The last quarter of every year is filled with cultural, familial, and individual stressors that impact and increase hurtful patterns of behavior. Everything from children returning to school, Halloween activities, Thanksgiving, Jewish High Holy Days, Christian celebrations of Christmas, and several Muslim holidays can build expectations behind how others follow traditions, create challenging conflicts between family members, and contain mixtures of nostalgia, memories of pain or trauma, and feelings of connection or disconnect.
Every year, batterer intervention / domestic violence intervention (BIP/DVIP) groups struggle with how to discuss holidays and maintain a focus on accountability/responsibility. There seem to be few options, and so many agencies and facilitators choose to ignore the topic altogether, or perform a basic check-in that is more about plans and less about looking at patterns of harm and/or personal trauma.
One option could be to watch a video. During the holidays, the only video I have seen that was helpful was "Deck the Halls" which is nearly impossible to get a copy of (there are only a few copies available at select libraries in the USA).
With that video, when I was at Emerge we would watch it in each group during the month of December. It was short (~20 minutes) and could facilitate discussions about the holidays in a way that was relatively authentic. The clothing and hairstyles were heavily outdated, but the father's decision to treat his family like second class citizens while seeking a promotion are timeless. When the son, in a rage against his father's behavior toward his mother trips and breaks his guitar Christmas present, he laments with a "Merry Christmas" that is both disheartening, and an opportunity to reflect on troubled holiday experiences both as children and adults.
However, are those the only options? Ignore holidays, superficially address them, or watch a video? At times, I think it feels that way, and with the minimal support BIP/DVIP facilitators receive, it's one small component of a greater problem.
If we are limiting our options in how we provide interventions, it makes it harder to provide services that engage men who are abusive in ways that guide respectful and healthy change. If facilitators are thinking in December what they are going to do to discuss holidays, it may be a bit late to plan something thought provoking. If facilitators don't talk among themselves (or get ongoing supervision), then how can the status quo of groups be challenged?
There is also potential to focus on the holidays because of beliefs that domestic and sexual violence increase during those times of the year. Over the years, I have heard many people working in the domestic and sexual violence field spout various statistics that can end up either being unfounded, composed of urban legends, or lacking any specific citations or information on the research being quoted (such as the Superbowl Myth). I've seen this so often I have tried to avoid quoting statistics in my BIP/DVIP groups unless I can reference the research they come from.
The challenges are that entitlement is year-round, disconnect builds over time, and while holidays can be a place of growing expectations and controlling behavior - any reason during any other time of the year can justify hurtful behavior toward a partner, a child, a family, or oneself. Vacations, work stress, health issues, school, conflict with friends or extended family, addiction issues, avoidance, self-centeredness - all these things and more are present regardless of holiday season.
I fully encourage discussions about holidays, to talk about traditions and stress during such times of the year. But on an ongoing basis not connected only to November and December. Connect to the present day lives of the participants in your group. Ask about challenging conversations, arguments, harms to self and others, conflicts outside of the family. Show care toward the members of the class by investing in their lives beyond a focus on their abuse, harm, and control. Develop caring, respectful, benefit-of-the-doubt approaches to conflict and connection with others.
Use such discussions of tradition not only to pinpoint failures, but to expand on successes - to think about times holidays bring families closer and why. To discuss materialism that can flood our culture and how that disconnects us from our relationships with each other. You don't need videos for that. You don't need an educational exercise for that. You need to have an ongoing value in guiding reflection, care, and respect.
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I welcome comments on the post on this site. Attacks toward the writer, other commenters, or oppressive language will not be tolerated. This blog acknowledges that most domestic violence is male toward female, but that LGBT+ domestic violence is very real, and that female to male violence is a different context than other forms of domestic violence (and as such needs to be discussed much differently).