The Spiritual Anatomy of Physically Abusive Men

Yet another woman has been murdered by a physically abusive man—this time in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Janessa Spencer, 1989-2015

Janessa Spencer, 1989-2015

On April 12, 2015, Janessa Spencer was at home with her boyfriend, Samual Cook, when they heard a loud banging on the door. As Spencer feared, it was Daniel Guajardo, her previous boyfriend and the father of her three young children.

There’s no need for a blow-by-blow. You can read all about it in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle here and here. Short version: Guajardo broke into the house, shot Spencer’s boyfriend non-fatally in the shoulder as he escaped through the bathroom window, shot Spencer dead, then fled to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he was arrested and charged with first degree murder.

What struck us about the story was that Janessa Spencer thought it was all about jealousy, and that she could calm her ex-boyfriend down if she just got her new boyfriend out of the house. And also that Samual Cook felt tremendously guilty and a coward because he had run away instead of protecting his girlfriend from a man with a gun who had burst into the house.

Unfortunately, they were both laboring under common misconceptions about abusive men. It was not about jealousy, nor was it about anger or “calming him down.” Spencer probably saved Cook’s life by getting him out of there just in time. But by staying herself, she was only facing her executioner.

There are plenty of good resources out there about domestic violence. In this article, we’ll take a look at the spiritual anatomy of physically abusive men.

Domestic violence is about domination and control

Janessa Spencer had taken the brave step of leaving Guajardo after he had physically assaulted her in front of his family. But by doing so, she had entered the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence.

She knew he was dangerous. Several times he had threatened to kill her if he saw her with another man. She was making plans to leave the area. Unfortunately, he got to her before she could get away.

It certainly looks as if Spencer’s murder was about jealousy and anger.

But in reality, both the “jealousy” and the “anger” are merely tools in the hands of a deeper driving force: the desire to dominate and control another person out of extreme self-centeredness, otherwise known as narcissism.

Jealousy is not the issue

Jealousy was not the issue. Samual Cook, the new boyfriend, was never Guajardo’s target. If he had been, Guajardo would have followed him out the window and finished the job. In fact Guajardo could have shot him from the window as Cook lay stunned on the ground.

But Guajardo’s actions showed what his real motives were.

His target was Janessa Spencer. She was slipping away from his control. And that’s something he could not handle.

Anger is not the issue

The violence in domestic violence is not about anger, either.

Spencer thought she could calm him down—that if she got her new boyfriend out of sight and out of mind, her ex’s jealous rage would subside, and she could talk some sense into him.

But anger is merely a tool in the hands of abusive men (and less often, of abusive women). The desired effect of displays of anger is to instill fear into the victim in order to ensure her absolute submission and obedience.

Being with another man wasn’t the crux of the problem. Rather, not being subject to his command and control was the problem. Her being with another man confirmed that he had lost control of her.

As he saw it, if he couldn’t control her, then he wasn’t going to let anyone else control her either. That’s why leaving a physically abusive man is so dangerous. An abusive man would rather see “his” woman dead than free of his control.

Fortunately, many of them don’t go through with it, or don’t succeed if they try. Unfortunately for Janessa Spencer, she became one of the many victims of men who commit murder as the final assertion of their domination and control over a woman.

The only hope for Spencer would have been to get herself of the house and out of his reach. But when you’re facing a man with a gun whose purpose is to kill you, you’re already on the wrong side of the odds.

Loving oneself above all others is the issue

Physical and emotional abuse has nothing to do with jealousy or anger.

It also has nothing to do with socioeconomic class or any other external factor. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, White, Black, or Hispanic, it’s all the same.

Instead, abuse comes from the source of the worst human evils: putting oneself above all else. When self becomes the primary love, motive, and force in a person’s character, that person is headed on a rapid path toward spiritual and psychological destruction.

Those who are driven by that motive and force are responsible for the worst devastation we humans inflict upon one another, whether it is on the small scale of individual relationships gone bad or on the large scale of groups and nations oppressing and seeking to destroy each other.

When we love ourselves above all others, we believe that other people exist only to serve us, obey us, and give us pleasure. The desire to dominate and control others is inseparable from exclusive self-love.

The hierarchy of loves

Let’s put it into perspective.

As outlined in the spiritual writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), all of the loves and motives we humans feel and are moved by can be categorized under four general types of love. Here they are in the traditional Christian language that Swedenborg used:

  1. Love of the Lord
  2. Love of the neighbor
  3. Love of the world
  4. Love of self

Here they are in more contemporary and universal language:

  1. Love for God
  2. Love for other people
  3. Love of material wealth, possessions, and pleasures
  4. Love for ourselves and our physical body

In Swedenborg’s view, all of these loves are good and healthy as long as they’re kept in this order of priority.

The first two are based on the two Great Commandments as given by Jesus himself:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40)

If we love God above all, then we will love and wish well toward all of God’s creatures. In the famous story of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31–46), Jesus says that whenever we do a good deed for one of the least of our fellow human beings, we have done it for God.

If we love other people as much as or even more than ourselves, then we can be described as humanitarians, who wish well toward others and want to do things that help them and give them comfort and happiness.

If our priorities are right, and we put these two first as Jesus taught us, then the other two fall into place as good and healthy loves:

It is perfectly fine to love material possessions and pleasures, since they help us to live comfortably, and give us the means to serve our fellow human beings as well.

And it is good to love ourselves and our physical body because then we will take care of our physical and emotional health, which keeps us in good condition to love God and our fellow human beings.

When the wrong loves are on top

It’s only when the bottom two loves get out of order, and become our first priority, that they are changed from good and healthy loves into evil and destructive ones.

Yes, sometimes we must temporarily put ourselves or money or other material needs first. We do need to satisfy our own basic needs before we’re in a position to do anything for other people.

But if we persistently put money or possessions or pleasure or our own self ahead of everything else in our motives and priorities, that’s where we get into serious spiritual problems.

If we are driven primarily by money, possessions, and pleasures, we become materialistic in a negative sense:

  • Our life becomes centered on making more and more money regardless of whether we have any good use in mind for it.
  • Or our life becomes centered on piling up mansions, fancy cars, boats, airplanes, and all the other trappings of luxurious living.
  • Or our life becomes centered on the mere pursuit of pleasure, with no intention or desire to do anything useful or constructive for society and for the people around us.

If we put the love of material wealth, possessions, and pleasures first in our lives, it brings about the second greatest evils in human society. It causes huge gaps between rich and poor, so that some people live high off the hog while others suffer in grinding poverty.

But the worst evils in human society come from people loving themselves above all else.

When self-love reigns

We’re not talking here about a healthy sense of self-love and self-esteem in which we love and value ourselves just as we love and value other people.

We’re talking about when we love ourselves far more than we love everyone else—when all we really love is ourselves, and we consider others to be so vastly inferior to ourselves that their only purpose and worth is to serve us, obey us, and give us pleasure.

The hallmark of exclusive self-love is the desire to dominate and control others, and have them serve and obey us fully, immediately, and without question.

This is the source of the worst human evil, and of the worst damage we do to our fellow human beings.

War, for example, is driven largely by a desire to dominate and control the people of other races, religions, and nations. When we think that our way is the only way, and that all other people are inferior to us and should serve us, we are willing to call forth the dogs of war and impose our will on as many millions of people as we can forcibly conquer. And if they persist in opposing us, we feel great pleasure in slaughtering them by the millions.

Yes, there are also wars driven by economic factors. But the worst and most devastating wars of human history are those driven by an unbridled desire to dominate and control as many nations and peoples as possible, and to utterly destroy all who oppose our dominion and control.

The narcissistic personality

On the individual level, in its worst form the psychological and medical term for this exclusive love for self is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Men (and women) who have a pattern of physically and emotionally abusing their partners commonly fall into this category.

And yet, there are levels of narcissism and egotism. Even people who would not be clinically diagnosed as NPD may regularly put themselves first, and think that everyone else should recognize their greatness and jump to serve their needs and their whims.

Spiritually speaking, narcissists are driven and even enslaved by exclusive self-love. Where God should be, they put themselves as the center of everything. And they think that others should worship them as gods.

Unfortunately, when self-love and self-centeredness is the dominant motive and drive in our personality, everything about us becomes distorted: our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs, our actions. The reality is that we are not the center of the universe. So when we think we are, we distort reality to conform to our own completely false picture of reality.

As a result, we become dangerous and destructive.

Domestic violence is the fruit of exclusive self-love

Men (and women) who abuse their partners could be described as exclusive self-love in form and action. Everything they think, feel, say, and do—even if it may sometimes seem reasonable and good outwardly—is an expression of their underlying self-love and narcissism.

