Much the way a vehicle is propelled by a motor, in many ways, people are propelled, or “driven” by beliefs. Rarely do we make a choice of what we say, do, or not do, without a belief “driving our car”. A central aspect of many batterer intervention programs is bringing the beliefs that serve to "justify" cruel behavior the surface. Examples of these beliefs include, " I am the man, so I am the boss" or, "When I am violent, it is because she pushed my buttons". Many group facilitators have been trained in the cognitive behavioral strategies for identifying these beliefs, and discussing them with participants. However, when using a trauma-informed affective approach, these moments can be used to accomplish even more.
Beliefs serve as the motor that "runs our car".
At the Family Peace initiative, beliefs are seen as "doorways", or opportunities to take the conversation to a more vulnerable place. Helping people gain clarity on the origin of their beliefs is important in the process of change. Beliefs that justify the use of cruelty are almost always connected to cruelties experienced in childhood. Once a participant identifies a belief like," I am the man, so I am in charge", the doorway has been presented, and it is up to the facilitator to knock, in the hopes of gaining entrance.
Here is an example. Let's say someone sharing in class says, "I have to be right even if I am wrong." Once a group member identifies this belief, it is very easy to help them gain insight into how this belief developed.
The origin of beliefs that justify the use of cruelty are almost always connected to cruelties experienced in childhood.
In order to knock on the door, the facilitator might ask a couple of questions:
Question #1: "What would it say about you if you were wrong in a conversation with your wife?"
The answer commonly will come back as something like, "It would say I am less of a man, like I am weak or something."
The door has been opened, as the response is an invitation to explore this even more deeply. Next, the facilitator might ask:
Question #2: "I wonder: why you would be so fearful of being weak? Do you remember who the first person was who made you feel that way?"
The response will be something like, " yeah, my step-father beat me for years. Even worse, there was nothing I could do to stop him from hurting my mom. I finally kicked his ass when I was 17. It was then that I vowed to never be weak again."
For many, beliefs arise out of cruelty experienced in childhood. Helping the participants make this connection is crucial. While these beliefs are helpful in surviving cruel experiences, they are useless, in helping create loving, healthy relationships in adulthood. Once the connection between past and present is made, the particpant becomes more free to choose a different belief to "run his car".
There are hundreds of "doorways" that show up frequently in a battering intervention class. Belief statements are just one example. Being able to recognize these "doorways" and knowing how to "knock" gives the facilitator important tools in their efforts to help those who use cruelty to stop.