Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Moving Toward a Respectful New Year (Part One)

There is always a lot of focus on holiday times during November, through to December, and into the new year. Increased anxiety and stress, unmet expectations, ideas about new goals and resolutions, unfocused hope - ultimately a combination of emotions, and sometimes an escalation of harm to self and to others.

Work in domestic violence - whether with victims/survivors, perpetrators, children and families, or all of the above - I believe it is important to directly discuss and address methods of managing and understanding the challenges unique to this time of year. An ongoing aspect of such work involves goal setting. I think it is important to do this with every individual in domestic violence services. I believe in goals that are specific, concrete, desired, measurable, and realistic.

In the small bit of time leading us up to January, it seems appropriate to consider these goals for respect and health in such a way. This article is part one of three discussing specific healthy and respectful tools that may be useful for battering intervention classes, healthy relationship classes, parenting classes, or support groups for victims/survivors. They can also be a reflective challenge for the month of January 2019 - can you consider each of the items on the list, one day at a time, for the entire month?

I will attach a pamphlet I have provided to my individual participants at program intake at the end of each article. If you are interested in using any of the information in these articles, please credit me by name, email, and website and you are free to distribute.


  1. Understand Boundaries: Knowing your limits, and recognizing the limits others have in their lives is an infinite task. At any given time, we notice something we appreciate, enjoy, and support - and at other times we notice something we dislike, discourage, and attack. These are the complicated boundaries that bound and weave through our lives and our relationships. Often there is nothing particularly right or wrong about boundaries - much of the time they are simply preferences of life. The challenge comes in when your personal preference conflicts with your partner's, which is where the intersection of conflict and resolution exist. Convincing someone to side or adopt your boundary on a topic is the bread and butter of arguing. It's a simple thing to assume your idea is so commonplace, shared with everyone, it is a bit of a shock to discover your partner doesn't align with you. There are so many shared cultural traditions that we often categorize such boundaries as "common sense." But have you considered that these traditions have a regional component? Ideas and cultural upbringing native to Oregon state might not exactly translate to ideas in North Carolina, and vice versa. It takes self-reflection, mindfulness, and concentrated consciousness to be aware of your rules and values on how to live life. Since so many behavior are default choices developed during childhood for human beings, it's easy to miss slowing down to consider why you think the way you think - when and why you learned different ideas. This is also why during relationships, your knowledge of yourself and your partner are different after one year as compared to after five years of being together. Awareness evolves of both yourself and others - and consciously navigating this space can lead to smoother conflict and the ability to practice the second goal below.
  2. Honor Boundaries: In my classes, I spend a good amount of time discussing how we define words and concepts. I find that while we understand words, we often have a hard time explaining what they mean without using examples or becoming a thesaurus and using like terms, concepts, and words. Honor is one of those words and concepts that I find is difficult to explain for most people. We feel it when it happens, and we can practice it when needed, but going through what it is tends to be more challenging. In order to honor boundaries you have, and honor boundaries your partner has in their life, it stands to reason that you both need to understand boundaries themselves, but also understand what honor is. For me, honor is tied to the ability to see the legitimacy of a perception, and operate in such a manner that you follow the direction of that perception - whether you directly agree or not. It is the courage to respect truth - the truth in you, or the truth in others. An often discussed aspect of honor - honoring your elders - is simply the willingness and ability to follow what an elder asks of you, and often is associated with tradition. With boundaries in relationships, since we all have infinite reasons and examples of rules we place onto ourselves and other's behavior, it is important to honor other's perspectives that may be different from your own. When your partner puts forward a limit, says they want you to do something you do not want to do, or wants to keep you from doing something you want to do - there is a great need to be open to influence to these requests. This does not mean you have to automatically go along with every request, but it does mean you have to consider this request, and demonstrate that you believe their perspective is valid and legitimate. If your partner puts forward a concrete boundary that is about their own personal life, then it becomes increasingly important to practice honor. This also means if you have a boundary of your own, you need to be able to practice asking for what you want or need, and with that be able to navigate disagreement surrounding that request.   
