“How He Wins” – Don Hennessy’s new book
[August 26, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Don Hennessy’s new book, How He Wins: Abusive Intimate Partners Going Free [*Affiliate link], addresses a world-wide problem: Our failure to reduce the level of male intimate abuse.
We’ve all heard the terms ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’. When a man perpetrates abuse on his female intimate partner, Don Hennessy calls that male intimate abuse. The most common example is when a husband abuses his wife.
My name is Barbara Roberts. I’m a survivor of male intimate abuse. I’ve been writing on the issue of domestic abuse for 20 years.
Hennessy is a counselor who has worked in the domestic violence field in Ireland for many years. He has worked with male perpetrators and with their target women. In my view, his insight into the tactics and strategies of male intimate abusers will be helpful for even seasoned practitioners in the field.
Hennessy calls male intimate abusers “psychephiles”. The psychephile is a very controlling man who believes he is entitled to objectify his partner so that he can own her. One of his fundamental goals is to get his sexual needs met without having to negotiate. The psychephile surreptitiously invades the mind of the woman he has selected as a target. He is patient, cunning and skilled in achieving his goal. He modifies his tactics whenever he realises that his current strategies are no longer effective. He is usually several steps ahead of the professionals who in their professional capacity deal with domestic abusers or who interact with abused women. This is true whether the professionals are police, health practitioners, counselors, social workers, clergy, educators, academics, government officials, solicitors, court officials, or judges.
Hennessy argues that the system needs to protect the target woman, rather than merely offering support to the target woman. Protecting her from physical attack and harassment is not enough. The system needs to protect her mind from the psychephile’s devious and malevolent grooming and re-grooming.
For the system to do this, professionals need to be able to recognise, diagnose and resist the grooming tactics of the psychephile. Psychephiles proactively groom the professionals who work in the field of domestic abuse. Psychephiles groom society as a whole — they groom the whole system. The system needs to stop colluding with male intimate abusers.
Hennessy (in How He Wins) acknowledges Evan Stark’s book Coercive Control [*Affiliate link] (2002) and then he says —
….[Stark] disagrees with me in the need to analyse the behaviour of the psychephile within the confines of an intimate relationship. I am convinced that trying to define male behaviour without working with the male abusers has allowed these men to avoid being diagnosed. This lack of diagnosis also feeds the sense of arrogance and entitlement that energises their behaviour.
Hennessy says that —
The psychephile is standing on the shoulders of generations of male intimate abusers, and remains hidden in plain sight. He grooms us all to accept his definition of the issues within his relationship. He also manipulates us into engaging with him in solving the issue. He is an expert in getting what he wants in any forum. He is tolerated, and even accepted. This book will delineate how he grooms all of us, and how we how we need to change our position if we are to reduce the constant pandemic that is male intimate abuse.
….If we accept that psychephiles are more devious, and more expert, than paedophiles, we must accept that our protection of the vulnerable is the most effective response.
I have personally experienced some of the unhelpful responses from professionals that Don Hennessy describes in this book.
I went to a women’s refuge in 1990 when my daughter was a baby. My husband must have guessed I might be at the refuge. He found the phone number and telephoned the refuge. A worker in the refuge told me that my husband wanted to talk to me. I felt she was urging me to talk to him. I thought she would think I was rude if I refused to talk to him. I spoke to him on the phone, and agreed to meet him for a short time in a nearby park. When we met, he groomed me and told me lies, to suck me back in. The refuge had given me temporary physical safety and a place to sleep, but they did nothing to protect my mind and spirit from his sinister manipulation.
The second time I was at the refuge, one of refuge workers asked me, “What are you going to do, Barbara?” I told her I was probably going to go back to my husband. She looked at me askance and said dryly, “These men don’t change.” I felt she was looking down on me and disapproving of me because I was contemplating going back to my husband. She lent me a book to read titled Women Who Love Too Much. I felt she was blaming me for loving too much. I felt judged by her. I was so ashamed of being a victim of domestic abuse, and she just made my shame worse.
About ten years later, after I had separated from my husband for the last time, I found myself becoming a writer and advocate for other abuse victims. I attended a domestic violence seminar. One of the speakers was a police officer. He outlined the powers and policies that police have to respond to domestic abuse. He concluded by saying, “We do everything we can for them. We just wish they didn’t go back.” I felt stung. He was implicitly blaming victims for going back to their abusers.
Things in Australia have improved a fair bit since then, although there is still a lot of room for improvement. But from Don Hennessy’s book, I get the impression that in Ireland and in many other countries things are as bad, if not worse, than when I was seeking help from the system in Australia.
Hennessy gives case studies that will challenge practitioners from all sectors: legal practitioners, police, family courts, health practitioners, religious leaders, government leaders and policy makers, counselors, social workers and domestic violence support workers. He then suggests some solutions for the problem, acknowledging that he does not have all the answers.
Even if you are a professional who thinks you have enough training and experience to resist the male intimate abuser’s grooming tactics, I urge you to read this book. It will probably teach you something new; but even if it doesn’t, I am confident it will help you to train others in the field.
I also encourage target women to read How He Wins. The case studies of how male intimate abusers manipulate professionals will resonate with many target women. Hennessy’s book is easier to read than Evan Stark’s book Coercive Control. It has more case studies and less academic language.
Let me end with another quote from Don Hennessy’s How He Wins:
[The deviousness and cunning of a psychephile are beyond understanding.]1 Until the issue of male intimate abuse is regarded as the core reason for the lawlessness that is rampant in our society, we will continue to trivialise its effects, and we will continue to collude with the psychephiles in our community.
I was not paid to promote this book. Don Hennessy asked me to make a video about it and I was glad to do so because I think his work is excellent.
How He Wins (Liberties Press, Ireland) is available worldwide on Kindle. The paperback version is available now in the UK and will soon be available in other countries. (How He Wins, Kindle edition [*Affiliate link])
For more info about Don Hennessy’s work, including his previous books, go to my Don Hennessy Digest.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
1[August 26, 2022: The sentence in square brackets might have been deleted from later editions of the book (paperback and / or Kindle). Editors.]
[August 26, 2022: Editors’ notes:
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