"I've been called a scary person," says Bob*, sitting cross-legged, hands clasped in his lap.
"I've never laid hands on anyone in my family. I love them. I care for them. But then there's the other side, where I was different," he says.
"Throwing stuff or breaking stuff at home. You get the shits and you throw and smash [things] and you go, 'Oh well, that's just me venting'."
We're in the group therapy room in an unremarkable building among the business parks of Sydney's outer suburbs.
Bob is here to take part in a men's behaviour change program that addresses domestic violence.
Men who attend the program come from a variety of backgrounds. There are tradies and teachers, lawyers and policemen. Many are referred from the prison system or government welfare agencies. Some choose to be here, proactively seeking help.
Such programs have been running for many years to deal with behaviours that have recently become part of global conversations through the #MeToo movement and "toxic masculinity".
"To me, domestic violence was laying your hands on someone," Bob says.
"That was the extent of my knowledge of DV, 100 per cent. Then I found out what domestic violence was, and I just felt like an absolute piece of shit."
Reflecting on his behaviour, another participant, Steven, says "a lot of the time we can be so intoxicated with ourselves".
"We're not aware that how we're acting is affecting the people we love."
For organisers of this program, it's not simply about big men letting their feelings out, but the serious introspection needed to own up to one's actions and commit to change.
"A question I sometimes put to men is: 'Are the things I'm doing now in line with the man I aspire to be?'" says Michael Riley, program co-ordinator at Relationships Australia.
Clearly, these men believe they have fallen short. Behind them is a trail of damage, of women and children who've endured emotional and violent attacks, some who suffered for years before deciding to flee.
In Bob's case, his wife left him and took their children after years of emotional abuse.
He wishes men were confronting these issues earlier.
"This should be taught in school," Bob says.
"Not when you're [in your 40s] and your life is f*cked. Why didn't someone tell me this before?"
The men are only just emerging into the light, blinking, having been oblivious to the consequences of their actions.
"I'd been with my wife for a very long time and I didn't even see this coming, mate. This was bang," Bob says.
Am I being abusive without even knowing it?
"Slapping, grabbing, punching, pushing, kicking, choking…" Steven reads from a list of nearly 70 abusive behaviours that men in the room assess themselves against.
Have they done it once? More than once? To whom?
Organisers say it's never just once. Even if the men say otherwise.
Some listed behaviours may not be obvious examples of abuse, such as "giving her an allowance".
"I looked at the list and I was ticking them and putting question marks against them and wondering, 'How is this categorised as abuse?'" Steven says.
"There's behaviours in there that you would look at and just go, holy shit," Bob adds.
Behaviours such as:
Bob finds a behaviour on the list he engaged in: making her think she's crazy.
"I realised we didn't argue because my wife was too afraid to argue with me. Not that I put hands on her, but I just shut her down and I didn't even know I did it," Bob says.
"She'd want to talk about something and I'd be, 'Nuh, I don't want to talk about it'. And if she did want to talk about it I'd ramp it up until she felt scared."
Despite acknowledging this now, Bob never thought he had a problem.
"There's this sneaky shit," he says, referring to the unconscious things he did.
"Now I can look at it and go, 'righto'. That takes a lot of deep thought to actually go back and figure out how your brain works and how you've actually been twisting shit to make things go a certain way."
Men should ask themselves 'the hard questions'
Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr Katie Seidler has treated violent offenders over 20 years.
She likens this twisting of thought to the boiling frog analogy, in which the frog boils to death without noticing the rising heat.
"The moral compass skews subtly, subtly, subtly so by the time extreme acts occur, the compass is so skewed the person hasn't realised it."
Like Dr Seidler, Lizette Twisleton has been working with men to change their behaviour for many years. Men are asked to question how their behaviour makes their partner or children feel.
"How do I notice the subtle shifts in other people when they start to pull back from me? When they start to speak less? When they maybe start to feel less confident?"
Ms Twisleton now works for No to Violence, a family violence peak body that runs the phone hotline, Men's Referral Service.
She says all domestic violence comes from a desire to exert power and control over others.
"A lot of controlling behaviour comes from a calm, calculated place.
"It happens from a place of, 'I believe that I have a right to have things my way. It's my right. I'm a man. Society says that I'm at the top of the pile, and therefore things will be as I say'."
"Privilege and entitlement is, 'I am more powerful than you and I will remind you that I am more powerful than you."
Ms Twisleton suggests men can ask themselves hard questions.
"'How do I hold power? How can I have power with, not power over?'
"Power is not a bad thing. We need personal power. But for me it's, 'How do I share that?'"
Confronting the 'toxic junk inside'
Looking back, Jerry Retford can see the way he used power in an abusive marriage and relationship that are now over.
He has spent many years "dealing with the toxic junk inside" by attending several men's behaviour change programs.
"We say we love these people. Don't we want to protect them and cherish them?" he says.
"We can't do that with all this junk sitting inside us."
For him, feelings of jealousy were a key driver of his abusive actions. Obsessive texting to find out where his partner was. Turning up at her house. Calling her work repeatedly because she wouldn't talk to him.
"It's abhorrent. I look back now and think, 'What kind of person does that?'"
Dr Seidler says jealousy comes from a sense of insecurity and, for some men, can be connected to their ideas around manhood.
"They're constantly worried their partners will see somebody else and think that someone else is a better man than they are," she says
Australian research has found jealousy is the most common motive for the murder of intimate partners.
Of course, there is a difference between feeling jealous and then carrying out extreme acts.
Jerry attributes his own jealous feelings to a sense of abandonment as a child. In his current relationship, jealousy is less of a problem.
"I know she'll come back from the shops at some time," he says.
Jerry says men can test out their level of jealousy by asking themselves how they will react when their partner goes out for a night on the town.
"Do I think she's with someone, or do I think she's missed the taxi?"
Take time to consider what's behind the rage
In his previous relationships, it didn't take a lot for Jerry to fly into a rage. Small things would trigger a torrent of swearing, shouting and throwing objects.
He now uses a "time out" technique to slow down his emotional reactions. He checks himself and takes a breath.
"When I slow down, I become conscious of what's going on for me," he says.
"I then don't blame other people. I take responsibility for what's happening to me."
Stop, check and think.
Western Sydney University senior lecturer in criminology Michael Salter suggests men pause and ask themselves: "Why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to do this? What am I feeling right now? Where do those feelings come from?
"From an early age we teach boys to be phobic of their emotions.
"I think those are tough questions for men and boys, because men in our society are taught to be ashamed of all our feelings. The only socially endorsed feelings that are legitimate for us are anger, and being horny."
Change is possible, but takes time
Michael Riley is optimistic the men in his Sydney groups can become the men they want to be, but it's not an easy process.
"This is really just a starting point," he says.
It can take a while. A longitudinal study into the effectiveness of such programs led by Monash University found most of the men who attended became violence free or almost violence free after two years.
"I'm by no means fixed," Bob says, back in the group therapy room.
"I've got a long way to go. I'd like to get my family back. I just want them to be happy."
*Names have been changed for privacy.
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