Tag: control

Violence Between Intimates

Conflict
Conflict

There are many forms of violence one can talk about. There is violence toward children on the part of adults, which includes sexual abuse. There is also violence toward women and men in the work place.

Here I would like to focus on violence toward women in intimate relationships. This would include adults dating or married or living in common law. This would also include heterosexual and gay and lesbian relationships. This article will not include women who are involved in prostitution and, as a result, are abused.

There was an article on the CBC news web page about family violence. The article reported that every 4 days a woman is killed by a family member. Here is the reference for the article, well worth reading (http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/family-violence-1.3815523). A book I highly recommend is called “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence” by Gavin de Becker. His main thesis is that, just like animals, we are programmed to be fearful and take Fearfulmeasures to protect ourselves when we are in situations which may contribute to our harm. However, he says that because of our socialization we tend to over-ride these feelings, and tell ourselves we are being foolish and this cannot be. He says women especially tend to be socialized to nurture and take care of the other. As a result some women do not pay attention to their feelings of being at risk, and over-ride their feelings –at their peril. It seems to me that as a society, which includes the courts, there is some of this going on. In our minds we tend to minimize or even disregard statements made by women about fears of abuse or being abused depending on how sensitive we are to the plight of women regarding intimate situations. Even our language re-enforces control over the other in intimate relationships. Men and women talk about MY WOMAN, and women talk in terms of MY MAN. We even introduce ourselves by our position in life, not by who we are. We are introduced as “this is my wife” or “this is my husband”, and our name comes second. I contend that language is important because it speaks to our interior life of how we feel and see ourselves vis-a-vie the world.

There is a progression with regard to women being abused in relationships. The progression happens gradually. Usually the male sees himself as taking care of his partner, and is so insecure he is on the lookout for any act of his partner which seems like he is losing her. In his mind, dominating her becomes the safe way of keeping her, and he can take this attitude all the way to thinking, “if I cannot have her, no one can”. He does not see his actions as control but as caring for his loved one. However the more he cares (controls) for her the more she wants to distance herself from him (to be her own person).

In the beginning of the relationship this behaviour on his part is seen as loving and caring. He is always THERE, and being ATTENTIVE. The only request he denies her is when he decides she is not being logical and reasonable. He disagrees with her not because he sees the situation differently, but because she is being “stupid” or not “logical”. I think this is why others seem to down-play the woman’s complaints, because he is such a nice guy, and he speaks so flattering of her and is so caring.

Here are the steps a woman must be attentive to:

First there is the message received in the relationship that the woman’s thoughts and feelings are not valid, or “faulty”. The male partner becomes the authority on what are the correct feelings and thoughts to have about any given situation or experience. In my opinion this usually progresses gradually.

Second: Along with monitoring her thoughts and feelings he next becomes the “decider” on what is appropriate to wear, and when the house is messy. Along with being unreasonable, and illogical most of the time, the partner finds herself now being “provocative”, or “slutty” if she wears certain clothes. She is also now not a good house keeper.  Control starts to creep into every part of her life.

Third: He always wants to move to isolated areas. This has a lot to do with controlling who she socializes with. He feels more secure when she has very few friends, as they may have, from his point of view, terrible ideas. Isolated, he has more of a chance to monitor and control her friends. At this stage of the relationship, when they socialize he becomes critical of her spending too much time with some males. He perceives her as always flirting, or being with friends who have the WRONG ideas. At this point she may start to stand up for herself out of her perception that she is being unjustly accused. Her opposition and his attempt to control turns into fights where he may start to put her down even more forcefully through intimidation.

Fourth: When they are fighting, the fight turns from words to physical actions such as pushing her, and grabbing her forcefully. At this stage when one asks the women, “Is he violent toward you”, she responds by saying no, “He only pushed me.”

Fifth: The fights become more violent in that the words and the pushing become more intense. He now hits her. The violence becomes more intense because she is not responding to what he wants from her. His ego is being threatened. He fears he will lose her, evidenced because she is starting to rebel. He also fears his friends looking at him in a critical way, meaning, “Why can’t he control his woman”? This means he is seeing himself as a failure, a shame he cannot tolerate. So now he now  totally blames her for his misery.  All these factors increase the violence. After violent fights, he apologizes, and promises he will never hit her again. His behaviour is meant to keep her in the relationship, hoping she will be more compliant.

Sixth: Now he is becoming desperate. He starts to threaten suicide because he sees her as not loving him. Or he starts threatening to kill her, and the children, saying if he can’t have them no one will. Gavin de Becker feels that murder between intimates is the easiest act to predict, because the perpetrator always tells her he will do it. De Becker believes that most victims and most of society over-ride the threats because of socialization issues. We are conditioned to believe that a family man would not do such a deed, even thought statistics indicate differently. I personally think that the reason authorities have trouble believing the threats involves their perception of the perpetrator. Most perpetrators are Anti Social, and their pain is very real.  This makes them very convincing when they say they would not kill their spouse and/or their children. However, their pain is totally based in having low self esteem as well as seeing the other and society as totally responsible for their suffering.

