Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Story of a Very Bad Relationship

Did you ever wonder why people stay in emotionally abusive relationships? The story of Sooty-Foot the dappled mare and her encounter with Rusty the conniving  cat may give you some insight.

Sooty-Foot by Stephen Cosgrove (c 2012 S. Cosgrove) is a kids book that shows the insidious dynamics of an exploitive relationship. If you are interested in this subject - living it, teaching it or know someone who is - I suggest you read this story.

Sooty-Foot is a special dappled mare - sensitive and perhaps a bit lonely who becomes charmed by Rusty the tomcat.  Rusty tells Sooty-Foot stories, feeds her sweet smelling hay and invites her to stay in a cozy stall.  Sooty-Foot is soon working for Rusty in an effort to repay his kindness.

The relationship shifts as Rusty feeds Sooty-Foot less and uses criticism and blaming to spur Sooty- Foot on. Sooty-Foot felt very bad. It must have been her fault. "I'm sorry! Maybe I can help you with the chores again?" 

Sooty-Foot goes back to work. "I must work harder," she thought. "Then Rusty will be my friend again and tell me stories like he used to."

This story describes the sequence of an abusive relationship.  The vulnerable Sooty-Foot accepts the blame and consciously or not feels that she is to blame for the abuse.

Children with  an abusive parent both love and hate the parent. They unconsciously believe that 1.) They are to blame for the abuse and 2.) If only they work harder, try harder that they can restore the relationship to the original blissful state.  The same may be true of relationships of adults who had an abusive or neglectful parent.

Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful and crazy making.  Rusty intermittently feeds Sooty Foot and tells her stories and then cruelly criticizes her. The child's wish to rekindle the parents love - and the underlying fantasy of omnipotence- is what fuels the relationship and why, in this case, Sooty-Foot works harder and harder to regain Rusty's lost affection.

Finally,after enduring considerable abuse, Sooty-Foot runs away. She looks into a stream and gazing back at her is her reflection of a beautiful, dappled mare.She realizes that she  is not a stupid, ugly horse like Rusty has been telling her.

I encourage you to read this story about how abusive relationships work.  A picture book is worth a thousand words. ( If you suspect you might be a Sooty Foot or in a relationship like this one, listen up. You are most likely a beautiful dappled mare.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Blaming is a first cousin of verbal abuse.  This house is such a mess, it's your fault that I yell when I come home.

Blaming is a form of abdication of responsibility. It is exactly what it sounds like - blaming someone else for your own behavior.

Alcoholics are notorious for blaming behavior. If only you did or did not do this....then I would not drink so much. If only you were - fill in the blank -nicer, thinner, sexier,more understanding - I would not - fill in the blank again- drink, drug, watch porn or act like a jerk.

For the person being blamed, it is very important not to buy into the blame.  If you are sensitive and tend towards over responsibility that is hard  but important.  Not buying into the blame, takes the power right out of it. I am not suggesting that the person being blamed be insensitive, just that they do not assume responsibility for whatever it is they are being blamed for.  If you had a tough childhood with more then your share of trauma, you may be inclined to assume responsibility for stuff you did not do.

Al-anon has a great slogan, You did not cause it, you can not cure it, you can not control it. That slogan refers to alcoholism and is a great mantra for spouses and children of alcoholics or anyone who is in a family where blame is bandied about. Say that to yourself over and over.  Be kind as possible to the blamer.  When necessary implement another great Al-anon slogan, Detach with love.  

We all regress a little in our marriages. Take a walk, call a friend or read a book.  Come back together when the blaming dies down.  Blessings on your journey to surviving the rough pockets in marriage.