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Alcohol

This is the tenth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel — Denial, Minimising, Blaming.

Power & control wheel #10 Clare Murphy PhD

We are all responsible for the choices we make in life. We’re personally responsible for our own thoughts, beliefs, assumptions and interpretations of situations. Our thoughts lead to our feelings and in turn our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviours. When we’re in a “healthy” relationship and one of us causes harm to the other, the one who causes harm will acknowledge and own what they did — take responsibility for it — and take steps to never do that again, to change their behaviours with the aim of developing greater levels of love, care, empathy and respect for the other person. They do what it takes to try to hear, understand and empathise with the other, and in turn express themselves in helpful ways to help the other person understand them. Self-Responsibility requires giving up blaming others.

However, in a relationship where one person is motivated to be right and get their way at all costs, and to maintain power and control over the other, they relinquish personal responsibility for their harmful words and actions — they deny they’ve done wrong, they minimise their abusive and controlling behaviours — they blame the target of their abuse.

Men who use coercive control against their female partner deny their behaviours outright. Or he’ll admit to causing harm but minimise it saying the abuse was not that bad, or he’ll tell her their relationship is the best she can hope for. Men who use coercive control use rationality and reasoning, by for example reminding her of times he was right and she was wrong. When she gives him feedback about his behaviours he’ll divert attention away from himself and pick her personality apart. He’ll blame his abuse on his stress, drugs, alcohol, or anything or anyone outside of himself. He’ll blame her for his behaviours by twisting things around so that it appears she is responsible. And if she wants to escape the clutches of his incessant control tactics, he’ll use intimidation and threats by doing things like warning her that if she leaves, he’ll commit suicide and that she’ll be responsible.

Denying, minimising and blaming all lead to obstructing change. . . . . No matter what the victimised person says or does in an attempt to resolve the controlling person’s behaviours and attitudes, the controlling person prevents the development of a healthy relationship.

Here are some experiences that women have when living with a male partner who denies, minimises, and blames….

Denial

Denial entails acting as if he has not been abusive, not been controlling, not caused any harm. Therefore he believes there is nothing to be responsible and accountable for.

Elsie said her husband Leon “was a real control freak, but he never acknowledged it to himself. He would quite often say to people how nice he was. I don’t think he ever knew what he was ever like. I’d say nothing (laughter). He was so nasty if you crossed him, it just wasn’t worth it.”

It is common for some men to use counselling as an arena to continue denying their controlling behaviours and to try to get the counsellor to take his side.

For example, Elizabeth said her husband David “thought counselling was about telling me that I was wrong, so he came along to agree with the counsellor that I was wrong. Even in later years when I went to counselling over the whole sexual abuse thing and so on it was always about, ‘there was something wrong with me’. There was never any acknowledgement that anything he might be doing could be contributing to what was happening in our relationship.”

Minimising

Minimising entails acknowledging he may have done something harmful, but he refuses to take responsibility for the level of abusive behaviour and the level of harm caused — saying things like, “It wasn’t that bad, get over it.”

Karen said she “would feel guilty and self‑indulgent for arguing because he’d say, ‘What are you making all this fuss about? Settle down, calm down, live your life peacefully.’ So I started making these decisions to close myself down. You do begin to doubt how right you are if you’re just living this life in one continual power struggle and everything’s being constantly bitched over, everything. Everything (sigh of exhaustion). You just get exasperated and exhausted and you don’t know which battles to pick and which one’s important.”

Victoria said her partner Graham would minimise his behaviours mainly by saying, “things aren’t that bad”. She said that it wasn’t an overt, “this is what I think and you’ll damn well think that way, but if you don’t agree with what I’m saying then I’m going to make you doubt yourself, so I will manipulate you to believe the way I believe, but I won’t overtly tell you that you have to believe that way, but I’ll just make sure you feel so unsure about what you believe that you’ll take on what I believe anyway.”

As a response to Graham’s subtle ways of minimising his controlling behaviours and their effects, Victoria “started to believe that he was right and that maybe I really did misinterpret a lot of things, that I really wasn’t made for this marriage thing and that was my fault, that I was too pushy, that I wanted to change him and that was a wrong thing to do, and that I should accept him for who he was, and that I wasn’t a very nice person for doing that, and I must stop that immediately, and that that’s another bad aspect of my personality that must be fixed.”

When Victoria had an emotional response to something, Graham would say things to minimise what he’d done and to shut down the conversation and therefore obstruct change. He would tell her she was, “overreacting…. misinterpreting and … you just don’t understand… everything’s such a bloody big deal to you, just get over it… what are you on about, for God’s sake do we have to go through this again?”

Over time Victoria learnt not to trust my own judgements. I always thought if I was upset about something, I was overreacting. There wasn’t a degree of upset before I decided that I was overreacting, any minute hint of being upset I was overreacting. Get over it and move on and accept that there is nothing you can do about it. So just put up and shut up. Get on with it.”

