The Structure of Therapeutic Confrontation

There’s an old axiom in the medical sciences that basically asserts that any attempted therapeutic intervention in the absence of sound diagnosis constitutes malpractice.  What this means is that to undertake a course of action that necessarily impacts someone’s life in a significant way without a scientifically well-founded rationale for taking that action is by nature both reckless and irresponsible.  Think about it for a minute:  Would you seriously consider going back to a dentist who, upon your first visit suggested that you allow him or her to simply start drilling your teeth just to see what they find and then confer an opinion later?  I think not.  You’d probably prefer that some examination was done to determine exactly what the nature of your problem was and then be apprised of the generally accepted remedy for dealing with that problem before you give consent.  The same is true for psychological and behavioral problems. Before intervening, you have to know with some reasonable level of certainty exactly what the problem is and what’s causing it because that in large measure points dictates the course of action you most likely need to take to resolve the problem.

I’m not exactly sure how the term “confrontation” garnered such negative connotations or how the act of confronting – even confronting benignly and therapeutically – got such a bad wrap.  But I have long suspected a few major reasons:  First, traditional psychology paradigms had us all believing that most of the time, people do things with little conscious awareness about their underlying motivations.  And these same paradigms also taught us that underneath it all, we all want the same things, have the same wants, needs, desires, etc., and while we might be misguided about how to secure these things, our basic desires are good and pure and to call attention in a way that seems judgmental to the unhealthy ways we might tend to seek these things would inevitably only prompt a person to become both “defensive” and uncooperative and possibly damage their self-esteem.

Many years ago in my early professional training, I was observing a therapy session with a married couple whose relationship was on the brink.  And each time one partner complained about the verbally abusive, denigrating language the other partner frequently used, that partner would “justify” the behavior by asserting such language wouldn’t be necessary if the other partner would simply see things correctly (i.e. their way) and not provoke their ire.  The therapist, in turn, would ask the partner making the justifications to search their feelings for the underlying fears or concerns giving rise to their anger and venting of hostility.  Meanwhile, the abuse continued, often and unabated. Later, during a debriefing session, I was shocked when the therapist rightfully made the observation that the one partner showed both a degree of haughtiness and “entitlement” that was truly troubling, and I had the naivete to ask why that wasn’t confronted directly.  Of course, the answer was: “On, you can’t do that!  Your client will get so defensive they’ll just shut down, or perhaps they’ll even stop coming. That won’t get you anywhere.”  We also discussed how the therapist viewed the problem.  “Communication issues,” and more specifically, “communication issues stemming from unresolved fears and wounds in childhood” was the response. After all, why else would a person behave so callously to the person they purported to love and without much apparent empathy or remorse? So week after week, the couple would come in and work on “communicating” better and processing the feelings they were having that gave rise to their frustrations.  But after many months of this kind of thing, and continuing episodes of even worse verbal berating when the couple was at home, what really really made a dent in the cycle of relational abuse was one party finally having enough, deciding to get out, and filing for divorce.

I reflected on this case long and hard before coming to some conclusions that at the time were considered more than a bit “radical” but are generally much better accepted today.  And one of the more important things I decided had to do with what was and was not properly confronted during the sessions I observed.  A clinician has to determine exactly what the main problem is, the root of it, and what would have to be done to ameliorate it, if that’s even possible.  And in this case, I determined that “communication” was not in itself the problem, nor the root of any problems.  Rather, I saw the kind of communication one partner was repeatedly willing to engage in as a cardinal sign (cardinal signs are objectively observable manifestations of a condition or disorder that are so indicative of one condition as opposed to another that their mere presence is both a strong and reliable predictor that someone has a particular disorder).  I added up all the signs and symptoms: grandiosity, feelings of entitlement, repeated violations of boundaries without sufficient compunction or apparent remorse, and decided that the more fundamental and primary diagnosis was one of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). (For more information on Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and the kinds of abuse that sometimes accompany this syndrome see the relevant chapters in Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, and The Judas Syndrome and also the articles:  Egotists: “Above” the Need for a Governing “Higher Power” and Narcissism and Relational Abuse – Both Active and Passive.) And at the time, the field was truly in a quandary about how to best intervene with character disturbances, especially NPD (with many insisting, as some still do today, that when it comes to personality or character disorders, there is no effective treatment).  For me, this was the beginning of a period of investigation and theoretical reorientation that would eventually define my career.

My years of experience have only solidified a perspective I came to quite some time ago:  No problem has a chance of being successfully ameliorated until and unless it’s: 1) correctly identified and accurately labeled, and 2) confronted in the manner most likely to promote constructive resolution.  And within this “structure, over the years, I sought to refine my own “art” of benign confrontation.  I have never looked back.

