The causes of abuse are complex and overlapping. Some of the most important factors are:
• Early learning experiences: This factor is sometimes described as the “life cycle” of abuse. Many abusive parents were themselves abused as children and have learned to see hurtful behavior as normal childrearing. At the other end of the life cycle, some adults who abuse their elderly parent are paying back the parent for abusing them in their early years.
• Ignorance of developmental timetables: Some parents have unrealistic expectations of children in terms of the appropriate age for toilet training, feeding themselves, and similar milestones, and attack their children for not meeting these expectations.
• Economic stress: Many caregivers cannot afford parttime day care for children or dependent elderly parents, which would relieve some of their emotional strain.
Even middle-class families can be financially stressed if they find themselves responsible for the costs of caring for elderly parents before their own children are financially independent.
• Lack of social support or social resources: Caregivers who have the support of an extended family, religious group, or close friends and neighbors are less likely to lose their self-control under stress.
• Substance abuse: Alcohol and mood-altering drugs do not cause abuse directly, but they weaken or remove a person’s inhibitions against violence toward others. In addition, the cost of a drug habit often gives a substance addict another reason for resenting the needs of the dependent person. A majority of workplace bullies are substance addicts.
• Mental disorders: Depression, personality disorders, dissociative disorders, and anxiety disorders can all affect parents’ ability to care for their children appropriately. A small percentage of abusive parents or spouses are psychotic.
• Belief systems: Many men still think that they have a “right” to a relationship with a woman; and many people regard parents’ rights over children as absolute.
The role of bystanders: Research in the social sciences has shown that one factor that encourages abusers to continue their hurtful behavior is discovering that people who know about or suspect the abuse are reluctant to get involved. In most cases, bystanders are afraid of possible physical, social, or legal consequences for reporting abuse. The result, however, is that many abusers come to see themselves as invulnerabl.