Domestic violence perpetrators are NOT angry men

Mainstream media must stop pedaling the dangerous myth that domestic violence is caused by anger.


Reading an opinion piece published this week, which insisted that anger is the root cause of domestic violence (and terrorism), my blood pressure shot up in exasperation.

Domestic violence is a global epidemic of epic proportions: A staggering 38 million people in the world today have experienced domestic violence. It affects more women than war and cancer combined, and one in four females will go through the trauma of an abusive relationship in their lifetime.

So when an undoubtedly well-intentioned individual trots out a practically prehistoric paradigm, which reinforces misconceptions about domestic violence, even I struggle not to see red.

Because anger is not the cause of domestic violence.

I got pretty angry reading the article. Did I bang out a furious email in ALL CAPS cursing out the misinformed writer? Did I rush out and beat up my boyfriend?

Embed from Getty Images

No, of course I didn’t, and not just because I’m not dating at the moment. I decided to write this article. I have the ability to channel my feelings into action that helps me to achieve my aims.

Most abusive individuals are able to make strategic choices, too. For perpetrators, anger is not a goal: it is a tactic.

What causes domestic violence?

Domestic violence is driven by the need of one person to control their partner. That need is rooted in a multitude of deep-seated factors, including:

  • Poor self esteem and feelings of inadequacy
  • Problems relating to women
  • Learned violence
  • Entrenched misogynistic views such as the idealisation of male dominance.

Even though we know the factors that make someone pre-disposed to domestic violence, it is far from inevitable that relationship violence will occur. That is because domestic violence is a strategy which some people actively select, and others do not.

Equally, some abusive individuals have anger seeping out of their pores, which manifests in other areas of their lives – but many limit their violent outbursts exclusively to interactions with their significant other.

Let’s look at an example. Joe works long hours in a physically and mentally demanding job as a junior medical doctor. He is respected by his colleagues for his sound decision-making under significant stress. Even the most difficult patients warm to his friendly bedside manner. Joe’s neighbours consider him a nice, friendly guy.

Joe beats his wife.

If anger is the cause of domestic violence, then men like Joe would be unable to keep a lid on their temper. In a fit of pique, he’d punch the consultant that criticised his care plan. He’d dropkick the patient who refused to give a full medical history. He’d threaten to kill the neighbour mowing the lawn when he’s trying to sleep off a grueling night at the hospital.

Joe does not do any of those things, because he is able to control himself.

He is also fully in control when he terrorises his wife. He chooses to behave in this way toward her – and not other people – because it gives him the sense of power that he craves. It enables him to assert his dominance, by controlling her behavior and her feelings.

There is no ‘red mist’, no sporadic outburst of rage. Before he attacks his wife, he will often work himself up into an angry state. This too is a calculated choice.

Afterward, he may tell his wife he just ‘lost control’ when he beat her. It is a convenient excuse that deflects attention from the flaws in his psyche that lead him to choose violence.

It has the added benefit of causing his wife to devise strategies to avoid or mitigate his rage, drawing her energy away from escaping the controlling relationship.

Joe does not have an anger management problem. He has has a mindset that chooses violence to fulfil his need for control.

The ‘angry men’ paradigm is incorrect and dangerous

Joe’s choice is not made in a vacuum. It is reinforced by mainstream media and culture. Pervasive inequality and the denigration of women is present in pornography that portrays females only in the context of their ability to serve men, the glamorisation of male violence in music and film, and even in our judicial systems – in which survivors of even the most brutal violence are subject to victim-blaming.

All these factors cannot be tied up into a neat little soundbite, therefore many cop out.

We have seen this in the mainstream media’s analysis of Dylann Roof – currently on trial for the racially-motivated murders of nine black people in the USA – Norwegian far right mass murderer Anders Breivik, and misogynistic killer Elliot Rodger.

All were labeled mentally ill lone wolves. It’s a temptingly neat package that is much easier to accept than the alternative, which would force us to examine the complex and multifaceted root causes of violence. That’s too much introspection for most, so they look for a handy hook on which to hang the problem.

In domestic violence cases, this means perpetrators such as Joe are dismissed as simply angry men. The simplistic narrative allows us to shake our heads in outrage at his behavior, and chalk it up to just another dysfunctional person about whom we can do nothing.

Disturbingly, attributing Joe’s behaviour to rage-induced loss of control overlooks the fact that he has the choice to use violence, or not. The ‘angry men’ paradigm is not just incorrect – it is deplorably dangerous.

We must hold perpetrators to account as individuals with choices, not helpless beings unable to resist the lure of beating their partner. We must also address the wider societal issues that feed the violence. Only then will we be empowered to end domestic violence.

What do you think? Is the media getting it right? Is domestic violence / abuse caused by anger, or something else? Have your say in the Comments.