Some would argue that this really isn’t self-love—that it is actually self-loathing and total lack of self-esteem covered over by desperate attempts at asserting one’s own greatness.

Perhaps so.

But either way, the result is the same: the effort to put ourselves at the center of everything, and to dominate and control everyone around us.

When it comes to marital and (supposedly) romantic relationships, this form of self-love is the most destructive force that exists.

Marriage and relationships are all about loving the other person, caring about the other person, and wanting to make the other person happy.

Narcissists have just the opposite desire. They love only themselves, care only about themselves and want happiness only for themselves. And so, every relationship they get involved in is all about getting the other person to serve them and give them pleasure.

They are perfectly willing to do this by means of emotional and physical abuse, lies, deceit, coercion, and violence. In fact, they actually enjoy instilling confusion, fear, and dread into their partner, grinding down their partner’s sense of self-worth and sanity, and reducing her (or him) to an abject, quivering slave.

Murder and death are the final fruits of narcissism

This is what Janessa Spencer was facing during her relationship with Daniel Guajardo.

The news stories don’t tell us about their relationship when they were together.

However, if Guajardo was willing to physically assault Spencer right in front of his own family, and threaten multiple times to kill her, we can be quite certain that he had abused and assaulted her in private before—and probably all through their relationship. That is the pattern of abusive men and domestic violence.

When a man puts himself ahead of everyone else, and thinks that his wife or girlfriend exists only to serve and obey him, behind his professions of love for her there is actually a deep hatred for her and her wellbeing.

That hatred appears whenever she shows any will of her own.

That hatred appears whenever she does not instantly obey his every whim and command, no matter how crazy and contradictory they may be.

That hatred appears whenever he forces her to do things, and to endure things at his hands, that humiliate and degrade her, and tear her down as a person.

If she gives him the slightest reason to believe that she is not his utter adoring slave, existing only to serve him every moment of every day, his “love” instantly becomes a scorching fire of verbal assault and physical violence against her.

That is not love. Love does not flare up in destructive anger and abuse against those it loves. Love does not humiliate and tear down those it loves.

Rather, it is murderous hatred masquerading as love.

And it appears in its most virulent and dangerous form as soon as his wife or girlfriend makes a serious effort to get away from him.

When a man driven by narcissistic self-love sees that he is losing control of “his bitch” (because that’s exactly the status he assigns to her), that’s when the true, murderous nature of his “love” comes out. That’s when he will kick down her door with shotgun in hand and murder her in cold blood.

And if he blows away the new boyfriend too, that’s pure gravy.

Dealing with domestic violence

From the outside, it’s all too easy to look down on victims of domestic violence and consider them weak or stupid to stay with their abusive partners.

But it’s much more complicated than that. Often highly capable and intelligent women can and do become the victims of domestic violence. It has nothing to do with intelligence, nor, as I said, does it have anything to do with socioeconomic status or any other external factor.

This is not the place to dig into just how so many women become victims of domestic violence.

But once a woman is the victim of domestic violence, she is in a very dangerous and precarious position.

It’s easy to say, “She should leave that bastard!”

But she knows how dangerous he is.

And she knows how dangerous it is to leave him, because he has threatened to kill her if she does.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, it is time to carefully and discreetly educate yourself about the realities of domestic violence. It is time to carefully and discreetly make contact with local services and agencies that can help you and your children (if you have any) escape. If you don’t know about local services, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to get a start.

But be sure you do it in a way that your abusive partner can’t trace or monitor. It might be better to call their number, 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY), from the phone of someone you trust.

Leaving a violent and abusive partner is difficult and dangerous. Only the victim is in a position to make the most critical decisions involved.

But with help, it is possible.

Can narcissists change?

Abused women often hold out hope that their partner can change.

  • Some victims are religious, and believe in redemption.
  • Some victims are optimistic, and think it will get better.
  • Some victims love their partner, and believe they can change him.
  • Some victims believe it when their partner apologizes, promises never to do it again, and pours on the flattery and lavish gifts. (But it is an insincere apology and a false promise that abusers break just as often as they make it—and the flowers and appliances are just bait to hook her and reel her back in for the next round of abuse.)

The chance that an abusive man (or woman) will truly change and become non-abusive is so remote that for all practical purposes it can be ruled out as a real possibility.

