Archive of ‘Relationships’ category

Myths About Domestic Violence: Part 3

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Welcome back to our discussion on the myths about domestic violence. We continue our focus on the myths about abusive men, specifically myths about what causes abusive men to be abusive. As before, information for the blog is taken from the book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Please visit http://www.lundybancroft.com for more information.

Myth #7: He holds in his feelings too much.

This is often referred to as “The Boiler Theory of Men” – that men keep their emotions pent up inside and that in time they are bound to blow up. The truth is that most abusive men are actually quite the opposite in respect to their feelings, and they have an exaggerated idea of how important their feelings are. They talk about their feelings and act them out all the time, until those who are on the receiving end, their partners and children, are exhausted from it. It is not their feelings that are the problem, but their thinking and their attitudes about the feelings of others. They are too distant from their partner’s and children’s feelings rather than their own. This “boiler theory” appears to make sense because abusive men often follow a pattern of withdrawing, saying less and less, and then they appear to boil over and erupt in yelling, put-downs and other abusive behaviors. However the mounting tension is actually driven by his lack of empathy for the feelings of his partner and children, and then he gives himself permission to explode.

Myth #8: He has an aggressive personality.

It is understandable why this would be an attractive myth to believe – if it were true it would make it much easier to women to decrease the chances of ending up in an abusive relationship. However, the majority of abusers are often quite responsible calm when dealing with affairs and people unrelated to their partners. For most abusers, but not all, they do not get aggressive with individuals other than their partners. This actually is a contributing factor to why many women stay feel trapped in abusive relationships – their partners are calm and gentle people outside of the home, it’s so hard to believe they could be so different behind closed doors. This is one of the manipulative, twisted aspects of abusive partners and it serves to ensure their partners will not reach out for support.

This myth is perpetuated by the societal stereotype that abusers are relatively uneducated and blue-collar men. This is not only an unfair stereotype of working-class men, it overlooks the fact that a college-educated or professional man has roughly the same likelihood of abusing his partner as anyone else. The truth is, the more educated the abuser is, the more knots he can tie in his partner’s mind, the better he is at getting her to put the blame on herself for his behavior, and the slicker he is at being able to persuade others that she is crazy. Also, and this is a very important point, the more socially powerful an abuser, the more powerful his abuse can be – he has more influence and has more pull in the public eye, and this makes it much more difficult for his partner to escape.

Myth #9: He has low self-esteem.

Many would like to believe that abusive behavior is the result of the abusive man feeling bad about himself, having low self-esteem. This misconception leads the victim to do what she can to boost his confidence. However, this only makes the problem worse. Abusive men expect being catered to, and the more positive attention they receive, the more they demand. Thus, the self-esteem myth is ultimately rewarding to the abuser – it gets his partner, his therapist and others involved to cater to him emotionally.

Myth #10: He is too angry.

Perhaps the most common myth about abusive men is that they have anger management problems, that they are abusive because they are unable to appropriately cope with and manage their anger. The cause and effect belief usually looks like this: He is abusive because he is angry. However, this is the reverse of the truth – he is angry because he is abusive. Everybody gets angry and most have, on occasion, gotten too angry, where their anger is out of proportion to an event or beyond what is healthy for them. Some get ulcers, hypertension and heart attacks as a result. However, these individuals do not necessarily abuse their partners. An abusive partner’s anger can be misleading, in that it diverts the attention away from all the disrespect, irresponsibility, lying, talking over you, and other abusive and controlling behaviors he displays, even when he isn’t particularly upset.

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Shame: The Insidious Defeater

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feels unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days.

Particularly in my work with individuals who have a trauma history including family of origin mental illness or dysfunction, domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust.

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit http://www.brenebrown.com. If you are interested in joining a group or receiving individual counseling about shame/shame resilience, visit http://www.austincounselors.org.

Upcoming Group Offering:

Daring Recovery– an eight week group for women in recovery based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Facilitated by Jennifer Alley, LPC, CDWF-candidate at 5000 Bee Caves Rd. Suite 100.

Mondays 6:15-7:45pm

October 27-December 15

Group objectives:

  • Gain courage to own, share, and live our stories
  • Learn how to live life sober, transforming the way we live and love
  • Choose authenticity over numbing, pretending, and perfecting
  • Increase self-compassion, empathy, and connection
  • Understand our shame triggers and what drives that feeling of not being enough
  • Connect bravely with other women

Contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 512-761-5180 to register or for more information. You can also visit http://www.austincounselors.org.


Myths About Domestic Violence: Part 2

Today’s blog continues our discussion of myths about abusers in domestic violence relationships. This blog will continue all through the month of October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As in the first Domestic Violence blog, information is taken from the book “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Please visit http://www.lundybancroft.com for more information.

Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Myth #4: He is mentally ill.

When it comes to abusive men, it is not their psychology that is unhealthy, it is their value system. Abusive men hold very distorted values about how their partners should act and should be treated. They believe in strict gender roles and a power differential in relationships, in which he, the man, is the dominant party in the relationship and should, above all else, be respected – and to be respected means to be submitted to and not to be questioned. As with alcohol and drugs, mental illness does not cause abuse, but it can certainly escalate the abuse. The problem is that if an abusive man does in fact have a mental illness, it interacts with his abusiveness to create a volatile and dangerous combination. Another important point made by Bancroft: “A man whose destructive behaviors are confined primarily or entirely to intimate relationships is an abuser, not a psychiatric patient.” Whom he abuses is his choice, a choice that is fully in his control, an issue that is discussed further in regard to the next myth.

Myth #5: He loses control.

Often after a violent episode, which may range from a verbal attack to breaking things in the home to physical violence, an abuser will often say that he “just lost control.” However, when Bancroft discusses his work with abusive men, he sheds light on some important points. Often when abusers “lose control” like this, there are signs that they are actually very calculating about their behavior: they destroy only property that does not belong to them, they are sure to keep the abuse behind closed doors, and they are often very aware of their surroundings. Bancroft points out that “an abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable… an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong” (p. 35). The problem with an abusive man is that he believes that controlling or abusing his female partner is justifiable.

When Bancroft asked abusive men in his groups what stopped them from taking the violence further than they did, some common explanations were:

“I wouldn’t want to cause her a serious injury.”

“I realized one of the children was watching.”

“I was afraid someone would call the police.”

“The fight was getting loud, and I was afraid the neighbors would hear. “

“I could kill her if I did that.”

These responses show just how aware and in control abusers are when they are engaged in a violent episode. They are making calculated decisions based on the circumstances. Again, remember that Ray Rice waited until he and Janay were in the elevator and the doors had shut before he chose to attack her.

Myth #3: He abuses those he loves the most. He’s abusive because he feels so strongly about me.

It is often true that we may feel stronger emotions involving those we care about the most, however this does not excuse abuse. Feelings do not cause behavior. We are all responsible for how we choose to respond to our feelings. And abuse is a choice, it is not something one is “driven to.” The only exception to this rule is that those who are severely traumatized or have major mental illnesses may have their behavior governed by feelings – however, this is in relation to all other individuals, meaning they are reactive towards everyone, not just their partners.

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