On hearing the recent news coverage about Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Ray McDonald, many of us thought, “How could anyone do that?” As Savvy Psychologist reveals, the truth about what goes through an abusive man’s head is not always what you’d expect.
As you well know, I’m a mental health professional, but while researching this podcast, I admit that some of my own assumptions about abusive men were overturned.
For more information, check out the excellent book on which this episode is based: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft, a male counselor with 20 years’ experience working with abusive men.
While domestic violence can impact anyone, this week's episode is specifically for women in relationships with the Ray Rices of the world.
Prepare to be surprised...
Myth #1: His previous wife/girlfriend hurt him or cheated on him, so he’s acting out because of what she did to him
Fact: Abusers blame everyone except themselves.
Abusive men almost always badmouth their past partners. He will convince you that his previous girlfriend or ex-wife is full of lies, or that she is out to get him.
However, listen closely to the phrasing he uses. He might blame her for “having him arrested” and “taking the children away from him,” or he might say, “she didn’t let me have any space.” He is putting himself in the victim role.
Also, if he claims an ex-partner cheated on him, he’ll often say he “just knew” or “everybody knew” that she was cheating, but ask him for details and you’ll likely get a vague story, or find he was jumping to conclusions. But blaming his ex creates a reason for you to justify why he’s hitting you. ”Well, it’s just because that crazy woman treated him so badly. That’s why he’s so jealous now.”
This allows him to justify all sorts of bad behavior—affairs, violence, jealousy, controlling your social life—because, he claims, he’s just reacting to how much the previous girl hurt him. “Baby, I got so hurt in the past that now I’m afraid of commitment, so I’ve gotta keep my options open.” “My ex-wife cheated on me so much I can’t bear to let you out of my sight.”
To make this work, he’ll also try to make you feel crazy and at fault. “When you get like this I can’t talk to you--you’re just like her.” “What do you expect me to do when you act just like she did?”
He may tell you he’s doing it for your own good, that he has to save you from yourself, or keep you from becoming like her. But he’s not losing control of himself, he’s taking control of you..
Myth #2: He abuses me because he was abused as a child
Fact: He may have been abused, but that’s not the reason he hits you.
To be sure, many men who hit or emotionally abuse their partners were themselves abused as kids. But many men have also risen above their brutal childhoods and broken that cycle. Being abused doesn’t automatically make you an abuser. Of course, be sympathetic and compassionate to a man who had a lousy childhood, but he cannot use it as an excuse to abuse you.
If he does, he is taking full advantage of your sympathy. An abusive man who points to his abusive childhood as the reason he hits you is, on the surface, giving you a “reason.” However, it’s a dangerous one. He wants you to understand why he hits you, and therefore make it acceptable. Or he needs to make you feel guilty for standing up for yourself.
Be particularly wary if he blames his mother for abusing him.
Be particularly wary if he blames his mother for abusing him, because then he gets to place the blame on a woman to justify abuse of another woman: you.
Bottom line: an abusive man uses an abusive childhood as an excuse to distract from his current behavior. Blaming his unchangeable past grants him carte blanche to stay violent, rather than working to change.