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.

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