Myth and Fact: Violent and Controlling Men
The book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft was written about abusive men, for abused women. Bancroft’s book is written as a self-help guide, to allow a woman in an abusive situation to look through her abuser’s smoke and mirrors and recognize her abuse and escape the abuse in lieu of listening to her abuser’s lies. The focus of Bancroft’s book is on male to female intimate partner violence (MFIPV), though he does discuss some same-sex violence in homosexual relationships and child abuse. Bancroft exposes many myths about abuse that abusers and society perpetuate. Bancroft shows the underlying truths behind male perpetuated abuse, based from his outstanding amount of personal experience with abusers and their victims.
Dating violence is just one of many types of domestic violence. Dating violence is such an important topic to discuss because dating violence can lead into marital violence, child abuse, and other types of domestic violence. It should be noted that dating violence is not a ‘gateway action’ that leads into other abuse, rather the underlying reasons for dating violence are the same as the other types of violence. Essentially dating violence is fabricated from the same sources as the other forms of domestic violence, power and control. An important point that Bancroft raises is “by the time he reaches adulthood, [an abuser] has integrated manipulative behavior to such a deep level that he acts largely on automatic. He knows what he is doing but not necessarily why” (2002, p.113). Bancroft’s excerpt explains one of many reasons why dating violence is important, the abuser’s violent tendencies are already automatic and pose a threat to spouses. Bancroft explains to women that having children, getting married, giving extra special attention to the abuser, and other acts will not stop ongoing abuse. Dating violence will continue through marriage and having children, changing only its name and increasing severity. Dating violence can set a precedent that abuse is acceptable and normal, to both the abuser and victim.
Bancroft spends a good portion of his book pointing out myths surrounding male abusers; such as he abuses those he loves most, he loses control, he is mentally ill, and his drug and alcohol abuse causes his domestic abuse. The idea that men abuse those he loves most can be accepted at face value, is that not why parents claim to spank their children? Tough love? The excuse goes along the lines of ‘I love her so much and when she hurts me, it hurts more than when someone else does’, Bancroft accepts that those closest to us can cause us the most pain. The issue is this, pain does not equal abuse, or in the words of abusers “feelings cause behavior” (Bancroft, 2002, p. 29). The problem Bancroft raises with this excuse is that the feelings from being hurt do not cause anything, especially not abuse, unless an underlying mental illness is present. Abuse is caused by the abuser. If we are to accept that the strong feelings cause abuse, we must wonder why everyone can get strong emotions but not everyone goes out and abuses others, or why a spouse abuser does not abuse other loved ones such as parents or siblings. The abusive personality exists within the abuser, and this excuse of love causing the abuse is absurd and is nothing more than an excuse.
An abuser might claim that they lose control of themselves during their episodes of abuse. While this serves as a perfect separation by an abuser from their abuse, the truth is that there is almost always an element of control still utilized by an abuser. Bancroft uses a personal situation to describe this. A client of his, Michael, had a habit of breaking items when he was upset with his significant other. Michael would break items that belonged solely to his significant other, never anything of his. A person could not possibly lose control, yet still ensure that they only hurt the other person in such a tactical manner. An act of abuse that stops for instance would contrast the idea of loss of control. On page 34 Bancroft shows that the excuses for why an abuser will not do such horrific things range from, I would not do that to her, to I could kill her if I did that. Such reasoning presented in the excuses could not possibly be present if an abuser truly lost control during their abusive states. The true cause is more along the lines of an abuser grasping total control of his victim in a very perverse manner. Bancroft states that an abuser does not do anything he views as morally wrong, making the violence he perpetuates different and somehow better than what another man does. An abuser therefore has not lost control, rather he has a distorted view of what is right and wrong and feels within his rights while ensuring he does not cross his personal moral boundaries (Bancroft, 2002, 35).
Mental illness first and foremost is not an excuse for committing bad actions towards a loved one. While mental illness might help lead to an instance of violence, it is only part of a multitude of other reasons leading up to an incident and cannot be used as a get out of jail free card by an abuser. An abusive personality combined with mental illness is what ultimately leads to the abusive actions being acted out, mental illness alone will not cause a non-abuser to just abuse. This being said the number of abusers with mental illness is relatively low. Bancroft states that for the majority of abusers they do not have abnormal psychology, rather an unhealthy value system (Bancroft, 2002, 38). Even if a person was to have mental illness as the root of their issues, Bancroft states that no medication can truly make them loving and compassionate due to the underlying issues, assuming of course the abuser is willing to take the medication in the first place.
