Leading by Example in Battering Intervention

Leading by example

In November, I attended the 24th Annual BISC-MI conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It is always a treat to spend three days learning, sharing and connecting with others dedicated to intervene effectively with those who batter.  I left the conference with new ideas, validation, and a renewed sense of “we are all in this together”.  There is a wide range of approaches to working with those who batter, which the conference showcased nicely.  Within this wide range, there were some important common themes. One of these themes, repeated multiple times throughout the three days, is the need for facilitators of programs to “do their own work”.  This reminded me of Alice Miller when she said,

In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.  If we choose instead to content ourselves with intellectual “wisdom,” we will remain in the sphere of illusion and self-deception.”

Using a trauma-focused approach, the Family Peace Initiative has historically placed a premium on facilitators “doing their own work”, and using these insights to support the work of others.  We have found that facilitators have a unique opportunity to create change among participants through the careful use of their own stories, and leading by example. This ability makes it possible for facilitators to:  

  • discuss forms of cruelty that they have personally used in their own relationships as well as cruelty they have experienced.  Our River of Cruelty model explains how cruelty is passed through generations.  Facilitators who are “doing their own work” are able to discuss their own “river” and share their own process of change. 
  • identify their own beliefs and the source of those beliefs that served to “justify” their own cruel behavior 

  • role model the many vulnerability activities that we use within the group process. 

  • We call this “setting the bar”.  If the facilitator can role model vulnerability while leading, the group will often strive to match the level of vulnerability.  Whatever example the facilitator sets, the group members will follow. 

  • recognize, identify and express their own emotional experiences. 

  • pursue integrity. This means that facilitators are working to apply the same principles that they are teaching in class to their own personal lives.  Facilitators who approach the work from a hypocritical stance lose valuable credibility in their group. 

  • sit calmly in a space with a group member who is emotionally activated without feeling the need to “fix it”, give advice, or find a silver lining. 

  • This requires a facilitator to be able to separate their own emotional experiences from the emotional experience of participants. 

  • ask the tough questions that invite vulnerability 

  • answer tough questions when they are invited to be vulnerable 

  • less skilled facilitators often shy away from both asking deeply vulnerable questions and answering deeply vulnerable questions from group members.  Both can be challenging skills for facilitators to acquire.  

  • be willing to be amazing in their own imperfection and use their imperfection to bring hope to participants.   

  • be able to understand that “our worst behavior does not define us”.  It does not define the facilitator and it does not define the participant.  Getting past the personal judgement is a primary factor in facilitating change and is often evidence of a facilitator advancing in “their own work”. 

We have found that facilitators have a unique opportunity to create change among participants through the careful use of their own stories, and leading by example.

While leading by example is powerful, it also requires courage.  There are beliefs that often discourage facilitators from leading by example: “I will lose credibility”, and “they will use the information against me” are commonly expressed. Contrary to these concerns, we find authentic sharing of self is much more likely to increase credibility and make everyone safer in the room. This is not to imply there are no risks to self-disclosure. Professionals have been taught to be cautious about self-disclosure for good reason. But how to effectively use self-disclosure is taught for a very good reason: because it can be such a valuable tool! I know of nothing that leads to connection and positive change as much as leading by example. “Doing our own work” enhances our ability to connect. Connection drives change.

“Doing our own work” enhances our ability to connect. Connection drives change.

The Family Peace Initiative changed 15 years ago, intentionally incorporating “leading by example” into our work. When we did, our program took a giant leap forward. We became better at engaging, better at creating vulnerability, and better at helping participants find the courage to be more fully responsible for their lives.  As Alice Miller has said, “In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth…”  If we can lead by example on the journey to “discover our own truth”, those we serve will often follow.

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