When I first starting running groups for batterers I believed my goal was to help them stop physically-abusive behavior, and I used group discussion and domestic violence worksheets to challenge them to recognize the damage they had done. I told the men in my groups that our goal was to stop and always avoid any form of physical abuse.
After I started providing batterer intervention services, I was asked to give a presentation to the women in shelter programs on my groups for abusive men. I explained how I taught men about the dangers of power and control tactics, the importance of personal accountability, and the necessity of being in charge of our behavior no matter what our partner does. I told the women that the goal of batterer intervention was to stop physical violence.
To my surprise, the women told me that they saw emotional abuse— name-calling, put-downs, accusations, threats, yelling,—as more serious than physical abuse. The women said that physical injuries heal, but emotional harm lasts forever.
What I really learned from the brave women at the shelter was this: men are letting themselves off the hook when they say, “I yell at my wife, but at least I’m not a batterer.” They are minimizing the damage that their emotional abuse does to their partners. Men in batterer intervention groups need to be challenged just as strongly and frequently for their emotional abuse as their physical violence.