4 Myths About Abuse: Debunking the Lies

What are some myths about abuse? Is domestic abuse intentional or are abusers victims as well?

Domestic abuse is a serious issue that many people don’t know they’re a victim of. In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft dispels common misconceptions about abuse that people should be aware of.

Continue reading to learn the myths people believe about domestic abuse and why they’re not real.

Myths About Abuse

According to Bancroft, talking about abuse is made more difficult by the fact that not many people who work with abusers and their victims recognize that being abusive is a choice. Certain myths about abuse—that abusers are simply “crazy,” that abuse is caused by addiction, that abuse is a problem specific to a particular class or community, and so on—not only fail to protect victims, but actually help abusers by providing covers for their behavior.

(Shortform note: In recent years, mental health experts have pushed back against using the word “crazy” to describe perpetrators of violence, be they abusive men, mass shooters, or political leaders. Critics argue that calling these people “crazy” obscures the fact that most know full well the consequences of their actions and undertake them purposefully, either because they enjoy hurting others or expect to benefit from doing so. In addition, using “crazy” as a derogatory term is harmful to nonviolent mentally ill people, unfairly associating them with crime or abuse.)

Bancroft disputes these myths about abuse by stressing the intentionality behind abusive behavior and the need for abusers to take responsibility for their actions. 

Myth #1: Most Abusers Are Mentally Ill

According to Bancroft, the vast majority of abusers do not have any serious psychiatric illnesses. Mentally ill people are statistically far more likely to be victims of abuse than perpetrators of it, and being a victim of abuse can actually cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and exacerbate existing disorders. In addition, abusers will often use the fact that their victim is struggling with mental illness against her, accusing her of being delusional or pointing to her emotional turmoil and stress after years of mistreatment as evidence of unfitness in custody battles. 

(Shortform note: The majority of modern domestic violence and mental health organizations agree with Bancroft that most abusers are not mentally ill, and that mental illness in itself is rarely the cause of abusive or violent behavior. In contrast, victims of abuse are three times more likely than the general population to show symptoms of PTSD, to develop a major depressive or anxiety disorder, or to self-harm. They’re also four times more likely to attempt suicide and six times as likely to struggle with addiction.)

Myth #2: Most Abusers Are Themselves Victims of Abuse

Abusive men will sometimes claim to have been abused by their mother or an ex-girlfriend as an explanation for their “problems with women” or mistreatment of their current partner. According to Bancroft, these claims are usually fabricated. Of those who did grow up in an abusive household, it was usually with an abusive man whose behavior they learned to model. Claiming to be a victim allows an abuser to avoid taking responsibility for his behavior, and accusing an ex allows him to distance his new partner from any past victims who might try to warn her about him. 

(Shortform note: In addition to claiming to have been a victim of abuse in the past, abusers may also claim that their current partner is the one abusing them, or that they mutually abuse each other, and so neither one can reasonably claim to be the victim. This idea of “mutual abuse” is largely dismissed by domestic violence advocates as ignoring the power dynamics at play in the relationship and demonizing the victim’s attempts to defend herself. If a couple regularly devolves into screaming arguments, but one partner always starts and ultimately wins them, that is not mutual abuse, but the continued exertion of his power.)

Myth #3: Abuse Is Caused by Addiction

Most abusers are not addicts, and being an addict does not cause someone to become abusive. Bancroft acknowledges that some abusers have their worst outbursts while intoxicated, but no one is only abusive when intoxicated, and people bear full responsibility for actions they take while under the influence. In addition, treating addiction rarely stops abuse. The abuser might be happier, healthier, and more emotionally stable, but so long as he still feels entitled to hurt his partner to get what he wants, he will continue to do so. 

(Shortform note: Because drugs and alcohol can lower inhibitions and impair judgment, substance abuse is sometimes associated with violent behavior. However, lowered inhibitions alone don’t account for the ways in which an abuser continually manipulates and intimidates his partner even when he’s sober. Intoxication may make specific incidents worse, but it’s not the primary cause. In addition, people struggling with addiction are more likely than the general population to be victims of domestic abuse, not just perpetrators.)

Myth #4: Abuse Is a Problem Specific to a Certain Class, Race, or Religion

Bancroft dismisses claims that abuse is more common or inherent in a particular race or religion as being racist and reductive. Abuse occurs in any society with unequal power dynamics between groups of people. This mainly occurs in patriarchal and sexist societies that devalue women and allow men to exert total control over their partners. 

In addition, abusers are all more alike in their behavior than different. Bancroft claims that in his work as a counselor he saw men from different backgrounds use the same abusive tactics and justifications. While some abusers might prefer verbal abuse and others more often resort to physical violence, their ultimate goal is the same: the total domination of their partner for their own gratification. 

(Shortform note: Journalist Jess Hill expands on Bancroft’s point in See What You Made Me Do, demonstrating through extensive interviews with both abusers and victims that abusive men all tend to follow the same “script” of controlling or violent behavior. In addition, Hill argues that domestic abuse looks remarkably similar to the brainwashing and torture tactics used in POW camps, or by “anyone who trades in captivity: kidnappers, hostage-takers, pimps, [or] cult leaders.” Framed this way, abuse is best understood not as being hyper-specific to a particular couple, their environment, or even their cultural background, but rather as a manifestation of the same tactics of terror, oppression, and coercion used across the world.)

4 Myths About Abuse: Debunking the Lies

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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