Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Sublimation: The Weapon of Microaggression

The focus of this blog is on intimate partner violence. This may be the case, but many of the topics I write about, and much of the information I use to discuss these topics is intersectional with other layers of oppression. For the purposes of this post, I am going to use Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) as the example throughout, and will make a connection to current events and other oppressive layers toward the end.

While this article explores sublimation as a concept, as well as how it fits into the behavior of IPV perpetrators, to ground this conversation it's important to begin by defining and considering microaggressions.

Microaggressions, as a conceptual phenomena, were first identified by Chester M. Pierce in 1970 when he put words to his experience of subtle forms of racism that are ever present. A general definition of microagressions are that they consist of communications (verbal or nonverbal) toward people in oppressed groups that subtly enforce stereotypes, imply inferiority for the oppressed person's group, imply superiority of the oppressor group, and are often unconscious or unintentional behavior from someone in a privileged group (several examples can be found here). Further attempts to explore the mechanics behind microaggressions have yielded several additional components to the analysis. Derald Wing Sue proposed three subcategories of microaggressions:

  1. Microassaults: consciously chosen behavior (verbal or nonverbal) by an oppressor to display disdain, disapproval, superiority, or enforce inferiority of an oppressed person. These displays are "subtle" to allow for deniability, or claim that the oppressed person "misunderstood" or took the behavior out of context - making it dangerous to an oppressed person to call out because the thrust behind the behavior is to threaten and cause fear;
  2. Microinsults: demeaning comments and behavior toward an oppressed person that seem to be complimentary yet convey rudeness, insensitivity, or an attack on the person's identity. This subcategory is challenging due to the presentation being one of support for the oppressed person, but the energy behind the behavior is to attack, which makes it difficult to call out and address as well as to defend against;
  3. Microinvalidations: subtle exclusions and dismissals of oppressed people's experiences, identities, and individuality. This subcategory is particularly insidious as it undermines an oppressed person's agency by characterizing their decisions as unimportant, their opinions irrelevant, and their behavior irrational.
In my experience, oppressors hate being called out on, or even discussing microaggressions as a concept. This is a major challenge of antioppression work overall, and intervention work specifically, as perpetrators of IPV will defend their behavior by finding others responsible, by blaming situations, or by rationalizing their own destructive patterns of behavior.

It is important to consider that each of the previous subcategories end up working well for oppressors because they provide support for JUSTIFIED ATTACKS toward oppressed people, SELF-CENTERED REDIRECTION by insisting a statement was a compliment and expressing hurt due to being called out, or DEVELOPING INCREASED DISMISSAL of the oppressed person if they call out the behavior.

Some examples of these dynamics from perpetrators of IPV:
  • Comments an IPV perpetrator makes under his breath about a victim/survivor that are demeaning or blaming;
  • Making a victim/survivor flinch, then laughing about it;
  • Crude jokes at a victim/survivor's expense;
  • Undermining a victim/survivor's connections to family/friends by telling them derogatory details under a pretense of "care and concern";
  • Compliments about services the victim/survivor performs for the IPV perpetrator that have little or nothing to do with her personhood, identity, or personality;
  • Backhanded compliments that are barbed, such as "I know you're better than this," or "I know you love our children, but..."
  • "You're such a smart person, how could you do something so stupid?"
  • "That's not how it happened, and you know it!"
  • "I was only trying to help you and you got things all twisted up!"
  • "Why are you always so angry? If you weren't so angry all the time, maybe we wouldn't have all these troubles!"
  • "You can't make any decisions, then you complain when I make them for you - what do you want?"
  • Demands that the victim/survivor just tell him what to do, yet always finding reasons why those needs aren't valid, have problems, or are unfair.
Microaggressions are born out of privilege. When an individual is in an oppressor class, part of the privilege of that class is having little or no need to consider experiences of people oppressed by that layer of oppression. Often this is considered as oppressors being "blind," or that oppressed people are "invisible" (side note: there are ableist connotations to these terms which should be considered in their own right).

So what do we do about this? It's a real thing, victims/survivors of IPV feel these microaggressions constantly, yet it is a huge struggle to guide perpetrators to be able to identify that their behavior is oppressive on this level. Even if a perpetrator stops all direct violence and abuse, they may continue to be indirectly abusive, entitled, controlling, and harmful on several layers that can cause fear, pain, and ongoing damage to their family, since microaggressions are a foundational layer of harm toward an oppressed person.

This is, sadly where sublimation helps provide insight into why microaggressions are so pervasive within IPV and in other layers of oppressive behavior.

Sublimation, in this context, is a term that is infrequently used. There are many reasons for this, but I think it is predominantly due to the fact that it is strongly associated with the psychoanalytic approaches of Sigmund Freud. In general, his theory was that individuals have inappropriate urges and to keep from doing harmful things, they have to sublimate those urges by doing things that meet those needs in more appropriate ways.

Consider the base thrust of microaggressions - in essence they enforce entitlement by oppressor classes to feel blameless, to feel superior, to put oppressed people in their place.

I argue that all of these things are about maintaining the status quo. 

A reason why perpetrators of IPV continue to harm their families, and why their partners continue to stay within that relationship are that perpetrators have excellent radars of what they can and can't get away with. They are good at knowing where boundaries are, and how to continually push them in small increments. In fact, the best manipulators are able to lead others to think they are making their own decisions, when the manipulator has set the environment so that choice may be the only one available (or the best choice of many bad choices).

The status quo of intimate partner violence is to make everything benefit the person who is abusive, oppressive, and has a pattern of ongoing harm. Even if they don't see it, ultimately that is what all these microaggressions serve to do. Keep things going the way they "should" be going (i.e. the way that serves the interest of the person being abusive).

As sublimation is the process of shifting inappropriate behavior into something more appropriate - microaggressions continually serve oppressors by pushing oppressed people into a status quo where the oppressor has greater agency, control, superiority, and value. In essence, one of the driving forces of oppression is to dominate oppressed people through sublimation. The goal is to force the oppressed to sublimate their (justified) outrage/hurt/agency into passivity - force them to conform to situations that constantly benefit those with power, those with privilege. When oppressed people respond, any response they have can be stuffed into a negative stereotype which blames the oppressed for any pain or discomfort suffered by the oppressor.

We're all human beings, we all have layers of privilege in different places. Think about one of those layers of privilege you have in your life. When interacting with a person who lacks the privilege you have, has there ever been a time you have said or done something you felt was a bit "off"? Maybe it was because you noticed a subtle response by that person, maybe it was because you reflected on what you did and you realized it was problematic? However you experienced that momentary reflection, were you defensive? Did you dismiss the other person's response because in your mind you had innocent intent? Did you get angry at the oppressed person's response because it made you feel bad, or at the very least uncomfortable?

Considering current events, where resistance is growing toward oppressive powers, oppressive privileges, and oppressive stereotypes - how do microaggressions fit in? How do well-meaning people STILL work to sublimate the experiences of the oppressed? Here's how: "Can't you protest peacefully?" "Why do THEY have to be so destructive?" "Why can't they just follow the law?" "Can't you tell me what I can do as a white person?" "Hey, I have ideas, why don't you listen to me first?"

These are ongoing complications for intervention work. They are also ongoing complications for antioppression work of all kinds.

