Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Excuses And The Real Reasons Men Are Violent

March 8, 2004

- Have you ever hit, shoved, grabbed, slapped, choked, struck, used a clenched fist on, or used weapons or physical force on a woman?

- Have you ever tried to force sexual contact with threats of violence?

- Have you ever destroyed property by throwing objects, hitting walls, kicking furniture, or breaking possessions?

- Have you called a woman obscene names or used degrading labels to demoralize her? Have you used threats to frighten or intimidate her?

- Have you ever experienced a build-up of tension in your relationship followed by an explosive outburst of violent behavior that, in turn, is followed by a period of remorse, relief from tension, and making up with the woman with whom the outburst occurred?

If you have answered "yes" to the above questions, you have demonstrated a capacity for violence.

Common rationalizations. Male sexual roles and attitudes were influenced by cultural sanctions that gave permission for men to be violent against women. Vestiges of these rationalizations are still pervasive in society. Have you ever heard of any of these excuses.

- Denial. "It didn’t happen. She fell down."

- Minimization. "I wasn’t violent. All I did was slap her."

- Confusion. "I can’t remember."

- Intention. "I didn’t mean to hit her. I just wanted her to listen to me."

- Intoxication. " I was drunk - or high."

- Control. "I just flipped out. I didn’t know what I was doing."

- Blame. "It’s not my fault. If she wouldn’t nag me, she wouldn’t get hit."

- No choices. "I had to hit her. There wasn't anything else I could do."

- Conflict/stress. "I am under a lot of pressure at work," or "We fight about everything."

- Playing victim. "She was the one that started it."

A guide to violent men. That is what men say. These are the real reasons for why men turn violent.

1. Low self-esteem. Feelings of low personal power and control. This is contrary to the strong cultural expectation men have to be in control and to "do" something about the situation.

2. Extra dose of sexism. Feels strongly there is a right and wrong way for women (and men) to behave. Feels a "right" to dominate or exert control over a woman without her consent. Expresses masculinity through general attitudes of one-upmanship, control, putting others down, dominance and toughness.

3. Inability to identify or express feelings. Anger is the primary emotion he experiences. Violent behavioralso provides a release of energy and tension.

4. Fear of intimacy. Lacks trust in women. Prone to jealousy and hostility toward women. Regards women as adversaries. Approaches male/female relations in a seductive or manipulative fashion. These men don't connect with women on a personal, empathic, or understanding level. Women are seen as objects to be used for personal gratification.

5. Socially isolated and dependent. Some men are highly dependent on their partners and have few friendships or close relationships with others. They need female support and nurturing in order to manage their lives and to feel good. This is coupled with a fear of vulnerability with women, suspiciousness, fear of abandonment, distrust and alienation.

6. Lack of empathy. With little understanding for the feelings and pain of others, these men inflict pain without appreciating the harm they cause.

7. Non-assertive and poor problem-solving skills. Some men have limited social or verbal skills to negotiate or resolve conflict. Paradoxically, men use violence to avoid conflict by cutting short attempts at exploring differences or unwanted solutions.

8. Control of relationship. Violent men often use threats and explosive outbursts as a means of intimidation. Their partner withdraws or gives up in order not to risk violence. Violence works.

9. Alcohol releases aggression. Some men are violent only while intoxicated.

10. History of being exposed to violence as a child. A hostile home environment contributes to men identifying with aggressive and sometimes rule-breaking attitudes. Violent men have either been victims of violence themselves in their own families or have watched their fathers be violent with their mothers.

11. Denial of responsibility. Violent actions threaten their sense of identity and self-worth. To feel good about themselves, violent men blame others for the problem.

What can men do about their violent behavior? Admission and acceptance of the responsibility for violent behavior is a key. It takes a lot of work and usually the assistance of a group of other men "recovering" from their violent behavior to break through the denial associated with this problem.

Treatment goals include education and counseling about the root causes of violence. Also teaching anger management, assertiveness, stress-reduction techniques, empathy training and conflict resolution skills are important so that men have options to a violent response to anger.

Taking responsibility for violent behavior is easier if it is handled as a separate issue from alcohol abuse and marital discord. Counseling for alcohol dependence is helpful if it occurs concurrently or sequentially with treatment for violence. Marital counseling is works best after the issues of violence and alcohol abuse have been treated.