We’d like you to meet four men.
They are ordinary men who grew up with a clear set of guidelines about how to act or react in certain situations. As you read their stories try, as they have done, to make sense of what’s happening in their lives.
John was stopped one day by a traffic officer for speeding. He works as a sales rep so is out on the road a lot. He covers a lot of kilometers and at times makes a decision to exceed the speed limit. On this occasion, John felt really angry and was confused about how to respond when stopped and given a ticket.
Children do not have to be themselves the victims of abuse to suffer from its effects.
They are also badly affected by seeing abusiveness between significant adults — parents, caregivers — and often develop some kind of health or behaviour problem as a result. Health problems may include bed-wetting, nervousness, stomach aches, headaches, nightmares and soiling. Common behaviour problems are truancy, stealing, disruptiveness and poor achievement.
James came to counselling in a last-ditch effort to save his marriage. He had been abusive to his wife, Julie, and his two stepchildren. What James came to recognise was that he wanted to:
Healing the hurts of the past is a huge challenge for men because we must face and acknowledge our sense of shame and guilt. In order to put abuse behind us and take others along with us involves two important processes:
However, a word of caution. Others may not be ready or prepared to hear or trust your wish to be different. Promises are only believed when they are actioned!
One of the questions men often ask is: ‘Now that I have changed, why don’t others get on with life, and forgive and forget?’ I invite you to take responsibility for earning the right to respect, and not be caught up in your own needs to have the situation settle down in a way that you want.
Many men are trail-blazing a different lifestyle that is free of abusiveness and based on respect, trust and equality.
They are learning about the impact of the old rules about how men were supposed to be. They are questioning whether or not those old rules are helpful in developing caring and respectful relationships with others. Many men are ready to break with the traditions of the past. Many men are shaking off the old legacies that view men as bullies and pioneering a genuine, fresh and modern form of masculinity. Does this sound like you?
Not all abusive relationships involve physical violence...
When people talk about family violence they are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or partner. While physical injuries are the most obvious not all abusive relationships involve physical violence.
Psychological abuse, by default, also occurs when there is intimidation, threats and physical violence. It can also exist in a relationship where controlling behaviour and emotional abuse are common place but never escalate into physical harm.
Regardless of whether there is physical abuse, the outcome of emotional abuse is severe and impacts on the self-worth of the victim. Unfortunately emotional abuse is often minimised or overlooked even by the person being abused.
So how do you know if you are... A victim yourself? And/or Someone who is abusive within their relationship?
There are a number of key ideas discussed within this site...
The first idea is 'responsibility'. In my view responsibility is the ability to respond to situations that we find challenging and distressing. Throughout this site you will find a lot of material around developing skills that will help you to respond respectfully and safely in situations that are tough to manage.
One of the key responsibilities we have as men within our relationships is to ensure everyone is safe and that we do not increase worry and anxiety in others. Ask yourself the following question at any time to test this out...
“Is my behaviour creating worry and anxiety in others... or
is my behaviour creating safety and well-being?”
So what behaviours are OK?
Digging deeper and having a closer look into abusive practices can be really helpful for some men to identify exactly what types of behaviours are 'not OK'.
Work through the following list of behaviours from the 'abusive practices checklist' and consider the behaviours that you've carried out.
There are a lot of things that people say about domestic abuse that are flat out wrong!
Myths serve as convenient excuses for abusers not to take responsibility for their behaviour. There is no excuse for domestic abuse.
Check out the following myths and realities and make your own mind up…
Myth #1 - Women choose this type of man
Most women's experiences show that in the beginning of the relationship men are very attentive, loving and caring. Women are not aware when becoming involved with men whether they are violent or not, there are no signs.
Our lives are in a constant state of change. We've all heard the saying...
"Change is the only constant"
Whenever we change, part of us becomes excited and determined, while another part of us fears what it may mean and wants to remain the same. Even when we are strongly determined to be different, there is a part of us that wants to keep things the same.
Two very important questions are:
Take a moment to think about some other behaviour that you have managed to put behind you. For example, have you...
She’ll be sweet looks at power and control in relationships, and emphasises the role of behaviour that is not openly violent.
