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"You Made Me Hit You!" Interventions with Male Batterers
Male Batterers continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 8

CEU Question 8 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track, we discussed the ways batterers use "Nice Guy Positioning Strategies" to minimize and deny their actions. Have you found, like I, that for batterers this denial often goes hand-in-hand with shame?

In this track, we will take a look at shame and its effects on the batterer.

In Healing Shame: An Anthology, Everingham writes that shame is a result of believing that one is defective and unloved. I have found that shame is like an "Invisible Dragon" in that shame attacks batterers without their being aware of it.

I find that the violence of male batterers is, in many cases, an example of shame in action. As you know, abuse carries the message that the victim is defective and unlovable. But have you found, like I, that abuse often springs from the batterer's feelings that he himself is defective and unlovable? I find that batterers tend to use violence as a way of shifting their own shame to their victims.

Jordan, a 41-year-old delivery truck driver, on several occasions threw his wife, Claire, on the floor and kicked her. Each Sunday, Jordan's only day off work, Claire would ask him to fix things around the house. "She's always telling me the shower's stopped up or the ceiling's leaking or something like that. But what am I supposed to do about it? I can't do everything! And when I try, it's usually not good enough for her. When she's nagging, sometimes I just snap and have to shut her up."
As you will see, Jordan's outbursts of physical abuse probably stemmed from shame.

4 Motivators of the 'Invisible Dragon of Shame'
I found that there are four motivators underpinning the Invisible Dragon of shame. As you listen to these four motivators, reflect on your clients who batter and how these forms of shame may be apparent in your clients' lives.

#1. Discouragement. I found that Jordan often felt discouraged when it came to performing regular tasks in his daily life, such as fixing things around the house. Jordan was discouraged in attempting odd jobs around the house, because he was afraid of failing. Do you agree that this type of discouragement often seems to be the result of the intense societal pressures on the male to be the "achiever" in the family?

#2. Embarrassment. Jordan was discouraged when Claire beat him at games or sports. As you know, this type of shame is commonly the cause of reactive or anti-social behavior.

#3. Inferiority. The third motivator for Jordan's Invisible Dragon of shame was a feeling of inferiority to others. Jordan felt inferior to both women and men. Jordan was particularly abusive toward Claire when Claire's successes caused him to feel inferior to her.

#4. Guilt. I have found that guilt is the fourth motivator that fuels the batterer's Invisible Dragon of shame. Jordan eventually admitted to feeling guilty for not always being able to do everything that a "real man" should be able to do, such as fix the car.

Think for a minute regarding your client who batters. Ask yourself, how do these shame-motivators of discouragement, embarrassment, inferiority, and guilt feed your client's invisible dragon?

If you feel any of these four shame-motivators are relevant, what is your next step in therapy? I have found, as I'm sure you have, that abuse is not necessarily about inflicting pain upon another person; it is about trying to control the life of another and thus trying to control their Invisible Dragon of shame.

Jordan was shocked at having been ordered to attend a Anger Management group. He stated, "Sure, I called her names like 'spoiled brat', but everybody does that, right? I never kicked her more than twice after I'd push her to the floor. I'm not a bad guy."

I explained to Jordan that many battered women compare abuse to being terrorized, similar to the response victims of political terrorism experience. It may seem to Jordan that the effects of his terrorism were short-lived simply because Claire healed physically. I explained to Jordan that his abuse left Claire with deep emotional scars. Jordan did not understand that "putting Claire down" would affect her in ways that cannot be immediately measured. I told Jordan, "All abuse, physical or non-physical, may amount to the same thing: manipulation of the victims in order to make the batterer feel better about themselves."

3-Step Recycling or Rethinking Method
Take a moment to reflect on your own clients' abusive behavior resulting from shame. In what ways have you seen the effects of the control that the batterer has over his victim? What technique do you use to deal with the issue of control? I find a three-point Recycling or Rethinking Method useful in helping batterers like Jordan to begin recognizing how their use of control is a product of or reaction to their feelings of shame.

Step # 1 - Relationship
First, in order to assist Jordan to recycle or examine the meaning of his actions, I said to Jordan, "Give a general description of your relationship with Claire and how you generally act toward her." I then asked Jordan to describe the first time Claire complained about his controlling behavior. I began to write down his actions as he described them.

Step # 2 - Response
Second, I asked Jordan to describe his response to Claire's complaint. I also asked Jordan to describe the first instances he could recall of his abuse.

Step # 3 - Context
Finally, to explore the context of the situation, I asked Jordan to describe his relationship with Claire from the point he began abusing her up until the time of his entrance into the Anger Management program.

This three-step method helped Jordan to break his shame-based actions into the following categories:
-- A. the meaning Claire's actions held for him,
-- B. creating an empathy for Claire's feelings, and
-- C. understanding the context of the situation.

When Jordan was finished, I showed him my list of actions and we reviewed them together category by category. His list included interrupting her to tell her his side of the story, yelling at her, shoving her against the wall, pushing her to the floor, kicking her, turning his back on her when she began to cry, and finally trying to help her up from the ground.

With the list, Jordan was better able to pinpoint specific abusive actions that needed to be recycled or rethought. We then discussed ways in which Jordan might change his responses. I crossed out the abusive behaviors and wrote in Jordan's ideas of alternative behaviors that would prevent his violence toward Claire. By breaking Jordan's actions down into the meaning his actions held for Claire; creating an empathy for Claire's feelings; and the context of the situation, Jordan was able to visualize how these three steps were repeatedly being recycled in his abusive actions.

In this track, we have reviewed how abuse is often a result of shame and extends beyond physical control as well as a three-step recycling or rethinking method. In the next track, we will discuss how a batterer might begin to make changes in order to become less controlling.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Enosh, G., & Buchbinder, E. (2019). Mirrors on the wall: Identification and confrontation in group processes with male batterers in prison. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(4), 575–584. 

Gerbrandij, J., Rosenfeld, B., Nijdam-Jones, A., & Galietta, M. (2018). Evaluating risk assessment instruments for intimate partner stalking and intimate partner violence. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 5(2), 103–118. 

Howell, K. H., Thurston, I. B., Schwartz, L. E., Jamison, L. E., & Hasselle, A. J. (2018). Protective factors associated with resilience in women exposed to intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 438–447.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 8
What are four motivators for the batterer's Invisible Dragon to consider in your next session? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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