The male domestic abuser is a ‘psychephile’ – a sexual offender (Don Hennessy series part 4)
We all know that pedophiles target children for sexualized abuse. Don Hennessy coined the word psychephile for the man who abuses his intimate female partner. A psychephile targets the psyche of the woman he has selected as his target for a long term intimate relationship.
Hennessy used the word psychephile in order to emphasise that it is by befriending the mind of the woman that he can establish, maintain and intensify his control of another adult.
The word psychephile combines the root of ‘psyche’ meaning mind or spirit, and ‘phile’ which comes from the Greek for friend. (How He Gets Into Her Head, p 21 [affiliate link*])
All emphasis in quotes from Hennessy’s book had been added by me.
The psychephile is a man who gains control of the mind of the target woman so that he can dictate the level of intimacy and sexual activity in the relationship. (173)
The main reason why any woman becomes trapped in an abusive relationship is because a skilled offender decided to target her. … When we look for any explanation for the continuing abuse by analysing the character or the behaviour of the sufferer we not only further abuse the woman but also begin the process of colluding with the abuser.
This collusion is the lifeblood of the skilled offender. He has drawn us over to his worldview. … In a very subtle, covert and powerful way he has targeted us all. … We have all be targeted without even knowing it. We are all subjected to the same tactics as the target woman and sadly we are all capable of colluding with the abuser. (22-23)
Don Hennessy did six years training to become a missionary priest – he definitely understands the main elements of the Bible. He talks about conscience, good and evil, and he sometimes mentions Biblical narratives to illustrate his points about abusers. Here is a prime example.
The skilled offender has many layers of need. At a very deep level his need is to avoid death, as though he wants to become God-like. It is the essence of the biblical story that Adam wanted to be like God. It is the drama of that story that a woman was going to help him become as powerful as God. At a level of our very existence it is the role of a woman to help some men feel like God. (23)
… While we are familiar with physical, emotional and financial control, the real God-like feeling is his ability to sexually control the woman. … The act of sexual intimacy is used by these men to confirm ownership. The act of sexual intimacy without consequence is of the most God-like experiences these men have. … He targets a woman who will become his long-term acolyte in his project. His ability to hide this intention is the cornerstone of this project. If a woman is targeted by one of these men she is never aware of what he is doing to her. (23-24)
By using the tactics of benign and sinister grooming (which we discussed in the previous post in this series) the skilled offender invades the target woman’s mind so that she numbs herself to her own instincts. He brainwashes her so that she will thinks what he wants her to think. Don Hennessy suggests that if society wants to reduce domestic abuse,
we must stop the practice of examining her [the target woman’s] behaviour. Instead we might try to examine and reveal the accurate, effective and intentional processes used by the skilled offender. … These tactics when used in the context of an intimate relationship can clearly be described as a kind of brainwashing. (80)
All the psychephiles that I have met have the skill to surreptitiously carry out this brainwashing while pretending to be in love. (80-81)
Hennessy invites us to categorize all male intimate abusers as primarily sexual offenders
The skilled offender has managed to create an illusion that what he wants is power and control. We are right in believing that this partly explains his behaviour but sadly his intention goes further. The tactics of targeting, setting up and grooming are used by all sexual predators who wish to develop and maintain a long-term sexual relationship with their target. (111)
Skilled offenders are people who believe that their sexual needs must be met repeatedly by the same woman. These psychephiles have a common goal. (111)
The goal of all his tactics is to have his sexual needs met without negotiation. (102)
The bed is the battleground were the male abuser needs to be in charge. He can be demanding or rejecting of affection and intimacy, but either way he must be in charge. (117)
We do an extraordinary injustice to these skilled offenders if we believe that they use all these tactics just to gain power. Most of them could do that without such effort. Most of them have huge amount of power before they ever enter the relationship. They could threaten their target with financial ruin, parental dominance or physical violence if all they wanted was to be in charge of their own lives. But what they really want is for the woman to cede the right to her bodily integrity. This goal requires them to be both skilful and determined. To the intimate abuser it is a challenge to control the one area of the relationship that they are unable to fulfil on their own. The psychephile aims to invade the mind of the target so as to contaminate and control her resistance. (116)
While most men have power to manage the routine functions of the relationship from the beginning, they know that the woman may resist their entitlement to sexual activity. They use their skills to undermine this resistance. They know that they arrive into the relationship with very little power over this resistance. Initially it may be the only area in which the target woman has equal power. The man who comes to the relationship already convinced of his entitlement and driven by lust cannot allow this initial equality to stand in his way. (116-7)
The contribution this book might make is to invite all of us to categorise all male intimate abusers as primarily sexual offenders. By removing the smokescreen of physical and emotional degradation, we might find a new way of defining and intervening in adult intimate abuse. (81)
… the adult intimate abuser is much more devious than the pedophile, and has managed to direct our attention away from his crime. His skill as a psychephile has resulted in us all being conned by his language. Both the target woman and those who might help her have allowed him to explain what is going on. (84)
The target woman lives in the crime scene. The woman shares a home with her abuser. Most women who are identified as victims of intimate abuse have been sexually coerced and raped in their own bed. They are obliged to share the same bed with the perpetrator of these crimes. Many target women begin the process of separation by leaving the marriage bed.(86)
One of the most disturbing outcomes of listening to skilled offenders is the realisation that all their abusive behaviour is intentional. … These skilled offenders admitted to us that they are always in control. They reassured us that they measured their behaviours by their need for a desired outcome. … They have continually reassured us that they are never overcome with rage. The anger that they portray when abusing their intimate partner is a deliberate tactic designed to hide their intentions. (87-8)
Having learned during the set-up phase the value that the target woman places on her own abilities, the skilled offender will also begin offending against what makes her feel human. (96)
The psychephile is not so insecure that he needs her to meet his standards; rather he is so clever that he can make her feel inadequate about the aspects of her life that underpin her view of herself. (97)
Their intimate knowledge of the target women allowed them to confidently act in a criminal way, knowing the effect that their behaviour would have on the woman. They know the effect because the woman constantly tells them what is happening to her. She does so in the hope that if he becomes aware of her distress, he will change. Her position is never acknowledged and she becomes convinced that he never listens to her. But he stores up her reaction to any abusive behaviour and knows that he can repeat that behaviour and be assured of the same response. (88)
As I have written before on this blog (The Explaining Trap), the target woman tries really hard to explain to the abuser that his behavior is confusing, disrespectful and hurtful. The abuser loves it when she does that because it gives him information about how his tactics are affecting her.
Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war! (Psalm 120: 6-7)
…skilled offenders will know the outcome of any action they visit on their partners. They do not take chances. They carefully monitor the extent of any strain that might emerge if they pursue their entitlements. They know in advance how far to develop any scenario. They have learned by monitoring and repetition the limits of what they can achieve. They know before they begin which levels of intimidation they need to apply in order to achieve their immediate goal. All this certainty is founded on the information they have gleaned from their intimate partner. They are the most well-informed criminals because they know their victim intimately. They can decide the time and place of the crime. They can dictate the response of the target. They can reassure themselves that they are unlikely to suffer any negative consequence for their actions. (92-3)
Having been intimidatory or aggressive, or after being violent, he will revert to any tactic that he knows will get him what he wants. Most target women will be sexually available if they are reassured that it will repair the damage done by the crime. Some women are subject to sexual aggression and rape as part of the assault. All target women know that his sexual needs are behind his behaviour. Very few women even talk about this aspect of the relationship because they know they will not be believed. They will have great difficulty in explaining how the adult male abuser can establish and maintain his sexual dominance in the relationship. The idea that her intimate partner could be so selfish is impossible to believe. (88-9)
This level of male sexual pressure is the intimate secret that is seldom spoken of when we discuss adult intimate abuse. It is the issue that most target women want to keep hidden. Her ability to explain her terror is compromised because she wants to hide the secret of her sexual experience. She will minimise and lie rather than try to explain how a man who appears reasonable can be so intolerant of her sexual integrity. (90)
Other types of psychephiles — those who control by sexual rejection, the sexually inadequate, and the sexually deviant.
While exploring the sexual needs of skilled offenders with both colleagues and clients, I have identified a small number of violent and controlling men who do not appear to make undue sexual demands of their partners. Some of these men use the power of rejection as a weapon in undermining their partner’s sexual integrity. This rejection can have the same devastating effect as the process of rape by seduction or threat. (98)
I have also encountered a small population of abusive men who have problems of sexual inadequacy or sexual deviance. These offenders use their violence to ensure that their own sexual problems are not blamed for the difficulties in the relationship. I suspect that men with these issues are as common among the offender population as they are among the caring population of men. (99)
As I have begun to explore the intimate behaviours of some of my clients, I have become aware of the most degrading and inhuman practices that some of my clients are forced into. (99)
When boys/men frequently indulge themselves in pornography, they may become unable to have normal sex with a woman. As Ps Sam Powell says (37:07 in this link) —
…we are in a huge epidemic now of pornography. It’s a terrible thing. It’s so bad that doctors are having this huge influx of men who are in their early twenties that cannot have normal relations with a woman. They can’t do it. Because they have been so pounded with pornography from the time that they are 8 or 9 or 10 years old that they cannot have a normal relationship with a woman…What happens in pornography is that men prefer the pornography to an actual living and breathing woman…And so they would rather lose themselves – and why is that? Because in pornography you can create whatever woman you want. You don’t have to deal with a real woman. You can create your own woman that’s exactly everything you want her to be. And she only exists in your head and in your fantasy and you can’t ever have a real relationship with her because she doesn’t actually exists. But you can pretend and lose yourself in that fantasy and bear all of the results.
We do the same thing with God. The second commandment forbids spiritual pornography. And that is creating a god in our head that we can worship that looks just like things that we like only bigger. Instead of actually dealing with and having a relationship with the one true God who actually exists…
The next post in this series will discuss the phases that come after the skilled abuser has selected, set-up, and groomed the target woman. Hennessy calls those phases offending, re-grooming and re-offending. The reader will perceive that I’ve already been talking about the offending phase in this post, but I needed to introduce Hennessy’s concept of the psychephile before I proceeded with the rest of this series.
This concept of the psychephile is possibly the most important contribution Hennessy has made. So let me summarize what I’ve conveyed in this post:
- The psychephile is a man who gains control of the mind of the target woman so that he can dictate the level of intimacy and sexual activity in the relationship.
- The psychephile is primarily a sexual offender.
- The goal of all his tactics is to have his sexual needs met without negotiation.
- He is more devious than a pedophile.
- He is the most well-informed criminal because he knows his victim intimately.
- Everything he does is intentional.
Our Don Hennessy Digest lists all the posts in this series and gives biographical details of Don Hennessy.
All indented quotes in this post are from Don Hennessy’s book How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser [*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.] Emphasis in quotes has been added by me. We have added this book to our Gift Books Offer in which we offer to give certain books to cash-strapped victims.
Don Hennessy’s next book, Steps to Freedom, will be coming out in March 2018. It will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.
For Further Reading: