Shrink Rap: The Battered Male

Shrink Rap: The Battered Male

by Dr. Susannah Smith

Telluride's San Miguel Resource Center, the region's only nonprofit dealing with the twin challenges of domestic violence and sexual assault, celebrated healthy relationships last night at its annual Chocolate Lovers' Fling, the nonprofit's major public fundraiser. Support for the event means supporting yourself, a family member or a friend in need, anyone regardless of race or gender, yes gender, because abuse is an equal opportunity offender.

I'm writing today about a topic that is unpopular among women, and even female therapists.  However, the battered male is a reality.

Our media world has done a good job of reporting on domestic violence in women, which is also a reality.  We have heard of the "battered wife syndrome": a diagnostic complex of symptoms often referred to by clinicians.  I prefer to speak about the "battered partner syndrome."

Battered men behave somewhat similarly to battered women.  The "battered wife syndrome" is characterized by a woman who is isolated by her husband, estranged from friends, cut off from essential aspects of other relationships, often left without money, under a jealous and watchful eye, and living in fear of reprisal most of her life.  She also goes back repeatedly to the same man who beat her.  She protects this man, by making up stories about how she got the bruises, and by praising his strengths.
Battered men have similar problems.  They rarely report an incident of violence, for many reasons.  How can a man admit that his wife is beating or abusing him?  That seems unmanly.  If he does call the police, and there are small children at home, is he going to have the mother of his children carted away to jail?  Often in these cases, the male victim elects jail rather than allow his wife to go.  And, battered men are controlled, micromanaged, and treated with emotional and physical abuse and fear.  They also keep going back and making excuses for her.  They don't want to break up the family.  They don't want it public that they are victims of domestic violence.

We often recognize the very real double standard that our male-dominated society has regarding women.  We often do not recognize the double standard that women have regarding men.  Mention the battered male to almost any woman, and they will look at you suspiciously like a traitor, or worse, pounce with anger at the idea.  Mention it to a man, and he will look at you with knowing interest.
The battered male is more isolated due to our societal views.  I have had a number of male clients who called their local shelter and were told that the shelter did not treat men, and who were treated with scorn and lack of compassion by the "advocate" or shelter staff.  Most men will not consider calling a local shelter, as they believe the shelters "hate men."

Domestic violence knows no boundaries and crosses all genders, ages, socio-economic groups, and ethnicity.  It is about control and power.  In most cases, men are bigger and stronger than women, so when a man is battering a woman or child, the danger of death or injury is increased.  But women, even small women, are also capable of calculated means of destruction, whether through sabotaging relationships or direct action.  Women are just as capable of financial control and jealous manipulation as men.  When all abuse is considered (mental, psychological, physical, sexual, and neglect), women are equally culpable in relationships.  Often, it is a two way street.  In fact, I have never seen people treat each other so poorly as unhappily married couples (or domestic partners).  We wouldn't treat our worst enemy with such open and public direct disrespect and disgust.

Abuse begets abuse, and every perpetrator has a reason and explanation, not to be confused with an excuse.  Each of us, every day, would benefit from a self-evaluation and check-up of our attitude and behavior towards others, and especially, towards our loved ones.

Susannah Smith, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 3258
Telluride, CO 81435

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