  3. Practice Listening: What is the difference between listening and hearing? This ends up being a good topic of conversation, and I find that people tend to parse it down to listening is akin to attentiveness, whereas hearing is comprehending. In general, I think this is a good operational differentiation - as the two are definitely linked, but separate skills to practice. Dynamics of active listening are good to discuss and teach during battering intervention classes - appropriate eye contact, indicators of listening (such as nodding along), limiting distractions - but those are the superficial ones that are definitely good components, but the deeper listening strategies are just as, if not more important due to them being easily overlooked. How do you summarize someone else's perspective, what they just said to you - and check in to make sure you heard correctly? Where does remembering prior conversations with this person demonstrate your ability to listen and retain information - and how does remembering end up being an indicator of the importance and value you hold for the other person? Noticing is a critical part of listening - it's often not about words, or even tone of voice someone uses - body language and nonverbal communication is a bigger part of our interactions than we can fully appreciate. I think about texting on phones as an example. You can text, "I'm doing fine," and depending on the context of that statement, it can mean everything from a loving response, to a pleasantry that is not very meaningful, to a subtle attack. The person reading that text will put their own present state of mind and interpretation of the body language and meaning into those words - while the person typing it will have their own meaning. With any luck, you'll both be on the same page, and texting has evolved to use of emojis to try and allow more indication of emotional state behind the words used. In direct communication, we often interpret body language and the context of a situation without realizing it. Noticing is a critical part of listening, and paired with checking-in and summarizing can help to avoid a miscommunication.
  4. Argue Respectfully: Participants in my classes sometimes mention that they want to stop arguing with their partner, and are surprised when I respond that isn't realistic, or even helpful. Life is all about conflict, and relationships are especially rife for arguments. Much of that has to do with the individual boundaries we all have, and how they interact (as mentioned in 1, above), which means avoiding conflict will only serve to create distance between partners - not bring them closer together. In fact, many individuals in my classes have partially ended up in a domestic violence intervention class because of patterns of avoidance in their relationship. Realistically, part of being healthy in a relationship involves understanding how to argue with respect. This gets into that same need to define the word, and the concepts behind respect. Within society, many define respect by incorrectly associating the word with authority or fear. How often have you heard someone say "you've got to earn respect," or "I respected my father because if I didn't there'd be hell to pay"? Earning "respect" is about authority - whether it be position, seniority, or station - all of these things are about climbing the ladder of hierarchy. If you have to "respect" someone or pay a consequence of some time, that is better described as "obeying" and failing to obey leads to something fearful or painful. I, instead, speak of respect as involving the ability and willingness to care about someone else's thoughts, opinions, and emotions. If you argue out of respect, you are looking toward a resolution that often involves mutual benefit of some kind - and an excellent tactic is to find the kernel of truth in someone else's perspective. If you find something you agree with, you can expand on it and eventually work together. This can be difficult if someone's perspective is about you, and you are not open to such feedback - but that involves another dynamic of healthy relationships (18 and 31). I challenge some individuals to find a perspective they disagree about with their partner - and defend that perspective. If you can do that, you can often work toward resolution rather than pressing toward winning an argument.
  5. Maintain Your Self-Care Needs: During program intake appointments, I have participants fill out an Adverse Childhood Experiences form, a depression screening tool as well as a mood disorder tool, in addition to other forms that contain risk assessment questions interspersed throughout the paperwork. When I give these papers out, I mention that if you don't take care of yourself, it's nearly impossible to care for anyone else. This is an important aspect of battering intervention, to navigate self-care and make sure it doesn't stray into the realm of selfishness. All human beings have needs and desires, and sometimes the two become conflated. We find something we want, and become convinced we have to have it - sacrificing relationships due to those desires. For many participants, this can come down to the topic of sex within their relationship. Failing to talk about sex leads to situations where an individual may not have sexual desires met - and that can be confused with a need, and justify cheating or other sexually hurtful behavior in a relationship. Beyond sex, I have found many men neglecting their physical health - not seeing a physician for routine health screenings, not taking medication for blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other health issues such as poor diet or not exercising. These self-care neglectful behavior can easily lead to relationship issues because on a whim, an individual with poor self-care can leverage a desire to a need, and use that to manipulate a partner. It is an individually responsible behavior to notice your needs and maintain them both with and beyond the support of a partner. Waiting for a partner to care for you isn't respectful or healthy. Making your needs superior to your partner's also isn't respectful or healthy. There is a need for balance, and both honoring your own and supporting your partner's needs. Maintaining your self-care needs is about introspection and consistency, and needs that involve emotional trauma and pain are incredibly important to recognize and address.
