Domestic Violence and the Social Learning Theory

There are many theories that try to explain why men and women become violent in relationships.  Albert Bandura was a firm believer that behavior is caused by something deep in the brain and others believe that it is a controlled choice.  (University of South Alabama online, 2003) The theory that best explains domestic violence is the social learning theory.  The social learning theory suggests that violence is a learned behavior and can be triggered by stress, alcohol abuse, and money.  We learn behavior starting at an early age in life from our parents.  In fact our parents and guardians have the greatest impact on our behavior, attitude, and relationships.  The learned behavior carries with us into our adulthood.  “One hypothesized mode of intergenerational transmission is modeling. There is evidence that witnessing and/or experiencing violence are related to different patterns of abusive behavior.” (Murrell, Christoff, & Henning, 2007 pg. 523-532)

“Sociologists state that men batter because they learned violence in their families as children and that women seek out abusive men because they see their mothers being abused.” (McCue 2008)  I interviewed Sharon Mullen, who was abused in her home as a child.  She describes a home with lots of fighting.  Mullen states that her father was never violent, but his words were very demeaning and hurtful.   “I remember my father would call me stupid and would get very angry with me for spilling something or burning dinner.  My father verbally abused me and I learned that it was okay for men to speak to women in that manner.  As an adult I unknowingly sought out relationships in which my partner spoke down to me and with each relationship the abuse got more intense.  Overtime, I went from dating a man that verbally abused me to a more physically abusive relationship.” (Mullen, 2014)  Studies show this to be a pattern in women that witnessed some form of abuse as a child between her parents or was victimized as a child.  Children are very observant and even when you think they are not paying attention they are absorbing everything in.  Little eyes and little ears don’t miss much, soaking in sights and sounds. Children that witness violence and abuse are overwhelmed by intense feelings and replay consciously the turn of events.  (Cunningham and Baker online, 2007)  Children that see repeated behavior become numb to the violence and abuse and see it is as normal and accepted behavior.  When a man is abusive to a child’s mother, it’s more than bad role modeling. It’s bad parenting.   Let’s face it, as parents we act as role models.  We teach our children by word and action.

Children can be confused and not sure of what is right and what is wrong and will start to repeat the behavior they see.  Children that live in homes with repeat violence will act out by hitting, biting, and pushing friends, siblings, and classmates.  “Social learning theory suggests that a child learns not only how to commit violence but also learns positive attitudes about violence when he (or she) sees it rewarded (Dutton and Holtzworth-Munroe 1997; Kalmuss 1984).This suggests that children who have witnessed violence, or have been abused, learn destructive conflict resolution and communication patterns. Sternberg et al. (1997) suggest that Bandura’s social learning theory would predict that both observers and victims can be affected, with children from more violent environments being more likely to acquire aggressive modes of behavior.” (Murrell, Christoff, and Henning, 2007) The violent behavior will then escalate into personal relationships as they get older.  Think about the concept of the social learning theory; humans learn from observation from the people and environment around them.  When children witness violent behavior in the home they are learning more than it’s acceptable.  Violent relationships in the home teach children the following ideas:

  • violence and threats get you what you want; a person has two choices – to be the aggressor or be the victim;
  • victims are to blame for violence;
  • when people hurt others, they do not get in trouble;
  • women are weak, helpless, incompetent, stupid, or violent; anger causes violence or drinking causes violence;
  • people who love you can also hurt you;
  • unhealthy, unequal relationships are normal or to be expected;
  • men are in charge and get to control women’s lives; women don’t have the right to be treated with respect (Cunnigham and Baker, 2007)

By the time children reach adolescences they have this warped idea of how a relationship should be.   They have trouble with problem solving and are not able to reach a healthy solution to normal, every day challenges.  Media also plays a negative role by desensitizing our youth with violent video games and movies that reflect domestic abuse and men overpowering females.  Socially our youth struggle with emotions and become  very confused, especially if they do not have a positive, healthy, and stable home environment.  In fact teenage girls may have difficulty establishing healthy relationships; may fear being abused or being abusive in intimate relationships, especially when conflict arises; may avoid intimacy or prematurely seek intimacy and child bearing to escape and create own support system.  (Cunnigham and Baker online, 2007)

