“Understanding Abusive Men: Quotes from Lundy Bancroft” has been one of the most read posts on this blog. Author of Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Abusive and Controlling Men (2002), Bancroft has said the following about male abusers:
Research indicates that a woman’s intuitive sense of whether or not her partner will be violent toward her is a substantially more accurate predictor of future violence than any other warning sign.
To make matters worse, everyone she talks to has a different opinion about the nature of his problem and what she should do about it. Her clergyperson may tell her, “Love heals all difficulties. Give him your heart fully, and he will find the spirit of God.” Her therapist speaks a different language, saying, “He triggers strong reactions in you because he reminds you of your father, and you set things off in him because of his relationship with his mother. You each need to work on not pushing each other’s buttons.” A recovering alcoholic friend tells her, “He’s a rage addict. He controls you because he is terrified of his own fears. You need to get him into a twelve-step program.” Her brother may say to her, “He’s a good guy. I know he loses his temper with you sometimes—he does have a short fuse—but you’re no prize yourself with that mouth of yours. You two need to work it out, for the good of the children.” And then, to crown her increasing confusion, she may hear from her mother, or her child’s schoolteacher, or her best friend: “He’s mean and crazy, and he’ll never change. All he wants is to hurt you. Leave him now before he does something even worse.” All of these people are trying to help, and they are all talking about the same abuser. But he looks different from each angle of view.
It is not possible to be truly balanced in one’s views of an abuser and an abused woman. As Dr. Judith Herman explains eloquently in her masterwork Trauma and Recovery, “neutrality” actually serves the interests of the perpetrator much more than those of the victim and so is not neutral. Although an abuser prefers to have you wholeheartedly on his side, he will settle contentedly for your decision to take a middle stance. To him, that means you see the couple’s problems as partly her fault and partly his fault, which means it isn’t abuse.
The confusion of love with abuse is what allows abusers who kill their partners to make the absurd claim that they were driven by the depths of their loving feelings. The news media regrettably often accept the aggressors’ view of these acts, describing them as “crimes of passion.” But what could more thoroughly prove that a man did not love his partner? If a mother were to kill one of her children, would we ever accept the claim that she did it because she was overwhelmed by how much she cared? Not for an instant. Nor should we. Genuine love means respecting the humanity of the other person, wanting what is best for him or her, and supporting the other person’s self-esteem and independence. This kind of love is incompatible with abuse and coercion.
One of the biggest mistakes made by people who wish to help an abused woman is to measure success by whether or not she leaves her abusive partner. If the woman feels unable or unready to end her relationship, or if she does separate for a period but then goes back to him, people who have attempted to help tend to feel that their effort failed and often channel this frustration into blaming the abused woman. A better measure of success for the person helping is how well you have respected the woman’s right to run her own life—which the abusive man does not do—and how well you have helped her to think of strategies to increase her safety. If you stay focused on these goals you will feel less frustrated as a helper and will be a more valuable resource for the woman.