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"You Made Me Hit You!" Interventions with Male Batterers
Male Batterers continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 15
Language Control of Behavior
Judgmental Labeling = Inaccurate Premise = Excuse for Violence

CEU Question 15 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Language-Cognitive Repertoire
It is language that enables a person to communicate, reason, solve problems, plan, interpret information, and so on. The language-cognitive repertoire constitutes the knowledge that the person has. Such a repertoire also allows the person to predict events and to respond by reasoning and problem solving. Three factors are generally involved in such processes. The first factor is the manner in which things and events are labeled. The second involves the sequencing and organization of the labels employed. Lastly, an overt act is elicited in order to influence events, and it too is represented by verbal processes. The language-cognitive repertoire provides a means of explaining the way in which language processes maintain behavior such as battering.

Labeling repertoires are learned, beginning with concrete objects or classes of objects, proceeding to more complex labeling processes, and giving rise to grammatical classes. One example of complex labeling repertoires is social and self-labeling. Complex combinations of stimuli are labeled as anger, boredom, acting suspicious, or "whoring around." Labeling processes also have important implications for effective reasoning and problem solving. The emotional valence of the labels that are used may affect reasoning. The reasoning process is likely to be adversely affected according to the degree to which such labels are inaccurate and elicit highly negative or positive emotional responses. Adaptive behavior may be interfered with, and/or maladaptive behavior may be elicited.

The initial labeling of a stimulus situation often elicits a sequence of additional verbal responses. In this way, labels for one's own behavior function as stimuli for other behavior. The particular word association sequence elicited by a label is idiosyncratic to the person, based on his or her unique learning history. To the degree that the word association sequence is consistent with the observed events, the associated reasoning and problem solving will be facilitated. Further, if overt behavior is the end point of the reasoning, then the behavior may be appropriate or inappropriate, depending on the consistency of the reasoning sequence in relation to the actual events. In the case of battering, we suggest that the reasoning sequence is usually not consistent with respect to actual events. The basis of such faulty reasoning or problem solving can often be found in deficient labeling. For example, in the case of the female spouse coming home late, an objective event ("My spouse is late") is judgementally labeled as "bad." The word "bad" will, in turn, elicit a negative emotional response, along with an associated verbal reasoning sequence that suggests the following train of thought: "Only loose women are out late by themselves at night" (an inaccurate premise). "My wife is late. Therefore, she must be whoring around" (an inaccurate conclusion). "I'm going to have to punish and control her" (an inappropriate, self-produced instruction). The likely consequence of such reasoning, then, is overt violence, verbal assault, and/or physical assault.

Language-cognitive repertoires also account for defense mechanisms observed in male batterers. For example, if the batterer minimizes his violence by labeling a fight with his wife a "slight" or "a little disagreement," he experiences much less of a negative emotional response than if he labeled his violence as "a beating" or "attempted murder." Furthermore, if the batterer considers his behavior to be under the control of his partner's actions (e.g., "If you wouldn't mess around on me, I wouldn't have to hit you"), he may further reduce his anxiety and guilt after severely beating his wife. Such verbal-cognitive constructions can also serve as reasons or justifications (excuses) for engaging in otherwise inappropriate behavior. If the batterer mislabels reality by such defensive statements, he effectively prevents the internalization of appropriate social disapproval and personal aversive consequences that might otherwise modify the problematic behavior. In this manner, the batterer contributes to his own psychological isolation - a common phenomenon observed by those who work with batterers.

Development of word meaning; the motivational-emotional repertoire in battering.
"My wife stayed out too late last night. I felt abandoned. Because she abandoned me, she is a bad person."

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS)

Unconditioned Response (UCR)
(Pain, anger, hurt)
Conditioned Stimulus (CS)
Label "Bad person"
Unconditioned Response (UCR)
(Pain, anger, hurt)

Transfer/generalization of word meaning in battering.
Note: Through principles of conditioning, multiple stimuli (i.e., words, labels) can come to elicit the same basic emotional response.

"My partner is a: CS "bad person" CS negative emotional response
"My partner is a: CS "bitch" CS negative emotional response
"My partner is a: CS "whore" CS negative emotional response
"My partner is: CS "inept" CS negative emotional response

Verbal-motor repertoire.

Verbal response (S) Overt behavior (R)
"I'm going to slap her face... slap
and if she does anything, I'll punch her out... poised to punch
and then I'll send her to her room." controlling, posturing, threats and commands

Caesar, P. Lynn, Treating Men Who Batter, Springer Publishing Company, NY, NY 1989.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section explored Language Control Behavior. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 15
In the case of the female spouse coming home late, how is an objective response such as “my spouse is late” inappropriately labeled?
CE Test.

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