Manipulation, beliefs and media images: the petrie dish in which domestic abuse grows

Lundy Bancroft talks about the abuser’s manipulative skills:

The abuser tends to be a highly manipulative individual and some of them are better at it than others. I’m dealing with a guy right now, whose case I’m trying to advocate for a couple of women, whose marriages only seem to last four to six months so he’s probably not one of the really good manipulators. The bad abuser is a blessing, but unfortunately most abusers are really good at what they’re doing.

Abusers know how to make things appear the opposite of what they really are, and they’re almost never out of control. Unless they’ve got really, really serious — really serious — mental health problems, they’re not out of control. They make remarkably calculated decisions and you’ll see some examples of that as we look at some of these different pieces [in the video clips] about how they are manipulative and calculated. Again, that’s the opposite of the image we tend to have of these abusers — a tormented, out of control individual. The reality is he’s someone who has to have a lot of method to the madness, tends to know a lot about what he’s all about, and he’s got plans. He’s doing some thinking about how to make this all work.

The abuser’s beliefs about domestic abuse, and how they are shaped by the media & culture.

There was a study done about 15 years ago that looked at men’s beliefs about rape and then looked at what their own histories were based on their own self report of having committed rape and it found that men who accepted the key myths about rape were much more likely to have had histories of actually perpetuating rape. What people believe matters.

In all my years of work with abusers, who come in with their excuses and their justifications, we saw the reasons that they are giving and those reasons pointed to specific things.

  1. Well, that’s what my father did.
  2. That’s what it says in (whatever my religion’s key texts/religious scriptures are).
  3. This is the way it’s always been.
  4. That’s just the way it’s done.

At Emerge where I was a counsellor for years, we would notice specific acts of violence that would come through in waves. I can still remember the year when all our clients seemed to be throwing the toasters at the woman. Why did we keep getting these stories over and over? We started feeling like these batterers were like graduates of some “batterer academy” because of the way these behaviors would come in waves. And then eventually, and I remember this specifically, we tracked it down to the movie it came from, and we started to realize this was the media. When we got a specific behavior in waves it was from the media.

So abusers get energy from what other abusers do. 

I read a diary of an abuser who did kill his wife and the victim’s relatives got their hands on his diary. And you could watch him teeter on his decision whether to kill or not. It was horrible. You don’t know what the next thing is that might put him over the edge.

Abusers get inspired by what other abusers do and they get inspired by media images — and more and more the behaviors come to be considered ‘not that bad.’ It’s another effect the media images have particularly when you see them over and over again — when you just get tons of them.

There are a lot of situations when co-workers and fellow students at school can tell that a woman is being abused: it becomes quite clear to them. They often don’t know what to say or do. But that’s when it’s going to be very important whether they believe in these kinds of myths —  because it’s going to affect what they’re going to say.

There’s also times when co-workers and fellow students of the victim are completely missing it, and that’s often because the abuser is so charming.


These above material has been transcribed with Lundy’s permission from his YouTube Domestic Violence in Popular Culture (Part 3). Lundy is the author of our most recommended secular book on domestic abuse Why Does He DO That? [Affiliate link].

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the “healing retreats” Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his “Peak Living Network” See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

19 thoughts on “Manipulation, beliefs and media images: the petrie dish in which domestic abuse grows”

  1. Lundy’s presentation is disheartening but needs to be heard.
    “Abusers know how to make things appear the opposite of what they really are, and they’re almost never out of control.” “There’s also times when co-workers and fellow students of the victim are completely missing it, and that’s often because the abuser is so charming.”
    – they don’t even have to be overly charming; they are just very quiet and unassuming –

    1. “Abusers know how to make things appear the opposite of what they really are, and they’re almost never out of control.”

      Boy, do they ever. 😦 I will attest to that wholeheartedly. 😦

  2. Wow. There are two things that stand out to me. First, the fact that abusers feed off of each other. This is chilling. And it explains why things got so much worse for my children and me when we moved to Europe, where my ex’s family is. It is acceptable, there, to oppress women and use children. Things heated up for us because he was in an environment where it “was not that bad.” He was in his element!

