One of the men who completed the Family Peace Initiative program made a statement a while back that has really stuck with me. He said, “I always thought that my job was to protect my family from monsters who might hurt them. I will never forget the day I looked in the mirror and realized that the monster was not outside the house, but living inside the walls of our home. I realized for the first time that the monster was me.” How is it possible that this man could be completely oblivious to the fact that he is “the monster” his family needs protection from?
The same issue arose while we were interviewing people who had completed the Family Peace Initiative program for our DVD project, Voices from the River: Lessons from Those who have Battered. We invited people to talk about their experience before, during and after program completion. All of those being filmed acknowledged that they did not believe that there was anything wrong with them or their behavior prior to engaging in the Family Peace Initiative: if there was a problem, someone else was to blame. It was only as their self-awareness increased that they began to recognize their own behavior as inappropriate, abusive, and cruel.
I realized for the first time that the monster was me.”
Bessel Vander Kolk explained that trauma creates a disconnection with our bodies, as a practical means to survive. It is not surprising, then, that we would see so many participants who struggle with self-awareness, as we have found most of those who batter that we serve have experienced extreme trauma when young.
It is exciting that a focus on trauma is becoming a growing part of the conversation within BIP circles. I was pleased to attend a roundtable discussion at the Office of Violence Against Women in January, 2017. Leaders in the domestic violence movement gathered to talk about trauma-informed batterer intervention. In November, the upcoming BISC-MI conference in Detroit, Michigan will almost entirely focus on addressing trauma in BIP. It is exciting that, as a field, we are enhancing what we have been doing in the past by recognizing that trauma-focused interventions will improve our effectiveness in the future.
In November, the upcoming BISC-MI conference in Detroit, Michigan will almost entirely focus on addressing trauma in BIP.
Cruelty is a terrible thing. To realize that the person using cruelty may not even recognize their behavior as cruel, is even worse. As a facilitator, it is easy to confront this as minimization, denial and blame. However, if we recognize typical trauma responses, we can become much more effective in our approach that we employ with those who are cruel and lack self-awareness.
If you are interested in adding or improving your own trauma-informed approach in your groups, then come to the BISC-MI conference in November! Three days of conversation, presentations, and activities focusing on trauma-informed BIP should help all of us advance toward competently incorporating trauma-informed principles into our programs. I hope to see you there!!