I previously wrote how I feel anti-sexist advocate Jackson Katz is one of many domestic violence advocates who use hyperbole in their work, which in turn, leads society towards more of a misunderstanding, rather than a greater understanding, of domestic violence and its causes. Mr. Katz postulates that a “masculinity crisis” is responsible for much of male violence, not only towards women, but also towards men themselves. In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I addressed these claims and found some of his statistics to be distortions of the truth, and some other statements to be not completely irrelevant, but not overwhelmingly convincing either.
In this last part, I want to focus on some of the latest research into domestic violence, and show how those who claim to be vigilant in eradicating domestic violence are actually the ones who may be putting future victims at risk. All because of politics and pride.
But in order to understand these new theories, I will focus on the smallest percentage of all domestic violence cases. This will be serious violent offenders which are traditionally male. Most of what I am going to talk about comes from three sources. The first is an article called “Inside the Heart of Marital Violence”by Hara Estroff Marano. This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Psychology Today in 1993 and was last reviewed in January of 2007.
The second source comes from “Domestic Violence and Attachment Theory: Clinical Applications to Treatment with Perpetrators” by Dr. Daniel Jay Sonkin. Dr. Sonkin has spent 25 years treating perpetrators of domestic violence, and his views differ from most DV prevention advocates with respect to causes and treatment of male domestic violence perpetrators.
The third source will be my own experiences from working with men in group therapy. I was personally a victim of various forms of abuses during my childhood manifested by an alcoholic environment. For a couple of years I took part in group therapy that delegated to men-only. I used this therapy to rebuild various pieces of my life, and in turn, helped many other men do the same. It was through this experience that I learned so much about male behavior, including anger, violence, accountability, responsibility, masculinity etc. But most importantly, I became familiar with attachment/abandonment issues. The group work also taught me how complex men and masculinity can be.
To make this part of the series as brief as possible (and avoid a part 4), I’m going to generalize. For more details and a better understanding, it is best to read the actual sources. I also want to note that I agree with the core principles of the research, not all the details.
The New Kid on the Block
The introduction of neurobiology on the study of domestic violence has eroded the feminist Duluth Model approach to DV, which predicates patriarchy and distorted gender roles as the bases for almost all violent incidents. It also is adamant that men be labeled perpetrators and women victims. As one can see, this is a must, for to include women as perpetrators, and men as victims, renders the Duluth Model an invalid theory. This is why new research showing women equally capable of initiating violence in a relationship sends waves of insecurity and panic through the DV prevention culture. It’s like telling Christians that Jesus wasn’t really crucified. You’re challenging a belief that even inspite of overwhelming evidence supporting your claim, it will be vehemently denied. The Duluth Model is similar in the sense that it is a belief system that many have built their reputations and life’s purpose around; therefore, that it HAS to be true.
And what also is disturbing to the traditional DV advocates is that this new research shows that in order to truly understand and mitigate domestic violence, advocates will have to focus more compassion and understanding on the abuser rather than the victim – another blow to the Duluth Model.
The science of neurobiology allows researches to understand the intricate details of how the brain processes thoughts and actions. In some work, researchers can monitor brain activity while thoughts are being processed in real-time. By using sophisticated technology, researchers can now monitor a person’s or persons conscious and unconscious reaction to different stimuli, record the findings, and then compare the findings with control groups (“normal”). This field of science has lead to some remarkable findings in determining different catalyst behind violent behavior in men within the context of family violence.
One such researcher is Dr. Sonkin. He has researched the correlations between what is found in the neurological testing of male batterers and combines it with attachment theory psychology. Dr. Sonkin’s research has found an important condition present in male abusers. He has found the vast majority of male batterers have insecure attachment issues. To generalize, these men were affected negatively in childhood by their caregivers, usually the mother, father, or both, which in turn effectively disrupted the individual’s emotional growth, resulting in immature responses and actions by the individual under various stimuli. At a time when the caregivers should have been acting as the template for logical, mature, and intelligent reasoning to emotionally charged events, and instilling the growth of empathy and sympathy for the child, the caregiver(s) instead used emotionally immature or inappropriate responses and actions in many situations – usually abusive actions – and constructed a template for the child in which emotional growth and maturity was essentially halted. Dr. Sonkin says, for children who are raised without the security of a stable caregiver,
“Their particular behaviorally coping mechanism may become more behaviorally sophisticated, but the net result will essentially continue as the individual ages. Research has documented that adults assessed as having an insecure state-of-mind or insecure attachment style with regard to attachment have a greater difficulties in managing the vicissitudes of life generally, and interpersonal relationships specifically, than those assessed as securely attached.”
