I can remember when I worked with kids in the foster care system – you know those children who are taken away from their biological parents because the abuse or neglect they experience is considered to be so harmful that the child cannot be kept safe within the home so the State places them with a foster family. I trained, equipped and supervised child advocates who worked with foster children and I supervised their cases. When people asked me what I did for a living, I always hesitated to answer. After all, talking about child abuse is not exactly “cocktail party conversation,” if you will. In fact, most people were uncomfortable with the topic overall. They squirmed, averted their eyes, and quickly changed the subject because it was too intense. Facing the fact of abuse can be hard; many of us prefer not to face it as a reality in our world. For some, it’s too much to bear emotionally, especially when given the image of a child who is being abused by their parent. But at least with a child, most will agree that they are a guiltless victim; that it is not their fault. And although they might not want to talk about it in great detail, they usually support efforts to help those children in other ways.
But that’s not always true when it’s an adult victim of abuse. What happens then? Be honest with yourself. What is your initial response when someone says they have been abused? Or, when you hear that “so-and-so” couple broke up because one partner claimed the other was emotionally or physically abusive? Are there all kinds of thoughts swirling within a pocket of doubt? Do you roll your eyes? Is it impossible for you to comprehend that someone you hold in high esteem is capable of abuse? Does it break your heart, or is it too uncomfortable a topic to want to get involved in?
Here at The M3ND Project, we encounter various responses to the issue of domestic violence depending on a person’s viewpoint. Some are quick to doubt the truthfulness of a victim’s story every time, regardless how convincing it is. Others dismiss it outright, thinking abuse is an overused and over-assigned word. Some believe the victim is weak in character for not leaving sooner. Others think the victim should try harder to make the relationship work and a few jump right in, quick to believe and ready to respond. Still, most just can’t bear the intensity of the topic and would rather ignore it all together or would be too scared to get involved. Some of these responses make us move away from instead of towards a victim in their greatest time of need. Whatever response you find yourself identifying with, we want to assure you that if you close your eyes and wait for it to leave on its own, you will never see an end to domestic violence.
So what’s the solution? We cannot overcome the issue of domestic violence – which affects more than 50% of the population – without educating ourselves on the subject, equipping those impacted by it on how to respond, and restoring victims and their families. It’s important to remember that we will never solve a problem we don’t understand or choose to ignore.
To make a positive impact on the issue of domestic violence, we need to end our ignorance about the issue. The first step whether you are victim, responder, friend, family member, spouse, advocate, or skeptic is to educate yourself about the topic. Refuse to be underinformed and allow ignorance to overwhelm us into inaction. If you educate yourself, here is what you will find:
- Research shows that schools play a significant role in educating young people about gender-based violence and help to change the attitudes that lead to it. Education about healthy relationships and how to set appropriate boundaries within relationships and conflict resolution is the best way to prevent teen dating violence and relationship violence into adulthood.
- Education about what constitutes abuse brings clarity to victims. Clarity is the first step to healing a trauma victim. When a victim learns what behaviors are considered abusive, they are able to identify those things within their own relationship which have been confusing and destructive and place the responsibility for those behaviors on the abuser rather than on themselves. Clarity about abuse can break through the stressful state of confusion a victim experiences when exposed to ongoing hidden emotional abuse. Clarity provides a space for the victim to experience validation and to see their value and then seek proper help.
- Education also provides clarity to those who are responding to abuse and helps them to recognize various forms of abuse and effective responses to both those who are harming and those who are being harmed. Becoming educated about abuse does not increase your burden, it will lighten your load and greatly facilitate your ability to respond effectively. We cannot address something we refuse to acknowledge or to solve problems we are unable to identify. Education of our responders also requires their full understanding of Double Abuse and how their incorrect responses may exacerbate a victim’s trauma. Comprehending the potential impact their responses may have on a victim for better or worse helps the responder to understand the importance of their words and to take them seriously.
