Myths About Domestic Violence: Part 3

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Welcome back to our discussion on the myths about domestic violence. We continue our focus on the myths about abusive men, specifically myths about what causes abusive men to be abusive. As before, information for the blog is taken from the book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Please visit http://www.lundybancroft.com for more information.

Myth #7: He holds in his feelings too much.

This is often referred to as “The Boiler Theory of Men” – that men keep their emotions pent up inside and that in time they are bound to blow up. The truth is that most abusive men are actually quite the opposite in respect to their feelings, and they have an exaggerated idea of how important their feelings are. They talk about their feelings and act them out all the time, until those who are on the receiving end, their partners and children, are exhausted from it. It is not their feelings that are the problem, but their thinking and their attitudes about the feelings of others. They are too distant from their partner’s and children’s feelings rather than their own. This “boiler theory” appears to make sense because abusive men often follow a pattern of withdrawing, saying less and less, and then they appear to boil over and erupt in yelling, put-downs and other abusive behaviors. However the mounting tension is actually driven by his lack of empathy for the feelings of his partner and children, and then he gives himself permission to explode.

Myth #8: He has an aggressive personality.

It is understandable why this would be an attractive myth to believe – if it were true it would make it much easier to women to decrease the chances of ending up in an abusive relationship. However, the majority of abusers are often quite responsible calm when dealing with affairs and people unrelated to their partners. For most abusers, but not all, they do not get aggressive with individuals other than their partners. This actually is a contributing factor to why many women stay feel trapped in abusive relationships – their partners are calm and gentle people outside of the home, it’s so hard to believe they could be so different behind closed doors. This is one of the manipulative, twisted aspects of abusive partners and it serves to ensure their partners will not reach out for support.

This myth is perpetuated by the societal stereotype that abusers are relatively uneducated and blue-collar men. This is not only an unfair stereotype of working-class men, it overlooks the fact that a college-educated or professional man has roughly the same likelihood of abusing his partner as anyone else. The truth is, the more educated the abuser is, the more knots he can tie in his partner’s mind, the better he is at getting her to put the blame on herself for his behavior, and the slicker he is at being able to persuade others that she is crazy. Also, and this is a very important point, the more socially powerful an abuser, the more powerful his abuse can be – he has more influence and has more pull in the public eye, and this makes it much more difficult for his partner to escape.

Myth #9: He has low self-esteem.

Many would like to believe that abusive behavior is the result of the abusive man feeling bad about himself, having low self-esteem. This misconception leads the victim to do what she can to boost his confidence. However, this only makes the problem worse. Abusive men expect being catered to, and the more positive attention they receive, the more they demand. Thus, the self-esteem myth is ultimately rewarding to the abuser – it gets his partner, his therapist and others involved to cater to him emotionally.

Myth #10: He is too angry.

Perhaps the most common myth about abusive men is that they have anger management problems, that they are abusive because they are unable to appropriately cope with and manage their anger. The cause and effect belief usually looks like this: He is abusive because he is angry. However, this is the reverse of the truth – he is angry because he is abusive. Everybody gets angry and most have, on occasion, gotten too angry, where their anger is out of proportion to an event or beyond what is healthy for them. Some get ulcers, hypertension and heart attacks as a result. However, these individuals do not necessarily abuse their partners. An abusive partner’s anger can be misleading, in that it diverts the attention away from all the disrespect, irresponsibility, lying, talking over you, and other abusive and controlling behaviors he displays, even when he isn’t particularly upset.

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