Why is He Abusive?


Most of us have probably been exposed to romantic relationships that we recognized as abusive. Sometimes, our preconceived ideas of what “domestic violence” or “victims” and “abusers” look like make it difficult to recognize and name abuse as such.

But we are probably closer to victims (or perpetrators) of partner violence then we realize.

If you’re a stats person, StopDV.org posts some numbers indicating that we’re closer to this issue than we might imagine…

  • Every 9 seconds a woman is battered in the United States. (AMA, 1998, Georgia Department of Human Resources, 1999)
  • Nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur each year among U.S. women ages 18 and older. This violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths. (Center for Disease Control, 2003)
  • Conservatively, each year 1 million women suffer nonfatal violence by an intimate. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey (NCJ-154348), August 1995, p.3.)
  • Other estimates include 4 million women in the U.S. are battered each year.
    (American Psychl. Ass’n Violence and the Family: Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996), p.10.)
  • Nearly 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
    (American Psychl. Ass’n Violence and the Family: Report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family (1996), p.10.)

If you have ever witnessed partner violence, you have probably also wondered WHY a person abuses their partner – or if there are acceptable reasons a partner becomes violent.

There is a ton of inaccurate information surrounding “reasons” that a person abuses others.

Here are a few myths:

  1. He was abused as a child.
  2. His previous partner hurt him.
  3. He abuses those he loves the most.
  4. He holds in his feelings too much.
  5. He has an aggressive personality.
  6. He loses control.
  7. He is too angry.
  8. He is mentally ill.
  9. He hates women.
  10. He is afraid of intimacy and abandonment.
  11. He has low self-esteem.
  12. His boss mistreats him.
  13. He has poor skills in communication and conflict resolution.
  14. There are as many abusive women as abusive men.
  15. His abusiveness is as bad for him as for his partner.
  16. He is a victim of racism.
  17. He abuses alcohol or drugs.

In the end, the above primarily serve as excuses. The research indicates that most of the above are not even present in abusers. Now, granted, some of the above may actually be factual pieces of the abuser’s history – for instance, perhaps he was abused as a child. But, even if that’s true, it does not legitimize his damaging behaviors towards others.

So, if these are not legitimate reasons for the abuse, what causes it?

Lundy Bancroft specializes in domestic violence and working with abusive men and their partners. In his book, “Why Does He Do That?,” he explains that at the heart of domestic violence is a core belief system that gives himself permission to behave in abusive ways.

Bancroft dispels the above 17 myths and offers the following underlying beliefs that drive the abusive mentality:

  1. He is controlling – the problem is not that he loses control of himself, it’s that he takes control of others.
  2. He feels entitled – he has special status and exclusive rights and privileges.
  3. He twists things into their opposites – deflecting and refusing to accept responsibility.
  4. He disrespects his partner and considers himself superior to her – “Abuse and respect are diametric opposites: You do not respect someone whom you abuse, and you do not abuse someone whom you respect.”

Additional root beliefs include: he confuses love and abuse; he is manipulative; he strives to have a good public image (hence, of course everyone else thinks he’s wonderful!); he feels justified; he denies and minimizes his abuse; and he is possessive.

Next Steps

If you have questions about whether your relationship is abusive, or if you are considering leaving an abusive relationship, our therapists are trained to help you explore these important questions in a safe, non-threatening environment.

~ Adapted from “Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men” by Lundy Bancroft (2002).

Mindy Pierce, MA , LPC
MPierce @ GROWCounseling.com