Program 13



  1. Changing Abusive Patterns in Your Life
  2. Abusive Relationships

The Role of Parents in Abusive Relationships

Abuse at Work

Abusive Family and Friends

  1. The Consequences of Abusive Relationships

Low Self-Esteem

Irrational Fear

Keeping Secrets

  1. Why Do You Remain in Abusive Relationships?
  2. Self-Empowerment
  3. Dealing with Your Abusers
  4. Constructing and Maintaining Healthy Relationships
  5. Conclusion

  1. Changing Abusive Patterns in Your Life

Exercise 1:

Write your story about the destructive relationship(s) in your life. Review what you write.

Trust and love are your feeling responses toward another person and you either feel trust/love or you do not. Many people pretend to feel trust and love. Honesty is seen as a behaviour and is something you can choose or not choose. You cannot decide to trust or love, but you can decide to be personally honest or not. Honesty does not always bring a response of love but if you hide behind phoney behaviour, the person may love your behaviour but not you, because you have hidden your real existence.

You only have control over your own thoughts, behaviour, reactions, and have free will. Hence, you are not a victim – victims do not have any choice in what happened to them (e.g. child abuse victims). All abuse is intentional and is learned behaviour – as such it can be unlearned.

Exercise 2:

Consider and write down past incidences when you felt like a victim. What were the circumstances and how could you have done things differently? Notice you always have a choice – are there any apparent patterns?

Abuse can be verbal, emotional, sexual and physical.

Common verbally or emotionally abusive behaviours are when someone:

Ignores you.

Depreciates you (e.g. calls you names).

Treats you coldly and with disapproval.

Tries to isolate, threaten, intimidate and/or humiliate you.

Wastes your time.

Places restrictions on you (e.g. dress or geographical).

Makes you feel like you are ‘insane’.

Checks up on you.

Betrays trust.

You may have been abused as a child or be experiencing sexual abuse in a relationship. Any unwanted touching or kissing is sexual abuse. Sex without consent is forced sex, and considered as rape whether in a committed relationship, marriage or not.

Physical abuse can be hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, biting, choking, having something thrown at you.

Domestic violence, infidelity, lying, manipulating/emotional blackmail, and addiction whether sex, alcohol, drugs or compulsive spending, debting, gambling, are all forms of abuse and disrespectful.

Exercise 3:

Consider and write down how you dealt with past abuses. Who and what did it involve? How did you feel and what action did you take? Is there a pattern? Do you accept your abuse and stay silent, feeling worthless, sad or hopeless? What excuses did you give for the abuse?

If you are a victim of obsessive love you need to understand that according to Hodgkinson ‘obsessive love’ may be caused by:

Feelings of vulnerability and a perceived failure to belong (e.g. lack of recognition in the world).

An inflated opinion of oneself stemming from insecurity.

Childhood experiences (e.g. feelings of unworthiness).

Feelings of being special and/or different.

Inequality between the lover and the beloved.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Removing the Obstacles to Intimacy.

Obsessive love can lead to stalking which can have detrimental emotional and physical effects on the victim who may need to take legal action against the stalker in some cases.

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                  2. Abusive Relationships

       The Role of Parents in Abusive Relationships

Identify those who have abused you and the ways that they have abused you. Do you notice any patterns in your abusive relationships? What sorts of people treat you unfairly? Do you find you cannot say ‘No’ to people? Are you still emotionally enmeshed with your parents?

It could be that you deal with abusive behaviour by remaining silent, denying it or by making excuses for yourself and others. You may feel depressed, irritable, frightened, suffer from insomnia and give in to compulsions rather than confront your abuser. Perhaps you resort to alcohol or drug misuse or you may overeat.

See Program 4: Overcoming Addiction, Program 5: Overcoming Alcohol Abuse, Program 3: Overcoming A Smoking Habit and Program 25: Overcoming Weight Problems.

Not being valued or allowed to feel independent and mature at the correct time; have defects and be vulnerable – can cause difficulties in later life such as low self-esteem and an inability to deal with needs and defects, as an adult.