26 responses to “Domestic violence perpetrators are NOT angry men

  1. Thanks for your well-chosen words that start to put some common sense into the debate. The more open we can be about this topic the better we can do away with ‘convenient’ myths and truly work on the problem that affects so many women from all sections of society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for adding your voice here, Dr Alanda. Openness is much needed if we’re to have useful dialogue about the issue. Among other things, the harmful stereotypes perpetuated about domestic violence make it even harder for survivors to seek help.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was well said. There are angry men who would never dream of harming women, they go out and chop wood or go jogging instead. There are also abusers who appear never to get angry. It isn’t anger that’s the problem. I’ve never found a satisfactory answer for why some men are violent and abusive, beyond, “they believe it is acceptable and they think they can get away with it.” That is an unsatisfactory answer, but I think it’s far more accurate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree with you, insanitybytes22. There is something in the psyche of abusive individuals that enables them to act in ways that healthy individuals find abhorrent.

      Your explanation sums it up the mindset well – but I wonder how many of them really believe it is acceptable. Why do many try to hide the abuse from outsiders? Is it shame, or just fear of censure? I wish I knew!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My ex was a volatile perpetrator. He is impulsive, and reacts out of deep fears that send him into a raging psychotic episode. Even though he is a classic case of Borderline Personality Disorder, this in no way excuses his violence. He is intelligent enough to recognize his abuse and violence, not make excuses for it, but instead get the help he needs. Being a perpetrator of DV ends up being a choice….using anger as an excuse makes me sick…it takes away their accountability for their actions. As sick as I know my ex to be, I still hold him accountable and I still see his actions as his choice – because he could have chose to get the help he promised me he would…year after year…until I finally got the strength to get him out of my life for good.


    • I’m really sorry you went through all that Roxanne. You make great points, especially saying that accountability is needed. That’s why I hate seeing people who should know better prop up the excuses of violent men – which is what they do when they say domestic violence is caused by anger.


  4. I think it is an issue of boundaries. I say this because those who abuse their spouses are also far more likely to abuse the children in the home, too. Why is it that most abusers refrain from abusing everyone save for those in their home? Because they think that those living in their own house belong to them?

    Liked by 2 people

    • The sense of ownership that perpetrators demonstrate is definitely a common theme. Maybe also something of the ‘a man’s home is his castle’ mindset – in which they want to control everyone in the household too. Great point.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. The guy who abused me shifted from totally okay and then completely out of control too quickly for it to be “anger.” Then once he had his outburst, he was completely okay and calm again. Would he drive 80 down an icy street in Denver and try to kill his boss because he kindly asked him to take him home? No. And he wouldn’t do it to his father either. But he was more than happy to do it to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I going through an abusive relationship for past 3 years. Its really difficult to cope with it every single day. Your blog relates to me so much. I wasted all these years thiking he has an anger problem and he’ll change, but that obviously didn’t happen. Every time I plan to leave something hold be back. Otherwise I am very strong, but the thought of leaving makes me weak. I haven’t told my parents about it yet, thinking he’ll change, but!! Your blog is helping me a lot when I have finally decided to tell everyone and get support. Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do not change. What is worse is that the abuse and violence always escaltes and becomes more life threatening.
      Be careful to plan a safe escape. Do not confront him , give him any ultimatums or tell him of any plans to escape.

      Find someone who can help you with a safety plan. Some womens shelters have someone who can talk you through it.

      Do not contact shelters on your home computer or leave any trace on a cell phone “history” or computer history.

      You can use a library computer or one not accessible to him like at kinkos fed ex store.
      Find out how to delete cell phone history .

      Wishing you peace of mind,


  7. I used to watch my ex ramp himself up by getting angry over ANYTHING that I said, it didn’t matter the subject as long as he could take an arbitrary position. The hypersexualization and misogyny of women in the media fuels the lack of respect for women, no matter what they have accomplished. The media seldom gets it right when it comes to domestic violence because it won’t fit in a tantalizing soundbite that can be absorbed quickly so they can move on to the next fear they want to perpetrate and the next pharmaceutical they want to plug. The only ones who understand domestic violence are the ones who have made an effort reading countless books on domestic violence. It is frustrating. Especially in the courts, kids are doomed to repeat the cycle by exposure to someone that the courts have told them is special enough by position, no matter their past behavior, to care for them and teach them how life works. Ugh! It’s maddening, and not changing soon. Great post!


  8. Anger is a non-specific term.

    Aggression, frustration (at the lack of perceived compliance with controlling behaviour), rage, irritation, threat, assault, all of those words have clearer meanings.

    Angry has its own multitude of meanings, and is a vague term at best.

    Absolutely I have observed abusive people offloading and compartmentalising their aggression, typically keeping it behind closed doors. I would agree that these are choices, or habits.

    feeling or showing strong annoyance, displeasure, or hostility; full of anger.
    “why are you angry with me?”
    synonyms: irate, annoyed, cross, vexed, irritated, exasperated, indignant, aggrieved, irked, piqued, displeased, provoked, galled, resentful;

    (of the sea or sky) stormy, turbulent, or threatening.
    “the wild, angry sea”

    (of a wound or sore) red and inflamed.
    “the bruise below his eye looked angry and sore”
    synonyms: inflamed, red, swollen, sore, painful
    “he had an angry spot on the side of his nose”


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