The M3ND Project works to identify and educate on the many faulty cultural and personal structures that make abusive action or inaction possible, especially those that often go unseen, are unnoticed or unknown. To further understand these intricate nuances of abuse, M3ND founder and CEO, Annette Oltmans, conducted extensive research, including interviewing hundreds of victims and reviewing her personal experiences with abuse. During this time, she took note of how regularly she observed the same attitudes and beliefs in perpetrators of all forms of abuse. The M3ND Project names these repeated patterns of behavior the “Pillars of Abuse.” These are the foundational structures that protect abusers from being held accountable for their actions and which sustain covert and overt abuse. Identifying these pillars helps us to recognize abuse when it’s occurring, and in some instances, see where further abuse might happen if preventive measures are not put into place. It is equally important for first responders to understand them so that they can take action to ensure none of the four pillars are creating an environment within their organization that sanitizes the actions of abusers or fosters a situation in which abuse is sustainable.
Chances are you have experienced or seen at least one of these four pillars in your relationship, at home, or in school, church, the workplace or among friends. As you read the descriptions of each pillar, notice if you recall real-life examples you have personally lived through, witnessed or heard. Take a moment to examine yourself to see if any of these pillars negatively influence your action or inaction under specific scenarios.
The First Pillar: Faulty Belief System
Another faulty belief system that exists in many cultures finds its foundation in how men are allowed to show emotion. Some boys grow up in homes where they teach the idea that males shouldn’t cry and are shamed anytime they express feelings other than anger, even though the girls around them are allowed to show sadness or pain. As a result, boys raised in this belief system may make fun of other men who show emotions. They could even retaliate in rage or react with violence when someone upsets them because they don’t believe it’s “masculine” to express their emotions in any other way. This faulty belief system can both result in a male abusing his partner or child and in preventing another male who is a victim of abuse from disclosing their personal story of abuse.
A faulty belief system fuels the “reasoning” behind the abuse and can foster Double Abuse®. This is why abusers will not accept responsibility for the severity of their actions or admit their way of thinking is skewed. In the abuser’s mind, they believe they are justified in what they are doing. A faulty belief system, of course, does not change the fact that abuse, including Double Abuse®, is never right. A willingness to change, humility, and possibly therapy are needed for the abuser to identify the error of their ways and change their faulty thinking.
The Second Pillar: Image Management
A real-life example of this is Larry Nassar, a former doctor for Olympic gymnasts who is now in prison because he molested many of his patients. One of the reasons he got away with abuse for so long is that he was very good at managing his image. He did this very successfully by developing relationships with the girls’ parents, not only in his professional capacity but personally as well. During Nassar’s trial, several of the victims who testified shared how they considered him to be a great friend of their families and would often come over for meals or to hang out. Nassar’s strategic image management was one of the many reasons the patients weren’t always sure when he had crossed the line from being helpful to harmful, or whether it was safe for them to speak up. This close connection he created to cover up his image made the damage of his abuse even worse.
When girls came forward to their parents about Nassar’s abuse, most of the parents were hesitant to believe their daughters because they trusted so strongly that Nassar was a good person. The confusing thing for everyone involved was that he did act like a nice guy – when parents were present. But the victims knew it was all a show. What made it even worse was the number of high-level executives who doubly abused these victims by lying and covering up the real facts to protect themselves, their organizations and (intentionally or unintentionally) to protect Nassar. This is why it’s so important to listen to and believe victims. There is often more going on than what meets the eye.
The Third Pillar: Entitlement
The Fourth Pillar: Cultural, Preferential, or Hierarchical Preferential Treatment
For example, imagine a man who is a pastor at a large church. He has grown the church, doubling its size in a short amount of time. Some board members at the church learn that this pastor is not the same person at home as they see at work and church. The truth is he is abusing his wife horribly, but doing a fine job of maintaining his image around them so the abuse is almost impossible to imagine. In catching wind of this, the board members quickly shut down the conversation, stating that the pastor is an incredibly important asset to their congregation, growing the church by leaps and bounds. This display of preferential treatment keeps the pastor protected from facing the consequences of his violent actions towards his wife. The wife is both abused by her husband and doubly abused by the church through their actions.
This is why it is so vital to hold leaders in all institutions accountable and maintain a system with thoughtful checks and balances. When there are too many individuals of the same backgrounds, beliefs and objectives working together, it’s easy for them to engage in groupthink. Groups like this need to be careful to maintain good judgment and standards because it’s easy to go with what the group thinks or wants, thereby prioritizing the needs of the project over the people being harmed, as our example illustrates. This creates a perfect breeding ground for abusers to thrive without consequence or accountability.
These four pillars are the foundational building blocks that allow abusers to rationalize their actions to themselves and those around them. When this faulty foundation is maintained, an abuser (sometimes along with first responders) can blind themselves and those around them to the manipulative tactics they use to remain in power and keep the victim within their control. By understanding and recognizing the pillars of abuse, victims can gain clarity and pursue healing. Also, it may greatly facilitate the implementation of accountability measures for abusers, particularly where corporations, churches and other organizations refuse to allow the pillars to protect the perpetrators within them. Remaining aware of these things wherever we go enables us to prevent Double Abuse® and become better advocates for ourselves and others.
If this blog has shed light on a situation present in the life of someone you know, we encourage you to gently caution the individual who could be endangered. Let them know that you are there for them if they need a safe space to talk about what they are experiencing. If the one in danger is you, we encourage you to confide in a trusted loved one about what you are going through and possibly seek professional help with a licensed therapist skilled in abuse or your local domestic violence agency. We don’t want you to have to walk through this alone.
Today, we are asking you to share this blog with three or more of your friends, co-workers, pastors, or others who might benefit from the information here. Or, share it on social media by clicking the link to your platform of choice below. As always, we encourage you to read through the pages or our website www.themendproject.com, which provide information and tools regarding abuse and Double Abuse® to you whether you are a survivor of abuse, know someone being abused or are a first responder who desires to become more equipped to understand and address abuse.
I am a victim of emotional abuse and I am at a loss what to do,, all of your articles I have read and it is definitely what I go through. My bf of 2 years is emotionally and mentally abusing me and acting like he does nothing wrong and shifting the blame onto me,, He wasn’t like this when we met,, about 1 month after I get us an apartment together,, e starts changing very negatively,, he’s good to me for a while,, then abuses me again,, please ,, I need to know what to do,, I am at a loss,, thank you
I am so sorry for what you are experiencing. It is really hard and we understand your struggle. Please know that you are not alone. For starters, we highly recommend reaching out to a domestic violence shelter in your area. They have many resources to help you, usually at low to no cost to you. Their classes can be so powerful and empowering, helping you to understand what is going on and learn how to set healthy boundaries in your relationship. You can also reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800/799-SAFE. They can help you find resources in your community. If you are in a position to do so, we also recommend you seek the help from a therapist who is specifically trained in addressing psychological abuse and trauma (not all therapists are, so you’ll want to ask what their training and experiences is in dealing with this). If we can help you more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com and we will connect you with someone on our team. You deserve health and well being; you are worth it.
I hope you’ve gotten out by now… as you stated he’s you boyfriend, not you husband. You deserve better!!! Get out NOW if you haven’t!!! Listen to the podcast Flying Free, and also there a book by Leslie Vernick – the emotionally destructive marriage. Emotional abuse IS abuse!!! Sounds like he is a covert narcissistic. Research that topic, listen to podcasts… it is NOT okay… You wrote this message a year ago so I pray that you ended it!!! It is so freeing!!! ❤️
Hi Ebony, Thanks for taking the time to share these encouraging words and some of the resources that helped you on your path to healing!