When you facilitate batterer intervention groups, you focus on the damage it does to women. You use group discussion and domestic violence worksheets to help men understand that domestic abuse results in painful physical injuries and emotional scars that include depression, anxiety, fear of men in general, and lowered self-esteem. You explain to abusive men that their partners will never completely heal from physical assaults or intimidation and humiliation. You teach them to recognize that power and control steals her sense of self. You repeatedly remind them that they have deeply hurt the women they love.
What you may not help them to understand is the damage that their domestic violence does to themselves.
I have run groups for both batterers and alcoholics, and I have found many parallels between domestic violence and excessive drinking.
People who drink too much live miserable lives—they know they shouldn’t drink, they are full of self-hate for their drunken sprees, they condemn themselves for how their drinking hurts their families, and often they try to stop drinking only to relapse again and again.
I believe that the behavior of batterers is similar. When an abusive man harms his partner—either physically or emotionally or both—he usually experiences great shame and guilt because he hates to hurt the women he loves. He commits to her and to himself to never again repeat his behavior, and yet he finds himself acting abusively again. Each time, he’s angry and disappointed in himself. He wants to change. But frequently, he doesn’t—like an addiction to alcohol, his abuse is a habit, and it’s hard to break. And the longer he does it, the easier it is to relapse, the harder to stop, and the more miserable he becomes about himself.
The worst of the batterer’s domestic abuse is of course the damage it does to his partner. But it hurts him too. We must help him see the cycle: everyone suffers, including himself. When he’s full of shame and self-recrimination, he’s all the more likely to abuse. This doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t feel guilt: he needs to, it’s part of the process of recovery from battering. But his recognition of the damage he does to himself may give him even more motivation to end battering: all the more reason to stop abusive behavior.