The cycle of the female abuser

First of all, you cannot immediately spot her, unless of course she is hitting a man in front of you or verbally lashing him with her harsh words over dinner in your presence. Certainly, these are obvious clues. But you cannot assume anything based on economic status, religious affiliation, political party, body shape and size, public demeanor, looks, intelligence, or career status. There are women of all walks of life who present very well in public, but at home they can be just as abusive as their male counterparts.

Through my counseling with women who have an abusive anger language and the men who have experienced this abuse, I have begun to see a new cycle that exists when women are the identified abuser.

When domestic violence advocates typically think of the cycle of abuse, there are several stages the abuser goes through according to the “power and control wheel,” that evolved out of many discussions with battered women through the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth Minnesota in 1980-1981. This begins with escalation to the explosive stage or outburst of violence phase, and then transitions to the cooling-down phase, and ultimately finishes with the honeymoon phase before the cycle is repeated. This has been illustrated and well known for quite some time as the standard cycle of abuse that has at its core the need for control by the abuser. Many incidences of abuse by men fall into this cycle. Some male abusers who become very violent continue in the abuse phase and do not enter the remorse phase or honeymoon phase. They maintain a level of violence and do not resort to any other phases.

Enter the Female Abuser

Anecdotally, I have identified a different cycle among women in batterer’s treatment groups and individual therapy. This cycle is characterized by methods of coercion and manipulation, that when not heeded, is followed by emotional and/or physical abuse. Once the explosion occurs and the woman has attacked the man verbally and/or physically, she retreats for a short time before justification and denial ensues. She will either become quiet and avoid contact for sometime, or she will act as though nothing ever happened and justify all bad behavior. Unlike with men, there is generally no period of insight where they will sometimes acknowledge their bad behavior.

With many men, the honeymoon phase is characterized by the abusive partner being very remorseful for the abuse and saying things like, “I am sorry, I wish you hadn’t pushed me to the point where I had to hit you,” or “I love you and I promise I will never do it again.” Sometimes this is accompanied by very nice behavior and gifts. It typically leaves the abuse victim stunned by the abuse and confused by the remorse. Yet, the abusive women I interviewed said this was not the case for them. When I asked them why they never felt remorse, I received differing opinions. Some said they thought no one would take their spouse seriously since they were women. Others said they believed their partners deserved it. They all had varying reasons, but the common component was they just did not feel remorseful. Most of them said they would just go on with “business as usual” and any confrontation would be met with great resistance and minimization.

Perhaps it is because society is less condemning and more dismissive of a woman who is abusive, resulting in less societal awareness and consequently more room for personal denial. It is also possible that the male is even less aware that they are being abused and may even take more responsibility due to the same lack of societal awareness. In short, the dynamic in the relationship may allow for this denial.

In a recent recent study noted (Gelles 2006), about fifty percent of men and women thought it was okay for a woman to hit a man. With these global attitudes, it is no wonder some women feel justified in slapping their partners. Some even said they knew they could not do too much damage because of their size; they therefore minimized their actions and denied it was abuse at all.

The men I interviewed said repeatedly that the women in their life never apologized for the abuse and never even acknowledged they were abusive. Surely, there are some women who do apologize and who do acknowledge this behavior and recognize that it is wrong. However, more often than not, they are not even admitting it exists. It seems the more we raise awareness that women do slap, hit, and abuse at rates almost equal to men, the more men and society will be likely to hold women equally accountable for their bad behavior, just as society does toward men who abuse. As research has demonstrated consistently, the majority of abuse within relationships is mutual combat, meaning both parties are abusive toward each other at almost equal rates (Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J. & Steinmetz (2006) Kessler, R.C., Molnar, B.E. Feurer, I.D. & Applebaum, M. (2001).

Why should women get away with abusive behavior when men are not allowed to? Abuse is never okay, and it is very important for there to be accurate assessment of who is the abuser in the relationship. Law enforcement and the courts have a responsibility to make the most accurate determination regarding intimate partner violence to correctly assess the identity of the dominant aggressor.

In many studies, women are more significantly abused, yet they initiate the violence more often than men. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Intimate Partner Violence statistics, male victims were threatened with a weapon 22.9 percent, while females reported being threatened with a weapon 17.6 percent. Women reported the type of attacks at a greater percentage than men with the following forms: rape, sexual assault, attacked with firearms, attacked with knives, grabbed, held, and tripped. Men were also at a greater percentage for being hit by a thrown object.

It was also noted that females were more likely than males to seek treatment for their injuries. In the same study, the male victims said they did not report the incident primarily because it was a private or personal matter. They were also more likely to not report it in order to protect the offender.

I try to work with female abusers to help them take responsibility for their abusive behavior, just like we as a society have asked men to do for years. When I talk with these women candidly in group meetings and explore with them how they perceive their abusive behavior, they do feel remorseful when they are confronted with the truth. When they take a look at how their behavior has impacted their loved ones, they are often saddened and want to make a change in their lives. However, this mirror needs to be held up so they can see clearly how it has impacted those they love. Examining oneself candidly is no easy task, but it is freeing for them and allows them to recognize that they have control over how they act.

Source: this article is a chapter from the book Exposing The Abusive Female.

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