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But I have such a Great Catch! Treating Abusive Controlling Relationships

Section 4
Increasing Client Awareness of Verbal Aggression
related to Intimate Partner Violence

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the previous section, we talked about the three control tactics: Can't-You-Take-a-Joke; Betrayal-of-a-Confidence; Breaking-an-Agreement.

Now we will look at how these three tactics are linked with client depression.

Many clients experiencing controlling-abusive behavior suffer from symptoms of depression. As you know, the DSM symptoms include: Problems with eating and sleeping, guilt feelings, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, and thoughts about death.

3 Tactics that are Linked with Client Depression

♦ Tactic #1: Being Unaware
I'll talk about Shannon in a minute, who did not realize that she was being abused. She often thought that her relationship with Aaron had normal fights. She refused to believe that her "Great Catch," whom she loved and trusted, was slowly chipping away at her self-esteem. Think of the phrase I just said, "Chipping away at her self-esteem." Does that phrase apply to one of your current clients?

Ask yourself, to what extent are the following three ways in which your client is not aware of the controlling abusive behavior?

1. She doesn’t think it still happens in “this day and age.”
2. She just expects that her relationship with her "Great Catch" was supposed to be supportive.
3. She didn’t realize that this controlling-abusive relationship was happening under her nose.
Ask yourself, to what extent in the following three ways is your client unaware of the controlling, abusive behavior?

A more subtle form of "killing the spirit" than that of the “Can’t-you-take-a-joke” tactic is that of teasing. Here's how Shannon described the chipping away of her self-esteem process.

♦ Tactic #2: Teasing
Shannon, age 31
said, “I feel like I’ve lost my energy and drive. I’m just not as sure of myself anymore.” As she talked more, she mentioned some of the things her husband, Aaron, said. “He teases me a lot. He teases me about the way I drive. I don't drive in the exact middle of the lane, but to the right. He teases me about the way I walk. He says I look like a duck with my toes pointed out. Sometimes he'll even quack as I walk past him in the hall.

"I know my toes do turn out. It's just hard to concentrate on pointing them straight all the time, especially when I have a laundry basket full of clothes. He even teases me about the way I make the bed in the morning. He says, 'There you go again with those messy corners. That would never pass a Marine Corps inspection.' I know he’s just affectionately teasing me. Aaron probably thinks my stupid little ways are cute, but after a while, it makes me feel stupid and inadequate. I am not sure I can do anything right. Maybe I am really stupid and can't do anything right. I hate myself sometimes.”

As you know, depression is self-hate turned inward. Her spiraling self-hate and depression were facilitated by lack of support of her family.

Shannon's family told her that Aaron's teasing was nothing to worry about, and that she was being too sensitive. They would then reinforce the myth of what a "Great Catch" he was by telling her how lucky she was to get anybody to marry her. As you can see, neither Shannon nor her family realized that this “affectionate teasing” wasn’t affectionate at all. It was slowly chipping away her self-esteem. After a few sessions together, Shannon and I realized that she was walking on egg shells around Aaron in an attempt to avoid his teasing.

♦ Tactic #3: 3 Factors of Verbal Abuse
As you are aware, a way to help your clients, who deal with controlling and abusive relationships by their "Great Catch," is to make them aware that they are being abused. How would you proceed with Shannon? See if any of the following three forms of verbal abuse come to mind.

a. Recognizable verbal abuse: Pause after reading each of these to give yourself a chance to think of and apply them to a client you are treating or have treated: belittling, smirking, mimicking, insulting, and ignoring.

The incident that brought Shannon into my office, as she described it, "Aaron, in addition to teasing, repeatedly has started to use name-calling, like ‘Stupid bitch,’ again and again and again. Just yesterday he left the apartment screaming, 'I'm not going to stay here and take this, you stupid bitch,’ as if he were the injured party. Other times, he would use a taunting tone in his voice. Then just roll his eyes, turn, and walk away. I felt like I wanted to die."

b. In addition or instead of recognizable verbal abuse, the "Great Catch" may use eloquent-sounding words, or jargon, or academia, or trendy words to sound superior. I had a client whose significant other would yell things like, "Your profound ignorance is appalling!" "Your disgraceful neglect is not to be condoned." So think for a moment about this second form of verbal abuse of using words to sound superior; would it be appropriate to reframe a situation in your next session regarding the superior language form of verbal abuse.

c. Controlling behavior number three goes hand-in-hand with the superior language we have just discussed. Number three is treating a partner like he or she is a child, for example repeating statements as if the partner would not understand or over-explaining simple tasks. "This is how you correctly place the jelly lid on the jelly jar. You turn it until it is tight like this."

