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Strategies for Battered Women
Strategies for Battered Women

Section 8
Track #8 - How to Treat the 6 Building Blocks of Self-Hate

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents
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In the previous track, we discussed the Power House Three that occur with learned helplessness and result in failure expectancy; as well as the intervention of Symptom Discovery.

Now let's examine how self-hate causes depression and discuss the Six Building Blocks in the battered woman's Pyramid of Self-Hate.

The 6 Building Blocks in the Pyramid of Self-Hate

1. Find the Cause
The first building block in the self-hate pyramid is finding the cause. As you know, a battered client's depression frequently stems from her feelings of self-hate. Often these feelings are so embedded that the battered woman thinks she deserves the terror she experiences in the attack from her batterer.

I asked Jody, a 34-year-old mother of three, "Why do you think your husband, Bart, slapped you to the floor and kicked you in the ribs?" Jody sobbed, "Because I am a terrible wife." I stated, "From what you have told me, it seems to me that you are a caring mother and good wife that works hard for her family."

Here is where Jody's self-scapegoating came into play. Jody replied, "No, you are wrong. I never work hard enough. And I'm too sensitive. I let Bart down all the time!" In order to facilitate her growth through the self-hating process, I felt Jody needed to increase her awareness of the true cause of her abuse. Have you found like I, that with many battered women, they use themselves as a scapegoat? With Jody, it was helpful to first attempt to find the cause of self-hate within her life.

2. Resistance, or Encountering "The Wall."
Obviously, after introducing the idea to your client that she may not be the cause, resistance is the second block in the self-hate pyramid. I am a visual person and like to refer to resistance in my mind as "The wall." It makes it easier for me to accept and to maneuver around resistance, intervention-wise. As you can see, Jody is exhibiting the second block in the self-hate pyramid, what Dr. Theodore Rubin calls classic "resistance."

Here, as you know, Jody is actively resisting reassurance that she is, in fact, a good wife and mother. Jody has low feelings of self-worth and low value as a wife and mother. Jody often blames herself for her husband Bart's anger. Think of a client you have like Jody, who has the self-hating pyramid deeply ingrained and embedded in her psyche. Would the self-scapegoating terminology be beneficial in your next session?

I stated to Jody, "Maybe the problem lies in the kind of person Bart is." However, Jody once again emphatically replied, "No, it's me! I'm just not good enough for him or my kids. My meals are never good enough, and the house always looks like a pit!" I asked Jody if she had ever heard of the term "scapegoating". She replied, "Yes, that's when you blame someone else." I replied, "Have you ever thought about the fact that you may be self-scapegoating?" She sat quietly for a moment.

Then I could tell a light bulb went off in her mind. She almost exclaimed, "My god, yes you are right! I blame myself for everything. I wonder if there's something else besides me going on with Bart, maybe at work that makes him so angry." Think of your Jody. Would introducing the term self-scapegoating in your next session provide her with an insight to the cause of her self-hate and facilitate the scaling of her wall of resistance?

3. Unrealistic Expectations.
Another building block in the foundation of the battered woman's self-hate pyramid is unrealistic standards and expectations. See if Sara sounds familiar to you.

Sara, a 28-year-old single mother had just left a battering relationship. She was struggling to raise two children by herself. Sara was severely depressed and contemplating suicide before she decided to seek help. As you know, battered women are at an increased risk for suicide because of this increasing sense of self-hate.

A study of 176 women who came to emergency service for attempted suicide over a 1-year period indicated that 30% of the women who attempted suicide had also been battered. In the first session Sara stated, "I want to return to Miles. I just know he can give me the love I never got as a child! Sometimes he can be such a sweetheart and say just the right thing. I just know he's the perfect person for me." Clearly, Sara has an idealized view of her relationship with Miles.

So what would you do with your Sara? I thought it important to encourage Sara to rethink her expectations for Miles.

4. Selflessness.
In addition to scapegoating, the wall, and unrealistic expectations, I found it helpful for my battered clients to examine their self-worth.

In order to help Sara increase her self-worth, I found it helpful to work with her to discuss successes she had experienced in her life. Sara was able to recall a time that she was worthy of praise. Upon graduating college, Sara was asked to work for one the networks in her hometown as a news reporter. While she didn't accept the job because Miles wanted her to stay home, she was proud of the offer.

I then asked Sara if she was worth taking a few seconds out of the day to do something for herself. I suggested to start with something simple like taking a deep breath. I explained to Sara, "This can be done in a non-visible way so as not be noticed by others." I had Sara practice this "selfishness break" by taking a deep breath in the session. I felt it was effective to call this homework activity a "selfishness break" because it addressed up-front the selflessness building block of her resistance in her self-hate pyramid to do something for herself.

