I read the book because lately the Lord has been making me more aware of abuse, especially mental and psychological abuse, among women of my acquaintance. In particular, a few years ago, I reconnected with a friend, Megan, from my high school years, through Facebook. She actually escaped from an abusive marriage, and through her writings on her private blog, as well as on the blog A Cry For Justice, I had my eyes opened to this problem, even (especially??) within the church. I read this book so I could be a more informed and helpful advocate for dear friends who are in the very situations described in this book.
Lundy Bancroft has worked with abusive men for over 15 years as a counselor, evaluator, and investigator. He is not writing from a Biblical perspective, but his knowledge and experience with the mindset of abusive men is extensive and detailed. The first section of the book details the nature of abusive thinking. It turns out that abusive men are not abusive because they are angry and aggressive, need to get in touch with and more freely express their feelings, or were hurt by partners before. No, "an abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable . . an abuser's core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong". (pg. 34) Abusers are angry because they are abusive, and being abusive means he has attitudes of selfishness and entitlement that produce rage and fury when he feels his needs are not being met.
Bancroft details ten realities of the abusive mentality in chapter 3. He expands on each point in great detail, giving examples, and making the thinking easy to recognize in situations you might have encountered.
- He is controlling.
- He feels entitled.
- He twists things into their opposites.
- He disrespects his partner and considers himself superior to her.
- He confuses love and abuse.
- He is manipulative.
- He strives to have a good public image.
- He feels justified.
- Abusers deny and minimize their abuse.
- Abusers are possessive.
Another example of a type is "the Water Torturer", who always stays calm in arguments, and "uses a repertoire of aggressive confrontational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision, and cruel cutting remarks . . . he is relentless in his quiet derision and meanness". This sort of abuse is difficult to put a finger on, and so the woman ends up blaming herself for her reactions, unable to turn to a friend for support because she can't even really describe what makes her feel so stupid and inferior. This is the kind of man who carefully controls himself and doesn't let his abusiveness show in public, because that might turn people against him or get him into legal trouble. I think this is one of the most dangerous kinds. Bancroft repeatedly says that mental abuse is even more psychologically devastating to women than physical abuse, but this is the kind of thing that people outside the situation don't go to the trouble of digging deep enough to find out about. Bancroft says time and time again--if a woman is consistently telling you about abusive situations, especially mentally abusive ones, do not just believe the man. ABUSERS LIE. CONVINCINGLY. And they are really living in their own alternate reality, with their own value system that is completely unhealthy and wrong. This is VERY different than a marriage just going through a hard time, or one that is just not living up to your hopes and dreams. It is soul-crushing and relentless.
Bancroft then discusses how abuse begins. On page 124, he asks the question, "Is the way he is treating me abuse?" He then gives 12 subtle actions where mistreatment ends and abuse begins, including:
- He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior.
- He tells you that your objections to his mistreatment are your own problems.
- He gives apologies that sound insincere or angry, and he demands that you accept them.
- He blames you for the impact of his behavior.
- It's never the right time, or the right way, to bring things up.
- He denies what he did.
- He justifies his hurtful or frightening acts or says that you "made him do it".
- His controlling, disrespectful, or degrading behavior is a pattern.
Bancroft gives the legal and common-sense definition of violence, which often differs from the abuser's definition. Abusers minimize their behavior, and compare themselves to men who are worse than himself, so if he only threatens but never hits, then he is not abusive to himself. Or if he slaps but doesn't punch with a closed fist . . . or punches but she never has broken bones. These men are living in an alternate reality, truly. Violence is behavior that does any of the following (from pg. 159):
- Physically hurts or frightens you, or uses contact with your body to control or intimidate you.
- Takes away your freedom of movement, such as by locking you in a room or refusing to let you out of a car.
- Causes you to believe that you will be physically harmed.
The book has chapters about addictions, sex, allies of abusive men, and breaking up with abusive men. There is also a sobering chapter on abusive men as parents, detailing the damage done psychologically to the children of abusive men. Living with the stress and manipulation is so damaging in all ways to children. One particularly sad point was in this paragraph on page 242: "Children of abusers often find their father's attention and approval hard to come by. This scarcity has the effect of increasing his value in their eyes, as any attention from him feels special and exciting. Ironically, their mother can come to seem less important to them because they know they can count on her." They often "have trouble paying attention in school, get along poorly with their peers, or act aggressively. In fact they have been found to exhibit virtually every symptom that appears in children who are being abused directly. The abuser attributes all these effects to the mother's poor parenting or to inherent weaknesses in the children." (pg. 243) Children who grow up in an atmosphere where their mother is constantly belittled gradually come to look down on her in the same way, "having absorbed the abuser's messages that she is immature, illogical, and incompetent" (pg. 244). Bancroft points out throughout the book that boys who grow up with abusive fathers are more likely to be abusers themselves. It is a dangerous cycle--the sins of the fathers being passed down.
The most difficult chapters for me to read dealt with the abusers and the legal system. Unfortunately, the legal system often acts as an ally for abusive men. Bancroft brings up the point that not all policemen, judges, etc. are in their positions because they want to help people. Sometimes they just like power and control, and so they are quite sympathetic to the thinking patterns of an abusive man. But even when those in authority do not have this view of power, they often act in ways that do not give any protection to the woman who needs it. The chapter details strategies and excuses that abusers use when police come to the door, or when he is in front of a judge or even on probation. It is amazing how calculated these strategies are--these are definitely not men who are unable to control themselves, or don't realize what they are doing.