Because Susan’s husband Anthony would deny, minimise and blame, and therefore close all doors to the possibility of resolving issues and developing a healthy relationship, Susan said, “I was the only person who ever said sorry. He’d be late home from the pub and I’d say, ‘I’m sorry, but I really missed you, that’s why I’m really angry that you’re not here.’ Whereas he’d say, ‘It’s only the pub, what’s your problem?’ I suppose that’s when it becomes my fault and I fully believed it was my fault for being so impatient, for being so controlling over his space.”

Rationalisation

Similar to minimising, people who use power and control to get their way will use reasoning and rationalisation. They’ll rationalise by saying things like, “I only did it one time” yet in actual fact they use controlling tactics daily, weekly … in an ongoing way over a long period of time. They rationalise by saying that one behaviour they did a moment ago was a one-off – and therefore minimise the incessant ongoing pattern of control across time.

Teresa said “It’s very clever because there’s a logic to what they say. At the time there isn’t an argument against it, it makes sense, it’s not till you go away afterwards and think about it and think ‘no that’s not right’.”

The controlling partner will rationalise by reminding her of all the times she did something wrong and he did something right. He’ll also compare his behaviours with other men’s saying that his were nowhere near as bad and that she has it good with him. Such comparisons especially happen when the man never uses physical violence. There is so little mention of coercive control in the news media — which means the victim has very little back-up from society to support her interpretation of his behaviours.

Justification

When a controlling person justifies their behaviours, they usually turn the attention onto the victim — saying that they would not have behaved that way if she had done what he expected of her, such as keep the children quiet, have the dinner on the table on time, not challenge a decision he made.

As Donna said, “Everything in Frank’s world was…he was justifiably right in everything.”

Blaming

Blaming entails admitting that he has used abusive, controlling behaviours, admitting she may feel harmed, BUT he takes absolutely no ownership or responsibility for his actions and their effects.

It’s common for men who use controlling behaviours to say to their partner “it’s all your fault you’ve done this.”

Elsie said Leon would “blame my dog for things and it obviously wasn’t. I remember his dog one day (laughter) had shat on the floor in the lounge, he’d been shut in or something. I was really cross about it and he blamed me for that. If he blamed me I would just agree and say I was sorry. I suppose I did that quite a bit and accept it was my fault just for peace, but internally I didn’t believe it.”

Being continually blamed for someone else’s behaviour can be crazymaking. However when I question deeply, the women who come to me for counselling, they will have been like Elsie — that is, even though many women start to outwardly behave as if they are “letting the abuse happen” or as if “they are putting up with his controlling behaviours” . . . .  In reality, somewhere deep inside them they will have quietly held onto their own voice as they learned it was not beneficial to continue to push for him to take personal-responsibility. 

The effect of being constantly blamed for her husband David’s behaviours would lead Elizabeth to “bend over backwards. I would say to him well, ‘How do you want me to be?’ I wanted him to tell me what I needed to do to be okay, to be the wife he wanted, to be the person he wanted.”

Teresa said her partner Patrick “blamed me for lots of things. The drinking was the thing he blamed me for most. He was a secret drinker. When I would confront him about being drunk or about drinking, it would be my fault because I’d upset him by telling somebody something, or I’d spent too much time with my friends, so what was he supposed to do. That sort of thing felt like a consequence of breaking the rules.”

Teresa said Patrick “tried to make me drink and said that the reason he drank was my fault because I had such an odd puritanical attitude about alcohol which is totally untrue. That he had to hide it from me because it would upset me and that if I would sit down and have 12 beers a night with him, then it would be fine.”

As many women do in response to incessantly being blamed, they do as Teresa did: “I apologised, said I wouldn’t do it again.”

Teresa said Patrick “blamed me for his marriage breaking up as well. The blaming me for the drinking is a thing I recall most vividly, because in retrospect it’s so absolutely bizarre (laughter). How could it be my fault that he got pissed every night and hid the cans under the floor and in the ceiling and in the filing cabinet, it’s not my fault. But I really thought it was, that I had some serious problem with alcohol that I couldn’t see that this was normal behaviour (laughter).

Women usually seek to engage their partner in conversation seeking to understand why he abuses and controls them. During such conversations with PatrickTeresa said he’d respond by saying, “Because I made him. Every behaviour of his I didn’t like, he did because I made him, because of my attitudes and my behaviour. He was doing it in response to me and a lot of the time he was doing it so he didn’t upset me, like hiding his drinking. It was my fault that I was upset about it because if I hadn’t snooped I would never have found out about it so what could I expect?”

Sally said throughout her seven year marriage to Dylan, she would never back down from trying to get him to take responsibility for his behaviours, but, “He never ever would work out any problems that we had. He always blamed me every single time, without fail. He would just never take responsibility for any of his actions.  I left him because he just would not meet me half way.” She said he blamed her all the time and like many women who are consistently made to feel responsible for their partner’s behaviours, she ended up believing it was true, so she “always tried hard to fix myself and I think that is why, in the end, I went on Prozac because I was exhausted from trying to fix myself when I actually wasn’t the problem.”

