Female abusers seek aggressive male companions, and as adults, they tend to form relationships with abusive men and carry out mutual partner violence. Donald Dutton refers to this as bilateral abuse, and reveals that it is much more widespread than might be assumed. Studies show that it can be as high as 45% of abusive relationships. Rates of repeat incidents are far higher than in single perpetrator abuse. Bilateral abuse is particularly strong when couples are addicted to alcohol. Children of such dysfunctional parents have little hope of emerging unscathed into adulthood.
When one partner is violent, the non-abusive victim may retaliate. Self-defence, even of a physical type, is not bilateral abuse.
Controlling others kills the shame the abusers feel. Cradled in shame, they spew it onto other people, especially those closest to them, and use it to humiliate them. Shame is an excruciating experience, and it is impossible to experience fully its pain. It is a deep sense of being flawed that alienates us from ourselves. The most harmful shaming experiences are those that attack the whole self, messages such as ‘you are good for nothing’, or ‘you are a waste of space’. The very young child internalises the shame by identifying with shame-based caregivers, and brings it to adulthood. You can find a more comprehensive exploration of core shame in John Bradshaw’s blog Healing the Shame that Binds You.
Shame also breeds rage, and I strongly believe that rage is part of the powerful mix seen in abusive tendencies. Rage is a primitive emotion i.e. it appears very early in the child’s life, generally in the first eighteen months. This rage can be associated to the intimate relationship between child and mother at that early period. The rage that abusive men show resembles the tantrum of the child at this early period, a primitive response to the possibility of abandonment. The degree of the security of the attachment to the primary caregiver is crucial. It is related in the child’s psyche to survival, and any threat to it generates fear, anxiety and rage.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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