In the past year I have worked extensively with men who have suffered from extended periods of emotional and psychological abuse. I am not a psychologist (although I have come to hope thatI might one day become one.). I am very constrained in what I can do to help these men, which can be extraordinarily frustrating at times.
What I can do most of the time is to help them acknowledge that they have been abused, help them understand what abuse really looks like, and begin to take responsibility for caring for themselves and seeking the help that they need.
Often, it is the first part that is the most difficult. Thanks to the myth of hypo agency, most Men have a very distorted view of what they are capable of.
Many men believe that abuse is only something that happens to weak and vulnerable people; that a target of abuse must be a helpless victim. Because they see themselves as having control over their lives, and in fact as Men they believe that, by definition, that they have control over their lives, they cannot see themselves as abused. Or they feel that if they acknowledge that they are abused, that they will lose their status as Men.
Others believe that, as Men, they have such great agency that they can control the behaviours of their abusers. They seem to think that somehow if they are being hurt by someone, it is because they are doing something wrong, and if only they could understand what was setting their abuser off, that they could make it stop.
A similar obstacle I have seen, most common in men whose abuser is a mother or wife, is the belief that, because they are Men, and have greater power and agency, anything that happens to them is deserved. Combined with a belief in innate female goodness, this idea leads them to conclude that they are somehow deficient, and deserve to be abused. This can fill them with such shame that they go to great lengths to please their abuser, and hide the abuse.
The facts of abuse, especially spousal abuse, are often grievously misrepresented. Some of the vital facts of spousal abuse are:
- 6.5% of Women and 6% of Men are reported to experience abuse from their partners at some point in their lives; this figure is considered somewhat skewed, as Men are believed to be somewhat more likely to underreport abuse.
- In 49.7% of cases of heterosexual spousal abuse is mutual, with both sides starting abusive encounters at different times. With Such “mutual combat” relationships being significantly more likely to produce injury. 
- Roughly 36% of abuse cases entail women abusing their male partners exclusively; while approximately 15% of spousal abuse cases entail men abusing their partners. 
- While men who abuse women are more likely to injure their partners, women who abuse are more likely to use weapons or murder theirs. 
- In other words, Men and Women are abused at equal rates, and abuse at close to equal rates. Yet, because Men are both wired and conditioned to hide and ignore their pain until it reaches critical mass, these problems are often invisible, even to the Men who are in them. 
Abuse can take a lot of forms. Many of them, especially when they are applied to Men are unrecognized as abuse by the public. Some, like emotional manipulation public humiliation, and a wide range of subtle forms of emasculation are celebrated in our culture through books like “The Rules” [3.] and “Man Up”. Others are accepted as an innate risk of being a Man, and their potential damage is not assessed. [4.]
In the next few articles I am going to talk about how to recognize abuse of Men, what it looks like, what it feels like, how Men usually respond, and what to do if you are abused, and how to get onto the road to recovery. Then I am going to write something funny, because this is a damned hard topic to write, and probably for you to read.
[1.] Whitaker, d.j. , Hailevesus, T., Swahn, M., Saltzman, L.S. (2007) Differences in frequency of violence and reported injury between relationships with reciprocal and nonreciprocal intimate partner violence. Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention, CDC; in Am J Public Health, May;97(5);941-7. Mar 29. Retrieved http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1854883/ on 1-2-2013
[2.] Addis, Michael E. (2011) Invisible Men: Men’s Secret Inner Lives and the Consequences of Silence. New York: Times Books.
[3.] Hembling, John (2013) Plausible Deniability and Abuse. in A Voice for Men. Retreived from http://www.avoiceformen.com/women/plausible-deniability-and-abuse/ on 1-2-2013
[4.] Farrell, Warren (2001) The Myth of Male Power, reprint edition. New York: Berkeley Trade.