What is domestic violence? A series on Dr. Bradley's sourcebook (part 13) What Makes A Person Abusive?
What makes a person abusive?
As we have seen so far multiple factors play into a person becoming abusive, and no one in the world has a comprehensive formula that we can use to determine if someone will become abusive. To create that formula researchers must continue their search to find some point of commonality between all abusers. Two researchers Neil Jacobson and John M. Gottman, set out to do just that as they studied how run-of-the-mill arguments could quickly escalate into violence (Bradley 42). The study lasted 8 years and the researchers confirmed previous findings that emotional abuse played a vital role in the abuse cycle by undermining the victims' confidence (Bradley 42). They also discovered a new finding, the idea that abusers are unable to concede any ground once an argument had started. Even if the victim made valid points or raises a good argument, the abuser will seek to maintain dominance by defending their irrational position. The researches also noticed abusers are not able to recognize a “withdrawal point” like normative couples. Usually there is a certain point that once reached, couples in a non abusive relationship will realize it has gone too far, and that the argument is over and steps need to be taken in order to deescalate the situation. For beaters though, that point is never acknowledged and they will continue escalating the situation, many times ending in violence.
The study concluded and the researchers confirmed that abusers shared certain traits, but they were most importantly “highly unpredictable, unable to be influenced by their wives, and impossible to prevent from battering once an argument had begun” (Bradley 43). The researchers were also able to classify the abusers under two groups. The first group was dubbed “Pitbulls”, and this group of abusive men showed traits that we have discussed in this series so far, like irrational anger, escalating physicality, contempt for women, while also being extremely dependent on them (Bradley 43). These men use constant scrutiny and belittling to weaken the victim in order to gain control over them. They also tend to dominate their partners via unreasonable expectations and then they punish the victim when those demands can’t be met. The second group of abusers that Dr. Jacobson and Dr. Gottam studied were named “Cobras”. This group of abusers were much more outwardly calm compared to the Pitbull group, but were seen as potentially more dangerous to the victim (Bradley 43). Those identified as cobras were “more likely to be severely violent, more likely to use a deadly weapon against their partner, more likely to be dependent on illegal drugs, and more likely to have a history of violence” (Bradley 43). Dr. Bradley also notes that the study states only about 20% of all abusers fit under the Cobra classification while the remaining 80% were viewed under the Pitbull category. Although these two classifications won’t cover every type of abuser in the world, they can be seen as a foundation which other researchers can begin building off of. As more research and time is put into the tragedy of domestic violence, these classifications may prove to be useful in determining what exactly makes a person abusive, so that steps can finally be taken to abolish domestic violence worldwide.
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Berry, Dawn Bradley. The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Contemporary, 2001