BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Batterer’ describes three types of male abusers

The Batterer

The Batterer, by Donald G. Dutton Ph.D.

Editor’s note: Lovefraud recognizes that sociopaths are both male and female. This article, however, is about male sociopaths.

Often, the stories told here on Lovefraud about abusive relationships have so much in common that readers jokingly ask each other if they were involved with the same man.

Still, there can be profound differences in the stories. For example, quite a few people have said that the men who abused them sometimes exhibited great shame. I was always mystified by this, because I never saw an ounce of shame in my psychopathic ex-husband, James Montgomery. I assumed that those who were exhibiting shame were playacting.

Maybe they weren’t.

I recently read The Batterer a psychological profile, by Donald G. Dutton, Ph.D.  This book is excellent. It cleared up many issues for me. If you really want to understand men who batter their wives, I strongly recommend this book.

The objective of abuse

This isn’t a new book. It was written back in 1995, and is based on Dutton’s many years of treating and researching batterers.

Right in the beginning of the book, Dutton explains the objective of batterers, and it’s chilling:

As the men gave up their secrets, I began to learn that intimate abuse was not just about hits and punches. It was about psychologically and physically trying to control their victims’ use of time and space in order to isolate them from all social connection, both past and present. It was an all-out attempt to annihilate their wives’ self-esteem, to enslave them psychologically. And it was performed repeatedly in order to maintain and inflate the damaged self-identity of the abuser.

The results of this campaign of control can be deadly. Dutton quoted some scary statistics:

  • About 2,000 cases of wife abuse per year become murder cases.
  • In a Canadian study, 50% of murdered women were killed by male intimate partners, and 25% were killed while estranged from the men.
  • In Detroit and Kansas City, police had previously been called in 90% of intimate homicide cases.

The terrible cases of wife assault are similar, but not all the same. In what I found to be the most important insight of the book, Dutton identified three types of batterers: psychopathic, over controlled and cyclical.

Psychopathic wife assaulters

Psychopaths, as we know, have no conscience, so they suffer no pangs of guilt when they assault their wives.

Psychopaths are exploiters in all areas of their lives. Dutton notes that the psychopaths are often violent with other people, and engage in other illegal or immoral behavior.

The book describes a particular type of psychopath, identified by psychologist Neil S. Jacobson as a “vagal reactor.” “Vagal” refers to the vagus nerve, which conducts impulses between the brain and the muscles of the heart, throat and abdomen.

These are the men who become cool and controlled when engaged in violence and heated arguments. Their heart rates actually go down. Dutton quoted Jacobson:

They looked aroused, they acted aroused, but inside they are getting calmer and calmer.

Psychopathic wife assaulters, Dutton says, are poor candidates for treatment.

Over controlled wife assaulters

Dutton says the over controlled wife assaulters appear to be distanced from their feelings and tend to show avoidance and passive-aggression.

Dutton identified two types of over controlled assaulters:

  • “Active type” a control freak with an extreme need to dominate others.
  • “Passive type” tend to distance themselves from their wives.

Many of these men have rigid ideas of sex roles and demand subservience from their wives. They are extremely controlling of their wives and engage in emotional abuse.

Cyclical / emotionally volatile wife assaulters

These abusers are the men who fit a typical pattern of abuse identified as the “battering cycle” by Lenore Walker in her 1979 book, The Battered Woman. A key difference between these men and psychopathic assaulters is that they only abuse their wives or intimate partners.

The three parts of the cycle are: tension building, an explosion of acute battering, and loving contrition. This cycle repeats over and over again.

Dutton writes:

The wives of cyclical abusers ”¦ all complain that their husbands become irritable for no apparent reason. They go through building tension cycles that are unrelated to their surroundings. They react with escalating verbal and physical attacks. They are pathologically jealous, drawing ludicrous conclusions about nonexistent extramarital affairs. They don’t merely react to events, but create a different view of the world in which emotional bumps become earthquakes. And then, suddenly, after the cataclysmic explosion, they are sweet and loving and gentle.

Dutton says cyclical abusers are terrified that their wives will abandon them. Of course, after enough abuse, many of the women do.

Dutton spends most of the book describing the cyclically abusive men.

Seeds of an abusive personality

Most researchers today believe that psychopathic personality develops from a combination of nature and nurture a person is born with a genetic predisposition towards the disorder, and then grows up in an environment that encourages the disorder to take hold.

For the cyclically abusive man, Dutton explains the process as much more nurture than nature. He writes:

The development of the abusive personality is a gradual process that builds over years ”¦ The seeds come from three distinct sources: being shamed, especially by one’s father; an insecure attachment to one’s mother; and the direct experience of abusiveness in the home.

So is there a clinical diagnosis for this psychological profile? Dutton says yes.

Borderline personality disorder

Dutton believes the cyclical wife assaulters (not the other two types of wife assaulters) suffer from borderline personality disorder.

