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Methods of Control in Partner Violence
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the last section, we discussed four types of emotional abuse a batterer may use to
groom his victim for violence by shaming. These four grooming-types of emotional abuse are:
belittling, mimicking, insulting, and ignoring.
In this section, we will further
discuss what one client termed the "dog collar" of control, six methods
of control, and a "Personal Power Exercise."
Of course, as
with any client when physical violence is indicated, I assessed for the client's
immediate safety and provided her with information regarding support groups at
the shelter house, housing, and assessed her ability to acquire medical treatment
should she need it.
As you know, physical and verbal abuse wears away at your client's self-esteem because she is placing herself under her abuser's control. She has given away her power.
♦ Case Study: Carrie
Carrie, a 27-year-old attorney, was consistently mimicked, insulted, and frequently shoved by her boyfriend, Doug.
Carrie stated, "I am so sad all the time. It is so hard to accept that I am the kind of person who
has allowed herself to be treated like a dog this way. What is it about me? I
need to take a stand. I need to stop flinching. Then if he doesn't change, I'll
walk away from it." Despite the determination in Carrie's words, she had
never taken any action to make any changes in her three-year relationship with
Carrie described this control as feeling depressed like she had a
dog collar around her neck. She sobbed during one session, "I just feel like
some god-damn dog on a chain with a collar around its neck with no control over
my own existence." Have you found like I that it is helpful to use your client's
own metaphors to tie into an insight -- from which you feel they would benefit?
The Abuse "Push-Away"
Like so many clients who have, in Carrie's words, the dog collar of control
around their neck, they make excuses for their abuser. Does this sound familiar? Carrie felt that Doug did not understand that his abuse was pushing her away.
I explained to Carrie that if this was accurate and Doug did not understand the
full impact of his abuse, he would not take the initiative to change his behavior.
I also reminded Carrie that once one partner has gained strong control in a relationship,
it takes dedication and hard work to move toward a relationship in which both
partners are equal.
You may be familiar with Psychologist Anne
Ganley who explains this struggle in the following statement, "The man's
victimization of the woman disempowers her in his eyes." Carrie
certainly understood that the task of creating change in her relationship with
Doug would be a difficult one. However, Carrie felt that change was possible.
Dog Collars of Control
After several sessions in which I provided
Carrie with information about methods of control, she began to feel more that
Doug's abuse was not motivated by a lack of understanding her feelings, or as
simple as inflicting emotional and physical pain upon her. Carrie began to feel
that Doug's abuse could subconsciously be more about being superior to, or gaining
control over her causing her depression.
In order for Carrie to regain control over her life, and take
off her dog collar, to use her words, it was important for her to begin to understand
in what ways she was being controlled. I found it beneficial to provide Carrie
with information about Methods of Control that Doug might be using in their relationship.
Think for a moment about a client who may feel they have the dog collar of control
around their neck. Would this client benefit from hearing you list some common"Dog Collars of Control"? Here are six dog collars, so to speak,
that I described to Carrie. See what you think.
♦ Dog Collar 1: Controlling
Carrie began to realize that Doug occupied much of her time
that could be spent on herself. Carrie stated, "It seems like lately I never
get much done that I need to do because there's always something that HE wants
done. And HE makes me feel guilty or literally shoves me into doing things for
him." He forbid Carrie to speak to her friends.
♦ Dog Collar 2:
Controlling Her Space.
I told Carrie that her space might be controlled
without her even noticing it. As you know, an abuse victim's space might be controlled
when her quiet time in the home is interrupted or invaded. Pressure to have sex,
for instance, often involves control of a room and a feeling of confinement. When
we discussed this, Carrie realized she was not allowed to close the bathroom door.
♦ Dog Collar 3: Controlling with Body Language.
As you know, abusive
control can include such bodily cues as refusal to talk, withdrawal of affection,
or walking away. This was a problem for Carrie. Doug was willing only to talk
about the things he wanted to talk about, and not about her problems and responsibilities.
