After commending the programme I Am Nicola, aired by Channel 4, I was thinking how useful it would be if we were able to watch a programme where a male suffered abuse at the hands of a female perpetrator. Unfortunately, in my experience it is not uncommon to find men in the role of the ‘victim’, but I do wonder whether society is still not quite ready to accept that. I still feel that some endorse the stereotype of victims of abuse being female, less well educated and vulnerable in some way. I can only say that I have met many abused clients who fit none of those categories, but while we still uphold that stereotype, I believe it continues to make it more difficult for males to come forward and acknowledge their experience of abuse.
Clients I have worked with, who have suffered emotional abuse from their partner, often struggle with the identity of ‘victim’ as it suggests weakness to them. I try my best not to use the word as I am not comfortable with it and don’t want to imply that being the target of abuse suggests they are not robust.
I think the suggestion that only frail individuals would allow themselves to be abused, may be a particular issue that men face, the idea that a woman can dominate and control a male doesn’t always fit with the societal idea of gender roles.
It maybe doesn’t happen so often now, but not so long ago, comedians would use anecdotes of hen-pecked, browbeaten husbands or partners to get a laugh, ridiculing men who couldn’t ‘manage’ their authoritarian wives. I think sadly, some individuals and groups are still struggling to completely disregard this idea and when presented with the scenario that a 5 foot nothing, diminutive blonde is abusing her 6 foot, rugby playing partner find it hard to contemplate.
On a positive note, I do believe more males are feeling comfortable enough to come forward and label the treatment they have received as abuse and not feel the embarrassment or shame that they might once have felt. I feel once they can recognise the insidious nature of the abuse and how it can take a considerable amount of time to realise that you actually are being coerced and manipulated, it can relieve the pressure of feeling that you should have done something about it. The constant criticism, disparaging remarks, denigration and veiled threats that are part of abuse serve to invite the target to lose self worth and the confidence they need to leave the relationship.
I applaud all the men who have shared their stories with me and who have found the courage to leave abusive relationships, I hope that they have gone on to find happiness in healthy relationships.
If you, as a Bretherton's male client feel you might benefit from a chat about the nature and effects of an abusive relationship, please do contact me. Equally, if you feel you might like to be part of an all male therapeutic group who are recovering from living with an abusive partner please do let me know.
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