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.
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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If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 26, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 26, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
15 thoughts on ““How He Wins” – Don Hennessy’s new book”
An abuse target hears the policeman’s words as blame, but, having been on both sides (target and victim assistant) of domestic abuse situations, what I believe he was trying to convey was discouragement that his efforts had failed to keep a target woman safe, and that legally his hands were tied if she went back to where he knew her life was in danger.
There is a gross lack of understanding by those helping the psychologically abused about the dynamics of domestic abuse involving mind infiltration and how to handle that in a way that does truly help the abuse target in deciding to leave or stay away. Don Hennessey’s new book sounds like a remedy for at least some of this. Thank you for the recommendation.
Where2or3r commented (11TH DECEMBER 2020 – 9:48 AM):
In the same comment, Where2or3r commented:
In the same comment, Where2or3r commented:
From the original post:
Nice to hear from you again, Finding Answers!
Barb wrote —
We all may wish that the victims “didn’t go back”. But it is wishful thinking to think that a complex long term problem has a simple answer.
Perhaps the policeman, though well intentioned, didn’t know there was much he didn’t know; a common situation. Or perhaps he could only manage one variable so he automatically simplified the situation into one he thought he could understand; another equally common situation.
Anyway, the policeman’s comment prompted some wishful thinking on my own part. In my wishful scenario, I would be present and ready for this sort of sentiment. I would shoot up my hand and ask, “Officer, do you understand why abused wives return to their husbands?”
In my scenario, the policeman is honest enough to reply, “No.”
I then ask, “Do you want to understand why they return to their abusive husbands?”
By this stage, the policeman, if he answers the question at all, will be forced to say, “Yes”.
Then I ask my final question of him, “What can you do to find out the answers that you need so you can understand this situation that you do not understand and frustrates and bothers you so much?”
This puts the spotlight on the policeman and his inadequacy and not on the victim. Notice that the abuser escapes any condemnation in this situation. By his comment, the policeman, in effect, sides with the abuser in condemning the victim; an alliance not limited to the police.
This policeman may have had sympathy for these women but just as likely, he was frustrated by them for not doing what he wanted. He wanted to control these people in a situation he knew little about. That is wrong. Even if he thought he knew everything there was to know, he is still wrong.
We can’t know everything. Even if we did, we don’t have the wisdom to use that knowledge. We struggle to understand what is best for ourselves, never mind what is best for others. Underneath all crime, but especially behind the crime of spousal abuse, is the desire to control others.
Spousal abusers find it so easy to groom our whole society because our society implicitly condones the control of others. Our own thinking and that of our institutions is built on that premise – that controlling others is warranted, if not desirable.
In the end, throughout our lives, we can focus on controlling ourselves which leads to character; following God’s design for us (i.e. our salvation) and to everlasting life. Or we can focus on controlling others which leads to corruption, destruction and the outer darkness. Power corrupts.
It is one or the other. We can choose to control ourselves or we can choose to control others. We can’t do both. Just as we can’t serve two masters.
Very helpful thoughts, James.
Thank you for your comment, Where2or3r.
Pardon me not responding earlier. I felt I needed to add to or clarify my previous comment but wasn’t at all sure what to say.
I must have been waiting for a conversation I had last night with a friend. I started going on to my friend about what they should think and say in a troubling situation they had. I ceased when my friend said, “Stop! I don’t want another person telling me what to do!!!”
The irony here is thick. I was being no different than the policeman in Barb’s story. Someone I had taken to task in my own comment!
We seek to control others every day and think nothing of it until we are confronted with our behaviour. Then the temptation is to immediately justify the behaviour through appealing to good intentions. But others are affected by our behaviour and not by our intentions.
I have been conditioned to respond this way by a society that has treated me this way (coercing me in little and large ways) all my life and justifying it saying their intentions are noble. The people in our governments talk this nonsense every day.
While ever I’m unconscious of what is really going on (being controlled by others), I will do likewise in my relationships.
I have a job to do – control myself more and control others less.
Thanks, James and Where2or3r. Interesting discussion!
