Q & A

(917) 710-7578                          hzl@allbluescounseling.com

Howard Z. Lorber, csw

                   Psychotherapist & Anthropologist

Homophobia or fear of intimacy among batterers?


An interesting and important discussion was raised during our meeting. A number of our members mentioned their impression that the men in their groups keep their involvement with each other limited to the time in and just around the group meetings. When we turned to the question of why this might be several answers were presented. 

One answer focused on the homophobic attitudes of many men. One reason, it was said, that men do not bond is they are afraid of the sexual impulses that arise in an intimate relationship. And here it is not so much a question of the sexual impulses of others that is feared, though it can be and is often expressed in this form, but the sexual im­pulses that arise in themselves. The fear of these impulses from anoth­er is, then, a matter of that which is feared becoming disowned and pro­jected outward. This disowned inner fear and concomitant projective process, then, would disallow intimacy and would generate an anxious, angry externalized fear of other men. Technically this sort of answer is, in the main, Freud’s description of paranoia: a projected fear of one’s own homosexual impulses enveloped in a rationalized and rationalizing ‘system’ of ideas used to deny and help ward off these impulses.

Another sort of answer to the question comes from the parallel be­tween what appears as the incapacity of the men in our groups to sustain intimacy amongst themselves and the cyclical pattern of conflict in their relationships. It is clear that the men involved develop levels of contact around both feelings for themselves and for others. 

Openness to another and to oneself at an affective level is intim­acy. Now ‘intimacy’ in our ordinary language use of the term connotes some sort of involvement in sexuality; and, indeed, when one looks at most people's attitudes toward affective contact in our culture, these attitudes are sexualized, or are always open to sexualization. This is often very confusing in relationships. Sustaining intimacy not only is a ‘reminder’ of this confusion, but is also a ‘reminder’ of people’s need for deep affective contact. 

In the batterers’ cycle there is not only violence, but the equally important ‘making up’ or ‘honeymoon’ stage. In this there is a return, in the relationship, to a point of deepened affective contact. (This is not solely property of the batterers’ cycle, but is common in many rela­tionships: bickering and arguments lead to ‘making up’, emotional closeness, and sexual activity.) This, in turn, leads to a stirring up of internal fears of endangerment due to intimacy, and a rageful, viol­ent reaction. And so it goes in its cyclical manner. 

The treatment groups, too, have cyclical processes. They, however, are much more circumscribed since the structure of the meetings themselves pro­vides the cycle and closure. Intimacy is automatically limited and reg­ulated. There is a moment of affective contact that alternates with emotional distance. (How often do we note how a session that has had very powerful emotional currents is followed by poorer attendance the week afterwards?) The bickering and violence of the batterers’ cycle that regulates intimacy is carried out on a structural and symbolic plain. And the cultural, thus individual emotional, confusion of sexu­ality and intimacy is represented as a kind of ‘paranoid stance’ toward intimacy itself.

 This problem of intimacy has distinct implications for our practice. One of the chief among them is how issues of intimacy are connected with both sexuality and the capacity for sustained affective contact. How do our clients understand the affective needs of men? And of women? Are they different? How are they expressed? How does the ‘making up’ stage provide for affective needs in their relationships?


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