Abusive men are destructive and dangerous, and will continue to grind down their wife or girlfriend until they either destroy her body and soul or she manages to break away.

So please hear clearly what I have to say next:

Do not fall into the trap of thinking, “He will change.”

The only way that will ever happen is if he comes to a point at which he recognizes just how evil and destructive his own actions and attitudes are, and engages in a thorough and deep process of repentance, as we call it in religious terms, and reformation of his character.

A very small percentage of abusive men have actually done this.

But this is still not a good reason for abused women to hold out hope for change.

The reality is that his relationship with you is irreparably broken. Even in the extremely unlikely event that he does change, it will happen only after he has already lost you.

He will have to make that change on his own. And it will take time. Probably a long time, and a lot of intensive counseling from people skilled in domestic violence issues. Then and only then will he be able to enter into a normal and healthy relationship with a woman.

That woman will not be you.

He has already burnt to a cinder his relationship with you. Its destructive pattern has already been established. He cannot go back to his relationship with you, and you cannot let him back into your life.

If he even tries to get back into your life, he has not truly reformed, but has only put on a false show of change in order to get you back under his domination and control.

If he does truly change, he will have to start fresh with someone else.

And once again, the likelihood that he will even think about reforming is extremely low.

So can narcissists change?

Yes, if they truly decide that they want to.

But the fact is that most of them simply don’t want to change. They see no reason to change.

They think of themselves as the most amazingly awesome person on the planet. Why would they feel any need to change?

Of course, it’s all a fantasy and an illusion. They are actually the smallest, most miserable people on the planet. But they don’t know that. And they will resist seeing it with their last ounce of breath.

Awareness and understanding is the best protection

It is a dark and depressing picture. There’s just no way around it. Every year, millions of women are injured, and thousands of women die as a result of domestic violence.

The best and only protection is becoming educated about the realities of narcissism, abusive personalities, and domestic violence, and reaching out to services and agencies that exist especially to help people get out of the ongoing cycle of abuse.

Annette and I hope this article has helped open your eyes to a few of those realities, and pointed you toward some good and helpful information and services.

If you or someone you know is caught in the throes of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a partner, our hopes and prayers are with you (or your friend or family member) to break free safely and permanently, and begin a new and so much better life.

Finally, our hearts go out to Janessa Spencer’s children, family, and friends, as well as to Samual Cook, for the terrible loss they have suffered. You are in our prayers.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Current Events, Pain and Suffering
6 comments on “The Spiritual Anatomy of Physically Abusive Men
  1. ianwoof says:

    [a deleted video was here]


    • Lee says:

      Thanks, Ian. Good stuff!

    • brideofchrist1 says:

      Awesome! Trying to figure out how to contact you! Personally involved in this story & need your help!!! Watching “The Shack” Resurrection Nite made me realize I need to “Let go & Let God” & found your article today! I need your help to do this! My deceased daughter and granddaughter are involved! Would you please help me! I moved far away because of fear & God doesn’t give us a Spirit of Fear! I’m an Overcommer! My Victory is in Christ alone!!!!!! Blessings in Jesus Name!!😇🙏🙏🙏

      • Lee says:

        Hi brideofchrist1,

        Glad you found the article. It’s a terrible story, and a terrible loss. We could address it here if you wish. Or if it’s very personal, you could submit a spiritual conundrum and reach me that way. I should mention, though, that I’m more responsive to comments here than I am to submitted questions—which I get far too many of to respond to. Meanwhile, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

  2. sade paul says:

    I read your article recently, it was sent to me by a good friend. I recently left my husband after nine years in a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage. The article has helped me to better understand what I went through in my marriage, it also confirmed what I have come to believe, that abusers don’t change, they may pretend to change only to get you back for more abuse, and, when you do find the courage to leave, as I finally did, there is no going back. I have sent the link to family and friends, I hope it helps them better understand my situation. Particularly those who tell me to go back, that my husband ‘can change’ given time. Thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi sade paul,

      Thanks for stopping by, and congratulations on breaking away from your abusive husband. As you well know by now, that is a very difficult and even dangerous thing to do. Unfortunately, family and friends often don’t understand. I hope this article helps to open their eyes so they’ll know a little more about what you’ve been through and why you had to leave—and can never go back. I’m glad the article helped you as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you start a new life.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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