Men Who Batter...
Men who batter almost routinely accuse their partners of having other sexual relationships. Slight evidence is sufficient to fire their imagination. A van parked across the street was proof enough for one client's partner. Another accused his wife of fellatio with another whenever she suffered flu symptoms. Such intensely irrational jealousy may arise from the man's own insecurities and projection. He may be having sexual liaisons outside their primary bond himself. Objectification of women is a third contributing factor.
Perpetrators of domestic violence will go to extreme lengths to isolate and control their partners. One woman was not permitted to go into her backyard because her husband called every hour or two. If she did not answer on the first ring, she might have been beaten. Nor could she talk to anyone else by phone, because her husband could hear a busy signal. This woman, like many others, was not permitted to go anywhere alone. Counselors repeatedly hear about this kind of severe isolation. While the male who batters tends to be a loner, he enjoys the company of his own family and friends. Neither is permitted to her.
Men who have a problem with violence exhibit drastic personality changes. Much of the time, they are gentle and loving husbands and fathers. This is the personality with which the woman fell in love originally and continues to love. Periodically, sometimes in rather predictable cycles, he seems to metamorphasize into an ogre. Some men display their Dr. Jekyll side to the public consistently. Mr. Hyde emerges only at home. This is doubly treacherous to the partner because others do not believe her when she speaks of monstrous acts.
A most trivial happening such as failure to balance a checkbook or burning the toast can trigger a beating. In other cases, there is no apparent precipitating event. Many women have been pulled from bed while sleeping soundly and beaten. A frequent response of the victims is to attempt to be the perfect wife and mother. An oft-repeated lament is, “I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.”
The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) explores the circumstances of abusers whose victims took refuge in shelters in July and August of 1981. Fifty-six percent have been involved with the law because of their violent behaviors. Arrest records from other areas of their lives are not uncommon. This high percentage may represent a shelter bias.
A man who batters is a master at blaming other people and external events for his own behavior. A life-long pattern of avoiding the consequences for his behavior effectively limits his sense of personal responsibility for his destructiveness as well as suppresses any motivation for change. The partner becomes a surrogate punching bag. Therefore, when a battered woman says, “He needs me,” she is right in one sense. If he can project his faults onto her, thereby not having to deal with them himself, he is able to perpetuate his own blameless state.
An enormous amount of verbal abuse accompanies physical abuse. A barrage of derogatory labels such as “stupid bitch”, “ugly slut”, or “cheap whore” are heaped upon the victim. Mind games are rampant. Some verbal abuse is less obvious to the abused party. It can be so subtle that the woman is unable to identify the intent of the words. She accepts this judgment that her housekeeping is sloppy, her childcare lax, and she is a hopeless, unappealing drudge. Her self-esteem slips even lower.
Forty-two percent of the abusers of those victims interviewed by the ICADV were abused as children. Fifty-three percent had seen violence in their homes. Of those who had witnessed violence, 75% had seen their fathers beat their mothers. To the researchers, these findings indicate that battering is a problem both for families and for society generally.
More shocking to observers than the other characteristics is the observation
that the batterer is more violent when the partner is pregnant or soon after the
birth of their child. This leads to speculation about “womb envy”. Men who
batter seem to want to impregnate, yet not necessarily to father or nurture
their offspring. It is not unusual for them to tamper with their partner's birth
control measures or to assert that they had vasectomies when they have not. A
recurring theme is, “If you would have my baby, or one more baby, then our
problems would abate.” Yet, wife-beating has been called the “poor man's
abortion”. Women have had miscarriages or stillbirths after savage attacks by
their mates. Does envy of woman' procreative power become a force for male
“I didn't hit her,” or, “I just pushed her a little bit,” are almost
universally uttered denials. Sometimes, awareness of his own behavior is so
totally repressed, that he will notice his partner's injury that he inflicted
the previous evening and ask, “What happened to you?” Indeed, one of the
most crucial aspects of treatment for men who batter is to help them get in
touch with their violence. When they acknowledge the truth of their past
behavior, they may encounter within themselves a backlog of guilt and revulsion
of themselves so overwhelming that they either fall into depression or regress
into deeper denial.
Often it seems that the male who batters purposely is trying to drive away his partner. When he succeeds, he will go to great lengths to retrieve her. He may abduct the children, cry real tears, bring flowers, promise to go to counseling everyday (“If that's what it takes”), vow to stop drinking, and tell her that he needs her and can't survive without her. These actions are very convincing. Each time she leaves, and then returns, the cycle escalates. The violence becomes more severe and the contrite state becomes craftier. She, sadly, reinforces his behavior by believing him and attempting to resume life with him.