To really help someone, you have to strip away all the superficial manifestation of a problem and get to the heart of matters, and a lot of the time, that points to character (whether a person is of a mind to admit it or not).  And upon realizing how many people’s problems were in some way related to a person’s character disturbance (i.e. problems of their own making, arising out of their own deficiencies of character or problems caused by being in a relationship with a person of significantly disturbed character) I was inspired to write my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing – to give the average person a framework for understanding the true nature of the problems we so frequently encounter these days and how such problems really need to be addressed both at the interpersonal and professional level if they’re ever to have even a chance at resolve.

Character Matters will be broadcast live this Sunday at 7 pm Eastern (6 pm Central and 4 pm Pacific) so I can take your calls.

48 thoughts on “The Structure of Therapeutic Confrontation

  1. Dr. Simon, Cory asked a question about how you know when to confront and when not to. In some of these situations with Covert Agressives, it is important to remember that aggression IS there even if it is covert. What might be covert could transition to serious and dangerous overt aggression and for some readers here it has.
    I don’t think enough has been said here about this serious potential. Not to single out men as the only ones who can have poor character or be manipulative but there is an inherent power imbalance between men and women and I believe that we as women are aware of that at some level. I’ve said this here before but Spathtard used to stand over me a LOT and he was big and I’m fairly little. Honestly, I think he was sending me a subconscious “message” of sorts.
    Just curious, have you ever worked with physical abusers and has any sucess?

    1. Excellent question Puddle, and one I was about to ask as once the line of physical violence has been crossed there is a huge imbalance of power. Fear overrides any possible way of confronting that behaviour even benignly I would think and within the therapy sessions that sort of situation would need to be realised fairly quickly or it could become very dangerous. These types of abusers are scary and considering statistics, numerous. Advice would be to get out and run quickly but that type of abuser has the potential to be extremely dangerous in separation, again why many women stay in such situations.

      1. ((((Tori))) these situations are the proverbial ” stuck between a rock and a hard place”. I read somewhere a long time ago that the biggest motivator of human behavior is fear. Not with a CD manipulator Psychopath of course, they don’t have that problem to contend with. I think what generates and feeds fear in most people is experienced as a challenge or thrill to them.

      2. Tori, I think that “line” gets crossed way before an abuser lays a hand on you through the other forms of abuse they use and can be just as damaging, just not physical. You may not realize that is happening however…… Insidious damage is being done on a subconscious level.
        I watched a show last night on sinkholes and in a way is was an example of this. People built houses, roads, businesses right on top of these underground caves and rivers. As the water eroded the soil and limestone rock beneath the surface could no longer be supported and then woosh! Houses, cars, businessss, people…….swallowed up. All I could think about was covert abuse.

        1. (((Puddle))), the line is crossed earlier. I can think at the beginning when hurtful things he said would really cut and I’d ask why he would say something like that. At that time I think I was quite calm and rational in dealing with them and I did confront them. Of course what I didn’t understand was the game at foot. You can’t understand it because it’s not something you would ever say to someone you love, so you confront it and then they wash it away somehow and make you believe that’s not what they really meant. It’s that circular conversation that takes place and you get lost in the confusion. Also at the beginning of relationships there are always these moments of confusion as you try to understand each other so you wonder if you’re overreacting to some things…only now when I tell my counsellor she will say…OMG what an…. whatever and I’ll think to myself Yeah I know but how did I not pick that up! Sink holes are very apt indeed.

          1. When they can lie without guilt, they can make a mockery of everything said. I notice that sometimes a person would lie by telling only part of the truth, to validate themselves. In this situation does this person have a little guilt in their lie?

  2. That makes sense, Dr Simon. Do you have anything to say to the layperson who wants to intervene or confront, but is not coming from the position of a therapist? And what are the techniques for rebalancing power once the aggressor attacks?

  3. I work at a women’s abuse shelter and do outreach education to women who are (or have) experienced domestic violence (and other forms of violence as I believe you are correct when saying that in general there is an ‘inherent power imbalance’ among men and women, not just physically and sometimes domestically, but also in the broader society as well). However, this is certainly not to say that women cannot be character disturbed or abusive as well (a lot of the character disturbed individuals I have unfortunately crossed paths with in most recent years have been female, but that’s another post).

    My point is that there are resources out there if you plan to confront a male abuser, but what is usually recommended to women in these cases is that you build a Safety Plan first, and have supports available when the time does come to confront– especially if you are concerned about the potential for overt aggression.

    There is an informative booklet we recommend to women who are considering leaving an abusive relationship called ‘Creating a Safety Plan.’ It might be a good start to review and pass along to others who have similar concerns. I believe you can access it online. It was developed by ‘The Peel Committee Against Woman Abuse.’ Just Google that title and the website should pop up. Hope that helps.

