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

Section 13
Interpersonal Trauma in Intimate Partner Violence

CEU Question 13 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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Rationalizations 7-8

Rationalization #7: The Yo-Yo Syndrome

The seventh rationalization to stay in an abusive relationship, in addition to the Good Outweighs the Bad and Fighting Fire with Fire, is The Yo-Yo Syndrome. In the Yo-Yo Syndrome, a client experiences a frequent "leaving-the-relationship-and-going-back cycle." The Yo-Yo Syndrome is marked by alternating between healthy and abusive. Deborah stated, "Eric would turn away when I would try to hug him. When I would look sad he would order me 'Come out and say it!' with a tone of contempt in his voice.

Then, the next day he would give me a little hug. I know Eric can be kind; he would be affectionate for several months or so. Then it started again, and this time worse than before. Eric would yell, 'You interrupted me!' if I even opened my mouth, then he'd start blaming, accusing, and criticizing." When Deborah would leave after the abuse, she would hear promises that Eric had changed overnight. Once she returned, the abuse continued in order for Eric to maintain dominance in the relationship. As you know, this is commonly referred to as the cycle of abuse.

However, I like to call it this phenomenon the Yo-Yo Syndrome, because rather than a cycle, which moves in circles, I feel in fact the recipient of the abuse, physically and/or emotionally, moves back and forth like a yo-yo. Deborah stated, "He promised to change when he saw that I was on my way out the door. I'd say to myself, 'Gee, he really can treat me well.' But that never worked for very long."

Secondary Traumatic Stress Syndrome
Do you find, like I, that it can be extremely stressful for a therapist to deal with clients who repeatedly rationalize and return; rationalize and return. Here's a visualization I use with myself to cut down on my secondary traumatic stress syndrome, when working with verbally and physically abused clients who leave and return…leave and return.

First, I think about a client like Deborah who has returned to an abusive situation with someone like Eric. Then, I envision a yo-yo with the holder of the yo-yo being the abuser, in this case Eric. I asked myself, "At what point will Deborah get to the end of her rope, or yo-yo string, so to speak. I find it helpful to envision the yo-yo string or rope getting longer as the client's self-esteem improves. Thus, Deborah has further to travel back each time.

And…what happens if a yo-yo string is too long? You are right; it stays at the end and does not return to the hand of the abuser. So what do you think of my stress reduction visualization?

Would trying my yo-yo syndrome visualization with your next abused client who returns to the abusive situation work for you? Would it help you to avoid personal frustration and judgment regarding victims who return?

Rationalization #8: The Money Trap
The eighth rationalization to stay in an abusive relationship is The Money Trap. Susan, a 40-year-old waitress, sobbed, "It has occurred to me to leave, but money and the physical and financial needs of my children keep me trapped here with Corey. I can't stand his controlling and blaming, but financially I didn't think I could handle it with out him. Who wants to be a failed divorcee on welfare? If a man divorces, he's still a good catch, but when a woman does everyone wonders why.

"And, worse, no one wants her kids. I have been advised by two lawyers that I am financially unable to leave, and I am finding it difficult to find work that will support me and my three kids. My mother told me I could take my chances alone and be too poor to feed my three kids or stay with Corey.

What is your approach with your clients that use money as a rationalization for staying in a relationship? As you know, the decrease in income is a factual statement. To assist Susan in evaluating her position, I asked her to create a budget sheet. She figured her finances by listing her expenses and the needs of her three children versus her income. Her next step was to investigate the different methods of finding financial assistance through her family and community. We discussed the different types of quality of life: one being financial quality of life, and the other emotional quality of life.

Rationalization #9: Breaking of Family Values
The ninth, and final, rationalization to stay in an abusive relationship is Breaking of Family Values. Maria, a 24-year-old teacher, explained, "I was raised to be a good Catholic, and I couldn't bear to break my wedding vows. So, I had to keep telling myself, all Michael does is yell and insult me; a lot of women have it much worse. I can manage. I prayed that something would change."

The basis of the Family Values rationalization for staying in the abusive relationship is, of course, the "tyranny of the shoulds."

As a review, the Tyranny of the Shoulds refers to the absolute nature of a belief and a firm sense of right and wrong. I asked Maria why she felt she should stay in an abusive relationship, she said, "I have to; a good Catholic should never break her marriage vows."

When Maria thought of breaking her wedding vows, because of her firm belief, she thought it would make her a bad or unworthy person. If she left without leaving her belief behind, she would torture herself with guilt and self-blame. She became paralyzed and was forced to choose between her belief and her desire to leave. By asking Maria if she felt she was caught up in the "tyranny of the shoulds," she agreed.

Once provided with the concept of "shoulds," she began to see and evaluate rules in her life, some of which were imposed up her in early childhood. Maria was able to evaluate whether the "shoulds" or rules were rules that worked or didn't work for her today.

In summary, on the last two tracks... we discussed rationalizations used to stay in abusive controlling relationships. In the next track we will discuss four awareness suggestions from Patricia Evans' book, Verbal Abuse: Survivors Speak Out, to help clients uncover the reason for these rationalizations that have resulted in lack of growth.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cort, N. A., Cerulli, C., Poleshuck, E. L., Bellenger, K. M., Xia, Y., Tu, X., Mazzotta, C. M., & Talbot, N. L. (2014). Interpersonal psychotherapy for depressed women with histories of intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 6(6), 700–707.

Edwards, K. M., Dixon, K. J., Gidycz, C. A., & Desai, A. D. (2014). Family-of-origin violence and college men’s reports of intimate partner violence perpetration in adolescence and young adulthood: The role of maladaptive interpersonal patterns. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(2), 234–240.

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.

Iverson, K. M., Gradus, J. L., Resick, P. A., Suvak, M. K., Smith, K. F., & Monson, C. M. (2011). Cognitive–behavioral therapy for PTSD and depression symptoms reduces risk for future intimate partner violence among interpersonal trauma survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(2), 193–202. 

Jeong, J., Adhia, A., Bhatia, A., McCoy, D. C., & Yousafzai, A. K. (2020). Intimate partner violence, maternal and paternal parenting, and early child development. Pediatrics, 145(6), Article e20192955.

Kobayashi, J. E., Bernard, N. K., Nuttall, A. K., Levendosky, A. A., Bogat, G. A., & Lonstein, J. S. (2021). Intimate partner violence and positive parenting across early childhood: Comparing self-reported and observed parenting behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(6), 745–755.

Marshall, A. D., Jones, D. E., & Feinberg, M. E. (2011). Enduring vulnerabilities, relationship attributions, and couple conflict: An integrative model of the occurrence and frequency of intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(5), 709–718.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
What is a visualization you might use if you are experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress Syndrome with a client who repeated returns to his or her abuser? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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