Raewyn said it might only be little things, but that Brian would often “blame me (laugh). If something went missing he would blame me, whereas really it had been him who put the thing somewhere, whatever it is, a book, or some tool, or whatever.”

Donna said her husband “wouldn’t acknowledge that there was anything wrong. To this day Frank will tell you that our whole marriage break up was my fault.”

Victoria said Graham would blame her for “everything! His actions, problems in the marriage. Everything was my fault. Everything, absolutely everything. Our first real fight once we got married, we’d been married about 20 minutes, and we got to the reception and his family threw rice at us sitting in the back of the car and it went down his shirt — That was my fault. So he stormed off and wouldn’t talk to me, and my sister’s husband had to go and get him into the reception. And then we went into the room after we got married that night he wanted to watch a video. We didn’t have the video cord adaptor thing, so I rung down to reception and asked them about it and they’re like, ‘aren’t you the newly weds?’ and I’m like, ‘don’t even go there’. They said, ‘we didn’t think you’d need the adaptor so we lent it to another room’. So that was my fault somehow, I should have been aware of the adaptor problem.”

Karen said her husband Felix “had this new age philosophy that we all construct our own lives, our own existence and he would say, ‘if you have got this problem Karen, then this is entirely your fault and your decision, and you are the only one who can do anything about it, it’s got nothing to do with me. You own your situation, it is yours not mine.’ Which is fine to an extent, I’m ok with this. But I do believe that we need to take responsibility for the way that we behave with each other and how our actions impose on other people. He’s got this philosophy if you’re sitting down watching tele at night on the couch and a piece of fuselage falls off a plane falls through your ceiling and kills you, then you obviously created that, you asked for it, it’s your fault. Everything he did was my creation.”

In response to Felix avoiding taking responsibility for his controlling behaviours, and twisting the concept of personal-responsibility around as a way of blaming Karen for his abusive and controlling behaviours, Karen “argued with it. I hated it. I still hate it. But I resisted it, I argued about it every time, and I’d say, ‘well how come it’s that way that everything in your life is my fault?’”

Denial, minimising and blaming are destructive tactics of power and control

The perpetrator’s belief that he has to be right — at all costs — every time . . . . . leads to a downward spiral over months and years, as the victim of control becomes more and more debilitated.

Ironically, as the victim loses her confidence, self-esteem, and dignity, many men end up not liking the result! That is, not liking the person she has become. And because the perpetrator of coercive control denies, minimises and blames throughout the course of the relationship — he is oblivious to the fact he is the one who — by using one control tactic at a time, over years, chipped away at her — as if chipping away at a slab of marble slowly shaping her into a shadow of her former self.

When a man constantly denies, minimises, rationalises, justifies and blames — over time — and seldom, if ever, takes personal responsibility — and does not show he is holding himself to account by actually changing his behaviours — then these control tactics are the hallmark of a relationship that will never ever become the loving, caring, healthy relationship the woman is hoping for.

Watch out for blogs on the following control tactics:

One-Sided power games
Mind games
Inappropriate restrictions
Isolation
Over-protection & ‘caring’
Emotional unkindness & violation of trust
Degradation & Suppression of Potential
Separation Abuse
Using social institutions & social prejudices
Using the children
Economic abuse
Sexual abuse
Symbolic aggression
Domestic slavery
Physical violence

References:

  • Anderson, Kristin L., & Umberson, Debra. (2001). Gendering violence: Masculinity and power in men’s accounts of domestic violence. Gender & Society, 15, 358-380.
  • Cavanagh, Kate, Dobash, R. Emerson, Dobash, Russell P., & Lewis, Ruth. (2001). ‘Remedial work’: Men’s strategic responses to their violence against intimate female partners. Sociology, 35(3), 695-714.
  • Coleman, Karen H. (1980). Conjugal violence: What 33 men report. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 6, 207-213.
  • Eisikovits, Zvi C., & Buchbinder, Eli. (1997). Talking violent: A phenomenological study of metaphors battering men use. Violence Against Women, 3, 482-498.
  • Goodrum, Sarah, Umberson, Debra, & Anderson, Kristin L. (2001). The batterer’s view of the self and others in domestic violence. Sociological Inquiry, 71, 221-240.
  • Hearn, Jeff. (1998). The Violences of Men: How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men’s Violence to Women. London: Sage
  • Mullaney, Jamie L. (2007). Telling it like a man. Men and Masculinities, 10, 222-247.
  • Stamp, Glen H., & Sabourin, Teresa Chandler. (1995). Accounting for violence: An analysis of male spousal abuse narratives. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 23, 288-302.
  • Wood, Julia T. (2004). Monsters and victims: Male felons’ accounts of intimate partner violence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 555-576.

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Alcohol and murder

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by Clare Murphy PhD 25 January 2009

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