Verbally-Abusive Patterns of Speech: Dominance The Goal
In her remarkable book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Patricia Evans walks us "blow-by-blow" through transcripts illustrating how an individual can use verbal abuse to establish dominance over another person.
She states that the verbally abusive person sees every interaction as a contest for dominance. There is no equality. One person will be one-up, the other person one-down. Verbalizations are used with this purpose, constantly establishing dominance: "I am better than you. I am more powerful than you. I am saner than you. I am more worthy than you."
Often the abuser is not shouting but presenting a "totally rational" view: "Why are you being so emotional?" "Everyone knows that you are too dramatic." "Such-and-such expert does it my way," "You made the same mistakes with your previous husband," etc., etc.
Read the transcripts in the book to see how the other, who may be approaching the conversation with a more egalitarian, vulnerable point of view, cannot understand what is going on and comes to accept the blame, seeing him- or herself as crazy and bad.
Evans has a second book, Controlling People: How To Recognize, Understand, and Deal With People Who Try To Control You.
Taking a Focusing Turn: Immediately Acknowledging "Ownership"
On the contrary, in an interpersonal conflict, as soon as I initiate "taking a Focusing turn to 'sense into' 'How is this whole thing FOR ME?'", I move from dominance into vulnerability and the use of "personal power," the congruence of my own inner truth, instead of coercion, convincing YOU what to think/feel. The language of Intuitive Focusing immediately points to the existence of a "felt sense" in me, an "intuitive feel" that I can explore:
"Being the kind of person I am, I find this kind of situation controlling. Let me 'sense into' how that is for me, where that feeling comes from."
"I don't know how you are seeing things, but, for me, this is scary and anxiety-provoking. Let me take some time to 'sit with' that whole thing in me, and then you can have a turn to say how it is for you."
"Something is going on here, in this group, I don't know what it is, but I'm finding myself all balled up, unable to think clearly. I'd like to sense into 'that whole thing' and see what my body has to say."
Yelling At The Wall: Space for Irrationality Can Lead To Felt Sensing
Although I like the power of Marshall Rosenberg's rubric for Non-Violent Communication in illustrating that we create our own "felt response" out of our interpretations of the behaviors of others, I find that trying to use such a rubric to frame my communications in the actual moment of confusing interaction is too intellectual for me. It takes me away from my "felt-sensing" of the situation, the place for Intuitive Focusing.
Sometimes, I actually need to be able to start out screaming in a blaming way: "You --- You --- You --- !". Once I have stepped into the "owning" position of my own Focusing Turn, I can yell these blaming statements at the wall. I am already owning that they are my own "reaction." Perhaps a third person Listening Facilitator can reflect them back to me so that I can begin to take the reaction back inside of myself, find the "intuitive feel" of "How this whole thing is for me, being the person I am":
"So, Kathy, you are so furious that you feel that Sally is doing this on purpose."
"So, Kathy, the way you are seeing it, Sally really is trying to steal your husband."
"So, Kathy, I'm hearing that, because of the person you are, you are experiencing this situation as a manipulation. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE A MOMENT TO SENSE INTO HOW THIS IS FOR YOU, WHAT COMES IN THE FOCUSING PLACE INSIDE?".
And, here, because a Focusing turn points to and assumes each person's own inner experiencing as a 'felt sense' which underlies their way of being-in-a-situation, there is a natural movement into "owning" and the vulnerability of sharing that personal inner truth. Often, as soon as a Focuser turns from blaming the other to "This is how it is for me," the Focuser's anger turns into the vulnerability of tears and hurt. Seeing this vulnerability, the other person becomes much more likely to respond with empathy and a willingness to work toward a mutual solution.
The Interpersonal Focusing Protocol
So, I prefer the use of the Interpersonal Focusing protocol, Listening/Focusing Turns for each participant.
Because this issue of Interpersonal Focusing is so important to me, I have made the entire Chapter Five: Interpersonal Focusing, in English and in Spanish, from my manual, Focusing in Community (Focusing en Comunidad) available as a free download through my blog. In the chapter, you will find :
A perspective for seeing an angry person as a hurting person
Martin Buber's view that the only appropriate "confrontation" has the goal of moving from "I-It" to "I-Thou" relationship
Complete presentation of the actual protocol for Interpersonal Focusing
Many examples of "felt shifts" in relational difficulties through the exchange of Listening/Focusing Turns.
For your exercise today, please read the entire chapter as your best introduction to the actual practice of Interpersonal Focusing, which we will consider in Week Four of this cycle.