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You Made Me Hit You! Interventions with Male Batterers

Section 4
Risk Factors in Intimate Partner Violence

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we talked about three stages of abuse.

Now let's talk about increasing the batterer's awareness of his abuse. As you know, many batterers report feelings of sudden rage. I find that increasing my clients' awareness of their "Red Flags" to violence can help to stop the chain of events that lead to their abuse. I introduced this discussion to the group by pointing out how a driver's awareness of a road construction crew's red flag helps to stop traffic.

As you know, the group has to understand the cycle of violence and how it progresses from the build-up of tension, to the violent action, and finally into the "honeymoon" phase. What I wanted to impress upon Daniel, who was discussed in a previous section, is that the cycle of violence does not remain constant, but escalates into ever-raising tension and fewer "Honeymoon" phases. In order for Daniel to break his cycle he had to start identifying cues. Ask yourself, what cues does the "Daniel" you are currently treating need to identify regarding his physical violence?

3 Types of Red Flags
I outlined three types of cues or indications that violence may occur for the group. These cues or indicators are situational cues, emotional cues, and cognitive cues. Think of a male batterer whom you are currently treating or have treated. Would it be beneficial to describe these three cues or red flags to your client?

♦ Red Flag #1 - Situational Cues
Situational cues can include such situations as: a particular topic of conversation, the time of day during which an argument occurs, stopping off at a bar before returning home, etc. I, like you, have known many clients who become abusive right after they get home from work or when bills are to be paid. In your next session with your "Daniel" you might consider asking him if there are certain situational cues regarding a topic discussed or time of the incident, which act as signals, indicators, or red flags that violence is going to occur.

Think for a moment about your physically abusive client. Do you feel it would be beneficial to discuss the time of day or other recurring circumstances that precede their physical violence? For example, for Tony, a construction worker in the group, arguments took place every other Friday. As you might guess, every other Friday was payday and Tony stopped off for a couple drinks prior to coming home from work. So, ask yourself, are there situational cues of which your client needs to increase his awareness in order to prevent another battering incident?

Red Flag #2 - Emotional Cues
Emotional cues are the feelings batterers experience before an abusive situation occurs. In one session, I asked Daniel how he felt before he strangled Sarah and threw her across the room. Daniel stated, "I feel really annoyed. I feel like Sarah is being bitchy and lazy. Like last night, I come home, I'm tired, but the minute I'm in the door she's all over me - 'blah blah this, blah blah that.' For her, it's just 'Here's someone I can dump my shit on.' She doesn't give a shit about me. All I do is work my tail off for this family, and this is the thanks I get. After she starts nagging, whatever she says or does only makes things worse, because I am already mad at her."

As you know, physical feelings are closely tied to emotional feelings and can also act as red flags regarding the emotions that lead to abuse. Here's an example of Daniel's description of his emotional red flag. He stated, "When I get angry, my heart starts pounding, my stomach tenses up, and my face turns red." Think of a physically abusive client you are currently treating. Would a discussion of emotional red flags be beneficial in your next session?

Red Flag #3 - Cognitive Cues
In addition to situational and emotional red flags are Cognitive cues or red flags: Cognitive red flags might include the client's self-talk and mental images that precede abuse. I asked Daniel to describe his thoughts or internal dialogue prior to an abusive incident. I asked Daniel, in other words, "What were you thinking just prior to the incident?" Daniel stated, "Sometimes when I come home from work, a babysitter is there with Jake and I don't know where Sarah is. I tell myself, 'if she doesn't get home by 10:30, she must be whoring around!' So, when she gets in the door, I'm going to let her have it."

Weekly Red Flag Log
I've found that a good technique to increase batterers' awareness of situational, emotional, and cognitive red flags is the requirement of a Weekly Log. If clients balk at this "homework" assignment as being silly or unnecessary, I motivate them with the reminder that noncompliance may result in a negative recommendation to the judge.

For Daniel, his log described times during the week when he felt like he might abuse Sarah. When he avoided abusive behavior, I asked him to write about the alternative behaviors he employed. For Daniel, the answer was as simple as walking out of the room and focusing his attention on something else like the television so that Sarah wasn't in his line of sight.

This prevented Daniel from being angered by the sight of Sarah after she said something that Daniel found irritating. I have found, as I'm sure you have, that sometimes when clients complete a Weekly Log they tend to take more responsibility for their actions and become better able to use alternative behaviors.

In addition to reducing his violent behavior, Daniel was made more aware of what caused him to become violent. Daniel was also able to start to accept that it was not Sarah's fault that he punched her in the head. As you know, acceptance and accountability are key.

♦ Counselor Self Inventory
Take a self inventory for a moment. Do you struggle to resist judgment of clients who do not easily acknowledge that their victims were not responsible for the abuse? After Daniel became more aware of his own behavior and began to accept responsibility without blaming Sarah as much, he was able to better control himself and his violent actions. An increased awareness of his red flags regarding situational, emotional, and cognitive cues helped Daniel to begin controlling his violent outbursts.

In Violence in Intimate Relationships, Munroe addressed violent outbursts of batterers in a study of the typology of male batterers. Munroe found that both the dysphoric and the generally violent/antisocial groups had the highest scores on the measures of borderline personality and traumatic stress. Her study drew two conclusions.

The first conclusion that Munroe made was that the batterer's impulsivity is reflected in measures of both antisocial and borderline personality. So generally violent/antisocial men may also report impulsive, borderline type behaviors. The second conclusion Munroe's study made was connecting PTSD with violent behavior. Munroe stated, "given the high levels of violence experienced, both in childhood and as adults, by the generally PTSD, it is not surprising that they report symptoms of PTSD."

The next section will deal with Expanding Choice Points once a client begins to recognize these three Red Flags.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Gerbrandij, J., Rosenfeld, B., Nijdam-Jones, A., & Galietta, M. (2018). Evaluating risk assessment instruments for intimate partner stalking and intimate partner violence. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 5(2), 103–118. 

Howell, K. H., Thurston, I. B., Schwartz, L. E., Jamison, L. E., & Hasselle, A. J. (2018). Protective factors associated with resilience in women exposed to intimate partner violence. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 438–447.

Sijtsema, J. J., Stolz, E. A., & Bogaerts, S. (2020). Unique risk factors of the co-occurrence between child maltreatment and intimate partner violence perpetration. European Psychologist, 25(2), 122–133.

What are the three Red Flags that can precede abuse? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
Table of Contents