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It’s not anger management, it’s memory management

Have you ever tried to flea-dip a cat in a bucket of water?
That’s how many men come into battering intervention programs. They come in reluctantly, having done whatever they could to avoid going in. When that has failed, their MEEOOWW screech becomes a logical discourse about why they don’t need anger management.

It was only once.

That’s not who I am.

Everyone can tell you, I’m not an angry person.

I just snapped.

I blacked out and don’t even remember what happened.

That’s not a blackout, I tell them. It’s a blockout. Let’s improve your memory.

The person who uses abuse or causes harm can remember the moment he “snapped.” He may recall a single incident of violence like this.

I got home from work, and she started arguing, and I just snapped.
It’s over now and everything is back to normal.

This is probably not how his partner remembers the same incident. She recalls that he seemed to be in a bad mood when he came in. He slammed the door and kicked our son’s backpack out of his way. He yelled at the kids to pick up their toys. He went into the living room and threw the jacket that was on his chair onto the floor. In a louder yell he told the kids to lick up their f---ing toys. I reminded him I needed money to go shopping, and he listed every time this month he had given me money. He questioned how I spent money, then told me I was stupid for not being able to manage money. I suggested we talk together about a budget, and he told me he earned it, it’s his money. As I went into the kitchen, I said he wasn’t being fair. He followed me and told me to shut up or he’d shut me up. I said he was being unreasonable and turned away from him. He grabbed my arm, spun me around, pushed me up against the refrigerator, and got in my face, yelling and swearing. I said I was sorry I’d upset him, and he went back to his chair and sat down.

Her memory could be diagrammed like this:

There is another difference in their memories and another consequence.
While he believes everything is back to normal, she knows nothing will ever be the same again.

A new normal has now been established.
A couple’s different perspectives also explain the common complaint, “She brings up things from the past. She can’t get over what happened, even though I’ve apologized.”

Two thoughts to consider:
  • First, apologies don’t mean it will never happen again, or more specifically, apologies don’t mean you won’t ever do it again.

  • Second, remembering may be what keeps her safe. Remembering the signs that you are escalating helps her prepare for safety planning.

We block memories when they are unimportant or are too difficult to deal with. Guilt, embarrassment, shame, or simply the uncomfortable feeling that comes with knowing what you did may impede memory, may cause your “blackout,” so that you can continue to think of yourself as a good guy.

Causing emotional or physical harm to another is never unimportant. It is therefore imperative to take responsibility for causing harm to others. The crucial components of accountability are acknowledging what you have done and what is the impact of your actions. As you become more willing to be accountable, your memory improves. You can remember what you did deliberately to hurt or punish.

Being willing to be accountable will improve self-reflection and memory. Domestic abuse intervention programs provide the opportunity to remember your bad decisions without shame and to learn new perspectives, values, and ways of interacting with a partner.

Being accountable allows you to make memories you will want to remember.

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