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But I have such a Great Catch! Treating Abusive Controlling Relationships

Section 6
Track #6 - Using Biderman's Brainwashing to Evoke Feelings of Anger

Question 6 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Printable Page

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On the last track we talked about Repositioning of abuser, decreasing selective forgetting, and exploring excuse-making or minimizing.

Managing the 'Great Catch'
Do you agree that the term "childlike" seems to fit some clients' simplistic view of the imagined power they hold over their “Great Catch?” Yes, I said, "...they hold over their Great Catch." This distorted thinking style of over-control gave both Marcy and Jenny, who were described on track 5, a false feeling of omnipotence. Marcy and Jenny struggled for control of aspects of situations that were actually out of their control.

Here’s how it worked. They held themselves responsible for the behavior of their "Great Catch." When their significant other acted differently than what they would like, they felt a loss of control and experienced resentment, anger, and a keen sense of personal failure that eroded their self-esteem. Jenny would say, "I've got to make Tom listen to me!" Marcy would say, "I have to make sure Ron arrives on time."

The abused partner believes that by using these coping mechanisms, they are “managing.” Most clients think they can “manage.” Through Marcy’s denying, and Jenny's forgetting and minimizing, these two clients were effective in reducing the controlling abusive behavior in their minds to a manageable size.

Here’s how this managing worked for Jenny. See if this doesn’t sound familiar. I asked Jenny about the way that Tom made her feel through his words, his actions, and about their relationship.

Jenny explained that she managed her husband, Tom, by keeping him calm. She sobbed, “I would try to remove anything that might be a cause for Tom to yell and get red in the face. I try to think about him all the time and how to keep him happy. I did everything a good wife should do. I refused Tom nothing. However, no matter how much I did for Tom, it was never enough.”

By increasing Jenny’s awareness of her denying, forgetting, and minimizing as described on the previous track, she came to realize that no matter how much she tried to fix, manage, or control Tom’s mood, something will always be wrong. Keeping her “Great Catch” calm becomes a full-time job.

Jenny's 2 Overpowering Feelings

In the end, it left Jenny with the two overpowering feelings:
1. She can never do enough, and
2. She can never do anything right.

The “Childlike” Role
Marcy and Jenny both felt an immense obligation to their controller. They would placate, calm, protect, and try to please their controller. All under the guise of wrapping their identity around keeping their “Great Catch,” by "helping their man" with his problems, soothing his cares, denouncing his enemies, building up his ego, supporting his plans and encouraging his dreams. As you know, these tasks take so much time and energy that it is no wonder both Marcy and Jenny stopped doing the things they enjoy to do in favor of what their partner wants them to do. Both adopted their controller’s definition of perfection and tried to live up to it.

So what’s the result? Both Marcy and Jenny become childlike in their relationships, certainly not on an equal footing. As mentioned earlier, I refer to the recipient of the controlling behaviors as being childlike, being treated as less of a person.

Biderman's Chart of Coercion
Since Jenny was still in an abusive relationship, her emotional abuse was difficult to recognize and to name. For her, the unacceptable forms of treatment by Tom were hard to separate from the occasional and minor abuse present in most intimate relationships. In a session I showed to Jenny, Russell's book, Rape in Marriage, which contained Biderman's Chart of Coercion. It seemed to be helpful to Jenny to see information that brainwashing consists of a pattern of specific behaviors. And that what was effective in prisoner of war camps is also effective in maintaining abusive relationships. Jenny could then see the immense obligation she felt to Tom to placate, protect, and try to please him was a form of brainwashing.

In case you are unfamiliar with Biderman's Chart of Coercion. Here is a summary. On a large piece of newsprint in the session I wrote Biderman's ten categories and left room under each heading to write examples of the coercive behavior Jenny experienced.

10 Categories of the Chart of Coercion
As I read these ten categories slowly, think about a client you are currently treating who may benefit from a discussion of one or several of Biderman’s brainwashing techniques:
2. focus on the batterer's potential anger
3. exhaustion
4. dependency
5. feelings of incompetence
6. threats
7. occasional indulgences
8. demonstration of superiority or power
9. degradation and humiliation
10. enforcing trivial demands.

The manual that accompanies this course contains a reproducible worksheet for you to utilize Biderman’s list with a client.

I have found, like you, that once a client realizes how she was trying to manage her manager, or in this case her brainwasher, she often times gets angry. Here's how Jenny's anger came through in a session, “I thought Tom was taking care of me and all along I was, taking care of him.” Jenny was giving Tom what he wanted. She was allowing Tom to exercise his power over her. Jenny stated “I feel like a garbage can. Whatever went wrong for Tom during the day got dumped on me when he came home." This angry statement was like an epiphany for Jenny. She realized exactly how Tom was abusing her, even though there was no physical violence.

The next track... will discuss three techniques to further “connect the dots” of abuse.

What are ten patterns of specific behavior related to brainwashing as outlined by Biderman?

Answer Booklet for this course
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