The second-to-the-last chapter (14) is called "The Process of Change". Bancroft is very clear that an abusive man changing is not impossible, but that it is very, very, very difficult and rare. "The men who make significant progress in my program are the ones who know that their partners will definitely leave them unless they change, and the ones on probation who have a tough probation officer who demands that they really confront their abusiveness. In other words, the impetus to change is always extrinsic rather than self-motivated. Even when a man does fell genuinely sorry for the ways his behavior has hurt his partner, I have never seen his remorse alone suffice to get him to become a serious client." (pg. 335) Bancroft lists (and further explains) 13 steps in an abusive man's process of change, starting on page 339:
- Admit fully his history of psychological, sexual, and physical abusiveness toward any current or past partners whom he has abused.
- Acknowledge that abuse was wrong, unconditionally.
- Acknowledge his behavior was a choice, not a loss of control.
- Recognize the effects his abuse has had on you and on your children, and show empathy for those.
- Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes.
- Develop respectful behaviors and attitudes to replace the abusive ones he is stopping.
- Reevaluate his distorted image of you, replacing it with a more positive and empathetic view.
- Make amends for damage he has done.
- Accept consequences of his actions.
- Commit to not repeating his abusive behaviors and honor that commitment.
- Accept the need to give up his privileges and do so.
- Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a life-long process.
- Be willing to be accountable for his actions, both past and future.
Here are the 2 main principles to remember when trying to assess if an abuser is really changing, from page 346:
- He cannot change unless he deals deeply with his entitled and superior attitudes. No superficial changes that he may make offer any real hope for the future.
- It makes no difference how nice he is being to you, since almost all abusers have nice periods. What matters is how respectful and noncoercive he chooses to become.
- Has he learned to treat your opinions with respect, even when they differ strongly from his?
- Is he accepting your right to express anger to him, especially when it involves his history of mistreating you?
- Has he stopped making excuses for his treatment of you, including not using your behavior as an excuse for his?
- Does he listen to your side in arguments without interrupting, and then make a serious effort to respond thoughtfully to your points, even if he doesn't like them?
- Has he stopped talking about his abuse as if it were an accident and begun to acknowledge that he used it to control you?
- Is he actually responding to your grievances and doing something about them (for example, changing the way he behaves toward your children)?
- Is he acting noticeably less demanding, selfish, and self-centered?
Bancroft is absolutely against couples counseling in abusive cases like these because couple's therapy is designed to work on issues that are mutual. "There can be no positive communication when one person doesn't respect the other and strives to avoid equality. You can't take the leaps of vulnerability involved in working through early emotional injuries while you are feeling unsafe--because you are emotionally unsafe. And if you succeed in achieving greater intimacy with your abusive partner, you will soon get hurt even than before because greater closeness means greater vulnerability for you." (pg. 351) A therapist may ask the victim to acknowledge her "role" in the abuse, leading the abuser to feel like his actions were completely justified. "Change in abusers comes only from the reverse process, from completely stepping out from the notion that his partner plays any role in causing his abuse of her. An abuser has to stop focusing on his feelings and his partner's behavior, and look instead at her feelings and his behavior. Couples counseling allows him to stay stuck in the former . . . the more an abusive man is convinced that his grievances are more or less equal to yours, the less the chance that he will be able to overcome his attitudes." (pg. 352)
Abusers need to be in specialized programs with 4 elements: consequences, education, confrontation, and accountability. "An abuser only changes when he feels he has to, so the most important element in creating a context for change in an abuser is placing him in a situation where he has no other choice. Otherwise it is highly unlikely that he will ever change his abusive behavior." (pg. 360)
Bancroft has a whole section of chapter 14 dealing with "Leaving an Abuser as a Way to Promote Change". This is something he recommends as an impetus for change, but he has suggestions, including being clear about what kind of contact you want to have during the separation. It is generally best to have none at all. Also, tell him you expect your wishes to be honored, and that the first way he can demonstrate his seriousness about changing is to give you the space you are asking for. Stay away as long as you can stand it, and if you do decide to get back together, be clear about rules. If he violates any of the rules set up, then you must take another period of separation. Focus on your own healing, so if he doesn't change, your life is still moving forward.
The last chapter is for people like me, people who want to see abuse end. Bancroft has several suggestions for how to support an abused woman. The goal is to be the complete opposite of what the abuser is, so be patient, address her as an equal, treat her as the expert in her own life, listen a lot and talk less, and think with her. He also has some suggestions for reaching the abuser. I love this suggested response when the abuser challenges you standing up against his mistreatment of his partner and says she's turned you against him: "I am not against you; I am against your hurtful behavior. What I am saying is that you won't be able to work out any of those other differences unless you first deal with your abuse problem. As long as you keep bullying her, you are the number-one problem." Do NOT be silent about abuse. If you don't speak out, then you are communicating that "you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least forgiveness". (pg. 287)
Well, this was a very long post, and if you managed to read down to the end, I so appreciate it. This has been such a burden on my heart lately. To continue my education, I have started on my next book, which is The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, by Leslie Vernick, who is a Christian. I am only on the introduction, but I think it is going to be an excellent book. She says, "Marriage and family are important to God, but just as important to him are the individuals within those marriages and families. God does not value men more than women, or the institution of marriage more than the people who are in it. He wants to help you know how to heal and what to do to bring true restoration to your destructive marriage. He also knows that because of the hardness of your husband's heart, true reconciliation of your relationship isn't always possible." That is exactly the conclusion I have come to. I highly recommend Why Does He Do That? to anyone who may be living with an abuser, or who may know an abuser or an abused woman. It was difficult to read in parts, but very illuminating. We are called as believers to stand up for those who are hurting and to confront sin. Hopefully books like these will help us do that, so that marriages will be strengthened and be positive testimonies to Christ, instead of white-washed facades over a rotten, stinking core.