For professionals who work in Domestic Abuse – (Don Hennessy series part 8)
It is difficult to imagine what it must be like living with a partner who wants to abuse you. (1311)
A client [of a counselor or helping professional] who is being abused is different from a non-abused client. She [usually] presents herself in the language of the abuser. She sees herself as inadequate and responsible. We will want to accept her explanation because it will make us feel useful. (156)
We need to recognise that ‘her analysis’ is his analysis. (102)
We do a huge disservice to these clients if we pathologize their persona and see them as unwell. (155)
Abused women were not different from non-abused women before the abuse started. To survive they try to forget and forgive. They want their relationship to work. They become both mother and slave to their abuser. (156)
I find it helpful to remind myself that my client is returning to a prisoner-of-war camp where she is being brainwashed into submission. (142)
She may not be able to think in terms of ‘choices’. (156)
When we meet a woman who is being controlled by a psychephile we need to react in the same way as we would if we encountered a child being abused by a pedophile. We need to take charge of her safety. We are being less than helpful if we send her back to him with options and suggestions which are beyond her power to consider. (155)
The constant access to her inner world allows the abuser to invade her psyche. Once inside, the skilled offender will begin to dismantle her own emotional defences. He will identify and destroy whatever it is that the woman uses to shield her own emotional life. (131)
He will then infect her inner world with his own virus. This virus is implanted in secret. It is similar to other viruses in that it removes her ability to protect herself from being infected by him.
Because she does not know what he is doing she is constantly trying to deal with the effects of this virus without knowing she has it.
It is impossible to explain what it is like to have emotional immune deficiency when you don’t know what has caused it and how the virus entered your system. This deficiency removes her capacity to protect her own emotions and allows the psychephile to invade her inner life. (131-2)
By invading her thought process he can manipulate her strengths to keep her controlled. (132)
This reminds me (Barb) of what Evan Stark wrote in his book Coercive Control : “If abusive relationships were filmed in slow motion, they would resemble a grotesque dance whereby victims create moments of autonomy and perpetrators ‘search and destroy’ them.”
The target woman ends up feeling like her head is cabbaged with the abuser’s contradictory messages and demands
The psychephile’s ability to seduce her into believing that she can influence her experience is what keeps her in a constant state of alert. (132)
We may be contaminated by her fear. (156)
Every abused woman needs to find her own path to personal integrity. (156)
The idea that an hour of talk therapy will counteract the ongoing effects of brainwashing is misguided, even when our clients seem to want to try. (129)
…many of the skilled offenders relish the idea of their partner seeking help for her problem. They can use this information to emphasise that she is the one with the problem. They can increase their criticism of her because she remains inadequate in spite of the best efforts of the counselor. (129)
Talk therapy will not counter ongoing brainwashing. We must first find a way to protect her mind. She has been invaded by a ‘virus’ that has destroyed her emotional boundaries. (156)
The use of a brainwashing scale may indicate to the woman the extent of his tactics. … She may be relieved to realise that she is not going mad. (156)
[At the end of How He Gets Into Her Head, Hennessy has given the brainwashing scale he created.]
“The most important thing you do is not condemn her,” says Hennessy. “You don’t make it her problem. Talking to her about her isn’t a good idea; rather, you talk to her about him. I’d approach it as, ‘you’re a great girl to be able to cope with a man like that. As far as I’m concerned, this is what he is doing’.” independent.ie article by Irish journalist Tanya Sweeny
Advise the target woman not to reveal her inner life and emotions to the abuser
What can be really useful for our client is if she can develop the practice of not revealing [to her abuser] her inner life and the emotions that are evoked by the abuser. (148)
Proverbs 23:9 gives similar counsel: Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.
When King Saul was smouldering with resentment against young David and had already attempted to kill him at least twice, David knew it was wise to keep his real thoughts and feelings hidden from Saul (1 Samuel 20).
When Nehemiah and the Jews were rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and Sanballat was trying to stop them, Nehemiah refused to speak to Sanballat and his allies. (Nehemiah 6 )
Just like Nehemiah, the target woman can prudently and shrewdly not reveal her real thoughts to her abuser. The more she adopts that approach, the more she will be able to build the wall against his virus.
We can encourage our clients to desist from revealing the effects on them of any particular behaviour by the offender. We can encourage our clients to see the effects as planned. This planning is a consequence of the stored information that has been gleaned from the target woman. … We [counselors] can never trivialise the behaviour unless we are sure that its effects are trivial. (148)
The practice of ‘keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest’ … begins to change the monologue that goes on in the mind of the target woman. She stops analysing how he might react to any opinion she might have about her life or her relationship. She can gradually restore her ability to examine these thoughts and ideas against her own criteria and value system. She can allow the voice of her instincts, quietened for so long by her abuser, to be heard again inside her head. (149)
When she begins to diminish the power of his voice in her head she will develop the capacity to make decisions that are unique to her. (151)
I have told many of my clients not to talk to or listen to their abusive partners. This instruction is anathema to most counselors and especially to couples therapists. (151)
The Bible confirms that Don Hennessy is right to advise victims of intimate partner abuse to not talk to or listen to their abuser.
Here is what the Bible says:
But understand this: In the last days terrible times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, without love of good, traitorous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Turn away from such as these!
They are the kind who worm their way into households and captivate vulnerable women who are weighed down with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth. They are depraved in mind and disqualified from the faith. But they will not advance much further. For just like Jannes and Jambres, their folly will be plain to everyone.
(2 Timothy 3:1-9, Berean Study Bible)
Who were Jannes and Jambres? Exodus 7:1-13 narrates how Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh saying, “God says: let my people go!” and Pharaoh’s sorcerers resisted Moses. We know from the above passage in 2 Timothy that those sorcerers were called Jannes and Jambres. Using their magic arts, the two Egyptian magicians counterfeited some of the miracles which Moses and Aaron did before Pharaoh. The magicians had no respect for the true and living God, but they were well practiced in the magic of deception.
And just like those Egyptian magicians, skilled sexual offenders down the ages have skilfully manipulated society – including counselors and clergy – to accept part if not all of their explanation of what is going on. Whether they be intimate partner abusers (psychephiles), or pedophiles, or are perpetrators of both of those sins, they have skillfully manipulated society to accept their explanations.
And going by what I have heard from our readers at this blog and from other victim-survivors and advocates, many of these men are abusing their wives as well as viewing child porn, if not also committing skin-to-skin sexual crimes against children.
Christian counselors and clergy should know better! The Bible instructs Christians in no uncertain terms: turn away from the kind of men described in 2 Timothy 3. Avoid them! Have nothing to do with them!
Many of the clients I have worked with have become expert in hiding their thoughts from most people and revealing them only to those who can respect them. Some of my clients who have had a series of abusive partners have been slow to discern the difference. (152)
I dearly hope Leslie Vernick reads Don Hennessy’s book. Leslie is a christian counselor who encourages wives in destructive marriages to work on building their “C.O.R.E.” [her acronym] so they can “give direct and specific feedback to that their attitudes and behaviors are hurtful, sinful and destructive.” (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, p 156). In my opinion, this counsel from Leslie Vernick can put abused women into greater danger.
UPDATE (March 5, 2018). I want to slightly amend the last two sentences I wrote. Here is the amended version. It is indented from the left margin. The changes and additions are shown in purple.
Leslie is a christian counselor who encourages wives in destructive marriages to work on building their “C.O.R.E.” [her acronym] so they can confront their husbands and give “direct and specific feedback that their attitudes and behaviors are hurtful, sinful and destructive.” (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, p 156). In my opinion, this counsel from Leslie Vernick can put abused women into greater danger.
Leslie does tell her readers:
If your husband has physically abused you or has threatened to hurt you or your children, it is not safe to confront him without another person present. It may be dangerous for you to confront him at all. Please consult with an expert in safety planning from one of the resources I have given you in appendix A or your local domestic-violence shelter … you may find that the next step is filing for a protection from abuse order and separating, not confronting.” (148)
However, in my view Leslie’s caveat is not strong enough. Research shows that some victims are killed by their abuser when there has not been ONE previous incident of physical violence before the lethal assault.
I also know women who were physically assaulted by their husbands but had blocked it out of their memory; such women they would read Leslie’s caveat and think it didn’t apply to them.
And Leslie’s caveat did not mention sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is one of the high-risk indicators for the dangerousness of the abuser in domestic abuse cases.
Furthermore, most victims are very reluctant to seek help from a secular service shelter or the DV professionals who work in Women’s Centres. In my observation, many victims underestimate their level of danger in the early to middle stages of coming out of the fog. Leslie’s advice for them to get safety planning advice from a professional is probably not going to be taken up by many of the women who read her book looking for solutions to what they think of as their ‘marriage problem’.
