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The Science Behind Abuse—Part 1

Postnuptial-Agreement-249x300A domestic violence arrest can impact your life in many ways. It can jeopardize your job, traumatize your family, and separate you from the ones you love. But beyond triaging the immediate crisis of dealing with the court process, the underlying question is how to prevent domestic violence from repeating. The answer requires getting to the heart of how the abusive patterns began in the first place.

Domestic violence is a problem that affects people of all ages, genders, and social backgrounds. It takes place in rural, suburban, and urban areas and at all income levels. Several studies have been done to try and understand why abuse occurs, as this knowledge can be applied to better treatment strategies. Let’s explore the science behind abuse to better understand how these violent tendencies start—and more importantly, how to curb them. We’ll look at this issue from a total of four aspects: environmental, psychological, neurochemical, and genetic factors.

Environmental Factors Behind Abuse

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of some form of domestic violence. Abusive tendencies are not isolated to one type of person or gender. While there is no single cause, many researchers believe it can be triggered and perpetuated by a combination of environmental factors. These may include any/all of the following.

Growing Up in a Culture of Abuse

Children in violent homes are more likely to grow up and be abusive. Their beliefs about violence and relationships mirror the actions they witness: slapping their mother can become an acceptable way to deal with anger or frustration, for example. Studies have shown that children who grow up in an environment of abuse can develop many physical and psychological ailments as a result—including perpetuating that environment of abuse in their own homes as adults. For many, it’s a matter of conditioning: whatever we grow up in is our “normal,” no matter how dysfunctional it might be.

Being a Direct Victim of Abuse

According to a number of studies, if you’ve suffered from abuse in your life, you have a higher probability of becoming abusive with others down the line–a phenomenon known as “intergenerational transmission.” Some research has suggested that as many as 75 percent of abusers were themselves victims at one time. That being said, this statistic is not true in reverse—in other words, you’re not 75 percent more likely to become an abuser if you were abused. Most abuse victims do not perpetuate the cycle. Still, among those who do, victimization rates are indeed higher—which means it’s potentially a key factor in understanding how domestic violence is triggered.

The Cycle of Domestic Violence Itself

Domestic violence emerges in a home from a pattern of destructive behaviors. These abusive patterns are often cyclical and self-perpetuating, repeating over time. An abusive period (or “cycle”) may include a tension-building phase, an explosive rage, and a honeymoon phase. The cycle usually ends with the violent partner feeling guilt, making excuses, or promising to be nicer in the future. The issue here is that the more times the cycle is allowed to repeat unchecked, the more ingrained it becomes and the more difficult it can be to disrupt. The cycle itself can become an engine for escalation.

Is Violence in the Media a Factor?

There has been much speculation and debate over whether the increasing amount of violence in video games and movies has become a contributing factor in the development of abusive behavior. Some groups have gone so far as to politicize the issue, blaming the rise of gun violence and similar issues on children’s overexposure to violence in the media. However, without making a judgment call either way, it’s important to note that the science is inconclusive on this question. Numerous studies on the subject have actually led to completely conflicting conclusions—some finding that violence in media makes people more violent and others finding no such correlation at all. Until more is known on this issue, the safest course is that if you feel more violent tendencies when observing violence on screen, you should avoid it.

Psychological Factors Behind Abuse

In numerous studies, researchers have found strong links between certain psychological and mental problems and aggressive or violent tendencies. Sometimes these mental illnesses can develop from exposure to dysfunctional environments as a child (see above), but other times the illnesses may be due to biochemical imbalances in the brain. The propensity toward abuse has been linked to mental health issues that include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder

In one study, researchers studied a group of men diagnosed with nine different psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, autism, and certain personality disorders. In all cases, they found an increased likelihood of domestic violence. That being said, experts also caution that the majority of people with psychological problems are not abusive, nor should mental illness ever be used as an excuse for abuse. In addition to whatever psychological factors are in play, abuse generally doesn’t happen unless there is also a problem with one’s value system.

If you relate to any of the risk factors we’ve discussed thus far, you might want to do some further self-searching and possibly talk to a licensed professional to discover ways to learn new ways to deal with your impulses to prevent repeated incidents of domestic violence. If you’re currently facing criminal charges for domestic violence in Los Angeles, we are here to provide compassionate legal representation. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.

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