Working against microaggressions requires active efforts by oppressor classes. Some examples:
  1. Ask others in your oppressor class for ideas on how to be supportive of those oppressed by your privilege, or at the very least ask oppressed people what they would like to be supported in their efforts without taking them over;
  2. REFLECT on your privilege, identify it, understand it;
  3. Lend your support to oppressed people by encouraging, listening, being guided by, and following their needs, their experiences, and their ideas;
  4. BELIEVE experiences of oppressed people - do not question the legitimacy of their claims;
  5. Do not expect oppressed people to trust you, listen to you, agree with you, or even care about your opinions or feelings;
  6. Don't make it about you;
  7. Identify how you feel superior to others - this is a HUMAN trait, we all have it. If you don't think you are superior to anyone, you are lying to yourself. It is a dynamic of privilege to think you are equal to everyone despite equality only existing as a fleeting and isolated experience;
  8. Identify how you think others are less than you - again, this is HUMAN. Sometimes we have superiority on a certain level, but other times we might just think certain people are somehow less valid - that's the "less than" belief, and if you know where those exist in your life, you can limit and recognize when they occur;
  9. Identify where you think you DESERVE something from others - it can be small, it can be large, but like the previous two, human beings all have a sense of deserving certain things, whether it be responses, compliments, attention, resources, patterns of tradition, or any number of things that you might take for granted because you see that as just a given part of your life;
  10. Constantly learn about other cultural experiences, history behind the experiences of others, and your own history that guides your beliefs and values. Find differences and honor them in yourself and others. Make other's experiences VALID, even if (especially if) they are radically different or even opposing your own.
I believe there is a great need for oppressor classes to LEVERAGE the privilege they have. I hold within my life a multitude of oppressor levels, and with that a great amount of privilege. Privilege is not bad, it is not evil, it is just the history of power a group has had that you personally are a part of (and a reflection of the priorities and values of society at large). Most privilege isn't earned, it is something you begin life with, and despite privileges shifting over time those privileges interact with each other in infinite ways. You can be ignorant to your privilege and easily be microaggressive, or you can be aware of it and use it to intervene, call out, give feedback to, and engage with other oppressors with the same privilege you have. People who are oppressed, since they are easily dismissed, insulted, attacked, and at great risk by oppressors often struggle to have the same impact. Use that privilege to empower those that have less power, encourage those who are struggling, support and listen to others you interact with, and extend as much non-judgment and self-reflection as you can during the process.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cognitive Dissonance in Intervention Work

In my prior article, I took information from the book "Persuasion and Politics: The Social Psychology of Public Opinion," by Michael Milburn to consider methods of understanding attitudes held by people who choose abusive and violent behavior in relationships. As I make my way through the text, I'm finding potential in using the material for intervention work. Writing down my analysis is going to jump around as I process, and as current events spark my desire to explore something within the book.

Like any good psychology student, I remember initially learning about cognitive dissonance, and thought I understood it pretty well. In general, the theory proposes that when an individual has "belief dilemmas" where that person encounters conflict with new information, there's an effort to restore balance to beliefs by changing something within their cognition. Using a direct example from battering intervention work, if I want to control a situation and make my partner do something she does not want to do, and when I do so she becomes upset - and I notice and care about her response - then I will need to change something in my beliefs about controlling her in order to balance my desired result (that I get what I want and my partner goes along with that desire).

The theory is that part of the disconnect with people who choose abusive and violent behavior has to do with not noticing impacts, or caring about their partner's response. So within battering intervention work, we make a lot of effort to raise awareness of impacts on self and others, as well as try to get individuals to be more introspective and self-aware of how chosen behavior is abusive or violent.

But what if it's not that simple, and all these years that I've believed we just need to increase cognitive dissonance aren't exactly striking the chord of changing beliefs and behavior?

As far back as 1958, Fritz Heider proposed "Balance Theory (p. 90 of Milburn's book)" which hypothesizes that triads of relationships that have a positive or negative attribute (valance). He proposed that balance in belief systems needs an odd number of positive relationships (either one or three) to be balanced.
So using current events to illustrate, with the recent Twitter post by President Trump sparking debate about his directly racist statement, if someone supports Trump, but dislikes racism, then to create balance that person would need to either begin to disagree with or dislike Trump, or agree with or begin to like racism.

The problem is that while I learned about cognitive dissonance and balance theory enough to remember them easily, I did not remember the limitations and problems with these theories.

One limitation, and it's a big one, is that when fear or hatred is involved (very strong negative attitudes), individual's cognitions may persist as imbalanced. I cannot count the number of times I have worked with individuals in BIP who hate their ex-partner with such passion that they are unable and unwilling to consider how the damage they cause in that relationships directly damages relationships with their own children with their ex-partner. That hatred is so strong there is no motivation to consider personal choices that are abusive or violent, but rather there is a highly targeted focus on that ex-partner's behavior and why it is wrong.

This means that within intervention work, we need to more strongly consider methods of confronting hatred. Trying to convince someone to have empathy toward a person they hate is most likely going to be unsuccessful because the imbalance in cognition is going to be accepted. No matter the potential harm to themselves and others, an individual entrenched in their hatred will most likely be unable to shift their behavior toward respect and health.

A second limitation has to do with situations wherein an individual holds two strongly held beliefs that contradict each other. The text suggests that researchers were at a loss to account for this inconsistency in beliefs, but offers some suggestions on how people resolve belief dilemmas that may offer insight into how someone can maintain two strongly held beliefs that contradict.

Resolution of Belief Dilemmas:
  1. DENIAL: This is the simplest way to eliminate inconsistencies in belief systems, and anyone who works within intervention understands this. You can enter into denial by changing the way one of the objects is valued, or by denying the relationship between the two objects of denial. Fortunately, this is also the weakest method of resolving belief dilemmas, and denial will break down if there are too many inconsistencies, or if there is too much conflicting evidence of other possible beliefs. In general, BIP does a decent job of confronting denial through both methods - introducing and reflecting on inconsistent beliefs, and by offering evidence of the impacts of abusive and violent behavior. 
  2. BOLSTERING: When someone adds additional elements to an inconsistent pair of beliefs that serve to overpower another belief system, they bolster one side of the belief dilemma in such a way that the dilemma ends. This is a common challenge in BIP classes, and it is mostly framed as "collusion." When group participants support entitled belief systems, they often do so to bolster their individual sense of being right, and diminish the sense that their partner's perspective matters. Again, in general, BIP is decent at addressing bolstering behavior, and working to get class participants to hold each other to a higher standard - to discuss respectful and healthy beliefs, and bolster the side of the belief dilemma that supports changing behavior. It can be useful to be more cognizant of this process, and why individuals use it to continue hurtful behavior, and also to understand how a focus on discussing respectful and healthy alternatives serves to bolster in a positive way.
  3. DIFFERENTIATION: A divide and conquer technique, this resolution involves separating two belief systems into a pair that is consistent, and a pair that is inconsistent - therefore creating an  illusion of balance. There are methods used in BIP to exploit differentiation, and I am not sure I fully agree with the technique, but the ManAlive approach is probably the easiest to describe. As a part of their curriculum, they have individuals in classes identify their "Hit Man" which consists of all the abusive, violent, entitled, and hurtful belief systems. Individuals in the class then compare that to healthy, respectful, and supportive belief systems in an attempt to diminish harm. I am concerned that this can potentially create that illusion of balance rather than actually creating balance by changing beliefs - but I am also willing to recognize that if someone is able to diminish hurtful belief systems through this analysis then that's important work.
  4. TRANSCENDENCE: Methods of analyzing belief systems sometimes involve creating reasoning for the beliefs themselves. This in essence is transcendence of the inconsistencies themselves. The example Milburn uses invokes religious perspectives of God, and a dilemma that if God is perceived as pure good, how can God allow evil to exist? To transcend this dilemma, individuals explain this by considering the concept of "free will" and how it's not God allowing evil, but rather individual people choosing the path of evil. By coming up with this reason, it dissolves the dilemma. Consider how frequently individual participants in BIP want to come up with reasons for their behavior, and how often it focuses on a reason that blames others. In BIP, the methods of using transcendence could involve discussing entitlement and how believing you are better than others, believing others are less than you, and believing you deserve something from others allows individuals to be abusive and violent. If that is the reason for hurting others, then it is reasonable to address entitlement and begin to dismantle it to instead create support and care for a partner and for children. 
A caveat to these resolutions is that the researcher who founded the "Modes of Resolutions of Belief Dilemmas," R.P. Abelson, stated that for people whom believe politics are important will likely be more motivated to resolve belief dilemmas than those who do not. This is very true for BIP work, as facilitators will often be focused on change, responsibility, and accountability while participants may not be interested in any of those things. This is why taking a motivational interviewing approach can be so beneficial. 

