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Hypnosis In The Management Of Verbal Abuse
By Maurice Kouguell, Ph.D., BCETS.  
  

Answering yes to any of the following questions may indicate that you are in an abusive relationship.  
  • Do you feel nervous around him/her?
  • Do you have to be careful to control your behavior to avoid his/her anger/temper?
  • Do you feel pressured by him/her when it comes to sex?
  • Are you afraid of disagreeing with him/her?
  • Does he criticize you, or humiliate you at any time?
  • Is he/she always checking up on you or questioning you about what you do when he/she is not around?
  • Does he/she repeatedly and wrongly accuse you of seeing other men/women?
  • Does he tell you that if you changed he/she wouldn't get angry with you?
  • Does his/her jealousy/control stop you from seeing friends or family?
  • Does he/she make you feel like you are wrong, stupid, crazy, worthless or inadequate?
  • Has he/she ever scared you with violence or threatening behavior?
  • Do you often do things to please him/her, rather than to please yourself?
  • Does he/she prevent you from going out or doing things you want to do?
  • Do you feel that nothing is ever good enough for him/her?
  • Does he/she have a short temper that escalates intensely if you oppose him/her?
  • Does he/she say that he will kill or hurt himself/herself if you break up with him/her?
  • Does he/she make excuses for his abusive behavior by saying it's because of alcohol, drugs or something you did?

You might have answered 'yes' to some of these questions, but still think "it's not that bad." Feeling scared, humiliated, pressured or controlled is not the way you should feel in a relationship. You should feel loved, respected and free to be yourself. Your feelings and safety are important. Abusers will often make you feel like you are to blame for their behavior and in time the victim begins to feel responsible and guilty for making the abuser unhappy. Most physical scars heal. Often, emotional scars never heal.
Many clients who come for hypnotherapy do not realize that they have been (or continue to be) verbally abused. Some have been abused for so long that they no longer know what verbal abuse is. Most children have been called names. Some have been deeply humiliated and hurt and carry their scars into adulthood. Somehow others survive.  
The expression of verbal abuse is not only in the content of what is being said but also in how it is expressed by the abuser. Abusers seem to confuse criticism with humiliation resulting from abuse. There is a difference between criticism and verbal abuse.  

Criticism can lead to growth when expressed in a constructive way. Verbal abuse however, is similar to living in a poisonous environment which can only lead to ill health. Why does one put up with it? Children have no resources available. As they grow into adulthood as victims of abuse they develop such poor self image and self esteem that they begin to feel that they deserve the punishment and the hurt.  

Abuse can  be described as a result of a relationship in which a person is constantly blamed, made to feel inferior, worthless, even guilty, for being unable to live up to the expectations of their abusers' unrealistic demands.  With repeated humiliation and living in constant fear, some begin to feel that this kind of relationship is well deserved. Their mate, or the abuser, on the other hand expects the victim to comply to their demands unconditionally.

Recognizing Various Patterns Of Verbal Abuse  

  • VERBAL ASSAULTS which include: berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, using sarcasm and humiliation. Blowing flaws out of proportion and making fun in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes the victim's sense of self confidence and self worth.

  • DOMINATION: which can be described as someone wanting to control your every action. They must have their own way and will resort threats to get it. When you allow someone else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.

  • EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL: the other person plays on your fear, guilt, compassion, values or other "hot buttons" to get what they want. This could include threats to end the relationship, the "cold shoulder," or use of other fear tactics to control you.

  • UNPREDICTABLE RESPONSES: Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts. (Note: this is part of the definition of BPD) Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the next; likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused with unpredictable esponses. This behavior is damaging because it puts you always on edge. You are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and you can never know what's expected of you. You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the other person's next outburst or change of mood.  Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled and off balance.

  • GAS LIGHTING: The other person may deny that certain events occurred or that certain things were said. You know differently. The other person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity. (If a borderline has been disassociating, they may indeed remember reality differently than you do.)

  • CONSTANT CHAOS:  The other person may deliberately start arguments and be in constant conflict with others. The person may be "addicted to drama" since it creates excitement.