Wouldn’t I like to wind time back so I could be in that seminar again and ask the policeman about his feelings. He might have been expressing disappointment, or he might have been expressing frustration. Personally, I think he was expressing his frustration with the target woman (me), not frustration at how his hands were tied by the laws and policies he is empowered to enforce. If he wanted to express frustration about how his hands were tied, he would have said “I wish the system gave us more power to constrain abusive men to stop them from wrecking women’s and children’s lives.”
I really like James’s “wishful thinking” scenario. I like how it:
All of Don Hennessy’s books put the spotlight on the abusive man not on the target woman. How He Wins puts the spotlight on the abusive man AND on the professionals who interact with abusive men and target women.
Yes, thank you so much, Barbara, for adding these thoughts, which will be helpful in the future for this type of situation.
Thank you for putting together / sharing this video. I appreciate it when you share your personal experiences with us. They are good reminders for me to be thoughtful & careful both in my thoughts & speech.
Sister, thanks for saying that.
I can share my personal experiences from years ago. I find it harder to share my personal experiences that are currently happening. When I feel like sharing that I’m feeling down – am feeling hurt, or triggered, or bruised by things that have recently happened, I usually do not share it publicly on the internet. I am well aware that some people greatly dislike me and they would love to know that their evil thoughts and hurtful deeds against me are bearing fruit. I am not going to inform those people that their curses are affecting me. If they are spiritually sensitive, they will know that their curses bounce back. I always pray for my enemies when I feel they are directing evil thoughts at me.
My biggest problem is my own inertia in getting round to doing the hard things I have set myself to do. For instance, completing the revision of my book and then getting the revised edition published.
What about the common argument that children need protection, but grown women are adults who have autonomy about their choices?
The sad part is that he grooms people who otherwise would provide the support that the victim needs, e.g. ministers, relatives, and children of the victim. Instead, these people often collude with the abuser, and even if they see the abuse, they are deceived into joining with the narrative that there is something wrong with her, either for staying, or for leaving, for divorcing, for not divorcing early enough, for speaking up, for staying silent. Anything and everything she does is defective.
Thank you for your very good question, Anonymous!
Don Hennessy deals with that question in chapters 15 and 16 of his book How He Wins.
Don suggests the creation of hubs that will collect and collate all the disclosures that a victim has made to various professionals and agencies. The info collated will become a ‘book of evidence’ should the victim ever choose to ask the secular justice system and the child protection system to protect her and her children from the abuser.
Don emphasises that the victim must be allowed to dictate the timing of all changes, and that professionals must never command her what to do or when to do it.
I am pasting below some quotes from the book. Text in square brackets added by me. Boldface mine.
Hi, this is from a lady in the UK. Abused etc., from the age of [mid-teens] and now in my [sixth decade]. Legally free from persecutor for twelve years, which is small comfort. Within the years after the divorce help and ongoing support from UK living without abuse have been provided. My freedom(s) are beginning to become cautiously apparent, i.e. am realising true self-confidence and adventurous-ness also worthfulness.
About three years ago a much younger woman gave me a Don Hennessy book that provided a great relief from the burden of being an abused teenager and woman. l still am ‘unworldly’ and Hennessy’s explanations and understanding of the disastrous personality and behaviours he wrote about gave me understanding of how my only and ‘lifelong partnership’ was so damaging. This has given me freedom from self-blame and real hope for me and the futures of many others without the influences of detrimental personalities.
A burning question is growing in my mind…. What, if anything, can be done, when and how can potential perpetrators be identified before they become entrenched in very damaging mind-set and behaviours?
[For safety and protection, the ages have been lightly airbrushed. Editors.]
Hi, Finding Freedom,
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Hi, Finding Freedom, you asked:
Good question, but one that is hard to answer! Don Hennessy says in “How He Wins” that perpetrators have hoodwinked and groomed our whole society including most of the professionals whom society has charged with the task of identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable. I agree with Hennessy on this.
The Old Testament has simple guidelines, which we are unable to carry out these days because it would be socially stigmatised if not totally illegal to execute a child or young adult for such sins. The guidelines talk about stubbornness, disobedience and a pattern of disrespect to parents. Note: the following verses presuppose that the parents are good parents, not abusers.