Why Does He Do That?: Book Overview & Takeaways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Why Does He Do That?" by Lundy Bancroft. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the book Why Does He Do That? about? What are the main takeaways of the book?

In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft breaks down the motivations and logic behind abusive behavior so victims know how to defend themselves. Ultimately, Bancroft hopes that readers will use his book to better assert their own humanity and independence.

Read below for a brief overview of the Why Does He Do That? book.

Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? explains the motivation and logic behind domestic abuse so that victims can better defend themselves against it. Bancroft draws on his decades of experience as a counselor, custody evaluator, and child abuse investigator to explain how abusers think. He argues that abusers treat their partners badly because they benefit from doing so. The most common explanations offered for why abuse happens—that abusers don’t understand what they’re doing, can’t control their emotions, or act out of unresolved trauma or substance abuse problems—deflect responsibility from the abuser in a way that’s ultimately unhelpful in getting him to change. 

The problem is not that an abuser doesn’t realize he’s doing harm but that he doesn’t value his victim’s happiness or safety, and he feels comfortable using violence, intimidation, and emotional manipulation to get his way. Therefore, attempts to fight abuse must focus on bringing consequences to bear for abusive behavior, pressuring abusers to take responsibility for their actions and the harm they do, enabling victims to leave the relationship or demand changed behavior, and ultimately changing how society talks about abuse and the rights of disenfranchised groups. 

Defining Abuse

Bancroft defines abuse as controlling, angry, and violent behavior committed by a man against his partner. He defines abusers as men who have an ongoing pattern of mistreating their partner either verbally, physically, sexually, or with a combination of the three. Verbal abuse involves insults, threats, and raising your voice; physical abuse involves physical violence and destroying objects; and sexual abuse involves any unwanted sexual contact or language. 

While nobody knows exactly what causes people to be abusive, Bancroft stresses that abuse is deliberate; that is, it’s a behavior that the abuser does on purpose because it benefits him. By mistreating his partner, the abuser gains more power over her, making it easier for him to vent his negative emotions and force her to perform whatever physical, emotional, or sexual services he demands.

Recognizing Abusive Behavior

Having defined abuse as deliberate mistreatment, Bancroft spends much of the book providing specific examples of what abuse looks like in practice. While abuse is often divided into categories based on the tactics used—verbal versus physical versus sexual—Bancroft argues that most abusers use all of these tactics to different degrees and at different times, depending on what they feel most comfortable with or what gets the “best” results. Bancroft instead breaks his examples up by their intent: manipulation or intimidation

How Abusers Think

Having defined what abuse looks like from the outside, Bancroft moves on to his main goal of examining the logic behind abusive thinking. Because abusive behavior is a choice, Bancroft calls it a problem of morality; abusers feel comfortable engaging in hurtful and immoral behavior for their own benefit. The three main characteristics of abusers are their intentionality, their selfishness, and their feelings of self-justification.

How to Fight Abuse

Bancroft’s explanations for abusive thinking help account for why abuse is hard to prevent: Most abusers don’t want to stop being abusive. Stopping means losing all the benefits that he gains from being abusive, and for him to truly change, he must take responsibility for the harm he’s done and resolve to treat others with more empathy and understanding. This means coping with feelings of guilt and potentially accepting the loss of a relationship, marriage, or contact with his children. 

Because changing is such a difficult and initially unrewarding process, with many abusers being unable to grasp how treating their partners better might be healthier for their own emotional fulfillment in the long run, abuser programs often fail outright. Bancroft admits that many of his clients made no attempt to change, backslid as the work became increasingly difficult or they failed to convince their victims to take them back, or feigned changed behavior just long enough to finish the program, at which point they resumed being abusive. 

Ultimately, abuser programs are similar to addiction programs in that they can only help a person who wants to be helped. No one can force an abuser to change, and Bancroft warns readers that it’s often better and safer for them to leave an abusive partner than to wait around in the hope of the relationship improving.

Why Does He Do That?: Book Overview & Takeaways

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Lundy Bancroft's "Why Does He Do That?" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Why Does He Do That? summary:

  • A guide to how abusive men think
  • Ways that abuse victims can better defend themselves
  • A breakdown of the four most common myths about abuse

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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