I think that women who are in a situation where they are being threatened need to disappear from the area, and leave no trail of where they are going. Court orders will not work in these situations. His goal is to get rid of his psychological pain. Her goal needs to be safe.

These six stages are red flags to which women need to pay serious attention. Their decision to leave or stay, of course, needs to be their decision. I have encountered couples who have been in therapy, and the violence never happened again. However, even going to therapy needs to be looked at with some caution. It can be an opportunity for the perpetrator to blame the therapist, and seeing his spouse as aligning with the therapist against him.

It is also important to mention that some relationships stop at the  second stage, and never go any further. In the end the spouse and society need to work at taking these red flags seriously, and realize the attitude and behaviour of men controlling women, of seeing women as something to be used, is very deep and has a long history. I hope this article will be of some help in moving beyond this attitude and the risks it endears.

People Who Do the Right Thing (But Never Feel Rewarded)

Failing to make life Perfect
Failing to make life Perfect

By Bernie Dunning, MA

There are individuals who feel frustrated about their life because despite believing they are always doing the right thing, they keep on failing. They can’t maintain close relationships and/or they fail at their parenting efforts.

Tragically they may tend to pride themselves for being righteous. They are nice people, who work hard, and are usually successful in business terms. There homes are well kept, and they would feel terrible if other people saw their child misbehaving or their house untidy. If this were exposed they would feel so bad they would become extremely self-critical, and come down hard on their child who misbehaved or a spouse who left a mess.

Why? They tend to see everything around them as a reflection of how people see them. Unfortunately the more they work at controlling events and people around them, the more they feel events and people seem out of control! I am sure most of us can identify with this dynamic in our own life to some degree; however I am talking about an extreme: people who Freud would diagnose as operating primarily from their Superego. These are folks about which others would say: “God save us from people who are always right.”

These perfectionists focus on “Rules and Standards.” It is difficult to argue with them as they are mostly right!

These folk are quite rigid, and for the most part do not see “Gray” in human interactions. Ironically they often attract those who love “a good time,” but they end up judging their choice of a mate as “one who is not responsible.” This becomes another disappointment in his or her life, leading to yet even more rigidity.

They have a difficult time softening this outlook on life for obvious reasons. Why should they? They are always holding the moral high ground. They see change as compromising their standards, and thus not being true to themselves. They see behaviours as good or bad, and have difficulty opening to the possibility of having good and bad in the same behaviours.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For instance they would fail to appreciate that their son came home on time but instead focus on why he went to a place he is not allowed. That son would be questioned: Why did you do this? His struggle to totally obey his parent’s orders would be irrelevant. The focus would instead be on the disobedience.

The opportunity to learn about their son, and what difficulties he is having with his world, are thus lost. So, too, would the opportunity to recognize and affirm his effort of coming home. You can see that any affirmation of his effort is gone.

It is no wonder that this type of personality has difficulty sustaining emotional contact with other people! When a person experiences being alone in their world it is little comfort to them to hold the attitude that they are right about most (if not all) issues.

They confess in therapy that they give their spouse everything (new car, jewelry, and a nice house); yet the spouse still complains and is unhappy. The perfectionist complains that they give their children everything –yet the children are unhappy and always asking for more. They moan: “my children are never happy.”

The problem is they have a difficult time connecting on an emotional level. Being present to what is going on with a person’s internal life of feelings and emotions is extremely hard. I think this is a difficult area because there is no control about what might emerge nor how “these feelings coming at me” can be dealt with.

Here are a few tips on how to get out of this conundrum.

First: They need to understand and accept that they are lovable for who they are as a person, not for what they do. I think this is very difficult for the personality we are talking about. Claiming our own lovability is a process; it takes some a life-time to finally have the sense they are lovable for who they are as a person. This is important in order to stop feeling they have to do something to fix someone or something. Consequently this allows others to take responsibility for their own life. Which brings us to the next point.

Second: They need to begin to let go of taking responsibility for those around them, and to make sure others are always on the straight and narrow. They need to realize they cannot make their children happy, and understand that people choose to be happy. Learning how to play is very helpful in order to overcome the sense that they are being “irresponsible” when taking care of themselves. As they overcome this fear of being irresponsible they will eventually be able to enjoy the experience of play.
In other words, they need to better balance the inner dynamic of responsibility and playfulness. When these two qualities are out of balance we become unhappy people.

I notice that people who are stuck on one of these qualities tends to marry a person who has the other quality; they eventually end up hating each other because the responsible person becomes “super” responsible (and see their partner as being super irresponsible) while the playful person sees the other as being too controlling –and no fun! Therefore each person becomes more ‘married’ to their preferred way of functioning.

These two dynamics are key to a satisfying life: accepting oneself as a lovable person, and thus trusting that others will love us for who we are; and working at keeping a balance in our life between being responsible and playfulness. These are vital to not falling into the trap of being the Law and Order person, the fear that my family and others will be going to ‘hell in a handbasket.’ The other danger of not having this balance is eventually giving up on people, thus becoming a very lonely person.