The short film explores how sometimes behaviour that may seem 'trivial' can play a powerful and destructive role in relationships.
Think of four animals for a moment - a turtle, a shark, a fox and an owl…
The turtle withdraws into its shell when the heat is on, not reappearing until the situation is safe. The shark will circle a couple of times and go in for the kill. The fox has a natural ability to strategise, taking its time to stalk its prey and waiting for the right moment to attack. The owl is perceived as wise, weighing up the situation from all sides.
The qualities of these animals can be perceived as styles people use to deal with conflict. Let’s start with the turtle. Whenever something happens to threaten the turtle’s sense of security, it withdraws and is seen to be sulking and uncommunicative. Turtles are often afraid of the power of their emotions. They will deny that they are feeling a certain way, doubt themselves, and intellectualise (convince themselves that the situation is better than it is). Or they may not believe they have the right to feel a certain way.
This is a question you can ask about any interaction between people…
“Does this interaction build or lessen respect, safety and trust for this person, or does it demean them in some way?”
Abusive behaviour is clearly at the expense of others, whereas respectful behaviour enhances all concerned. Healthy relationships are those where people feel free to disagree. This does not mean that people don’t like or are judging you… it simply means that, from their experiences and understanding, they have a different view. You can agree to disagree over an issue and still remain friends.
Most men grow up with this crazy idea that everyone, partners and children included, shares the same views of the world as them.
It is hard to risk stepping outside of our ‘manly’ culture to see what things are like from other people’s perspectives or cultures – in this case the perspective and culture of women.
To prove this point simply ask yourself the following question...
“Would you put up with your behaviour if you were on the receiving end of it?”
Jealousy is a feeling that arises from suspicion, apprehension, fear of unfaithfulness, or fear of being replaced by someone.
Jealousy can serve several functions in a relationship including…
Jealousy becomes a problem when it is connected with possessiveness. Men often assume that they should be in control of the family, and assume that they have control over others. From the history of men’s ownership and control over women and children, this is not at all surprising. It is not unexpected that men will struggle with the notion of allowing women the freedom to be their own person.
Tony Porter makes a call to men everywhere: Don't "act like a man!"
Telling powerful stories from his own life, Tony Porter shows how the 'male mentality', drummed into so many men and boys, can lead men to disrespect, mistreat and abuse women and each other.
After viewing the media segment consider the reflection questions below.
Is using pornography a problem for men who would like to have equal and respectful relationships?
Men who question the use of porn risk being called “prudish”, “killjoy” or “conservative”. What are your own answers to these questions?
So is there a true distinction between “hard core” and “erotica”?
Hard core porn depicts women being hurt, forced, humiliated and degraded. Erotica is less degrading but still depicts women with a very restricted personal presence. In porn images and videos women are still reduced to narrow aspects of behaviour or body parts.
Does this respect women and our own sexual feelings as men?
SAFETY - EQUALITY - RESPECT
To live safely with someone means keeping them safe from all insults, threats and violence, no matter what they do or say to us. A big ask? Yes, but we have to ask ourselves whether our nonviolence is merely conditional on how others behave. Unless we commit to being safe to live with ‘no matter what,’ it means we are secretly keeping a reserve of abuse and violence up our sleeve (or in a dark corner of our mind) to bring out when we want to punish someone for doing whatever we don’t like.
Which attitude is more courageous and worthy of self-respect for us as men... being safe to live with no matter what, or keeping in reserve the right to punish by abuse or violence?
Very early on men learn not to express the strong basic emotions of fear, sadness, or shame, because of many experiences of being ridiculed if they did.
How many times have you been told ‘Don’t be a girl’ or something similar if you acted in a ‘non-male’ way or showed any of your gentler emotions? How many times did you hear ‘Big boys don’t cry,’ robbing you of your ability to fully grieve over the sad times in life… the death of close friends or family, relationship break-ups, the loss of a job, and so on?
The old rule book way to deal with these powerful feelings is to switch into power-taking behaviour rather than risk fronting up to feelings of vulnerability. The rule that says ‘men don’t have emotions,’ combined with the strong urge to feel okay, invites men to move into the mode of self-righteous anger (which is not one of the basic emotions - but a secondary emotion - see the diagram below). This might make you feel good in the short term but will have a disastrous impact on those around you. While self-righteous anger may feel good in the short term, very soon you are back with your old feelings and the pattern starts again.
