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What Recovering Batterers Want You To Know About Abuse and Violence

Below are points made again and again by the recovering batterers in our groups. These men1 are experts on the psychology of power, control, and violence and are required by us to share their knowledge, educatively and confrontationally, with new men who are still in denial about why they've landed in a batterer's group. We hope you'll find this information useful. -- Scott Barrella and Craig Chalquist

There is absolutely no justification for violence against your partner. Every one of us claimed self-defense when we first told the group why we'd been arrested. The fact is that we vent our anger by putting ourselves into situations where we have an excuse to push, shove, grab, or hit. We have since learned to take a time-out when we get too pumped to talk; if a partner gets violent with us, we turn and walk--or run. The thought of more jail time is a good incentive to remain nonviolent. So is the knowledge that abuse crushes our partner's self-esteem, fills her with rage, and destroys her health.

If you are a man who thinks that some types of violence--maybe pushing, pulling, destroying things, throwing things, getting in her face--are a normal part of a relationship, then you are in denial; furthermore, your violence will probably increase over time. None of us ever saw ourselves as people who could be so abusive that we'd get arrested for it. None of us intended to leave bruises, blacken eyes, break bones, or cause heart attacks. The WORST form of denial for the angry man is to think of himself as a nice guy.

If you are a woman who is with a violent partner, the BEST move you could make, for you and for him, is to call the police EVERY time he's violent. Most of us would never have stopped being abusive had we not been charged, convicted, and forced to attend mandatory group counseling. We were experts at blaming everyone--her, our childhood, the police, our drinking, our stress level, whatever--but ourselves for the violence we committed because we didn't want to face the consequences of what we were doing; besides, it was easier to let our partners think they could somehow keep us from exploding. Only when we were forced to face them did we begin to take charge of our own recovery.

If you, an adult, use any level of physical force on people when you have other choices, then you are a batterer. Do yourself a favor and get help. If you don't, you're looking at jail time, felony battery or spousal abuse charges, possible job loss, huge bail money, restitution, community service, mandatory counseling...or life in prison for murder.

Given a fatal combination of stressors, ANYONE can kill. You'd be surprised how much we're like you. Most of us you couldn't pick out in a crowd. We're you pushed to extremes--the you who maybe avoids the big explosion for decades and then one day loses it for a single moment. That's why, when a well-protected community is shocked by a quiet citizen's murderous rampage, we too are saddened--but never surprised. We know how it works. So if you've ever been abusive and think you're in no danger of going there again, then you're gravely mistaken--and more dangerous than we are. You are a bomb waiting to go off; we are on guard, using group and the tools we've learned there to stay self-vigilant.

If you are a batterer in recovery, you can't drink or use. Ever. Some of us have reviolated because we took the drink or two that made our patiently accumulated special skills useless for long enough for us to push, slap, or throw something. Alcohol does not CAUSE violence--only we cause it--but enough of it can make violence seem reasonable. We think of it this way: if you're a soldier on watch, it only takes being intoxicated ONCE at your post if the enemy chooses that moment to attack. If you've ever used force on a partner, you always have the potential to do it again and must always be alert, always ready to deescalate, watch your negative self-talk, put your hands in your pockets, or call time-out and go; alcohol or drug use are incompatible with keeping ourselves and our partners and children safe.

No one deserves abuse or violence, and no one can be blamed for it but the perpetrator. None of us believed either the counselors or the other men when we were told about relationships in which there was no abuse, no violence, and not even raised voices during arguments. Now we know better. We also know that control of our violence was never in our partner's power, that we'd surrounded ourselves with people who wouldn't confront us or hold us accountable, and that no one under any circumstances deserves to be mistreated--whether emotionally, economically, verbally, sexually, or physically.


For their FAQs:

Questions and Answers About Battery And Domestic Violence

Who is a batterer? Anyone who uses any kind of violence when alternatives are available.

Are most batterers tough, tattooed, blue-collar types? Batterers come from all age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities. Degrees of violence go from grabbing or pushing to murder.