Through extensive research it has been discovered that men that have witness’s accounts of abuse and battering as a child are nine times more likely to play the role of the abuser in intimate relationships.  In cases of verbal violence, men who report observing domestic violence were also more likely to verbally abuse and threaten their partners. Further, the more physical the abuse, the more likely these men were to report committing verbal and physical violence to their intimate partners.  (Wareham, Boots, and Chavez, 2009)

It is evident that we learn by observing.  When we witness attacks of domestic violence become an every day event; we become numb to the real issue.  The violence becomes a normal event and a way of dealing with personal issues.  The social learning theory is undoubtedly the best way to explain the transfer of violent behavior generation to generation.   “A child who lives with violence is

forever changed, but not forever “damaged.” There’s a lot we can do to make tomorrow better.”  (Cunningham and Baker online, 2007)

References:

McCue, M. (2008). Domestic violence: A reference handbook (Revised/Expanded ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Murrell, A., Christoff, K., & Henning, K. (2007). Characteristics Of Domestic Violence Offenders: Associations With Childhood Exposure To Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 523-532.

Wareham, J., Boots, D., & Chavez, J. (2009, May 13). Social Learning Theory and Intimate Violence Among Men Participating in a Family Violence Intervention Program. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=249555

University, P. (2013, February 11).  – The Future of Children -. Retrieved August 19, 2014, from http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=47&articleid=228§ionid=1495

Structure: Mullen, Sharon   (2014, August 12). Personal interview.

Barrett, E. (2003, January 1). Social Learning Theory. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.southalabama.edu/oll/mobile/theory_workbook/social_learning_theory.htm

Im a survivor!

I have been a survivor of domestic violence for over 11 years. At one time I was controlled, manipulated, isolated, and broken. Many times my scars were hidden deep under my skin, sometimes they were visible, and yet they were always hidden. I was ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, and always blamed myself for the abuse. I felt alone. One day I found the courage to tell my family and get help. It wasn’t easy, It takes courage and great strength to speak up and reach out for help.  You are not alone!

My DV survival story

If you do not follow me on Facebook, you may have missed when I shared that I am a survivor of domestic violence.  I did not share because I want some sort of acknowledgement or seeking sympathy.  I share my experiences because I want others to be aware of the issue women face everyday in this country and I speak to victims so they know that they are not alone.  As a victim it is so easy to lose hope and give up; to accept your current situation and believe tomorrow will be different.  I was there.  I was a victim but I found strength to fight back and to get help. I would like to share my story…this is a short version and does not go into detail of all the abuse inflicted upon me.  I was emotionally mentally, physically, and sexually abused.