Dr. Sonkin also emphisizes their are different levels of attachment issues, brought on by various negative experiences – not always serious abuse -and this is why a “one size fits all” treatment of abusers is insufficient. And he emphasizes that attachment issues are “a process, and that it changes over time.”A once secure and healthy individual can undergo a traumatic experience or series of negative experiences and become an unhealthy insecure individual. Neurobiology has found the attachment process is malleable.
Neurobiology has linked the formation of attachment issues to the early stages of development of a child when it is found dramatic “wiring” of the brain, particularly the right brain takes place. It is the formation of this wiring that will set the foundation for future self-regulation and the implicit self according to psychologist Alan Schore who has worked extensively on attachment theory using data from numerous professional fields. His work has found that the right hemisphere of the brain needs healthy development because it is responsible for such things as reflective function, empathy, response flexibility, social cognition and emotional regulation. This is what is missing in the abuser.
So what does this all mean? Basically it means that “masculine identity” and “gender role” are symptoms of violent men, not the cause. In reality, due to some unusual event, or series of events early in a man’s life – usually violent or abusive – his ability to form trusting and intimate relationships was halted. The neurological patterns in his brain used for coping do not mature, resembling more child-like patterns than adult. This is not something that can be overcome with anger management classes. Anger management will work on one time offenders, but will not work on serious abusers.
Lending credibility to abusers having neurological problems, rather than patriarchy issues, is the discovery that numerous batterers had suffered some kind of head injury in their life. Dr. Alan Rosenbaum found that in a small sample of batterers, over 60% had suffered significant head injury. This included loss of consciousness, concussion, or post-concussion symptoms. He then conducted a more thorough study and found that over half of batterers had suffered serious head injury at some point in their life, and concluded that “head injury may increase the chance of marital aggression by a factor of six.” He is also currently involved in research which shows low serotonin levels may act as a component that triggers aggressive behavior in men. His work has shown the drug Paxil as being effective in minimizing aggressive behavior.
In my work with men, the attachment theory is much more plausible than the Duluth Model. And I can say with confidence that it is not only present in abusers, but also present in many men who have suffered abuse at the hands of caretakers, but who have not become abusers.
Let me put attachment and abandonment theories into my own words using my own experiences with it. I am not a licensed therapist so what I say has absolutely no value other than it is my personal experience that I choose to share. However, I my words are the layman’s perspective.
I personally had undergone numerous abuses in my childhood growing up in an alcoholic environment. Later in life, I chose to take part in a group therapy delegated to men only in an effort to rebuild various pieces of my life. I worked on myself, and in the process, helped other men who had also suffered, put their lives back together. In the time I spent doing this work, I learned a lot about male behavior. Part of it included learning how attachment and abandonment issues affect men. This is my perspective from my own experiences and the experiences of others. It is predicated on childhood abuses including mental, emotional, physical, and sexual.
I’ve listened to many personal stories of different abuses placed upon men as children. And I was surprised to find that the number of abuses committed by mothers, or other female caretakers, is equal to the number of abuses by men and fathers. There is no gender war here, each are guilty. And this is an important note to remember: If society really wants to stop domestic violence, it starts by holding men and women equally accountable and responsible. What I discovered is no man is born an abuser, someone or something made him that way. And it is usually traced back to a caregiver.
The term “power and control issues” is used extensively in social circles, but rarely are the actual causes of this behavior given equal amount of time. These issues arise from a great source of insecurity. And thanks to feminism, society perceives these issues as simply being a matter of conscious choice. They are not. They are a matter of survival for those who suffer from them. The need to control arises from unbridled fear. In my work and the work of others, it manifest from a feeling of helplessness in the face of immense terror – actual or perceived.
