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

Page 3 of 3

Myth #5: He just needs to get therapy, or we need couples therapy. Then he’ll stop

Fact: The privileges that come with abuse are hard to give up. Abusers often twist therapists around their fingers.

As a psychotherapist, it pains me to call therapy for abusers a myth. But it’s true: individual therapy usually doesn’t help abusive men.  

Individual therapy usually doesn’t help abusive men.  

Why? He just doesn’t see what he’s doing as abuse, or he firmly believes he is the victim. When he presents this one-sided story to his therapist, he or she will likely believe him, simply because there is no information to the contrary.  

He’ll also do a really good job of convincing his therapist—after all, he’s convinced you it’s your fault and that you’re the crazy one, so imagine what he can do with a sympathetic individual who is there to support him.

It’s also important to note that couples therapy is not a good idea for physically violent relationships. Couples therapy focuses on the relationship, and therefore assumes that each partner contributes to the problem. It also allows therapy to focus on issues other than abuse--and of course, you might not be honest when you’re answering questions with your abuser sitting in the next chair over, listening intently. Finally, the therapist can’t keep you safe outside of session. Whatever happens in the therapist’s office unfortunately won’t stay in the therapist’s office—it’ll come home.

Myth #6: But he loves me

Fact: He thinks he owns you.

Finally, he says he loves you, and indeed he might. But he also might be mislabeling the desire to posses you, with no competition from the world, as “love.” When he says, “I love you,” what he really means is, “I own you.”  

Look at his actions through the lens of ownership, not love, and suddenly things will make a lot more sense. This is why he gets mad when you show love and attention to others. This is why he gets so threatened when another man talks to you. This is why he encourages you not to pursue your education, tells you what to think, and tries to get you to second-guess your own thoughts and experiences.  

A final note: there is nothing wrong with you. You are not crazy, responsible, guilty, or provoking. He holds the keys to the abuse—no one else.  

Again, for more information, check out the excellent book that inspired this episode, 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.

A really important note: Although Ray Rice, Ray McDonald, and Greg Hardy are all African-American, abuse has no specific demographic profile. Abusers come from all backgrounds: rich, poor, educated, uneducated, professional, working class, minority, and white.

And while I’ve focused this episode on heterosexual relationships where the man is the abuser, please note that all these myths apply to same-sex abusive relationships, as well.  For more information about domestic violence when a heterosexual man is the victim, check out Can Men Be Victims of Domestic Violence?.

Domestic violence awareness ribbon and domestic violence abstract images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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