  4. Project coordinator, welcome! That is a very helpful post and thank you for the resource. One of the problems in a physically abusive relationship is that ALL of the elements present in an emotionally, mentally and psychologically abusive and manipulative relationship are already in play by the time it gets to the physically abusive stage. In other words, the victim is already hooked very deeply on several levels by the time things take a turn for the much worse.
    I used to be one of those people who thought, ” Well, if you keep coming back for more of the same you are going to get more of the same”. In other words, victim blaming. Now that I have been through what I went through with Spathtard and uncharictaristically put up with things I normally would never tolerate from a man, I see how physical abuse victims keep coming back until SOMETHING intervenes. That could be a number of things including being discarded by the abuser or death.
    I’m not saying that you are not already aware of this, only that once the hook has been set the abuser knows how to keep it set and the trauma bond and what we think is love compels us to keep trying to make things right.
    For me, if he would have touched me in a hostile way, that would have jarred me out of the spell I was under. I absolutely know that and so did he so he never went there. But everyone is different and what motivates one person to say “enough” will not be the same for another person. Sometimes it takes years for things to get to the physically abusive stage. The bond that forms in that amount of time can be like super glue then add children and or financial dependancy to the mix and the exhaustion on SO many levels? So much of this is never ever seen let alone understood until long after you are out……….if you survive.

    1. I always thought that I would have been someone who would never have put up with physical violence, that the first time I was ever attacked that would be it! I always believed that domestic violence was something that happened to someone else, not me! Well how wrong was I. It can happen to anyone no matter who they are. Standing up to these aggressors isn’t easy as when and if you do even calmly there is already one part of you ready to run. Fear is already entrenched and that fear can’t be contained, they see it and know it. There are patterns but they are as different as the perpetrator. Violence may jarr you out of a spell of sorts because you immediately go into survival mode, fear works in all sorts of ways but then you have to deal with emotional aftermath, that is just as intense as the physical abuse. They work it so well and if you have no resources or help to see just what is going on it’s like you are hoodwinked into believing it will never happen again, that it was a one of, that they really love you…and all the excuses that go along with it.
      Physical abuse rarely happens straight away, if it did any sane person would get out. Like you say Puddle, it takes a little while. Two years or more before I was hit and that only took place after we’d moved away from my family, friends and any support networks. The first time it happened I packed three kids, one a baby in the car late at night and just drove around the corner and thought what now? I had no money, no idea where to go and wasn’t aware of any services that could help me. I sat in that car for hours basically in shock! I went back, to emotional promises of I’ll never do it again, I don’t know what came over me…etc. I wanted to believe it and it would be another year before violence happened again. I honestly believed things were changing and that’s the form his pattern took. I didn’t even see it, I thought all episodes of violence were just rare occurrences something out of the ordinary even when they got worse. Inbetween there were moments where he was the most loving, caring person, but there were also many little subtle manipulations going on that I can only see now.
      I don’t know why I am sharing all this only that it is not as easy to leave as people may think. It was the fact with each violent episode it was like he went further, and when suddenly I thought I was going to die at his hands that’s when I finally knew I needed help and to tell you the truth even then I didn’t want to end my relationship. I didn’t even call the police when any rational person would have, if it happened on the street we wouldn’t have a second thought but ring the police when it happens in the home either you don’t want the person you love in trouble, your children to see their father arrested or basically that no one will believe you, especially the police. Hence the reason I think that to discuss violence in relationships is important, even in therapy, this was one of the first sites I found to try and get a foothold on what was happening. How many people in this situation seek help from therapists, wondering if their violent partners can change, they may not come right out and say something, there has to be a way of assessing that situation before committing to a form of couples counselling because if it is happening then what is said in a therapy session can become a bullet in the home later on. As project co-ordinator says there is a broader societal context to all this and all GP’s and professionals on the front line need to be able to assess these things and ask the right questions first before delving into a therapy that could in fact be dangerous.

      1. If the physical abuse happened in a vacuum, sure it would easy to say I’m gone. There are so many more complicating, complex factors in the mix. It’s the build up and the hook as Puddle calls it.

      2. Tori…….oh Tori……I am jut so so sad when I read what you wrote and I understand ALL of it even though I was not physically abused by Spathtard. In spite of that I was afraid of him in a way I can’t describe really. I think I felt something that may have been lurking.
        Anyhow…… Just a huge hug of comfort to you Tori. Thank you for sharing this. I don’t think I breathed the whole time I was reading it. I’ve certainly learned the hard way about why people don’t leave. No judgement here from me Tori. And who knows…… I guess I’d like to think I would in that situation but honestly I can’t say that. He did many things that normally may have sent me headed in a different direction but didn’t.

