Contrary to popular perceptions, aggression is not a learned behavior: It’s an inborn potential and must be tamed over time. A child’s early experience with adults who are nurturing and model respect for others, yet are capable of exercising discipline and set limits when necessary, will help that child to grow into an understanding adult, with a mature ability for emotional control and expression, and a respect for other people.
Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up in an emotionally loving and supportive environment. In this blog, a follow-up to my previous one on men who kill their lovers, I’ll focus on the deeply rooted emotional deficits of men who become violent towards the women they love. In a future blog, I’ll focus on women and violence.
When I was in my twenties I enjoyed listening to Tom Jones when he sang the song Delilah. With his deep and powerful voice and its pulsating rhythm, the song was energizing. That was before I paid attention to the words. Here’s a verse:
At break of day when the man drove away I was waiting
I crossed the street to her house and she opened the door
She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
Forgive me Delilah I just couldn’t take any more.
What makes a man so violent and fragile that he “just can’t take it any more” from his lover? As I mentioned in the previous blog, they are different from non-intimate homicidal men who kill in that they don’t have extensive criminal histories and have not have been exposed to violence as children. However, recent research study and clinical experience reveal that these men have suffered from failed bonding with their primary caretakers which led to various forms deep and abiding attachment insecurity. Such emotional deprivation creates a multitude of chronic internal conflicts, including a desire for emotional closeness and a fear of it; a reluctance to depend on another, but at the same time a terrible need for it; a lack of trust for others but a dependency on them as well. In short, one is left with an enduring sense of emotional insecurity and mistrust.
When a young boy grows up with a caretaker who is supportive and works to understand and accept the child and his emotions, he grows up to become aware of his own inner experience, and to label and reflect upon them. It’s a process referred to as mentalization. It’s a basic requirement for the establishment of a sturdy self- identity and sense of purposefulness. With a strong sense of self and emotional awareness, a man is unafraid of his emotions, and doesn’t resort to immature coping strategies, such as denial, over-control of others to avoid disappointment, or angry outbursts to get his way.
When an individual is aware of his emotional experience and able to tolerate a range of pleasure and pain – in short, to be emotionally integrated – one is better equipped to be understanding and tolerant of frustration. With such a psychological foundation, it’s natural to realize and accept – even when it’s painful that others, including loved ones, have their own thoughts, feelings and desires, which have their own trajectory.
Without having grown up in a home that provided an emotional safe base from which to grow, a child matures into an adult with multiple interpersonal limitations when it comes to navigating intense relationship conflicts. A particular vulnerability of men who end up killing their lovers is loss and separation.
Such a man is fundamentally insecure and emotionally dependent on his partner, with a fragile sense of self-control. He is limited in his awareness of his vulnerabilities, which are defensively overcompensated for in a variety of ways, including appearing “macho” or having rigid expectations in his interpersonal relationships. This kind of insecurity is frequently unrecognized until it is too late.
For such a fragile man, the loss of a lover is like having a piece of himself taken away. From a psychological point of view, his life is literally coming apart, and he “can’t take it anymore.”
What he really can’t accept is losing that something he needed all his life and finally had, a stable personal sense of wellbeing and refuge that comes from a secure attachment to another.