GFSS Case Study

Explicit Affective Practice:
a case study scenario as applied to Family Violence

A: First Visit

Following police intervention around a reported domestic violence incident, Greg has been referred to this agency for “anger management” and for assistance around his partner Jeanette.   Greg is under the supervision of Corrective Services.

Greg has been issued with an apprehended violence order from the court, restricting his behaviour around Jeanette, whilst allowing him to remain at home.

This is Greg’s second apprehended violence order.  Greg has been placed on a good behaviour bond before.   He had previously served six months in jail following a domestic violence assault upon his previous partner.

Greg has a son aged seven who lives with his former partner but whom he does not have access with.

Greg feels the situation was unfair whereby he was imprisoned following his previous relationship, and he desperately wants access to his son.

Greg and Jeanette have now been together for four years and Jeanette has two girls aged seven and nine from a previous relationship, living with them.

Greg is employed in the retail sector while Jeanette is attending an adult education facility completing early childhood studies.


Greg presented appearing angry with the current situation, blaming the police and corrective services saying he didn’t need ‘anger management’, stating “he wasn’t an angry man”.

Greg states that both Jeanette and he had been drinking the night of the police response and that Jeanette accused him of having an affair with one of his work colleagues.

Greg states that Jeanette was talking “right in his face” and yelling.  Greg had asked her not to yell and to consider the children.  Jeanette responded saying “don’t tell me what to do” and pushed Greg. Greg became very afraid because of his previous conviction. Voices were raised and Greg pushed Jeanette away and she fell against the table and hit and cut her head. Following this the police arrived and reviewed the situation. Jeanette was crying and holding a face cloth to her head, the police took Greg away to the station for the night, and an interim apprehended violence order was issued with Jeanette as a person in need of protection.


We engaged Greg by saying that his referral to us for anger management wasn’t completely accurate as we are in the behaviour  management business and that anger is a very valid, normal emotion. Greg looked a little inquisitive and his interest affect was evident as he sat in the lounge room looking at the display of information on the wall.

Greg was then asked to tell his story, starting from the beginning.  Greg informed us that he was one of four children, growing up in a small country town. Greg said things were financially difficult and his father was pretty tough with discipline and he was hit many times. He loved his parents but moved away to gain employment in the mines. He liked the work but had to leave the job because of his asthma. He came to town to find employment and met his first partner, Jane.  Jane soon became pregnant and their son was born, but Greg says that there was always trouble, as Jane had been sexually assaulted as a child and was very hard to live with. She was continually “smoking dope” and generally unhappy.  It didn’t seem to matter to Greg what he did - it wasn’t good enough.

The relationship had taken a turn for the worse when he found that Jane was having affairs and it got to the point whereby he found her with another man. Following this incident there was a violent argument when Greg hit Jane and knocked her to the floor unconscious. Greg had rung an ambulance and subsequently the police arrived along with the child protection agency.

Greg said that on that night his world turned upside down, his son was in foster care, Jane was in hospital and Greg found himself in police lock-up.

Greg was asked who had been affected by this episode. He said “me”, prompted for who else, he answered, “Jane, our son, mum and dad, the police, ambulance, hospital and others”. We asked “How was Jane affected?”

Greg answered “she was frightened and really upset,” Greg continued “I didn’t mean for her to be hurt, I was very angry and upset about what has happened to our relationship”.

Greg was asked what would have been a better way to respond, he replied, “Well it’s obvious now that becoming violent does not solve anything, and I’m now in the same situation with Jeanette ..Even though I didn’t hit her, I was trying to get her away from me so as no one would be hurt”.

Around the domestic violence issue with Jane, Greg was then asked what needs to happen to make things right? Greg answered “I don’t know”. Then when prompted he said that he needed to contact Jane and see if there was a possibility of seeing his son as he misses him greatly. When prompted with ‘What else needs to happen?’ he said that “I probably need to say to Jane that I was sorry about what happened”, we thought this was pretty positive and perhaps this may be able to be facilitated by our agency.

Greg then went on to discuss his current situation whereby Jeanette and he were again the subject of police intervention. Greg stated that Jeanette has wanted another baby and he was pretty much against the idea. Jeanette had become increasingly aloof and not engaging in conversation or affection. Greg has subsequently been drinking alcohol each night and going to the shed to listen to his music, as, he states Jeanette does not like his taste in music either. Greg has also been out with his mates, drinking to excess.

