Steven Stosny and Compassion Power

Pain is an unfortunate reality of the human condition. The reality of experiencing humanity is that we come into contact with broken emotional experiences and people, and these relationships, when at their worst, can cause abuse, pain, and long-lasting physical and emotional trauma.

These relationships exist in a variety of ways, whether it be a manipulative boss, an abusive partner, or an uncompassionate parent, and each twisted relationship ultimately damages your self-esteem and holds you back from pursuing your goals. If you’re feeling directionless or struggling to find your way, you might be struggling under the weight of one of these painful relationships. How can you shake off that pain and leave those debilitating experiences behind for good?

The answer lies in confronting the weight of emotional pain or abuse and challenging its effects on you at their core. Psychologists and other behavioral analysts have long looked at the correlation between interpersonal and emotional abuse and diminished life experiences. There are many different forms of emotional abuse that range from verbal abuse and manipulation to physical abuse, starvation, beatings, or even attempts on your life.

Each type of emotional abuse weighs on your ability to function and your conception of yourself, creating a weakened self-esteem and a permanent fear of life that completely destroys your ability to pursue goals or even to have a good opinion of yourself. For obvious reasons, psychologists have been studying how to effectively intervene against these potent forms of abuse for many years.

Dr. Steven Stosny’s Background

One researcher who’s been making increasingly important discoveries in this field in the last thirty years is Dr. Steven Stosny. A long time researcher and educator in the world of psychology, Dr. Stosny has devoted much of his professional life to researching, understanding, and treating emotional abuse and effective interventions against it. Stosny began his undergraduate studies in psychology and relationship research before receiving his doctorate in the same field. He then taught at the University of Maryland and St. Mary’s College of Maryland in their psychology department, focusing his research on interpersonal relationships and violence. For his entire career, Stosny has worked to identify the foundations of emotional abuse, asking direct questions about the factors that triggered abusive behavior and that allowed people to accept it. His goal in this research was to isolate and interrogate the why: why do some people hurt others?

The Duluth Model

The predominant psychological explanation for interpersonal violence is the Duluth model, a wheel or framework for understanding abusive relationships that is primarily grounded in “feminist principles” and addresses the experience of abuse from a primarily female perspective.

The Duluth Model focuses on the person who is committing the abuse and works to get them to embrace holistic and feminist principles, accepting the impact of their actions on others and rehabilitating their behavior and experiences to try and remove the abusive behaviors.

Stosny viewed this model as powerful but not complete. He saw a gap in the research, one that failed to holistically address the impact of unconditional positive regard on offenders and that undermined the role of positive emotions in rehabilitating behavior. This founded some of Stosny’s most important research: his work on compassion power and emotion reconditioning.

The Missing Portion of Modern Psychology

Unconditional positive regard is a historically significant concept from the humanistic field of psychology. Originally developed by famed researcher and psychologist Carl Rogers, unconditional positive regard refers to the idea of treating a person with absolute dignity, kindness, and compassion no matter what they share.

The goal here is to treat a person with such overwhelming warmth and kindness that they begin to extend some of that same kindness to themselves, and thus by extension to other people. Unconditional positive regard can be used in therapy, in court cases, in treatment plans, and even in daily interactions with other people.

Every time unconditional positive regard is used, the psychologist is committing to helping their client improve their own sense of self worth with the hope of ultimately rewriting their behaviors and emotional responses. Dr. Stosny took this work and began to explore the idea of emotion reconditioning as a result.

The Key to Emotional Reconditioning

Dr. Stosny’s research on emotion reconditioning  sought to tackle some of the core factors that can cause individuals to commit interpersonal violence. Abuse is often a highly volatile and emotional act for both the offender and the victim. As Dr. Stosny himself writes, 

“Partners don’t try to understand each other’s perspectives. Yet they make negative judgments about them. This stems from intolerance of differences. Leads to dismissive, devaluing behavior. One or both partners prefers to blame rather than focus on how to make things right. Blame gives a dose of adrenaline, which temporarily increases energy and confidence.”

“Once blaming becomes a habit, the brain does it automatically to get adrenaline. We build tolerance to adrenaline. It takes ever more of it to get the same energy and confidence. Blame will certainly get worse. It leads to devaluing and demeaning behavior. One tells the other how to think and feel, in an attempt “to be helpful.” This shows a lack of respect for the other’s individuality. It will worsen to the extent that the integrity of one is sacrificed to the ego of the other.”

Stosny and Emotional Reconditioning

Stosny’s research worked to rebuild tolerance of differences and undermine dismissive and devaluing behavior by reconditioning emotional responses in order to drive a more positive relationship between people. However, Stosny also recognized the potential impact and damage of emotional abuse, categorizing in his work the many ways it hurt offenders and victims.

Stosny believed that the concept of unconditional positive regard could be applied to emotional abuse, and so he created the Stosny model of behavioral intervention programs for interpersonal abuse. This program focused on Compassion Power, or the ability of powerful compassion and kindness to help recode abusers and offenders’ emotional responses to abuse. Stosny’s program works to use tools such as the Stosny-created 20-minute video “Shadows of the Heart”, showing spouse abuse from the viewpoint of a young boy, to help break down a patient’s resistance by providing internal motivation to control violent behavior.  Stosny’s research shows that self-esteem enhancement during treatment for partner violent men is correlated with violence reduction, and does not increase the risk for subsequent relationship aggression.

Stosny’s Work in Summary

Ultimately, Stosny and his work is designed to target the power of compassion and kindness in rewriting our emotional scripts.

Life continues to hand us damaging and painful experiences, and our responses to them often can’t help but feel routine or hardwired. However, just because our brains have programmed a certain response does not mean we have to accept it. Dr. Steven Stosny has proven to us that through hard work and kindness directed at ourselves and others, we can rewrite any negative experience and leave painful interactions in the past.

Through compassion power, we can approach life in a kind, forgiving, and honest way, reopening ourselves to new experiences and putting us on the path to future success and following our dreams.

Do you find Stosny’s work to be helpful or meaningful? Drop us a line below.

Leave a Comment