Exercise 4:

Write down how your childhood needs were not met and how that has affected your life and relationships.

It may be that you seek to recreate your parents’ abusive behaviour in efforts to overcome the situation. You need to recognize this and endeavour to change.

One or both parents may suffer from depression and you yourself may have symptoms of depression. Depressed parents tend to neglect their children who in turn feel responsible for their parents’ sadness. The child may, as with the parents, try to fix people’s sadness in all relationships and fear abandonment.

If you were the victim of sexual abuse you need to understand that you were not to blame.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Forgiveness, Program 6: Overcoming Anger, Program 10: Overcoming Childhood Abuse and Program 15: Overcoming Grief And Bereavement.

As a result of sexual abuse you may have low self-esteem; find it difficult to express emotions or trust people; be uncomfortable with your body and sexuality; feel unease around children and be overprotective of them.

Exercise 5:

Write down your experience of sexual abuse. What form of abuse were you exposed to? How old were you? Who did it involve? How did you feel? Note the exact incidents.

In healthy families the parents’ and child’s roles are clearly defined by boundaries. Lack of boundaries can result in little interaction and limited support for the children.

Critical parents can cause their children to suffer from depression and anxiety. The child feels the need to seek approval and has problems over authority with their own children.

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 Abuse at Work

Gender discrimination and harassment claims against employers are increasing with both men and women as the perpetrators. Issues include discipline, promotion, maternity, lewd comments and actions.

Is there a pattern of abuse from bosses who treat you unfairly due to their own personal difficulties? You need to realize that you have choices in these matters and are allowing persons of authority to treat you with disrespect.  

Your boss may demand work-at-all hours, but if you have children it is crucial that you consider quantity and quality time with them – they are your top priority and you have a choice in the matter. If advancing your career is your top priority you need to consider whether you have enough time for relaxation and recreation.

With an increasingly competitive job market, coworkers are becoming more abusive – they consciously hurt you to satisfy their own selfish desires. From portraying you negatively in front of the boss, they may deceive you and submit your ideas as their own, leaving you with nothing to show for your efforts.

If you believe you have experienced discrimination you can try firstly talking to your supervisor, then your Human Resources manager who is obligated to investigate your allegations thoroughly without bias. Request a booklet of your company’s policies and procedures. Contact the Department of Fair Employment if you do not have a HR manager.

Sexual harassment or discrimination in the work place are very difficult to prove, time consuming and often expensive to pursue. Women filing sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits tend to have a pattern of abusive relationships.

Exercise 6:

Think about the abusive relationships you have experienced. Write down each person’s name, whether it was a person in authority or a coworker and what they did. How did you feel? What did you do to resolve the situation?

Do you notice any patterns and how is the abuse related to previous abusive relationships perhaps with your mother, partner or friends? Maybe the abusers are women who are critical as your mother was of you.

It is necessary you realize that not everyone experiences these types of abuse and that is because they make their high expectations known and do not allow themselves to be treated with disrespect.

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 Abusive Family and Friends

When you have confided in a friend they can be abusive by betraying your trust, perhaps to their partner.

A friend who depreciates you with their version of the truth is being abusive as is the friend who uses you. There are also friends who are there only for the good times and will not bother with you when your life gets difficult.

Since abuse is intentional your abusive friends are getting rewards for being mean to you. They may feel superior, smarter and their life may seem better when yours is a mess. But what is your reward for maintaining these friendships?

Exercise 7:

Write down each abusive friend’s name and the abusive behaviour. What was their reward for the behaviour and why did you stay friends with them – what was your reward? Do you see any patterns?

Your children may abuse you by being rude, inconsiderate and demanding. It is likely that they learn this behaviour from your partner and television but it is also likely that you do not stand up for yourself as a figure of authority.

Your husband or boyfriend may be the abuser – you may suffer verbal, emotional, sexual or physical abuse. The police are there to support you and you should keep phone numbers of domestic violence shelters close at hand. Be prepared to leave if necessary.