        1. Hugs Puddle! Sorry I didn’t mean to upset it just kind of came pouring out…gosh I can still feel how I felt that night, the shaking…such a feeling of helplessness really and your kids looking to you for some direction. I just thought there was no help out there, I know different now but it’s a lonely place to be. I hate to think of the women and children out there in the same position.

          1. Tori, not a problem. It’s just that I felt that tension and fear in your words and me breathing or lack there of grabbed on to it. I’m ok, I just feel for you in that situation. Also, for your kids. I can easily see not wanting a child to see their father arrested. There’s just so much conflicting in these situations.
            (((((Hugs Tori)))) you are out now and it’s good to retell these things from time to time so YOU don’t forget.

  5. Hi, Everyone! So happy to be in this safe space, where I am normal.
    As I was reading through the comments, one thought I had was what is a motivator for a CD to change? Always being the victim, never taking responsibility for what they do, doesn’t seem to go together in my head with wanting to be different.
    Physical violence is in a category all by itself.
    Yes, Puddle, the standing over you, the louder voice, using that big voice to talk over you, I see as natural male advantages.
    Confrontation still sounds like an aggressive word to me, maybe it is just semantics.
    Is is different from using some reflective listening techniques and setting boundaries and consequence?
    I don’t like it when you…if it happens again I will…… One thing that CD did, a winner every time, was to go off and stop talking to me, until I came groveling. Of course knowing that it was the worst possible emotional torment for me. I think hitting me wouldn’t be as hurtful. As I think back, never with regret, though, I’d like to have asked him, as he is delivering profuse apologies, if you are truly sorry, why do you keep doing it? Or the grand prize: if you do that again, it will be the last time you do it.
    I wonder if he knew that staying home with the kids was so valuable to me, that I would have (and did) endured anything.
    Or are all the posts above meant for “only” physical violence.

    1. Lulu I’m not sure that I agree that physical violence is in a category all it’s own, if there’s physical violence then emotional and psychological abuse is going on. It’s all part of the package of abuse, it goes hand in hand. I do agree that the emotional and psychological part is the most difficult to deal with and takes the longest to get over if ever. I still have flashbacks to violence at times and it scares me but what really is difficult is trying to find myself because of the emotional and psychological abuse that rips away everything from inside you and who I believed I was. I agree also with you sentiments about keeping your family together, so you endure anything to make that happen. All of it is insidious and if there is one thing I’ve learned through this is that I wouldn’t judge anyone for staying in an abusive relationship, you can’t know unless you have lived it.

      1. Tori, I read Lulus comment a little differently as in not that it’s by it’self but that it takes abuse to a different category/ level? And I do agree but I also see clearly that all forms of abuse are working in addition to physical abuse.

  6. Lulu, the walking out/ silent treatment is just so telling and all too familiar. You are being punished because you have displeased his highness by wanting to be treated as an equal adult and a partner in a relationship, not a ——— fill in the blank. If it were only that simple. I can’t even remember how many things Spathtard did ( walking out during an early argument over something rediculous being one of
    them )that should have been(and were) red flag #1. But it was so much more than just red flags, there was also all the good and all the BS laid on thicker than I can stomach thinking about now.
    I never wanted to give him an ultimatum because I didn’t want it to end and I mistakenly believed he didn’t either. I loved him and wanted to be with him forever even when I tried to end it a couple times,,,,,,, that was never what I wanted to do……..until reality slapped me in the face. Done.

  7. Tori, I wasn’t very clear, I meant that if there’s been physical abuse, it would be ever so much harder to set boundaries or make your expectations known. It would be so scary. Emotional and psychological abuse would have to be a part of that picture. Thank you for saying that healing from emotional abuse takes a really long time. Sometimes I let nitwits get into my head and I think, because I let some lame thing they have said, make me feel like I should be peachy by now. I can’t even get extricated from this Lunatic, four looooooong years and counting.
    I wholeheartedly agree, living with a CD person is inexplicable. That’s one reason I love, love, love this group so much, everyone knows the reality and is so very supportive.

    1. Oh! And there it is!
      Lulu, I struggle with exactly what you said here…..about not feeling peachy yet! Lol I’m SO much further than I was but I know I’m not 100% there yet and even though I’ve made huge gains emotionally and especially mentally……. I have not regained the youthful vigor I had (for my age) before that POS crossed my path and set up camp in my heart mind and soul. I can’t understand how a human body can go down hill so quickly and I’m at a loss as to how to get back to where I was.
      I think it’s been two years +- for me, I don’t even remember anymore!!

