The Making of a Batterer



According to the Center for Domestic Violence Studies poor Father was predisposed for spousal abuse. 


Gelles (1979, p. 141) suggested that: "families living in large urban areas, minority racial groups, individuals with no religious affiliation, people with some high school education, families with low incomes, blue-collar workers, people under 30, and families where the husband was unemployed had the highest rate of marital violence." 


However, study after study shows that the highest correlation of any factor associated with domestic violence is the absence of the biological father during the child's formative years. In examining the influences of race, ethnicity, gender, and place, Lauritsen and White (2001, p. 53) state that: "...the proportion of households with children that are female-headed was the strongest and most consistent community predictor of risk for all forms of violence." 


Donald G. Dutton’s research provides a more definitive explanation for what was to come. After 25-years of research, he has concluded that the formation of (the intermittent class[1] of) batters ALWAYS includes these THREE characteristics (bear in mind that all three must be present):[2]


      A rejecting mother/insecure attachment

      Abuse at the hands of the father

      A shaming father


At first it doesn’t seem possible that this can apply to our father. But then again Father never had anything to say about his childhood—which in itself is a characteristic of batterers23.However, given the times and the circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine the environment and the way the mother and father interact within it. A mother coping with an alcoholic abusive husband cannot be as attuned to the needs of her babies as is necessary for their healthy development. “Rejection” to a baby is subtle, as simple as a rebuff. It becomes a problem for his normal development when it is chronic. And if the mother herself has psychological conflicts, it can be worse because it is inconsistent. Dutton writes:


Mothers of insecurely attached infants are inaccessible for these modulationmaintaining interactions, and they react inappropriately to their infants’ expressions of emotions or stress.[3]


We do know Father had a strange relationship with his mother. This is consistent with the attachment-separation problems about which Dutton writes.


Without a constant, nourishing object the child develops an insecure, inconsistent, and negative sense of self. He cannot soothe himself or handle stress well. And at times this inability to self-soothe allows tension to build, with the sense of a volcanic eruption from within, of a self about to fly apart.


These reactions persist into adulthood, but lie dormant until another relationship carries similar emotional threats and promises. Intimate romantic relationships are the closest a man comes to re-creating his early union with his mother. The extreme, out-of-control nature of an infant’s rage mirrors battered women’s descriptions of their husband’s tantrums. In fact, this excessive violence in adults is often referred to as infantile rage.[4]


We know that Jeremiah senior was absent from the home until Father was in his teens, but he returned just in time to provide the last ingredients for the creation of a future batterer. Although my mother had a soft spot for old Jeremiah and wrote in the family album under his picture that he died from complications of a lung disease believed to have been contracted as result of his heroic actions at saving some people from a fire, we know there is a correlation between violence and alcohol, so it would not have been surprising that old Jeremiah, an acknowledged alcoholic, would also have been violent. Nevertheless, given that Dutton says a cyclical batterer will certainly have had an abusive and shaming father, we cannot but assume that Jeremiah was one. Perhaps he acted out a suspicion that Father was not his son? We will never know. 


Ultimately, during adolescence Father would have internalized behaviors and world views that ameliorated his feelings. Anger became an acceptable alternative to feeling fear, shame, or guilt. Violence became an acceptable[5] alternative to communicating needs. Misogyny became an acceptable alternative to acknowledging anxiety and dependency.[6]


What resulted was a severely damaged individual.


…a person who rejects any criticism, angers easily, and blames others for the frequent anger he feels. He cannot and does not understand his rage and frequent depression as aspects of his own personality...[7]


…He needs his wife to define himself, finds himself irrevocably bound to her, and considers the prospect of being alone terrifying...[8]


…The abusive man is addicted to brutality to keep his shaky self concept intact.

The only time he feels powerful and whole is when he is engaged in violence...[9]


…This man senses something isn’t right; he feels the diffuse tension, but he can’t name it. Anguish is a recurring demon, depression and anxiety frequent experiences. Usually these are blotted out by alcohol or drugs, which override the more painful feelings…[10]


Dutton believes that the personality that has emerged is a borderline[11][12].because of the high correlations found on tests administered to known abusers. Borderline personality is a clinical category defined as:


      A proclivity for intense, unstable interpersonal relationships characterized by intermittent undermining of the significant other, manipulation, and masked dependency

      An unstable sense of self with intolerance of being alone and abandonment anxiety

      And intense anger, demandingness, and impulsivity, usually tied to substance abuse or promiscuity.


Adding yet another twist to the noose, it appears that the latest research considers borderline personality “…Biological, Neurological and Genetic. It is caused by a dysfunction of the Limbic area of the Brain, which controls emotion.”[13] 


Ultimately, though, whether it is caused by a traumatic childhood, a vulnerable temperament, and a triggering event or events, “each borderline patient has a unique pathway to the development of BPD that is a painful variation on an unfortunate but familiar theme.”[14][15]


Without a doubt, Father also experienced the death of his own blythe spirit.



[1] There are three classes of batterers, but Father was clearly of the intermittent class. See The Batterer, a Psychological Profile, p. 22 “Are All Batterers Alike?”

[2] Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality, Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships, The Guilford Press, New York, 2007P. vii 23 Ibid., The Batterer, p. 89.

[3] Ibid. The Abusive Personality. P. 186.

[4] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 102.

[5] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 127.

[6] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 139

[7] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 130.

[8] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 45

[9] Ibid., The Batterer, p. xi

[10] Ibid., The Batterer, p. 103

[11] Although BPD is actually a continuum—a personality can be a BP Organization rather than a fullfledgeddisorder”--a wonderful summary of Borderline Personality Disorder can be found at Martinson, D.

[12] ), Borderline Personality Disorder,, Word Wide Web.

[13] Tim Pheil, LPN, “The Cause of Borderline Personality Disorder,” the BPD Sanctuary, World Wide Web.

[14] Pathways to the development of borderline personality disorder, J Personal Disord 1997 Spring;

[15] (1):93-104, Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR Laboratory for the Study of Adult Development, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts 02178, USA, as noted on the BPD Sanctuary, Borderline Personality Disorder Research,, World Wide Web.