Studies on men who batter their intimate female partners indicate they have higher rates of personality disorders, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance addiction than other men.

One would think that these men are covered in red flag warnings to stay away, and yet in too many cases intelligent, highly educated females not only become their partners or wives, but stay with them long after the verbal, emotional, and physical attacks begin. I don’t believe there is one answer that fits all cases, but from my clinical work I can suggest one possible pathway. As girls and teens these clients watched their fathers exercise pervasive control over their mothers which involved regularly insulting them, threatening them, beating them up, and throwing dangerous objects at them. Based on what clients tell me I suspect they form a distorted core belief that goes something like this: “Men have all the power and control. Women have none. To survive I need to be with a strong, controlling man. A man who tells me what to do and who beats me when I don’t heed him, is just the kind of strong, controlling man I must be with to survive. If I leave such a man and try to live on my own I will fail and fall to the bottom of poverty and homelessness.” There are multiple tragic aspects ot women submitting to, rather than leaving, male batterers. One is the loss of their dignity and freedom. Another is how they become increasingly dependent financially and socially on their batterers who alienate the victim’s family. The batterer’s irrational and harmful behavior toward his victim pit family members against her. The more they try to persuade or plead with their daughter to leave him, the more she digs in and the more defensive she becomes. The victims typically thinks, “I get to love who I love even if you (mom, dad, and siblings) hate him.” In thinking I get to love the batterer I’m with, the great irony is that the client is unconsciously replicating what mom did. In working with clients like this lecturing them about the history of male patriarchy, women as property, and rise of feminism doesn’t go far. I ask questions to help them examine the truth of their core belief and the costs they incur holding onto it. I also ask questions to prompt them to consider the benefits of living a self-sufficient life with freedom and dignity. In association with this cognitive approach I like to use IFS. This helps get them in touch with their wounded inner child and give her loving self-compassion. It also helps them to understand why their protector parts keep them with male batterers.

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About the Author: Harvey Hyman
I am an LPCC doing video and in-person sessions in the Sacramento, CA area. My specialties are PTSD, depression, relationship difficulties, life transitions, and existential crises.

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