A child relies exclusively on its parents to provide security on many levels. This is an inherent awareness, recognized emotionally by the child, if not fully understood. Many fears of the developing child are assuaged by the caregiver(s), and when handled properly, it leads to healthy emotional development. To the perception of the child, the caregiver(s) are God-like. Unconsciously, the child knows its existence could not continue if the caregiver(s) ceases to exist.
But what happens when the caregiver(s) is also the source of immense terror? How does the immature mind process the thought that its very existence is dependent on an individual that produces some of its most tremendous fears?
God, it seems, sets up a dynamic of becoming both creator and destroyer.
In order to survive, the child recognizes that he has only himself to rely on to fulfill his needs. He turns inward and obsesses over all personal thoughts and actions. This will be perceived later as selfish thoughts and actions, but to him it is essential for survival.
At the same time he becomes hyper-sensitive to all environmental nuances. This behavior is developed to assess and respond to all possible future “attacks”. Simple changes in body language, tone of voice, or focus of attention by others are seen as clues to the future behavior and mood of those around him. This skill may actually become highly developed; as it has shown many times to be effective in helping him perceive and avoid imminent danger from the caregiver. However, while becoming skilled at perceiving these nuances, the child cannot effectively judge these subtle changes. Because of the historical abuse, he sees most of these subtleties only as an imminent personal threat. His world is one of constant potential threats – until proven otherwise. Trust is the one of the most highly valued commodities to him. The loss of trust can become the loss of emotional safety, security, and stability; consequently, the loss of self.
As Dr. Sonkin mentioned earlier, his coping mechanisms may develop throughout life, but the actual causes of the behavioral issues are not being treated. I call these coping mechanisms containment skills because they allow the individual to function somewhat normally in society by containing, rather than acting out most impulses. But the core issues are still imposed on some level within all thoughts and actions.
In most cases, as an adult he will unconsciously enter a relationship looking for the nurturing, caring, and acceptance that was never present in his life. In the beginning of any new relationship, the excitement of love, intimacy, and attention soothes the wounds of the past. His partner becomes the provider of lost innocence, provider of emotional safety and security, and most of all, her emotional commitment to him is seen as some sort of epiphany, emancipating him from his personal feelings of a fragile existence and fragile sense of self. She is now GOD, and his existence cannot perpetuate without hers.
As the “newness” of the relationship wears off, he begins to use his well developed skills of intercepting intimate nuances. He will try to analyse these nuances out of habit to “protect” himself from any “attacks” that may be imminent. His partner may now face an alarming sense of issues concerning power, control, and dis-trust emanating from him.
Her constant reassurances will not be enough though. Five minutes of reassurances does not overcome multiple years of emotional damage. His anger will build as he starts feeling more insecure, and his emotional skills lack the ability to cope with this situation. It needs to be understood, most angry men are not really angry at all. It is the emotional tool they use to guard against the release of tremendous sadness.
He will begin to act out, as his “survival” skills take over. He cannot bear the pain of inadequacy and worthlessness again. He will use any means possible to “control” the situation. His sense of value, self, and emotional security is at stake. To him this is a serious threat and it may require serious measures. She is no longer his partner, she is a symbol of everything negative he has been taught to believe about himself.
My How Things Have Changed
I shared my personal experiences with you in order for you to understand with greater clarity some of the new research I am going to present next.
Let me quote one of the sources I am using, “Inside the Heart of Marital Violence” by Hara Estroff Marano:
For decades, the puzzle of spouse abuse has been summed up in the question, “Why do they stay?” As if that were all there is to it—the manufacture of victims of a gender hierarchy that encourages men to demonstrate their dominance. But the question is misogynistic; it fails to grapple with a very obvious fact: that between batterer and batteree there is a relationship, and a very powerful one. It has a dynamic that stubbornly defies what is well known at the nation’s 1,300 shelters for abused women: the vast majority of battered women return to their abusers. If intellectual curiosity is not enough of a reason, then certainly protecting women requires that their marriages finally be probed.
Researchers and clinicians (many of them hard-core feminists) now peering into the very heart of domestic violence find, even to their own surprise, that it is far more complex, and far less dark, than most had imagined. In a turnabout that might just as well serve as a symbol of all else that is now being learned, the crucial question turns out not to be “Why do they (the women) stay?” Rather, it is “What makes them (the men) so vulnerable, so dependent?”