    2. Oh Lulu I know that you get it, I suppose I just wanted to clarify. 🙂 Oh I know that length of time it takes, bruises heal but the psychological and emotional damage that’s a whole different ball game. Last night I had a crying fit…couldn’t tell you exactly why but it came out of the blue no real reason for it at all. I think perhaps it was a last part of a grieving process in that any feelings of love I ever had for that idiot have gone. That’s the only thing I can think that it was and maybe that’s a good sign and I have to grieve the loss of that love I had for him…I really don’t know. Like Puddle says I haven’t got my youthful vigor either, that part that was so happy go lucky when I laugh out loud in conversations now it always catches me by surprise! My children saw me go from a happy confident mother to a complete fearful mess…not that I was always a mess just that when I’d find myself clammering back pieces of me in the relationship that’s when he’d strike again… I am a strong person but he shook that to the core. I feel my confidence returning but it’s not where it was but I can fight off any negative thoughts I may have at times although finding fun is hard. I feel that in someway I have isolated myself, staying home a lot but I still make myself go out and meet people. Not a total recluse but real socialising is still difficult. I very much doubt we ever fully come to a place of peachiness I think it’s always going to be there like a knot that will tighten from time to time you just learn to live with what you’ve experienced.

      1. I think the number one best therapy in healing from one of these entanglements is having someone really HEAR you, understand what you experienced and to support you in feeling every single emotion you have, as deeply as you possibly can and that is a layered process. So many parts of you get injured during and after that it takes a long time for all of those layers to be exposed and processed. So many bitter pills to swallow and tears to shed but it HAS to be done or it all gets stuck and the missent continues.
        My womanhood took a severe blow in all of this. When things were “good” with him I felt more like a woman than I ever had and knowing the truth about all of that flipped me on my head. Just horrible bi will NEVER forgive him for that and many other injuries his pathetic game inflicted. I’ll go on and make it through but I will never forgive him. We will never do lunch, have coffee and talk about the good times, which is something u am able to do with just about anyone I’ve dated in my past and still have occasional contact with. He is so far on the bottom of the pile he isn’t even in the pile. Just repulsive.

        1. Totally agree with your thoughts on having someone really hear you and I’m not sure that happens with a lot of therapy now. I’ve had some good counsellors but when I think about it there is always a questioning that takes place, more like it’s their thoughts from a text book sometimes. Things like… “do you have a fear of abandonment?” “What was it that you were missing in your life?” I know they have to ask questions etc but it’s like they do it before you’ve really expressed yourself and you end up thinking about answering their questions and not saying what you want to say. Almost as if they look for the quick fix and they’re looking for the aha moment instead of the other way around. Does that make sense? It’s like they jump on things like a fish getting hooked and sometimes it’s good because you can flush that out but at others you lose your own track.

  8. Tori and Puddle, it is still so very validating when the words in my head are expressed in your posts. So so comforting to know, unfortunately really, that other people know exactly what I feel. The stuff that goes beyond words.
    Oh, Tori, there are times when I just cannot get up and out the door. Even for a fun thing. The thought is overwhelming and exhausting. Seeing people and pretending to be happy because they sure don’t want to hear the story. Then the what is wrong with me tape starts playing. But when we look at it from a healing perspective, if we were bruised and battered, we would have different expectations of ourselves I think. We do have deep wounds, they just are not visible, and as we always say, unless you’ve lived it, you cannot begin to understand it. I usually just say I have a migraine to keep people from trying to talk me into going or they take it personally and get offended.
    I agree with Puddle, you have to walk through the pain, fully and completely. Although I am so sad for your pain, crying it out is the only to get past it. Otherwise it is just poison sitting inside you.

    1. Lulu, I never lost my laugh thank goodness! And then again because I still could it masked my pain. It’s so hard when you are suffering so deeply but can’t translate that in a way someone else can really comprehend. How can you really unless you share someplace like here and read the same words that you have felt? I’m so glad you found this place Lulu, so grateful we all did and I never stop wondering about the people who didn’t. Spathtards first wife was long before the Internet and this type of help was available. So if therapists often don’t get it now I can imagine the hell she went through and she went off the deep end. That story should have been a red flag and would be today but the way he painted it left his highness looking like the hero, just like all the other stories he told to suite his agenda. ALL so transparent now but I remember very early on telling him what a good man he was. I take that back!

  9. Those of you who have lived with these disturbed characters are suffering from PTSD. You/we have been in the trenches of emotional and psychological and sometimes physical blasts exploding all around us. Ask any soldier how long it takes to recover from what they witnessed. Do they ever really recover? And yet they were fighting an enemy. People trying to kill them. Of course, there were innocents in those wars which will always haunt the vets, but the reason they were there was to fight an enemy. Not be in a loving relationship with someone. So of course the mixed up emotions, self-doubt, thinking there must be something wrong with us, are even harder because the aggressors in our case are supposed to be On Our Side! The enemy is easily spotted. Spies very rarely. And these disturbed characters are like emotional double agents.

    It’s going to take time, it’s a grieving process and every person grieves differently and at their own pace. Let’s just pat ourselves on the back for being here and getting better.