Greg was asked if he wanted to stay with Jeanette and what were the good times like when they were initially together. Greg says that the good times were really good, they always wanted to be together and had lots of laughter. Greg stated that he wanted to stay with Jeanette because he really did love her and the girls, just needed to get past this present situation.

Second Visit

Greg presented today and was asked how things were going. Greg replied that things were pretty much the same with Jeanette, and she was saying that she would ring the police if Greg became angry with her. Greg stated he was trying and was helping with the children, but not getting anywhere with their relationship. Greg had told Jeanette about contacting Jane and Jeanette wasn’t very happy about this either.

From last visit we summarised some of the points raised; these being;

We suggested that these points are stimulus for lots of emotion and behaviours, and that perhaps by understating our emotional framework there may be some way forward to understand and manage behaviours better. We stated that our “framework” separates behaviour from the person and the issues from the people; however behaviour needs to be owned before it can be changed. Greg was listening to this and asked “what about Jane and Jeanette’s behaviour?”  We suggested that we would get to that and that there would be an opportunity to bring both Greg and Jeanette together for a conversation later on, if both want. Greg thought this would be pretty useful because there was not much talking at present.

Greg was asked “What happened around the domestic violence incident with Jeanette?” Greg responded, “It all happened so quickly, I just remember being very angry that Jeanette accused me of an affair and the way she spoke to me made me very angry”.

Greg was then asked “What were you thinking about at the time?” he replied, “Not much, I was just really angry, I remember feeling like I felt with Jane when I found her with another man”.

Greg was then asked “What have you thought about since?”

He replied, “well that there are lots of issues unsorted between Jeanette and me, that I knew when she was yelling at me that I was beginning to get angry and when I pushed her I knew it was wrong, and I knew the police would arrive because our neighbours had heard us yelling”.

Greg was asked “who has been affected by this?”

He replied “well me of course, Jeanette and the girls, they were frightened I know.  My mum and dad are pretty upset about another AVO and my boss is embarrassed about the police arriving at work to issue the paperwork. Its a pretty big mess really”.

Greg was asked “what do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

Greg stated “well the police need to mind their own business”.  He then reflected with some prompting as we suggested it wasn’t the police behaviour that got him into this mess. He suggested that “I need to talk to Jeanette and explain what is going on and tell her that I don’t like her yelling. I also need to let her know the fact that I am not having an affair and that I really need to see my son, and to have some kind of relationship around Jane, so that access can be okay.”

We suggested that we would need to engage Jeanette and have a talk so as we could get her story, and then we would bring them both together to sort out the main issues.  Greg said he thought this would be okay.


Jeanette’s first engagement

Jeanette presented following a phone conversation and invitation around sorting out some of the issues around the DV incident. Jeanette thought this may help.

Jeanette was initially introduced to our agency and practice and we stated that we work using an emotional framework to manage behaviours. We suggested that focusing on behaviours, not the person, and on issues, not the people, allowed behaviours to be discussed and changes to be made. We also suggested that if she felt okay about discussing some of the difficulties between herself and Greg we could facilitate some time for both of them.  Jeanette was initially reluctant to entertain this idea, so we decided for now to allow Jeanette tell her story, starting from wherever she felt like.

Jeanette stated that she was the eldest girl of a family of five children and her parents were not wealthy by any means. Although things were pretty tight financially Jeanette suggested that the family were pretty close and she has lots of contact with her siblings. Jeanette said that her parents were killed tragically in a car accident approximately five years ago which was really hard. Her youngest brother has brain damage resulting from the accident. Jeanette said she met her first partner Rod on a blind date when she was 21, and within a few months was pregnant with her first daughter.

Jeanette was pretty excited about becoming a mum at that time, and always wanted a large family as she had experienced this closeness in her own family. Jeanette said that pretty much after her first daughter was born she became pregnant with the second. Her partner, Rod found the hectic household with two small children pretty stressful and spent a lot of time at work.  Rod was a computer technician and spent lots of time working on computers at home as well. Jeanette felt like she was a single mum and things went downhill in their relationship, until one day she decided to leave and Rod was pretty much not affected by this decision. 

Jeanette had been lonely in the relationship; and when she met Greg everything was different.  Greg was intimately interested in Jeanette and they were really happy. Over the years together the newness of the relationship seemed to diminish and Jeanette stated she “got busy” with other things such as school canteen and child care study.  Jeanette said she wasn’t really interested in further study while at school, and had no opportunity as she needed to bring in some income to assist in supporting her younger siblings. 