Bernard Dunning holds an MA in Family Systems Counselling, and is a volunteer Board member with our agency.

The Illusion of Power and Control

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As humans we seem to be drawn to seek control over our environment and ourselves. When we are infants, we immediately attempt to control our environment by making sure we are fed and changed. Later, we try to get our parents and siblings to do our bidding. Parents often talk about the power struggle with their children –their experience of not succeeding or celebrating the illusion of success.

As adults we talk about being in control of our feelings and our environment, be it work, play, or home life—but are we? People who seem to exhibit control all the time get a lot of praise. They are usually seen as strong people and are rewarded for not crying; or as people say, not “falling apart”. Usually women have been seen as weak for being “too emotional”, and have even been referred to as “hysterical”. They were traditionally hidden from unpleasant things and experiences.

However, this cultural norm seems to be disappearing. At this point, it is important to mention that as we grow up in our families, one of the tasks is to develop enough self-esteem to be able to deal with the eventual feelings of powerlessness or not feeling in control of our lives.

Those who are obsessed with controlling are usually called “control freaks.” They feel very anxious and vulnerable if they give up their attempts to have power and control over people close to them. Control and power gives them a false sense of well-being. However, power and control can be counterproductive, and even dangerous. Being obsessive about power and control can lead to a disorder called Anxiety Disorder, which can be treated with medication and/or talk therapy. One of the reasons control leads to a debilitating Anxiety Disorder is that it is impossible to feel powerful and in control at all times. A vicious cycle can occur: the minute we feel not in control, compromising our sense of power, we want to get our life back into control; yet there are just some times when this is not possible. So, we may become involved in behaviours which are fruitless: such as making sure things are done RIGHT; being authoritarian; and being in control of all situations. The more we may seem to fail, the more desperate we become, and then, we work harder and harder to try and get some order back into our lives. This can happen in all aspects of our life.
Here are some examples involving work and relationships. This article will concentrate on these two areas of our lives.

It happens at our job, when in the process of making things work, we start to feel we are losing control. We can become very authoritarian, ruthless, and unjust. This causes others to revolt, and then we feel we have to become more authoritarian. You can see where this pattern is going. It seems to be difficult for some people to cope with their feelings of not being in control. Instead of working with people, they compensate by being authoritarian and then create a tense work environment.

In relationships, we have the capacity to become violent when we feel unloved, and seem to be losing the ability to make our partner love us. This is the foundation of violent and abusive relationships. It is usually men who are involved in abusing women, looking to power and control to get their needs met. As a result of low self-esteem, we want to feel we have power and control over the person we love. This gives the Illusion we have secured our partner’s love. However, as we know, this sense of control and power can lead to abuse and violence toward the person we love.

Typically we tend to think the abusive person does not really love his partner. How could he love a person he always abuses? The abusive person loves his partner, but behaves in a way which destroys love. Because of his low self-esteem, he is always trying to manipulate the loved one, first through charm and excessive acts of doing for the other. Then, when the first signs of a threat to their love is perceived in his mind, he becomes controlling and authoritarian. The trigger could be his partner talking too long to another man at a party, or supper not being served on time. Women, as a result of their socialization, may over-ride their feeling of being in danger, and may believe that they can get this man to be the “giving person” he was in the beginning of the relationship. This type of thinking on the part of women can lead to disastrous results. For some men, even murder is not out of the realm of behaviors to set the relationship straight. (If I cannot have her, nobody can.)

Our culture warns us about thinking such thoughts, but we witness how some legal authorities and abused women will allow for excuses on the part of the spouse. We hope that the spouse will change based on his saying so. Our seeming inability to live with feelings of loss of control and power will inevitably lead us to the illusion that we can get control.

The above example is an extreme case, but many relationships do become abusive (i.e. being pushed, or being put down) as a result of not being able to respond adequately to the fear of losing a partner, and due to low self-esteem. It is important to recognise our feelings for what they are. This will help us to react in a way which will enhance the relationship –instead of destroying it.

Another situation which is of importance is having control and power over the children we are raising. Here again, this control and power we feel is an Illusion. In reality we do have control over our children, because ¬they allow it and want us to have control. Children and parents want to keep the bond they have with each other. Children want their parents in control, but eventually they look for areas in the relationship where, as they say, “they can be their own person.” This is natural but parents sometimes “dig in” to make sure they keep control. Then children revolt. This situation offers another mile-stone in the parent’s relationship with their children, and it is very important for parents to stay in communication with them.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, if children are feeling they are being unjustly treated and feel they can never win, they will start to rebel in a serious way. Justice, like with adults, is very important to children. If at any time they feel they have no power in the relationship, they will show parents they cannot control them. In this situation there is no amount of punishment that will make them obey. The only way into their lives is to re-establish the bond. In some cases this can be quite difficult.

As you can see, no matter what the age, we may voluntarily allow another person to have control over us at any particular moment of a relationship. It is an illusion to think and behave in a way that communicates “you are mine,” and, “I always know what is best.”

Bernard Dunning holds an MA in Family Systems Counselling, and is a volunteer Board member with our agency.