SpeakOutLoud header image
Learn About Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

Jekyll and Hyde: Will the ‘real abuser’ please stand up

– Posted in: Male perpetrators Warning signs of abuse Why does he do it

Jekyll and Hyde book Speakoutloud.netMost women who come to me for counselling are often confused and exasperated by their male partner’s flip flopping between ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’.

Pauline said her husband Chris, “would be so lovely and charming to other people and so shit horrible to me.” Peter, a man who’d attended a stopping violence programme told me “I was very cunning about the violent side I displayed at home, I would be appalled if people knew the extent. So I kept it rather quiet, and did the public façade.”

Other men who’ve beaten their female partners tell researchers: “I’m not really a violent person…looking for violence is not part of my make up.”1

“I wouldn’t say I was violent. Violence is not a part of me.”2

These men see themselves as normally good moderate men, who only use violence in extreme situations. That when they did beat their female partner they were ‘not themselves’, ‘not their true self,’ that they were ‘not who they usually are.’3-6

Seventy-seven percent of men interviewed by Julia Wood7 said they were ‘not the abusive type’, and that their abuse was not as bad, or as frequent as ‘real abusers.’5,7,8

Peter, told me that before he attended the stopping abuse programme, “I didn’t consider myself violent or controlling to my wife, initially, I’m not that sort of person. I’ve never gone out and picked a fight, never really got into any scrapes y’know.” But later Peter “realised that’s what I was, that’s me.”

What is a ‘real abuser’?

The media stereotypes men who use violence against women. They’re described as monsters, drunkards, or mentally sick animals who have lost control and did not know what they were doing.

Peter attended the men’s programme “because it was a men’s group, right. Initially I didn’t know what to expect, I thought I’d see a bunch of real thug looking type of people, and there was one or two, but the thing that blew me away was the range of people, and the range of jobs, and the range of socioeconomic, it was across the board, so, that blew me away.”

Jekyll and Hyde

Eva Lundgren, who interviewed 40 Norwegian couples found that the male abusers used “controlled switching” strategies of punishment and comfort. Some men comfort and care for their partner after causing harm. They switch between being the comforting Dr. Jekyll and the punishing Mr. Hyde.9

The more unpredictable this switching is, and the more often the switching back and forth happens, the more likely the victim will bend over backwards trying to please her controlling partner.

Karen said: “I don’t want to make Felix out as all bad because he’s an incredibly patient, caring, loving person when he wants to be.” When I asked Karen if this caused confusion she said “Yes! Oh God yes! After a little while I’d start feeling really nervous about putting a foot wrong, about making a mistake, making a wrong decision.”

For years victims of domestic violence have likened their abusive partner to having a Jekyll and Hyde personality. As someone said on my facebook page: “One minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch”

Jekyll and his shadow Hyde

Jekyll and his shadow Hyde

In 1886 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a short novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson, was published.10

Recently I decided to read the story to understand the origin of the term ‘Jekyll and Hyde’.

Dr. Henry Jekyll is a rich man with high status in his community and he’s well respected. He sometimes has evil urges which he believes are unbecoming for a man of his social position, so he expends a lot of energy trying to suppress them.

Then he creates a potion to drink — in an attempt to mask this internal evil part of himself. But the potion doesn’t work. Instead Dr. Jekyll turns into the hideous, vicious, violent and remorseless Mr. Edward Hyde. Nothing lived in Mr. Hyde other than fear and hatred.

So to translate this into the world of domestic violence — Dr. Jekyll is a good guy, charming in public. Outsiders have no idea that hidden behind his ‘good guy’ mask is Mr. Hyde, a man who is violent and nasty towards others and has no remorse.

Women are shocked when their partner suddenly appears as Mr. Hyde.

As time goes by, Mr. Hyde’s abusive behaviours become more frequent, and more severe. Meantime the ‘nice guy’ Dr. Jekyll slowly disappears and begins to feel trapped as the Mr. Hyde part of himself becomes the more dominant part.

This is what happens in many domestic violence situations. The abuse gets worse and worse over weeks, months and years.

Because Dr. Jekyll has a respectable public reputation he believes he can hide his violent side, just like an upstanding citizen might pay a thug or a hit man to kill or beat up someone. Meantime the ‘good guy’ appears innocent in the public eye.

In this way Dr. Jekyll is able to distance his ‘good guy’ self from the bad guy self. However the more times he turns into the violent Mr. Hyde, the more he fears that his good guy side might permanently disappear. And so it does. He becomes the evil-doer permanently.

Men who use abuse tend not to identify themselves with what is thought of as a stereotypical ‘real abuser’

When a male perpetrator minimises or makes excuses for his abuse, this is partly because he feels a need to separate himself from what he thinks of as a ‘real abuser’ — because he doesn’t admire those so-called ‘real abusers’ who beat up women.

He justifies this by saying that his abuse/violence is not as bad, not as severe, not as frequent as that of a ‘real abuser’. Or if he never uses violence, he prides himself on not hitting a woman. Meantime ignoring the fact that he’s psychologically controlling her.7

In the Jekyll and Hyde story, Dr. Jekyll is equivalent to these men’s idea of their ‘good guy’ ‘real self’ and Mr. Hyde is equivalent to their stereotypical idea of the ‘real abuser’.

Many men who abuse their loved ones refuse to seek help to change, believing they are not ‘real abusers’

Peter said “When I first went to the stopping abuse programme I had this expectation thing. I suppose arrogant, arrogant and hypocritical. Thinking I’m not as bad as all these other blokes are gonna be, you know they’re all gonna be bloody you know put their wives in hospital, you know I’m not as bad as that. And of course we were all just as bad as one another.”

