Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Excuse #1: Anger

Why do abusers seem to have a problem with anger?
Control, not anger, is the reason for domestic abuse.

Abusers feel entitled to dominate their partners, and, like most of us, they get angry if they don’t get what they feel entitled to. They get angry if their partner resists their demands, tries to take back control over her/his own life, or “fails” to meet their expectations. Bancroft23 gives the example of a man who was enraged because his wife wasn’t paying attention to him during a 2-day period when her son was missing. This man’s anger may seem extreme, but it is actually in proportion to his inflated idea of how much control he is entitled to have over his partner.  It can be compared to the road rage of drivers who feel entitled to go much faster than the cars in front of them, vs. the ordinary annoyance most of us feel when traffic slows us down.

Why do abusers express their anger abusively?
How does looking at gender help us understand what’s going on?

Abusers of any gender can use anger as a weapon of abuse. However:

Men

As a result of their socialization, many men are skilled and comfortable expressing anger (more than with expressing other feelings). Many male abusers skillfully use their anger to control their partners, and feel comfortable doing so.

Women

Also due to socialization, many women are uncomfortable expressing anger; they may use other forms of expression or manipulation to control their partner. It is entirely possible to be coercively controlling without expressing – or even feeling – anger.

Implications for Intervention: Anger Management

Anger Management programs – a common response to IPV – focus on teaching attendees how to control their anger and express it non-abusively. However, there are many reasons why this is not an appropriate response to abuse.

Anger Management programs typically don’t challenge attendees’ underlying belief that they have the right to use their anger to manage their partner. They don’t teach them to take responsibility for how they hurt others with their anger. And they may teach abusers new ways to manage their partner.  For instance,

Questions to ask yourself: Is your partner’s anger a weapon of control?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions…

Next: Excuse #2: Alcohol and Drugs

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  1. Bancroft (2002), p.37.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Alternatives to Domestic Aggression, (2002). The problem with ‘time-outs’, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County.