Violence may indeed reflect patriarchy run amok and men may indeed use violence to exert power and control over women. But there’s a dirty little secret in the world of domestic violence: It almost always arises from feelings of powerlessness. Men experience their own use of force as a loss of control. Abusers do not enjoy being abusive.
This new research focuses extensively on the abuser. Here are some of the key findings:
* There are elements that work at the cognitive level, like a propensity to misread social cues and attribute hostile intent to others. There are defects in interpersonal skills, like a lack of ability to deescalate the conflict that is inevitable in relationships. There are intrapsychic deficits—a hypersensitivity to abandonment, inability to control negative emotions, and poor impulse control.
* Apart from the coercion, the relationship between batterer and partner has a positive side. It is typically a highly romantic and deeply loving relationship. Both are drawn by the fantasy and reality of having found acceptance for the first time in their lives and feel their relationship is “special,” a unique haven from an outside world.
* Not every interaction, not even every argument, in an abusive marriage is violent. Some issues turn out to be uniquely troublesome in these relationships. Violent men seem to have deficits in processing social information in specific situations—typically, they negatively misinterpret their wives’ behavior when, for example, she pays attention to anyone else. Such situations induce an inner panic because they hint at rejection. “These men are very dependent on their wives,” explains Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Ph.D., a psychologist at Indiana University. “They constantly want their wives’ attention. If they sense signs of rejection, they experience it as a real threat. Violence is related to jealousy and security of attachment. If they think their partners might leave, they become violent.”
* Without deflecting responsibility for male violence, it is possible that batterers are also somehow biologically different. “I started from a straight feminist perspective,” reports family therapist Gillian Walker, M.S.W., also at the Ackerman Institute. “I’ve had to broaden the lens as I go. I’m struck by how many of these men are learning-disabled. Or how often they had their heads pounded into the ground as kids.”
* The stereotype of battered wives as fragile, passive, placating, docile, and self-deprecating does not do justice to their actual role in relationships. Women prove to be the more functional members of these couples. What’s more, during confrontations, they reciprocate anger and contempt tit for tat and don’t back down. They do not act as if they fear being beaten later. But no matter what they try, once the violence starts, nothing they do can stop it. “The wives are beaten,” says Seattle’s Jacobson, “but not beaten into submission.”
* Most women in battering relationships are themselves violent, a fact that has proved very politically troublesome to victims’ advocates. But Jacobson’s studies provide powerful proof that their violence occurs only in response to their partners’ attacks. Fear turns out to be the telltale emotion. “Only the husband’s violence produces fear in a partner,” reports Jacobson. “He has the unique capability to subjugate his partner by battering. That’s why I can’t believe in husband abuse.”
Note: I am not in complete agreement with the last statement, but left it in its entirety out of respect for the researchers.
The article goes on to say:
“Almost all the men we’ve treated come from families where there was physical violence. The women don’t necessarily come from violent households but from families where they were unmothered. The unmothered girl and the abused boy are two lost souls who don’t trust the world outside. The paradox is they only feel safe together.”
And as for the abusive men:
“We see that some large vulnerability activates them into the abusive rage. There is a deep disturbance in the person, and he believes it is the female’s job to soothe him, to keep him at bay. He sees her job as to make him feel powerful, to attend to him, to meet all his needs, when he wants. If not, that’s when there is violence.
These researchers, unlike traditionalist, have had success in treating couples with violent marital histories using this new information. They do something that makes traditional DV advocates look on in angst – they enter them into couple’s therapy. This infuriates the traditionalist because it implies the woman may risk being held accountable for her actions in the violence encounters. This is seen as “blaming the victim”, something that is abhorred in traditional prevention circles (unless of course you’re a male victim). And it means his word is as valuable as hers. According to Virginia Goldner, a DV researcher, traditionalist argue, “How can the victims of violence who have elected conjoint treatment speak and enjoy justice when perpetrators’ truths are judged equal?” She counters, “After much soul-searching, [I] rejected the polarities of either/or thinking about domestic violence in favor of “the more difficult, but more hopeful, stance of both/and.”