Critical parents and sibling rivalry can continue into adulthood.

Exercise 8:

Write down the relationships that make you feel abused and circumstances of abuse as well as your reactions to these situations.

If a male was your abuser in childhood, you may now have problems with your husband or son. If a female was the abuser perhaps you experience difficulties with your wife or daughter. Consider any patterns and whether your reactions in these situations are similar.

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                  3. The Consequences of Abusive Relationships

        Low Self-Esteem

As you continue with this advice the consequences of abusive relationships will be discussed.

You may have low self-esteem as a result of your abusive relationships. People with positive self-esteem do not let others treat them poorly. You need to improve your self-esteem.

See Program 16: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem.

Low self-confidence and lack of self-respect equate to low self-esteem. It is necessary that you develop self-confidence and self-respect in order to improve your self-esteem.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Assertiveness Training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Building Confidence I, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence III and Building Confidence IV.

Problems occur when you base your self-worth on external qualities such as success, love, looks, intelligence, race, religion or power. You have limited control over maintaining these in your life.

You need to base your self-esteem on being a considerate person who does their best and strives to do better in life. You have absolute control over these factors.

You may not be at ease with your endeavours but in attempting something difficult you will improve your self-esteem whether or not you are completely successful with the feat.

Exercise 9:

Write down what low self-esteem means to you and how it has affected your life, noting specific situations. Make a list of activities which make you feel better about yourself (e.g. buying flowers for the house or treating yourself to lotion or perfume). Try to do an activity from the list each day.

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       Irrational Fear

Fear is another result of abusive relationships. Most fears are irrational and are conditioned responses which often continue even after you have left the abusive relationship.

Learn to deal with negative thinking styles – irrational beliefs or biased thinking.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

Exercise 10:

Make a list of your irrational beliefs and identify the type of biased thinking you are using.

You should try to avoid using extreme language which makes your position helpless.

Exercise 11:

Consider unhealthy situations in which you tend to use abusive words. Describe these situations using positive words. Just by being careful of what you say can change your life for the better. You need to be your own best friend.

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       Keeping Secrets

Keeping secrets is a result of abusive relationships, as are feelings such as shame and guilt.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Shame and Guilt.

It could be that you are an expert at keeping the unhealthy aspects of your relationship a secret because keeping secrets about your family life was a way of life, perhaps due to abuse, parents who were defective in their roles or delinquent siblings, all of which was kept secret.

Exercise 12:

Write down the secrets you keep, why you kept the secret and how you view the secret now.

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                  4. Why Do You Remain in Abusive Relationships?

Enormous effort goes into remaining in an abusive relationship. You may deny that there is a problem – a defense mechanism learned in childhood.

Abuse should not be minimized – all abuse is bad.

It may be you are deluded – you believe one thing despite evidence to the contrary.

Often the reality of the situation is numbed by using alcohol or drugs. Perhaps you resort to relieving tension by adopting compulsive behaviours such as shopping, sex, gambling and comfort eating or not eating. Feelings of shame and secrecy can cause you to decline help and remain stuck. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and private therapy can guide you in developing good coping strategies.

Exercise 13:

Consider abusive situations and people, and the coping strategy you used. Make a list of good coping strategies you could use instead (e.g. keeping a diary, talking to a supportive friend, doing relaxing activities, exercising, and planning your future).

Women are taught from an early age that it is their responsibility to take care of others. This sets them up for future destructive relationships. They often exhaust themselves doing favours for others without being repaid.

Care taking tendencies arise from being a narcissist. When you help others you are making yourself feel better by distracting yourself from your own deficiencies and gaining a sense of power while seeing those you help as weak. By taking care of others you rob them of the opportunity to learn personal responsibility to cope successfully in the world.

Exercise 14:

Consider when you tend to take care of people. For each person ask you:

What do they want from me?

How do I feel about the request?

What do they do if I do not comply and how do they make me feel?

Do I believe what they say and that they will care less for me if I do not comply?

