Addressing Battering Behavior and Childhood Trauma

Change

Battering intervention is changing.

Recent neurobiology findings show that early trauma experiences literally change the brain.The Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) has provided us with insight regarding the impact of family dysfunction through the lifespan.   Adverse experiences have been linked to a wide variety of difficulties, including increased dysfunctional behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and even early death. One noteworthy finding of this study is the more adverse experiences one has, the more likely a person will use violence against their partner. Battering behavior is, unfortunately, all-too-common when one has childhood experiences of family dysfunction and other forms of cruelty. It is time for facilitators to integrate this information into our approach. 

Those of us in the profession of battering intervention see the normalcy of broken, abusive childhood histories among those we serve.  In the past, we have turned away from addressing childhood trauma within our programs, seeing it as a separate issue needing to be addressed in a therapeutic environment.  We have done this even while knowing that the vast majority will never address it in individual counseling. In addition, we have been reluctant to address childhood trauma as we do not want to provide an excuse to those who batter.  We have argued that, after all, there are many people who have experienced horrible childhoods who do NOT batter their partner.  We have also struggled getting to the roots of the issue without marginalizing or minimizing the victims who have experienced horror beyond horror from their partner.

The Family Peace Initiative's "River of Cruelty" model helps to explain how cruelty is transferred from person to person and generation to generation.  While adverse experiences do not guarantee problematic circumstances later in life, as ACE’s increase, the odds of problematic behaviors and circumstances do increase.   As one recent participant in our program mentioned, "I was going to control everything in my life—including my partner—as I was never going to relive the out-of-control chaos of my childhood.”  

To help create lasting change, those who batter are held accountable for the cruelty they have inflicted on others, but also for "healing" the impact of the cruelty they experienced long before they were ever cruel to anyone

In making the move to incorporate addressing trauma within our program, we found it was possible to address trauma without giving those who batter an “excuse” for their behavior. To help create lasting change, those who batter are held accountable for the cruelty they have inflicted on others, but also for "healing" the impact of the cruelty they experienced long before they were ever cruel to anyone.   

The River of Cruelty raises the bar for those who are being violent toward their partner. It also raises the bar for professionals working to intervene. Learning how to facilitate an intervention program using a trauma-focused strategy is far more challenging than the traditional approaches. It requires a pursuit of mastery that includes facilitators being able to acknowledge and heal from their own adverse and traumatic experiences. Facilitators must be able to do the very work they are asking participants to do and be willing to lead by example. As a profession, we have held on to a disconnecting “we” and “them” approach that has limited our effectiveness.  A trauma-focused approach requires a more emotionally risky yet more engaging “we are all in this together” perspective.  

A trauma-focused approach requires a more emotionally risky yet more engaging “we are all in this together” perspective.

While there are a variety of forces that intersect within the issue of domestic violence, battering behavior is one of many common, crippling dysfunctional responses to cruel and adverse experiences in childhood.  As this is being more broadly recognized and accepted, we facilitators will be challenged to achieve a new level of mastery and expertise in working within our programs to create lasting change among those who batter. 

Battering Intervention is changing.

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In this section:

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