What do batterers think of traditional psychotherapy? They laugh at it. Men in our groups often brag about how easily they can manipulate therapists, particularly ones not trained to work with violent, controlling abusers. "He was clueless; he never even asked me if I'd been violent." "She tried to get us to focus on the positives instead of the negatives." "My denial was never challenged, my current behavior never examined." "I was hitting her the whole time we were in therapy, but the therapist never knew it."

Why do victims stay with batterers? A number of reasons: financial dependency on the batterer's income, emotional isolation, guilt, fear of retribution, old scripts from an abusive childhood, cultural factors, low self-esteem, an equation of love with tolerating abuse, a need to see their own unconscious aggression acted out, a desire for someone to blame for their own stuckness, plain ignorance about the difference between a loving relationship and an abusive one, denial...

Is the abuse ever the victim's fault? Never. The abuser is always responsible for the abuse. Victim-blaming is part of the profile of a batterer--"She had it coming"; "She hit me first"; "She deserved it"; "I taught her a lesson"; etc.

What causes battery? Batterers! The sophisticated ones love to attribute their violence to "causes" like child abuse, biology, and family dynamics. Those certainly play a part (although not all batterers come from violent homes), but the ultimate "cause" is the choice to go to violence. Only a therapy that confronts batterers with their responsibility works with them.

What triggers a battering incident? Anything that brings on a "critical moment" where anger rises to the level of making violence attractive. Triggers include stuffing down anger for a long time, tiredness, drug or alcohol intoxication, arguments, anxiety, stress, work problems, and feelings of helplessness. Narcisstic wounding is a trigger in a high percentage of incidents.

What if the batterer was trying to defend himself? Batterers are attracted to situations that make self-defense necessary. We refer to bars, for instance, as "batterers' Disneylands" because men so often go there to fight with other men. We teach them to avoid such situations and to walk away from fights. They can no more use moderate force than an alcoholic can have one drink.

How do batterers feel about being batterers? Most come into our groups in thorough denial about being batterers. After several sessions, some of the denial, minimizing, and partner-blaming we've confronted is gone, and many of the men know why they are seen as dangerous criminals and feel remorse for what they've done and a sincere desire to change.

Isn't some degree of violence normal in a relationship? Even raising one's voice has no place in a relationship, let alone getting physical with a partner.

Why does your therapy emphasize confrontation? Batterers get worse if their violence, denial, victim-blaming, minimizing, lying, and other abusive behaviors aren't confronted and interpreted. Their respect for you decreases, their contempt increases, and incidents of violence become likelier. Batterers are intimidation experts and surround themselves with people who won't confront them. The only way for them to change is to experience the natural consequences of being abusive, one of which is being confronted and challenged about it. To withhold them fans the batterer's addiction to power, control, and violence.

Do you use empathy when counseling batterers? Sparingly because many men see it as a weakness. They like empathy because they know how to exploit it. Firm, consistent interpretation of all their controlling and manipulating behaviors shows greater concern for them than merely reflecting back feelings or displaying congruence.

What are some therapy techniques you use in addition to confrontation? Roleplaying violent incidents, discussion and working through of critical situations that occur between sessions, challenging negative self-talk, education about stereotypes, training in identifying one's critical moments, journal work to help monitor them, thought-stopping, time-outs, understanding of family and cultural factors that encourage violence, videos on anger management, assertiveness training, labeling and identification of feelings, use of the Duluth power and equality wheels, education on appropriate vs. inappropriate behaviors in relationships, and lessons and homework designed by Scott over several years of work with batterers. We also refer the victims to appropriate shelters, offer them low-fee therapy, and contact them periodically to ask about any incidents that may have occurred.

Are batterers curable? Yes, if they're serious about learning to live a violence-free lifestyle. The potential to go to power, control, and violence never ends, which is why they are still considered batterers even when nonviolent, but it doesn't have to be acted on. The occasional man who feels no remorse for being violent, won't admit to being a batterer, or thinks he's telling us what we want to hear so he can work the system is confronted and, if necessary, does more jail time.

Source: Questions and Answers About Battery And Domestic Violence

*The masculine is used here, although either gender may be the abuser / batterer


© 2000 Dennice is solely responsible for the opinions expressed 

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