Further discussion points out that attitudes that are important to an individual are more stable than those that are less important. So in essence, instilling a sense of importance to be respectful and healthy could go a long way toward motivating change in people who choose abusive behavior. The challenge is that often a sense of righteousness is much more important to entitled individuals than health and respect. This means that BIP facilitators need to be mindful of topics that participants are less knowledgeable of. Often this is in topics of respect and health, and while it is important to focus on and discuss abusive and violent behavior, individuals who have been abusive or violent often believe their innocence is the most important attitude, and will find several ways to prove that innocence and ignore identifying how they have been abusive or violent. If we can bolster health and respect, it is more likely that individuals who are closely tied to their belief of innocence will relax those beliefs enough to find methods of change. Researcher Jon Krosnick suggests that when there are two attitudes of equal importance, the above belief resolutions become possible, but in general people will only change their less important beliefs.

When considering how much we focus on belief change in BIP, we need to be much more aware of how this happens. Ableson suggested in his work on cognitive dissonance that beliefs are like possessions - that people hold on to them, value them, and are often reluctant to let them go. It's possible to directly influence changes in beliefs the more we can shift how people view what's important, and how they can connect with alternate perspectives. Entitlement is often very strong for people who choose abuse and violence, and as a result, this entitlement is also of high importance to them. It's possible to create a stronger importance in respect and health, and how we navigate those discussions can make all the difference.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Understanding Attitudes in BIP Work

I'm starting school again this fall, working toward my Ph.D. in Educational Research Methodologies at the University of North Carolina: Greensboro. A big part of that work will involve learning how to accomplish program evaluations, and in creating and understanding measurement tools. It's been my experience that much of the research in intimate partner violence has been heavily skewed toward using recidivism rates to determine "success," and that tools have been relatively poor for assessing abusiveness in a relationship.

As I prepare to get into the thick of things in school, I've been preparing myself in a number of ways. Mostly by taking time to relax before being incredibly busy and overwhelmed, but also by prepping my thinking about research and the problems I have seen by reading the book, "Persuasion and Politics: The Social Psychology of Public Opinion" by Michael A. Milburn. I'm not sure how I heard about the book, and despite its age (published in 1991) I thought it might be interesting to learn more about how political psychologists do research on public opinion and measure people's identification of their values. I think there's a great overlap in domestic violence work and political research. Take this following quote from the introduction:

" cannot even begin to understand where political attitudes come from and how they change unless one understands this fundamental truth: Attitudes and behavior are a function of an interactive process between the internal - or what people carry around with them: personality, knowledge, and belief structures - and the external - or what is brought to them from the outside: the influence exerted by other individuals in conversations and through the mass media. Thus there is a dialectical and ongoing interactive process between internal and external forces. Overemphasis or sole emphasis on either the internal or the external forces leads to an incomplete analysis of the dynamics of public opinion (Milburn, 1991, p. 1-2)."

For me, this quote fits perfectly into how good domestic violence intervention work begins. Both internal and external factors need to be discussed and understood both within individuals in the classes, but also from the group process as a whole. To check my biases, and to establish my focus while reading the book, I outlined some fundamental assumptions I have about people who choose abusive and violent behavior in relationships:

  1. Most are decent and reasonable people in many layers of their lives;
  2. Most will hide patterns of abusive/violent behavior out of feeling ashamed and having a fear of consequences;
  3. An accumulation of hurtful behavior influences that individual's values and attitudes;
  4. When confronted with the reality of hurtful choices and consequences in a humanistic way, individual people who have been abusive/violent may begin to shift their beliefs and patterns of harm.
In political psychology, there is a constant drive to seek out "public opinion" on various topics. The aggregate of several people's opinion are measured to discover an overall general opinion, and I believe we do this when we analyze participants in BIP in a broad manner. However, individual participants will have values and beliefs that are fluid based on individual relationship dynamics, and these beliefs may shift over time - creating some direct analytical similarities between measuring "public opinion" and in measuring overall understanding of people who are abusive. In fact, finding ways to measure attitudes of abusive individuals could lead to a better understanding of how to assess risk and overall patterns of harm.

Milburn discusses that a part of the difficulty of measuring attitudes is that we tend to assume that we can measure someone's attitude on a topic by simply asking. For some people, this may be true, particularly for attitudes on something an individual cares about, or is central to their personality. With many other people, however, attitudes cannot be measured, because they haven't made a verbal statement of them, even in their own minds. In BIP classes, we confront individuals with questions designed to tease out their attitudes, but in most cases these attitudes are generated following a cognitive review of their knowledge, information, and beliefs about a situation. We're asking people who choose abusive behavior to confront their thinking over behavior that may have had little conscious thought beforehand. Little recognition of beliefs, attitude, and patterns that drove that choice to abuse and to be violent.

Think what that means for research on domestic violence. If an individual abuser hasn't consciously considered personal choice and patterns of behavior, asking questions about abusive and violent attitudes aren't going to be particularly enlightening, because they will not have identified themselves in those terms.

I have seen this firsthand over the years. At Emerge, there is a tool called the "Violent and Controlling Behavior Checklist," which is used at program entry and at program completion. I did some brief measurement of number of identified behaviors at both points and the numbers showed approximately double identification of hurtful behavior after completing the program. Several reasons may be attributed to this, but the ones I tend to think of are that first off the list of behavior is really hard to acknowledge. So people are hesitant to check off everything they have done when first starting out. Also, many of the behavior on the checklist don't resonate with people upon entry - that is they don't fully understand them and don't see how they might have done those behavior, even when they consciously understand the terms being used on the form.

Milburn outlines some of the concepts behind measurement of attitudes by distinguishing between the direction of an attitude (positive or negative) and the strength of the attitude (strong or weak). Behind that there are three components of attitudes: cognitive (what a person believes about an object), affective (how the person feels toward the object), and behavioral (how the person expects to behave toward the object). These three components are linearly related to the behavior in which a person engages.

Think of the layering of attitudes in a BIP class session. Attitude toward the class? Probably a mix of negative and positive, strong and weak. Cognitive beliefs about the class might be that it's a waste of time, is all about the money, is helpful, makes you think, and several others. Affective beliefs might include curiosity, frustration, apathy, interest, and a blend of a multitude of other emotional responses based on the topic discussed. Behavioral beliefs (which I have heard participants describe over time) are expectations of just sitting through the class and saying nothing, thoughts that it's going to be a waste of time and the class will lead to a lot of arguing, plans on being compliant and just making the facilitator do what you want them to - and all these things because in our minds we have plans of behavior when facing unknown circumstances. Again, since attitudes are not established until after analyzing and reflecting on beliefs and making verbal statements about them - it takes time to even process attitudes about BIP classes as a whole. In a completely unscientific analysis at Emerge, I and my co-facilitators would estimate that on average, participants would take about 10-18 classes before they got to a point of understanding the point of the classes it to work to improve respect and health in relationships - not to shame, ridicule, or attack people. Yet, if one were to simply assess attitudes by asking questions to participants early on, chances are much of that understanding would be negative and discouraging about the impact BIP has on the participants.

In the "theory of reasoned action" by Fishburn and Ajzen (in 1975 and 1981), beliefs about the consequences of a particular behavior are linked to the value that a person puts on each outcome. When an individual is able to evaluate outcomes of behavior, and understand their beliefs behind those outcomes - they become more able to see their attitudes. However, when an individual believes that other people might approve or disapprove of a behavior, that person may or may not have motivation to comply due to a perceived subjective norm. In essence, since our society doesn't have strong attitudes against non-physical harms and control in relationships, many of those behavior don't get considered. It's when people choose to physically harm their partner that alarms go off. So these two dynamics indicate that for the most part perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence will easily ignore the outcomes of hurtful behavior unless it is extreme. And even then, there are such a pattern of other hurtful and controlling behavior that have built, the extremes don't seem to be about their beliefs - but rather the behavior of others.

Is it any wonder that the most critical point for intervention is at the start of any work?

