Is it Domestic Abuse, or an Anger Management Problem?
"Anger is not the cause of abuse and control; abuse and control are symptoms of a Power Over mindset." (Dr. Chris Huffine)
Facing the truth about having an abusive personality is something most people don’t want to admit.
Allowing this level of transparency would be too much for the abuser: too much shame, too much guilt, too much shattering of the ego, too much relinquishing of coercive power. Accepting responsibility for manipulative actions and attitudes would mean the perpetrator would have to get rid of all justifications, blame and excuses, and fully admit that they are completely responsible for their behaviours. They would have to be honestly open to the fact that they made certain choices to be abusive and controlling.
Obviously, that’s not something most people want to do. Instead, excuses pave the way for further acts of emotional, physical, psychological, or verbal violence. For example, abusers tend to feel their behaviour isn’t “that bad” because they’re not physically violent. Or, if they do slap their partner around a bit, at least they don’t punch her. Or, if they do punch her, at least they’ve never sent her to the hospital …
Some abusers will acknowledge there’s a problem in their relationship, but will blame that problem on their partner or a so-called “mutual communication issue.” Still others may take the step of admitting that “sometimes” their behaviour gets out of control—but then they go on to justify their actions as a mere “anger issue” rather than what it truly is—an abuse issue.
“He has convinced himself of his own distortions.”
(Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men)
Dr. Chris Huffine, a psychologist who has worked with abusers for over thirty years, notes that “the problem with focusing on anger is that it completely ignores the real problem. Nineteen times out of twenty, if not more, the reason people think someone has an anger issue is because they have repeatedly acted in abusive ways. The point here is that the problem is not their ‘anger’ or ‘temper.’ It’s that they’ve been abusive!”
Sadly, most psychologists and therapists are poorly trained—if at all—in the area of intimate partner violence (IPV). Even those who claim to have some experience (including but not limited to claims of “specializing” in NPD, relationship issues, and domestic violence) are most often unaware of the in-depth nuances, the intricate attitudes, the twisted reasonings, and the obsessively jealous nature of the abusive personality.
It can seem very encouraging if your abusive partner is willing to go to therapy, but sadly there are serious pitfalls to this plan.
When it comes to an abusive personality, therapy is often counter-producitve. Abusers tend to use therapy as a weapon and a tool—and most psychological professionals aren’t educated in IPV, even if they claim to be. As Lundy Bancroft admits, “psychologists who are trained in the area of trauma and abuse remain rare, and the battle to reform psychological thinking has just begun.”
Because it’s unusual for an abusive personality to be honest about his behaviours, actions, and attitudes—whether he wants to hide them out of shame or egoistic pride, or because he won’t admit them even to himself—any therapeutic intervention will be limited.
Often a psychological professional will see the “Mr. Nice Guy” aspect of an abuser, and will be unwittingly sucked into his spinning web of charm or victimized ways. If a therapist doesn’t know who they’re truly dealing with—and especially if they’re unaware of the underlying dynamics of abusive personalities and an abuser’s keen ability to play the victim—then they won’t be of any help.
In fact, they can inflict more damage on the victim by siding with their abusive client, claiming such things as “he just isn’t the type to be abusive; he’s so pleasant and insightful.” In other words, he exudes a Dr. Jekyll demeanour, so he can’t possibly be a Mr. Hyde. Or so the misguided reasoning goes.
Therapy can prove to be more harm than good. There is no “type” to an abusive personality, which makes them difficult to detect. Abusers come in all races and both genders, from every country in the world and all educational levels, as well as all social classes. Abusers appear nice and even victimized to others—that’s how they get away with what they get away with.
In fact, seeking this sort of psychological therapy can be very harmful—at least for the target—because therapy will provide the abuser with a new source of narcissistic supply, an “expert” to validate his thoughts and beliefs, and a “professional” excuse which will enable him use his past experiences as a shoddy explanation for his present abusive behaviours and attitudes.
He claims he can’t help the way he is. He has PTSD because his previous partner was insane, or bipolar, or a micromanager, or cheated on him. He’s messed up from his childhood. He’s been victimized by his boss … Whatever works is whatever an abuser will use as an excuse for abuse.
