How much control do batterers have over their actions?
How much control do abusers have over their actions?
There's a pervasive myth in society that says that people that abuse are out of control - that when they hurt us it's because they've just exploded and totally lost control. We hear about how they get too much inside them and explode like they're a boiler that needs to be vented every so often or they blow. It's a myth that most of us believe at some point in our lives, it's one we're raised to believe and is riddled through society so it's natural that when we're stuck with an abuser we believe that they don't mean what they do and just lose it. There's other reasons for believing this too, abusers create a lot of confusion without which they can't abuse and that confusion makes it hard to see what they can control and what they can't. They seem nice one minute and are cruel the next, they seem sane but do things that we think only a madmen is capable of: we know they're not crazy so the natural conclusion is that they just lose it. This is something many people believe and there's no shame in believing it - the shame always belongs to the perp.
A lot of what an abuser does sounds so crazy and it's really hard to explain what they do to other people. It's hard to explain that someone that seems so kind and basically OK from the outside can be capable of such horrendous acts, things that are so awful that you don't see on the TV or on films. We see the good in them and the sudden switch between good and bad, the way that they can hurt us then kiss our bruises tenderly afterwards and promise they'll work on their anger. When someone is good most of the time and bad a small amount of the time then it's natural to see the badness as a blip, a temporary loss of control and something that's due to drink, drugs, stress or anger management. As I'll show in this article there's a lot of control in what they do - sometimes it's hidden and hard to find but it IS there. If you're reading this article because you're starting to understand your batterer's control well done on getting to that point in your understanding of your relationship, it takes soul searching and insight to get where you are. You might find what you say difficult to take in, some of it might be very new to you and painful to hear so please be gentle with yourself as you read it.
Abusers tend to do things when they won't be caught. They usually start by doing things that don't leave marks like grinding our fingers together or dragging us round by our hair...they escalate but usually it's a while until they're leaving marks that are hard for us to cover. They usually don't hurt us in front of other people or when there are people there that can stop them. If it was a loss of control, why don't they lose control when they're doing the shopping in Wal-mart? Or with your strong friend nearby who will attack them for laying a finger on you? I've never heard of a single case where a batterer has attacked their partner when the police are there, even when they're fuming with rage: usually when the police are there they are sweetness and light, all calm next to our crazy and making us look like the bad one. They do what they do in secret and when they won't get any serious consequences and that shows control.
They only do it with us
Everyone has worked with someone that they truly dislike. We've all worked with someone maddening that drives us crazy and who we sometimes think we could watch drown. We've all had the office space fantasy of destroying the photocopier with a baseball bat but we don't do it - and neither do our abusers. No matter how much they hate their boss they don't hit them and they don't threaten or frighten them in the way they threaten or frighten us. If it was a loss of control wouldn't they lose control with them? Why do they only do it with their family and people close to them?
The length of loss of temper
How long do you truly lose your temper? Seconds? Minutes? For most people it's a matter of seconds, it's just a few seconds where you snap and say or do something you regret. You might be angry for longer but you don't lose it for hours at a time. Abusers often tie us to chairs, lock us outside and beat on us for hours at a time - afterwards they claim that it's lack of control and that they've lost it. In the space of several hours even the angriest person can reign themselves in, they can drop their weapon and think "what am I doing?" DV incidents are often hours long, being trapped in a room in your house sobbing and pleading - if somebody is losing control for hours or even minutes at a time then they've got a serious problem that would mean they were incapable of working, having any relationship with anyone and even going to the shops without smashing things to pieces.
They draw the line
Every abuser has a line that they'll draw and every abuser is different. Some will rape us but never hit us - some will try beat us but never endanger our lives - some will be psychologically devastating but never hurt us physically. They draw the line and they don't cross it, they even say "But I'd never do that!" An abuser almost never does anything that they find morally unacceptable, for example some will never hit the children. That shows control - that shows that they're taking control not losing control. Of course not everything that they do is deliberate which makes it easier to see it as a loss of control so think of it this way - a boxer in a ring knows what they can do, they'll use violence in the ring but not headbutt, kick or EVER use violence outside the ring.
What they do shows calculation
Not everything that they do is planned in advance but some of what they do is very deliberate and very calculating. Abusers often spread vicious rumours about their partner and badmouth them to anyone that will listen, something which isn't done by loss of control but by deliberate choice. They do things to make us feel like we're going crazy like dimming the lights or throwing the milk away so that we think we've imagined going to the store and buying it. Frighteningly some of the violent assaults show calculation - they hide the phone, they move a weapon close by and they close the windows so nobody will hear us scream. That calculation isn't a loss of control at all.
Substance misuse and anger management
A lot of batterers have substance abuse issues and we all know that it doesn't help with anger management. We've all done things when drunk that we regret, we've all humiliated ourselves or said things we shouldn't so we find it easy to understand why our partner would lose control when drunk. However, we might do silly things when drunk and regret it the next day but nobody wakes up and says "I was so wasted last night I killed fourteen bunny rabbits, committed grand arson and then robbed a bank. Boy is my face red!" Alcohol makes people lose their inhibitions but there's no chemical in alcohol that will make a non-violent and peaceful person a rapist or batterer. It has to already be in them and be brought out.
Minimising and victimising themselves
Abusers are very good at convincing people that they lose control and they're absolutely excellent at minimising what they do. They shove us over and dismiss it as "just a small push", they dismiss a beating as "just a slap" and turn everything round to being somehow our fault. They say that we're being melodramatic when we call them on what they do and they have a way of making themselves seem like the victims. They shift the blame saying that we shouldn't have wound them up, that we were out of line and often that we should have done more to stop them losing their temper. Everything that we do is magnified a thousand times but what they do is minimised, brushed under the carpet and made to be something small.
Making their abuse out to be all about them losing control works for them on different levels. It makes them a victim, a victim of a disorder that leaves them helpless. It turns all the attention onto them and all the sympathy onto them - when we are the ones that deserve sympathy. In one swoop it takes away their responsibility and makes them to be the victim: classic signs of an abusive personality. They want everyone to believe that they lose control because that means that they're not to blame, it minimises what they do and makes them the victim.
Living with their choices
It's incredibly hard coming to terms with their choices. It's deeply painful thinking that they had control and that they chose to hurt us, it's much easier to accept that we're to blame and that they lose control. Maybe you still love your abuser, you see the good in them and you can't believe that they'd hurt you on purpose. This essay may have caused you difficulty in how you see yourself, your abuser and your healing - it's really important to allow yourself time to come to terms with their choices and mourn what they've done. You can mourn in whatever way feels right for you, whether that's screaming into a pillow, having a closure ceremony where you burn significant items or just crying your heart out. There are lots of things that you can do to give yourself closure and make peace with what they did: for example working on your sense of self worth can really help you realise that what they've done says a lot about them and nothing about you. If you are a member of Pandy's you can take part in healing discussions like blaming ourselves or self blame help you here. You may also want to look at the last chapter on this partner rape dvd. Above all remember that you are amazing for surviving and powerful for working on your healing - and you can get through this.