Easter Eggs and Battering: Survival-based Motive in DV

Easter Eggs and Battering:  Survival-based Motive in DV

My wife, D6411972 sorthy, and I took our son, Max, and our two grandchildren, Camri and Tylr, on an Easter egg hunt while we were living in a rural town in southeast Kansas many years ago. This hunt was a huge community event in our little town.  Eggs had been spread out over the lawn of the county courthouse, people circled the square, with kids poised to race for goodies as soon as the horn sounded. Max and Camri, ages 5 and 6, knew what was happening.  It was almost as if they could already taste the chocolate and marshmallow candy.  However, three-year old Tylr was not sure what the commotion was all about. 

The horn sounded, and mayhem commenced.  I heard this almost uniform squeal from the kids who began to dart everywhere in search of candied treasure. Dorthy took little Tylr by her hand, encouraging her to run and find the eggs. We had agreed that we would meet at the fire hydrant after the chaos subsided and all of the eggs had been found.

...there are many who batter who are horrified at the thought of losing an “emotional egg” from their nearly empty “basket”.

Our oldest granddaughter, Camri, was the first to meet me at the hydrant.  Max followed close behind.  I asked each if they would mind sharing some of their spoils of the hunt.  Both Camri and Max were more than happy to share from their overflowing baskets, and soon I was enjoying the taste of chocolate from the foil wrapped delicacy.  Not long after, Tylr and Dorthy  came walking toward us.  I asked Tylr if I could have one of her chocolate eggs.  I was shocked when she recoiled away from me and covered her basket with her hands and arms.  She shouted, “No, Grandpa!”, and moved further away.  When I saw the contents of her basket, I understood.  While Max and Camri had considerable bounty, Tylr had only 3 eggs in her basket.  It would be way too painful for her to share one egg with me, as then she would only have two left.

There are those who batter who share the same issue as Tylr. Just as Tylr was horrified at the thought of losing one of the few eggs in her basket, there are many who batter who are horrified at the thought of losing an “emotional egg” from their nearly empty “basket”. Dorthy has developed this typology of battering based on motive over her 20 plus years of working with those who batters. While there is entitled motive and sadistic motive we think about the "empty basket" as a classic sign of one being driven by Survival-based motive. While growing up, these batterers often had few, if any, people in their lives who were there for them, loved them, and accepted them for who they were.  Commonly, when we ask them “Who was there for you when you were growing up?”, they will say something like, “oh, that was Grandma.  She was always there and she loved me unconditionally.”  However, when we ask where Grandma is now, the answer tends to be, “Oh, she died when I was 12,” or something along that line. People who have the experience of losing the only “egg in their basket”, describe emotional devastation. This loss almost always marks a pivotal point in their life. In addition, if you ask someone with Survival-based motive what would happen to them if their partner ever left, a common response is, “I would have nothing left to live for”.  

For people who have an empty basket, finally getting into a loving relationship as an adult is both fabulous and terrifying at the same time.  These people live in fear of losing their one “egg”—as they know, all too well, the pain of living with an empty “basket”.  They will do ANYTHING to make sure that their basket is NEVER empty again. 

Those motivated by Survival-based dynamics are absolutely most dangerous when they believe  the relationship is done.

Those motivated by Survival-based dynamics are absolutely most dangerous when they believe  the relationship is done.  For some, the end is confirmed when their partner arrives home later than expected, or when the divorce documents are filed.  This could be when they are served with a Protection from Abuse order, or when their ex-partner gets into a new relationship.  Those with Survival-based motive may have surprisingly few entitlement characteristics, but become extremely dominating and controlling out of their belief that their partner will one day desert them. They become dangerous when their terror of having an “empty basket” turns into rage. It is as if the switch is flipped from “I’ll do everything to keep you” to “I’m going to destroy you completely because you are destroying me!” Tragically, sometimes they will stop at nothing in their rage—whether that be homicide, homicide-suicide, or familicide.


Understanding the dynamics of the Survival-based motive is critical when thinking about safety for the victim, and their children. It is essential for victim advocates, law enforcement, court personnel, child welfare professionals, and facilitators of intervention programs. Understanding the potential desperation, terror, and rage of those with Survival-based motive can positively impact safety planning and intervention strategies.  We really can go a long way in protecting those who are in danger—if we recognize that they are one of few, if any, eggs in a survival-based “basket”.


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