The next factor to consider in work with people who have chosen abusive and violent behavior is the "state of consciousness fallacy (Bennett 1980)." In essence, many researchers fall prey to thinking groups of people are a fixed entity whose composition remains the same over time and for different issues. Often, researchers will assume that opinions and behavior of abusers are informed (during BIP classes), stable (in their opinions/values), or consistent (same for all abusers). In domestic violence research, I haven't seen many researchers consider that domestic violence offenders are incredibly ill informed about hurtful behavior in relationships (even during/after BIP classes), are very inconsistent in their attitudes and beliefs, and are highly changeable over time in several different ways. Asking questions on a Likert's style 1-5 rating test aren't going to give you outcomes that are particularly useful because of these inconsistencies.

Recently, on the AQUILA listserv, there has been some discussion about use of the term "batterer" and how that can be construed as name calling.The responses have done everything from reflecting on the history of addressing domestic violence, to the power of nuance, to the suggestion of methods to move beyond labeling.

Referencing the "state of consciousness fallacy," I think we're in a weird place on this issue. In general, most of the "public" are incredibly ill-informed about domestic violence, both in understanding victimization issues, but also in understanding perpetrators. Even among the community of professional intervention workers, our opinions are rather unstable between individuals, and in public the stable opinions I would imagine are dehumanizing about both victims/survivors and perpetrators. I can certainly admit that I fluctuate between an opinion of not using that term, but also in acknowledging that it is an accepted and readily used term within research and writing which leads to me using "batterer" or "abuser" (in fact, in this article I have fluctuated between both options several times). In general, opinions of the term are incredibly inconsistent between professionals as well.

The term is complicated, partly due to history, partly due to overall society having very few nuanced opinions about intimate partner violence. Even the term "domestic violence" is problematic the more we find that non-intimate partner domestic violence cases get referred for BIP.

It is going to be important to continue this dialog about terms we use, but it's also going to be critical to consider how attitudes fit into our work, and how many things we take for granted have several problems. If we ignore those problems, we're going to have a hard time moving forward in our work.

I plan on writing more about what I am finding in this book. The next article will focus a bit more on problems in domestic violence research stemming from sampling errors, response rates, question wording, and social factors in public opinion.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities

*The following is a published journal article with citation: "Hall, C. M. (2019). Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities. Men and Masculinities, 22(1), 104–112."

Merging Efforts: The Intersections of Domestic Violence Intervention, Men, and Masculinities

First Published March 12, 2019
Feminist-focused activism and domestic violence services have grown in tandem, both developing analysis of systemic interventions for abusive men and in men’s role to address violence against women. Research on men and masculinities create a space for enhancing the view of toxic and healthy masculinities; however, analysis of masculinities without specific discussion on topics of intersectionality can avoid directly addressing men's violent behavior. There is a growing need to combine two focal points of work: honoring the foundations of anti-oppression work by encouraging non-abusive men to address their entitlement and disconnect from women, and motivating domestically abusive and violent men to choose respectful behavior that integrates healthy masculinities. Consideration for LGBTQ+ analysis of masculinities and opportunities for combined work are also explored.

Domestic violence intervention work, often focused on cis-male heterosexual offenders, faces challenges from community support and from offenders themselves when media, individuals, and researchers believe that such men are incapable of change. In doing work to end violence in relationships and to reduce toxic masculinities, change agents must believe in the possibility of working toward respect, health, and progress. The process of this change can be explored more concretely through a strong foundation and connection to women’s and gender studies, and domestic violence work needs to continue this connection rather than forgetting or abandoning it.

The history of domestic violence intervention work involves initial efforts at Emerge: Counseling and Education to Stop Domestic Violence in 1977, with several other initiatives starting soon after to address men’s violence against women (Adams 2003, p. 171).

The most identified and well-known domestic violence intervention program, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program, also known as “the Duluth model” started in 1984 when Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar interviewed female victims of domestic violence and categorized experiences of harm within their “Power and Control Wheel (PCW).” While overall, their approach was designed to involve community involvement, coordination, and systemic review, classroom-style groups of domestic violence offenders focus on using the PCW to educate about their abusive and violent behavior in conjunction with a “control log” activity.

Since the early 2000s, national domestic violence intervention programs such as Emerge and Duluth have attempted to create a broader humanistic approach: Emerge through the use of motivational interviewing approaches and Duluth through a greater focus on their “respect and equality” wheel. Both programs have stressed the need to focus on the change they want to see in abusers, but dissemination of this approach is difficult within agencies and groups that lack coordination and communication with progress and advances outside of their own communities.

Part of the challenge faced by domestic violence intervention has to do with Duluth’s PCW, which identifies a category of control and harm labeled as “male privilege,” which includes examples such as “treating her like a servant,” “making all the big decisions,” “acting like the ‘master of the castle,’” and “being the one to define men’s and women’s roles” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014a). While this wedge of the PCW is designed to be a starting point to discuss toxic masculinity and other forms of oppressive and entitled behavior, the challenge becomes that if individual interventionists do not have a nuanced understanding of men and masculinities, or a greater connection to community collaboration as practiced by the Duluth model itself, discussions and interventions can potentially become demotivational, alienating, and dismissive of respectful and healthy masculinities.

The Duluth model, in its work to be more focused on respect and equality, has engaged men by considering “shared responsibility,” but the challenge is that interventionists outside of the Duluth model itself often do not directly address oppressive beliefs and behavior behind toxic masculinities. Suggested items in the “shared responsibility” wedge include “mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work” and “making family decisions together” (Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs 2014b). Individual group facilitators might be able to have an engaging and thought-provoking discussion about sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other oppressions that become domestically violent, but again the responsibility and skill are totally dependent on that individual interventionist.

The Emerge model engaged in a more “political activist” approach in the 1990s, addressing oppressive language and calling abusers out on attitudes and beliefs that were hurtful. While Emerge lacks a concrete display such as the PCW, there are lesson plans addressing “the effects of domestic violence on women” and “disrespectful/respectful communication.” However, like the Duluth model, Emerge does not have any lessons which directly engage abusers in discussions of healthy and respectful masculinity, although it does have opportunities within discussions on respectful communication, exploring effects of domestic violence on women and children, and a consideration of what counts as abuse and violence.

One of the early domestic violence intervention programs, the Oakland Men’s Project, cofounded by Paul Kivel and Allan Creighton made several efforts to engage men in discussions of toxic and healthy masculinities in the form of the “Act Like a Man Box” and avoided use of terms such as “batterer intervention” instead choosing to call their interventions “Men’s Work.” Their call to engage all men in the work to end violence against women and girls has been mirrored by other organizations and efforts, but that work is often separate from direct interventions.

Domestic violence intervention shares many overlaps with research on men and masculinities, in some ways being a practical extension of that work. However, there is little interaction between the two groups, and to build effective interventions and more directly change toxic masculinities in male domestic violence offenders, this connection needs to be stronger and more direct. Part of the challenge in these connections involves the varied training requirements throughout the nation for domestic violence intervention work. State standards and protocols for programs and individual facilitators vary greatly; Colorado has 150 pages of rules (including detailed evaluation components), while three states have no guidelines whatsoever.

There are several reasons why states have created standards, but many do so through court and legislative rulings requiring that individual abusers receive education, intervention, or counseling as a consequence for domestic violence criminal offenses. This creates a certain quality of care for programs, but since this quality is so different between sites, and monitoring of these standards is often minimal, holding individuals and programs to a standard of analysis is very difficult.

As domestic violence is not a mental health issue, it invites analysis that considers belief systems, values, and meaning and where those interplay with toxic, unhealthy, disrespectful, violent, and abusive behavior. As much of the work has focused on where gender role training fits into those beliefs, there is opportunity for natural overlaps between this research and progress. Getting past the issues behind standards of programs and requirements for practitioners could be an excellent opportunity for future work.