I feel the main problem here is validation of Shannon’s feelings. Shannon dismissed these as the small things that she should overlook because, after all, she was lucky to have snagged such a "Great Catch," like Aaron, who had a stable job. I found Shannon had to give herself permission to have negative feelings about her "Great Catch” Aaron.

♦ The Cold Weather Analogy
I use the following visualization to facilitate the process of Shannon expressing her negative feelings towards Aaron regarding his belittling, smirking, mimicking, insulting, and ignoring. I stated, "Compare the negative feelings you have towards Aaron to going outside in winter weather. You hold your body tight with teeth clenched, shivering and chattering, and are barely breathing; avoiding contact with the cold. When you decide to relax, your shoulders, jaws, eyebrows, and knees loosen, and the chill is no longer an enemy; the cold now feels energizing."

The cold weather analogy helped Shannon to accept her feelings and give herself permission to have them. She began to feel she didn’t have to have a doormat facade to keep Aaron.

- Gaman, A., McAfee, S., Homel, P., & Jacob, T. (Jun 2017) Understanding Patterns of Intimate Partner Abuse in Male-Male, Male-Female, and Female-Female Couples. Psychiatric Quarterly, 88(2), p335-347.

In the next section, I will discuss what I say when a client asks, “How could I have known my “Great Catch” would be so cruel? Are there any warning signs or patterns that I missed?”
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Derrick, J. L., Testa, M., & Leonard, K. E. (2014). Daily reports of intimate partner verbal aggression by self and partner: Short-term consequences and implications for measurement. Psychology of Violence, 4(4), 416–431.

Figueredo, A. J., Jacobs, W. J., Gladden, P. R., Bianchi, J., Patch, E. A., Kavanagh, P. S., Beck, C. J. A., SotomayorPeterson, M., Jiang, Y., & Li, N. P. (2018). Intimate partner violence, interpersonal aggression, and life history strategy. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 12(1), 1–31.

Flanagan, J. C., Gordon, K. C., Moore, T. M., & Stuart, G. L. (2015).
Women’s stress, depression, and relationship adjustment profiles as they relate to intimate partner violence and mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. Psychology of Violence, 5(1), 66–73.

Foster, E. L., Becho, J., Burge, S. K., Talamantes, M. A., Ferrer, R. L., Wood, R. C., & Katerndahl, D. A. (2015). Coping with intimate partner violence: Qualitative findings from the study of dynamics of husband to wife abuse. Families, Systems, & Health, 33(3), 285–294.

Gaman, A., McAfee, S., Homel, P., & Jacob, T. (Jun 2017). Understanding Patterns of Intimate Partner Abuse in Male-Male, Male-Female, and Female-Female Couples. Psychiatric Quarterly, 88(2), 335-347.

Poole, G. M., & Murphy, C. M. (2019). Fatherhood status as a predictor of intimate partner violence (IPV) treatment engagement. Psychology of Violence, 9(3), 340–349.

Spencer, C., Mallory, A. B., Cafferky, B. M., Kimmes, J. G., Beck, A. R., & Stith, S. M. (2019). Mental health factors and intimate partner violence perpetration and victimization: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 1–17.

Willie, T. C., Powell, A., Callands, T., Sipsma, H., Peasant, C., Magriples, U., Alexander, K., & Kershaw, T. (2019). Investigating intimate partner violence victimization and reproductive coercion victimization among young pregnant and parenting couples: A longitudinal study. Psychology of Violence, 9(3), 278–287.

What is one application of the Cold-Weather Analogy? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
Table of Contents