Posts About Abuse

Feeling Good

036: Ask David — Empowering the Victim With the Five Secrets

036: Ask David — Empowering the Victim With the Five Secrets

Don’t blame the victim!

IMG_1028In a recent blog, David described three types of “Reverse Hypnosis,” and talked about how frequently patients can hypnotize therapists into believing things that will tend to sabotage the therapy. Reverse Relationship Hypnosis means that the patient persuades the therapist that she or he really is a victim of the other person’s bad behavior. If therapists buy into this type of thinking, it can prevent the patient from examining ways she or he may be contributing to the problem.

But a blog reader made a fairly strong and impassioned comment that sometimes this may be mistake when the patient really IS a victim, and cautioned against blaming the victim. David’s goal is never to blame patients, but rather to empower you.

David and Fabrice begin by discussing the fact that sometimes people vacillate between other-blame (it’s all his/her fault) and self-blame (it’s all my fault), and emphasize that neither approach is helpful. If you blame the other person, the problem escalates and may turn to violence, but if, instead, you blame yourself, you’ll probably end up feeling worthless, guilty, unlovable, and depressed.

So what’s the solution to this dilemma? Dr. Burns encourages patients to use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication and make a radical change in the way they communicate with others, along the lines of EAR. E stands for Empathy, A stands for Assertiveness, and R stands for Respect. You can examine each of the Five Secrets if you CLICK HERE.

David gives five compelling examples of how to deal with people who REALLY ARE violent and abuse, including a raging psychiatric patient who was threatening the staff and on the verge of exploding, a serial killer who kidnapped a social worker who had attended one of David’s communication workshops, some drunken, abusive teenagers in a huge jeep who threatened David, an insulting, demoralizing, critical boss who put down everyone who worked with him. He includes with the story of a Lutheran minister,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and mistreated by the Nazis during world war two.

This is a controversial topic that David included in the podcasts somewhat reluctantly, so give a listen and tell us what you think! Right now the world seems to be spiraling into greater and greater hostilities. Does David have a point? Or is he way off base?

Unraveling Decades of Abuse

This is an interesting and unsolicited endorsement I just received from someone who I think has been reading one of my books, probably Feeling Good.

Dear Dr. Burns,

Amazing book!!!! You are helping me unravel decades of abuse and realistically–no fake positivity mantra….!!!

I think my biggest problem is attracting toxic people and breaking up with them, and then going back to them.

I think your book will help me love myself and stop needing approval from people that are no good for me.


Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your kind words! I’m so sorry you’ve had to tolerate decades of abuse. It sounds like you’ve been through a tremendous amount of unhappiness and suffering. And I’m so glad you’re bouncing back now! That’s super cool!

I’m absolutely with you on the “fake positivity” stuff. That has always annoyed me tremendously, so we’re on the same page for sure. When you try to cheer someone up who’s depressed, it nearly always comes across as patronizing. It sounds like you’re trivializing what the person is experiencing. True healing requires therapist compassion, empathy and skill, and not silly “affirmations.”

I also agree strongly with your comments about self-love. You are 100% right–once you love yourself and no longer “need” love and approval from others, the world can kind of open up for you. Although I talk about this in the chapters on the Love Addiction and the Approval Addiction in Feeling Good, it is one of the main themes of my book, Intimate Connections. Intimate Connections is all about the dating game, and the power dynamic that so many lonely single folks don’t understand. That book will show you how to get people chasing after you so you don’t have to chase them, so you’ll have a large supply of people to date. However, that book, sadly, doesn’t really show you how to develop a deep and meaningful relationship once you’ve found someone who you really care about and want to get close to. For that, you’ll have to read my book, Feeling Good Together!

Mmmm, this sounds like I’m doing an infomercial. I apologize. But I wanted to let you know of other resources that might further your cause.

One of the great things about the cognitive model of trauma is the basic idea that our thoughts create our moods. This idea goes all the way back to the Greek philosopher, Epictetus. Nearly 2,000 years ago he wrote that people are disturbed, not by things, but by the views they take of them. This can be extremely liberating to individuals who have been victims of trauma. That’s because the trauma actually occurred, and in most cases, cannot be undone. However, we CAN change the way we think about the trauma. Once you crush the distorted negative thought that trigger your depression, shame, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger, you can develop joy, confidence, and self-esteem once again. And often, this transformation can take place rapidly. In my experience, effective treatment usually does not require months or years of treatment, although many therapists do not believe this and find the notion of high speed recovery to be quackery or impossible.

To learn more about the high speed treatment of trauma, you might also want to read my blog on this topic. If you are interested, you can CLICK HERE.

All the best, David

Escape from the “Abuse Contract”

Hello Dr. Burns,

I am Elif from Istanbul Turkey. Several years ago i found myself in a depression due to my boyfriend’s oppressive attitudes. For many years i accepted his oppressive personality because i loved him. But one day i realized that oppressive attitudes were just a form of psychological violence. And I started to hate myself and my boyfriend.

Then I read your book, Feeling Good, and it really healed me. I just want to say thank you for giving me back my happiness!


Hi Elif,

I am so glad you were able to overcome your depression and get your happiness back after reading Feeling Good. That’s heartwarming and awesome. I am so happy for you!

I am currently doing workshops on the treatment of trauma victims for mental health professionals in the United States and Canada. I describe what I call the “abuse contract.” This is an unwritten contract between someone who is the victim of abuse and the individual who does the abusing. There are three parts to this contract.

  1. I (the abuser) get to hurt you for my own pleasure. (The abuse can come in many forms—sexual, psychological, financial, physical, social.)
  2. The blame will be entirely on you, my victim. You are dirty and bad. You are abused because you deserve it. I am faultless, like a god.
  3. We have to keep this a secret, even between ourselves. You cannot tell anyone. If you ever suggest, even to me, that I am doing anything wrong, I will really hurt you!

Although this contract sounds totally absurd, for some strange reason many humans will buy into it, just as you had done. Victims will sometimes blame, even hate, themselves because someone else is treating them shabbily and exploiting them. This happens to children who are abused, but adults who are abused will also buy into the Abuse Contract.

Escaping from this horrible trap represents a form of enlightenment, liberation, and self-love.

Thank you for giving me permission to publish your email on my website under an assumed name. I appreciate your generosity, especially since your note may bring hope to some others who are currently experiencing abuse. Sadly, there seems to be an epidemic of abuse worldwide, and even of more concern is that the violence, aggression and exploitation seems to be on a dangerous increase throughout the world just now.

So many men seem to think they have the right to own and exploit women! The insensitivity and cruelty of humans is truly mind-boggling.


David Burns, MD

Elif kindly gave me permission to publish her photo proudly holding the Turkish edition of Feeling Good! Click here and enjoy!