  • ABUSIVE EXPECTATIONS: The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything else aside to tend to their needs. It could be a demand for constant attention, frequent sex or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person. But no matter how you give, it's never enough. You are subject to constant criticism and you are constantly berated because you don't fulfill all the needs of this person.

The therapist needs to understand what happens in an abusive relationship in order to determine how to proceed with the therapy.  
A client might come to you with the presenting symptoms of stress without mentioning abuse. Remember that victims who are now your clients have lived with a long history of denial. Coming to see you for stress is more acceptable for them than coming in for help related to abuse. One needs to keep in mind that many victims of verbal abuse internalize anger or rage and those feelings can be made manifest in physical symptoms (not to be confused with physical scars given by the abuser).  

I personally choose to administer the DAPTH (which in the majority of cases will indicate the presence of anger, poor self-image, fear and inability to express one's real feelings.) The DAPTH is always included in my screening and has become an indispensable tool as reported also by many of my colleagues. It consists of administering and interpreting three drawings. The technique is simple but most effective.

When the clinician has determined that the primary issue is Verbal Abuse, he/she still has to resolve the issue of why the client is being seen.  Also, of course, it goes without saying that even when the therapist suspects abuse, this observation should remain on the back burner until the issue is brought up by the client. The therapist who brings up the issue before the client is ready faces the risk of frightening the client and possibly denying the client further help.

Trained and well versed practitioners will be able to uncover the poor self-esteem and fears of the client and approach them with wisdom, never telling the client "what is wrong with you" or asking "do you know what your problem is?" Such statements, even though expressed by therapists, are definitely abusive.

When clients choose to discuss their abuse, I encourage them to start by instilling self-confidence and self-esteem.  In my opinion, the client needs to have enough ego strength to stand up to the "opponent."

Abraham Maslow once said, "If your only tool is a hammer, everything you see will be a nail." This is why training in various therapeutic techniques is important. It seems that many hypnotherapists are now trained in various procedures such as focusing, neurolinguistic programming, energy therapies et al.  Combining diverse techniques can often provide the client with radical changes and give hope for a better adjustment.  

Hypnosis in conjunction with "talk therapy" is certainly the method of choice in restoring one's self image, strengthening the ego and helping the victim become assertive and contemplate the possibility of choosing not to be hurt any longer. The victims need to start by admitting that there is a problem. Frequently, the abuse has been of such long duration before help is sought that the client perceives the situation as a way of life. My personal
approach with such clients is to teach them to take control and responsibility for their well being. I encourage them to express their
thoughts in my office which, hopefully, is perceived as a safe place.  For instance, I always ask them to tell me how to improve my office environment to their satisfaction. I encourage them to tell me if the light, or the music, or the chair, or anything else is satisfactory to them. It is interesting to note how frequently they are, at first, complacent.  Gradually, they learn and have the experience of standing up for what they need.

I also teach the client specific ways of handling verbal abuse. Since most victims have learned to dissociate themselves from the pain, even unsuccessfully, they can learn to relate to dissociative techniques by insulating themselves from the hurt. Before a hypnotic intervention is introduced, I choose to dehypnotize them. This means that we need to get the client to recognize that they are already in a waking state of hypnosis in which they have assumed a victim's role.

They need to allow themselves to experience feelings of how they would like to feel when freed from that problem. Inductions, therefore, will concentrate on ego strengthening, feeling free, feeling relief and any other emotional situations appropriate to the case. They are taught how to relax instantly by using self hypnosis as well as breathing techniques, and are taught how to feel insulated in the presence of a threat and how to deal with fear.

Inevitably, changes begin to happen. Now one needs to deal with and prepare the client to deal with possible new reactions on the part of the abuser because of the change in the relationship. The verbal abuser is not used to the victim taking a stand and may become more upset. Since most victims are easily scared because of their long history of abuse they need support. While in the past, before seeking help, they would have chosen to hurt in silence, they will now be ready to reach out to support groups if needed.

Maurice Kouguell Ph.D., BCETS. (Click here for Biography)  
Director: Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy  
997 Clinton Place, Baldwin New York 11510  
phone/fax 516 868-2233 e-mail contact@brooksidecenter.com
Brookside Center Web Site http://www.brooksidecenter.com/
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