The Headworker

In my post, The Dominator vs The Friend, I gave a precis of the different personas within the abusive personality. I attended The Freedom Programme for a year and Living With The Dominator became my bible.

Today we look at The Headworker.

Headworker Cartoon
The Headworker – Living With The Dominator by Pat Craven

In 2007 the Home Office estimated that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some time in their lives. This is now around two in three.

Pat Craven notes that if you ask someone if they’ve experienced domestic violence they will probably say no. As mentioned in The Dominator vs The Friend domestic violence does not consist solely of physical violence. Mental and emotional abuse as well as coercive control is involved.

If something your partner says or does makes you feel mad, sad or bad then the Headworker is at work.

Headworker Tactics

  • Often disguised as humour and jokes the Headworker will put us down. Jokes about our driving ability, our opinions, our culinary ability. Anything and everything.
  • Asking us to repeat ourselves when we speak, and saying “what!” in a derogatory tone.
  • Correcting our use of language or grammar or the remark itself.
  • Telling us we’re useless.
  • If we’re upset by what has been said to us we “can’t take a joke”
  • Not using our name – uses “babe”, “princess” or similar. Calls us “the wife” (or “the husband”).
  • Uses insulting names for us such as “slag”, “bitch” or similar
  • Possibly has an insulting pet name which they insist is a term of endearment. E.g. “Little Hippo”
  • Makes us feel ugly: we’re too fat; too thin; too tall; too short; too old;
  • A man might say that we’re fat and ugly when we’re pregnant. He might say that our vaginas are too big to give pleasure sexually. Says that our vaginas are too big because of childbirth – which is a myth by the way.
  • A woman might say that a man has a small penis and can’t give pleasure to her.
  • Compares us to others on the TV.
  • Often unfaithful with someone we know.

Other Tactics


Makes us think that we’re going mad. This could be by moving or hiding things and denying it. E.g. removes some vital medication but says that you must have forgotten to order/collect it. Tells us things and then denies it. Tells us we’ve said or done something that we haven’t so we think we’re going mad as we can’t remember.

The term gaslighting originates from the play and subsequent film Gas Light. An abusive husband makes his wife think that she’s going mad by altering the gas lights in their home but denying that there’s a change. This is just one of the tactics he uses amongst others, but it’s the term now used.

Confuses us

Confuses us by constantly “moving the goal posts” and changing the rules. E.g. the car should always be full, or half full of fuel, or you should leave it till it’s virtually empty before filling up. The rule will change all the time, depending on how you’ve left the fuel tank.

Tells us when we’re trying to placate them that if we’d just said “x” that he wouldn’t have been upset. So in the same/similar situation next time we say “x”. But, it turns out that THIS time we should have said “y”. So the next time you’re not sure whether to say “x” or “y”. It actually doesn’t matter, because whichever you choose it will be wrong.

Lying to make us on edge

We might be told that we talk in our sleep about other people, e.g. former lovers. This makes us scared to go to sleep. We might be told that we snore and that they can’t sleep because of it. This has the same effect of making us afraid to go to sleep. We might even go to the doctor to get unnecessary medication for a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

Makes out that we’re mentally ill

They might tell us that someone is/has broken into the house and tells us to call the police. When the police arrive the abuser will deny knowing anything about the call. They will apologise on our behalf, saying that we’re always doing things like that. This has the effect of making us known to local agencies. Therefore it’s easier for the abuser to get us out of the house and take custody of the children.

Sometimes they encourage us to take anti-depressants and/or alcohol. This makes us easier to confuse. They may also use the excuse that they had to hit us because we were mad/drunk/drugged. Alternatively we could be told that we’re an alcoholic when we’re not. We might use alcohol as a way of numbing the pain and being able to live with them, but it doesn’t make us alcoholic.

Pushing us to the limit

They might needle us constantly and push us to lash out in anger and frustration. This could be lashing out physically or verbally. Whichever, THEY end up playing the victim. We know that we shouldn’t lash out, and it’s not part of our personality. But the Headworker will push us to the limit and use this to try to make out that we’re the abusive one, not them.

This is a very dangerous phase. There are many people in prison for murdering their abusers. Not because they are bad people, but because they were pushed to the very edge and beyond.

