Rejected Men Become Abusive…

Brown, J., James, K., & Taylor, A. (2010). Caught in the rejection-abuse cycle: are we really treating perpetrators of domestic abuse effectively? Journal of Family Therapy, 32 (3), 280-307 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6427.2010.00494.x

The opening statement of this article (2010) makes the bold but contentious claim that ‘[o]ver the past two decades, researchers and practitioners have made gradual and significant progress in understanding men’s domestic violence’ (p.280). I would question that claim myself, noting that what we know about violent men across that period has tended to veer from assuming that all men are given to the biff (2010, p.299) to the revisionist, men who so biff are mostly misunderstood. I scratch my baldhead thus wondering which of these two options this piece by Brown et al. (2010) might be. In addition, as I made coffee thinking through in my baldhead what I would jot down on paper now, it struck me to be careful not to fall into that trap of nominating men as a special category. By which I mean, as this article leans heavily on Bowlby’s attachment theory (2010, p.281), to instead question why poorly attached men can claim reactive violence as a consequence but for women deprived of necessary bonding, why they are much less inclined to take to their loved ones with an axe?

I can hear from here the grizzled groans of the men’s rights movement, shouting that women are much more violent than men are but of course, reality tells no lies. Just last week a heinous man in Melbourne, who deliberately drowned his three young sons for the sole purpose of getting back at his ex, was convicted of that evil crime for the second time. Such hubris did this man possess, that he challenged the verdict at first instance, to serve no useful purpose other than to further punish his ex and to further insult the memory of those three innocent boys. Such is the violence that men can commit. So when I read the argument put forward by the authors of this article (2010, p.282) that some poorly attached men can quite literally explode, I thought here is the convenient rejoinder for every violent act by man. It would assume that attachment trauma not only propels men into a dissociative state but while in that state, their natural inclination is to bash, maim, and kill.

I think not…

Thankfully, men, like women, are possessed with individual agency, the moral choice to use violence or not to use violence in their intimate and other relationships. Setting up a thesis called the ‘rejection-abuse cycle,’ as Brown et al. (2010, p.283) do in this article, is to me skating on extraordinarily thin ice. Yes, attachment trauma can impair emotional regulation and the capacity of the affected man to empathise with his partner. However, that is not to say that the automatic response to real or perceived rejection by one’s partner should ever be physical abuse (2010, p.287). Why some men bring out the biff without hesitation is not a product of poor attachment but rather, a grandiose sense of entitlement in a social milieu that still encourages men to exhibit their rage with gusto. That is where the intervention needs to occur, in that mess of masculine ideals and how they egg on and enforce so many men to raise their fists as if it was their god-given right. It is not.

In conclusion, while I wholeheartedly agree with the authors (2010) that attachment is an important therapeutic consideration when working with violent men (pp.299-301), it cannot transition into the primary consideration, and in so doing, obviate the necessity for men to take responsibility for their violent behaviours. As the authors (2010) correctly concede:

                ‘…violence is never justified and must be treated as a crime’ (p.302)…

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