October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The meaning of domestic violence and our struggle to understand, intervene, and treat the injury and aftermath continues to evolve. Advancing from the early definition of the man who abuses his wife physically, the breadth of domestic violence awareness has grown to better capture how violence in familial relationships impacts the victim, survivor, abuser, and radiates out to family members and social relationships. We know now that relational violence can be committed and experienced by persons of any gender, race, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
I will use the term “domestic violence” in this blog, but confess the term has been a source of frustration for me and I’ve noodled it over in my mind for some time. “Domestic” feels like a governmental word and doesn’t aptly define the problem or describe the devastation that the violence wreaks. It also feels limiting in that our awareness has grown to the violence occurring in dating relationships as well as acknowledging the trans-generational impact of violence. Over the years, I morphed “domestic violence” into “family violence” in my head and then to “relationship violence” to better develop my grasp and understanding of this complex and broad-reaching issue.
“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” ― Pierce Brown, Golden Son
While domestic violence is a relational action, it really starts with the individual. What in our individual development within our family, culture and society coalesces such that we become abusers or victims? How does one construct the belief that they are right or excused in the action of causing harm to another? Or how does one come to believe that this is an acceptable or even deserved part of an intimate relationship?
Isolation is the enemy of awareness and growth. In addiction recovery circles there is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets.” This idea generalizes to all walks of life and personal and relational challenges. Think of your fear, sadness, or regret. Are you doing something to improve and resolve it or is it a hidden shame for which you’ve grieved and punished yourself over the years?
Of course, the consequences of relational violence are not limited to the person abused or the abuser only. They radiate out to children, extended family, and ultimately diminishes the strength of our community. Abusers and those abused transmit their fear, chaos and powerless to their children and reduced ability to model, parent, and teach boundaries and limits.
If you think you are protecting your children from being impacted by violence in your family, think again. Children are the barometers of the family, sensing tension, danger, and developing survival strategies in an effort to manage their fear and sadness. This also indirectly impacts their growth and development.
How do you help? What can you do?
If you are in an abusive relationship, find a safe place to share your experience with others and work with them to find ways to leave, make a safety plan, or improve the situation. Push through the things that stop you—fear, shame, the enormity of the problem. By just taking the initial step, other steps will become more evident. Is there risk involved, sure, but there is risk in not doing anything at all as well.
If you are an abuser, know that your rationalizations for your behavior are weak and unfounded. The goals you tell yourself you have in your relationship are flawed and you are causing harm. Remove yourself and get some clarity. Show your strength by taking on your emotional deficits rigorously and restrict yourself from hurting others.
Model positive relating in your own home and in your relationships – this means being direct and safe in expressing and dealing with the anger, frustration and powerlessness that comes up in day to day life.
When your child brings home a friend that lives in a family challenged by violence, welcome them. Treat them kindly as you do your children. Appreciate their efforts; have them participate in your children’s experiences. Being a part of a functional family, for even moments at a time, imprints on the child how family can be and may assist them in being the agent of change in their own lives when they grow up.
Talk to your children about relationships—how to find and maintain caring relationships with good, healthy boundaries.
Increase your knowledge of domestic violence by exploring information offered websites and by local community agencies whose mission is to educate, prevent, and promote healing and recovery. You can change your life and the lives of others.
At Saint John’s Program for Real Change, women and children who are escaping or have been impacted by domestic violence find refuge, warmth, care and treatment. Families living at Saint John’s are welcomed into a trauma-informed environment where shared values of courage, respect, community, growth, effort, love, and gratitude provide the foundation for healing and change. We witness women’s and children’s courage daily as they progress in rebuilding their lives, developing and repairing relationships, and restoring their families.
We are grateful to partner with businesses who are committed to giving back by supporting efforts to combat domestic violence. This month, we participate in Allstate’s Purple Purse campaign that supports fundraising and contributions to non-profits that strive to address all aspects of the precursors and consequences of domestic violence.
I’ll end with a quote that I used to start this blog: “Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” ― Pierce Brown, Golden Son.
Please, let each of us look for ways where we can bring light into others’ lives, and our own lives as well.
Blog by Guest Writer Susan Barron, Director of Integrated Health Services, Saint John’s Program for Real Change