I have always been very interested in the endlessly fascinating area of human behaviour. I am curious about what motivates people and why they behave the way they do. However, certain behaviours are difficult to understand and only people who lived and experienced some very challenging behaviours will ever completely understand the internal logic of people demonstrating those behaviours.
Over the years I have worked with both the victims of domestic violence and the abusers. And I have always tried my hardest to attempt to understand why people choose to abuse other people. There are few theories explaining domestic violence. One of them is the ‘learned behaviour’ theory which states that abusive behaviour is often experienced by children who grow up with domestic violence. They might have either witnessed others being abused, or they might have received abuse themselves. And as a consequence, abuse becomes a normal condition of life for them.
So how would an innocent child go on to become an abuser? Well, imagine growing up in the family where you watched one of your parents abusing the other one on a daily basis. You didn’t ask for it to happen and there was nothing you could have done about it. You were just a scared and helpless child. But one day you realized that you had a choice. You could either become the powerless victim who would allow others to treat them badly, or you could become an abuser who is in control and who uses this control to get what he/she wants. What would you choose?
It’s important to stress that it’s not necessarily a conscious decision and not all children who either witnessed abuse or were abused will become abusers themselves.
Another theory describes violence as the result of a loss of control. According to this theory people’s violence is a result of their inability to control their anger and frustration. They have never learned how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way and so they release their negative emotions through the use of violence.
Abusive behaviour can also result from issues, such as impulse control issues, or a drinking or drug problem. Some abusers might also suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.
In spite of the dual stereotypes of the violent man and passive woman, it’s crucial to acknowledge the existence of female abusers in our society. However, despite the fact that women also commit serious abuse, it’s predominantly men who receive information from our society that tells them that it is acceptable to control their wives with violence.
Unfortunately, there are still many cultures that think that it is the man’s God-given right to hit a woman. Just look at recent events in Russia where their MPs backed a law reducing the penalties for those convicted of inflicting violence on family members. The aim is to decriminalise a first offense of family violence that does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. Basically, as long as you don’t break your wife’s or children’s bones or cause a concussion, you’re good. And thanks to Russian MPs men are allowed to do it in a name of ‘Russian tradition’, while preserving the ‘tradition of parental authority’. So now imagine growing up in a family where not only your father is telling you that it’s ok to beat women, this belief is also backed up by the law.
Nevertheless, people aren’t their behaviour and abusers can change. Any learned behaviour can be unlearned, as long as abusers are prepared to get beneath the manifested behaviour and deal with the root cause of their behaviour.
They can achieve that with the help of group therapy where abusers are confronted by others on their behaviour. However, not everyone is able to open up in a room full of people and they might prefer individual therapy. There they will be able to express themselves without the interruption of others, however, they will still need to be confronted and held accountable for their behaviour by their therapist. They need to learn to stop justifying their behaviour, acknowledge how they often minimise it and take responsibility for their actions.