Jeanette was asked if she wanted to continue the relationship with Greg, and she replied “yes, very much, Greg and I are good for each other. I am feeling left out of his life at present and given he is staying out with his friends I am always wondering if he still finds me attractive and I am beginning to wonder if he is seeing other women”.  Jeanette stated “I must admit that all these feelings and anxieties have made me feel like yelling at Greg and I have been pretty difficult to live with in more recent times”.

Jeanette was introduced to understanding how our emotions are wired innately, meaning we are born with affects, which is our biology, and then we experience life, using these affects, and develop scripts and ways to respond to life’s stimulus situations which sometimes aren’t particularly useful. Jeanette could see that some of her life scripts especially around her parents and siblings and her time with Rod had left some pretty sad memories. Jeanette stated that she knew when she was yelling at Greg that it was wrong and that this would really make him angry, given his previous experiences with Jane, “but I wanted to teach him a lesson and make him pay attention to what it was like for me”. Jeanette was asked if this worked, she replied “oh no, it’s just made things really bad.  I don’t know if Greg really wants to stay with me now, I have been a really nasty - you know, I know that Greg shouldn’t have pushed me and he knows that too....but I was really yelling at him and trying to intimidate him, which wasn’t the right thing to do as well”.

Jeanette was asked if she wanted to share some of what she had told me with Greg, she answered “yes of course”, so we arranged a time for both to come in and be introduced to the agency’s framework and work together through some of the presenting issues.

Before that meeting both Greg and Jeanette had signed an authority to share information so that the issues raised by both could be discussed freely in the next session.

Greg and Jeanette’s joint introduction to the “Framework”

Both Greg and Jeanette presented, appearing pretty anxious.  We immediately began by saying that we are here to discuss behaviours that impact upon relationships, and that everyone has behaviours at one time or another. We reiterated that we at Goulburn Family Support Service separate behaviours from the person, and the issues from the people, and that we are in the ‘fair process’ industry, allowing all to tell their story.

We started by asking Greg what he thought today was about. Greg replied, “about sorting out the AVO and stuff”. Asking Jeanette, she suggested that “we are here to sort out our relationship, the incident where you pushed me and how that has affected the children”.

While listening to both we began to introduce the ‘framework’ saying that these issues will be addressed as we begin to introduce you to the “Tools of Life”.  We use a handout of several sheets which clients can take away.

We began by introducing them to the ideas of Silvan Tomkins who developed the theory or psychology of affects, affects being the hardwiring in our bodies that allow us to feel and express our emotions. There are nine innate affects, in ranges as follows:

Two positive affects:
Interest – excitement
Enjoyment – joy
A neutral affect:
Surprise – startle
Six negative affects:
Distress – anguish
Fear – terror
Anger – rage
Shame – humiliation.

In our “Tools” we use Dr. Don Nathanson’s description of the expression of affect as expressed on a person’s face.

We describe each affect and give a day-to-day description and their role in the evolution of the species and how they have developed to protect us. The affect of Dismell attracts attention, being the new one on the block.  We say that this affect protects us from taking things into our body that will harm us.  We explain its use in food, saying that it doesn’t matter how hungry we are we wouldn’t eat a rotting carcass as the Dismell affect makes it quite revolting. 

Then we introduce the affect of Shame, and Don Nathanson’s assertion that Shame is the central negative social regulator that governs our personal interactions, and that shame affect occurs whenever there is an impediment to the two positive affects, interest – excitement and enjoyment – joy.  Again we give day-to-day examples of these shame affect experiences, and how important it is to recognise when this affect occurs, and to take time to reflect.  Nathanson suggests that the shame affect experience is a time for reflection and learning, and that this is where new learning can change a conditioned behavioural response.

We introduce Nathanson’s “Compass of Shame” and the four polar negative responses of “attack other,  attack self,  withdraw and avoid/deny’ with various behaviours at each pole. We impress on clients that these are just behaviours not the person, and that we as humans are wired to feel and respond this way, that it’s a really human experience and also an opportunity to reflect and learn; but that otherwise it can be very damaging and impact heavily upon our personal relationships, with harmful behaviours.  We suggest that being “in the compass” is a pretty awful place to be, and then suggest that to get out; we need to discuss what has happened to interrupt our positive affects. We view the compass and ask what behaviours are at each pole.

Both Greg and Jeanette were asked about the “attack other” pole and behaviours there.  Both could see these behaviours in themselves. Viewing the “Compass” and describing the behaviours enabled Greg and Jeanette to separate these behaviours from themselves, to then begin a discussion of how to better respond “outside of the compass”.

