I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy

[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.

5 thoughts on “I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy

  1. Timely, on a personal level since I had to quit a job last month because of workplace abuse. The management aided and abetted it rather than stop it. “Trivialized” is exactly the right word to describe how I felt about the company’s “process”. The supervisor was rewarded for the abuse; I lost my job. Where’s the justice? Well, I refuse to let that haunt me. Now I’ve stopped losing weight, I can sleep, and got a new job which I am not on alert to go to! But why is the abuser always given such high consideration and the target targeted? I guess sin rules in this world, to “steal, and kill and destroy”. I guess my comment is also “angry”.


  2. I agree with what you say. As humanism has gained ground, popular thinking has shifted to believing that everyone is born straight, so if they go wrong it’s because someone or something or society has derailed them from the good person they would have been. Thus humanism is the ultimate “It’s not my fault!” Rather than individual choices, social and economic factors are lifted out when someone becomes an abuser. If we’d only understand what’s made him this way…etc.

    I read an article one day about lawyer Clarence Darrow and was amazed at how much one man could influence the thinking of a whole society. A free love advocate, an anarchist, an eloquent and witty defense attorney, Darrow defended mobsters and murderers. Apparently he had judges and juries in tears as he detailed the underprivileged upbringings of his clients that led them into a life of crime. Defense lawyers still study his methods.


  3. The world has values that come from the darkness in their souls. Glorifying abuse, violence, and murder. So often the values are turned upside down. However, I am unwilling to let them take over and bully everyone. I worked for many years in the criminal justice system, holding juvenile delinquents accountable, working with the victims and praying for them all, silently, as I did my job. I would release the love of God into the situation where they were filled with hatred and would have liked to kill me and themselves. Love conquers because the enemy of our souls doesn’t understand it. The atmosphere changed, as I didn’t allow darkness to rule. It was very draining work but I saw lives changed. Only God can really make a difference in peoples’ lives, when we cry out to him. Anger can be a catalyst for positive change, when we humble ourselves and rely totally on God. I’m still learning to humble myself, turn from my wicked ways and pray and cry out to God for change. One person, relying on God, can be a catalyst for major change. Releasing the light, life and love of God, casting out the darkness, one life at a time.


  4. This is why the right perspective of human depravity and moral responsibility are so important. We’re all born in bondage to sin, and yet we are all responsible for our own sin. It’s not that evils done to us don’t matter, but when a person is doing wrong they are doing wrong no matter *why* they’re doing it.

    There are two very common lies floating around today. One is that people are naturally good. The other is that a person can’t be wrong if they perceive they’ve been wronged first. We cannot accept either.


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