Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Anger Mgmt. vs Partner Abuse Intervention

One interesting workshop discussion that sticks out for me was the distinction between the person whose anger results in harm to the family vs. the domestic abuser who may not display much anger at all. This grew out of an example given by one workshop participant, in which a man would smash dishes when he was angry. Once he realized that this caused his wife to fear him, he quickly stopped smashing things. I believe the person who shared this story said this man was not really an abuser, because he was able to feel empathy and stop his violent behavior after seeing how it affected his wife.

While that is a debatable question, the story highlights an important point in understanding many domestic abusers. As Lundy Bancroft (in ‘Why Does He Do That’, 2002) puts it, the domestic abuser "isn’t abusive because he’s angry, he’s angry because he’s abusive.” By contrast, the man in the story above IS abusive because he is angry. Let me explain how I understand this statement. At the core of the domestically abusive man is a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness, not an inability to control his anger. Often times, abusive men can demonstrate immense control over their anger. For instance, when confronted by the boss at work they may not react violently at all. For the abuser, anger often only comes into play when his sense of entitlement has been threatened and his more covert tactics to regain power/control are not working. His anger is simply another tool he uses with precision to exert control.

To paraphrase Bancroft from the same book, an abuser doesn’t have a problem with his own anger, he has a problem with his partner’s anger. This explains why so many abusers present for services complaining about how angry/crazy their partners are. This also explains how an anger management focus can inadvertently place blame on a victim, identifying her as the one who can’t control her anger. An abuser will often talk at length, exaggerating how angry his partner is. What he really means is that her anger (any anger on her part) gets in the way of his perfect world and must not be tolerated.

For the man in the above story, however, anger seems to be central. In fact, he may not have any issues with entitlement or male privilege at all. If that is so, perhaps he has no intention of controlling his partner or others. While his behavior, by its very nature is threatening and abusive, this is fairly different than the control-based abuser. Domestic abusers don’t just use violence, they use violence for a purpose. That said, this anger-based man is probably well represented in batterer’s programs. And my gut feeling is that this is a good thing. I would rather see an angry man who, by the nature of his rage, threatens his wife go through a batterer’s program than see an abuser go through an anger management program that might not address the gender/ entitlement issues.

This discussion may help distinguish anger management issues from domestic violence. Then again I might just be muddying the waters by splitting hairs. What do you think?


Blogger Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This is a great post. Putting the Bancroft book on my list to order at Amazon. Since blogging, I'm sure I've helped Amazon build another wing from my purchases. Interesting take on how an abuser doesn’t have a problem with his own anger, he has a problem with his partner’s anger. Makes sense to me.

Going to check out your other posts now...and am going to link to as well to my blog.


7:52 AM  
Blogger dulcimist said...

Hi Deb,

Thanks for your generous comments. Lundy Bancroft does a great job of unfolding the mind of the domestic abuser. I think it is helpful for victims/survivors, those who work with victims, and those who work with the abusers.

Thanks for the link. As you read in my other posts, I am intrigued by the idea of building community online with others in the helping professions.

I'm in grad school right now and I'm thinking about doing my thesis on using technology to enhance the counseling field (very broad idea at this point.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

11:55 AM  
Blogger lightfeather said...

Thank you, thank you. This post makes so much sense to me and gave me a piece that has been missing.


6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy crap! This post describes my current husband EXACTLY! I've been struggling to find the words to describe his behavior to my own therapist for quite awhile and these words do it perfectly. As a domestic violence survivor I had a difficult time believing I didn't see it before the wedding and since then I have repeatedly questioned my sanity. Thank you so much for writing this. Peace.

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Blogger jennie said...

I think you are right on.

I'm not a clinician, but a woman married to a mostly covert emotional abuser. Dealing with anger management issues is probably a day at the beach compared to dealing with someone who sees relationships as based on power and control, even when most of their control moves are covert.

I think that when it is brought to their attention that their angry behavior scares their spouse, a non-controlling person who has anger management issues will voluntarily seek help.

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