Thursday, 25 February 2010

relapse and rewards

i have been very skeptical about ideas that say abuse is an addiction. you can find a lot of 'science' that will tell you that abused women are 'addicted' to the violent relationship, to the abuser, even to endorphins or something, that are released after a beating. this is all, in my opinion, total bience (my friend's term for the application of bollocks to science). not least because domestic violence has precious little to do with beatings anyway, for goodness sake, physical violence being an optional extra following psychological abuse and control that form the basis.

there are also lots of ideas to do with an abuser being 'addicted' to his own endorphin rush, or to the thrill of power, or to his negative behaviours in some other way. i am very suspicious of these explanations as they serve to take away responsibility for his actions. most explanations of domestic abuse are desperate to look for any reason to avoid making men responsible for their own actions.

however, recently i was describing a case that i found particularly upsetting to a counsellor. in this case a perpetrator had gone further towards 'Changing' than anyone else i've ever known through work. he said all the right things and was on best behaviour for months. then it got too hard and he gave it up. for some reason i'd got emotionally involved in this case and felt devastated, as, of course, did his partner. anyhow the counsellor said something about how his abusive behaviour was like an addiction and his return to it was like a relapse.

at first i cringed, thinking stop talking in cliches, DV is not addiction. but then that started to make a bit of sense. how we are 'addicted' to behaviours that we know are bad for us, they can be comforting when we start to feel too much out on a limb.

there's no point pretending that giving up abusive behaviour, its rewards and its habits, is not an intensely challenging and scary thing to do. you are also going against a culture that supports and rewards male entitlement and that denies and minimises abuse. i do not for one minute condone or excuse his return to abuse. he had all the resources this culture can throw at a perpetrator who is trying to change, supporting him in his effort. but in some ways, he was on his own. i watched him challenge social workers who placed blame on other factors, saying "no, no, you have to remember, i chose to abuse her, it wasn't the fault of anything else".

and at some point it felt too hard. he gave up, 'relapsed', perhaps. i'm sure there are loads of theories around this in terms of substance use, i don't know much about it. he retreated into behaviours that he knew were bad for him and those around him because it felt easier, familiar, comforting.

i retreat to certain behaviours that i know are bad for me: smoking, drinking, overeating, when i can't face the hard work of dealing responsibly with my feelings. it feels comforting and familiar. it makes sense to me that if you are used to being in control and abusing then this behaviour will feel good to retreat to when not-doing it gets too hard.

but. in the past those behaviours were not bad for him. they used to get him exactly what he wanted, at the expense of his partner. and it was worth seeing if that could happen again. there are so many more rewards to abusing than to purely self-destructive bad behaviours. my misuse of alcohol, cigarettes and food only makes me ill. if i was prepared to bully other people instead or as well when i was feeling rubbish then i might get some results that i experience as positive. such as people doing what i want and not challenging me because they're scared to. so part of the decision to 'relapse' into abusive behaviour involves wanting to see whether you can get away with that old behaviour - maybe it might get some of the same results as before. i wish i had been able to articulate to the counsellor how abuse is functional to the perpetrator, how oppressing others makes your life easier. there are short and long-term gains far exceeding, for example, the relief of having a cigarette.

right? i'm aware that i'm rambling away with next to no knowledge of substance use and models used to explain it. if anyone knows that stuff i'd be really interested to hear.

1 comment:

  1. does addiction abrogate responsibility? obviously some people (bientists) see it that way. but should it? does it really?