Where Does Violence Come From?

What Causes Abuse? Learned Behaviors, Normalization, & Gender Roles

Dating abuse is a cycle of violence used to gain and maintain power and control over a partner. But what causes people to become abusive? The answer is complex, but it has to do with violence being a “learned behavior.”

Learned behaviors are things we learn throughout our lives, from things like family, friends, school, work, community, TV shows, and other media. There are many examples of learned behaviors. For example, children are not born with good manners, they learn from example.

Being exposed to violence throughout our lives make it more likely that we start to view violence as acceptable, or even necessary. This is called normalization, meaning that because we see violence everywhere, we start to believe it is normal. The normalization of violence makes dating violence more common- violence becomes a “social norm.”

Gender roles also contribute to dating violence. Gender roles are the ways that males and females are expected to behave based on their gender (male/female). They are stereotypes and learned behaviors.


Common gender roles for males: tough, strong, provides for the family, competitive, controlling, and makes all decisions

Common gender roles for females: submissive, gentle, nurturing, polite, does the cooking, cleaning and childcare

Historically, gender roles have led to power imbalances between men and women. In many cultures, men are seen as superior and are taught to show power and control over women. Females are viewed as weaker and more submissive, and therefore valued less than males. Gender stereotypes can make violent behavior and abuse seem normal and acceptable. When one gender acts dominant or controlling, it can lead to dating violence.

What Role Does The Media Play?

The media is full of violence and gender stereotypes.  Things like music videos, commercials, movies, reality TV, and violent sports such as UFC turn violence into entertainment. This further normalizes violence and contributes to abuse. The more we see violence in the media, the more we start to believe it is normal and acceptable.

What about Drugs and Alcohol?

Abuse is based on having power and control over an intimate partner. It occurs as a result of learned behaviors, normalized violence, gender roles, and social norms. Some abusers may blame their violent tendencies on factors such as stress, anger, financial concerns, or drugs and alcohol, but these are excuses and not a justification for being abusive.

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