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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.
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
Development of word meaning; the motivational-emotional
repertoire in battering.
Transfer/generalization of word meaning in battering.
Caesar, P. Lynn, Treating Men Who Batter, Springer Publishing Company, NY, NY 1989.
Reflection Exercise #3
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