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Treating Relationship Power and Aggression
the previous track we talked about 5 urban legends or myths you might consider
reviewing with your client concerning their beliefs about abuse.
In a session, have you found the introduction of the topic of "the control a partner exhibits over another" can be a difficult one to discuss? During these sessions I have found the receiver of the abuse realizes the negative impact that their Great Catch relationship is having on them.
As you know, many clients blame themselves for their situation. They buy into their partner's script, that her defects are the root of all evil and the cause of his or "their problems a couple." What makes your abused client stay in a relationship that is controlling and abusive? What role does blame play in whether or not she stays? What do you think?
Eroding of Self-Image
Rhonda burst into tears after two sessions, "Jeffrey knows how to really push my buttons, in a big way. He always makes me feel at fault for all of our problems! Even if I did everything perfectly, he still manages to find something wrong. He yells at me and says 'If you didn't make such crappy food I would feel motivated to go to work more.' But even if I make the best meal, he'll turn around and then accuse me of making meals that are too good so that he gains weight and feels too lazy to go to work. I feel like a complete failure. I hate myself."
In spite of Jeffery's blaming behavior, Rhonda felt she had the "Great Catch" which was evident as she described how things were in the beginning of her marriage by saying, "In the first couple years of our marriage before our first child, I felt fortunate to have Jeffrey. Even the wedding photographer described him as looking like a model in a Penny's catalog. My brother described Jeffrey as the best I could do Jeffery's a really great guy."
Reconstructing the Reality
What would be your next step with Rhonda in this session? Here's what I did. I decided to Reconstruct the Reality of Rhonda's self blame based upon her narrative and explore the meaning that it held for her.
R's: Recognize and Remember
The 2 R's are recognize and remember. Rhonda began to first recognize and then remember the power that she had before she met Jeffery. Do you need to point out the 2 R's of recognize and remember that occurred at the beginning of your clients' transformation into being desperate dependent into awareness?
I have found, by helping the client to discover a new narrative as they recognize and remember the abuse, it often introduces her to opportunities for making new choices. Here's how I helped Rhonda develop this new narrative using the 2 R's of recognize and remember. The purpose was to reverse the erosion of her self-esteem caused by Jeffrey's reconstruction of reality.
I stated to Rhonda, "Have you ever thought about your relationship with Jeffrey from the point of view of who's in control? It sounds like Jeffrey constructs the story, or his version of reality was pretty much have accepted by you. Is that right?" After Rhonda remembered specific situations this seemed to fit. I could see she was beginning to emotionally buy-into, or connect with and recognize this as a line of reasoning that seemed to fit and be true for her. Ask yourself are the 2 R's of recognize and remember a concept I might introduce into my next training session with my Rhonda?
The tricky part here, for me is, while saying this to Rhonda, in my RET work with her I felt I needed to steer her away from self-blame, but in addition steer her away from making Jeffrey out to be the total scapegoat.
The Triangular Tightrope
#1 Helping Rhonda to become aware that by justifying and tolerating Jeffrey's behavior she was perpetuating the problem.
#2 in the triangle was to, at the same time, steer her away from self blame, which she was an expert at. Sound familiar with some your clients?
#3 in the triangle, I had to walk, therapeutically was to steer her away from externalizing the problem and making Jeffrey the total bad guy and scapegoat.
I used the following three questions, over the period of several sessions, to help Rhonda walk this three sided triangular therapeutic tightrope BAD stands for the key words bear, acceptable, and deserve.
#1. The B stands for bear. I asked Rhonda, "Do you think that you can bear this type of treatment for the rest of your life?"
#2. The A stands for acceptable. I asked Rhonda, "You stated earlier, Jeffery is not behaving the way that a man in love with you and committed to his wife behaves. Is that acceptable to you?"
#3. The D stands for deserve. I then stated, "You stated there have been good times between the two of you, but that's not what I'm hearing about. You sound unhappy. Do you think you deserve happiness?"
I gave Rhonda the opportunity to come to her own conclusions as each BAD question was explored over a series of sessions.
Notice, I phrased these questions so that the focus was not on Jeffrey's behavior but rather on Rhonda's responses, and on Rhonda's choices that she made based on her perception of the reality of the situation. Rhonda realized that she was spending more energy than she wanted to be anticipating Jeffrey's needs. She began speaking up to establish boundaries regarding his angry outburst. Rhonda finally insisted firmly that Jeffery get help.
Rhonda explained at the end of one of our final sessions, " Nothing raises my feelings about myself like my successes. Maybe it's just a small thing, but I now feel proud to be a teacher, and see that feeling lazy because I don't take a second job is not how I feel anymore. This was Jeffery's version of the truth. I feel the cure for my horrible feeling of powerlessness is to be aware of my power in my relationship with Jeffrey."
In this track... we explored reframing you clients beliefs by the three interventions of the 2 R's of recognize and remember; RET objective facts versus subjective interpretations, and B-A-D Questions
In order to facilitate your client's awareness of the power he or she has lost or holds in a relationship, in the next two tracks we will talk about how to increase your client's awareness of rationalizations they have for staying in their relationship.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Allard, C. B., Norman, S. B., Thorp, S. R., Browne, K. C., & Stein, M. B. (2018). Mid-treatment reduction in trauma-related guilt predicts PTSD and functioning following cognitive trauma therapy for survivors of intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(23), 3610–3629.
Cotti, C., Foster, J., Haley, M. R., & Rawski, S. L. (2020). Duluth versus cognitive behavioral therapy: A natural field experiment on intimate partner violence diversion programs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 26(2), 384–395.
Galovski, T. E., Werner, K. B., Weaver, T. L., Morris, K. L., Dondanville, K. A., Nanney, J., Wamser-Nanney, R., McGlinchey, G., Fortier, C. B., & Iverson, K. M. (2021). Massed cognitive processing therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in women survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.
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.
Lambert, J. E., Benight, C. C., Wong, T., & Johnson, L. E. (2013). Cognitive bias in the interpretation of physiological sensations, coping self-efficacy, and psychological distress after intimate partner violence. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(5), 494–500.
Walling, S. M., Suvak, M. K., Howard, J. M., Taft, C. T., & Murphy, C. M. (2012). Race/ethnicity as a predictor of change in working alliance during cognitive behavioral therapy for intimate partner violence perpetrators. Psychotherapy, 49(2), 180–189.
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