Gender studies as an area of research and study has long focused on feminism, as well as LGBTQ+ studies. As time has led to differentiation between the two focal areas, both have often supported each other and worked together within their realms of research. There has been tension and distrust from both groups as masculinities studies have gained ground, influence, and garnered financial support.
A major source of this distrust can be seen in part as coming from elements of men’s studies that is directly and/or indirectly connected to Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups. These groups work to portray men as victims of women, victims of society, and victims of other men. Masculinities studies has opportunities to denounce and work directly against such groups by providing research and discussion that keeps men’s potential for violence in the foreground.

Molly Dragiewicz, a sociologist and noted researcher of MRAs, notes when reviewing “Some Men,” a book about men’s experiences in doing antiviolence work, “Some men interviewed in this chapter raise concerns about the use of antiviolence publicity as window dressing to disguise an underlying lack of commitment to organizational policies to address men’s violence against women and the structures that engender it” (Dragiewicz 2016, p. 312).

But why is it that men are challenged by taking a more direct and visible role in calling out violence as a part of toxic masculinities? Sebastián Molano wrote about some of the challenges faced by men by stating, “Many of the men (including me) working on gender issues are self-taught. We have arrived in the gender landscape as a result of different circumstances but rarely due to an ingrained interest. This is explained, typically, as men enjoying a series of privileges that do not push them to question the status quo” (Molano, 2015).

This mirrors the challenge with domestic violence intervention work, where engaging men in respectful and healthy masculinities reflections or in confronting toxic masculinities does not necessarily have any sort of guidelines, standards, or rules of foundation, training, or engagement. Molano goes on to state, “men who work on gender issues do not tend to have a solid conceptual framework on gender issues, vis-à-vis women. This affects their credibility but most importantly, it is exposed when men who are working on these issues try to build bridges of collaboration with women’s organizations.”

Men and Masculinities studies need collaborations with feminist organizations and need the analysis of gender through the lens of privilege and power men hold over women. The expansion of that lens to consider the intersectionality of other oppressions needs to be continued.

Research on intersectional oppression and the perceptions of invisibility experienced by marginalized individuals can provide guidance in understanding how women’s experiences are easily overlooked by men. In exploring social invisibility, Pérez and Passini found that the more areas of privilege that individuals held, the easier it was to overlook or avoid people without privilege. Their research focused on multiple layers of identity, including gender and sexism, and their conclusion was that, “participants avoid visual interaction with people belonging to social minorities, presumably in order to prevent them from seeing themselves through the eyes with which the minority would see them” (Pérez & Passini 2012, p. 873).

Since 2017, when #MeToo gained international attention and sparked an increase in awareness and validation for women who are sexually and physically victimized by men, the invisibility has been waning, particularly as Sandra M. Gilbert notes:

Thousands and thousands of victims are cafeteria workers, file clerks, undergraduate and graduate students, ambitious young paralegals and overworked line cooks, electricians and rookie cops, junior high school students, and even, God help us, younger girls, sometimes even kindergartners. The labyrinth is the quotidian workplace—the winding corridors of the school or the office, where sexual aggression all too often accompanies power. (American Scholar 2018, p. 18)
With this rise of visibility, masculinities studies has an opportunity to join with domestic violence researchers in assessing appropriate responses to offenders, discussing the impacts of men’s violence on women and children, and overall working to provide avenues for repair.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, the landscape of masculinities in overall US culture may have serious shifts toward attitudes of entitlement and traditional gender roles, embracing foundations of toxic masculinity that are fundamental aspects of MRA belief systems. This creates a need to be intentional in having conversations with MRA individuals and groups to find methods of analyzing toxic masculinities and to possibly learn more about shifting beliefs toward healthy and respectful alternatives.

As a part of working toward respectful and healthy shifts, Men and Masculinities (and domestic violence) studies need to be cautious to remember how gender intersects with other categories of oppression, otherwise it can potentially lead to other forms of invisibility within the work. Chris Beasley notes ,“specifically naming violence as ‘the problem of men’, with regard to violence in communities which face racist marginalisation, is not straightforward. The strategy may be viewed as not so much as ensuring men are rendered responsible but as potentially eliding histories of racism/colonialism, thereby ensuring that dominant white cultures are not associated with responsibility” (Beasley 2015, p. 574).

A focus on toxic masculinities still needs to be balanced with understanding healthy and respectful masculinities, and while there have been several attempts to be more positive about men, careful balance is critical. Englar-Carlson names the challenge of working within that balance:
For many individuals, the idea of empowering men or identifying strengths may seem foreign or downright antithetical to someone who is working to reduce male power, privilege, and sexism. A central concern could be that advocating for a positive psychology of men, or positive masculinity, may gloss over the dark side of masculinity and may be associated with supporting patriarchal structures. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 401)
Englar-Carlson offers an example of maintaining both the sense of the toxic and the sense of the healthy:

Loyalty is commonly identified among men as a desirable trait because it can strengthen relationships, build trust, and show support of others. However, when used in a rigid manner, loyalty has the potential to reinforce traditional positions of male privilege (e.g., protecting other men at the expense of truth and justice) and mask independent thinking. It is the ability to be flexible in the enactment of male strengths and knowing when it is adaptive that is critical. (Englar-Carlson & Kiselica 2013, p. 402)
Being flexible is crucial in understanding the ways behavior, gender role training, and even violence itself can be potentially toxic and destructive, but also where it may be healthy or embody a context wherein the violence is protective to self or others. Research and writing needs to be careful to nuance approaches and make sure both sides are considered.

Intersectional overlaps need to be intentional by including the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community and other nonbinary sexualities. While masculinities papers and research often consider, or even focus on, gay masculinities, an aspect of sexualities that is missing both within domestic violence intervention and masculinities work is a more expansive focus on sexuality beyond heterosexual/homosexual/bisexual.

Research on asexuality is scarce, and testing instruments on sexuality often ignore or minimize asexual spectrums of sexual identity and sexual orientation (Hinderliter 2009); although there has been some work on developing scales to measure asexuality more recently, relying on open-ended questioning (Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka 2015). Initially, sexuality research looked at a spectrum from heterosexual to homosexual and categorized any other sexuality as the “X category” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin 1948). In more recent times, considerations of sexual orientation as something distinctly separate from romantic orientation have been discussed and expanded within asexual communities.

Asexuality sites fiercely debate aspects of sexuality needing to include “romantic orientation” as being separate from “sexual orientation” and the need to differentiate between the two and acknowledge space and presence of those individuals who may not be interested in sexual activity but are romantically and socially attracted to others (Amy/amygdala 2013).

This concept, as a view of sexuality that is inclusive not just of the “big three” sexual orientations, but other concepts behind an individual’s identity needs to be more explored within masculinities as well as the domestic violence community.

One major reason for this need is the probability of male domestic violence offenders having a characteristic of being heterosexually oriented to a female partner, but not being interested in a romantic/social connection to women. This complicated combination of identities can explain some levels of toxic masculinities that have not been fully explored.

Another challenging aspect of masculinities work that focuses on gay and bisexual males is the often-overlooked aspect of sexism among these men. Authors at various LGBTQ+ organizations and media have noted some of these issues, one stating, “The topic of misogyny among gay men is a difficult one to broach. In my experience, men either simply refuse to believe the phenomenon exists, or the conversation is quickly derailed” (Faye 2015).

This is not to say that the study of masculinities within the LGBTQ+ community are demonstrating sexism in their work; however, inclusion of forms of oppression beyond heterosexism and homophobia is still necessary in masculinities research, even from within an LGBTQ+ focus.
Emerge has been working with domestic violence offenders within the LGBTQ+ community since the mid-1990s. Culturally specific LGBTQ groups for perpetrators has influenced their work with heterosexual male perpetrators, leading to greater understanding of oppression dynamics and guiding more nuanced interventions while offering a broader ability to inform and work with victims and survivors.

Much of the challenge in both domestic violence intervention and masculinities research is in seeing sexuality in binary terms, both within orientation, but also within making decisions to explore the “most common” sexual preferences and excluding (or being invisible to) how all human sexuality informs work with men.