  6. Know Your Non-Negotiables: Rules we each have in how to live life, and define our values by what we think the purpose of life is overall. As a part of those values, we each have varying non-negotiables - boundaries we are unwilling to ever change. Often boundaries can be flexible preferences - say for example I prefer to eat Italian food, but I am open to other ideas about what to eat for dinner. When a participant in one of my classes attempts to blame their abusive or violent behavior on alcohol or drug use, saying it wasn't them, it was the substance - I use a gross example, asking the entire class of men how many drinks it would take for them to sexually abuse a child. Ever man suddenly says, with complete confidence, there aren't enough drinks in the world. The answer to this is that there is a non-negotiable behind not being sexually inappropriate with a child. No condition will make that choice acceptable. This means that assaulting a partner, hurting a partner in some way while intoxicated has nothing to do with the substance, but instead has to do with the ideas in a person's mind about what is okay to do. If someone fantasizes about hurting their partner verbally, or even thinks about responding to a conflict with physical assault - it's not that much of a leap to make that choice directly. In relationships, we have certain boundaries that could make a relationship untenable, completely incompatible. It is important to get to know someone else in several ways before fully committing due to this point. If you know what is not negotiable in your life, you can communicate it directly, and you have a better chance of being able to navigate and learn other's non-negotiables. I often say during classes that it is better to choose a partner by the things that irritate you that you can accept and enjoy as a quirk of their personality as opposed to only choosing partners by the fun you have together. Some conflicts may never be resolved because each person is not willing to change a part of their rules in life.
  7. Show Appreciation as Often as Possible: Demonstrating caring for others is a major component of respect, and the foundation of caring is appreciating. Appreciation is about value, showing someone you value them, and by doing so adding value to their own life. Appreciation can be small gestures of love, gifts and services, expressions verbally or non-verbally, or an ongoing attitude. Ideally, there will be a mix of how you demonstrate appreciation in a relationship, but it takes mindfulness and noticing to fully value your partner.
  8. Learn to Navigate Hard Times With Dignity: Life is full of ups and downs, challenges and successes. When it comes to difficulties, some people are able to be dignified in the face of bad and hard times, while others lack dignity altogether. Dignity is about maintaining a sense of self-respect when challenged. As mentioned in #4 above, respect is caring about someone's thoughts, opinions, and emotions - self-respect is doing that for yourself. It's easy to get wrapped up in struggles and lash out, attack others to try and get out of problems, turn to self-medicating and develop substance abuse issues or other poor self-care quick fixes. Recognizing that things are not going well, but knowing what you need to do to press forward and maintain connection to your values despite experiencing pain is the very essence of dignity. Slipping on individual values due to personal struggles can lead to disconnecting from your partner, hurting that person you may have had great value for, and ultimately hurting yourself as a result.
  9. Share Your Life With Your Partner:  All relationships evolve over time, but occasionally during that evolution the couple becomes so comfortable one or both become bored and stop sharing with each other. Sharing life is definitely about shared experiences, but also about the events that happen in each person's life. Work events, personal successes, hobbies (#15 goes into this more in depth), family interactions, struggles, new learning and education are all examples of categories that individuals evolve and grow separately from their partner - and ideally these experiences are shared between both people. It doesn't necessarily mean your partner is involved in everything, but that you make efforts to talk about and share things with your partner. For example, if one person goes on a work trip and as a part of the trip goes to a delicious restaurant, when back together with his or her partner there's talk about that restaurant and perhaps even efforts to go together at a later date. 
  10. Be Flexible With Chores: Unpleasant tasks are a part of everyday household maintenance, and while people tend to have tasks they are okay with doing no one tends to love doing chores. As part of a respectful and healthy relationship, chores tend to be divided between partners. A part of this distribution hopefully involves some sort of agreed upon distribution, either by quantity of chores or by the weight of the duty itself (perhaps food preparation and meal planning is not the same weight as taking the garbage out to the street). Regardless of this distribution, how do a couple work together to finish all the tasks? If someone is feeling overwhelmed, or runs out of time to complete a task, does the other person fill in or assist? When assisting, does the other person want high praise and exaltation, or does the task as a part of both demonstrating appreciation and being a partner? Throughout life, chores ebb and flow as well as ability and desire to complete certain tasks. Can the chores be renegotiated and redistributed as needed, and is there ongoing discussion about meeting household needs without making such discussion contentious? If someone is failing in their duties, what is the process of arguing respectfully about those needs? These are important questions to both ask and act out of when considering the completion of chores.
So completes the first ten items on the list of Healthy and Respectful Relationship goals. Part two will be published in a few days. Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about any of these, and please see the attached document which lists 30 of 31 that will be discussed in the weeks to come. I have designed it so if you wanted to use it for your agency, you may edit it to place your details. Please do not remove the box with the history of the document and my contact information, and if you make changes to the listed items, please discuss with me first.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holidays and the Red-Herring of Happiness

