The "Mantra of Shame" in Domestic Violence Intervention

 

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If you have been doing work with those who batter for any length of time, it is likely that you have heard the “mantra of shame”.  It usually comes unexpectedly. The mantra normally begins with a sigh, and then the eyes shift toward the floor. There is a pause and then the words come, barely audible.  “I promised myself…… I swore that I would never become… I vowed that I would never be… like my dad… and look…I am just like him.”  Tears often follow.

I have heard this mantra of shame numerous times.  This mantra is loaded with the emotional energy of sadness, fear, anger and profound grief for both the suffering of the past and the reality of present day.  It is a humbling moment when those who batterer realize that they have recreated the horror and trauma of their own experience. They have found themselves face to face with their own “River of Cruelty”.

When we talk about those who batter, it is commonly accepted that at least 50% have witnessed domestic violence as children. It is interesting to compare this figure with the ACES study, that found only 11.5% of the males surveyed acknowledged witnessing domestic violence.  In addition, well over 50% of BIP participants have experienced physical abuse as children as compared to less than 30% in the ACE study. Most notably, in our own survey of over 200 participants in two separate programs, 70% of participants reported being emotionally abused. Contrasting that with the ACE study report that only 7.6% of their population reported that form of cruelty and an important picture begins to emerge.  The evidence seems clear that the amount of trauma experienced among those who end up participating in BIP programs is out of proportion with the general population.  It is no surprise that comments like, “I never wanted to be like my dad” appear with frequency in BIP classes.

The evidence seems clear that the amount of trauma experienced among those who end up participating in BIP programs is out of proportion with the general population

Certainly, not all who batter have this specific “mantra of shame”.  There are plenty of other mantras. Examples of others would include “I swore I would never get a divorce like my parents did”; or “I swore I would always be there for my kids”, or, “I swore I would never _______________ (fill in the blank)”.  These “mantras of shame” become fundamental beliefs that serve to help people survive trauma.   Creating a space where these mantra’s can be brought out into the open is important. Being prepared to process the emotional energy behind these mantra’s is even more critical. 

Being our best includes being prepared to work with the abuse and trauma that our participants have experienced long before they become cruel to anyone.

As BIP facilitators, we are charged with being the best we can be so that victims of domestic violence can be safer. Being our best includes being prepared to work with the abuse and trauma that our participants have experienced long before they become cruel to anyone.  Mastering this ability will make any “mantra of shame” an opportunity for healing that can prompt lasting change in those we serve.

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