Borderline personality, Dutton explains, “is a clinical category developed in the psychiatric literature for people who are neither psychotic nor neurotic.” Here’s how he explains it:

The essential defining criteria for borderline personality disorder, in order of importance, are: a proclivity for intense, unstable interpersonal relationships characterized by intermittent undermining of the significant other, manipulation, and masked dependency; an unstable sense of self with intolerance of being alone and abandonment anxiety; and intense anger, demandingness and impulsivity, usually tied to substance abuse or promiscuity.

Dutton conducted research on the wife assaulters in his practice to determine if they fit the profile for borderline personality disorder. His answer was yes.

Lovefraud’s definition of sociopath

So does that mean these men are sociopaths? According to Lovefraud’s definition, they are.

I define a sociopath as a person who intentionally exploits others. I suggest that this word be used as a generic, layman’s term to encompass several clinical diagnoses, including psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. For more on this suggestion, read:

Naming the social predators among us

Reading Dutton’s book, The Batterer, reinforces my belief that defining “sociopath” in this way is useful. The word could educate the public that there are people among us who live their lives by exploiting others. From the point of view of the victim who suffer the damage, the actual clinical diagnosis is almost irrelevant.

In the last section of Dutton’s book, he describes treating the cyclical wife assaulters those with borderline personality disorder. Sometimes it works. But not always.

So the best thing we can do is learn the warning signs of abusive behavior and when we see them, stay away.

 The Batterer A psychological profile is available on


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20 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Batterer’ describes three types of male abusers"

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Dear sister, Unbelievable; I’d get a new address if I were you. Good luck as our judicial system is certainly NOT interested in justice! The mighty dollar wins every time.

As much as I resent any advice to just move out (??!), I appreciate anyone even NOTICING that this is NOT NORMAL, never justified, and just plain SICK. That alone helps me to cope. . . . Next step: Screwing my landlords over for $505 (the cost of a P.O. Box at the local UPS Store — and YES, I want premium service!) and letting them try to sue me back for the money.

First, I am confused about the above posts. I hope this issue has been resolved.

Secondly, I am so disappointed in this post. I read Lenore Walker’s book “The Battered Woman” that is now 25 years old. Anything, older than 10 years is pointless in my opinion. As I recall she had nothing significant to teach in her book.

Here is what I think about this post. Given the fact that the MAJORITY of all psycho therapists AND psychiatrists on the planet EARTH know NOTHING about violent relationships and their cause – I would not waste ONE penny on this book. Instead I would pack my bags and LEAVE.

The chances that any of us will find a competent psychiatrist or psychologist is not very likely.

Anger management is a joke don’t waste your time and money. They may not “hit” you anymore, but their words and actions will beat you to death anyway.

If for some reason you feel you are “special” and “different” than the rest of us, then please spend a zillion dollars on that therapist to “cure” that man OR woman that beats you in front of your children.

Then try to explain this behavior to your children to calm their nightmares and emotional issues as they struggle not to throw up.

Whoops Lenore Walker’s book is 35 years old!!!!!!!!!!!! Gasp!

I concur with much of what Hope52 says but that doesn’t negate compassion for another being’s suffering and trying to help (without the mighty dollar being involved!).

I apologize for my harshness Flicka.

I had a bad week last week. My ex-husband’s mother passed away.

My children are devastated. I called him to extend my sympathy and he commented to me that he would rather “fed ex her ashes” to the cemetery than drive them to be with his father who passed away in 1999.

Also, his sister “texted” my son the news. My son called me at work barely able to speak thru his tears.

THIS is a psychopath who beat me and screamed at me for over 10 years until the day I saw my four year son cower when he walked into the door and roll into a fetal position.

I was done.

I think Dr Dutton is splitting hairs when it comes to violence against women. I would like to see his success stories and the statements from all of this “success”.

I don’t buy it. I went to too many therapists over the 12 years I spend with my husband to trust anyone in psychotherapy. True, there are some good ones, but I have never found one with any backbone to stand up to this evil.

They are afraid of being sued and losing business.

My advice will always be this. If any man or woman beats, slaps or pushes you maliciously – get away from them. They will not change. I don’t know why so many have thought that they could change these men. You cannot.

I was severely triggered last week by my former mother in laws passing. She was a good woman and did her best.

My conviction that these men are worthless has not changed and it never will.

Good for you Hope; all my good wishes are with you. P.S. I generally agree with your conclusions.

Whether a certain type of abuser is likely to respond to treatment or not, does not need to have any bearing on the victims’ decision to leave.

I found this book review very interesting and it answered some questions for me. Like Donna Anderson’s ex Psychopath, my ex psychopath never showed any shame. I noticed many times that when he was fighting, abusing, battering, he did become calmer and I noticed his heart rate slowing down. Of course, my heart would be racing and I’d be sweating for days. It took me a long time, but I figured out that he liked abusing and torturing, and that he chose to do it. He lied and justified in ways to try to make it appear that it was not his ‘intention’ to torture others. I read about abusers who responded to treatment, whose abuse was learned behavior due to circumstances, and I looked for reasons underlying my ex P’s choices in his upbringing, parents, etc. I found none. He is clearly a psychopath and doesn’t choose to stop abusing, ever, because he likes it. Leaving him caused him to stop harming me; I also recognize that he would kill me if it suited his purpose in some way.

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