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