The news at the end of December 2020 is full of items describing the rise of reports of Domestic Violence. Domestic Violence can be a terrifying and very traumatic experience for children and adults - one that has long term impact. However it is also still very difficult for us to think about with clarity.
Here are Five Relationship Health Perspectives and reflections on Domestic Violence that have emerged from my clinical experience and work on an I Matter approach.
1. Domestic Violence has all sorts of forms. It is often stereotyped as men being violent or abusive to women. This is still the most common form.
However in my clinical work I come across:
+ Children being violent to parents
+ Women being violent to men
+ Siblings being violent to each other
+ Children or adults being violent to pets
+ Children or adults being violent to property
Many or most people will have had the experience of the rush of anger that leads to the desire to hit or break something or someone. Many or most people will have had the powerful desire to control what others in the family do simply as a way of feeling some sense of relief or control.
In all of its forms, aggression and violence is always a huge red flag that the relationship in question is NOT in a healthy state. It is a huge red flag that help is needed both for the victims and also for the perpetrators.
And yet it is on the rise so what do we need to be thinking about? What I think is often missing is a deeper understand of the contributors to Domestic Violence
2. Domestic Violence arises when there are significant relationship skill gaps.
Whilst in the moment the ability to control or terrorize another human being can provide a modicum of satisfaction, we need to remind ourselves that human beings who have been raised with care and attention paid to the meeting of key needs and to the appropriate development of the fundamentals of relationship health don't typically want to hurt others.
So when we see Domestic Violence we are also seeing people with gaps in their relationship skills. Those who resort to violence have not yet developed the skills to manage the conflicts of wants that relationships always bring. There are gaps in their experience of collaboration and shared thinking. They often have significant gaps in their ability to put strong feelings into words or to consider the perspectives of others. More on this later.
3. Helping children to learn to manage the rush of anger that arises in relation to frustration takes really advanced skills from the responsible adults.
Love and support and education that happens in the early years of childhood has long term impact on the way that adults learn how to manage emotional states. We all know about the Terrible Twos when toddlers melt down. We also all know about the challenges that can often be part of the teenage years. The care provided in these early years and teen years has an impact years later on the way that the individual thinks about other human beings. The older the child is when this education about the needs of others, the more challenging it is to help this insight take root. Attitudes of contempt and lack of respect for others do not arise in a vacuum. They arise when there has been an absence of respect and an absence of care for the growing child and an absence of recognition of why education for respect of others is vital to health.
This is not an excuse. There is NO excuse for abuse but we do need to understand because to be effective in creating new ways forward that can work we need to have accurate insight.
4. Domestic Violence increases in likelihood when there is an imbalance between Demands and Resources for individuals and families and communities.
When resources decrease and demands increase, the only way to prevent aggression and violence is for insight and relationship skills to increase. The truth is that coping calmly and respectfully with challenges in the presence of reduced resources is much MUCH more challenging than coping with challenges in the presence of more resources.
So right now we can observe a perfect storm of situations that can predict an increase in violence. There are massive uncertainties, huge financial worries, and lots of time spent cooped up with others. There is profound threat to basic things on which the experience of safety depends for many many people. And we have not been educated with the tools and life skills to manage these issues.
When demands increase and access to resources decreases the rise of Domestic Violence is a well known consequence. It is seen when social inequalities increase. So though we need to be mindful of victims we also must seek to understand the wider contributors and be careful not to see the explanations at too individual a level.
5. Domestic Violence is a brain based event, one that is symptomatic of significant emotional immaturity.
Domestic violence happens in the presence of very primitive brain states that have become dominant in that moment. Once again, we don't excuse Domestic Violence but we must understand that emotional maturity cannot be achieved though punishment. When immaturity is present the normal checks that maturity brings are not functioning adequately. Lying and attempts to get round rules is normal. Egocentricity and difficulties understanding others is par for the course. Impulsive behaviour is what immature individuals do. It can make them dangerous.
What is needed for there to be progress in emotional maturity is the care of very strong very insightful individuals and communities. The care needed that is restorative has to comprise the vitally important combination of strength and care and insight into what is happening and why. To progress in their maturity so that they are able to see others as worthy of respect, the bully and the perpetrator need more experiences of healthy alert relationships.
So here are some questions to think about.
We can all agree that Domestic Violence is not at all OK. However what are the wider social and community responsibilities? Where should they sit?
+ Where is the basic education for ensuring healthy adult-adult relationships?
+ Where is the basic education for supporting healthy adult-child relationships?
+ Where is the basic training for managing on a budget?
+ Or the education for learning how to experience peacefulness in the face of challenges?
None of these are a priority of our education system. None of these are seen as a priority when children are prepared for their adult roles.
Some people may be lucky because some of this education comes to them through their families, or through their involvement in religious or spiritual or other shared interest communities.
However many families are not providing this relationship focussed education right now and so the risk of the intergenerational transmission of trauma is high because domestic violence is common and ordinary and not just an isolated experience with a few individuals. Instead it is something that is impacting on whole communities or on whole sectors of communities.
What would happen if we collectively decided to ensure that our education system started to prioritise a focus on ensuring that children and their carers are supported with skills for strong healthy mature relationships? From their earliest years of development. What if relationship skills were seen as more important than reading and maths?
How would that improve child and adult mental health at a population level? How would that improve physical health? How would that reduce Domestic Violence? How would it increase employability? How would it reduce the care crisis?
My professional view is that these issues whilst still so overlooked - are incredibly important.
More on all of this in a coming blog article....
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Dr Cathy Betoin
Clinical Psychologist, Teacher, Parent
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