Today’s blog continues our discussion of myths about abusers in domestic violence relationships. This blog will continue all through the month of October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As in the first Domestic Violence blog, information is taken from the book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Please visit www.lundybancroft.com for more information.
Myth #4: He is mentally ill.
When it comes to abusive men, it is not their psychology that is unhealthy, it is their value system. Abusive men hold very distorted values about how their partners should act and should be treated. They believe in strict gender roles and a power differential in relationships, in which he, the man, is the dominant party in the relationship and should, above all else, be respected – and to be respected means to be submitted to and not to be questioned. As with alcohol and drugs, mental illness does not cause abuse, but it can certainly escalate the abuse. The problem is that if an abusive man does in fact have a mental illness, it interacts with his abusiveness to create a volatile and dangerous combination. Another important point made by Bancroft: “A man whose destructive behaviors are confined primarily or entirely to intimate relationships is an abuser, not a psychiatric patient.” Whom he abuses is his choice, a choice that is fully in his control, an issue that is discussed further in regard to the next myth.
Myth #5: He loses control.
Often after a violent episode, which may range from a verbal attack to breaking things in the home to physical violence, an abuser will often say that he “just lost control.” However, when Bancroft discusses his work with abusive men, he sheds light on some important points. Often when abusers “lose control” like this, there are signs that they are actually very calculating about their behavior: they destroy only property that does not belong to them, they are sure to keep the abuse behind closed doors, and they are often very aware of their surroundings. Bancroft points out that “an abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable… an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong” (p. 35). The problem with an abusive man is that he believes that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable.
When Bancroft asked abusive men in his groups what stopped them from taking the violence further than they did, some common explanations were:
“I wouldn’t want to cause her a serious injury.”
“I realized one of the children was watching.”
“I was afraid someone would call the police.”
“The fight was getting loud, and I was afraid the neighbors would hear. “
“I could kill her if I did that.”
These responses show just how aware and in control abusers are when they are engaged in a violent episode. They are making calculated decisions based on the circumstances. Again, remember that Ray Rice waited until he and Janay were in the elevator and the doors had shut before he chose to attack her.
Myth #3: He abuses those he loves the most. He’s abusive because he feels so strongly about me.
It is often true that we may feel stronger emotions involving those we care about the most, however this does not excuse abuse. Feelings do not cause behavior. We are all responsible for how we choose to respond to our feelings. And abuse is a choice, it is not something one is “driven to.” The only exception to this rule is that those who are severely traumatized or have major mental illnesses may have their behavior governed by feelings – however, this is in relation to all other individuals, meaning they are reactive towards everyone, not just their partners.