If the topic of conversation did not meet with Doug's approval, he would merely
walk away, oftentimes in the middle of Carrie's sentence.
♦ Dog Collar
4: Controlling Reality
In addition to controlling time, space and with
body language, Doug controlled Carrie's reality. Carrie described Doug after a
particularly violent incident when he yelled , "That is not what you said,
that's not what you did, that's not what happened," and even, "that's
not how you felt!" She stated in the session, "He's jerking me around
in my head like a helpless puppy on a leash!"
♦ Dog Collar 5: Controlling
Carrie began to notice that Doug used this method of
control when she disagreed with his statements. Rather than listening to her point
of view, Doug often said to Carrie, "You are just trying to act like you're
smarter than me."
♦ Dog Collar 6: Controlling Ownership of the
As you know, it is quite common for an abuser to tell his victim
that she is responsible for his behavior. Carrie stated, "Doug always says
if I would just keep my mouth shut, he wouldn't have to yell at me or shove me."
Can you tie a metaphor your client is currently using in presentation
of these six controlling methods? If so, you might replay this section just prior
to your session with that client to refresh them in your mind.
began to notice these methods of control in her own relationship, I shifted the
sessions to reclaiming control, since safety appeared not to be an issue. The first step I like to use in assisting a client to reclaim control
in a relationship is to do a Personal Power Exercise as a homework assignment.
In Carrie's terms, I called it times when she felt as if she had unbuckled the
♦ 4 Elements of the Personal Power Exercise
As I describe this Personal Power Exercise think of
your Carrie. Would this homework exercise be a benefit to her?
this exercise, I asked Carrie to think of an experience perhaps from her childhood,
her adolescence, or even something in the last week in which she felt personally
powerful. I explained to Carrie that this experience might be characterized by
any one or all of the following Four Elements:
Element 1. Personal
Power or a moment when she was confident of inner strength.
2. Emotional Impact or lasting feelings that are clearly linked to the experience.
Element 3. Defined Event that has a definite beginning and
a memorable end to the experience.
Element 4. Easy Recall - a
situation she could easily recall to write down or talk about.
recalled a time when her mother had a stroke and she called 911.
found that clients like Carrie often benefit from trying to recall and then visualize
in as much detail as possible experiences of Personal Power. To facilitate this
visualization process, I asked Carrie what she saw, felt, said, and was doing
at the time in as much detail as possible.
I told her that if she made
a habit of using this Personal Power Exercise, she might slowly begin to feel
a stronger sense of inner confidence and power in her relationship with Doug.
This section contains quite a bit of information. The section provides
you with a listing of six common methods abusers use to control. You are also
provided with an outline of a Personal Power Exercise. Granted, neither of these
pieces of information is new or revolutionary. But stop and think for a minute.
What did you just get? You have been provided with an organized, brief capsule
format for client training. Would it be beneficial to you to replay this section,
either now or in the future, prior to your session with a client who feels as
Carrie did, that she has the dog collar of control around her neck?
of a battered woman you are currently treating who is caught in her "if only"
rationalizations. In the next, section we will discuss "Four Techniques for
"If Only" rationalization destruction.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Dichter, M. E., Thomas, K. A., Crits-Christoph, P., Ogden, S. N., & Rhodes, K. V. (2018). Coercive control in intimate partner violence: Relationship with women’s experience of violence, use of violence, and danger. Psychology of Violence, 8(5), 596–604.
Gustafsson, H. C., Cox, M. J., Blair, C., & The Family Life Project Key Investigators. (2012). Maternal parenting as a mediator of the relationship between intimate partner violence and effortful control. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(1), 115–123.
Munoz, R. T., Brady, S., & Brown, V. (2017). The psychology of resilience: A model of the relationship of locus of control to hope among survivors of intimate partner violence. Traumatology, 23(1), 102–111.
What six areas described Carrie's "dog collar of control? To select
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