  • A ‘real abuser’ is someone who sometimes uses abuse and sometimes presents like a pleasant, friendly, well respected Dr. Jekyll type person.
  • A ‘real abuser’ is someone who harms another, like a despicable Mr. Hyde.
  • Domestic violence perpetrators are not monsters, they are humans with a range of positive behaviours too.
  • There is no such thing as a stereotypical ‘real abuser.’


  1. O’Neill, Damian. (2000). Domestically violent men speak: A post-structuralist critique. New Zealand Sociology, 15, 1-29.
  2. Cavanagh, Kate, Dobash, R. Emerson, Dobash, Russell P., & Lewis, Ruth. (2001). ‘Remedial work’: Men’s strategic responses to their violence against intimate female partners. Sociology, 35(3), 695-714.
  3. Eisikovits, Zvi C., Goldblatt, Hadass, & Winstok, Zeev (1999). Partner accounts of intimate violence: Towards a theoretical model. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 80, 606-619.
  4. Reitz, Ronda Redden. (1999). Batterers’ experiences of being violent: A phenomenological study. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 143-165.
  5. Goodrum, Sarah, Umberson, Debra, & Anderson, Kristin L. (2001). The batterer’s view of the self and others in domestic violence. Sociological Inquiry, 71, 221-240.
  6. Winstok, Zeev, Eisikovits, Zvi C., & Gelles, Richard J. (2002). Structure and dynamics of escalation from the batterer’s perspective. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 83(2), 129-141.
  7. Wood, Julia T. (2004). Monsters and victims: Male felons’ accounts of intimate partner violence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 555-576.
  8. Hearn, Jeff. (1998). The Violences of Men: How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men’s Violence to Women. London: Sage
  9. Lundgren E. Feminist Theory and Violent Empiricism Aldershot, UK: Avebury; 1995.
  10. Stevenson, Robert Louis. (1886) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. London: Heron Books.
  11. Picture of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Victoria-Poloniae

Comments on this entry are closed.

Related Posts

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alisson Leech 6 October 2015, 11:11 pm

    My ex says I was the abuser. By the end of the marriage I did defend myself, but it made him even angrier. He is now happily married without children and still blames me for everything. He even blames me for not seeing our kids since the divorce 6 years ago. He wanted me to pay for his flight and provide him a place to stay. I said no of course. He moved 2,000 miles away after I finally got a P.O. against him for my kids and I during the divorce 6 years ago. He is now married to an attorney, so I doubt he will abuse her. He wants me to send the kids to visit, but I won’t because (1) They don’t know him and are only 6 and 8. And (2) I feel he will never give them back. He won’t tell me where he lives and has close ties in his community. If he gets them and not give them back the kids will be abused like his father abused him. He used to tell me that during our marriage.

  • Clare Murphy PhD 28 April 2015, 9:54 pm

    You could read the articles I have written throughout this website: https://speakoutloud.net/blog

  • marie 27 April 2015, 5:31 am

    My boyfriend of 2 months has 9 of 16 tactics on the wheel. Not sure how to cope with this. Please send me articles to read

  • Dawn 30 December 2014, 8:00 am

    My ex abusive partner has been telling friends that it’s all me that I am manipulative and abusive towards him. I’ve just presented facts and dates and offered documents to these friends to prove he is telling lies but it doesn’t feel good and I feel upset by their accusations and false beliefs. His abuse towards me continues. I don’t think trying to explain to people is the way forward, or am I wrong? I just want to run away from everything and start afresh where no one knows me. I hate myself for letting myself get into this situation and allowing him to take so much control over my life. Trying to show other people the truth of his abuse doesn’t seem to be helping, what should I do?

  • Clare Murphy PhD 27 August 2014, 3:26 pm

    James — Good question! Some women with high social status in the family or in their community can definitely misuse their power. I know, my mother was extremely abusive, and I’ve known quite a few women who have been very controlling on an ongoing basis. However, I am currently writing these posts using my in-depth research with male perpetrators — men who chose to be interviewed because they no longer wanted to harm their partners and they wanted men who are badly affected by social pressure on them to act in abusive and controlling ways towards female partners. I’m writing about this social issue from that perspective for now. Nonetheless I am gathering some research on female perpetrators and will write something on that as time allows. Men and women experience abuse differently — as I mentioned in a blog I wrote about this. It is important to write specifically about men’s and women’s issues because there are different causes, motivations, needs, effects, etc. The more specific the understanding, the more likely victims and perpetrators will be able get the best type of support to understand themselves and to heal and flourish.

  • James Heller 26 August 2014, 5:23 am

    What if the roles are reversed and it is the woman doing this behavior?

  • Clare Murphy PhD 25 May 2014, 11:42 am

    You do not deserve to be abused. Here are some links for finding help in USA and hopefully near you.
    http://www.justice.gov/ovw/local-resources” target=”_blank
    I also provide Skype counselling for people in USA, just in case you want to consider that too.
    Very best wishes for your next steps on your journey. Clare

  • Ann 25 May 2014, 11:33 am

    This is so enlightening, Where do you seek help in the Sacramento area for this. I have been depressed, suicidal, placed in the mental hosiptal only to return to a man like this. Charming as he shows people when they’re not looking he will raise his arm point his finger and say ” I will hurt you ” stops looks around then does it again ” I will get you ” Looks around and again ” I will get you I will hurt you” I have been living in a nightmare everyone thinks its me and he just drives me crazy. Help in Sacramento