Physical abuse of spouses and children
I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making
me hate him.
-----Booker T. Washington
Many of our conflicts are hand-me-downs from our original family, our
grandparents, and even further back. A generation or two ago most parents
whipped their children. Just a few generations ago there was a "Rule of
Thumb:" you may beat your wife with a stick if it is smaller than your thumb.
If your grandfather beat your father, it is not surprising that you are beaten.
If your mother was always envious and angry with her brilliant, perfect older
sister, it is not surprising if mother is very critical of you, if you are her oldest
daughter. If your dad's youngest brother was thought to be emotionally
disturbed, he may watch carefully for problems in his youngest son...and find
them. Know your history to know yourself and to understand others' reactions
to you. Messina (1989) has a series of workbooks for adult children from
dysfunctional families. The workbooks help you become aware of your
abusive history and find ways to get rid of the anger.
These clinical observations are fairly well documented by recent research
(Ehrensaft, Cohen, Brown, Smailes, Chen, & Johnson, 2003). Children who
have seen their parent(s) physically assault the other, who have been
abusively punished, and who have had behavior problems (conduct disorder)
when growing up, these are the people most at risk of partner violence as
adults. These researchers believe effective prevention programs need to be
started before the high risk children reach adolescence. So, if you have a
history of any of those problems, watch for any tendencies to be physically
or, more likely, psychologically aggressive and learn how to handle your
What backgrounds and conditions lead to abuse?
Battered women tend to be less educated, young, and poor with low self-
esteem, from an abusive family, passive-dependent, and in need of approval
and affection. If women are violent against their husband, they tend to have a
history of violent acts against others. Abusive men often have a need to
control their partner and tend to be under-employed or blue-collar, a high
school drop out, low paid, from a violent or abusive family, between 18 and
30, cohabiting with a partner with a different religion, and occasionally use
drugs. Don't let these specific findings mislead you, however. Abusers come
from all economic and educational levels. Most hit their wives only
occasionally and feel some remorse; a few are insanely jealous and a scary
few simply appear to coolly relish being violent.
Dr. Nicki Crick and Dr. Nelson (2003) and their co-researchers at the
University of Minnesota have greatly extended the study of victimization by
peers from mostly physical aggression against boys to girls and relational