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Saturnalia! So many holidays, so many traditions, so many orders to be happy and have a great few weeks at the end of the year. We give greetings, we expect them in return. We feel slighted if others don't follow suit, give us a greeting we don't like, or rebuff our tidings of great joy.

It is a very powerful testament to how needy we are for happiness. We seek happiness at all costs, think something is wrong if we feel unhappy, try various things to feel it, think it, do it. Culture and society pressure us to be happy in our media, from our friends and family, even within faith communities. We have entire cliches we stick to here: do what makes you happy! If you're not happy, then do something different! Pick a job you will be happy with! I just want my kids to grow up happy!

If someone is unhappy, it's easy to avoid talking to that person. As if unhappiness is a disease and we're afraid to catch it. We don't want to talk about or address topics, particularly complicated ones, if they make us feel unhappy. Sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, racism, homophobia and heterosexism - the list goes on with topics that are given platitudes, and sometimes even claims that the problems are over, or have changed, or are pointless to do anything about because they won't change.

Here's the thing. Humans don't really want to be happy, even if we focus on it all the time. There are plenty of articles (here, here, here, here, and beyond) that address this concept of the "cult of happiness" we are pushed to become a part of. In battering intervention classes, the concept of happiness is sometimes used as an intervention, "are you making her happy?" "Is your abusive behavior making you happy?" "Are the kids happy when you do that?"

What human beings want, what we strive for - is comfort.

We want comfort so much, we can easily hurt others in our quest to achieve it. Maintaining the status quo is all about feeling comfortable. Abuse, control, and violence is all about desiring comfort, and trying to force it on others. Entitlement is based in comfort that you are better than others, others are less than you, or that you deserve something.

As human beings, we often fall into the trap of putting our sense of comfort onto others. Often our sense of safety is a part of that comfort. Victims of domestic violence hear all the time "why don't you just leave?" This is an excellent example of how the person suggesting leaving, who probably feels comfortable and safe in their own relationship, extrapolates that if *I* were in that situation, I'd just leave. This is an imposition of comfort, and it is at the very least flawed but more often is just directly hurtful and controlling to think and say to someone who is definitely NOT safe OR comfortable in their relationship.

Externalized comfort is about control. I want to make people do things to make me feel comfortable. I want to keep people from doing things that make me uncomfortable. Again, as human beings we all do this. Think about the holidays and how many people get upset if others do not mirror their chosen greeting, or think things like "there is a WAR on Christmas," because not everyone likes hearing "Merry Christmas!" Think about how when we hear someone has lost a loved one, our "you have my condolences" is not about giving comfort to that person, but rather to ourselves. If we wanted to give comfort to others we would check in to see how they feel, what they need, right? Think of this exchange:

"My father died last week."

"Oh, I am so sorry for your loss!"

"I'm not, I wish he had died years ago!"

This response is often followed by awkward silence, shock, confusion. If the intent was to provide comfort, then the person saying sorry for your loss is probably not helping. The person saying that is thinking about how upset they would be if their father died, or maybe is even reaching to empathy thinking about how they felt when their father or loved one died and want to offer condolences because that's what they wanted and needed. It is self-serving to do that. Think of the alternative:

"My father died last week."

"How are you doing with that?"

