Monday, 20 May 2013

Learnt Behaviours

In my previous blog on ‘Attitudes’, I highlighted the need for positive role models of BOTH genders in support services.  This blog on ‘Learnt Behaviours’ naturally follows on because people do tend to mirror the behaviour of those around them, but the issues I want to explore go deeper.

One of the factors that kept me remaining in my abusive marriage was my personal fears about the impact my leaving would have upon my children.  I felt I could protect my children from the abuse if I was present.  My ex-wife was never physically abusive towards the children although they witnessed several of her assaults on me.  Although she would still not recognise it, she was emotionally, psychological and verbally abusive towards the children.   I would try and minimise the effect by telling the children that ‘their mother wasn’t well – only she didn’t realise how ill she was – and we all had to try and stay calm to help her.’

A huge turning point on my recovery journey was when the youngest child threw dinner all over me.  This was something that my ex-wife had done a few days earlier and I realised that I wasn’t really protecting the children if they were seeing such attacks and coping them because they were beginning to see them as ‘normal’ family behaviours.

I have spent considerable time reflecting and trying to work out why my abusive ex-wife behaved towards me in the fashion she did.

I have to confess that I knew very little about her childhood and, in the years we spent together, she didn’t talk or wasn’t prepared to talk about it.  From what little I knew, I assumed it had been a difficult time so didn’t probe too much.  Her mother and father had met quite late in life and her father had died while she was in primary school education.  She had been raised by an elderly mother which couldn’t have been easy.  Her mother died just before we got married.  I did meet my mother-in-law but didn’t see in her any of the behavioural traits that would lead to me being domestically abused.  However, my knowledge of my ex-wives’ family was restricted to holiday visits as all her family lived on one of the offshore islands of the UK. 

The only time I was able to see a brief snapshot inside her childhood was when I received an email from someone that had gone to school with my ex-wife and wanted to make contact.  This person knew that she was a church minister and had sought to contact her through the church.   In the email, this old school colleague apologised for her treatment and the group bullying that took place towards my ex-wife.  She said that she’d experienced a traumatic life since school but had subsequently become a Christian and wanted to put things right.   I passed the email onto my ex-wife, but she didn’t want to know, screwing the paper that I'd printed the email on , up and throwing it away.  I suggested to my ex-wife that just out of common courtesy she should reply, but she just wouldn’t entertain the notion.   It was as if any sort of childhood experience/memory was a closed book and she wanted to keep it that way. 

I am convinced that some trauma(s) occurred to make her behave in the manner in which she did.  I can only speculate to the nature as she always refused to talk: was her own father abusive towards her mother?  Was her mother abusive towards her?  The email certainly suggested that she was seriously bullied at school?  

Is this my problem now that we are divorced?  Blocking out the childhood trauma (whatever it may be) may be her coping strategy, but the learnt behaviour from it led to an abusive marriage and emotional and psychological damage to our children.  Continued failure to deal with the past  will eventually affect any new relationship she may enter into and continues to impact the relationship she has with her own children.

The worrying thing for me now is that occasionally I see the children behaving in a manner reminiscent of their mother.  How do I handle this and break the possible cycle of abuse?  My children won’t enter into conversation about this and refuse to accept me comparing their episodic conduct with that of their mothers.  “I’m not like her!” “Don’t compare me to her!

While the dynamics in a parental relationship is different and the fall-out may get attributed to common teenage stroppiness etc., it does concern me that these examples of learnt behaviour could be destructive when transferred over into the intimate adult relationships that my children will form one day.  As a responsible and caring father, how can I change this?  I have spoken openly and honestly with my children about what happened but this doesn’t seem to be enough when I observe the same behavioural traits in my children that I witnessed in their mother.  How can I repair the damage that has already been done so that history doesn't repeat itself?  I wish  I knew.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


When I started blogging, I wanted to try and change the mistaken perceptions that exists surrounding male victims of Domestic Violence.  If by telling my story, I was able to help others or even encourage other men to speak out about the abuse they’d experienced then it would be mission accomplished.

I’ve come into contact with all sorts of people.  While I am raising awareness in particular about how Domestic Violence affects men, I strongly state that all forms of abuse are wrong irrespectively of gender.  It has been good to encounter others with the same message.  However, it is deeply disturbing also to come across those who categorically deny that men can suffer at the hands of their partner.  ‘It’s just not possible you can’t be a victim,’ they shout, ‘any abuse you’ve had you must have brought upon yourself.  It has to be retaliation because you’re the real perpetrator!’

Very soon after I started to tell of my abuse, a friend did say to me, “I hope you do realise that not ALL women behave like that.”  I’m glad to say that I knew that and that I have found a new partner who is nothing like my ex-wife.  She is  very loving and considerate and is everything that one  expects a good, healthy relationship to be.

But it set me thinking about the support services given to women.   Are abused women told when sharing their story, “Not all men are like that” ?  I think I know the answer and I suspect not.  When I worked in the care industry, clients were asked their preference of the gender of support worker.   Several would say they had issues with men and would prefer a female support worker.  It is also true that the majority of support workers are female, so often there is little choice.  Women will have a female support worker, but the likelihood is that men would too.  Sadly, it does seem that through support services to women, misandry is inadvertently encouraged.  

This approach has also meant that often the support service gets highjacked by those with a political agenda wishing to secure more funding for ‘other’ women issues.  So, rather than providing a Gender-netural approach to Domestic abuse, the needs of a male victim are inconsequential and the service is gender-bias.   Organisations/charities offering support services to ‘women and children’ when advertising for staff  often insert the following disclaimer in their adverts:

Female applicants only on the basis that it is an Occupational Requirement as provided for in the Equality Act 2010 (Schedule 9 Work: Exceptions – Part 1 Occupational Requirements).

The real danger is that this encourages Misandry and continues and feeds the myth promoted that all men will treat you appallingly.   I’m aware of a men’s movement that is growing and trying to tackle this.  What I have seen though, is misandrists and misogynists militants resort to personal insults attacks on each other.   Quantified evidence is completely discounted in order to score political points off each other.  This is not healthy for anyone, least of all those who have experienced domestic violence.

The support charity I worked for, although acknowledging the client’s gender preference, took the view that the client received support from whichever member of staff was available regardless of gender.   I would like to think that those who received support from me realised that, despite their past experiences, all men are not the same and that there are some positive male role models out there.  Society needs more men providing such support services to help get this message across. 

The need for positive Male role models within the care industry is something I became aware of during my first role as a Church minister.  Part of my role was to manage an OFSTED registered Nursery that the Church ran.  Prior to me, this particular church had always had female ministers in charge, so the minister was naturally considered part of the staff ratio for the nursery.  When I took over the leadership of the church, it meant that part of my role was making up the staff ratio in the nursery as there wasn’t enough funds in the budget to employ a new female member of staff.   The nursery was located in a run-down inner city area and many of the children who came to the nursery came from dysfunctional families.  One day, when one little boy called me Daddy, it dawned on me that I was perhaps the only positive male role model that these children had in their lives.

We need more positive role models.  A gender-bias approach is wrong on all levels because Domestic Violence affects and impacts everyone.