For those who treat violence related couples, the male is required to end the abuse immediately, and must sincerely hold himself accountable. Safety is paramount. And the therapist must be able to find some kind of emotional bond resembling reasonable love and commitment. When those conditions are met, the two can enter therapy together. One researcher noted, “What we’re finding is that we have to fix these men at the individual level as well as at the societal and couple level. These men do not have the social skills to participate in the culture.”
The Duluth Model – Seeing the World as Flat
While research on domestic violence is becoming more fluid, the one thing that has remained consistent is how our judicial system views and deals with violent men. Thanks to prevention advocates, the Duluth Model is overwhelming used as the instruction manual to handle domestic violence situations by authorities, municipalities, court systems, and counseling services. Not only have feminist and DV prevention advocates promoted this theory, but in some states it is illegal not to use it as a model of understanding the cause and treatment of domestic violence. And due to political pressures by activists and feminists, most municipalities and related social services refuse to stray or deviate from the Duluth Model. In other words, even though their may be better approaches in the treatments available to diminish the cycles of violence, they cannot be implemented due to legalities or politics.
Dr. Sonkin notes:
“Imagine living in a society where laws were used to dictate a type of medical intervention for cancer or heart disease. Every time a new drug or treatment approach was developed, either it couldn’t be utilized or a new law would need to be rewritten. Well, that’s the case in the domestic violence field. Many states such as California have essentially mandated the Duluth Model into the law, even though numerous evaluations of the Duluth Model have found that program participation has no impact on recidivism.”
And that brings up another interesting point. The Duluth Model is extremely antiquated by social research standards with its methods being implemented in the early 1980’s and never receiving serious scrutiny until recently. After twenty years of lack luster results, it is still vehemently defended by its believers, and therefore, maintains its monopoly over other treatment programs.
All this information seems to contradict those in the prevention circles who say they are willing to do anything to end the cycle of family violence.
When I wrote the first part of this series, I wanted to show how Jackson Katz and other domestic violence prevention advocates use more hyperbole than truth to promote their message. I hope I have shown this to be true. As one can see, a “masculinity crisis” created by various forms of media is not the cause of serious domestic violence. Nor is it really about “gender roles” and patriarchal leanings. These are only symptoms of a much larger and deeper problem. It obviously is more complex than some would like to believe.
If DV prevention advocates and feminist really want to solve the issue of domestic violence, it would require having to show compassion and understanding for the perpetrators. It means having to take men’s issues seriously by giving them value, giving them time and resources, and letting go of the indolence towards men and their well-being as seen in the ever present behavior of applying simplicity to their issues, rather than sincerely engaging themselves in the complexity of men and their lives. I think I have shown that liberally applying labels of “problem and control” issues along with “masculinity” issues for most male ailments is an avenue convenience for some, rather than an avenue of truth.
I also want to point out that Mr. Katz and others want men to stand up and take responsibility for their actions. I agree with him. The beginning of any serious change begins with those who have harmed others in some way to hold themselves accountable. When I began changing my life, it was instilled in me by the program that I had to accept responsibility for my actions regardless of my past. I implemented this belief along with many other men. However, it is because of this belief that I write about Mr. Katz now. You see, Mr. Katz and other feminist have have assiduously applied the responsibility factor into so many gender causes, almost always at men. But once a person has truly learned how to accept responsibility, it opens his or her eyes as to how many people do not. If Mr. Katz becomes very successful in helping men accept responsibility, then by proxy he creates a movement of men who will see the irresponsibility in his theories, the irresponsibilities of the traditional domestic violence prevention field, and the irresponsibility of traditional feminist thought – just as I have.
And maybe these “new” men will also noticed the same irony in all of this that I did. An abuser is usually someone who takes small, or insignificant bits of information and immediatley perceives them as a “crisis”. He reacts to these events with what some might label emotional hyperbole. In this series, I wrote how DV prevention advocates take certain information and exaggerate it into a “crisis”, thereby creating hyperbole.
Anyway, hope you enjoy great success in your work Mr. Katz. I have bought one of your books and I’m hoping my opinion will change after reading it. If it does, I will surely write about it soon. You see, it doesn’t take me twenty years or more to figure out I’m wrong.
Photo Courtesy of: Morguefile