6 Surprising Myths About Domestic Violence

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.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
September 26, 2014
Episode #038

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Myth #3: He's abusive because he's depressed, traumatized, or has some other kind of mental illness

Fact: Mental illness and abuse are separate issues.

6 Surprising Myths About Domestic Violence

Indeed, some abusers do have a mental illness, but that’s a separate problem from the abuse. And mental illness doesn’t cause abuse—think of all the people in this world who are depressed, alcoholic, drug-addicted, or traumatized who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  

Furthermore, the typical abuser is often healthy and functional in the other areas of his life. He often has a good relationships with extended family members, gets good reviews at work, and has friends—none of which are signs of mental illness.

More signs that he’s not mentally ill: his anger isn’t random or driven by delusions. He doesn’t throw or break stuff he cares about. He’s rational enough to understand that you’re not cheating on him just because you had a conversation with another man. He can pull it together instantly when the police come to the house. In short, his crazy-appearing abuse is totally rational.

Abusers do often have a problem with how they manage their emotions. When an abuser feels bad, he lets his anger, sadness, hurt, or frustration grow and grow until everyone else in the house is miserable, too. It won’t stop until someone tries to rescue him, and then he’ll blame that person.  

Also, abusers often won’t allow or acknowledge negative feelings in others. He’s allowed to be angry, but if you’re mad, he’ll either mess with your head or let you have it. If you fight back, he’ll claim that you’re abusing him, or that he’s hitting you in self-defense: “I had to smack some sense into you.”

Myth #4: He’s jealous and controlling because he has low self-esteem 

Fact: On the contrary, he thinks he’s special.

You might think that if you are there for him or support him enough, you can stop the abuse. Ironically, this just makes things worse. He demands your deference and emotional catering, gets the praise he is seeking from you, but always—always—thinks it’s not enough.

It’s actually the opposite of insecurity—he feels he is special, deserving, and entitled. He considers it a right to have you all to himself, and to punish you if you don’t do what he wants. He thinks you should be grateful for the freedom he allows you, the financial allowance he gives you, or the friends he lets you have. He wants a reward for his generosity, and has no idea he’s being controlling.

In fact, he feels justified. He’ll rationalize the abuse. He’ll tell you, “You know how to get to me.” “You pushed me over the edge.” Just like those embedded in drug addiction or alcoholism, he’ll blame everyone except himself, and then make you feel sorry for him.  

If that doesn’t convince you, if you’ve been abused, think about what your partner’s criticisms have done to your self-esteem. I’m guessing it hasn’t turned you into an abuser.


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