What I Have Learned from Working with Perpetrators

pexels-photo-27727It’s hard to believe that I have been working with perpetrators of domestic violence in the Ventura county area for the past 3 years. In graduate school I never planned on working within the domestic violence population and it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. In 2014 I began working with male perpetrators of domestic violence and have also run several female perpetrators groups as well. The Batterers 52-week Rehabilitation Program I currently facilitate requires convicted men to attend 52 sessions over the course of a year and they can only miss three sessions total. Simply put, they are not happy to be there. Their attitudes and stories can be very difficult to work with, but given time, support, and an open attitude, they can begin to take accountability for their actions, and ultimately change their lives.

Here are a few things I learned from working with the population and about accountability, not just within domestic violence, but every day life:

  1. Perpetrators are humans.

This is usually the hardest one for many to accept. It’s easier to pretend that they are animals and/or are so sick that they are somehow inhuman. They typically are neither. I work with men who have physically and verbally assaulted women and children, and many of which will deny any responsibility for their actions or abuse. On the outside they look fairly typical. They are dads, husbands, businessmen and hard workers.  Most of them experienced their own trauma and abuse growing up. While it in no way excuses any abuse, it is key to understand where they are coming from. Many of them are surprised to hear that relationships exist without the presence of verbal and/or physical abuse. In the first months of treatment there is often an attitude of “it’s impossible” when discussing the possibility of healthy arguing and resolving conflict. These men are also seeking authentic love, direction, and male role models to see what it means to be a man, husband, and fathers.

     2.  Hot Buttons and Triggers

No one can make us angry, yell, be aggressive, or hurt someone else or even ourselves. It might be cliché, but it is true that the only person you can control is yourself. In making the unconscious conscious we begin to have a relationship with ourselves and begin to recognize our triggers and what pushes our “buttons”. Buttons or triggers can be anything that is said or done that makes you angry, aggressive, or react in an unhealthy or irrational way. A common denominator with batterers is that most do not have a relationship with themselves and don’t know their triggers, buttons, or what is going on underneath the surface. They are often unsure as to why they are really angry or annoyed at all and don’t know what the real problem is. This can be applied in so many other areas of life and is not just limited to aggressive behavior. As we try to label our own triggers, buttons, and issues we begin to have a relationship with ourselves and are on the way to better self-love and understanding.

     3. “Daddy” Issues

With perpetrators, and as well with ourselves, we can look at the family systems we were raised in and make excuses as to why we behave the way we do. Ultimately at some point we need to take accountability and recognize our capability to change. Dwelling on family issues in the past without the willingness to move forward can be a crutch. It is not recommended that batterers dwell on their own family history of abuse which an become an excuse, but rather should begin to focus on their future in taking accountability in light of their past. This doesn’t mean that we cannot mourn the loss of a loving childhood or a past trauma, but it means (especially for perpetrators) to come out of the victim mentality and to begin to be accountable for our actions. No family is perfect and while healing is part of the goal, it is important that we are actually taking our own steps towards it.

     4. Daily Accountability and Problem Solving.

The cycle of violence is a very real thing. Conflict in our lives avoided and unresolved overtime creates a lot of tension. Tension ignored can often lead to “explosion” or acting out in an unhealthy way. The cycle begins with tension, resulting in an explosion,  followed by a time of forgiveness and peace until tension begins all over again. While many of us aren’t struggling with being physically violent with loved ones, we can easily fall into this trap of building tension, avoidance, and acting out. Accountability and effective problem solving needs to occur as tension builds to avoid the explosion. Working with perpetrators and talking about the cycle has shown that when we fail to take accountability we tend to blame, deny the problem, rationalize, justify, and minimize our behavior. Accountabliity begins with first recognizing what is going on in ourselves and taking the appropriate steps to deal with conflict, stress, and tension in a healthy and mature way.

While many perpetrators of domestic violence are in complete denial of their abuse, it is easy to see where accountability is essential to living a healthy and happy life for everyone. A few good ways to examine and increase your own accountability in daily living include personal therapy, daily examines at the end of the day, and good family and friends who challenge you to be better. Working with perpetrators of domestic violence can be really tough. On the flip side, witnessing an individual take accountability and change their life is inspiring. Witnessing perpetrators change their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about themselves, others, and the world instills hope that nothing is too far out of reach if we are willing to try.

For more information on this subject or to schedule an appointment please contact Adam Cross at 805-428-3755 or amc.cross7@gmail.com

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