Drug and alcohol abuse is another excuse that is used by abusers to try and cover up their wrongdoings. Bancroft takes up an entire chapter in his book to investigate drug and alcohol effects on abusers. Neither drugs nor alcohol can actually create violence, rather they allow violent people to act and serve as a scapegoat for their actions. Research by Gelles & Cavanaugh in 2005 showed that alcohol is not a primary cause for intimate violence, despite the heavy association between alcohol and violence (p. 177). Drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions, and while they do not cause violence they can lower inhibitions and filters the abuser has put up to fool people and protect his image. The placebo affect tends to be the closest alcohol can get to ‘causing’ violence. A man thinking that alcohol may serve as an excuse to act violently, now has an excuse to act violently and separate himself from the violent acts. As was stated earlier, if an abuser is able to coherently decide how to abuse his victims and stop himself from committing more atrocious acts, he is proving that he is still in control of himself. Bancroft sums alcohol use and abuse up in a single sentence, “Alcohol cannot create an abuser, and sobriety cannot cure one” (2002, p. 47).
The (male) abuser is best summarized as a manipulative man who seeks power and control through physical, emotional, and sexual violence. Bancroft explains that an abuser cannot simply be ‘fixed’, and due to the manipulative nature of abusers, they may never truly be fixed merely pretending. A victim’s actions will never be able to ‘fix’ their abuser, as the abuser’s problems are all internal. The excuses that an abuser might use for his abusive acts might point towards the victim as a cause for her own abuse, but the excuses are used as smoke and mirrors to hide the real internal reasons behind abuse. Abusers will try and play victim, claiming their harm towards another is due to their own victimization, they may even claim the victim was abusing them and not the other way around. Abusers tend to manipulate victims to ignore or not recognize their abuse, or make the victims feel at fault for their own suffering. There are resources available to victims, but a multitude of issues can prevent them from being able to reach out, such as not recognizing they are victims of domestic abuse.
Bancroft possesses the ability to explain domestic abuse to the victims in a way that is relatable to victims. The book uses case examples to give the reader an idea of what exactly they can look out for. The case examples can show a heavy bias on the apparent stupidity of an abuser which could serve as either a strength or a weakness depending on the reader. When Bancroft spends so much time ridiculing the lies of an abuser and points to just how dumb the arguments seem to be, there is potential for a victim to put herself down for falling for the abuser’s ploys. This book was obviously targeted at victims, as such the author framed his approach to an abuser’s mind in a way that would not be offensive to victims, while also being stern enough to try and convince the victim to take steps towards the betterment of their lives. The book encompasses a wide array of abuser myths and facts, giving the victim the ability to escape the traps of the abuser they might be in. The book even includes a resource section that is aimed to help victims find assistance. Bancroft’s book is a victim driven self-help style book that succeeds in showing victims the truth behind their abuse, and gives potential solutions to escape the abuse.
Education is vital in domestic violence prevention. The importance of education lies within victims, abusers, and society as a whole. It is well known that abusers are manipulative people, hiding their actions and intent behind a veil of lies. Educating victims in a manner much like what was employed by Lundy Bancroft is crucial, allowing them to recognize their abuse and solutions is perhaps one of the most important things that can be done. Abusers need to recognize that their actions are abuse and be willing to change, even though this might not be a widespread solution due to the nature of abusers, any abuser that quits abusing is important for the sake of victims. Society needs to progress to educating citizens about domestic violence instead of creating acceptability of violence with the image of violence as a normal and acceptable part of relationships. The seemingly easiest way to educate society would be to replace the negative imagery associated with violence and replace them with more positive imagery, removing the societal acceptance of violence.
Bancroft, L (2002) Why does he do that?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. New York, New York: Berkley Books
Barnett, O.W., Miller-Perrin, C.L., Perrin, R.D. (2011) Family violence across the lifespan (3rd ed.) United States: Sage
Gelles, R. J., & Cavanaugh, M. M. (2005) Association is not causation. In D.R. Loseke, R.J. Gelles & M.M. Cavanaugh (Eds.), Current controversies on family violence (2nd ed., pp. 175–189). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.