Domestic Violence (DV) is not a crime–it is a criminal charge that happened in a domestic relationship. In 80-90% of the cases we want to call domestic violence, the behavior does not meet the criteria for a crime you can be arrested for, but the behavior is still very toxic for relationships.
When DV is an actual crime, DV is an addendum to the criminal charge. Often participants are court-ordered to take a course in Anger Management. While Anger Management is one part of DV treatment, it leaves out too much to be sufficient for treatment and healing. True treatment is a process of dealing with the underlying causes of the symptoms; healing provides a foundation for future healthy attitudes and behaviors. While an Anger Management course may promote compliance with the Court, it often does not make lasting internal core belief changes that continue after the probationary period.
While psychoeducation treatment can provide the tools to build healthier relationships, change does not happen until the participant makes a conscious decision to make the changes. Attitude is the primary life skills tool that motivates the intensity and direction of the use of the tools toward a healthy or a pathological application of the tool. While a therapist can teach the tools of how to build healthier relationships, they cannot practice with the tools, nor can they provide the learning experiences and successes of the application of the Building Healthier Relationships toolbox of life skills. Practicing, stepping back and doing some reflective thinking, making adjustments and practicing again is what builds wisdom – knowing when, where, and why to apply each tool. Taking the time and energy to become a master of a complex skill is what most people referred for DV treatment require. Mastery requires taking something that is exceedingly difficult and making it appear extremely easy in the application.
Most couples have some toxic elements in their relationship long before the situation escalates to DV. Usually, these toxic elements are ignored, rather than being dealt with. While anger management is a primary component to be dealt with both for DV and for any relationship, there are other factors related to the dynamics of our Personal Environment that determine how healthy the relationship is:
- Lack of knowledge about human intrapersonal dynamics
- A lack of knowledge about the effects of human diversity:
- archetypes and personality types and how to communicate with different styles;
- multiple types of intelligence, with different sensory input, information storage, coding, and processing systems;
- different communication and conflict resolution styles.
- Toxic core belief systems, especially regarding men’s and women’s roles
- Lack of knowledge of basic needs: all behavior has meaning and all behavior is trying to get needs met
- Lack of knowledge about emotional intelligence and impulse control
- Not understanding the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness
- Knowing how the loss/grief process is a form of achieving mental health
- The effects of Hate and Prejudice – sexism/homophobia, racism and classism, beliefism (Religious, political, scientific, and business fundamentalism)—on DV
Other aspects that may need to be considered and addressed include:
- A history of being a victim, i.e. Adversive Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and other past traumas
- Low self-esteem and self-worth
- Personality Disorders, most of which are the result of toxic systemic environments and the individual’s survival responses to that toxic context, such as poverty, violence, or abandonment issues.
In the past, victim advocates stated the using a mental health diagnosis was just making excuses for perpetrators. They also insisted that only men were abusive; women who were violent were only acting in self-defense. This theory has not been substantiated with research. The exception is intimate terrorism, which is usually between 5-10% of all DV cases. Typically, while someone does not “make” the other person be violent, they may play a part by offering an invitation. In most cases, both parties play some part in the dance.
Our Social Environments: A domestic relationship is about interpersonal dynamics. The social skills needed for building healthier relationships are:
- Building knowledge of all the social entities that may create stress on the individual, but may also be resources for stress management.
- Communication skills:
- The communication process
- Active Listening: probably the most important skill we can learn–not evaluating, judging, diagnosing, or labeling–just listening
- Communication Styles, including cross-cultural communication and communication between men and women
- Using Non-Violent Communication techniques
- Attachment styles and boundary setting
- Conflict Resolution: mediation and negotiation
- Power & Control: Healthy vs. Pathological
- Marriage and Intimate Relationships
- Human Development and Parenting Skills (This includes identifying our inner Parent/Child relationships and how to use our inner Adult to heal past wounds.)
- Behaviors that damage relationships.
People learn best by modeling; if we model domination and abusive behavior, often under the guise of holding “them” accountable, we avoid what part we, as an individual and part of a tribe, may play in the dance of the relationship. We can be compassionate while still setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries.
The biggest barriers to treatment are minimization, denial, and projection. What DV perpetrators grew up with is so normalized that it is, well, “normal.” The first step in treatment is often to identify the toxic family dynamics that have been passed on from generation to generation, with no one stopping to evaluate whether these attitudes and behaviors were functional or toxic.
The primary goal of treatment is to learn Healthy Relationship Dynamics. The brain imprints what the brain focuses on. The damaging behavior is not the focus; it is only used to identify the behaviors that need to be worked on. The journey starts with finding out where you are at, then deciding where you would like to go, then developing the strategies of how to get from here to there.
Which of your life skills could use strengthening? Are there weak spots in your partner’s or coworkers’ or friends’ toolboxes? Which are your “go to” skills to maintain healthy relationships?