    Because if we found this place of refuge, it’s because we went looking for it. We took care of ourselves enough to do so. I’m so sad we went through all this, but you have all been through worse than I have, and I admire you so much! But we have each other now, at least in the spot on the web.

    (Yesterday I did one day of a two-day workshop, to be completed next Saturday, on self-defense for women – verbal and physical). I will post about it in another post below)

  10. Wow, GG, sounds like an interesting workshop, anxious to hear about it. No one’s experience is more or less than anyone else’s. If you get trapped in CD hell, it’s kinda all the same.
    Yes to PTSD, which I also have from the car accident at times.
    I took a 3×5 card with me when I went to the therapist. Sometimes I would jot things down during the week or take time to think about the session before I went. There were too many times I would get in the car and remember something I had wanted to talk about.
    As My voice got stronger, this was the agenda for today. I would say kindly, mmmmm I really don’t want to talk about that right now. Or, I haven’t finished what I wanted to say about……Because I went for six years, we would talk more personally about him, about what he had done over the weekend or whatever. But if he was taking up too much time, I started looking at my card. Time is money, my money, so I wasn’t interested in wasting any of it.
    Of course there were times that asked he questions, called me out on something, overall had a plan for where he wanted things to go.
    Yes,I felt very heard and would be angry, disappointed and frustrated if I wasn’t.
    He gave me Dr. Simon’s article about divorcing a CD. We didn’t talk much about it, it was more like validation that the Lunatic was waaaaaaay crazy making.
    Not so long ago, I felt the need to read it again, for the first time seeing info about the blog. I got on and I found this haven. Kind, caring, supporting women (I think all are) who were writing about me, except it was their story. I am so, so, so overwhelmed and grateful.

  11. This is a partial recap of day 1 of a self-defense for women that attended yesterday – I hope it can help somehow for someone.

    One of the young women in the workshop yesterday told me that she has been diagnosed with PTSD because of two different abusive situations she was in. From what she said I guess that one was with her ex-, and another time she was a victim of a violent crime and is receiving weekly psychological counseling from an organisation that helps these victims. If it was from someone she knew or not, she didn’t say and I of course didn’t ask for details.

    Not everyone shared the reasons why they wanted to attend the workshop. For me, I know I sound wimpy when trying to speak up about my boundaries, and was really happy about the verbal defense tactics we learned (more on that below).
    However, one woman (I’ll call her S.) had been in a physically abusive relationship for 2 years, and she said that she finally got a restraining order against her husband, but she doubted herself for a long time because nobody believer her: “he was so nice” “Mr. Charming”. (I can you all nodding your collective heads).
    The workshop leader nodded her head (also) at that. Manipulators – of course they have to show themselves as Mr. Nice Guy, how else could they dupe people?
    But if you – the collective you- could possibly attend a self-defense for women workshop – DO IT! Next week is another full day but we learned so much in 6.5 hours yesterday it was absolutely empowering.
    I know, of course, that these techniques are much easier to say than do, especially if you’re emotionally and physically depleted.
    Initially she told us to rid ourselves of the cultural/societal myths that have been placed on women’s shoulders for too long:
    Be polite.
    Don’t talk back.
    Don’t rock the boat.
    Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings (even if they’re being mean to you or making you feel insecure).
    Be respectful of authority figures.
    And in particular – don’t be loud and Make A Scene!!
    I know, of course, that it is so much easier to say than do. But then spent some time “getting over ourselves”, if you will.
    The first thing we worked on was our voice.
    Verbal self-defense – if you feel uncomfortable, that’s your RIGHT to defend. If someone is in your personal space/making you feel nervous – whatever it is, doesn’t matter. YOU feel that way, the other person has no rights about your feelings.
    We did deep breathing exercises, then she had us vocalize various sounds, and each time we had to lower our voices – as in pitch, not volume. We were reaching for our “hidden baritone”. And every time we lowered the octave (or spoke more like a man), we raised the volume of our voices. We ended up sounding like drill sergeants – and was it ever effective!

    We were releasing endorphins and adrenaline.

    (Trigger alert for the next part – this may get uncomfortable or distressing to read if you’ve been in a physically abusive situation)

    When the soft-spoken, very thin workshop leader had us watch her enact two scenes (same scene, 2 ways), all of us almost jumped out of our seats at the power of her voice and physical difference she displayed when in “power mode”.

    She had one participant pretend to be her spouse, and grab her arm, preventing her from getting up from her chair. The workshop leader took a deep breath, stared at the other right the eyes, and on the exhale barked a command Let Go!!!

    And I mean BARKED. She Roared.

    Not yelled or shouted. Her voice sounded 2 octaves lower and she roared like a lion. A sharp, short roar. And simultaneously snatched her arm away (technique we later learned – you can probably youtube it).

    (If you yell – or roar – very loudly right in the aggressor’s ear, and in as baritone a way as you can, you can puncture their eardrum; which is a good thing when you’re extricating yourself from a dangerous situation.)

    Our self-defense “tool” is our body. The strong parts of our bodies to use against the vulnerable parts of an aggressor’s body, how to extricate ourselves from being pinned down, strangled, held by the arms, etc. etc.

    We also re-enacted some scenarios where we had to confront the other person verbally. And it always entailed – take a deep breath (to get the adrenalin and endorphins going), on the exhale lower the octave of your voice and literally bark:




    “STOP THAT!”

    And it was loud.


    You are being aggressed – period. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop.

    What if you’re in a restaurant? Well, you have 2 choices: be a victim or make a scene and be – perhaps – embarrassed.

    Think drill sergeant. That’s what this tiny little woman sounded like. And there was not a chance in h&ll that any of us would consider taking her on in a dark alley at night. And it had nothing to do with karate or judo or any martial art.

    It was the element of surprise – men in particular expect women to be frightened and therefore paralyzed into submission – plus the strength you get from the adrenalin rush, plus the tools we learned in defending ourselves.

    (Previous participants used some of the techniques learned when riding the subway, in an elevator with a man who made them nervous, withdrawing money from an ATM machine, jogging in a park, etc.)

    Of course, if you find yourself in this type of situation with someone you know, it’s probable that your aggressor is not likely to change their behavior.

    The techniques were only and always about protecting ourselves, not repairing a relationship or getting the other person to acknowledge their dysfunction.

    However, we all came away so Confident! So empowered! We had found our voices, our strength. We found a safe place with other women going through or having gone through worse situations.

    1. GG, can you point to this lady and whether she has any you tube vids available? I would love to see her in action. (Way to go grrrrl!)

        1. Hi GG! I did a similar course many years ago called Fight Back. It was really awesome. I’m so happy for you! I can tell this really helped you a lot! You GO girl!!

          1. thanks so much Puddle! It was absolutely empowering! Even just practicing my “baritone” voice when speaking seems to ramp up the adrenalin.

          2. GG, I’m glad you shared all of this! I’ve been imagining my “voice” set much deeper and saying something I need to say. It is so different that that whiny pleading thing I use sometimes! I’ll have a chance to practice this afternoon! Nothing huge but I’m going to try to keep the image in my mind.
            Again GG, I’m very happy for you!!

  12. GG, Lulu, Tori…….I just wanted to let you know I read your wonderful posts! I’m blown away by all of you! Just amazing humans here! Strong and resilient women. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m off to bed.
    (((((( HUGE HUGS))))))) to all of you!

  13. Wow, GG, powerful in so many ways! Knowing that we can be in control of a situation. Could have used these techniques when raising one of my sons! If you can learn to do this in a physical situation which I think would be so scary, when it is “only” verbal……the thought of having had power almost makes me giddy!

    Thank you, GG

  14. One thing we did in the afternoon of the self-defense workshop was an “anger circle”.

    The workshop leader (I’ll call her N.) had us stand in a circle. She emphasized how important it is to honor our feelings, and anger is an emotion women are often criticized for displaying: “Why are you being hysterical?” “Why are you carrying on like this?”

    N. told us that she would lead us through a visualization where we would relive an episode that made us really angry but that we had kept inside when it happened. (If we couldn’t think of one specific event to focus on, that was fine, our bodies know what’s going on.) Our goal was to acknowledge it, accept our anger as normal, visualize it increasing in intensity (for all the other times we couldn’t express our rage), then shout it out of our bodies.

    We closed our eyes and N. had us visualize a red hot fire burning where we usually feel our anger. Anger often lodges in the pit of our stomach or our chest. So we imagined this ball of fire. Then it becomes more intense in color and heat.

    Slowly it moves up into our solar plexus area, then up through our lungs, getting bigger and hotter. After that our fury works its way up through our throat. Finally we feel it in our mouth burning red hot. She counted to three, and on 3, we roared “HAAAAAAAA” in our deep “drill sergeant” voices into the middle of the circle.

    It was so loud and thundering it was though all the angst and fear and rage of our lifetimes was spewed into the middle of that floor. I think the walls literally shook.

    And – we felt wonderful!


    Our emotions had a voice and we validated them.

    Trigger alert:
    – of course, we had also learned how to break bones and dislocate knees and elbows – if need be 🙂 – but the circle of anger was, for me at least, one of the most therapeutic parts of the workshop.

