In The Process of Primary Desistance From Intimate Partner Violence, the authors suggest three things people can do to reduce domestic violence behaviors, and the thinking patterns that drive the behaviors:
- Remove external stressors
- Promote stability in life circumstances
- Develop a supportive environment.
In CSI’s view, from a psychological, developmental, and attachment perspective, one of the main challenges is discovering what the “external” stressors are, because they likely involve internal stressors related to their experience as a child. It is not easy to discover and address deeply seated internal stressors. It may be unlikely that learned-in-childhood stressors can be removed, but they can be reduced and managed.
Obvious stressors include financial issues, unclear communication patterns, poor sleep, etc. Less obvious stressors are subjectively perceived dangers, especially relationship dangers.
Internal relationship dangers
Common relationship dangers for people who tend to engage in coercively controlling behavior, and which drive internal stress and external behavior can include:
- Abandonment, and being alone
- Not being in conflict
- Not being true to one’s own feelings, even if in conflict with other people’s desires
- Not attending to relationships
- Not keeping the focus of important people onto one’s self
- Believing that others will do as they say
- Ambiguous reactions by others
- Delaying gratification
For a more complete list of relationship dangers see the DMM Dangers List.
From a DMM-attachment perspective, it would likely be necessary for the person who uses coercive self-protective strategies to develop an understanding of what constitutes danger to them, and learn new strategies for how they can respond to the perceived dangers. What these changes might look like will be different in any individual case, but will likely involve enhanced self-regulation techniques such as mindfulness, breathing, and ways to create space between intense feelings and behaviors.
CSI Solutions: Compromise as an example
More advanced techniques are implied in the relationship danger list above. Let’s take a look at the danger of compromising for an example. For many people who engage in behaviors that can be described as coercive control, compromising is a danger. This presents issues for a lawyer whose client has difficulty compromising, and for an intimate partner.
Managing a client’s difficulty with compromise
“Let’s just go to trial.” Yes, that is one solution, but it can lead to problems. The client may not be able to afford a trial, may have better places to spend their money, may not get what they are demanding, may end up in a worse position after trial, or could simply do far better overall with a compromise solution.
Stress reduction, stability, support. Taking a cue from the researcher’s list, the lawyer can address all three of these, and timing can make a difference. In a divorce case, for example, clients are always stressed at the beginning, in part because no one know what will happen in the short or long run. Stress reduction is hard to to do until at least the short run is addressed. Enhanced counseling skills can help, such as using enhanced listening skills, and giving the client choices after providing legal (and conflict psychology) education. Once temporary orders are in place, the client will usually have at least some measure of stability and sense of safety, and their neural capacity to think more flexibly should increase. They should have an increased capacity to consider your advice and be able to more flexibly explore options in their case.
“I want all of the summer, or none of it!” If the client can’t find any compromise position, it may help to brainstorm options out loud for the client. When they see that you are supportive, present in mind and body, and working to do your best to get them what they want, and that you are working hard to find other solutions, they may instinctively understand that neither of their polar (or uni-polar) demands are optimal choices. You might offer some compromise solutions, which the client may accept, or the client may reject your ideas too, yet come up with their own in the process of working through the issue.
As above, when partner 1 is engaging in coercive control, both partner 1 and partner 2 will need work on the problem together. Partner 1, could gain an understanding of how compromise feels dangerous and, perhaps starting with baby steps, learn to offer and accept compromises. Partner 2 would need to recognize that partner 1 has difficulty with compromise and may need help beginning a compromise-offer/acceptance process, and reset expectations of what kind of compromise their partner may be able to tolerate. Both partners would likely need to agree on a plan for how they will explore partner 1’s subjectively perceived danger of compromise. Working with a third party may be quite helpful, such as with an advocate, counselor, pastor, etc. (It would help if the third party had an understanding of the psychological issues.)
By focusing on internal stressors (dangers), a CSI perspective addresses internal/external dangers, creates stability and predictability in a person’s life, and promotes a supportive environment. This organically involves all three beneficial elements found by the researchers. These techniques can improve the lawyer-client relationship, and can also be used by partners in an intimate relationship.
Absent such fundamental changes, concern should remain about the likelihood of significant changes in coercive control behavior and the underlying thinking patterns.
This article focuses on obsessive control, described by attachment “C” or affective patterns, which are commonly associated with DV behaviors. Obsessive control involves a need to control driven by internal feelings. Compulsive control described by attachment “A” patterns involves a different set of issues.
The Process of Primary Desistance From Intimate Partner Violence
Kate Walker, Erica Bowen, Sarah Brown
Violence Against Women, First Published August 15, 2017
Research Article Abstract:
This study examined the interaction between structure and agency for individuals in the first or early phase of primary desistance (1 year offending free) from intimate partner violence (IPV). Narrative accounts of perpetrators, survivors, and IPV program facilitators were analyzed using Thematic Analysis. Changes in the self and the contexts, structures, and conditions were necessary to promote desistance. Perpetrators made behavioral and cognitive changes taking on different identities (agentic role) by removing external stressors and instability within the confines of a supportive environment (structural role). Findings provide a theoretical framework of desistance from IPV that integrates social processes and subjective change.
Copyright Mark Baumann, 2019