Most batterer intervention programs work to help those who batter take responsibility for their abusive and cruel behavior. This is believed to be a critical step in the process of change. At the Family Peace Initiative, we too, focus on this critical step. However, over the years, we noticed continuing obstacles for many participants in being able to move toward responsibility. Often, these obstacles centered around the cruelty and trauma participants had experienced long before they became cruel to their partner. With this realization, we expanded what it means to be “responsible” to include responsibility for "healing the impact of the cruelty that was inflicted on them during childhood." Adding this dimension over 10 years ago seems like one of our most significant improvements in helping people become nonviolent. It is as if we found an important missing puzzle piece to our work.
We had struggled with how to address these trauma issues for years, fearful of offering those who batter an excuse for their behavior, or wondering if working on historical trauma was somehow better suited for an individual therapy process. It turns out that we can address historical trauma without giving those who batter an excuse, and we can address these emotionally charged issues very effectively in a group process.
It turns out that we can address historical trauma without giving those who batter an excuse, and we can address these emotionally charged issues very effectively in a group process.
Consider this analogy: a 4-year-old boy is riding in the back seat of his mother’s car. They are running an errand to the grocery store. On the way, another car runs a stop sign, causing a terrible crash. The boy is hurt, and his injured leg must be amputated. Clearly, there was nothing that the boy could have done to prevent that crash. However, if he does not learn to become completely responsible for healing his wound, his life can be much more difficult than need be. For example, without proper care his wound can get infected, making it impossible to wear a prosthesis. He cannot ignore his wound without seriously impacting his ability to get around. On the other hand, if he learns to be completely responsible for healing from an event that was not his fault, he might be able to accomplish remarkable things--he might even run in the Olympics or bike across the continent. He could end up doing things on one leg that people on two legs are unable to do.
Like the boy in the crash, many who come to BIP classes with wounds from historical cruel experiences. In the Family Peace Initiative batterer intervention program, we challenge those who batter to become responsible for healing the impact of this cruelty. No, it is not their fault they were abused or experienced cruelty, but the impact can be profound. Until they take on the responsibility to heal from their prior life experiences, some participants will not be able to accept responsibility for their own abusive behavior—much less prevent reoccurrence.
Connecting present behavior to past experiences has proven to be a game changer. Instead of "just giving them an excuse", this approach has increased the responsibility participants must take to complete our program. Taking the step to heal is no small feat, but, for many, it is a critical element to making lasting change. Our Facilitator Training Series contains 3 sequential workshops that are designed to teach facilitators how to add this component into existing their existing programs. The skills that we teach can be added into any curriculum, and the powerful impact is often seen immediately.
Taking the step to heal is no small feat, but, for many, it is a critical element to making lasting change.
Working with those who batter is still relatively a new field. The Family Peace Initiative has been pleased to put this missing puzzle piece in place. Undoubtedly, there are still more pieces to find before we all have the success we desire in addressing domestic violence
Happy November everyone. We just returned from the BISC-MI conference in Michigan. It was such a pleasure to meet so many remarkable people who are involved in this work. Thanks to all who put so much energy into making that conference so valuable!