Why Does He Do That (2002) is a thorough analysis of different types of abusive men, explaining who they are, why they abuse women, what they all have in common, and what you can do about it.
- Most abusers don’t change
- He’s not out of control, he knows what he’s doing
- Don’t try to partition blame: the abuser is the guilty party
About The Author:
Lundy Bancroft is a consultant on domestic abuse. He spent decades coaching abusive men and learned much about their psychology and personality.
Lundy Bancroft says that the similarities among abusive men outweigh their differences.
But society greatly misunderstands the widespread phenomenon of abusive men.
“Why Does He Do That” provides accurate information about abuse and helps women overcome this awful phenomenon.
Myths About Abusers
Lundy starts with a list of dangerous myths that are too pervasive in our society, including among psychologists and doctors.
Some myths about abusers are that they:
- Lose control
- Are otherwise good people
- Have low self-esteem
- Are insecure
- Lack education
- It’s mostly poor or minorities
- You can spot an abuser outside of their relationship
- Therapy will help
Therapy won’t help by making the abusers get in touch with their feelings. Abusers need to get in touch with their partner’s feelings, not their own.
Some abusers are so self-centered and have such entrenched entitlement mentality that they genuinely think they are abused by their victims.
Source of Abuse is Value System
After he debunks a lot of myths about the causes of abuse, the author makes the point that it’s a bad value system that causes men to abuse.
Such value system includes the belief that:
- Women should serve men
- He is smarter / better than her
- He possesses her
- It’s up to him to call all the shots in the family
- He’s not abusive, it’s her who deserves it
The abusive mentality is the mentality of oppression
Early Signs of Abusiveness
I also found particularly helpful for women Lundy’s advice on how to spot early potential abusers.
He lists the following traits. An abuser might:
- Speaks disrespectfully about exes
- Show disrespect toward you
- Make a show of generosity or do a favor you don’t want
- Be very controlling and/or possessive
- Be self-centered
- Have issues admitting fault
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Move ahead too quickly with the relationship
- Treat you differently in public
- Pressure you for sex
- Intimidate you during arguments
- Have a general negative attitude toward women
It’s important though to notice that a single warning does not give you any guarantee. Many non-abusive men will show one of some of these signs to a certain degree (minus physical intimidation, that should be a clear “run away sign”).
Abusers Don’t See Themselves as Abusers
An abuser minimizes his behavior by comparing himself to men who are worse than he is, whom he thinks of as “real” abusers.
If he never threatens his partner, then to him threats define real abuse.
And if he is a batterer, then it’s his wife’s fault who “knows how to push his buttons”.
Abusers Won’t Change
It’s rare for any abusers to change.
They almost never start from an intrinsic motivation because they don’t want to change and they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong.
The motivation must come from strong, extrinsic factors, such as the risk of losing their partner or major criminal consequences.
After they started on the path to change, then maybe intrinsic motivation will also help.
But deep, permanent change is sadly rare.
Don’t Do Therapy With Abusers
The therapist wants the couple to work together. But a woman should not work with an abuser: that only serves to reinforce the abuser’s case.
The author makes the point that our society is too lenient on abusers. For example, he says, Eminem won a Grammy for a song of his, Kim, in which he murders his wife.
The song is indeed quite terrible:
Track down previous partners
When in doubt and when he speaks disrespectfully about women and ex-partners talking to an ex-partner of his might save you years of misery.
I loved “Why Does He Do That”.
Yet, there are also parts and bits that left me unconvinced.
For example, there is some feminist/anti-western and anti-male rhetoric.
Standing against abuse is the only right thing to do. But it shouldn’t mean standing against men in general.
Let’s dig deeper:
Lundy makes a big case of abusers criticizing his program as “man hating”.
Well, I’m sure many abusers use that as a tactic to avoid fessing up to their crimes.
But at times I did feel like he uses a double standard.
For example, he says that “it depends” on whether physical aggression by women toward men is abuse. It’s because men don’t experience physical aggression as intimidating, so the long-term emotional effects are less harmful.
And he adds that it’s rare to find a man who’s lost self-esteem and freedom because of her partner’s aggressiveness.
Well, I get his point, but it still reeks a bit of a double-standard mentality.
On another occasion, he answers a woman asking if she is violent because she slapped or shoved him a couple of times with an “it depends”. He says that if her actions did not harm, scare or control him, that’s not violence for him.
I didn’t agree with that.
To make matters worse, these religious sects have greatly increased their political power around the globe over the past two decades.
As a case in point, consider the growing influence of Christian fundamentalism in the United States.
Honestly, I found it ludicrous that with increasingly secular western civilization and with all the Islamic terrorism around the world the author picks the example of Christian fundamentalism!
Biased Towards the Plaintiff
More than once I found the book too strongly on the side of the defendant. For example, Lundi writes:
If you report to the court that you were assaulted or threatened, or that your partner broke a restraining order, your word is evidence. Courts can, and do, file charges on the basis of victim reports alone, but tragically they can be reluctant to do so in cases of domestic abuse or sexual assault
Why does he say tragically?
He complains that the courts don’t (always) take the woman’s word on abuse in spite he says somewhere else that most (but not all) abuse allegations are accurate.
How does he know that?
And what about those inaccurate ones?
Lundy never says…
And he adds everyone should be very, very cautious in accepting a man’s claim that he’s been unjustly accused.
That’s a big twist of the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
And hey, maybe from a number’s perspective he’s right. But he doesn’t show numbers. And he never stops to think about the plight of false accusations (and convictions).
He never for a second admits that maybe, just maybe, sometimes plaintiffs can lie, just like pretty much anyone else in the world.
Basically what I’m getting to here is this: abusers are scumbag assholes. No bones about it. But so are liars who abuse the legal system to harm an innocent person.
That also exists, can happen, has happened, and will happen again.
But the author seems too feverishly lost in his (fair) crusade against abusive men to stop and consider that there are many NON-abusive men. These non-abusive men might be victims of false accusations, as they have a right to innocence before proven guilty.
The author quotes little research and few papers. Even his long-standing experience, unluckily, is not backed by much quantitative research.
Some Unsubstantiated Claims
Since there’s no research, little quantitative analysis, and few references, some claims end up being unsubstantiated.
For example, Lundy says:
(…) although most abusers are men and most abused are female, the reasons are social and not biological.
Based on what exactly does he say that?
I for one, say that it’s both.
Why Does He Do That? Because It Works
That may be the ultimate, most disconcerting answer that Lundy never really gets into.
Abuse is widespread.
And that suggests that it’s evolutionarily programmed in many men.
That’s also an angle that Lundy misses on: the evolutionary psychology one, the only one that goes at the core of explaining the “why”.
Great Overview of Abuse
A really, really great book to understand the phenomenon of abuse and the mentality and psychology of abusive men.
Much Needed Abuse Wisdom
Lundy does a great job dismantling some persisting myths about abuse. Society really needs this.
Deep Psychological & Power-Related Wisdom
Like for example high-dominance and abusive men are annoyed when their woman is at the center of attention because they see their partner as being supportive cast to them.
Or how abusive men prefer younger, less experienced or vulnerable women because they can dominate more easily. Be aware of a man who’s attracted by power imbalances, says the author.
In spite of all the cons I have listed, “Why Does He Do That” is a wonderful book.
I learned hugely about abuse and human psychology thanks to Lundy Bancroft.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand not just the psychology of abusive men and toxic relationships, but also very useful for power dynamics and general psychology.
Indeed some of these traits, albeit at a much smaller scale, also drive some otherwise non abusive men. Like power-hungry men, for example.
I also wrote two more in-depth articles partly based on this book: