Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Changing my Thinking

In my last post I discussed my biggest criticism of the book "The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse". Now I'll write about some things I liked.

I often hear people talk about rights in a relationships. Patricia Evans has a list of "Basic Rights in a Relationship" like the right "to be heard by your mate and responded to with courtesy". On the level of basic morality and human rights I agree, all people are deserving of love and respect, but in my marriage, thinking of it that way has not helped me.

I was thinking "He has no right to say those things to me" and "You can't speak to me that way." Which led to me thinking, "He has to stop this". But guess what, he doesn't have to stop. Nobody is going to make him stop. I can't call the verbal abuse police to arrest him and enforce my right to be heard and responded to with courtesy. With the exception of my body and my property, relationships "rights" are not like civil or legal rights. Ultimately, all you can do is remove yourself from his presence.

Perhaps Ms. Evans and others talk about "rights" in a relationship to validate that your expectations are in fact reasonable, because abusers will try to convince you otherwise. I would prefer that such a list be called "Reasonable expectations in a Healthy Relationship".

I have also heard well meaning people tell the recipient of verbal abuse that they must demand to be treated with respect. I think that demanding respect just plays into the abuser's view of relationships as power and control based. I do however, require being treated respectfully as a condition of engagement.

When I questioned the reality of my thinking I realized that while he may not have the moral right to do what he does, he does have the freedom to do it.

* He has the freedom to speak to me however he likes.

* He has the freedom to throw things.

* He has the freedom to respond to me with anger when I tell him I feel upset by something he has done.

* He has the freedom to interpret my behavior any way he chooses.

* He has the freedom to inquire about my life and needs or not.

* He has the freedom to remain silent or approach.

He has the freedom to make those choices. I also have freedom. Previously I thought "I need to explain to him what I was really feeling" and "I have to keep talking with him to try to work things out." But I realized I don't.

* I have the freedom to disengage from someone who calls me names and tells me what I am doing or feeling.

* I have the freedom to share my thoughts and feelings only with people I feel safe with.

* I have the freedom to stay in this marriage or not.

* I have the freedom to leave a relationship when my boundaries are not respected.

* I have the freedom to leave a relationship when my needs are not being met.

And of course with freedom, comes responsibility.

It is my responsibility to create a happy and fulfilling life for myself. I am not powerless. I can choose.

It is difficult to explain, but when I began to affirm his freedom to choose how he behaves, even if he chooses to behave in ways that are detrimental to creating a safe, loving relationship, I no longer felt so powerless and I began to affirm more of my freedom of choice.

This doesn't mean that his choices are acceptable to me. Far from it. It just helped me realize, okay, this is what he is doing, now what do I need to do?

It has helped me to question my thoughts and if I discover that some of my thoughts are distorted and not true, to replace them with more realistic ones.

I do not think it is helpful to replace accurate and realistic thoughts with distortions in order to feel better. There are systems of challenging thoughts which instead of leading to reality, may lead to self-delusion. One dangerous method I have heard of is Byron Katie. You can read about the dangers of "The Work" here:,9147

A great book self-help book based on cognitive therapy is "The Feeling Good Handbook" by Dr. David Burns. The parts of the Ellis/Powers book that I found helpful were based on the same concepts but gave examples based on the experiences of recipients of verbal abusive.

The Feeling Good Handbook

The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life


Anonymous said...

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I just came here from another blog site, after you left me a comment.


Bendz said...


Simply great.
Nice analysis.

Keep it up.


CZBZ said...

1.Is it true?

2.Can you absolutely know that it's true?

3.How do you react when you believe that thought?

4.Who would you be without the thought?

If Byron Katie is making the assertion that ALL people want to do the right thing, then I'd say she's so far off the mark she'd best turn it around.

We know there are people who are conscious of what is right and what is wrong but choose to take advantage of other people simply because they can.

They do NOT want to do the right thing, in fact, they find great pleasure in doing the 'wrong' thing.

"Is that true?"


"Can I know absolutely that it's true?"


"How do I react when I believe that thought?"

Very carefully

"Who would I be without that thought?"

A sitting duck


jennie said...

I love your answers CZ. You are right.

An erroneous thought that makes us feel happy puts us at high risk of feeling very unhappy when reality whaps us in the head.

CZBZ said...

ha! Let's take a typical situation with a rebellious teen-ager at home. We might say something like, "My kid is sooooooooo disorganized."

Then we walk in our messy bedroom, turn the thought around and say, "Wow. I'm disorganized".

This increases our awareness of projection as a human tendency and we hastily correct dysfunctional thinking by taking responsibility for our behavior.

Then we look at the abusive relationship with someone who has planted seeds of self-doubt in our hearts and minds. We finally dredge up the courage to say, "My husband is abusive."

If we turn that thought around and say, "I am abusive", there is NO awareness because it is a lie. We become even more confused and our efforts ‘grounding ourselves in reality’ are thwarted.

Psychotherapists are promoting Byron Katie’s work as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. But there needs to be a warning to those who ARE dealing with abusive partners (parents, siblings, leaders, etc.).

It is inappropriate to suggest we are seeing things through distorted lenses when in fact, we are seeing REALITY as it IS.

I believe this technique has the potential of revictimizing the victim, which often leads to our silencing. We stop speaking the truth and everyone is comfortable once again, because the status quo remains unquestioned.

Oh, those troublesome folks who disturb the peace by telling the truth, eh?


jennie said...

It is alarming that therapists would be promoting Byron Katie's work as cognitive therapy. I agree that it has to potential to play right into the abusers hands. The abuser tries to turn things around and say that you are abusing him.

The first question, "Is it true?" is a good one to ask. But Dr. David Burns says explicitly, "One disclaimer is necessary. There are many times when negative feelings are healthy and appropriate. Learning to accept these feelings and how to cope with a realistically negative situation is just as important as learning how to rid yourself of distorted thoughts and feelings."

A good therapist will always help you be in reality, not escape it.

CZBZ said...

I agree with you, jennie. The concern I have with Katie's work is that it's considered to be 'self help'. Because I've been talking to hundreds of people about abusive relationships, nearly every person says he or she was accused of being abusive BY THE ABUSER.

Our minds are spinning in circles after a heart-to-heart discussion with an abuser. A good therapist would never suggest we 'turn abuse around and blame ourselves.'

Haven't we all had quite enough of that already??

P.S. I like the quote you clipped from Dr. Burns book! I cringe at the current trend to avoid negative thoughts and feelings!! What a great way to absolve ourselves from social responsibility!


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