Have you been victimized? Have you been traumatized? Do you now have PTSD from being in an abusive relationship?
If so, ask yourself this:
Does your trauma make you more prone to becoming abusive to others, or does it make you more empathetic towards others and how you interact them, with a strengthened resolve to treat others as you would be treated? (Luke 6:31)
Perhaps what’s even more damaging is the therapist who partially understands. In this case, the abuser admits he has “lost it on occasion.” He has a problem with anger, he sadly and willingly admits. He needs help. His psychologist or therapist, not recognizing the distinct signs of narcissistic tendencies and abusive traits, views his or her client as an honest, introspective, good person who desires to better himself so as to please his partner. (Keep in mind that a therapist can be fully licensed without taking a single course on IPV.)
This type of client is the “golden boy”—humble enough to admit he has “lost it” from time to time, and longing to work on his issues so he can be a better husband, father, or whatever role applies.
Who wouldn’t want a guy like that? He sounds like an ideal spouse.
Sadly, these uninformed therapists are very dangerous because they enable their abusive clients to continue with excuses, including the misleading idea that if he gets his rage and anger under control, then all abuse will disappear. This misguided perception is due to the therapist’s ignorance of the underlying condition—which is his or her client’s abusive, manipulative, coercive, and controlling beliefs, patterns, actions, and attitudes.
“The therapists and books that deal with anger rarely, if ever, mention the words ‘abuse or being ‘controlling’ with others. They focus solely on managing the emotion of anger. They talk about ‘losing control’ of anger and learning how to ‘take control’ or ‘manage’ their anger. The problem with focusing on anger is that it completely ignores the real problem. The primary reason people think someone has an anger issue is because they have repeatedly acted in abusive ways.” (Dr. Chris Huffine)
In other words, if your partner is abusive but willing to work on his behaviours with professional help, that’s great—but don’t think you’re home free and “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Honest conversation is needed. What is he working on with his therapist? What has he revealed to her (or him)? Has he admitted that he’s abusive, or has he simply said that he has “anger issues” or “sometimes can lose control” but “wants to get better”? Has he truly told his therapist everything, or has he held back due to shame or some other egoistic reason?
Since abusers are also chronic and excellent liars, taking their word about how honest they’ve been in therapy isn’t (at this point) the best idea. In fact, it’s the worst idea. Instead, talk to the therapist yourself. Ask your partner to sign a release form so his therapist can be free to discuss his case in full details. If your partner refuses to sign the form, your question has been answered: he’s lying and not to be trusted.
However, if he agrees and you’re able to speak openly with his therapist, ask questions—a lot of them. At this point you not only have the right, but you deserve full disclosure.
If his therapist is unwilling to speak with you—or insists on doing so in a couples counselling session—take this as a huge red flag.
In this case the therapist obviously doesn’t know the truth about your situation, or perhaps is very uninformed as to how to help abusive personalities. If his therapist won’t talk to you or will only see you as a couple, your partner is obviously seeking help in the wrong places (even if with the best of intentions), and is speaking with someone who will do more harm than good due to lack of educational awareness regarding IPV.
Further, if your partner gets upset with you for pointing this out, or insists that his therapist is “the best” and knows what he or she is talking about, then that’s a further clue that he’s using therapy as a form of supply to ease his conscience or appeal to his ego, rather than for true healing.
Abuse is not an anger issue. Abusive men are angry men, but it’s not their anger that makes them abusive—it’s the other way around. Their abusive attitudes and personality make them angry when things don’t go their way, when they feel their partner isn’t giving them enough love or attention, or if they fear she’s is being too independent and might develop a life of her own.
Or for a variety of other reasons.
Anger doesn’t cause abuse. Abuse causes the perpetrator to be angry—at everything, except himself.
“Abusers carry attitudes that produce fury. The abuser’s unfair and unrealistic expectations ensure that his partner can never follow all of his rules or meet all of his demands. The result is that he is frequently angry or enraged. Perhaps his loudest, most obvious, or most intimidating forms of abuse come out when he’s angry, but his deeper pattern is operating all the time.
(Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?)