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

Section 3
Use of Shame to Maintain Control

Question 3 | Test | Table of Contents

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The next step in increasing awareness of verbal abuse, after exploring the two questions of “instant replay syndrome” and “guilt trips,” is to increase Sandra’s awareness of what I term "The 3 Tactics that Create a Power Imbalance" in the relationship. At some level, males know their partners feel that they are their partners’ “Great Catch.” The “Great Catch” uses the resulting power imbalance for purposes of control.

See if any of your clients have experienced any of these three tactics in which the “Great Catch” successfully maintains control over his partner in the relationship.

3 Tactics that Create a Power Imbalance

♦ Tactic #1: Can't-You-Take-a-Joke.
Here’s how this tactic works. Jason said hurtful things to Erin under the mask of being a joke. Erin, age 22, stated in one session, “When I start my menstrual cycle, my face breaks out a lot. Jason knows I am very self-conscious about this. I try to cover up my zits with a lot of make-up, but last Saturday we had two other couples over to watch the football game. We were eating pizza. So, in the middle of the game, Jason stood up with a piece of pizza in his hand and announced, 'Hey, look everybody, this looks just like Erin's face!' When he saw my tears of embarrassment, he yelled at me, ‘What’s your problem, can’t you take a joke?’”

2 Purposes of Jason's Can't-You-Take-a- Joke Tactic
In this example, Jason’s Can't-You-Take-a-Joke control tactic served two purposes.
1. First, it minimized his abuse under the guise that it was just a joke.
2. Second, however, at the same time he efficiently discredited the validity of Erin's feelings.

Erin felt as if she was the one in the wrong and should feel ashamed, the net effect . This feeling of shame is often the end result of the “Great Catch’s” tactic #1, Can't-You-Take-a-Joke. Thus, Jason was once again placed in a "One up" position in the relationship.

♦ Tactic #2: Betrayal-of-a-Confidence.
Marcy, age 25 had been married to Ron for 3 years. They have two girls, ages 2 and 4. Ron desperately wanted a son. In our first session, Marcy sobbed, “I asked Ron not to tell his family about my miscarriage. Then last Sunday, at his father’s birthday party with all of the aunts, uncles, and kids gathered, and after he had several beers and shots of whiskey, he blurted in a loud voice in a toast at the dinner table, 'My wife isn’t even woman enough to give me a son!’”

During my session with Marcy, she felt Ron betrayed her confidence. This tactic served the purpose of allowing Ron to vent his hostility about the miscarriage by embarrassing Marcy in front of his family. Thus, the purpose of this, Betrayal-of-a-Confidence tactic, is to create a power imbalance and to provide the “Great Catch” with a "One Up" status in the relationship.

♦ Tactic #3, is Breaking-an-Agreement
In addition to the Can't-You-Take-a-Joke and Betrayal-of-a-Confidence tactics, “Great Catch” control tactic #3, is Breaking-an-Agreement. Here’s how it works. Marcy stated, "Ron makes promises and then breaks them. He’ll go on and on about taking the girls to the park. When the day comes he has forgotten all about it, and comes home from work late. He’ll say, ‘what else could I do I had to work late? You are always whining that we don’t have enough money aren’t you?’" Also, Marcy feels Ron never takes time to talk.

“Even when he says we’ll talk after diner. Then, when I ask him how his day was or I tell him I’ve had a bad day, he just rolls his eyes and walks away. Even when he had promised we will talk.” As you know being physically and emotionally unavailable is an extremely powerful tool to create power of inequity in a relationship. Thus, the tactic of Breaking-an-Agreement is a frequently used tool that facilitates being physically, as well as emotionally, unavailable.

Oftentimes, the “Great Catch” breaks his agreements wanting to be judged by his intentions rather than by his actions. In other words, I intended to take the girls to the park, but I had to work late. I intended to talk after dinner, but I was too tired. Think of a client you are currently treating. Does her “Great Catch” use the: Can't-You-Take-a-Joke tactic, Betrayal-of-a-Confidence tactic, Breaking-an-Agreement tactic, or a combination of these three as a means to create a power imbalance and maintain a one-up status?

♦ National Violence Against Women Survey
According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 10.8% of the women but only 4.1% of the men used a knife on the victim. 21.6% of the male victims were threatened with a knife, while only 12.7% of the women were so threatened. 43.2% of the male victims were hit with a hard object capable of causing serious injury, while this was true of only 22.6% of the female victims. When all serious forms of domestic assault were added together, as many men as women were seriously assaulted.

Emotional Abuse in Intimate Relationships: The Role of Gender and Age

- Karakurt, G., & Silver, K. E. (2013). Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and age. Violence and victims, 28(5), 804–821.

In the next section... we will talk about how these three tactics can lead to depression and a killing of the spirit, so to speak.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cascardi, M., Chesin, M., & Kammen, M. (Jul 2018). Personality Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence Subtypes: A Latent Class Analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 44(4), 348-361.

Eterović, Marija. (Apr 09, 2020). Recognizing the role of defensive processes in empirical assessment of shame. Psychoanalytic Psychology, No Pagination Specified.

Harrington, A. G., Overall, N. C., & Cross, E. J. (2020). Masculine gender role stress, low relationship power, and aggression toward intimate partners. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication.

Platt, Melissa G., Freyd, Jennifer J. (Jul 2015). Betray my trust, shame on me: Shame, dissociation, fear, and betrayal trauma. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 7(4), 398-404.

What are three tactics the controlling abusive partner may use to establish and maintain his power-base in the relationship? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
Table of Contents