I’m going to take you back, I was about 19, I just started a new job at a car dealership here in town.  I was the receptionist and one of very few women that worked for this company.  I met a car salesman that won me over.  We began dating and after a few weeks I made a decision that changed the course of my life.  I went home one day and decided I wanted to move in with him.  I remember feeling a sense of freedom.  I was living with my parents at the time and I guess I felt like there were too many rules and it was time to be free.  Be my own person.  He was three years older than me and had his own home.  Even though my parents tried to talk me out of moving, I did so anyway.  I still remember my mom peeking through the window as I pulled out of the driveway, she was so sad and worried for me and I didn’t care.  All I wanted was freedom.  Lil did I know I was about to be held captive and lose everything that made me who I was.  Within a week of moving in with my new boyfriend, my body broke out in hives.  I was stressed.  I hadn’t talked to my family and I was feeling home sick.  I called my mom and apologized to her and the first thing she said to me was, “is he going to marry you?”  My mom and I went back and forth for a few minutes, and she ended with, “you need to make things right and get married.  You will never be blessed if you don’t.”  So we started to talk about it and things were great.  We decided to move into a new place and started shopping around for rings.  I got my mom and my sister involved and we started planning venues and djs.  I found a dress and put deposits down on everything.  Then one day we were arguing about something in the back bedroom and he got in my face.  The next thing I knew my cheek was tingling.  I stared at him not knowing what to do; I was like a deer in headlights.  He looked back at me and apologized.  He said he didn’t know what came over him and was sorry for slapping me.  This was the beginning….
The next day was awkward.  We didn’t speak to one another.  For days he would come home from work and lock himself in the bedroom depressed.  I had to sleep on the couch and use the guest bathroom.  I was not permitted to go in our bedroom.  About a month later his behavior had changed.  He told me I couldn’t go to work anymore.  I had to call out sick for days and finally my employer told me not to come back.  I was stuck at home.  I was told I couldn’t have my family over and I wasn’t allowed to go visit them if he wasn’t with me.  I would sneak my mom and sister over for lunch when he was at work and made sure to remove any evidence that they were there.  I was limited on family contact.   I was instructed to stay home, keep the home in order, have dinner on the table when he walked through the door, and always look pretty. I never knew what he was going to be like when he come thru the door.  If he was happy I knew that wouldn’t last long and if he was angry I had to walk on egg shells to avoid a beating.  I remember lying to my family about bruises, making excuses why I couldn’t come over for a family dinner, and pretending to be happy.  When he was drunk he would say the meanest things to me and when he was sober he told me what he said when he was drunk was nothing but the truth.  I was abused every night.  When we went to bed he would hold me, crying and he would apologize. He would tell me he would never hurt me again.  I believed him every night and prayed tomorrow would be different.  I remember Halloween 2009 I was in the kitchen baking some pumpkin bread and he asked me to make a sandwich for lunch.  I waited til I was done mixing my dough.  10 minutes later he came out to the kitchen and asked what was taking so long. I apologized and the next thing I knew my dishes that were sitting on the counter were angrily knocked off the counter and shattered into a thousand pieces on my carpet.  He came at me and tried to strangle me I turned away and for the first time I knew I had to fight back.  I grabbed the first thing I saw, a hot frying pan that was sitting on the stove and I hit him with it.  I tried to get away and he grabbed me by the hair and shoved my face into the carpet with such force that I couldn’t breathe.  My teeth were cutting into my tongue and I could taste blood.  I literally saw my life flash before  my eyes.  It was dark and I could see images of my family.  I grabbed a hold of his privacy and twisted and twisted more til he let go.  That night we got dressed to go out and acted like nothing ever happened.  I was afraid.  I knew that the end was near.  He tried to kill me. The next day we had another fight because I didn’t hang the towels right and my neighbor called the cops because we were so loud.  When the cops arrived he told them I was just being crazy and he wanted me to leave.  He was turning everything on me.  After a few months my family helped me escape his clutches.  I was terrified of  him.  By the following year we were divorced.  Within 6 months he started to come around and would follow me to work.  He promised me he had changed.  So we tried to work things out.  Once again I lost my job because he would not let me go to work in the morning.  I eventually ended up pregnant and he tried to push me out of the window of my third story apartment.  Once again my family got involved and contacted the cops.  I was pushed to file a police report and my parents home became my safe haven once again.  The state attorneys office became involved.  It was finally over.  But not because I wanted it to be over.  I was in love and didnt see that I was in a bad situation.  I was so broken, confused, and humiliated.  But I knew I had to pickup the pieces and put them together and rebuild for I was to  be a mother.  I was carrying a sweet lil life that I was blessed with and I made a promise at that moment that I would always protect my baby.  I have protected her for 11 years.  We are both survivors of DV.  After a year of counseling, a wonderful supportive family, and God’s love I have overcome and now I can use my experiences and my education to help others like me.
I am proud to be a survivor and a single mother to my amazing blessings.  I am thankful for all the help and support I received as I pieced my life back together.  God blessed me and never left me alone.  And if you are a victim of domestic violence I want you to know that you are never alone.  You are beautiful and created by God.  God LOVES You.
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Please reach out and ask for help.  There is a better life waiting for you.
Please call…
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I am currently working towards my bachelors in Criminal Justice and plan to use my education and my experiences to help others that fall victim to domestic abuse.  I am on path to become an advocate for victims.