Bridging the gap - Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and  Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)


“In situations of captivity the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator.” 
Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

I have been asked several times why a man will raise his hand and beat his wife; I have asked myself that question too, and I would usually say I don’t understand why on earth a man would raise his hand to beat his wife. I mean, really beat his wife, oh. I just don’t understand it. The man is just a mean wicked bully would be a judgemental response. But alas, What does the research say?   

Research has consistently shown that Perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV) are more likely to have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) than the general population. Hurt people hurt people right... not so fast. Despite this significant association between intimate partner violence and adverse childhood experiences, the occurrence of ACEs does not necessarily lead to the development of patterned abusive behaviour.  Demographics, substance use, mental illness, and prior family violence are all associated with the perpetration of intimate partner violence. 

Children who witnessed violence been perpetrated on their mothers are very much likely to perpetuate IPV as adults. In fact, research shows that it doesn’t have to be birth mothers (i.e., biological mothers); it shows that witnessing the abuse of a mother figure (stepmother, grandmother, etc.) to be the most consistent predictor of adult male IPV perpetration. For adverse childhood experience to really lead to IPV, there usually are co-occurring ACEs (several types of adverse childhood experiences) with patterns of negative messages about self-worth, beliefs about personal responsibility for incidents of abuse, and both feelings of powerlessness in the face of abusers and the need to feel powerful. This means Individuals who enact violence against another have themselves experienced violence and or adversity in childhood along with negative messages about their worth, and they’re being made to believe they are responsible for the experiences of the abuse they had or saw as children. When abused, these people felt powerless in front of their abuser, and they have the need to feel powerful.   

Also, studies have shown that “sexual, physical, and psychological abuses, neglect, and witnessing IPV in childhood are significantly associated with both perpetration and victimization involving physical, sexual, and psychological IPV.”  Now while perpetration is understandable, one will wonder why victimization? Individuals who have had physical, sexual, and psychological abuses, neglect, and witnessing IPV in childhood are vulnerable and see these things as the norm, so they continue to be victimized as adults; this is more so for females. So no wonder females who were neglected as children and witnessed or experienced all sorts of abuse sometimes end up with abusive husbands or partners. Even when they swear they had never get married to a man like their father and they saw the adverse consequences of these abuses on those that the abuse was meted against in their childhood, i.e., their mothers and stepmother.   

The question now is, “How do male perpetrators of intimate partner violence experience adverse childhood experiences?” They experience it in the following themes (a) psychological abuse from parent/s, (b) psychological abuse from siblings, and (c) psychological abuse from peers; (d) physical abuse from siblings and peers, (e) physical abuse from parent/s, (f) physical abuse from school faculty, and administrators; (g) sexual abuse; (h) emotional and (i) physical neglect; (j) loss of parent/s through separation, divorce, (k) abandonment, or (l) death; (m) witnessing violence against mother or stepmother; (n) substance abuse; (o) mental illness; and (p) incarceration. Any combination of the above and negative beliefs can lead a man to perpetrate intimate partner violence. 

Let me share some real live narratives of men who perpetrate intimate partner violence (beat their wife) shared about their own experience of abuse and violence   

Physical abuse theme… He beat me with a belt so bad they kept me home for two days because I had whip marks around where . . . it looked like purple snakes all over me, from where the belt had gone around and he . . . I remember trying to run from him, and he hit me would hit me so hard I would lift up and fall to one side, and then he’d hit me so hard, he’d knock me back to the other side. I remember hiding underneath the table, and I remember him flipping the whole table over and stomping on me.   

Parental death ... “I just got really hardened after [my father’s death]. Once I started getting older in teenage years and started doing a little bit of that time. Time really hardened my ass.”   

Bulling... “He ripped my shirt, he tore my shirt. . .he hit me, I mean he busted me up pretty good, knocked out a tooth, fucked up my jaw.”   They’d attack me. I guess that’s just how the nature of the beast worked. They just wanted to get me–it just felt like that. But yeah, I got attacked a lot. If it wasn’t from one, then it’d be from the other one.   

