Domestic Violence

Microphone

Former Australian of the year Rosie Batty said in her valedictory speech that family violence was an "epidemic". Victorian Social Services Minister Christian Porter echoed this view when he said that domestic violence was a problem "almost overwhelmingly, almost exclusively" perpetrated by men against women and girls (the total victims of partner violence since the age of 15, 23 per cent were men and 77 per cent were women). And as other crimes rates fall, domestic violence is at unprecedented levels throughout our society. So why is this?

As a past perpetrator of domestic violence over two marriages and relationships in-between, I think I know a little about the issue. I have spent the last twenty years trying, not to justify my actions, but to understand them and their motivation. I look back on those days with great shame. This self-examination has facilitated an evolvement of my character to the point where the angry, aggressive me of old has been replaced by a much more peaceful man.

Firstly, I just needed to grow up. Secondly, I was finally diagnosed and properly treated for severe anxiety and depression when I was more than fifty years old. The anxiety condition (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) had been with me my entire life. I was first diagnosed with “nerves” when I was just five years old. It is a condition that reflects fear, intense fear, of being rejected and suffering disapproval.

When I say that I needed to “grow up”, it was only partly about what most people understand as “maturity”. The majority of people remain children at large, but most people modify their behaviour and thinking to reflect a growth into adulthood. But I remained a small child for almost fifty years, acting with all the petulance of a toddler – lashing out when I didn’t get my own way or when I felt powerless and dependant. I basically remained a small child, actually thinking that the world revolved around me. The reasons for this are both simple and complex. In simple terms, I was physically abused as a child by my father. He was a very angry person who lashed out physically when his anger arose. It was a response that I unfortunately learned. What I didn’t realise until he had passed away was that he had experienced similar treatment from his father. The abused became the abusers over a period of generations. I swore I wouldn’t copy my father, but I did. Thankfully, the chains have been broken as my son is in no way an aggressive man. I thank his beautiful mother for that.

I also didn’t comprehend the less obvious aspects of my actions. Firstly, when I lashed out it was almost always an expression of anger with myself. I had no self-esteem or confidence, to the point where I actually loathed myself. I certainly didn’t believe that I was loveable, worthy of love, and that anyone who claimed to love me was just pretending and actually mocking me.

But why did I basically lash out mostly at women with whom I had intimate relationships? Again, I believe the reasons are complex. For me personally, it was because my mother didn’t protect me. But more than that, I found her love and approval to be conditional. When I lashed out at my wife, I was not only lashing out at myself, but my mother. I know there were times when I was profoundly aware that I was looking at my wife and seeing my mother.

The deeper explanation of domestic violence lay in our social construct. Women threaten men because we know they are both smarter and more powerful. They control us from the time we are conceived because the thing we need most (so desperately) is their love and approval. We are born with just three needs – water, food and love, especially the love of our mothers. If we feel we have achieved that we have no reason to feel threatened or controlled. If we don’t, the only way we can take back any sort of control is through physical intimidation. Look at the patriarchal domination of workplaces, politics and societal organisations where women are largely excluded. It is because men fear them. In many cultures this is overt, where women are kept uneducated and downtrodden. In Australia it is just called misogamy. There is no woman we are more afraid of than our mothers. Men simply need women more than women need men. And that can be very powerful. The male wants to be the head of the family, the provider (like the hunter). Societal changes have challenged, even undermined, that. To many men the security of his position as provider is vital. Without it he feels weak. The insecurity of employment (70% of jobs created in the last 10 years have been part-time or casual).

In psychological terms the child’s need for their mother is called Attachment Theory and originates with the seminal work of John Bowlby (1958). This experience led Bowlby to consider the importance of the child’s relationship with their mother in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive development. According to Bowlby, the attachment system essentially "asks" the following fundamental question: Is the attachment figure nearby, accessible, and attentive? If the child perceives the answer to this question to be "yes," he or she feels loved, secure, and confident, and, behaviourally, is likely to explore his or her environment, play with others, and be sociable. If, however, the child perceives the answer to this question to be "no," the child experiences anxiety. This mother-child attachment bond shapes an infant's brain, profoundly influencing their self-image, their expectations of others, and their ability to attract and maintain successful adult relationships. By learning about attachment, you can build healthier, attuned relationships, and communicate more effectively.
The attachment bond theory states that the relationship between infants and primary caretakers is responsible for shaping all of our future relationships, strengthening or damaging our abilities to focus, be conscious of our feelings, and calm ourselves and the ability to bounce back from misfortune.
Research reveals the infant/adult interactions that result in a successful, secure attachment, are those where both mother and infant can sense the other’s feelings and emotions. In other words, an infant feels safe and understood when the mother responds to their cries and accurately interprets their changing needs. Unsuccessful or insecure attachment occurs when there is a failure in this communication of feelings. Psychologists in recent times have proposed that relationship violence may be seen as an exaggerated response of a disorganised attachment system pattern in infancy coupled with a history of abuse. Psychologist, Alan Schore, has brought together findings from diverse areas such as clinical psychology, psychiatry, neurology, developmental psychology and psychiatry to create a coherent understanding of how the developing brain is impacted by attachment relationships. The brains of those who suffer dysfunctional attachment (disorder) simply don’t develop as they should. Thus, with me, the need to grow up was profound.

Education

Children need to learn this stuff, how to cope, how to forgive, and how to understand their emotions. And education is the obvious answer. These matters contribute so much more to a coherent society than traditional subjects such as geography or economics (for example). To strive to increase the EQ of our young should be a major priority. As part of every curriculum should be the following:

  1. How to increase your EQ
  2. Relationships (with yourself and others)
  3. Self-esteem
  4. Why anger is so harmful, sapping and unnecessary –If you are angry, you are NOT OK.
  5. Blaming others for how you feel, instead of making the simple choice to let it go and be at peace. “Every choice we make is motivated by fear or love. Choose love every time”.
  6. Why the need for power is destructive
  7. How kids can protect their mothers and how do we, as a society, best protect the kids

Anger

And then there is the matter of anger itself. I have often read that even renown psychologists have said that anger is a natural thing and can be a positive experience. I don’t believe that for a minute. Having been such an angry person I now comprehend the weakness that anger represents. Anger is all about fear, and controlling one’s temper is about knowing that it’s that simple. Most fear comes from threats to ourselves that we perceive in our minds. And we all have our own triggers. But with an increased self-confidence, self-esteem and self-control, we can become quite competent at deflecting these fears as imagined and unnecessary. And we can modify our responses accordingly. Violence is never, ever an appropriate reaction. Having future generation embracing there basic beliefs again comes down to education.

Geoff Mooney