Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men clearly explains abusive behavior and in the process of understanding how I dealt with it, I developed some important perspectives about hate.
It seemed to call out to me from across the room. As I walked across the library lobby, the deep red background and large white letters asked an open-ended question that gave me hope it might have answers for me.
I’d spent years feeling like there was something wrong in a number of my relationships, but I thought that was just how life was. I knew nothing was perfect, that relationships required a fair amount of compromise, but I’d been experiencing a lot of things that were really confusing. If Bancroft had used the terms “abuse or abusive” in the title, I might have walked away because I hadn’t been experiencing anything I defined as abuse at the time.
The subhead helped a little more. It wasn’t the word, anger. It was the word, control. Everyone knows it’s normal to get angry from time to time, but I’d read a little bit about control in Family Ties That Bind by Ronald W. Richardson, and I wanted to understand it better.
As I read Why Does He Do That?, I began to see the scope of the problem. My situations were similar to many of the examples Bancroft included. The people in my life didn’t seem like abusers. They had friends, close family ties, good jobs, and a sense of humor.
My experiences have included dealing with situations that involved privilege, manipulation, coercion, distortion, depersonalization, domination, objectification, and the escalation of demands. In one my relationships, I wasn’t allowed to have any expectations of, or opinions about, his behavior, but I slowly began to see that my actions and decisions needed to be processed in terms of whether or not he approved of them and/or how they benefited him. In another, I wasn’t allowed to question anything. Bancroft explains that in this kind of situation, I was dealing with “Mr. Right” (not in the sense we often hear about, as in the right person for us, but as someone who thinks they are always right). I could finally see that when he wanted to take over any conversation, he would switch into the “Voice of Truth giving the definitive pronouncement of the correct answer or outlook.” Bancroft said that “over time (this) tone of authority can cause his/her partner to doubt his/her own judgment and come to see him/herself as not very bright.”
It’s hard to admit, but because I was never a straight-A student, for most of my life I didn’t think of myself as being very smart. I also don’t ever remember feeling strong. As I grew up I never heard any of the women in my life talk about being strong, but a few voices reached me through music when I was in my teens, and when I started to think about having children I knew I needed to be strong enough to be able to work and raise them at the same time. Still, there’s never been any point in my life where I’ve felt like I could honestly say, “Okay, I finally feel strong enough to handle anything.”
I think I actually began to make decisions about what I could or couldn’t do through what I can only describe as looking through a lens of opposites. In one situation, I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it, but I also began to see that I was actually doing something, I was tolerating a lot. I was also aware of the fact that in some respects I was working on ways to be true to myself, but in others I had compromised myself more than I thought I ever would. I didn’t just kind of, sort of, dislike what was happening, I hated what was going on.
I hated feeling stuck. I hated feeling like I couldn’t reply to some conversations from a position of strength. I hated finally coming to the realization that it didn’t matter what I said.
And as much as we are told that it is awful to hate, looking back, I am certain I had to hate that situation, and some of the people in it, in order to realize I needed to change it. To be able to tolerate as much as I was tolerating, I had become incredibly strong so I had to reach a point of having equally strong feelings of hatred in order to leave.
I’ve never heard anyone talk about this. Instead I constantly hear that if we have any feelings of hatred we need to figure out what is wrong with us. But my experiences have enabled me to see that it’s normal. The dictionary defines hatred as “intense dislike,” and I was surprised to see a post recently by Rowan Atkinson via AtheistRepublic.com awkwardly using that phrase instead of using hate.
We continually hear that we need to stop hate to fix the problems of the world – so much so that some people are afraid to use the word – but hate is a force in the world like any other that can be used for bad or good.
So how do we know which is which?
All we have to do is separate the things people hate into categories of real or imaginary pain.
Since everyone is different, we like different things. So it’s normal to hate a few things, but there usually isn’t any reason to talk about them unless we know they cause most people pain.
When I was raising my daughters I had one rule at the dinner table – they couldn’t talk about the things they didn’t like. I explained that everyone likes different things and if someone says, “I hate ‘X’,” someone else may think they hate “X” before they even try it. (It may be obvious that I also never forced my kids to eat things they didn’t like.)
But we do need to talk about the kind of hate that hurts. We need to talk about difficult personal situations. We need to talk about the problems with religious belief systems, but not necessarily the way Atkinson is doing because his statement is a half truth. He’s identifying aspects of religion that some people use to justify controlling and hurting others, but he’s overlooking the fact that the majority of people that belong to religious groups focus on activities and teachings that are peaceful and loving. We need to talk about racism, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, because the people in these groups are experiencing extreme pain in many ways when they are not causing any real pain to the groups of people that hate them.
In fact, if you think about it, every angry, fearful claim that is based on a stereotype is a construct of someone’s imagination. Nothing about it is based in reality.
I didn’t have to look very far to find an example of one of the right ways to use hate. On Dictionary.com, one of the first definitions includes the phrase, “to hate bigotry.”
Bancroft has it right when he says, “Why do they ‘do’ that?” The actions people take that affect other people—that control and hurt others, that stop people from being who they are or stop them from doing what they want to do with their lives—are the real problem.
So, what do we do?
A lot of the hate in the world is a war of words and I think if we share the idea far and wide that abusive people are afraid of some things that are completely imaginary, perhaps we can start to change people’s perceptions about following their lead. If they start pointing out things they don’t like, we can simply say, “So what?”
When it moves beyond that, when abusive people actually hurt others, the language that has been developed around crime needs to be changed because it soft-pedals the nature of many crimes instead of clearly informing us. Instead of calling something a hate crime, wouldn’t it be better, more clear, to use terms like race crime, sex crime, and LGBTQ crime? (People also keep jumping to conclusions, calling a crime a hate crime when it often turns out it isn’t.) And sex offender. It sounds like the person hardly did anything. How about sex criminal? The term, domestic violence, also vastly diminishes the nature of this problem. I recently saw the use of the phrase, relationship violence, and I think that is a step in the right direction.
Everyone needs to be able to spot the signs of abusive behavior.
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men should be required reading. One in four women and one in seven men will be victims of violence and abuse in their lifetimes. I hope that anyone who cares about making the world a safer place will take some time to learn more about the nature of abuse because anyone who takes a position of neutrality actually serves the interests of the abuser.
Please share this book with friends and family, because far too many people are being subjected to abuse that is impacting their ability to live lives of peace and joy, and as more people share it, perhaps it will jump out for others on the screen the same way it did for me at the library.
1) Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 2002. Print. 8.
2) Ibid; 63.
3) Ibid; 125.
4) Ibid; 82.
5) Ibid; 82.
6) “The Definition of Hate.” Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016 <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/hate?s=t>.
7) “Overview.” SafeHorizon.org. N.p., n.d. Web. July 2016. <https://www.safehorizon.org/get-help/domestic-violence/#overview/>
8) Bancroft. op. cit. 287.
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