Domestic violence continues to evolve within the LGBTQ+ community due to work by experts in the field of intervention as well as within agencies that provide advocacy and support for victims and survivors. Some of these nonbinary sexualities, as they are still being explored and understood, need to also be given support and advocacy for victimization, and perpetrators need to be held accountable for change. To avoid stifling progress, we need to start expanding our understanding and research, and we must become as aware of what we leave out as of what include in our work.

The reality of Men and Masculinities work and of domestic violence intervention is that we are at the infancy of their scholarship and not far removed from the foundations created by feminist analysis. Domestic violence intervention has a history of being corrupted by a lack of connections, distancing programs, and individuals from both national efforts and others doing the work. Siloing of resources, advances, materials, curriculum, and even intervention approaches has prevented progress and created rifts within the field. Negative and shame-based focus on perpetrators has created an imbalance in making individual and societal change toward respect and health in relationships.

We find ourselves in a new stage of development within this field. Where we can become inclusive of nonbinary sexuality and romantic connections. Where we can consider what it means to be balanced within concepts of toxic and healthy masculinities. Where we can confront male apologists and call out misogyny at the same time we can build awareness of the invisibilities we can easily fall prey to.
Tal Peretz lists five reasons to study Men and Masculinities that support this ongoing evolution:
  1. Making Men and Masculinities the focus of research helps to keep men’s hurtful behavior visible;
  2. Gender, as an intersectional matrix of domination, informs our knowledge of other forms of oppression;
  3. Disrupting the perception that men’s experiences are “natural” illuminates the possibility of change;
  4. Research suggests momentum toward egalitarian patterns comes from a focus on masculinities; and
  5. Investigating masculinities offers valuable information for feminist projects. (Peretz 2016)
How better to leverage privilege than by using the study of men to further work to end suffering and harms toward all oppressed populations? A fully synthesized approach could grow both fields in addition to leading us to a clarified foundation upon which to confront oppression.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Friday, December 28, 2018

Moving Toward a Respectful New Year (Part Three)

This is the third article expanding on respectful and healthy relationship behavior. Who will be up for the New Year  challenge of practicing all of these behavior for the month of January and beyond? (link to part one and part two)

21) Be Inclusive: Human beings often fall into the trap of dismissing others, sometimes due to a sense of personal superiority, but often due to not caring or listening to other people. In a relationship, dismissive behavior adds up over time with increasingly hurtful results. The counter to being dismissive is choosing to be actively inclusive of others. Making other people matter and caring about their thoughts, opinions, and emotions. With an intimate partner, this would mean to include that person in your life by sharing your successes and challenges, bringing that person into your world, even if it is mundane - and showing respect and care by including their experiences, stories, and life in your own through listening. This may mean inviting a conversation, becoming an active source of support, or making plans alongside your partner.

22) Be Open and Transparent: It's easy to be unconscious of manipulative and controlling behavior toward a partner. All it takes is selective information sharing (so-called white lies, withholding information, or lying by omission), yessing another person or being insincere (lying by assent), or of course blatantly saying or doing things to get a specific advantage (outright commission of lies or manipulation of information). Many people easily miss the build up of such patterns, and become manipulative for all the "right" reasons, even if for self-protection. But since it builds over time, it can dismantle a relationship once someone sees through that manipulation. It takes direct open communication about problems, challenges, and seemingly boring details to be transparent in how you work with your intimate partner. Your partner needs to have a sense that your motives are respectful and healthy, that those reasons for your choices are not based in coming out on top, but on working alongside. Since manipulation often takes a certain amount of personal mindfulness and reflection, it's easy to feel open and transparent while at the same time choosing behavior which alienates other people. Consider places in your life where you keep things secret - do such secrets ultimately benefit you at the expense of your partner? Are those personal things you do not speak about keep a barrier up in your relationship? Are there ways of dismantling even the small things to improve your ability to communicate and grow with your partner?

23) Let Time Run Its Course: Sometimes it seems very important to make a decision quickly, and pressure others to agree or join with you in a decision. This sort of pressure can wear others down, and make them feel less validated in their own decision making process. Not all decisions or situations are equally imperative, so balancing priorities and knowing when an immediate choice is necessary and when there is time to allow patience and discussion can help to make a partnership feel like a true collaboration. There are situations where an individual wants to make a quick decision to avoid pain or due to fear about outcomes - and in such cases allowing time can be important for other reasons. If decision making is about avoidance, then patience may instead lead to growing discussion and cooperation. If being right or winning a conflict is the priority, such motives are a trap that cause damage to a relationship. If your partner feels pressured to make a decision, and makes one out of that pressure, such a decision may be paired with regret and self-blame. Or it could be paired with anger and blaming you for pressuring. Sure, in some cases, particularly if someone is unsure or paralyzed in decision making, they might feel better about making a decision, but that is where it is important to know what is going on for your partner (and yourself) in decision making and to understand where your patience, or need to develop more patience, is important.

24) Remember the Value of Your Relationship: How do you add value to your partner's life? How does your partner add value to your life? These are critical questions to ask, and to understand the answer. In them, you can consider places you can improve (to add more value), and places to appreciate and validate your partner. I argue that this is a very important part of creating an amicable relationship with an ex-partner as well. Often men in my classes who have a child with their ex-partner speak to her faults and problems and their ability to co-parent suffers greatly as a result. Having neutral self-talk may involve the ability to remember why you chose your partner to begin with, and the positive characteristics that you had valued, and maybe even still value. Conflict can easily grow when there is discontent and a growing negative self-talk about your partner, and being conscious of value helps to keep that discontent from growing into contempt. It can also keep you humble if you have been working on awareness of your faults in addition to remembering the strengths that your partner appreciates in you.

25) Acknowledge Your Partner's Humanity: As human beings, we have any number of faults, make mistakes pretty regularly, and are self-oriented at times to the point of missing opportunities to validate and care for others. The ancient truism of "remove the plank in your own eye before addressing the sliver in someone else's" holds very true to this humanity. If you can recognize your own faults, and keep your partner's faults with several grains of salt, you can more easily navigate conflict by seeing where that humanity might be getting in the way on either side. Any of the items on this list can be challenging because they require a certain amount of personal choice and discipline. Your partner may not practice this (or any other of these things) but that does not mean you cannot. Sometimes a simple thing such as noticing your partner's exhaustion, understanding life experiences that are overwhelming your partner, or realizing you have made similar mistakes can lead to more understanding in conflict resolution.

26) Connect With Support Beyond Your Partner: It's important to choose wisely when investing in a relationship for many reasons, one of them being that it's natural that you will spend a lot of time together. When you connect with another person in a committed way, and as a relationship grows and evolves over time, you inherently will depend on support from your partner. This support might be emotional, but it may also be about sharing resources, time, and responsibilities. This does not mean all your support should come from one person. It is important to have others in your life, whether it be friends, family, or even coworkers who can offer feedback and emotional support. It's just as important to encourage your partner to foster such relationships and support. Being wise about your support system is also critical - it's no good to have people supporting you who give you hurtful ideas or selfish options to solving problems. Nor is it good to have people who fail to call you on your bullshit. Who is in your life outside of your partner who is there for you, and how do they demonstrate support for you?

27) Handle Tough Decisions Together: Not all decisions need to be made jointly in a relationship, but at the same time it's important to know your partner well enough to understand when that person wants to be involved in a decision. What are the tough decisions you face, and how do you get input on them from your partner? How do you work together as parents, and how do you work separately? Parenting is a useful example because of course you cannot make all decisions jointly, at the same time you need to be open and transparent about the decisions you do make so you do not override or counter your partner's choices. Even in decisions that may be more personal, having your partner's thoughts and input can lead to greater intimacy and validation.

28) Be Assertive: Know what you want and need, and know how to communicate those things. Often it's a trap to merely communicate what you do not like, do not want, or do not need - and use those things as attacks. Productively working toward goals and options will go much better when negotiating and compromising, and making decisions that do not end up as an expense to your partner are also important. Being passive and awaiting an outcome leads to less personal investment and makes it easy to later become aggressive about an outcome you had no investment in to begin with. Aggressively making choices to meet your needs or wants can easily steamroll over your partner and build resentment. Actively communicating and working together to prioritize, understand the difference between wants and needs, and set realistic and measurable goals are all traits that are a part of acting assertively.

