire stopping, and can have a very hard time doing so because the compulsion is so strong. Their subconscious wants that reward very strongly, and has ways of "tricking" the person into performing the behavior that produces the reward. Anyone who's ever battled a food, cigarette, or drug addiction can attest to that, and of course the actual chemicals that ingesting them produces makes the compulsion stronger. But doing something that has no external chemical reward can be just as hard to break, because the brain and body itself is producing the chemical reward. Gambling too much, for example. Driving too fast. Playing video games too much. But even non-obvious things like cleaning, working, or exercising can become compulsions, and produce the same chemical reward as any of the other examples. A person with a cleaning compulsion can become very upset if kept from their behavior, and can also become demanding and controlling toward others in the household who "interrupt" or "thwart" their obsession with cleaning, or with the house being clean (clean in THEIR OWN eyes; a person with a cleaning compulsion/obsession can cross personal boundaries and actually rearrange and even destroy another's personal space. Like any other addict, their feeling of reward becomes more important than the people around them.)

So, if a person has developed compulsions, in other words behaviors that give them a reward-feeling, and those compulsions happen to include causing pain to others, then it can be understood more readily why they do it, why they keep doing it, and why they don't seem to care.

So if little Scotty gets a charge out of pinching his brother, he is going to want to keep doing it. If he is not guided enough to thwart the charge he gets out of it, the reward will feel greater than the consequence. "I feel good when I pinch my brother, and I know of no good reason not to continue getting that good feeling."

A compulsion in the making.

If Scotty learned the pinching from one of his parents or another older relative, the odds of the pinching developing into a compulsion increase dramatically. Scotty sees no consequences for the older people, so in his mind, it must be something that's "okay" to do, even something that "adults do". So, no reason to stop. And, if Scotty is being pinched by older relatives, then him pinching his brother is most certainly giving him a feeling of relief and control. In such a family dynamic, empathy and care for others is not being taught, modeled, or rewarded. So... Scotty feels little or no reward for empathy or care for others, but he is feeling rewards for pinching and harming.

We can take the pinching compulsion and apply it to any behavior.

Common compulsions like this can be domination of others, controlling others, criticizing others, countering, opposing, name-calling, projecting, lying, hitting others, causing humiliation to others, causing trouble for them, backstabbing, sabotage, etc. General bullying behavior.

Compulsions that take the form of "good behavior" can also be controlling and dominating. A parent who got a feeling of reward from keeping their baby clean, for example, may hold on to that behavior and keep trying to perform it as the child gets older, instead of allowing the child to care for him or herself. The parent refuses to relinquish the act of cleaning the child because it gives the parent a feeling of reward, regardless of the behavior being unhealthy for the child.

Being told to stop doing a compulsion can feel and sound like judgment, domination, condescension and control. "You need to stop smoking" ... "You need to stop drinking coffee"...  "You need to stop spending" ..."You need to stop taking cleaning so seriously" ... "You need to stop treating people that way"... 

Since compulsions feel like something we need to have as a normal thing (any coffee drinker can attest to that), the behaviors do not want to be dropped by the person's subconscious. And the less awareness a person has, the less the person may even be aware of the behavior at all. Generally, we don't like to think about our compulsions, whether they're big or small, because the part of our brain that wants to keep them is quite defensive, and doesn't want us to expose them.

If we react defensively to something someone says about our behavior, or human behavior in general, that's a flag that is probably marking something we are hiding or protecting.

In summation, WHY do abusers keep hurting people, controlling people, trying to dominate people? A likely answer is that they are compelled to do the behavior, because it gives them a chemical reward. And compulsions are not really conscious choices, they are usually buried by the subconscious, in order to hide the whole thing from the person's conscious mind. We all have them, but some of us have much more harmful ones that may have developed in childhood. Harmful to ourselves, harmful to others.We usually only stop our compulsions when we notice they exist, notice they are doing harm, and still only then if we feel remorse, worry, or fear.


There are people who seem to be quite aware of their harmful behavior to others, even of their very harmful compulsions, and because of their disorder actually seem to feel completely entitled to continue their behavior with full awareness. That would be an actual psychopath ; human beings and any other living things hold no innate value to them, other people might as well be made of clay or stone to them. But most people are not psychopaths.
For example, a non-psychopath with a drug problem that causes harm to their children may try to stop, have a hard time with it, may wrestle with it and still cause their children harm in the throes of their addiction, but they truly feel remorse. A psychopath with the same drug addiction that causes harm to their children does not care about the harm they are causing to their children. If they do manage to get their addiction under control, it won't have anything to do with guilt or remorse about the children, it will be solely to enhance their own lives. And no, they don't get that their children are part of their lives.

So why don't they stop, if they're not a psychopath?

Some people really do seem to have a lower natural capacity for empathy, or even comprehension of other people, and the fact that they are just as real and important as themselves. Others seem to have a higher capacity for comprehending others. Like any other human ability, some people have more of it, and some have less of it. But the less a person can comprehend that other people are "real people' just like themselves, the less likely they are to be aware of the harm they are capable of, or the harm that they inflict. And therefore, will be less likely to get a handle on their compulsions.

If I don't really think my sister is an important person, than I'm not going to think it's important to stop causing her pain, or to support her when others cause her pain.