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Understanding Domestic Violence
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Oftentimes the Anger Letter discussed in the last section
uncovers feelings of empathy for the abuser.
In this section, we will discuss how
to create a reality check for your battered client who feels sorry for her batterer
As you know, it is often a difficult and complex process
to get a battered woman to seek aid. There are many factors that combine to create
a situation in which the battered woman must not only fight against her battering
partner's control tactics, but also fight her own confusions and hesitancy about
As you know, battered women will often make
excuses for their batterer's behavior, and may even feel sorry for him,
especially if her batterer is an alcoholic. Battered women will often view the
explosive personality of their partner as manifestations of a disease. Ashley
stated, "Nick would start drinking, and it was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He would fly into a rage, but I always knew it was his alcoholism. Nick's dad
was an alcoholic, too. I know he can't really help it."
battered women such as Ashley who make excuses and feel sorry for her batterer,
I typically educate her of the dangers and risks associated with this avoidance
behavior. Ashley was avoidant of seeing his true behavior. After several sessions,
Ashley realized that, despite Nick's illness of alcoholism, she was nonetheless
Ashley stated, "It took years for my pity to turn to anger.
Eventually I stopped feeling sorry for him. I said, 'He's got a drinking problem,
he refuses to get help, and now there's nothing I can do to change that.' I think
I might have been making all those excuses and feeling sorry for Nick just so
I wouldn't have to feel my own anger about what was happening." As with many
battered women, Ashley had created a defense mechanism of feeling sorry for her
batterer in order to avoid her own feelings of anger and assertiveness.
♦ Motives Exercise
with Ashley have you found, like I, that most battered women focus on the benefits
of staying and fail to ask themselves what are the benefits of leaving? In order
for battered women to see the costs of an abusive relationship I found it helpful
to do a Motives Exercise. As you listen to the following questions, think
about a battered client you are currently treating and how a Motives Exercise
might help her to uncover some of the truths about the abuse. Compare this with
questions you use
if you hear some new ones you might write them down or
replay this part of the section.
10 Questions to Uncover Truths
-- 1. What are the costs, as you sees
them, of his abuse?
-- 2. What are the costs, as he sees them, of his abuse?
-- 3. What does he get out of it?
-- 4. When you examine his possible motives, which,
if any, of the following fit?
-- 5. Does he want to be powerful? Look good? Stay
in control? Be right?
-- 6. How often does his behavior work for him?
-- 7. How does
he act when his behavior doesn't work?
-- 8. How does he act when his behavior does
-- 9. Where would you place him on a morality scale? Is he moving up or down?
-- 10. When you add it all up; is there hope?
Are you currently treating
a battered woman who was hesitant to leave her battering partner because she feels
sorry for him? Would writing these questions down or replaying them be of help
in your next session.
But while they are deciding whether
to leave or stay how do they remain safe? In the next section, we will be discussing
the survival tools many battered women may need to protect themselves from further
harm, while they are in the "deciding to leave" stage.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bonem, M., Stanley-Kime, K. L., & Corbin, M. (2008). A behavioral approach to understanding domestic violence: A functional assessment based on batterer-identified contingencies. The Journal of Behavior Analysis of Offender and Victim Treatment and Prevention, 1(2), 209–221.
Grych, J., & Swan, S. (2012). Toward a more comprehensive understanding of interpersonal violence: Introduction to the special issue on interconnections among different types of violence. Psychology of Violence, 2(2), 105–110.
Katerndahl, D. A., Burge, S. K., Ferrer, R. L., Becho, J., & Wood, R. C. (2012). Understanding intimate partner violence dynamics using mixed methods. Families, Systems, & Health, 30(2), 141–153.
Sijtsema, J. J., Stolz, E. A., & Bogaerts, S. (2020). Unique risk factors of the co-occurrence between child maltreatment and intimate partner violence perpetration. European Psychologist, 25(2), 122–133.
Smith, M. S., Jarnecke, A. M., & South, S. C. (2021). "Pathological personality, relationship satisfaction, and intimate partner aggression: Analyses using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, alternative model of personality disorder traits": Correction. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 12(4), 376.
South, S. C., Boudreaux, M. J., & Oltmanns, T. F. (2021). Personality disorders and intimate partner aggression: A replication and extension in older, married couples. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 12(1), 70–80.
What is a question you might ask a battered client who feels sorry
for her batterer? To select and enter your answer go to .