Word Salad

Ever had a conversation with someone where the words and phrases appear to be rational but actually make no sense? That’s word salad. The conversation will go round and round in circles as you try to decipher what they’re trying to say. The same things are repeated over and over. This can go on for hours and leaves you feeling like you’re going mad. You’re exhausted from the mental effort of trying to figure out what the hell is going on.


Headworker Beliefs

They think that we are so stupid that if they tell us something often enough that we will believe it. Their behaviour is not abusive in their eyes. It is normal to them, and they think that they have the right to use any tactic to control us.

We are too incompetent and weak to be able to survive without them, and need them to look after us. They do not think that we have any intelligence or ability. A successful person will be thought to have had family money behind them or will have slept their way to the top.

Where the beliefs come from

It could stem from their home life as a child. Their father could have treated the mother with contempt, and been encouraged to join in.

Sexist jokes can play a part, they’re all derogatory. E.g. about women’s driving abilities, or about a man’s ability to multi-task.

Song lyrics can reinforce their beliefs.

Differences in the workplace. E.g. being paid less for doing the same job.

Advertisements are often sexist.

Shared beliefs

As we are likely to have been raised in the same society we might share some of the beliefs. We might believe that there are men’s jobs and women’s jobs and that it’s not possible for the opposite sex to be good at something deemed not to be their domain. E.g. men are better drivers than women. I think Sabine Schmitz’s track record kinda blows that one out of the water!

Shared beliefs are part of what makes it hard to acknowledge that a relationship is abusive.

The effect of the Headworker

We feel horrible and ugly. A thin person may well be made to feel fat. A pregnant woman could be feeling grossly and disgustingly fat rather than beautiful for creating a new life. We might end up with eating disorders or having plastic surgery.

Our outward beliefs might seem to show that we hate others and lack respect to those that we have been compared to. We start to lack respect for ourselves. Drug or alcohol abuse may follow to make ourselves feel better or to numb the pain.

The Headworker might convince us and others that we’re mentally ill. We are unable to trust our own decisions or judgement. This in turn means that we are unable to escape from the abusive relationship. Or to parent effectively. Our dependence on the Headworker is increased as our confidence in ourselves decreases. Alternatively we may actually be depressed and anxious but the Headworker will deny it.

Our full potential cannot be achieved when we are convinced that we are useless and/or stupid. We are constantly self-critical. Constantly on a diet as we’re constantly told we’re fat. We have paranoia about what others think of us and their motives which may prevent us from seeking help.

The Confidence Booster/Friend

The Friend will tell us that we look good and that they enjoy our company. Our opinions, abilities, talents etc will be valued. We can talk to and be listened to by the Friend. They will not make abusive jokes about us or laugh if others do.

We are encouraged to follow our ambitions, to learn new skills and they will support us emotionally.

The Friend will believe in our intelligence, worth and will give respect. Any job we choose to do they believe we are capable of, even if it’s traditionally done by a member of the opposite sex.

You Did It!!!
The Friend will champion you

I love the Jools Holland/Rumer version of Accentuate The Positive. I listened to it a lot when I was feeling down and overwhelmed by the abuse. I still love it now. It’s very upbeat and the words are so true:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?

(Man, they said “We’d better accentuate the positive”)
(“Eliminate the negative”)
(“And latch on to the affirmative”)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between (No!)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

(Ya got to spread joy up to the maximum)
(Bring gloom down to the minimum)
(Have faith or pandemonium’s)
(Liable to walk upon the scene)

You got to ac (yes, yes) -cent-tchu-ate the positive
Eliminate (yes, yes) the negative
And latch (yes, yes) on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, don’t mess with Mister In-Between


At the current time of lockdown due to COVID-19 the numbers of domestic violence/domestic abuse cases reported have soared. This is unsurprising as the ability to be away from an abusive partner is removed. If the abuser is not able to go to work they are there 24/7 to torment, control and abuse.

It is worth noting that current restrictions on essential travel only DO NOT apply if escaping an abusive situation.

Silent Emergency Call. If you need to call the police and it is not safe to talk you should press 55 when prompted to speak. The operator will know that it’s not safe for you to talk and that it’s not a hoax call.

Black Dot Alert. It is possible to alert a medical professional to your situation in an abusive relationship with the Black Dot system. If you have to go to hospital or a surgery you can draw a small black dot on your palm or finger tip. Surreptitiously show the medical professional and they should understand and treat you away from your abuser.


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