Understanding Domestic Violence
In this article I feature on the phenomenon of male on female domestic violence as this is the most common form by far. Whilst other types of relationship pattern and dynamic can also lead to violent conflict the causes are more unique and individual.
However, in our society, there is an underlying issue that I see regularly as a clinician working in general practice: men who act out violently on female partners – this article considers the roots of this.
The impact of Macho Male Identities – a cultural vulnerability
A guy sitting on a bus observes a father handle the emotional upset of his five year old son by telling him only queers cry – it’s a critical injunction: a shaming exercise designed to humiliate the boy and to teach him that sadness and hurt are not emotions for a boy to have. It reminded me of an exchange I had with a client recently.
Why ‘Boy’s Dont Cry’ is so damaging
Here, a man in his 40’s was struggling to come to terms with the loss of his father and the struggle he was having with tearfulness. Men don’t cry it seems in his world, not even when a deep and painful loss is experienced: no exceptions.
I explored his thinking on this – he had two children, a boy 7 and a girl 9. I asked him what he did when the little girl got upset about stuff – he could easily relate to this: quite naturally and openly he gave an illustrative example and explained how he’d given her a hug and comforted her.
I asked him what he did if his boy cried. He paused for a moment, and then related by way of comparative example how his son had been playing football in a local junior tournament recently when an older lad had bad tackled him, elbowing him in the stomach and tripping him up somehow beyond the sight or interest of the referee.
The boy had landed face down in the mud and started sobbing. His father, who’d been watching the match from the sidelines ran over to his boy, hauled him to his feet and told him: “Don’t cry you poof, revenge is sweet, now go get your own back”.
Fragile ‘macho male’ identities are based on fear of effeminacy and internalised homophobia
And in this innocently recounted exchange, the father has communicated so much about gender rules. Firstly and most significantly of course is that ‘poof’ refers to both effeminacy (ie: don’t be like a girl) and injuncts with the idea that being in any way like a girl is to be lesser, (cultural misogyny) and that a lack of maleness equates to homosexuality (cultural homophobia) and that this is the ‘ultimate insult’.
And then, darker too, an unconscious but important social convention is offered – that when a man is hurt or upset this must be converted into anger and aggression and then acted out in vengeance – go hurt them back only bigger and better – then they won’t try it on again.
Sadly I see this pattern acted out all too often within intimate heterosexual relationships – a class of men who have been led to believe that women are lesser and that if someone hurts you then sharing your upset is weakness: the ‘manly’ approach is to act out with vengeance – convert the hurt and sadness in to anger and use this to dominate and overpower the other.
Counselling for Anger Management can help address the causes of domestic violence
Violence in intimate relationships is a curious phenomenon – often I find clients coming to me with ‘anger management issues’, usually arising from an incident where they have assaulted their partner and are facing the end of the relationship or an impending court case for assault.
What I generally find is that their temper tantrums are limited to their interactions with their partner and they wouldn’t dream of treating a friend or employer in a similar manner. Very few are so psychopathic that they cannot control their anger in broader contexts.
So, what emerges is that there is an internal permission giving that takes place and therapeutically the leverage comes when we can recognise that process. We hurt the ones closest to us because we think we can get away with it: try it at work and you get fired! Counselling for anger management looks at the points of conflict and the behaviours that escalate this to violence and will give you strategies to react differently
The political dimension of domestic violence
The Welsh assembly has made significant moves to both identify the enormity of the problem and to increasingly look at measures to address the impact on children exposed to domestic conflict and violence: when violence and violent conflict are part of an adult domestic relationship this is classed as a child protection issue. Thankfully, the Police are more willing to prosecute now – even on the first offence and penalties can be significant. This can impact on your employability and may exclude you from certain professions.
Despite over thirty years of second wave feminism we still raise boys in this culture to see maleness defined in opposition to femaleness and to see femaleness as a lesser or weaker identity. We still raise emotionally fragile men who resort to violence and aggression when they feel vulnerable rather than talking about their feelings, and we still have a society where two women per week are killed by their partners.
The South Wales Fire Service even has a domestic violence team with up to five officers who spend their working day visiting vulnerable women and installing fireproof letter boxes and smoke alarms in entrance halls – such is the problem of fragile men who resort to arson to express their emotional hurt.
Counselling for anger management can effect positive change in addressing domestic violence because it helps you identify the factors that lead to the explosive points. If you are with a partner who provokes aggression in you it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, the problem won’t fix itself.
|About The Author
Alex Drummond is a fully qualified Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist and Counsellor located near Caerphilly Glamorgan. His clients come from Cardiff, Newport, Ebbw Vale, Pontypool, Cwmbran and the surrounding valleys.
For more information about Alex’s work visit his GoToSee profile page here
Visit his website www.talkmebetter.com