If we were to classify domestic violence as an illness, by all standards it would be an epidemic. Statistics show that 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 9 men, becomes a victim of DV at some point in life—affecting as many as 10 million Americans each year.
What isn’t always clear is: Why?
Any act of domestic violence, no matter how “minor” it seems in the moment, can wreak great havoc in your life. Just one occurrence can fracture your relationships and potentially take your freedom. Understanding why it occurs can be a key to preventing it. If you can identify the driving factors or triggers behind your behavior, you have a better chance of addressing it so domestic violence doesn’t occur—or doesn’t occur again. So let’s explore some of the most common factors experts have identified as driving forces behind DV.
A word of caution and a disclaimer
Let’s make something clear from the beginning: If there’s one thing experts agree upon across the board, it’s that the victim does not cause nor invite domestic violence. In other words, you can never blame the victim. (This fact rules out explaining one’s behavior as “She just made me sooo mad.”) As we explore these common causes, we begin with the assumption that the perpetrator is always responsible for his/her actions. If you committed violence—you committed violence. Shifting blame will not make things better, regardless of what happens in the courtroom.
It’s also worth mentioning that we are attorneys, not therapists, so nothing below should be construed as mental health advice. We are only relating some of the common theories behind domestic violence based on the available research. We encourage you to seek help from a licensed professional if you need help controlling anger or violence issues.
The Surface Issue: Control
Before diving into the possible root causes, let’s look at what’s happening in the immediate situation. Experts seem to concur that the most common driver of domestic violence incidents is when one partner feels the need to control or dominate the other. This reality has led some to actually define DV as a result of a systematic pattern of exerting control. If you have committed an act of violence, this may be a good starting point for discovering what triggered you to do so—namely, what might make you feel the need to control your partner. Explanations may include jealousy, low self-esteem, feeling inferior to your partner in some way, anger management issues, or a combination of these—or even something else you haven’t yet identified.
If control is the most common cause of DV itself, we still haven’t yet explained the need to control. This is where some of the underlying causes come into play.
Common Underlying Causes of Domestic Violence
Over years of study, researchers and mental health experts have found a few recurring threads in explaining violent behavior. Let’s explore these now.
A violent background
One narrative that occurs frequently among domestic violence perpetrators is that they grew up in a culture of abuse and violence themselves. Sometimes, they were the direct victims of abuse; at other times, they grew up witnessing a parent being abused. Experts have identified a wide range of negative effects when children are exposed to DV, ranging from depression and isolation to self-harm and even aggressive behavior. It extends beyond the basic abused-becomes-the-abuser scenario (although that’s a valid concern). Essentially, when domestic violence is “normal” in someone’s upbringing, there’s a greater chance of it becoming a learned, even instinctive, behavior into adulthood.
Belief systems (or subversions of them)
Another factor to consider is one’s religious/spiritual upbringing. Most religious expressions don’t condone violence, and studies have disproved a direct link between religion and violence overall. However, as an example, some conservative belief systems teach that women are subservient to men, and when other risk factors are present, some men use this belief to justify extreme controlling behaviors (including violence). In addition, some religious circles manipulate and subvert their own core beliefs to create a culture of spiritual abuse and manipulation—which in a few extreme cases may even translate to physical or sexual abuse in the home. All this to say, faith systems generally don’t promote violence, but sometimes a subversion of a person’s spiritual upbringing may be a contributing factor in violent triggers.
Existing psychological or mental health issues
A third common thread we observe in explaining abusive behavior is that the perpetrator often has an undiagnosed or untreated psychological issue. Specifics could range anywhere between PTSD and personality disorders. However, there’s an interesting twist here. As Harvard Medical School emphasizes, most people with mental illness are NOT violent; however, the risk of violence goes up substantially when psychiatric disorders are present alongside substance abuse. Thus, mental health issues may not a very large risk factor on their own, but when coupled with drug and/or alcohol abuse, it could be a much more significant factor.
If you have been recently arrested for domestic violence, perhaps you related to one or more of these driving factors. If so, it’s worth repeating two things:
1. None of these factors can be used to defer blame. Violence is always the perpetrator’s responsibility; and
2. You should seek help from a qualified professional if you believe you are at risk mentally or emotionally, or if you feel genuinely out of control of your feelings or actions.
As far as dealing with the legal and criminal charges of domestic violence, we are here to help. Give our offices a call today for a free evaluation.