Here in Kansas, everyone who gets referred to a batterer intervention program undergoes an assessment prior to engaging in the program. One question we ask is how they were disciplined as a child. A few questions later, we ask about experiences of physical abuse. The answers that people give to these two questions says a lot about how cruelty is passed from person to person and from generation to generation.
Commonly, when the question about discipline is asked, the answer goes something like…
“Oh, I was a bad kid growing up. I got whoopings all the time when I got in trouble.”
I follow up with a question like…
“What did a ‘whooping’ look like in your experience?”
Many participants will respond with something like, “I was hit with belts, extension cords, and garden hose. My step-dad had a paddle with holes drilled in it. He called it “the enforcer”.
The belief that cruelty is somehow “deserved” is common among those who batter.
I inwardly cringe as I hear people in our program talk about how they were disciplined, but a couple of questions later I ask…
“Would you say that you were ever physically abused?”
The answer has become predictable.
“No. I was only beaten when I did something wrong. I was only hit when I DESERVED it.”
We have learned that once someone grasps that they did not deserve abuse, they can then begin to truly understand that their victims did not deserve it, either.
The belief that cruelty is somehow “deserved” is common among those who batter. This belief can be carried into adulthood and used to justify partner abuse and abuse to children. Helping participants consider the possibility that a child can never “deserve” to be treated in a cruel fashion often challenges a belief that has been ingrained since a very young age.
The Family Peace Initiative is a trauma-based batter intervention program. We ask people to learn how to become responsible for two things:
1) For all the cruelty that they have done to family, self, and community; and
2) Become responsible for healing the impact of cruelty that happened to them that they never
deserved: they were simply too small or young to prevent it.
The second of these is by far the most difficult, because many participants must begin by considering, perhaps for the first time, that they were never to blame for their parents’ behavior and they never “deserved” the many ‘whoopings’ that they received. Beginning to consider that it was reasonable to expect love, compassion and respect as a child is far too novel for many who come to BIP classes. We have learned that once someone grasps that they did not deserve abuse, they can then begin to truly understand that their victims did not deserve it, either.
Have a great January, and thanks so much for all you do to make our world a little better.