Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's The Difference Between Anger and Abuse?

We face this question a lot in anti-domestic violence work. People like to write off batterers' behavior, even homicides, as explosive anger that should be treated by anger management classes, rather than as systematic, planned behavior that focuses on control. The Marriage Counseling Blog has a pretty good breakdown on the difference between anger and the behaviors typically associated with domestic abuse.
Anger is a natural and normal feeling. However, the behaviors people exhibit when they feel angry may or may not be acceptable. Abuse should not be tolerated.

The underlying reasons for angry behaviors and abusive behaviors are different. When people are angry they may lash out or say things they don’t mean out of difficulty being rational while feeling so upset. Angry feelings can cause people to do or say some things they might not normally do and say. This, however, shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

Abusive behaviors tend to be a lot more purposeful. Abusive behaviors are meant to control the other person. Various strategies ranging from intimidation and guilt may be used as manipulation tactics.


When behaviors become abusive, the person doesn’t take responsibility for the behaviors. They may deny that the abuse occurred or minimize the seriousness of it. They may also blame the other person.

In contrast, people who exhibit angry behaviors can take responsibility for their role. They can admit to crossing the line if they became angry and yelled or behaved inappropriately. They also work on making changes so that it won’t happen again.
The final statement is possibly the most important. Those who use violence against their partners are much less likely to take responsibility for their actions than those who simply have difficulty controlling their anger. Thus, traditional anger management classes, and even many batterers intervention programs based on an anger management model, don't work for perpetrators of family violence because they don't feel that they have any changes to make. We need to acknowledge domestic violence for what it is - a series of behaviors that are tactics one partner uses to control the other - before we can begin effectively helping batterers to change.

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