Is it damaging for them if I do not comply or am I setting limits and demanding respect?

You may communicate by:

Expecting others to be mind-readers.

Plotting revenge when denied what you want.

Demanding what you want.

Being reasonable and respectful in your request.

Exercise 15:

Practise making your needs clear to others, and saying ‘No’ in an assertive manner.

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                  5. Self-Empowerment

You need to be responsible for your own life and be aware that you may have chosen to remain in abusive relationships in the past but equally you can choose to be successful and happy.

Learn to deal with your problems without getting stressed.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Problem-Solving, Program 22: Overcoming Stress and Program 23: Overcoming Stress At Work.

Consider the thoughts you have about yourself. Try not to listen to voices that make you think negatively about yourself.

Have you pursued goals that interest you and stood up for yourself or have you kept silent and adjusted your plans to suit your abusers?

Exercise 16:

Write down your goals in life. How will you feel and behave when you are happy and successful? What are the obstacles to achieving your goals?

Exercise 17:

Write down what self-empowerment means to you: Your own house? Education? Financial stability? This list will clarify what you need to plan toward attaining in your life.

Others may be critical of the ‘new you’ but your enthusiasm should make them accept the change. If not then you need to discuss with them why they want you to remain unhappy.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Criticism, Countering Self-Criticism, Coping with the Need for Approval and Improving Your Self-Image and Combating Self-Harm.

Exercise 18:

If you were to become terminally ill, how would you spend your last months and toward the end of that time what would you regret not accomplishing in your life?

Take action rather than just say things – actions speak louder than words.

Commit yourself to a goal and attain what you want. Consider what you will have to do to achieve your goal. Describe your goal in your journal. It should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Managing Your Time.

Formulate a strategy to achieve your goal, planning in small steps. Get the support of others in attaining your goal.

To be successful it is essential that you confront your fears. Consider the worst-case scenario when you are approaching change you fear. Only by facing your fears, can you overcome them.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice –Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques, Eye Movement Technique (EMT), Mood Induction Procedure, Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), Imago Graded Exposure and In Vivo Graded Exposure.

You will be empowered if you can deal effectively with negative emotions.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Troublesome Emotions, Program 6: Overcoming Anger, Program 8: Overcoming Anxiety and Program 12: Overcoming Depression.

Adopt a healthy lifestyle.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Nutrition, Exercise, Managing Your Time and Sleep Management.

Build a good support network.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Social Skills Training, Communication Training and Negotiation Training.

Exercise 19:

Write down how you visualize your new life. Describe your environment, appearance, prospects and circumstances.

You could be diverted from the direct path to your goal – beware of this as it will take you longer to achieve your goal and you may give up due to exhaustion.

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                  6. Dealing with Your Abusers

You may have to deal with your abusers on a daily basis – the abusive situation could be at work, with your spouse, parents, children or friend(s). Your abusers intend and plan their abuse – they want control over you so they do not feel so powerless and ashamed of themselves. You need to have total control over your behaviour – do not believe or respond to what your abusers say about you. In this way your decision making will be better in the relationships.

Exercise 20:

Write down whether or not you should be treated with respect and feel contentment.

Should you mix with people who think highly of you or those who put you down?

Consider the worst-case scenario if you express how you feel to your abuser, to overcome your fears and take action to express yourself. Be assertive and request what you need. Tell people you want privacy when this is necessary.

An abusive ex is not likely to change for the better after separation. If your ex continues to disrupt your life, you should limit contact with them to just what is necessary.

You can limit contact with parents and siblings who are abusive to you. You could try asking your abuser why they are being unkind and to explain their behaviour. Remember you deserve kindness and respect, and can request your abuser to stop the abuse.

You need to end any abusive friendships – it may mean you do not have any friends left but you can go out and find new friends who treat you with respect. Remember ‘Birds of a feather flock together’. If you do not think highly of yourself,

your friends will also have a low opinion of you. When you feel you deserve better your friends will treat you with respect.

