Many people believe an abuser’s anger causes the abuse in a relationship. As a society, we tend to believe what we see; as a result, much emphasis falls on bruises, broken bones, and other physical signs of abuse. Then we tend to extrapolate from the evidence we can see to jump to the conclusion that the abuser must have been pretty darn angry in order to hit their partner.
After all, most rational people do not become physically aggressive unless they’re angered or afraid. Typically, the abuser’s victim is female, and as a male-dominated society, we tend to think “How could she frighten him?” Therefore, the abuser’s problem must be anger. It follows that an anger management program would benefit the abuser and end the victimization.
What people fail to realize is that an abusive person does not rationalize the way “normal” people do – their rules are different. And unlike “normal” people, an abuser’s anger does not cause them problems; an abuser’s anger is one of their tools. Evidence shows that abusive men who complete anger management programs do not stop abusing. They merely choose another tool to reach the same end. Gandolf and Russel wrote “...batterers readily reduce anger control to a set of gimmicks that enables them to get their way less violently while continuing their abuse.” *
This blog post relies on the work presented by Gandolf and Russel in their 1986 paper entitled “THE CASE AGAINST ANGER CONTROL FOR BATTERERS”, which I last accessed today, January 5, 2012, at The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.
Anger Control Classes Miss The Mark
Gandolf and Russel present the case that anger management techniques are of little value in therapies designed to end domestic abuse because:
- anger management techniques require the angry person to identify the source of their anger, then take steps to de-escalate the anger provoking situation. Batterers may wrongfully identify their victim as being “provoking” when, in fact, it is the abuser’s own frustration caused by his sense of losing control over the victim that pushes his buttons. [Note: during couples’ counseling, the counselor would then ask the victim how she could end her “provoking” actions – in essence, to stop being herself and become more like the abuser!]
- anger control techniques to not take into consideration the “premeditated system of debilitating control” that occurs before the abuser shows his temper. Abusers weave a web of psychological torment around their victims before wrapping it up with a scary show of abusive anger. The abuser’s anger is a tool, not a true emotion, brought out after psychologically abusing the victim to the point of deep, consuming fear.
- anger control techniques can cause an abuser to further withdraw into denial of responsibility for the abuse in the relationship. In order for real change to occur, the abuser must accept responsibility for abusing. The misuse of anger can become another “reason” why the abuser abuses, much like substance abuse or a rotten childhood. [Baby, please forgive me! You know I have an anger issue.]
- anger control techniques can be easily exercised and exhibited (especially for abusers who may have no “true” anger problem anyway) to the victim, further endangering the victim. The victim may be lulled into a false sense of security and return to the abuser who, at this point, expects some congratulatory behavior for learning some new parlor tricks. Unable to control the victim’s response, the abuser could turn violent quickly in an effort to re-exert the control he thinks he’s entitled to in the relationship.
- anger control techniques give judges and the community at large the sense that something is being done to end domestic violence. When the victim reappears in court showing no bruises or breaks, the judge can “believe their eyes” and decide the abuser has successfully met the conditions imposed on him. Case closed. Community leaders who refer batterers to anger management classes can believe they’ve done their part for the same “obvious” reasons. The false sense of security severely denies the existence of abuse without battery.
- anger control techniques do not force abusers to change the root cause for abuse, which is their unrelenting effort to control the thoughts, feelings and actions of another human being.
Let’s stop fooling ourselves as a society. Abusers are not like “normal” people. Although there is no mental disorder ascribed to chronically abusive people, do not make the mistake of believing an abuser’s thought process is the same as yours.
Anger management is not a cure for domestic violence or abuses of any kind. The paper I reference is this article was written in 1986. That is 26 years ago! When are we going to believe it?
[see also Is Anger Management BS? dated March 10, 2010]