Psychological abuse from parents...  H*****’s parents used threats and fear as a method to control their out-of-control home environment. In his own words, H***** explained, “my parents threatened to put us in foster care . . . Nothing ever became of it, but I really thought that was gonna happen.” These threats, though never realized, gave Harley the sense that he was not important and felt like a put-down and a threat of abandonment.  He explained, “I was afraid they were really gonna do it; I was sad that they would think of doing it, mad that they would even consider it.” When asked how their threats made him feel, Harley said, “That I’m not worth their time . . . that they—I don’t even deserve a chance.” 

R** described his childhood with his adoptive father as unstable and surrounded by drugs and criminal activity in a similar vein. R** reported that his adoptive father responded to every misstep with yelling and insults. In his own words, R** explained: Since I was growing up, my dad that raised me was always yelling at me. . .I hardly ever got punished by whipping so much as extreme, loud yell—scare the hell out of me, think I’m gonna get killed type of yelling: “WHAT? ARE YOU FREAKING STUPID?? I DONE TOLD YOU   

Psychological abuse from siblings...  He put our family through emotional stress for years of his life by being destructive and violent. . .breaking my stuff just ‘cause he’s in a rage over something he’s already in with the parents about. He’d take it out on anything that was around him. He broke windows all the time, holes in the walls all the time. He’d break family pictures just walking by punching things in the house.   

Psychological abuse from peers... K*** pointed to his experiences of being bullied as the main reason why he has always been so quick to defend himself from criticism and attack. He explained in his own words: Even we’re talking, man, “If you wanna fight, I’m gonna fight you.” Now you gotta punch me in the face or put your hands on me to get me to fight you. And it’s been like that for a while.    etc.

My musing… 

Take a deep breath… 

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you—as will happen to any abused woman from time to time—he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.” 

Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

So wife-beating isn’t necessarily about the wife. It is so much more about the husband, his childhood experiences, upbringing, and belief system. A lot of these men have been programmed to believe as they grow that if someone attacks them, even if slightly, then retaliation is the only option. And their learned retaliation is violence. 

Aren’t we all a product of our experiences? 

Now we know the underlying (hidden) reason why a man will raise his hands to beat his wife. 

What next… 

We need to stop this cycle of hurt people hurting people. If you are a perpetrator of intimate partner violence (domestic violence), please seek help for your traumas. Heal your pain. Change your beliefs. Your wife didn’t hurt you; why hurt her for slight irritations? I understand you were hurt for small irritations, too; however, it wasn’t your wife who hurt you. Please don’t hurt her as punishment for others. Seek individual therapy with a professional psychotherapist who will help you heal and move on healthily.   

Wifes or ladies in intimate partner violence relationships seek help. Go in for individual therapy with a professional in psychotherapy that has trauma training. The fact that you are being victimized by your partner shows that you, too, may likely have experienced adverse childhood experiences yourself. Seek help for those experiences. Encourage your partner to seek help for his issues. If he refuses to do so, you have many options, one of which is to walk away. Don’t continue the cycle of bringing up children who will hurt others for no sin of theirs. 

Schools enforce no-bullying policies in your schools especially school with hostels. Hostels are big seats for bullying. The hush-hush era is over. No teacher should bully any pupil, and peer-to-peer bullying should be watched out for and nipped in the bud immediately. Constitute counselling units in your school and help children deal with minor issues in school appropriately. School counselling is a must for schools with secondary school and a hostel. 

For family, what more can I say than our homes need to become places of tranquillity and peace, not turmoil and chaos. If your family isn’t functional, seek family therapy or couples counselling. This is very paramount. Please seek help. 

The society at large, We can’t be silent anymore. People are dying from intimate partner violence. Social media is proof of that. These individuals shouldn’t die in vain. It’s a wake-up call for us all. Those who don’t pay the ultimate price of death in this house live in constant fear and pain. Society isn’t safe because, again, hurt people hurt people. We need to stop this cycle, even if one person at a time. 


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If you are a perpetrator or a victim and want to share your adverse childhood experience or current experience, please go ahead and do so with an unknown alias or even anonymously on the platform. If you need help, we are here to help you. Schedule a session with us or any other professional you know. Thank you

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