5. Self-Vindictive Criticism.
Another way a battered client can contribute to her self-hate pyramid is through self-vindictive criticism. The sessions with Rachel, aged 42, began when her husband, Max, had been court-ordered into an anger management group. I asked Rachel to think about the statement, "Self-vindictive criticism has little or no constructive value." While self-improvement can be used as a rationalization for self criticism, the real motivation behind self-vindictive criticism is self-blame.

Rachel called herself "stupid, cowardly, weak, and inept." She had no idea that she was imposing impossible standards on herself. These standards contributed to creating her self-hate reinforced by Max's frequent pushes, shoves, and kicks.

When we discussed self-vindictive criticism, Rachel stated that she understood intellectually what this meant, but didn't understand how it applied to her. To facilitate this process, I asked Rachel to recall an earlier time when she felt she didn't measure up, perhaps from her childhood. Rachel recalled a time when her father expected nothing less than 100 percent.

She was even afraid to confide in him about not making it into the debate club because this would be seen as failure, and beating with a belt would follow. Rachel's marriage to Max seemed to be a mechanism to reinforce and replay those impossible standards imposed on her by her father.

Think of a battered client you are currently treating who has deeply embedded in her basic premise about herself the Self-Hate Pyramid Building Block of severe self-vindictive criticism.

6. Second Guessing.
Has your client progressed into the sixth building block of second guessing? As you are aware, one of the most common forms of self-hatred occurs in the form of second-guessing. A few of the statements that Rachel made are "yes, but", "I should have", "I could have", "what if", etc. As you know, self-hate is a response to not only feel the lack of perfection, but self-hate because of her inability to predict the future.
Exercise: Underlying Issues Worksheet
I use the Underlying Issues Worksheet to help battered clients see how impossible some of their goals and standards can be. I find the Underlying Issues Worksheet helps a battered woman examine how the symptoms of self-hate serve her. If a woman grew up in a family that does not validate her needs and emotions, she learns to adapt and perhaps duplicate this situation in her adult life. I used the Underlying Issues Worksheet with both Jody and Rachel. Here is how it works.

Three Columns of the Worksheet
Three columns are headed: Feelings or Symptoms; Underlying Issues; and Protective Function. Here is how this worksheet applied to Rachel's fear of going to court. Since this is a common fear, as I explain the worksheet, evaluate if you have a current client with which you might use this technique.

-- Column 1 on the worksheet is headed Feelings or Symptoms. Under this column, have your client list a symptom and when this symptom would occur. For example, Rachel would feel terrified when going into court. The feelings she wrote under this column were: terror, panic, fear, and anger. The main symptoms she came up with were the inability to sleep, a headache, and pain in the back of her neck.

-- Column 2 on the worksheet is headed Underlying Issues. Follow the symptom listing with underlying reasons. Rachel said that she was afraid of failing and returning home to Mark, who would then slap her around even worse than he had in the past.

-- Column 3 on the worksheet is headed Protective Function. Finally, list the protective behavior in which your client engages. For example, Rachel retreated in to a shell of passive withdrawal in order to escape the beatings from Mark and her constant feelings of inadequacy.

We have just discussed the Six Building Blocks in the Self-Hate Pyramid of Scapegoating, building a wall, unrealistic relationship expectations, selflessness, self-vindictive criticism, and second guessing. If you feel this information might be beneficial to a client you are currently treating, you might consider replaying this track now or make a note in your appointment booklet to replay track 6 at a time in the future.

The next track will discuss the seven Personal Terrorisms felt by many battered women.

- Austin, S. (Feb 2016). Self-Hate 7 Working with Chronic and Relentless Self-Hatred, Self-Harm and Existential Shame: A Clinical Study and Reflections. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 61(1), 24-43. DOI: 10.1111/1468-5922.12193.

- Karakurt, G., Smith, D., & Whiting, J. (Oct 2014). Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women's Mental Health. Journal of Family Violence, 29(7), 693-702. DOI: 10.1007/s10896-014-9633-2.

- Rubin, T. I. (April 28, 1998). Compassion and Self Hate: An Alternative to Despair. A Touchstone Book, 13-282. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

- Sullivan, T. J., Leifker, F. R., & Marshall, A. D. (Jun 2018). Observed Emotional Expressivity, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration Among Community Couples. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 31(3), 352-361. DOI: 10.1002/jts.22296.

- Thaggard, S., & Montayre, J. (May-Jun 2019). “There was no-one I could turn to because I was ashamed”: Shame in the narratives of women affected by IPV. Women's Studies International Forum, 74, 218-223.

- Weaver, T. L., & Resick, P. A. (2014). Injury dimensions in female victims of intimate partner violence: Expanding the examination of associations with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(6), 683–690.

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