29) Understand Respect: As a term, respect can be hard to define. Sometimes the examples given are things like "I respected my father, because if I didn't, there'd be hell to pay," but in such examples respect is confused with fear. If someone equates being respected to being obeyed or feared, they may pursue destructive and hurtful behavior in their relationships with others. Another common, but ultimately faulty example is, "to get respect, you have to earn it," but such ideas are more similar to defining authority. Rising in an hierarchy such as within a work environment may involve earning position, but if someone believes they have the right to control others or that they have earned such a right, then they may not be open to influence or negotiation which can again be destructive to relationships. Understanding respect as a concept involves understanding how you listen to others and show a certain amount of caring for them. The ability and willingness to listen to other's thoughts, emotions, and opinions demonstrates to others that you respect them. Alternatively, the ability to understand and listen to your own needs and gain them in a dignified way is what self-respect is all about. Developing respect in a relationship helps to strengthen and grow bonds between you, and is critical to having value in another person.

30) Balance Intimacy: Intimacy is no one thing, but involves layers of connection. Physical intimacy is definitely about sexual attraction and behavior, but it is even more than that. Passion about being with someone, enjoying physical (non-sexual) touch, these things and more are what make up physical intimacy and such things evolve throughout an intimate partner relationship. Emotional intimacy is about closeness to someone, knowing what they like and dislike, reciprocity of action and need, secrets shared and secrets kept, and overall knowledge of that person's life and history. Mental intimacy makes up commitment - how you bind yourself to another person by finances, marriage, having children, living together, making goals for the future, or other intimately binding behavior. Spiritual intimacy is about shared values and morals, both knowing your own and navigating your partner's, and appreciating their differences. All of these layers of intimacy are best developed equally, although it is natural for one to grow faster than another, and when that happens being aware of places that need to be developed further as a part of an ongoing and evolving relationship.

31) Be Mindful of How Others Experience You: Decent actors spend time in front of a mirror watching and practicing their emotional responses so they can best portray different situations and characters. Since communication is largely nonverbal, there are a multitude of gestures, vocal tones, and faces we make that others pick up on without our knowing it. Humans are sensing beings, as much as we put greater emphasis on thinking we all have the ability to feel that something is off, to know when tension is high, and to even determine danger or well being. It is an important skill to know how others may experience you at any given time, but particularly during conflict. If someone feels threatened by you, you can deny being threatening but that does not negate the other person's experiences of you or the reasons they felt that way. Within relationships, it is important to consistently listen to your partner's experiences of you so that you can learn more about yourself through their descriptions and their perspectives. Just like an actor practicing various responses, you can train yourself to become aware of how you act, and the "vibes" you give off when you are upset. Managing your responses is a big part of contributing to a relationship in a respectful and healthy manner.

I hope this discussion of healthy and respectful relationship behavior has been helpful! Please feel free to comment below, or send me an email if you have any questions. You can use the pamphlet in the link below if you think it would be useful for your work, and if you do please maintain credit to me (which is in a box on the pamphlet itself).


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Moving Toward a Respectful New Year (Part Two)

Continuing the list of respectful and healthy relationship behavior, this article highlights specific attitudes, behavior, and approaches to a relationship that can work on improving an intimate partner relationship. As in the previous article, a copy of the full list is at the end.

11. Give the Benefit Of the Doubt: Occasionally, an intimate partner does something that might initially seem designed to hurt you, or at the very least be a decision that violates an agreement or personal request. While it is possible this could be true, contempt is built up by having negative assumptions about other's motives and behavior. To maintain respect and health, it can be important to have an initial impulse to consider that your partner's behavior may not be about you, or may not be what it seems. You are in this way providing a sense of doubt about an attack on you, and allowing space for that person to provide their perspective, motive, or information before deciding how to respond. If your partner truly intended to hurt you, then you can respond by setting limits or potentially recognizing that this behavior is unacceptable and ending the relationship. In essence, a partnership is about defending the other person by being supportive and not assuming the worst until it is clear the worst is the reality. When choosing battering behavior, motives often dwell in the realm of negative assumptions and attacks, as well as a pattern of building contempt. To work toward repair, someone who has been abusive needs to begin choosing to walk back contempt and instead find ways to defend their partner, if the relationship has not been too broken to continue. In a healthy and respectful relationship, benefit of the doubt is often a default based on value for an intimate partner and a desire to defend them and support their decisions, even if they are different from ones you might have chosen.

12. Discuss Your Values and Meaning in Life: We all have long held and developed beliefs about both the rules we have in how to live life, but also what we value and care about. While it can be challenging to identify, we also have a certain understanding of what makes life meaningful which can include goals to accomplish, patterns of behavior to maintain, and connections that are most important. These are important conversations to have with a partner, and helps to develop emotional intimacy - a knowledge of another person that develops closeness. It can also help in building commitment, as we tend to grow closer to people who have similar values and goals in life. It can be a trap to only identify things we do not like, what we dislike about other's behavior. Values are about what you want - and how you want things to progress. Within a relationship, what shared goals to you have together, and do you have the same plans on how to achieve them? There can be trepidation about sharing such deep information, as it creates vulnerability - and often when someone avoids being vulnerable they also avoid becoming closer to others, which can make it easier to hurt and choose destructive behavior. It is much more difficult to hurt people who have similar values and goals, and having such overlaps in life also create unity and a sense of togetherness that foster health and mutual respect.

13. Be Okay With Not Having Complete Agreement: Building intimacy, particularly emotional intimacy, often means sharing your opinions, thoughts, and emotions - and in turn listening and caring about your partner's. As two separate people, there are going to be differences, and sometimes it's less about a difference and more about a different flavor or shape of the same thing. There are definitely differences that a deal breakers (see non-negotiables with #6 on the previous list), but there are also differences that enrich a relationship by creating strategies and approaches to situations that vary, and offer variable solutions. Knowing the differences between you is important, so you can listen and respect those boundaries (#2, on previous list), but also so you do not find incompatibilities with every potential partner. Some people get stuck in wanting a "perfect mate" and miss out on the reality that no such thing exists. When I do relationship histories as an activity with individuals in my classes, I find that the things that are listed as initial attractions to a partner can also in the end become specific reasons for disliking or finding problems with the other person. I think in part this happens because people learn more authentically about each other as they grow together, and initial traits end up either being a smaller part of themselves than portrayed, but sometimes people anchor these experiences and think they will never change and miss honoring differences and evolution within and outside of a relationship. You have to be able to appreciate differences, and be okay with disagreements that may never have a specific or satisfying resolution, but can help you understand your partner and acknowledge how such differences contribute to, instead of taking away from your relationship.

14. Make Time to Be With Your Partner: Life happens, at times in ways that create overwhelming schedules and difficult to manage recreational time. While it is important to have "alone time" (see #16 to follow), regardless of schedules it is important to make your time with your partner a priority in some fashion. For people in long distance relationships, this may mean phone calls or video chats, even online gaming. For those living together it may mean planning a "date night" or scheduling specific relationship time. Some may call on breaks or lunches at work, others may bond over social media. At the start of the relationship, there is usually a certain degree of physical passion that drives individuals to strive for time to be together. Over time, that needs to remain even if the specific methods need to change. If you work to find excuses to avoid your partner, that begins a slippery slope to not wanting to be together at all - so knowing what you wish to foster and build becomes important to the health of your relationship.