    She suggested we practice our “roars” on a regular basis if at all possible. The adrenalin rush really does make you feel stronger and more powerful. She says she walks in the forest and roars. Others do it in their car. If you live alone then you have plenty of chance to roar, but it may be better to close the windows, in case the neighbors decide to call the police 🙂

  15. Really great to be able to express anger authentically, powerfully and in a finite way. It is extremely important for women, in particular, not to feel guilty about putting some roar behind our words. Our culture is so strange. Talking heads screaming on television, are championed and many people ape this loud mouth style. As a counterweight. we are encouraged to bubble wrap our entire world and lead an antiseptic existence, where we all just, “use our words and indoor voices,” all the time. Both lack authenticity and don’t take into account that we have to morph our style according to the people we are interacting with.

    When I was working with young children, I remember so often having to take older assistants aside and tell them that their soft gentle voices were putting kids at risk on field trips, where you had to bark to be heard. It blew my mind that it seemed to be beyond these women, physically, to do this. I can out scream a drill sergeant, if I have to, and am proud of the fact!

    1. LisaO, this is such a great description: “we are encouraged to bubble wrap our entire world and lead an antiseptic existence, where we all just, “use our words and indoor voices,” all the time.” I felt bubble-wrapped for decades, and it is so great to start using my voice as I was meant to.

  16. Hi GG,

    My mother and father were both yellers. Given a choice my mom would yell from another room rather than approach you and talk softly. She wasn’t mean she was just LOUD! My siblings have responded to this atmosphere by having an aversion to a raised voice. It doesn’t bother me at all. I would much rather someone get in my face and raise their voice, express themselves honestly (as long as they aren’t mean and below the belt) than give me the smooth self controlled B.S. that covers seething rage. If people are genuinely gentle and patient, that’s okay, too. Just … No pretending. I see so many people operating in a completely insincere manner, in an insincere society, within insincere families, to get their own way. It’s manipulative. They want to win.

    1. I so get that LisaO. My bro is just that way – a covertly aggressive manipulator who will say and do anything to get his way. And I’m so glad to be waking up to all this. I can now appreciate one of my cousins so much more than I used to – she is loud, outspoken, some may consider her rather obnoxious, but I prefer her by a long shot to my bro or other cousins who have that smarmy, uber-sweetness about them that is totally insincere and conniving.

  17. Tori, you wrote: “I don’t know why I am sharing all this only that it is not as easy to leave as people may think.” You need to share your experience, and we’re here to listen, support and learn. We all need to validate our experiences, be heard, vent, rant and rave. And maybe after we do that we can learn to laugh again. Hugs to you and everyone!

  18. Tori, the worse it is, the harder it must be. Thanks for sharing this. So sad you had to live such a nightmare. Anyone who would judge you in any way is devoid of empathy. Plus, not very bright. So happy for you and admire you for being able to get out!

    A big hug to you!

    1. Thanks for you lovely words LisaO and GG. I have been really busy at present with my studies lately and haven’t had time to respond as I’d like to. The best thing for me was to get out (obviously) and it took a while but I am so happy I did. I would say to anyone living in such a situation, particularly a violent one is you can get out and live the life you want but do it with the help of professionals who understand the reality of what you are living in. I found there are so many avenues for help from agencies and even if it is just a supportive and empathy based listening it can encourage you to move forward safely. I had so many fears, fears he would find us and do something, then fear that I wouldn’t survive financially, fear that I wasn’t strong enough and yet you just manage. It’s like I went right back to beginning of my life and started all over again with nothing but now…I still don’t have a lot but I have so much more which is the freedom and peace to live the life I want for me and my child. It’s funny how all those things we thought were so important esp material things don’t seem to matter so much anymore. I just wanted to say to anyone in such a situation is that you can do it, but always take precautions and it is scary but boy when you move through to the otherside of it you will feel stronger than you ever have and feel so much happier even if you are on struggle street financially. Unlike these CD individuals, financial situations can change that’s within our power. But get whatever help and assistance you can, you will need it and don’t feel bad about it. Asking for help is a strength and that’s what’s needed to leave these situations. 🙂

      1. Tori, you are so strong. I just can not imagine being in the position you were and are in. It takes incredible strength and courage to persevere through something like what you went through and look at you now……..not in an easy place but in a good place with YOU! And here to help encourage other people who are struggling. I know you say you just have to do it but please give yourself the credit you are due. I think we all under estimate out strengths to some degree, huh? A CD overestimates theirs.
        {{{{{{BIG HUGS, as always Tori}}}}}}} Puddle

  19. GG, my bro is more than anything, indifferent. When I have the nerve to call him on it he pulls out all the stops to convince me I am wrong. It’s crazy making. Cd’s are experts at making you believe you are wrong right to your core, that you have character deficits, that you are a bad person. Question them and they will shame the hell out of you.

    I have learned one thing so clearly in the last few years. Never expect a narc to return a kindness and never expect them to be there for you when you are aching. They will be absent.

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