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Controlling the Tools of the Controller - Jargon, Academia, and Infantilization
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In the previous section, we talked
about the three control tactics: Can't-You-Take-a-Joke; Betrayal-of-a-Confidence;
Now we will look at how these three tactics are linked
with client depression.
clients experiencing controlling abusive behavior suffer from symptoms of depression.
As you know, the DSM symptoms include: Problems with eating and sleeping, guilt
feelings, loss of energy, trouble concentrating, and thoughts about death.
3 Tactics that are Linked with Client Depression
♦ Tactic #1: Being Unaware
talk about Shannon, in a minute, who did not realize that she was being abused.
She often thought that her relationship with Aaron had normal fights. She refused
to believe that her "Great Catch," whom she loved and trusted, was slowly
chipping away at her self-esteem. Think of the phrase I just said, "Chipping
away at her self-esteem." Does that phrase apply to one of your current clients?
Ask yourself, to what extent are the following three ways in which your client
is not aware of the controlling abusive behavior?
1. She doesnt think
it still happens in this day and age.
2. She just expects that
her relationship with her "Great Catch" was supposed to be supportive.
3. She didnt realize that this controlling abusive relationship was
happening under her nose.
Ask yourself, to what extent in the following three
ways is your client unaware of the controlling, abusive behavior?
more subtle form of "killing the spirit" than that of the Cant-you-take-a-joke
tactic is that of teasing. Here's how Shannon described the chipping away of self-esteem
♦ Tactic #2: Teasing
age 31... said, I feel like Ive lost my energy and drive. Im just
not as sure of myself anymore. As she talked more, she mentioned some of
the things her husband, Aaron, said. He teases me a lot. He teases me about
the way I drive. I don't drive in the exact middle of the lane, but to the right.
He teases me about the way I walk. He says I look like a duck with my toes pointed
out. Sometimes he'll even quack as I walk past him in the hall.
"I know my toes
do turn out. It's just hard to concentrate on pointing them straight all the time,
especially when I have a laundry basket full of clothes. He even teases me about
the way I make the bed in the morning. He says, 'there you go again with those
messy corners. That would never pass a Marine Corps inspection.' I know hes
just affectionately teasing me. Aaron probably thinks my stupid little ways are
cute, but after awhile, it makes me feel stupid and inadequate. I am not sure
I can do anything right. Maybe I am really stupid and can't do anything right.
I hate myself sometimes.
you know, depression is self-hate turned inward. Her spiraling self-hate and depression
were facilitated by lack of support of her family.
family told her that Aaron's teasing was nothing to worry about, and that she
was being too sensitive. They would then reinforce the myth of what a "Great
Catch" he was by telling her how lucky she was to get anybody to marry her.
As you can see, neither Shannon nor her family realized that this affectionate
teasing wasnt affectionate at all. It was slowly chipping away her
self-esteem. After a few sessions together, Shannon and I realized that she was
walking on egg shells around Aaron in an attempt to avoid his teasing.
♦ Tactic #3: 3 Factors of Verbal Abuse
you are aware, a way to help your clients, who deal with controlling and abusive
relationships by their "Great Catch," is to make them aware that they
are being abused. How would you proceed with Shannon? See if any of the following
three forms of verbal abuse come to mind.
a. Recognizable verbal abuse: I will pause after reading each of these to give
you a chance to think of and apply them to a client you are treating or have treated:
belittling, smirking, mimicking, insulting, and ignoring.
The incident that
brought Shannon into my office, as she described it, "Aaron, in addition
to teasing, repeatedly has started to use name-calling, like Stupid bitch,
again and again and again. Just yesterday he left the apartment screaming, 'I'm
not going to stay here and take this, you stupid bitch, as if he were the
injured party. Other times, he would use a taunting tone in his voice. Then just
roll his eyes, turn, and walk away. I felt like I wanted to die."
b. In addition or instead of recognizable verbal abuse, the "Great Catch"
may use eloquent-sounding words, or jargon, or academia, or trendy words to sound
superior. I had a client whose significant other would yell things like, "Your
profound ignorance is appalling!" "Your disgraceful neglect is not to
be condoned." So think for a moment about this second form of verbal abuse
of using words to sound superior; would it be appropriate to reframe a situation
in your next session regarding the superior language form of verbal abuse.
c. Controlling behavior number three goes hand-in-hand with the superior language
we have just discussed. Number three is treating a partner like he or she
is a child, for example repeating statements as if the partner would not understand
or over-explaining simple tasks. "This is how you correctly place the jelly
lid on the jelly jar. You turn it until it is tight like this."
feel the main problem here is validation of Shannons feelings. Shannon dismissed
these as the small things that she should overlook because, after all, she was
lucky to have snagged such a "Great Catch," like Aaron, who had a stable
job. I found Shannon had to give herself permission to have negative feelings
about her "Great Catch Aaron.
Cold Weather Analogy
use the following visualization to facilitate the process of Shannon expressing
her negative feelings towards Aaron regarding his belittling, smirking, mimicking,
insulting, and ignoring. I stated, "Compare the negative feelings you have
towards Aaron to going outside in winter weather. You hold your body tight with
teeth clenched, shivering and chattering, and are barely breathing; avoiding contact
with the cold. When you decide to relax, your shoulders, jaws, eyebrows, and knees
loosen, and the chill is no longer an enemy; the cold now feels energizing."
cold weather analogy helped Shannon to accept her feelings and give herself permission
to have them. She began to feel she didnt have to have a doormat facade
to keep Aaron.
- Gaman, A., McAfee, S., Homel, P., & Jacob, T. (Jun 2017) Understanding Patterns of Intimate Partner Abuse in Male-Male, Male-Female, and Female-Female Couples. Psychiatric Quarterly, 88(2), p335-347.
the next section... I will discuss what I say when a client asks How could I
have known my Great Catch would be so cruel? Are there any warning
signs or patterns that I missed?
What is one application of the Cold-Weather Analogy? To select and enter
your answer go to .