"Fine. I wish he would have died years ago."

In this example, the checking in provides the person who experienced the death of a family member to dictate what they need, and how they feel. It's not about their own comfort, but the comfort of the person who may not experience death as a loss at all. Knowing that is true, then comfort can be provided in different ways, tailored to the person who might need it.

People who choose abusive behavior are often externalizing their comfort. This fits into thinking that others are responsible for personal comfort. Abusers, when asked about their hurtful, controlling, and violent behavior will often speak to all the things others have done to them, will disclose abuse they experienced at the hands of their partner, physical and emotional violence, a detailed telling of how others have treated them poorly. Abusers will often have a difficult time describing their own behavior separately from others. Again, this is about comfort - it's the idea that "I can see all the problems, and if only people would listen or do what I say, everything would be better!"

When others fail to follow through with orders (control), then it justifies forcing others to do things, or directly prevent them from doing things.

Victims and survivors, meanwhile, often internalize comfort. Again, this is a human trait and we all do it in certain circumstances. In situations with little personal control or ability, it makes us feel more comfortable to find anything, even a small thing, where we have choice and expand upon it. Think, for example, a worker with a boss who is very controlling and critical about how work is completed. That worker might experience the criticism and then internalize the need to adapt to keep that boss from criticizing. Along with that, the worker might find small things within the job to control that often have to do with personal style.

If someone is being dominated, and there is a pattern of that person being coercively controlled, there is less agency within that relationship. That victim/survivor might think of how to keep that harm, that control, from happening by trying to read that abuser's mind. The victim/survivor might blame themselves for getting hurt, because after all if only a few different choices had been made, the abuse wouldn't have happened (in their mind). This is internalized comfort - this victim/survivor feels more comfortable talking about personal choice, and how the abuse might have been prevented, than in talking about the experienced abuse, which the victim/survivor has no control over.

In considering holidays, let's think about tradition. Tradition makes up one of several layers of trust. We all develop traditions through our experiences as children, and some of them we love and look forward to, others we dislike but tolerate due to family patterns or knowledge that someone we love enjoys that tradition. Sometimes we even look forward to the traditions we dislike because despite not liking them, they provide comfort. We trust that traditions happen at certain times, and it can be anything from birthday celebrations, how we celebrate certain holidays, to individual behavior of family members. The challenge is that each individual human being experiences tradition differently, even within family groups.

In battering intervention groups, it can be important to discuss how often abusers discuss tradition with their partners. How often do such traditions involve elements of compromise, negotiation, and blending of practices? How often do abusers make assumptions about what traditions will be observed? How often does the lack of a tradition, or someone trying to practice their own tradition lead to justification for abuse, control, and violence?

If an abuser does not feel a sense of comfort, it is a simple thing to attack those who are not providing it. Holidays, being filled with tradition, can be great sources of negative self-talk, entitlement, and disconnect. Abuser will place their sense of safety on their victims - if they feel safe, and in their own minds think they are "right" and therefore justified in pushing or ignoring boundaries, shouldn't their partner instinctively know what their intentions are?

Happiness is indeed a red herring within domestic violence work (and with humanity as a whole). If we can understand how we seek and pursue comfort, we have more viable options to discuss how someone can develop thinking and behavior designed to cause pain and fear, yet justify and minimize impact on others.

If you are interested in having these conversations in your battering intervention classes, I suggest asking your group what holidays they celebrate. Ask what traditions they have, and traditions their partner has which are different. Ask about how different traditions are negotiated, particularly around visiting both sides of the family. Ask what happens when a tradition you enjoy doesn't happen, and when a tradition you dislike doesn't happen. Discuss the difference between happiness and seeking comfort, and how hurtful behavior might hinge on the desire for external comfort. Speak to how to navigate expectations during the holidays, and keep neutral self talk while noticing your own boundaries and the boundaries of partners and family. Ask how this discussion fits throughout the year, and how each participant in the class externalizes their comfort onto their partner, and what they do when their partner does something that leads them to feel uncomfortable. There are a lot of options, but during BIP classes, simply having the conversation and humanizing the stress, expectations, and authentic responses of the holidays is an important one to have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Discussing Holidays in BIP/DVIP Group Sessions

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.