The parts women play in domestic violence

I stumbled upon an article published on the web last week in Australian media title The Age called 'The part women play in domestic violence.'When I viewed, it had already been shared by 12,000 people on Facebook and generated nearly 200 comments so is clearly resonating with people.

I felt compelled to write this article in response because, in my opinion, it's a very shallow piece. Written by Sallee McLaren, a clinical psychologist, I was surprised she was advocating such a simplistic view of a very complex psychological issue.

Firstly, to be pedantic as regards the article's title, I think we should discuss the parts (plural) women play in domestic violence. Also, things don't start well with the author stating:

“As a woman, I find male violence always inexcusable and repugnant.”

I think most people do, but I feel that the inference here is that female violence doesn't exist or is OK.

I know that in the domestic situation, statistically there is more male violence, but a woman hitting a man cannot just be brushed aside.

Those niggles aside, the main points of McLaren's argument that women are partially to blame for domestic violence they are on the end of because:

  • The female trains the male that escalating violence is acceptable by "not objecting."
  • Women lack authority because of their upbringing: "If your girl loves pink you are not giving her enough avenues to real power and authority".
  • "Girls also learn to be passive, especially with physical pursuits requiring mental toughness".

None of this is categorically incorrect; it's just not enough. It's too simplistic an answer to one of the most intricate problems around.

Don't train your man that violence is acceptable. Bring up your daughters to absorb power, authority and mental toughness. Good points, but is that it?

No simple answer to a complex issue

Think about it; if we initially take out the gender issue... there are two people in an emotional state and there is a perpetually altering chemistry between the two. The issues that initiated the violence are almost certainly complicated and could be emanating from one or both and attached to many things; power, ability, inability, defending mal-formed egos, the abused abusing, the abused fighting back, violence brought on by depression or post traumatic stress or hormonal issues or bereavement.

Given time and space I could expand upon this list, almost indefinitely. This is all before we go into the unique environmental and cultural influences from the two parties psychological upbringings'.

From my work as a psychotherapist specialising in anger issues, I understand that there is a direct correlation between anger and violence. I also know that each angry person is unique and his or her own circumstances are unique.

Who's to blame?

I don't really want to enter into the debate of who is to blame for domestic violence. Why it happens is complex whereas who has committed the act of violence is usually easy to discern.

I am also going to say there are no straightforward tick box answers solving the horrors of domestic violence. I have extensive experience of domestic violence from a number of perspectives and I am convinced that it is rarely 100% one sided, but there are usually obvious victims. And there are many occasions when the victim cannot make an easy rational choice, but by then the relationship is probably in tatters and probably a living nightmare.

It's hell in there

The theatre of domestic violence is a devastatingly nasty, gut wrenching, vile place to be and much should be done to understand and minimise its happening. It usually has long lasting and deleterious effects on the whole of the family.

Children who are involved carry the damage for the rest of their lives. I think it is unbelievably distressing, but it is not a simple problem to solve and McLaren's solution of refusing to let daughters wear pink is not the answer.

We are not born angry or violent

Let's change the complexion and consider a situation of domestic violence where the woman is the victim and the man is the perpetrator (although we know it's not always this way round).

When the man was a newborn baby he was small, vulnerable, beautiful and probably made people weep with joy. This beautiful boy, fresh to this world was not born evil, something happened during his life to damage him; a major life event or a possibly being continually starved of emmotional nutrition made him less than the world might like him to be. This person is damaged and in a downward spiral... at this stage he needs help... ideally before he becomes violent.

That this ended with him (to quote Sallee McLaren)...

“smacking a woman’s head into the wall and calling her a f — ing c — terrible and utterly unacceptable. However if a beautiful baby boy loses the use of his legs in a major life event... or he is possibly being continually starved of basic nutrition he is not pilloried for not being able to walk, he is given help.

We should not categorise all angry and even violent people as 'right-offs'. They should be given help. I am categorically not condoning violence, but it happens. There are however things that can be done to ease what causes it. Angry people can lose their anger.

When love first blossoms

When this man and this woman got together there was a probability that there was some semblance of affection and possibly even love between the two and presumably no violence. So what changed?

The male most certainly had major anger issues, almost certainly emanating from his childhood but in most incidences, as McLaren suggests, they get worse, on a sort of learnt sliding scale.

Does it take two to tango?

It is conceivable that the female also had major anger issues. It is quite possible that the man will state that the woman agitated and maddened him or even initiated the violence. We should not discount these possibilities although much of this 'agitation' may well come from within the man without any input from the woman at all.

Nip it in the bud

Ideally the formerly loving couple should seek help early on and nip this descent into anger in the bud. When small arguments start to get bigger and more frequent and tempers start to flare, seek help. Both parties might need anger management and partner counselling. This step may sort out problems before its too late. 

Is there a way back?

Can the couple get back to that love they felt and the non-violent start they had with each other initially? Once significant habitual arguing and violence sets in this may be extremely difficult. When someone — anybody — starts to show signs of anger and preferably long before the arguments ever become physical, the partner should initially try to listen and empathise with the angry person.

“I can really feel your irritation… I can sense your anger… Would you like to tell me about it?”

This often results in diffusing the anger as the angry person feels he has found a caring ally — a concerned listener.

In my experience many angry men have rarely or never experienced empathy. When they feel someone listening it is like a cathartic epiphany. The man moves towards his more sensitive self, becomes more like the innocent baby boy or the man she fell in love with.

I believe when any two people in an intimate partnership work on listening and reflecting empathically — feeling what the other person feels and saying...

“I hear what you're saying, I see what you're doing, I feel what you're feeling.” will almost certainly bring the two closer together and foster a deeper relationship.


  1. Article May 12 2015 ‘The part women play in domestic violence’ by Sallee McLaren in The Age Melbourne, Australia

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