Brandon Marshall - It All Comes Down to You

“I have no sympathy whatsoever for 6’4”, 230 lb. men who beat up women.”

Spoken well by Hub Arkesh, one of my favorite guests on Chicago Tribune Live, in reference to Marshall Brandon’s transgressions, which were the talk of the show for several days, after learning the Bears signed Jay Cutler’s top receiver from their Bronco years together.

Well Hub, it’s a good thing you’re in your business and I’m in mine.

Early in my career, I was referred to work with a woman whose husband nearly choked her to death in their bedroom closet, after a night of drinking and dancing in a bar.  This was not the first time he had been violent with her. The police became involved, he was put on probation, & court-ordered for therapy.

In our first session, she informed me of her life filled with trauma.   I immediately knew she needed a referral to our local shelter and services for violence against women.  However, after giving her the materials for the shelter, she shook her head.  “No way, I want you to save my marriage.  I love my husband.”

She had to repeat this a few times, probably after seeing my body language in shock and awe.  We proceeded to figure out what needed to occur, including an individual session with her husband, followed by couple’s therapy.  After she left, I could barely “chart” our session without wondering to myself, “ how can I be empathic,” given that having empathy for a client’s condition is the cornerstone of therapy?

I spent the next session with him, which lasted 2 hrs.  He came in angry and blamed his wife & employer & the rest of the world for all their problems. He was intimidating, over 6 ft. tall, all muscles, and yelled that he didn’t know why he had to be there.   Towards the end, he was sobbing about his childhood, and father who had beaten him, and his mother, especially when he tried to protect her from this violent man.  This is what he learned, saw, felt, and internalized.

Empathy: “To think and feel oneself in the inner life of another person,” as defined by Dr. Heinz Kohut, from the University of Chicago. Well - I found it, displayed it, and taught them how to be empathic with each other, something neither had learned as children.

After 24 sessions of both individual and couples therapy, they renewed their vows in their local church. All smiles for them, family, and friends.  I saw them once/ year for 5 years on their “new” anniversary date, to check in – the last time, with baby in tow.

Had I diagnosed this man, he would have had classic symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which in my practice, includes a history of untreated trauma:  abuse, neglect, domestic violence, etc.  The person’s neurology is encoded with an inability to regulate his/ her emotions, which are easily activated by what  HE perceives as a "slight" against him, or a stressful event, given that his primary caregivers and/or early environment were inconsistent, violent, chaotic or persistently unstable.

By now, Chicago Bear fans have probably placed thousands of “hits” on every Borderline Personality Disorder site, along with following David Haugh’s articles related to Brandon Marshall, this diagnosis, and his commitment to “change.” We learned that Marshall attended Boston’s McLean Hospital’s DBT treatment protocol, learning how to regulate his emotions, which in turn, assisted Marshall in managing his behaviors when those emotions became activated.

Dr. Marsha Linehan, whom I met while working on my Ph.D at Loyola University in the late 1980’s, is the mother of this form of treatment. Kudos to her. Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is well known throughout the world. I use her workbooks in my classes. It has helped thousands understand how to channel their emotions appropriately.

I personally tend to integrate Dr. Judith Herman’s model, a Professor at Harvard, described in her “Trauma and Recovery” book. Those diagnosed with BPD can recover only  “within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”  It is based on the 1) “creation of connections with other people…and 2)  the empowerment of the survivor.”

So:  what are Brandon’s connections on the Bears, which inform him, internally, that he is trusted and cared about?  The obvious is Cutler.  What a pair they made.  From 2006 – 2007, the two combined for 206 receptions, 2,590 receiving yards, and 13 TD’s.

But that’s not all.  The addition of Jeremy Bates as the QB coach, who was on the Broncos’ coaching staff with Jay and Brandon, is exceptionally helpful. Bates knows how the 2 of them work together, and therefore, this history together can theoretically be an added plus for Brandon, whose emotions can become activated at any given time.

Finally, there’s Lovie. Regardless of the decisions he has made as head coach at various times, (and whose tenure is most likely on the line this year in Chicago), is there any question which qualities, as a head coach, he ‘brings to the table” for Brandon, as opposed to Josh McDaniels?  Case closed on that one.

2)  Empowerment, which Herman refers to, as the patient being his own “author and arbiter” of recovery, is the issue that our Chicago sportswriters/ CTL analysts have had major concerns with.  Essentially – this speaks to the person being responsible for his own behavior.

And rightly so. Nine recorded incidents of Marshall’s emotions becoming “disregulated” are documented.  Hub stated Marshall has been charged 11 times with violence against 3 different women.  “12 chances”, he asks? Only in the world of sports figures, are their transgressions forgiven, if their play on the field wins games.

Hey Jay, in this same press conference, you stated “I go to therapy. It’s always good to talk to somebody.”  So what reasoning did you learn from your therapist, as Chuck Garfien reminded us, that said it was okay to take Brandon “ to a couple bars and a club”  the first night Marshall is in Chicago?”  Will you be bar-hopping as a new Daddy while Kristin is home with the baby?

Questions persist.  Yes - these ARE the facts we have to deal with.  Hub was passionately adamant that Brandon needs to prove himself.  Not on the field, but “after hours.”

One of Judith Herman’s patients informed her, “Good therapists were those who really validated my experience and helped me to control my behavior, rather than trying to control me.”

Brandon – no one is going to control you now.  It’s all on you. You’ve been given multiple chances, opportunities, athletic gifts, a $9 million salary, a QB and coaches who believe in you, and the best therapy money can buy.  So empower yourself.  The City of Broad Shoulders can create this “holding environment” you need, but as Joni Mitchell once sang, “It all comes down to you.”


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  • Best article I've read on BPD- and Brandon Marshall. Yes- I was wondering who told Cutler it was a good idea to take BMarsh to bars-unless they are very safe? My understanding is that BPD sufferers spend most of their time trying to forget the last incident (denial)- and live normally. Linehan used the word "avoid" when refering to triggering situations. People need to understand that BMarsh will have very little control right before he blows and so needs to monitor where and when he goes in public- and also perform a risk assessment on how he feels before he goes there.

    Thank you for discussing one of the causes - if not the chief cause of BPD.- abuse.

  • In reply to sdw2is:

    Thanks for your comment. Glad I was able to explain BPD, although I have no evidence of Marshall's childhood experiences. SSSC

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