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Using the Power and Control Wheel

This short blog has been written by David, one of our counsellors at Dactari, and provides some useful insight in how this resource can be used in counselling.

Domestic abuse can take many forms and sometimes it can be difficult for those who have experienced the abuse to take on board the extent of what they have been through. It can be both surprising and difficult to accept when finally understanding the different ways control may have been exercised over them. It can sometimes be difficult to know exactly when their lives started to be significantly affected by their abuser as the levels of abuse can be raised slowly without being noticed. However, finding out what has happened to them in an abusive relationship and how that affected them can help a person to move on, as they regain a sense of self and an ability to view themselves more kindly when faced with the reality of the abusers actions.

The Power and Control wheel tries to bring together the different means by which one individual can exert power and control over another. In its original format, developed by the Duluth Organisation, it takes a gender based perspective of a male exerting control over a female. You can find versions of these wheels here.

An alternative framing of this is to see abusive relationships as one individual, of whatever gender, exerting inappropriate power and control over another. This then sheds light on the power dynamics that are active in the relationship rather than being swayed by the genders of the participants. This step allows the model to be applied to same sex relationships and situations where a female may exert inappropriate power over a male as well as the more commonly recognized abuse by males over females. An example of a gender-free wheel can be found here.

The aspects of power and control recognized by the wheel include intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation from support networks and abuse of a privileged position. The abuser may also use children or other vulnerable members of a family as pawns in their exercising of power, whilst minimizing or denying genuine difficulties faced by the abused and blaming them for things that are not of their doing. There is also often a misuse of economic power as a means of furthering the life of the abuser at the expense of the lived experience of the abused. A common theme through all this is the use of any of these levers of control to further the goals of the abuser rather than seeking mutual benefit for all involved in the relationship.

Within relationships it may sometimes be the case that there is a co-abusive element as individuals struggle to do what they need to do to survive what they experience as a difficult and bleak life. Although one party may have been predominantly the victim in the pattern of abuse it is not unknown for them to have exhibited some abusive behaviour towards their partner. This may leave some feelings of guilt in amongst the fear and confusion of their relational world which need to be processed in the context of their response to a difficult situation.

Using a Power and Control wheel to understand what has happened to the person caught up in an abusive relationship provides a visual representation of how many abuses they had experienced. Recognizing the scale of what has been endured can start to provide space for recovery as the individual can see how resilient, rather than weak (as likely indicated by the abuser), they have been.

Understanding abuse in this way can also help the individual to recognize other previous, past experiences of abuse, where this is relevant. In exploring the person’s history, all the different parts of the abused person can be heard, including those that may be most valuable in enabling a path to regain future growth. Working through previous abuses allows the individual to redefine themselves, seeing the abuse as a part of them, but not defining them, leaving them free to develop the life they wish to live.

David Brookes

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