We then asked how you would respond better to the challenges both have faced.  Greg suggested ‘by understanding the compass and affects’, and Jeanette said ‘by talking about what has happened’.  The Wagga Wagga Scripted Questions were then introduced as the basis on which to discuss the presenting issues.

Jeanette asked the “Relational Questions” to Greg about the incident when Greg pushed her.

Greg was asked:

“What happened?”
“What were you thinking about at the time?”
“What have you thought about since?”
“Who has been affected by what you did?”
“In what way?”
“What do you think you need to do to make things right?”

Greg replied;
“I pushed you and made you fall. I wasn’t thinking straight at the time but was really angry about what you had said to me. Since then I realise that this was a very hurtful thing to do and didn’t help at all.  I realise that you and the girls have been affected greatly and also my parents, and my boss, and I feel really bad about having another AVO, which could put me back in jail, - that was the worst time of my life.

I realise you have been affected by feeling frightened and sad, the girls are frightened and sad as well, my parents are disappointed and worried that I will go back to jail and my boss is really embarrassed about the police visiting his shop. I think that I need to say sorry to you Jeanette, so, sorry.  I will say sorry to the girls and also the family. I will try and adjust my behaviour and discuss what is wrong with me in the future.”

Greg then asked Jeanette the “Supplementary Questions”:

“What did you think when you realised what had happened?”
“What impact has this incident had on you and others?”
“What has been the hardest thing for you?”
“What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

Jeanette answered:
“When you pushed me and I fell, I thought you were the same with Jane and now with me, I was really frightened and angry with you. This incident has really been horrible. I am embarrassed that we could not sort out our problems without the police becoming involved, and the girls are worried and confused as well. The hardest thing is that I really love you and now we have so much to work on to get back to when we were happy; I am really scared that this relationship might not work. To make things better I think we need to talk more about what is happening in our lives and share the good and bad things with each other. I also need to say that I shouldn’t have yelled at you that night, and I am sorry for that”.

With that, Greg was encouraged to show the reality of his apology, as was Jeanette, and there were many tears shed. The affects resonated in the lounge room and it appeared that there was hope for this relationship.  We always have lots of tissues on hand for families to share their affects and emotions!

Going on through ‘The Tools’

The next part of the “Tools” that we explain is an introduction to the Social Control Window.

We then use the DV incident to describe the window and its use in relationships, and in general.

We asked both Greg and Jeanette to think of the best school teacher they had. Greg said Mr Simon, and Jeanette said Miss Robinson.  Greg and Jeanette were asked what was good about these teachers, and both said that they made you feel good about learning. Greg and Jeanette were asked ‘did these teachers make unreasonable demands of you, or neglect you or do your work for you?’, and both answered no. ‘What made these teachers so good?’ Both answered that these teachers respected you, made you feel important and helped you reach you potential. They put enough pressure on you to achieve, but they helped you do it.

They had thus intuitively explained the Social Control Window to us; they also intuitively knew that the best relationships are made of respect, help, realistic expectations and behaviours that involve working WITH people. Greg and Jeanette were then asked which window were they working in when they had their argument and the police were called. Both answered the TO window, which of course does not work!. They had just revealed they already knew this from their relationships with their best teachers. Both indicated that this was a particularly good tool to have for the future.

Next both Greg and Jeanette were introduced to Tomkins’ Blueprint for Life, - ie.,

1. to maximise positive affect, 2. minimise negative affect, and 3. express all affect and perform actions that achieve the above. The descriptive sharing of affect is particularly important.  Tomkins suggests that affect can become pent up and needs to be ‘spent’, and that ‘unspent’ affect can be unhealthy. We suggest that pent up affect occurs for example whenever crying (distress–anguish) has been repressed around some incident that has impacted in a big way, and then in another situation has resulted in an outpouring of excessive distress-anguish.  An example might be crying uncontrollably over a pet animal that has died, after not crying over a lost relative.

We then suggested that using the scripted questions facilitates the expression of affects and the descriptive sharing of these.

We then introduced Greg and Jeanette to Kelly’s Blueprint for healthy bonds and relationships, so as to impress them with the understanding that those relationships need to be nurtured and made into a place to share affects both negative and positive. This actually applies in any relationship, but especially within the family.

Greg and Jeanette went out the door with copies of the “Tools of Life”.  Later they returned to discuss some of the outstanding issues that were previously raised and were mentored around these, using the new “Tools” to discover a different understanding and future together, a new language for life.

This case study was compiled from many stories told, the characters are fictitious, and any resemblance with real cases is co-incidental.