Myths about Abusers

Myth: Alcohol causes battering. People who batter are alcoholics.

Fact: Very often, drinking and battering do go together, and alcohol accelerates the battering problem. But drinking does NOT cause battering. Drinking may allow someone to let down his or her inhibitions and become violent. Someone who drinks and is violent can learn to control both of these behaviors, and get help to do so.

Myth: Once a batterer, always a batterer.

Fact: Although the prognosis for change is dim (Gallup, 1990), some men do stop their violent behavior. Men have more success at stopping physical violence than they do at stopping verbal and emotional violence. It is estimated that it will take between three and five years of weekly therapy for a man to make a significant, lasting change in all aspects of his violent behavior (Standards for Treatment, 1989).

Myth: “I just lost it.”

Fact: Batterers say they could not help themselves from using violence. Most men who batter use other methods of dealing with frustration, anger or “provocation” when it is convenient for them. When the batterer feels angry, he does not beat up his boss, his secretary, the neighbor, a stranger on the street or children playing in the next yard. Only in the privacy of his own home or when he perceives he will receive no negative consequences will he choose to use violence toward his female partner and possibly his children.

In the vast majority of cases, he will batter no one else (Ewing et al., 1984; Ptacek, 1988; Stordeur & Stille, 1989).

When the perpetrator uses violence, it is because he has made an assessment of the situation and has determined that:

  • What I am doing is not wrong.
  • If it is wrong, I will not get caught.
  • If I get caught, I can talk my way out.
  • If I cannot talk my way out, the penalties will be minor. I will decide what the penalties are (Lindsey, 1990).

In these “I just lost it” episodes of violence, batterers say and do things they know will hurt their victim. They yell obscenities and threats. They kick pregnant women in the stomach. They hit the victim in places that will be seen or hidden, depending on the message they want to be delivered by the violence. Batterers use violence because they know they can and no one will stop them or apply negative consequences.

Myth: Abusers batter because they have low self-esteem.

Fact: Many people believe that batterers are violent because they feel bad about themselves. They pick on their partners to make themselves feel better. While it may be true that many or all batterers have low self- esteem, this does not explain why they batter. There are many men and women with low self-esteem who are not violent.

Myth: Batterers are mentally ill.

Fact: It is worth noting that in an extremely small percentage of cases, violent behavior may stem from a brain disorder or damage. However, people with this condition commit violent acts at random toward those with whom they’re in contact. This is not the case in the vast majority of battering relationships. While some batterers use such excuses as physical problems, drinking, and war flashbacks to justify their actions, these “afflictions” usually do not cause them to harm anyone else except their partners. Battering is not a disease, but rather a learned behavior. Abusive behavior is within a person’s control. A person uses violence to obtain and maintain control over another person. More importantly, battering can be lethal; it is a deadly crime that can be perpetuated by social institutions unless they intervene to stop it.

Myth: He was abused as a child, and needs therapy for it.

Fact: Multiple research studies have examined the question of whether men who abuse women tend to be survivors of childhood abuse, and the link has turned out to be weak. A bad childhood doesn’t cause a man to become an abuser, but it can contribute to making a man who is abusive especially dangerous. For some abusive men, the blame-the-childhood approach has an additional reason for being appealing: By focusing on what his mother did wrong, he gets to blame a woman for his mistreatment of women. This explanation can also appeal to the abused woman herself, since it makes sense out of his behavior and gives her someone safe to be angry at – since getting angry at him always seems to blow up in her face. The abuser only wants to draw attention to his terrible childhood if it’s an excuse to stay the same, not if it’s a reason to change. (Why Does He Do That?, by Lundy Bancroft).

Myth: He is abusive because he feels so strongly for me.

Fact: Most abusive men have close relationships with people other than their wives or girlfriends. My clients may feel deep fondness for one or both of their parents, a sibling, a dear friend, an aunt or uncle. Do they abuse their other loved ones? Rarely. It isn’t the love or deep affection that causes his behavior problem. (Why Does He Do That?, by Lundy Bancroft).

Myth: He is abusive because he has faced so much societal discrimination and disempowerment as a man of color, so at home he needs to feel powerful.

Fact: A majority of abusive men are white, many of them well educated and economically privileged, so discrimination couldn’t be a central cause of partner abuse. If a man has experienced oppression himself, it could just as easily make him more sympathetic to a woman’s distress as less so, as is true for childhood abuse. In fact, there are men of color among the most visible leaders in the United States in the movement against the abuse of women. So while discrimination against people of color is a terribly serious problem today, it should not be accepted as an excuse for abusing women. (Why Does He Do That?, by Lundy Bancroft).