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

Abusive Relationships continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 7
Dependencies in Partner Abuse

CEU Question 7 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the previous track, we discussed Biderman's Brainwashing patterns of behavior, as it related to your client's attempts to manage their manager or "Great Catch."

On this track... we will talk about techniques to further assist your client in "connect the dots" of abuse. Here's the basic ground work that sets the stage and makes connecting the dots of abuse such a therapeutic challenge; the basic premise upon which the abuse is based.

Nothing Without a Man
Many women think they are nothing without a man. Thus, they are unable to connect the dots, so to speak, of abuse. Dr. Russianoff expands upon this basic underpinning, upon which the Great Catch theory is based, in her book that is aptly titled "Why do I think I Am Nothing Without a Man?" See if you can make the connection between Dr. Russianoff's ideas and the therapeutic challenge you face in assisting your client to recognize abusive behavior. Dr. Russianoff states: "Brenda, an architect, does have a man in her life--Josh. Brenda didn't have to tell me how successful she is; I had read a magazine article about her. But the Brenda who showed up in my office was not the confident sophisticate depicted in the article."

"I don't know what's happened to me since my marriage," Brenda said. "I used to go off on assignments to the other side of the world without even thinking about it. Now I try to get out of such projects. I want local ones. I'm just not happy, unless I'm with Josh. If he can't go to a party and I go alone, I don't have fun. So I'd rather just stay home. And, you know, we just got a new car. It's a sports car, and I can't drive stick, so I just let Josh drive us everywhere. And the worst thing is, we could afford another car, one I could drive, but I don't even want one. I like being chauffeured. I like it, but at the same time I resent this…this symbol of my self-induced bondage."

As Brenda's dilemma suggests, you don't have to live alone to think that you are nothing without a man. You don't have to be divorced or widowed or never married. You can be living with a man or married and think that without this man you would be lonely, socially inhibited, emotionally and sexually barren.

I've counseled a number of married women who absolutely had no lives of their own, because their hopes and dreams and plans and daily routines revolved so tightly around those of the men with whom they lived.

Most women know their significant other better than anyone else. Some use this knowledge to try to gain greater understanding of what she could do to make her "great catch" act differently. Regardless of how poorly they are treated, some women cling to the belief that they can bring out the best in their partner. In fact, have you found, like I, the more extreme the controlling partner's actions, the harder your client may try to understand him. They create a self-induced bondage.

So, when you see a pattern conflicting with your clients goals, how do you help the client who is unable to draw her own conclusions or connect the dots, so to speak. And by connecting the dots I mean: How can you help your verbally abused clients to connect the dots for themselves and identify and gain a perspective on the controlling abusive behavior to which they are subjected to daily? Here are three perspectives I help my clients gain by connect the dots.

Three Perspectives for Connecting-the-Dots

Perspective #1: Potential
First, to help them connect the dots, if they are open, where do they stand in their relationship to "Potential?" They continue to try to manage the unmanageable manager by looking for specific explanations and focusing on relationship potential rather than relationship reality. To accomplish this, I use a Gestalt exercise of focusing on the present. I ask the client, "Where do you feel tension in your body right now? Describe that feeling. How often to you feel that tension?"

By increasing their awareness of how they actually feel right now, they become increasingly aware that how they feel in the relationship most of the time ranges from dis-ease to catastrophic. Over a succession of sessions, they begin to connect the dots that they are focusing on the potential of the relationship rather than the reality of the relationship

If you recall, in the previous track Jenny stated, "I would try to remove anything that might be a cause for Tom to yell and get red in the face." I asked, "Do you feel you are living in more of a 'potential' relationship rather than in a 'real' current relationship?" It helps her to continue believing her "Great Catch" will become even more of a great prize as she is confident their relationship will eventually improve

Perspective #2 : Refocusing
So what's a second perspective with your "Jenny?" To help her to connect the dots, I wanted to refocus Jenny away from her denial of feelings, which kept her busily reacting and defending against Tom's attacks. One way Jenny had of denying her feelings was to search for the specific reason behind Tom's abusive controlling behavior. Jenny's looking for specific explanations helps her to feel she has goal-directed productive behavior.

The more specific the explanation is, the more manageable Jenny felt the situation was. Think of a client you are currently treating. I pointed out to Jenny that, no matter how specific of an explanation she tried to construct, she was still in the reaction mode and not taking action. However, as you know, in cases of physical abuse the client's taking action against their abuser can lead to greater physical harm and even death. Is there a client you are currently treated that could benefit from be moved from reaction into action?

Perspective #3 : Hoping
Perspective 3 in connecting the dots of managing the unmanageable manager is through examining "If Only" hoping. If some specific circumstances caused his bad behavior, then she could believe that when the circumstances changed he would be better. This is called the "if only" formula. Denise, age 25, had been married to Robert for five years and has two children who are ages three and five. She kept telling herself, "If only traffic hadn't been bad, Robert wouldn't take it out on me. If only my three year old hadn't dropped his cup of water when Robert was in the room, the evening would have been fine. If only I could be thin like Julia Roberts, we would have a great sex life." Such explanations gave Denise hope for change and the sense of being able to bring that change about: by hoping for less traffic, hoping her children would behave perfectly, and hoping for the perfect diet to give her the perfect body.

In summary to assist your client to connect the dots that abuse is happening, even though there are no physical scars as in physical abuse, would it be helpful to introduce any of the following three concepts into your next session?

1. Living in the Potential and not living in the reality of the present.
2. Reacting by recreating elaborate explanations to feel productive action is being taken.
3. Do "if only" wishful thinking in hopes that their "if only" wishes will be grated

Is the "connecting the dots" concept one you could apply to a client you are currently treating? Is she living in the potential rather then living in reality? Is she reacting and defending rather than having goal-directed productive behavior? How much is she involved in "if only" hoping that things will work out with her "Great Catch?"

Understanding Healthy Relationships

- Understanding Healthy Relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/cur/physhlth/frame_found_gr12/rm/module_e_lesson_1.pdf

In the next track... we will talk about 5 urban legends or myths you might consider reviewing with your client concerning their beliefs about abuse.

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

Cascardi, M., Chesin, M., & Kammen, M. (Jul 2018). Personality Correlates of Intimate Partner Violence Subtypes: A Latent Class Analysis. Aggressive Behavior44(4), 348361.

DePrince, A. P., Labus, J., Belknap, J., Buckingham, S., & Gover, A. (2012). The impact of community-based outreach on psychological distress and victim safety in women exposed to intimate partner abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(2), 211–221.

O'Hara, K. L., Perkins, A. B., Tehee, M., & Beck, C. J. (2018). Measurement invariance across sexes in intimate partner abuse research. Psychology of Violence, 8(5), 560–569.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 7
What are three Connect-the-Dot perspectives? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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