Bullying and domestic violence have been considered in practice and in the literature as "unconnected phenomena," according to sociologists Kenneth Corvo, Ph.D., and Ellen deLara, Ph.D. (Aggress. Violent Behav. 2010;15:181-90). However, as a clinician, I see a clear continuum between the two.
In my experience, boys who are big and powerful learn to use their power early and find it to be pleasurable. Becoming dominant is important for these boys in school, sports, and social settings, and those who are less powerful tend to fall into line as followers. Shaming and humiliating a weaker boy makes the bully feel highly regarded. We see the learning pattern take place in schools across the country: "I am a winner, and I need to win." Youngsters are under pressure to succeed at home and at school, so the pressure is on them to demonstrate prowess.
Rarely do we meet a family or parents who spend time cataloging their son's failures. It's all about winning! The child hears his father talking about his son's success on the basketball court, his fabulous grades, and so on, and he learns at a very early age what is important to the parent and how to measure himself.
The child who is bullied has seriously damaged self-esteem and does little to put himself forward. Clinically, we see a similar process occur in marriage. I have never seen a couple in psychotherapy where each person isn't blaming the other, finding fault with the other, and wanting either retribution or an apology.
Men who beat or injure their wives have the same psychological needs as those of the bully. They, too, need to win, dominate, and in many cases, overpower. They bring these ideas to the marriage from their family home, school, ball field, and workplace.
In America, 3-10 million incidents of domestic violence are reported annually, hundreds of shelters for abused women exist across the country, and thousands of social workers are helping these women and their children. But the problem is not with the women, although many do stay in the relationship and are reportedly further abused. Usually, men - and the way in which they are socialized - are the problem.
Factors Contributing to Bad Behavior
If the man is the boss at work, he needs to remain in that role in the house. He cannot tolerate losing an argument or being denied sex or perceive any other "threat" to his authority. If, on the other hand, the husband has no power at work, feels like he is pushed around by everyone, and is low on the totem pole, he comes home looking for some outlet for his frustrated power.
The issue apparently underlying most marital difficulties revolves around control. Who is in charge? Who makes the decisions? In many marriages, there is a frustration of dreams and expectations. A man who deals with frustration by hitting his opponent will be the fellow who commits domestic violence.
I was once consulted by a couple in the days before couples lived together before marriage. They had a great wedding and flew off to their honeymoon. The husband had come from a family of six children whose mother got up every day at 6 a.m. and made a big breakfast for everybody. The wife had grown up in a small apartment where everyone fought over the one bathroom and flew out of the house with cups of coffee in their hands.
On their first day at home, the husband sat at the kitchen table with a knife and fork waiting for his breakfast. He felt a breeze go by as his wife flew out of the apartment with her coffee. That's how it began. They agreed that the honeymoon had been wonderful, but each of them had an idea of what they wanted or expected, and the frustrations, hurts, and disappointments had accumulated by the time they asked for help because of his violent outbursts. All clinicians have heard such stories.
Too often, we fail to explore whether the husband had been a bully as a boy. Was he regularly beaten by his father when his behavior was bad? …