It may not always be in your interests to quit a job in which the boss or coworkers are abusive. In this instance you must persevere as long as necessary, telling yourself that you will not let their abuse get to you and that they have problems in their own lives to treat you this way.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism, Frustration, Procrastination and Persistence.

Your children should not be allowed to abuse you. You are your children’s role model and it is crucial that you demand their respect and show them that they should respect authority.

Abusers are deliberately cruel to gain control over another person. They need to explore this need for power and learn new ways of relating to others. With self-motivation an abuser can change but it takes a lot of effort over a long time.

When you have developed a positive self-concept you will need to choose whether or not you want to have someone in your life who does not respect you. You may request they change their behaviour or exit your life, or you may choose to not allow their behaviour to affect you.

Exercise 21:

Consider what your abuser says or does when they abuse you and formulate what you will say or do in assertive response.

When you have high self-esteem you will form healthy relationships with others who will treat you fairly as they wish to be treated.

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                  7. Constructing and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Witnessing domestic abuse has a detrimental psychological effect on children. Such children are more likely to become abusers or be abused in future relationships. You need to be a good role model to your children. Perhaps you have restricted yourself by constructing ways in which you ‘should’ behave (e.g. you need to be supported by your husband as you SHOULD stay home with your children). Ask yourself – is perfect behaviour always possible?

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism.

Your children deserve to feel loved and that they are important to you. Their needs will not be met when you are involved in abusive relationships.

You do not have power over being abused but you do have control over your response to the abuse – you can request the abuse to stop and take assertive action to alter the situation if the abuse persists.

It is always possible to make different choices to create a more positive future for you and your children.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – You and Your Family, Removing the Obstacles to Intimacy, Sexual Problems, Dealing with Relationships, Timetabled Activities, Reversed Role-Play, Time-Limited Trivial Arguments and Triangles.

Try to adopt a ‘bank account’ model of interaction with your partner, where you ‘deposit’ (give) freely ‘positives’, confident that your partner is committed to your needs and will reciprocate, if not now then soon.

John Alan Lee states six ‘Love Styles’:

Eros (Romantic love)

Ludus (Game playing love)

Storge (Companionate love)

Pragma (Pragmatic love)

Mania (Possessive love)

Agape (Altruistic love)

According to Robert Sternberg there are eight types of love derived from different combinations of three elements – intimacy, passion and commitment:

Non-love has none of the elements.

Liking has only intimacy.

Infatuated love (love at first sight) has only passion.

Empty love (as at the start of arranged marriages) has only commitment.

Romantic love has passion and intimacy.

Companionate love has intimacy and commitment.

Fatuous love has passion and commitment.

Consummate love (ideal love) has all three elements but the couple need to beware of regressing to a lesser love and work hard to maintain their complete relationship.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Making Your Love Last.

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                  8. Conclusion

First impressions last – so try to make good first impressions and set limits in your relationships. You need to have your own interests, make your own choices, be aware of whether or not you are happy, be independent and expect respect from those with whom you relate.

All your relationships may be unhealthy but you should be able to cope with some time on your own and when you expect others to respect you, your life will soon be full of healthy relationships.

Exercise 22:

For each type of relationship (e.g. romantic, friend, parents, children etc.), list the qualities you desire in them. If you do not know what you are looking for, how will you know you have found it?

Order the qualities according to their importance to you and if a person does not have the first five attributes then they are not good enough for you.

But do you possess these characteristics you are looking for, or are you trying to complete yourself with others who have the qualities you lack? You need to work on any deficiencies and know that to command respect you need to give it too.

For healthy relationships:

You need a non-threatening relationship in which you feel safe to express yourself.

Be open to compromise.

Communicate openly and honestly.

Share responsibilities and respect each other.

Be independent.

You need to trust each other and be supportive too.

Always keep in mind that although you may not have control over others abusing you, you can control how much contact you have with abusive people. Ask them why they are being abusive and if they do not stop, take positive action.

You should now be ready to have control in all your relationships and move forward with confidence.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Relapse Prevention.

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