15. Learn and Talk About Your Partner's Hobbies: Everyone has things they really enjoy doing. It's not uncommon for intimate partners to develop a relationship around shared likes, including activities and hobbies. However, there will always be things your partner enjoys that you do not. What do you know about your partner's hobbies, how do you support them in that hobby, and how do you become involved with that hobby when your partner wants you to? I've heard several men in my groups complain about their partners, and things they enjoy that they mock openly. Often there is a nature of the mocking that involves a focus on financial expenditures - but very little appreciation for their partner's enjoyment or understanding why their partner may enjoy a certain activity. Learning about your partner's hobby also allows you to learn more about your partner. Showing interest in something you are not particularly interested in demonstrates caring and appreciation, and such attitudes and behavior foster health and respect. Being open to influence and learning to share time and space over activities you do not choose personally can be a window into negotiating and compromising over more challenging topics.

16. Encourage Space: While appreciating differences and learning about aspects of your partner's hobbies that are different from your own, it's also important to have a part of your life separate from your partner. Doing everything together, and always being in each other's business can become stifling. Making time for yourself is an important part of healthy self-care (#5 on previous part of list), and gives you something to later share about your life with your partner. Encouraging your partner to spend time with friends separately from you also fosters a sense of trust and care that are important to maintain.

17. Be Aware of Your Irritating and Alienating Behavior: As human beings, we are all irritating in our own ways. Often these irritating behavior are unconscious patterns and habits we have developed over time and have little or nothing to do with our partner. Easy ones to consider are biting nails, yawning loudly, physical tics, but there are several others that might be linked to attitudes or responses to certain situations. Often these things don't irritate us, personally, so we don't even think about them - but our partner might notice and dislike them fully. There's no way to completely eliminate all irritating behavior, particularly because in relationships over time each partner learns to accept such irritations either by considering them as part of who you are, or giving up when trying to stop those behavior. Sometimes in relationships, attempts to stop irritating behavior are like a grain of sand in a oyster, slowly building over time - but the result isn't a pearl but rather dissatisfaction, anger, and even in some cases the end of a relationship. It is important to know how you irritate your partner - what are small things that you recognize in yourself that you can work to minimize or stop, or at the very least choose to not do them around your partner? Related to this are various alienating behavior, and sometimes they are one in the same. We all do things that subtly (and sometimes obviously) push others away. A very common alienating behavior is avoidance, and avoiding conversations, situations, or others quickly builds into controlling or other hurtful behavior. In my classes, when I more broadly address hurtful behavior beyond violence, I talk about the "pyramid of harm" (an alternative to the Power and Control Wheels, this is an aspect of the Emerge Curriculum). When doing so I speak about the category of sexually harmful behavior in a relationship and how it builds. One of the irritating and alienating sexual behaviors I discuss is choosing not to talk about sex, or avoiding such discussions altogether. When you take something like the sexual aspect of your relationship, and do not talk about what is working and what is not, ways of improving it, what your desires are, what you do not like, then over time it creates a minefield in your relationship that must be navigated carefully - or ignored altogether and just build into other sexually hurtful behavior toward yourself and your partner. People who avoid conflict can do the same to emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of their relationship, and taking personal responsibility for your irritating and alienating behavior can help to keep things like this from building up over time.

18. Own Up To Your Mistakes and Harmful Behavior: We all do hurtful and harmful things toward others. Humanizing this is an important dynamic to include during battering intervention classes, because if you instead shame, punish, and dehumanize there is almost no benefit in admitting to harm other than getting a facilitator to leave you alone. I believe it is an important aspect of battering intervention classes to, as a facilitator, openly admit to my mistakes and harm I might inadvertently choose during the classes themselves. For example, once in my class I had a participant who left the group to go to the bathroom. I have had various policies about bathroom use in my classes, and it often has to do with access - if the building has a setup where there is a bathroom right by the room we conduct class, I have no problem with participants using it if they go in and do their thing and come right back. I mention that I don't want them to spend 20 minutes in there doing their morning or evening "constitutional," but I haven't found that to be an issue. So, this man was gone for over twenty minutes - it was long enough to both be noticeable, but also I became concerned he had just left the class entirely. When he came back, I interrupted the topic I was on in the class and took time to directly address him and the group about the bathroom policy and asked him not to spend that long in the bathroom. He balked, taking insult at me calling him out, and I caught my mistake at about the same time. In the moment, I said it was not a huge deal I just needed to make sure everyone understood the policy - which did not decrease his anger, but he did stop talking. After class, I took a moment to ask to speak to him when everyone had left. I told him I recognized that calling him out like that was shaming, was inappropriate, and was not okay for me to do. I told him it would have been better to speak to him after the class, and that in the future I would make sure I did that. Just saying those things led to him changing his demeanor entirely. I asked him if he would mind if I apologized to the entire group the following week, and when he said that was okay - I did so. I think the ability to own up to mistakes allows others to see your humanity, it models behavior you want to see, and in a relationship it is important as a first step to working toward repairs. If you do not identify the problem, how can you possibly work to solve it? I think there are methods in battering intervention classes to have participants authentically describe and discuss their hurtful behavior - but a big part of that has to do with how I elicit that information. Developing emotional and mental intimacy with a partner makes it easier and more real to do such admissions, and acknowledging harms and being able to describe why they were not okay start to create goals on how to change behavior as well.

19. Know What Kind of Support Your Partner Appreciates and Do It as Often as Possible: There are methods of counseling and therapy, particularly those focused on marriage and family, that identify the concept of a "love language." In essence, this idea postulates that we all have specific kinds of ways we express our love of others, and often it is also how we personally want to feel loved. Part of the challenge is that in an intimate partner relationship, there are bound to be differences in how each person feels and expresses love, and by extension, support. If I am a person who feels happy with loving touch (pats on the back, holding hands, running my fingers through my partner's hair), then chances are that I do those things to my partner in my attempt to show appreciation, support, and love. However, perhaps my partner is in a different place in her preference for expressing and feeling loved - maybe she does so through service, such as by making a delicious meal, buying me a present, staying up late to spend time with me if I work late. In such a situation, I might appreciate her gestures, but I might not think of those as being things I should reciprocate if I am focused on physical loving touch to demonstrate love. She, in turn, may feel I do not love or appreciate her if I do not do service behavior for her. This can lead to all kinds of negative and hurtful self-talk, and a growing list of assumptions and hurt feelings. In a relationship it is important to put yourself outside of your own experience and focus on your partner's experience. Many of these categories of health and respect talk about different ways of doing this. In this example, that means you have to know more about how you feel loved - it doesn't mean you stop doing things with your partner that are things you personally like - it means you know you are doing those things as an extension of what you like. In turn you have to listen and be aware of the differences in how your partner feels loved, and then directly do them. Often. This is something you can continue to learn and develop as your relationship evolves.

20. Understand the Difference Between Negotiation and Compromise; Use When Your Plans and Ideas are Different: I ask participants in my class to describe the difference between negotiation and compromise and they often give the same definition. Conflict tactics are important to both be able to practice, but also be able to understand, and in many ways negotiating and compromising are the bread and butter of healthy conflict management. Both need to be used at different times, though, so knowing the difference is good for knowing when one is better than the other. Negotiation is about trading - I think of it like a pendulum that swings my way, then my partner's way. There are situations that come up where there is no way to come to a middle ground, and in such cases you can either agree to disagree, which is unsatisfying and often untenable if a decision has to be made, or you can railroad your partner into your solution or passively give in to your partner and build up resentment as a result. Neither is a good choice, so negotiation is the practice of being open to influence. You directly and authentically choose your partner's decision, with an understanding that in that category of conflict next time you both will try your decision instead. Where this can become messy is if someone negotiates incomparable categories - after all saying you will do a specific chore more often if your partner gives you more sex both starts to consider sex as a chore to be completed, but also means if you do such a trade then the person doing the chore might feel entitled to doing a different chore less often. So negotiation needs to be in the same topic, and needs to be discussed more thoroughly. Parenting decisions are often a category for negotiation if you have different parental instincts or idea on how to deal with your children's mistakes. Compromise, however, is about either coming to a middle ground (where you both do not get 100% of what you want, but you get some), or choosing a third viable option that neither of you had considered during that conflict.

Next article will finish up the remaining ten on the pamphlet and will include one additional so anyone wanting to practice these for the 31 days of January will have their days filled with practicing a different kind of respectful and healthy behavior each day!