To embrace these new ways of being with others will make a huge difference to your own sense of self, as well as to how others perceive you.
Below are some specific ways to relate to others more respectfully.
What would be the implications of the following belief that men often hold...?
My partner has no right to criticise me!
The thinking behind this is usually that ‘she has faults, so how does she have a right to criticise me’? Is there anyone who is truly above criticism, who can walk on water and always does the right thing? How will we know what to change unless we are willing to hear criticism?
To check whether you are genuinely open to criticism identify one criticism that you hear quite often from your partner or someone else close to you. It’s important to identify a genuine criticism.
Have you had enough?
Is it time to put abuse behind you, or do you want to keep your options open? You have found that the reasons for belonging to the ‘Abuse Club’ are no longer valid. You had little choice about joining - membership is free when you are born male - but you can make the decision to resign now that you are an adult.
So what will you do? Letting go of a lifestyle of abuse is like saying goodbye to an old friend. The friend may have got you into a great deal of trouble but you have been through a lot together, like real buddies or mates. There were pay-offs or benefits in being a member of the ‘Abuse Club’. You often got what you wanted in the short term, at the expense of others.
"Safety first” is a good concept.
Many men find the idea of ‘time out’ useful as the most effective and immediate way of ensuring safety. Time out creates a safe zone for everyone and gives you time to sort out what is going on for you. As you get better at identifying the feelings, beliefs and attitudes that drive your behaviour, you will find you don’t need to rely on this strategy as much. In the meantime though, time out is very important.
Taking a ‘time out’ is not the same as staging a ‘walk out.’ Many men stage a ‘walk out’ during an argument or fight, leaving the other person unsure about when and if they will come back and what sort of mood they will be in when they return. This is unfair and disrespectful to the people involved. While a ‘walk out’ may be used with the partial intention of creating safety, it shows confused motives. The man may also be hoping to punish his partner for disagreeing by leaving her in a state of fear and uncertainty. In effect, a ‘walk out’ is saying, “I refuse to listen to you”, and is therefore a dangerous tactic that fails to convey a clear message that your aim is to create safety.
A walk out is a cop out!
“Why do people act the way they do?”
This is a commonly asked question when trying to understand behaviour. A much more useful and helpful question to ask is…
“What stops me acting differently, and what is blocking my ability to change?”
It can be very difficult giving up a behaviour that you may have been doing for a long time. It raises questions about the values or beliefs that underpin and maintain your behaviour. Besides, there may be definite short-term payoffs for continuing some behaviours right? These payoffs of course need to be balanced with the costs.
The pattern of abusive behaviour that Frank is expressing in the following story had others feeling afraid of him. His relationship was about to end and he was doubting his ability to change.
Frank (aged 35) tells his story…
Statistics show that many women endure severe physical and psychological abuse in violent relationships and generally leave then return many times before they make a permanent change.
Watch Leslie Morgan Steiner talk about how the man that she was madly in love with routinely abused her and threatened her life.
After viewing the media segment consider the reflection questions below.
Men are not by nature bad communicators.
Men will make decisions about how, when and how much energy they put into conversing with others. I have met a number of men who are incredibly well spoken in the public world, but struggle to clearly sort things out in their private lives.
As Harold said…
“This was my second marriage. I wasn’t a good communicator. I could talk at work and speak in public but one-to-one I was hopeless.”
In Harold’s case it is not a matter of having a lack of skills to communicate… The problem was his beliefs about putting the same energy into talking at a personal level. So what stops these same men effectively communicating with their partners and others?
Ken McMaster (MSW Hons, CQSW, MANZASW) has a thirty year history working at the cutting edge of intervention work with men who are violent and who sexually abuse.
Suzi Hall (M.A. Psych) has a background of working in child protection and forensic interviewing of children with Child Youth and Family Services.
Matt Williams (BTcLn, NCALNE) has a 15 year history working within the social service and criminal justice sectors as a trainer and program developer.