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"But I have such a Great Catch!" Treating Abusive Controlling Relationships
Abusive Relationships continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 25
Using the Skills Learned in a Controlling Relationship

CEU Question 25 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

While involved in a controlling relationship, people develop specialized skills that help them survive through this crisis situation. A good way to transform crisis into opportunity is to have your clients survey the past and ask themselves, “What can I learn from this that I can use in the present and perhaps carry into the future with me?” This attitude allows them to develop a new approach to life in which they can see things from a different perspective and make new choices.

A client and I were working together to see what skills she had carried over from her relationship that could be put to use now. She visualized a blackboard divided in half. On the left was the section she called “The Past,” which was completely filled with information from the series of controlling relationships she had been involved in. On the right was the section labeled “The Rest of My Life,” which was a blank slate. She couldn’t see any usable skills from the past to bring into the present and future. When I asked her what it would take to be able to fill up the right side, she immediately had the answer. “First I need to know what my needs are in order to gain access to the rest of my life. I’ll make another section and call it ‘Needs.’ I’ll put it in the middle. Once I list my needs, I’ll discover opportunities.”

Once when I was using this exercise, a woman’s face instantly lit up during a session. “I just realized I actually have skills from my relationship I can use in my real estate business! I can read people and their moods really well. I can size up people and situations. I’m flexible. I can get along with people. I sure learned a lot about looking a listening when I was in that relationship. I’m an expert!”

A client recalls how adept he was at emotionally “leaving the scene.” “At the blink of an eye I was gone.” Now, when he finds himself getting immobilized in uncomfortable situations, he reminds himself that he has good skills in emotionally leaving and uses them to explore another option - physically leaving the scene. He’s able to tell himself, “I have a choice here. I know I can leave. I can excuse myself to get some fresh air, go to the restroom, or make a phone call. Then I can regain my composure, return to the situation, and be more objective.”

One woman was in a long relationship with a controlling partner who demanded perfection, and there was no way she could be perfect because nothing was ever good enough. She became overly critical, mostly of herself, but of others as well. Now she is transforming her natural ability at being exacting into a job she loves and is good at - she’s a senior editor with a big-time newspaper. She found a way to substitue the high price she paid in her relationship for a high-paying, satisfying profession. It is useful to be able to selectively hold on to a few of those old ways of doing things. Just because your clients may have overdosed on these skills when they were in the controlling relationship, they don’t have to toss all of these skills away.

You and your client need to work as a team to interweave the “then” and “now” by first recognizing the problem, then looking for its source, and ultimately doing something about it. It helps to think of this process as reweaving a tapestry. Through the ages tapestries have been used to tell colorful stories. The tapestry of your client’s life tells a unique story as well.

As you both survey it, you’ll find many sections are intact, solidly woven, and sturdy. But it’s not perfect. Some parts became worn over the years, perhaps a little frayed. There are some weakened places here and there, maybe even a few holes. It would be a shame to reject the whole tapestry because part of it is tattered or torn, when in fact, much of the surrounding areas are durable and vital. Even though a few holes might be bigger than others, they can be filled in, they are all restorable. Sometimes its hard to know where to start. Sometimes it seems like an overwhelming project. But all you have to do is to locate one small piece of thread and follow it. It will lead to others. It’s a matter of gathering together the stitches, a little here and a little there, connecting those parts of themselves, restoring form and order. Most importantly, they don’t have to put that tapestry together in exactly the same way it was before. Now they have options. Here is an opportunity to redesign the tapestry of their life experiences. They can take themselves seriously by honoring their abilities and uniqueness, by reminding themselves that this is their tapestry, and they can reweave it any way they want.

As your client continues to weave their tapestry, remind them to acknowledge and honor their past as well as their present. This enlightenment can be used as a resource to help them make choices along the way that broaden their experiences of life. As one of my clients said, “I’m working hard to accept life on life’s terms and accept myself in the process.”

Adapted from: Don’t Take it Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection, Elayne Savage, Ph.D., iUniverse BackInPrint.com. For more information go to http://QueenofRejection.com

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bornstein, R. F. (2019). Synergistic dependencies in partner and elder abuse. American Psychologist, 74(6), 713–724.

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.

MilesMcLean, H. A., LaMotte, A. D., Semiatin, J. N., FarzanKashani, J., Torres, S., Poole, G. M., & Murphy, C. M. (2019). PTSD as a predictor of treatment engagement and recidivism in partner abusive men. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 39–47.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 25:
What are examples of useful skills that can be gained from going through a controlling relationship? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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