Therapists and Tone Policing

Last week I listened to some podcasts that a male “sex addiction expert” produced. They feature some of the more progressive female voices in the still-prevailing mainstream of partner care. This particular male “sex addiction expert” is re-marketing himself as an advocate for women and the partner experience. But he still can’t help but complain about wives and partners who present "angry."

    Is this starting to sound or feel familiar? We're too angry? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with therapists who default to tone policing when you finally share what your husband or boyfriend did to you and the destructive impact that has had on your life. This therapist, like so many of these cookie cutter treatment practitioners, uses our anger as his excuse for not hearing the story we tell—a story that might compromise the assumptions that keep that misogynist treatment model humming along making money. So, instead, when faced with the reality and the potential for women’s anger, sex addiction therapists become the “tone police."

     Tone Policing is a term you may have heard before. It is when the message someone is communicating is critiqued or dismissed because of the emotionality that comes along with it. In terms of logical discourse, it is an example of the logical fallacy named ad hominem. That means those who use it are no longer being logical.

     As you can imagine, tone policing is used against almost every group that has experienced discrimination. Tone policing is the privilege of those who have power to use it against those who are not just complaining about an injustice, but also making the case of injustice plain. Tone policing is the resistance of the privileged group in power to hear facts and arguments that challenge their privilege and/or power or ask them to become aware of it. There are lots of articles about tone policing available on the internet, here is one that is easy to read and understand:

    So how exactly would a wife or partner of a man call a sex addict experience “tone policing”?  Here are some of the ways they do experience it:

1.  Directly from Therapists

  • The therapist will not affirm a wife or partner’s anger as a reasonable response for anything she has experienced.

  • The therapist points out her anger and directly or indirectly communicates disapproval.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s expression of anger as an example of why her marriage or relationship is in trouble.

  • The therapist accuses the woman of being abusive to the therapist.

  • The therapist threatens to end the therapeutic relationship if the woman cannot control her emotions.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s anger to direct focus on FOO (family of origin) issues instead of what her husband or boyfriend did to her.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s anger to talk about how it is an obstacle to saving the marriage or relationship.

  • The therapist identifies the woman’s anger as a roadblock to her husband or boyfriend’s recovery.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s anger to shame her spiritually, perhaps quoting scripture against her.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s anger to suggest she is just a negative person overall.

  • The therapist uses the woman’s anger as a sign of how selfish she is.

  • The therapist identifies the woman’s anger as a sign of her incapacity for compassion towards her husband.

  • The therapist identifies the woman’s anger as her way of controlling others.

  • The therapist identifies the woman’s anger as a defocus strategy from dealing with her role in her husband or boyfriend’s “addiction.”

 2. Indirectly from Therapists

  • He (husband or boyfriend) tells her that his therapist says she uses anger to shut down communications.

  • He tells her the therapist believes her anger is rooted in FOO (family of origin) issues and has nothing to do with him.

  • He tells her that the therapist says she’s angry he’s getting better and she likes to be the victim.

  • He tells her the therapist says she’s angry because discovery has exposed her codependent behaviour.

  • He tells her that his therapist said her anger is a sign that she’s an abusive person.

  • He tells her his therapist says she punishes him with her anger.

  • He tells her his therapist says her faith is immature because all she has is anger and no forgiveness.

  • He tells her that his therapist recommends he leave the house and call the police when she’s angry.

  • He tells her his therapist is very worried about his safety around her.

  • He tells her his therapist cautioned him to be alert to her abusing the children.

  • He tells her that his therapist says she is angry because he’s attracted to younger women with larger breasts than hers.

I’m just going to stop there because it’s nauseating to have to remember the garbage my clients have endured.

     When a therapist chooses to focus on your anger as a problem, it relieves them of having to be concerned about why you are angry. If you are a woman, you run smack up against the long-standing and well-protected tradition of shaming women for their anger. If women are emotional about something it is used to exemplify a character flaw, a spiritual flaw, a psychological flaw, or a logical flaw. In fact, as I have said again and again, just the opposite is true. A women’s anger is almost always a sign of her sanity and represents a logical emotional response to facts and lived experience. It is an appropriate spiritual response to her sacred worth being dishonoured and devalued by one person who pledged to do the opposite, and by another person who purports to provide therapeutic care to people. In fact, this topic of women’s anger is so important to me that one of my free YouTube videos is dedicated to exposing the myth that “You are TOO angry”.  You can view it here:   It’s an important piece even though it’s longish.

     Therapists who choose tone policing over professional competence and service do so because their professional capacity is too limited to provide what you deserve. Or worse, they may do it because they don’t believe you deserve to be treated as a full human being whose experiences are just as real and valid as those of their sex addict clients. In the latter case, a therapist knowingly and deliberately discriminates against you by choosing irrationality in their clinical response.

     Remember, people who respond to emotionality instead of the message are tone policing. And when they discount your input on that basis, they are using a logical fallacy while trying to present themselves as the more rational person. But it is entirely rational to be emotional when you are speaking of how you have been abused and/or treated unjustly—especially if you are talking to people who are doing that. Tone policing is just another form of gaslighting—trying to make you believe you don't understand what's happening and your role in it.

     Please go back and read the link on tone policing and use the second link to watch my free YouTube video called “You’re TOO Angry” from my series on partner myths on my channel Your Story is Safe Here. Don’t let yourself be shamed for being angry about what he did to you or what the therapist is doing to you.

Next week—A special treat—my first Mystery Guest Blogger! You won’t want to miss what she has to say—I certainly don’t. In the meantime, if you haven’t subscribed to my blog please do, here:  Then we can be sure you won’t miss anything! And as always, if you are being tone policed and want to talk about how to deal with it, contact me:

With you