In the previous track, we discussed
four common "If Only" rationalizations the battered woman uses to gain
a feeling of managing the unmanageable. If you recall, the If Onlys were related
to alcohol, dysfunctional family history, uncontrollable anger, and insecurity.
In this track, we will be unraveling guilty feelings that result from their relationship
with a batterer. Where do these guilty feelings come from? Who is your client
Feelings of Guilt
As you know, being in a battering relationship often
causes feelings of guilt and responsibility for the abuser's behavior or problems. You are aware that she truly believes she deserves to be kicked, punched, thrown to
the floor, or what ever other physical acting-out violence her battering partner
decides to delve out to her.
Michelle, age 37, probably is similar to
a client you are currently treating. Like many battered women, she believes that
she deserved the physical abuse she received from her husband, Steve. As you know,
a battered woman's "feeling that she deserves the abuse" may stem from
our society's common belief that it is the woman's role to uphold a marriage and
make sure her children are safe.
Citing research from her book, Battered
Wives, Del Martin states that women do not remain in relationships simply because
they like being beaten. As you are aware, battered women have trouble leaving
because of many complex psychosocial reasons.
Placing the Blame Process
These psychosocial reasons
can also be called the "placing the blame process". Think for a minute.
Ask yourself how does the "placing the blame process" contribute to
the guilt that battered women feel? Michelle stated, "I'm not really a very
good mother. The children have seen Steve slap and hit me on many occasions, but
it is almost always because of my own stupidity." Does this sound like a
client you are currently treating? Like many battered women, Michelle has put
the blame on herself and is convinced that Steve's abuse is her fault and that
she deserves it.
Exercise: 3 Questions for Unraveling Guilty Feelings
However, let's look at the other side of the "placing
the blame" coin. Michelle felt guilty because she could not meet all of Steve's
needs. Here is a list of three questions I asked Michelle in order to assist her
in unraveling her guilty feelings by discovering their source:
1. "Are these thoughts and ideas that you truly believe?"
first question deals with ownership of beliefs. Question 1 is, "Are these
thoughts and ideas that you truly believe?" Michelle stated, "Sometimes
in my gut, when Steve calls me an idiot, I feel sick and twisted inside, like
maybe he's just on a power trip and this is what he thinks."
2. "Are you so used to hearing these thoughts and ideas
that you aren't even thinking about what they really mean?"
second question deals with increasing awareness of habitual patterns. Question
2 is, "Are you so used to hearing these thoughts and ideas from Steve
that you aren't even thinking about what they really mean?" Michelle continued,
"But, Steve says this so much, I begin to think I am an idiot, too."
3. "Do you
trust the person that you are hearing this advice from?"
The third question deals with providing the client with the ability
to "consider the source" of the feedback. Question 3 is, "Do you
trust the person that you are hearing this advice from?" Michelle and I discussed
whether or not someone is the right person to ask for help or feedback.
In summary, the three questions you might consider asking your client are related
1. Ownership of belief: Are these thoughts and ideas something you really
2. Habitual thought patterns: Are you so used to hearing these
thoughts and ideas you feel they are true because you have heard them so much?
the source: Is the person saying these things someone you can really trust?
The next track discusses guilt specific to the battered woman's children.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Koss, M. P. (2000). Blame, shame, and community: Justice responses to violence against women. American Psychologist, 55(11), 1332–1343.
Overall, N. C., Girme, Y. U., Lemay, E. P., Jr., & Hammond, M. D. (2014). Attachment anxiety and reactions to relationship threat: The benefits and costs of inducing guilt in romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 235–256.
Slepian, M. L., Kirby, J. N., & Kalokerinos, E. K. (2020). Shame, guilt, and secrets on the mind. Emotion, 20(2), 323–328.
Smagur, K. E., Bogat, G. A., & Levendosky, A. A. (2018). Attachment insecurity mediates the effects of intimate partner violence and childhood maltreatment on depressive symptoms in adult women. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 460–469.
Wietzker, A., & Buysse, A. (2012). Assessing guilt toward the former spouse. Psychological Assessment, 24(3), 783–789.
Zhang, X., Zeelenberg, M., & Breugelmans, S. M. (2021). Anticipated guilt and going against one’s self-interest. Emotion.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are three questions you might discuss to facilitate the unraveling
of the battered woman's feelings of guilt? To select and enter your answer go