I’m divorced. Hallelujah, I’m divorced! We’re talking noisemaker, silly hat, balloon drop happy, here. Getting there wasn’t exactly a party, though. And I’m sure anyone who’s been dragged through the legal system, and who’s watched professionals order totally ineffective solutions — like anger management treatment — would understand.
Unfortunately, all across the country, the fates of victims and their children often rest in the hands of people who don’t understand the tricky dynamics of domestic abuse. They may be well intentioned, but they don’t “get it.” And that means the measures meant to protect victims fail.
Take anger management programs for example.
He’s got anger management issues, right?
Before I laid my hands on every domestic violence book I could find, anger management programs seemed like a pretty good idea. I mean, Darkness could turn from moderately tolerable to Jack Torrance, sans the axe, faster than you can say, “Heeere’s Johnny!” We’re talking crazy, scary rages, right? Out of control anger that could be managed with — ta da! — anger management.
Like I said, that’s what I believed, and so did the professional who decided an anger management program was the best way to teach the father of our darling kiddos to control his temper.
But that’s where he got it wrong. (Not to single him out, many do.) Because after successfully completing the program, Darkness was still the same old “Jack.”
Anger management group therapy is not the answer
The super important takeaway –> anger management treatment is not an appropriate course of action when dealing with abusers.
To quote from Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry, Controlling Men, “When people conclude that anger causes abuse, they are confusing cause and effect.”
Darkness wasn’t abusive because he was angry. Rather, he raged at me because of his entitled, misogynistic mindset. He believed his rages were justified when I failed to cater to his every whim. (And he had lots of whims.)
Like the time I got an apparently too expensive haircut the evening before a television interview, and he raged until 2AM, threatening divorce and financial ruin — he actually said the kids and I would be penniless on the street — all over an extra $10.
Now, I can understand it, though. I can put myself into his twisted mind and see that he viewed the $10 as his hard earned money (never mind that I never saw a dime of my paychecks without his permission). And when I thoughtlessly spent what was his with total disregard for his thoughts/feelings/concerns, he felt warranted in ordering me to go “lie by my dish.” It was his entitlement and his attitudes about women, and me in particular, that set him up for those wild rages.
Why can’t anger management groups “cure” abuse?
Back to my original point about anger management programs being an absolutely dismal failure of a response to domestic abuse…
Here’s the secret: Abusers generally don’t have poor impulse control.
I never saw Darkness rage at anyone, aside from the kids and myself, so clearly he could control his anger when dealing with other people. Interesting, huh?
No, he didn’t have anger management issues; he was entitled, manipulative and controlling, and he had a tragically distorted value system thrown in for good measure. In short, his rages were a choice and a means of control.
And anger management programs do not address those types of attitudes and value systems.
So, when an abuser attends an anger management group and demonstrates that he can control his anger (because he always could, but chose not to), and he manipulates group leaders into believing he’s “seen the light” (because he’s a master manipulator), he’s released back into the wild where he can continue to wreak havoc in the lives of those he sees as the source of his problems.
Anger management treatment is not the solution to domestic abuse: It’s the Dollar Store sticky-less Band-Aid we apply when we don’t know any better.