Back to Don Hennessy —
I don’t believe that any skilled offender I have met is helpless when it comes to his bad behaviour. (161)
I have met some violent men who are psychiatrically ill or who carry some neurobiological injury but their partners do not suffer the initial brainwashing tactics. The women who are in relationship with these men are able to make clear and definite decisions about whether to stay or to leave. (161)
But when I work with psychephiles I have believed from the outset of my work that every abuser who is capable of setting up and maintaining an abusive relationship is equally capable of immediately stopping his abuse. (161)
The Bible says a man of violence entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good. (Proverbs 16:29)
Sometimes I get tricked into believing that the skilled offender will accept my agenda and will work diligently at my behest to remain non-abusive. What I have come to learn slowly and painfully is that my efforts have little or no impact on the attitudes and beliefs of the skilled offenders I have met. (161)
I do not know of any current perpetrator program that challenges the tactics of targeting, setting-up and grooming that all skilled offenders use to establish and maintain sexual dominance over their partner. (164)
Some unskilled offenders who have not developed the ability to target, set-up and groom may be persuaded to find a more respectful way to develop a relationship. These are men whose entitlement is not expanded by the repetition of indulgence. (172)
But the skilled offender, the psychephile, operates at a different level and has remained hidden from most of the literature. … Until we are ready to see beyond the explanation of power and control we will continue to miss the force of his entitled lust. This force, which can sometimes be dismissed as passion, is not related to another human being but is totally absorbed in the ego of the skilled offender. This force can best be described as evil. (173)
Anyone who has tried to work with a group of these skilled offenders will have felt the force of this evil. Every target woman knows that the seduction that cloaks this evil is the pretence of affection and appreciation. (173)
His speech was smoother than butter,
But his heart was war;
His words were softer than oil,
Yet they were drawn swords. (Psalm 55:21)
In his role as clinical director of the Irish National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, Don Hennessy addressed an Irish parliamentary joint committee on domestic and sexual violence in 2013. (link) Here are some of the things he said in his submission:
After many years of working with offenders [in the Cork Domestic Violence Project]…we failed to meet one offender who really wanted to become non-violent.
We met plenty of men who wanted to avoid the consequences of their actions, who did not want their relationship to break down and who did not want their crime to become known outside the family.
We also met a few men who had been exposed to the sanction of a court order and wanted to use our service to avoid further sanction, but not one of the offenders in question ever came to us and admitted what they had done.
Not one of them explained their behaviour in a way that did not offer an excuse.
…in our 15 years’ experience [I think Hennessy is referring here to the Cork Relationship Counselling Centre] the intensity and severity of the violence have increased.
[In our work at the Irish National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency] what we have discovered is that at every level of engagement, the offender pressures the system into minimising its response.
Because each element of the system operates independently, this pressure will expose some weakness in the chain of response and the offender will escape through this weak point.
The result of such an escape is to confirm in the mind of the offender the belief he is entitled to do what he does and that he will suffer no great consequence, even when some of his behaviour is exposed. This escape will confirm in the mind of the victim that the system is unable to prioritise her safety. It will also confirm in the minds of other victims the futility of approaching the system in the first place.
This heightened risk is unrecognised in the system. In human terms, each person in an agency will want to believe what he or she does is helpful or neutral.
We have learnt from judges, call-takers, social workers and refuge workers the extraordinary power of the offender to manipulate the system. A clear understanding has also emerged that we are dealing with serious crime. We now regard our work as homicide prevention.
I hope Chris Moles reads this post, and I hope he also reads Don Hennessy’s book. In my opinion, Chris is teaching a much more biblical and balanced understanding of complementarianism than most complementarian teachers have displayed. But I have concerns about some other things which Chris is teaching the christian counselling community regarding how to work with men who are domestic abusers.
Our Don Hennessy Digest lists all the posts in this series and gives biographical details of Don Hennessy.
1Unless otherwise indicated, all indented quotes in this post are from Don Hennessy’s book How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser. [*Affiliate link] Emphasis in quotes has been added by me. We have added this book to our Gift Books Offer in which we offer to give certain books to cash-strapped victims.
Don Hennessy book Steps to Freedom has just come out! That link goes to the publisher, Liberties Press, Dublin. [*Affiliate link added here May 3, 2021. Editors.] It may take a few days before it shows on other book retailer sites. Don says this book will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.
For further study
Two articles which canvass how not to reveal one’s real thoughts or feelings to one’s abuser:
Stop Being ‘Nice’ which is part of Ps Jeff Crippen’s Wise as Serpents series.
The Levite’s Concubine – my video which examines the story from the Bible which illustrates how a male intimate abuser recruits male allies in society so he can avoid being sanctioned.
Respecting and Listening to Victims of Violence: A Handbook for those who are supporting those who have been abused by an intimate partner – by Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter
Honouring Resistance: How Women Resist Abuse in Intimate Relationships – by Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter.
Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions, by Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde (Henry Holt and Company, 2010). This book is recommended by Pastor Jimmy Hinton.
Jimmy’s father, John Hinton, was a pastor and active pedophile for decades and like all serial pedophiles was adept at selecting and targeting both his child victims and the adults whom he would select and groom and enlist to be either his unwitting enablers — adults he could put under his spell so they didn’t have the confidence to voice their discomfort with his behavior.
In 2011, Jimmy and his mother Clara Hinton reported Jimmy’s father to the police for child molestation. Jimmy’s father is now serving a very long prison sentence for crimes against children.