    Second, how important it is to recognize that what we believe matters. I could not agree more. And, what we believe about God affects how we treat others. I think my ex believes that God is a man — not a Person. He did not have any sort of concept that women were also made in His image . . . my ex did not follow the logical conclusion that women also carry some of the characteristics of God or that God has some “feminine” qualities, as well. So, he treated me like a non-person and really did believe that he was superior. Basically, I was a vessel to bear children and someone to use for sex. [Insert: I understand that God is our Father . . . and that is a concept I embrace. But, I also know that both men AND women are made in His image.]

    I was so messed up that I went to my theology professor’s office (11 years ago) and asked him if the Bible is also for women. He was shocked and asked me why, in the world, I did not think Scripture was for women also? I didn’t tell him. He was a good man. He helped me. He is no longer at that seminary. For about 5 years, I read from the TNIV version of Scripture, a translation poo-pooed by scholars. But, I needed it because it took the Hebrew and Greek pronouns that were meant to be gender-neutral and made them gender-neutral in English. I was refreshed as I felt like God was speaking to me . . . . to ME also, not just men.

    Now, I read the ESV. I don’t need to fight my ex’s beliefs, anymore. 🙂

    1. Megan – Your experience concerning the Bible translations is very interesting because I have found in this battle that many ‘groups’ whom adhere to a particular version will often be the most patriarchal. We do have to be careful to adhere to worthy translations, however, you have peaked my interest in being “refreshed” by the TNIV.

      1. Thanks, Anon. Big hugs. I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with the TNIV. In fact, one of my favorite theologians (Gordon Fee) was on the “council” (of whatever you call it) for the TNIV. I think it is just too much for people to see “he” replaced with “they” or whatever. 🙂

      2. Just a tip for those who may be interested: the CEV (Contemporary English Version) is another version that uses gender neutral language where appropriate. I have not read it much myself but I know that Phillip Payne commends it for the fact that it does not make the assumptive bias in the pastoral epistles where Paul is giving instructions about how to select elders and deacons. It’s not an area I’ve studied in depth, but I do have quite a bit of respect for Payne since he studied the gender-relevant passages in the NT for more than three decades before publishing his book Man And Woman: One in Christ.

    2. For about 5 years, I read from the TNIV version of Scripture, a translation poo-pooed by scholars. But, I needed it because it took the Hebrew and Greek pronouns that were meant to be gender-neutral and made them gender-neutral in English. I was refreshed as I felt like God was speaking to me . . . . to ME also, not just men.

      I always use the MFV (My Favorite Version 🙂 ) and have been among those who poo-pooed the TNIV for the reason you cited, Megan. However, I see I must pay attention to this, and I’m glad the TNIV had a healing effect on you. I shall poo-poo it no more.

      1. I don’t think it is the best version, BIT. But, I do think that, for women who have been convinced that God doesn’t speak to them, it is a really nice tool. It is not inaccurate at all. I just am not a big NIV fan. 🙂

  3. I think I have read all of this before, but it needs to be repeated until it sinks in. Until more people open their eyes and see what is happening right in their faces. Until more see through the façade. I don’t blame the movie itself for the men throwing the toasters, but more and more violence comes out of Hollywood. Those with an abusive mentality are going to pick up on that. Then the guys start throwing the toasters, what will be the next wave? Hollywood and all their causes, can’t they come up with more happy healthy movies? Whoops, sorry! That wouldn’t make them as much money. Depravity sells.

  4. Hmmmm. Thank you for these posts. I’ll leave my church out of it – but have also been the person blamed – which, given the Bible, has not defeated me. I have been in a divorce situation for 3 yrs (surprise to me but glad he finally filed), and what concerns me is the court system. All I asked for after 25 years was a really cheap date (husband was a multimillionaire but lost his company and our homes to foreclosure – serious alcoholic) and so far my experience with the court has been strange. My husband has lied, been convicted of contempt, etc., but he still will not settle. He claims he is broke, but supports his live-in girlfriend and her adult children and another man… He will not let me go unless I leave with nothing. I have 3 children (16, 18, 21). I’m 53 and have not had an “official job” since my first son was born. I volunteered, taught piano, tutored, took care of everything. Supposedly we go to trial 18 July. In December last year I broke my leg in 4 places – my husband had cancelled my insurance. And my phone. And my car insurance – he took my payment to pay for his arrears payments). I had to give up my apartment and now live with an elderly lady in exchange for cooking, housework, driving. Ugh! I don’t know what to do next (I have a pretty good but expensive attorney and can’t pay him any more), so please pray. My friends call me “Job (ette)”.

