Fantasies Involving Domestic Violence

Reader’s Question

I am a 22-year-old, otherwise normal female. I grew up in a loving, but strict, two parent household with my three older siblings. However, for as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed seeing or hearing about the victimization of women (mostly domestic violence). I collect movies about domestic violence and watch the scenes over and over again. I even imagine myself being in a physically abusive relationship and believe I would secretly like to have that experience. I don’t know where this obsession comes from. I know that my mother’s first husband (before my siblings or I were born) was physically abusive, but the thought of someone hurting my mother angers me, as does the thought of anyone else I love being hurt. However, I seem to derive some sick, twisted pleasure from hearing about or seeing other women being abused. Do I have some kind of personality disorder?

Psychologist’s Reply

Let’s start by first saying this is not a personality disorder. Rather, it’s a personal interest that might be considered somewhat socially inappropriate. Where does it come from? Most likely, it comes from the same psychological system that creates most of our interests — experience and the emotions created by those experiences. When we have an emotional experience that creates intense positive or negative emotions, the brain creates an Emotional Memory (EM) (see article on this website). That EM contains both the details of the experience and the emotions connected with the experience. If we remember the death of a loved one, we begin to tear as that memory contains the emotion of sadness and grief. People develop a love for roller coasters, driving fast, watching exciting/action movies, etc. in the same manner.

Many years ago, for whatever reason, a scene of violence toward women was exciting to you. This commonly occurs at a stage and age of maturity when we aren’t aware of the reality of domestic violence or what we view in the movies. The excitement creates an interest and when we fantasize about such situations, as when you imagine yourself in an abusive relationship, that same excitement resurfaces due to Emotional Memory. These Emotional Memories and fantasies have remained fantasies which is why the actual thought of physical abuse of an individual angers you.

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While yours is a socially uncomfortable interest, it’s not uncommon. Millions of teenagers are fans of the “slasher” movies which typically have more blood-and-gore than a war movie (another excitement-oriented interest). Millions of teens and adults are interested in the “safe” excitement of violent video games, movies, and programs. Why? As I describe in my Emotional Memory article, the brain doesn’t know our thoughts or images aren’t real. If we play a violent video game or watch a violent movie, the brain reacts with excitement…that’s why they become somewhat addictive. People love roller coaster rides due to the feeling of safety yet terror they provide. Interestingly, fans of “slasher” movies don’t become serial killers or slashers and in history, the most well-known violent individuals lived before television, video, or computer gaming.

There is a caution here. The excitement created by some interests oftens draws us in that direction. Teens who play combat and military games often enlist in the military, that kind of thing. You may have a problem with relationships in the future, where being treated poorly by a partner reminds you of your interests. It’s like the thousands of people who play-gamble online or in a computer game, then lose all their money in the reality of gambling for real. In reality, domestic violence is more than a physical attack as depicted by the movies. In truth, it’s years of intimidation, threats, physical/emotional/social/psychological abuse, and humiliation.

I’d recommend gradually shifting your interests to related areas such as martial arts or other physical contact sports. While we can fantasize about anything — science fiction, video games, being rich, etc. — when our fantasies become intrusive in our lives we need to inject some reality. If your fantasies continue to pose problems for you, I’d recommend seeing a counselor or therapist.

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