Men Talking About Violence. Effects of Violence: Emotional Effects

“It is not possible to endure repeated physical attack, to sustain repeated injuries, and to live in an atmosphere of fear of repeat victimization without experiencing anxiety and emotional tension. While the long-term effects of violence and permanent emotional damage cannot be assumed, there can be little doubt that such an atmosphere causes considerable stress, fear, anger, and resentment, and abused women sometimes exhibit states of anxiety and a lowered sense of self-worth resulting from abuse. In this and other studies, women sometimes report a sense of the lost of themselves–of the person they used to be–of feeling like someone who has been substantially reduced by the humiliation, degradation of self, isolation, and continual threats that often accompany the violence (Kennedy, 1992, pp. 86-87; Mullender, 1996, pp. 23-26; Smith, 1989, pp. 18-19; Stanko, 1985, p. 57). While men may set out to “shape” the type of woman they wish their partner to be and closely control her in that process, many men are indifferent to this process or unaware that it exists. Again, the process of changing the overall constellation of violence, including other intimidating and controlling behaviors, needs to address this process of “creating the wife” through restricting her autonomy, mobility, and independence and by attacking her sense of competence and self-worth.

How do you think she felt afterwards? Terrified. Even though she was trying to fight back I knew she was terrified just by looking at her. Just the look on [her] face, I knew she was scared. (Man, Men’s Program: 036)

A couple of days later, my mind’s still on it–I was loading a van and [she] passed by and I ran up to her to speak to her and I caught her [on the street] and when she turned round and saw me she just about died, she was that frightened. I was shocked. (Man, Men’s Program: 053)

A woman concurs:

Has this violence changed your relationship in any significant way? It feels as though it has made me more insecure. (Woman, Men’s Program: 1116)

One British study of women at risk of suffering depression found that one third had experienced violence from a male partner and many women speak of feeling worthless or depressed because of violence (Andrews & Brown, 1988). While it may not be surprising that repeated violent attacks within one’s own home lead to states of fear, anxiety, and depression among the victimized, one might ask if those who perpetrate the violence and create an atmosphere of fear are aware of its emotional effects. Do the men realize or care how the women feel, how much fear they create, or what the effects are on children? Like invisible physical injuries, emotional damage is also invisible unless, of course, there is such an awareness of the signs of fear, anxiety, stress, and depression. Such awareness requires a level of concern and a willingness to be attuned to the conditions of others. The accounts of many men reveal a lack of such awareness and an apparent insensitivity to the emotional effects of violence on the woman or the relationship. Some men even fail to comprehend the point of such a question:

How do you think she feels about the violence? Well, she must feel something for me or she wouldn’t put up with it. (Man, Other CJ: 058)

Would you say that your violent behavior is damaging the relationship at all? No! Well it’s no big deal. I’m not saying that I’m not as bad as bad as the next one, but I know people who’ve actually beat up a woman like they’ve beat up a guy, with kicking in the head. I’d never do that to a girl. (Man, Other CJ: 003)

When men do comprehend that their violence may have some effect on the woman her sense of self-worth and well-being, this is often tempered by the notion that any cessation in the violence with automatically bring an immediate and permanent end to her fear and anxiety, that there will be no lingering effects. The men’s appreciation is also tempered by the notion that it is the woman’s responsibility to leave the relationship if she is being harmed and thus the responsibility to change lies with her and not him.

Would you say that your violent behavior is actually damaging your relationship with your wife? In the past it has. Is it doing that just now? No. I’ve never been violent to her for months now. (Man, Men’s Programs: 019)

She knew what I was like. She shouldn’t have been around. She should have left me. She knew what I was like at that point and she had a choice. It’s like if you had a dog who every time you took it out it would go and bite people, then if you walked up to that dog and it bit you, it would be your own fault. (Man, Other CJ: 045)

Obviously, any intervention directed at stopping this violence would need to address the problem that men do not see it as a problem; do not believe that it truly harms others; imagine that there are no effects beyond immediate injuries; and harbor the notion that once the violence stops everything is immediately solved, all is forgotten, everything is repaired. This bears many similarities to notions held by men who rape women or sexually abuse children (Waterhouse, Dobash, & Carnie, 1994; Williams & Finkelhor, 1990).

Whether the effects of violence are physical or emotional, they are costly in material and psychological terms not only to the woman who has been abused but also to the children who directly witness the violence or simply live in an atmosphere of conflict and tension. They are also costly to the man who himself lives in a state of heightened tension, anger, and aggression and who may eventually lose the woman, children, and home that he may value although his immediate behavior would seem to indicate otherwise. These are also issues about which the man may not be aware and which may need to be built explicitly into an intervention directed at dealing with the entire complement of attitudes and orientations associated with the continued use of violence.” 


Dobash, R. Emerson, Russell P. Dobash, Kate Cavanagh, and Ruth Lewis. 2000. Changing Violent Men. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. [Chapter 2. Men Talking About Violence. Effects of Violence: Emotional Effects, pp. 21-23. References reproduced below, links added:]

Andrews, B., & Brown, G. W. (1988). Marital violence in the community: A biographical approach. British Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 305-312.

Kennedy, H. (1992). Eve was framed: Women and British justice. London: Chatto & Windus.

Mullender, A. (1996). Rethinking domestic violence. London: Routledge.

Smith, L. (1989). Domestic violence: An overview of the literature (Home Office Research Study, No. 107). London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Stanko, E. A. (1985). Intimate intrusions: Women’s experience of male violence. London: Routledge.

Waterhouse,  L., Dobash, R. P., & Carnie, J. (1994). Child sexual abusers. Edinburgh: Scottish Office Central Research Unit.

Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1990). The characteristics of incestuous fathers. In W. L. Marshall, D. R. Laws, & H. E. Barbee (Eds.), Handbook of sexual assault: Issues, theories and treatment of the offender (pp. 231-256). New York: Plenum.

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