    1. I’m factoring in your numbers: 25 year marriage. You contributed to the marriage and his success for 25 years. Please fight for your half. And if your state allows spousal support, get all you can. You NEED it. Get it until you are 62, at least. Men have greater ease in making money in their 50s than women. Don’t back down, even tho you are worn out. If your attorney has not wrapped the divorce up after 3 years, I wonder if you need a different attorney. I speak from my own experience. A friend recommended her attorney because when she said to him, ‘I don care what I get in the settlement, just get it over with’, he said, ‘I’ll get you all I can. You deserve at least 50%’. He was a genuine man, altho not a religious person. My husband was not cooperative in the investigative process and my attorney was probably too patient. It took [almost two years] to be finished. I don’t think the attorney had come up against a Christian narcissist before. Six months after the divorce was final, my ex returned to the courts, requesting his spousal support be lowered. The judge gave in and lowered it a bit. There are some injustices that will not be answered for until we stand before God. I have desperately needed my spousal support for the last [almost a decade]. I am now [just past my sixth decade]. Be courageous my friend!

      1. Also, if you live here in the states, you will still be eligible for any Social Security benefits and/or survivor benefits, whichever comes first. I hope that doesn’t sound cold or morbid, but after all of those years you deserve and are entitled to all that you can get. I am sure he felt entitled for a long time.

    2. Aw, Sunny…I’m so sorry! I’m a bit in your boat, too. [Note from Eds: Some details omitted here in case they would be too identifying.] he loves to make threats about what a financial shipwreck I’ll be if I dare to leave him. He has literally hundreds of thousands squirreled away where I can’t touch it.

      I suspect these men take lessons from one another on how to punish their ex’s for having the audacity to leave them. It’s all about control.

      I believe you are entitled to half of everything, no? Can you obtain any help or legal advice from a local women’s shelter? Please don’t let him do this to you…you deserve much better.

      Please keep us posted…

  5. Sunny, that is terrible. Your soon-to-be ex sounds dreadful. What a jerk! So sorry for all of the evil that has been heaped on you and will be praying that you get closure and relief from the present circumstances soon.

  6. (Heavy airbrushing….)

    I can completely understand the media influence!!

    I have worked in different fields where it was clearly evident what aired on TV / in the newspaper the day before….no one questioned the information – and some of the information was dangerous / false.

    Abusers tend to see the potential applications before the rest of the world.

  7. Media is huge. Not only do abusers get ideas from one another but indeed, monkey see, monkey do, media is great for ideas to abuse. Now that porn is ubiquitous, people lie and say that such is fantasy, that if you don’t like it, don’t buy / watch / use it, but we live in a world with men who are pornified. It affects everything. A man who loves his porn also goes out into the world and treats women like dirt, as though they are not human. Porn increases rape. Porn actually makes men more dangerous. Porn tells lies about women.

    Think back 50 or so years. It wasn’t like it is now. And men expect women to be these pornified sex objects who want dehumanizing, rape-y, violent, ‘sex’ and are upset when the real live human being doesn’t wish to be harmed, beaten, subjugated, etc. Maybe all the porn guys can order the coming AI-containing sex robots and go off an live on an island and leave the 5 or 10 percent of non-porn-using men in the still woman populated portions of the world.

    Porn is media and porn tells lies about women and is but a lie, Porn is by and large, filmed, paid rape. Most are homeless, rape or incest survivors, desperate, hungry, controlled, women who have no real options in life. It’s not innocent and it’s not fantasy because some real, live, woman is having such done to her and actually in pain, being humiliated, abused, etc.

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