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In the last track, we talked about Expanding Choice Points. As you know, not all battering relationships go through the standard cycle that includes the violent action followed by the honeymoon phase, and finally the build-up to more violence. Which one of your clients does not follow this standard abuse cycle?
In The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships, Dutton points out that the type of batterer determines whether a cycle appears or does not appear. Dutton divides abusers into Overcontrollers versus Undercontrollers and Instrumental versus Impulsive.
#1 - Overcontrollers
The Overcontrolling batterer usually scores high on "avoidant personality disorder assessments." Overcontrollers not only deny their anger, but also avoid conflicts. I have found that the Overcontrolling batterer usually reports having a cycle of one week without anger and one week with anger. Thus, for an entire week the Overcontrolling male might find he has nothing to report in an Anger Log.
#2 - Undercontrollers
Thomas, age 27, came into our sessions complaining about his wife, Theresa. He stated, "She gets mad at me because I gamble. But gambling makes me feel like I have at least some excitement in my life. She runs the house by taking care of the finances and the kids. Gambling just provides a kind of excitement that I can't get from my marriage. Theresa makes everything so boring and predictable." In a later session, Thomas also stated that his kids always seem to side with Theresa. Thomas stated, "I do have a bit of a temper. And I get angry when the kids side with Theresa instead of me." Thomas seemed unaware of the demeaning impact his actions had on Theresa.
Thomas was also unaware that he was making submissive requests when he asked Theresa, "Will you allow me to gamble?" Thus, Thomas the undercontroller acts out frequently when he feels rejection from Theresa or from his children. Often times, his feelings where similar to those which accompanied rejection from his father. Have you found, like I, that with Undercontrollers a cycle does not appear? I found that with Thomas the explosions of violence were so frequent and unpredictable that the honeymoon phase and build up phase were not experienced. Thus, a cycle did not appear.
Technique with Overcontrollers and Undercontrollers
Do a body-scan during your next session to assess non-verbal messages of disapproval that you may be conveying. Ask yourself, how much "secondary traumatic stress syndrome" do I experience when treating batterers? Do I need to increase the frequency of body scanning to create and maintain a positive therapeutic relationship with my physically abusive client?
Impulsive versus Instrumental
Recall Thomas from earlier in this track. He was upset with his wife, Theresa, because she did not approve of his gambling. If you recall, Thomas described gambling as a way to obtain excitement in his otherwise boring life. Thomas stated, "I am 27 and still young! I need some kind of action in my life!" For Thomas, excitement, or a lack thereof, is an issue that creates tension for him. I find that Thomas may feel the way that he does because the rejection from his children reminds him of beatings his father gave him. These beatings were with a closed fist.
#2 - Instrumental
Jacobson sites the case of George whose intimidation of his wife, Vicky, was cold and systematic. George used intimidation as a way of controlling Vicky. She would do anything for him, but it never seemed to be enough. George used Instrumental abuse with everyone in his life and was successful. As long as he was mean and tough with women, it was second nature for George to combine sweet talk with threats. George had an uncanny sense of how to get Vicky emotionally entangled. In a separate session with Vicky, she stated, "I mistakenly saw George's cynical side, at first, as a mark of his vulnerability."
Dutton's classifications of overcontrol versus undercontrol and impulsive versus
instrumental provide a helpful clarification regarding a client you are currently
treating? In the next track we will discuss, what I term, "Nice Guy Positioning
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