How many times have you read in the paper or heard on TV: “He seemed like such a nice guy” and “They really seemed to be a happy couple” following the murder of a woman by her intimate partner? We expect batterers to look like monsters, crazed, somehow identifiable by a mark or a set of public behaviors or something askew that would tip us off that they are capable of fatal violence. In truth their ability to abuse lies in their very integration into the day to day interactions with neighbors and co-workers, into seemingly happy relationships that belie the violence within. They make sure they control what others, outsiders, see. Only those closest, the very inner circle know intimately the havoc they wreak.
I share a LinkedIn domestic violence group with Carlos Todd, PHD and was fascinated by his view into the world of a batterers mind and appreciate the explanation of the disparity between public and private images. I asked Carlos for permission to publish this. He writes:
As a childhood witness to domestic violence, a mental health practitioner and a student of aggression in its various forms, I believe I have a unique insight into the mind of the batterer. I philosophy believe that some aggression is born out of fear, anxiety and an erroneous assumption that suppression is the only viable approach to human interaction. Therefore what I propose in this brief article will reflect my experience, philosophical and clinical perspective. I am therefore sharing what I perceive are beliefs batterers have that sustain the tyranny of abuse. This list is called the Domestic Batterer’s Manifesto.
- I am very afraid of failure of my own weakness, but the only way I know to ease that fear is to exert control over the closest ones to me. The truth is that because they are close to me, they present the greatest threat to exposing my weaknesses. I must keep them close enough to get my emotional and physical needs met, but far enough to avoid my feelings of vulnerability.
- I fear that my partner can be more successful or even more powerful than I am, so to avoid the germination of this success, I will do all I can to block or even terminate any attempt at his/her success. I do this because my fragile self cannot handle the fact that he/she can have greater, or equal success to me
- I isolate you because I fear that someone will clue you in to my weakness, and will expose me. To maintain my façade of power I just have to isolate you.
- The reason why I tell you “If I can’t have you no one can”, is because I am too weak emotionally to deal with the idea that someone I gave myself to could reject me. The very idea of this rejection is too much to take.
- I give to you emotionally on loan, under the condition that you cannot reject anything that I give. To reject ANYTHING that I give is to reject me entirely.
- I respond with violence because I must use overwhelming force to hide the fact that I am really hurting and afraid.
- I almost never physically hit the kids because they are not perceptive enough to present a threat to exposing my vulnerability.
- I see the world in black and white: the strong and the weak. The only way I know to be strong is to intimidate, control and manipulate.
- Never mind the fact that I am very weak and vulnerable. I am also quite dangerous because in my mind the world revolves around me. Any attempt to shape MY WORLD into something other than I have created, I therefore perceive as a threat to my existence. The only way I know to eliminate those threats, is to either take away the individuality of my partner by making him/her extensions of me, or worst, by eliminating his/her life.
Carlos Todd, PhD
We have to start taking a hard look at developing effective batterer intervention programs. The longer I work with battered women the more I see that while we need to continue to provide services for them, we are treating the ‘symptoms’ and leaving the’ cause’ untouched to perpetuate abusive behavior in every subsequent relationship. For every one woman that gets out there are typically many after who become involved with the same abusive man. Abusers leave a trail of abused (women) in their wake.
While not all batterers have the capacity to ever take ownership and responsibility for their behavior, there are some who can benefit from long term intervention and behavior modification to stop the cycle. I believe we must look towards intensive treatment programs for those that can benefit and teach them healthy adaptive behaviors to take into their future relationships.
I’d like to thank Carlos for allowing me to repost his insightful glimpse into a batterers motives. His website is www.masteringanger.com .