What is domestic violence? A series on Dr. Bradley's sourcebook (part 12) What makes a person abusive?
What makes a person abusive?
Although many abusers grow up in homes that are abusive, Dr. Bradley insists that coming from an abusive home does not translate to beater. There are many factors that play into the life of the individual that foster into possible abusive behavior down the road, but growing up an abusive home is one of the biggest risk factors (Bradley 41). Some other large risk factors include education level and financial income, but Dr. Gelles has found plenty of cases where white collar individuals beat their spouse (Bradley 41). In short, there are definitive risk factors which correlate between frequency of abusers, but potential beaters can come from anywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum. There are certain characteristics found among most abusers that are identifiable though, as Dr. Walker notes “most batterers have a poor self-image and low self-esteem, traits that are often found in battered women, as well” (Bradley 41). This might not come as much of a surprise but those who are classified as abusive are people who have been continually put down and had their self-esteem reduced to nothing. They internalize mistreatment and project that onto the victim.
We have talked before how many abusers suffer from mental illness, but in the next section Dr. Bradley notes the staggering amount of abusers who are clinically depressed (Bradley 42). She notes how some psychiatric researchers are condoning the use of antidepressant medicine, Prozac, to help abusers become less violent. The thought process behind prescribing antidepressants to abusers is that anger and aggression are caused by feelings of shame, which then translate into abuse. “Antidepressants increase serotonin levels, thus reducing shame” (Bradley 42). Although the author is quick to note this is not an end all be all in terms of treating abusers, but it has seen successful results. Steven Stosny, Ph.D, leader of one of the most successful batterer treatment programs in the United States, notes that material medicine can only go so far in terms of rehabilitation, and that it takes the strong will of the individual and daily determination to change behavior (Bradley 42). The abuser must realize their behavior is wrong and actively recognize their need to change.
Another interesting but possibly unrelated coincidence around batterers is the high amount of head injuries among those who abuse their partners. Since there is no conclusive evidence that head injuries somehow result in a high chance to abuse, researchers are quick to refute the idea that biological factors play into an abusive personality (Bradley 42). One study noted by Dr. Bradley though, found that those who had a history of head injuries were up to six times more likely to abuse their partners (Bradley 42). Again this is in no way scientifically proven, but is still an interesting piece to the puzzle of domestic violence. Perhaps in coming years there will be definitive data backing the idea of head injuries increasing risk of abuse, but until then we can only speculate.
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Berry, Dawn Bradley. The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Contemporary, 2001