Tag Archives: domestic violence

How do Bullies and Abusers Relate to Others?

In a recent post I presented the importance of empathy in marriage and the physiological studies that have proven this. However, all people do not empathize in the same manner. Bullies are one group whose brains differ in how they relate to the emotions and pain of others.

Researchers at the University of Chicago studied empathy in bullies. They performed functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans of boys’ brains aged 16 to 18 while showing the boys videos of people getting accidentally hurt. A control group was tested, along with a group of boys who had been abusive and had been diagnosed with conduct disorders.

Prior to these studies, many surmised that bullies lacked empathic skills and couldn’t connect to the pain they were causing. I’ve heard that said about psychopaths. At least in the case of bullies, the reality is worse than the prediction. According to this study, bullies do not lack empathy; they feel pleasure when others experience pain.

When the bullies’ brains were scanned, “the brains signaled empathy towards the pain, but their brain wiring associated that pain empathy with pleasure, in the reward centers of the brain,” says professor Jane Decety. “Bullies associate the pain of their victims as a positive feeling. These results suggest that the abusive behavior of bullies feeds their brains with a feeling of reward.”

These tests were done on older boys, so it remains to be seen if the results would be the same in adult perpetrators of domestic abuse. If that is how abusers think, it is one more reason why victims should not stick around to try to persuade the abuser to change their ways. Brains that are wired to receive pleasure from causing pain may just be on the lookout for the next person to provide that reward.

If someone you know is in an abusive situation, refer them to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and share these safety tips.

Teach the Next Generation to Love, Not Hit

R&B singer Chris Brown spoke to Larry King this week about his alleged beating of his former girlfriend, Rihanna, (for which he pleaded guilty to felony assault) and the court’s decision in the case. The quote that jumped out at me when reading about it on CNN is, “No one taught us how to love.” With his “very shocked” mother by his side, Brown said he was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community labor.

The regretful Brown says he is still in love with Rihanna, and when pressed by King to explain the violent altercation, he said, “We’re both young. So nobody taught us how to love one another. Nobody taught us a book on how to control our emotions or our anger.”

This in no way excuses his behavior, but it is a reminder for all of us of two important points. First, we need to be aware of the potential for violence against our daughters, sisters, friends and neighbors. Don’t think it cannot affect your family. A good friend of mine’s sister was murdered by her own husband in 2005, leaving a toddler to grow up without his mother. The close-knit and devastated family was not aware of any violence against her prior to the murder.

Secondly, it is a huge reminder to teach our children what love looks like, and what it doesn’t look like—that control and jealousy are not part of a healthy relationship. Imagine how much education Rihanna and Brown have had in their young lives about singing, dancing, dealing with the paparazzi, staying on top of fashions and how to manage their wealth. Yet he says they had no education about how to love. Don’t teach your kids that talent or education are all that matters. Teach them about how to seek character, kindness and real love. Teach them about the signs of abuse, and look for the signs yourself.

My 6-year-old likes to have pretend weddings with imaginary princes. I like to inquire whey she chose that particular prince; I ask the prince’s name about how he treats her. She keeps the discussion going for a while, not realizing I’m trying to ingrain in her important factors in choosing a spouse.

Unfortunately, even if the choices are done with the best of intentions, violence can still erupt. One woman I interviewed from Michigan dated her boyfriend for three years during college before marrying him. On their honeymoon, he changed abruptly, and regularly abused her physically (only where it wouldn’t show) and sexually. He controlled where she went and even how much she ate. She hid it for nearly two years, embarrassed to tell her family at first, but eventually confided in them. With their support, and law enforcement assistance, she escaped to a battered women’s shelter and eventually built a new life for herself. After helping herself, she also helped others overcome violence and later found a kind and patient man with whom she built a love-filled marriage and family. You won’t be surprised that she teaches her own daughters about violence and about love.

What are you teaching the next generation about love through your words or example?

An interesting article on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

Learn the Signs of Domestic Violence .

Don’t Go to Bed Angry—And Other Myths

Acclaimed marriage researchers at the Gottman Institute have conducted independent, vigorous social science research with couples and families for decades. The Institute uncovers some unexpected truths:

1. “People used to believe that it is a mistake to go to bed angry. From research on couples, Dr. Gottman discovered that “flooding” – a physiological phenomenon triggered by emotional conflict — leaves people’s heart rates too high for them to clearly concentrate on the conversation at hand. Research shows that taking the time to calm down before finishing an argument is more likely to help couples stay close and connected. It may be to the couple’s benefit to continue the discussion with cooler heads in the morning.

2. From research on domestic violence, we have learned that couples therapy with battering couples actually makes things worse for the woman—not better. Instead it is suggested that partners find individual help.

3. From research on parents and their children, we know that it is extremely beneficial for children to develop “emotional intelligence”. For this to occur parents need to express their own emotions, and it is especially important for fathers to express their emotions—especially sadness.” 1

I find the first point to be somewhat of a relief. Aren’t there times when you just don’t feel up to an argument, or you need time to sift through your feelings first? This shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid your partner, but if you need time to cool off, ask for it. Interestingly some of the successful couples I have interviewed say they never go to bed angry, so there may be some debate on this one.

The second time is somewhat of a surprise, but from what I have read those who are in a violent relationship truly need individual help to see things as they truly are, and not how they perceive them to be. The safety of the person being battered should be paramount.

And the third point is a great reminder to all of us who would like to paint a positive picture of the world around us for our children. One of my absolute favorite movies, “Life is Beautiful,” involves the portrayal of a life of joy amidst the horror of the start of WWII and inside a concentration camp. I still think the point the movie makes is valid, that we must not allow our life view and who we are to be controlled by our circumstances. However, it’s also crucial for children (and adults) to be given permission to feel and express their emotions. Dads may tend to tell their children, “Cheer up” or “Don’t Cry.” Next time, just hug your children (or spouse) and let them express how they feel.

Dr. John Gottman has vast amounts of results from his research, which I will share in future posts. Tell me what you think about the three points he makes above and if you agree or not.

Source: The Gottman Institute, http://www.gottman.com