- Finally, education also brings clarity to a person who is causing harm. At M3ND, we receive regular communication from abusers who are able to see their own behavior for the first time through our educational materials. The materials enable the abuser to recognize their destructive behaviors as abusive and helps them to confront their specific behaviors in writing, making it more difficult for them to ignore. Through the clarity this process provides, the abuser may choose to assume the responsibility to change themself and to shift their behavior patterns, taking the burden of the abuse off of the victim.
Becoming aware of what abuse is and understanding its signs is an essential first step towards healing. It is almost impossible to heal completely from abuse without becoming equipped on how to address it within your own relationship or to be able to respond to others’ abuse and trauma without harming them further. The M3ND Project specializes in equipping those who are responding to abuse, as well as equipping victims and those who harm with the tools they need for restoration. There are some overlapping and different ways we equip victims and responders that we have found to be successful.
- We equip victims by taking two major steps when responding to them: First, refrain from over-confronting the victim. Even if you know a lot about abuse, it’s important not to use the term “abuse” when a victim is first sharing their story with you. Abuse may be the last thing they are thinking, therefore having that term forced upon them can cause them to shut down. The most important thing is that you LISTEN with eyes and ears open, and mouth closed. Confronting the victim about the abuse they are experiencing may overwhelm them and cause them to defend the abuser, setting them back further from the healing they need. Second, refrain from under-informing the victim. This means that in time and after listening for quite a while you may share information, books, articles or other things that will gently help them to see and understand that what they are experiencing is abuse. For example, you may confirm for them that what they are experiencing is not their fault. They do not deserve to be treated that way.
Another very valuable tool The M3ND Project has created is its glossary of Terms and Definitions. This tool identifies a wide variety of destructive behaviors often used in a pattern within an emotionally abusive relationship. Manipulative behaviors are very confusing and difficult to describe. We cannot overstate the value knowing the terms and definitions will have for a victim. When a responder, whether therapist, family member, friend, pastor, or advocate, shares this list with a victim who may not even realize they are in an abusive relationship, they help to unlock and release the victim’s confusion. Confusion is then exchanged for clarity as the victim comes into an awareness that what they are experiencing is abuse, it is not their fault, and they are not crazy. To take a deeper dive and to learn more about The M3ND Project terms and definitions, join us in our upcoming training cohort, M3ND: Responding to Abuse. Or simply access our list by visiting our website.
- We equip first responders through training and educating them on original abuse, double abuse, and trauma, and by providing them tools that make responding correctly much easier such as the Healing Model of Compassion and the Accountability Model of Courage. These models show any responder the best steps to take when responding to a victim and/or the abuser. Far too often, our learned instinct, particularly when we remain uneducated about abuse and trauma, directs us poorly and we inadvertently cause harm through our incorrect responses. Or we choose to remain neutral, or impose instructions. We call this “double abuse”: responses that shut down, criticize, silence, give ultimatums to, or blame the victim harm them further, exacerbating the already present trauma caused by the original abuse. The effect these harmful responses have on the victim is similar to the original abuse making it essential for responders to become adequately educated on abuse and equipped to respond. To learn more about these essential tools, join us in our upcoming training cohort and visit our website to start your journey in becoming fully equipped.
Not all relationships can be restored, but all victims can. The M3ND Project’s vision includes restoring victims, their families and communities, which happens as a result of education and equipment. We believe educating and equipping communities about domestic violence and double abuse provide the greatest means to illuminate the issue and eradicate the ignorance, blinders, and unconscious biases that exacerbate the harm domestic violence causes. When a community is restored, it includes the condition that the topic of abuse is no longer a taboo issue. Abuse is out in the open and compassion is freely available to victims.
- Victims become restored as they regain a confident sense of self, autonomy, and safety within their community. Victims who gain clarity about the abuse taking place within their relationship are more likely to get the help they need to strengthen themselves and build up the courage needed to set firm boundaries or to leave knowing they have social and community support.
- Through confrontation and accountability, abusers have the greatest chance to recognize their need to change, make amends, reparations and possibly restore their relationship. But we have found that far too many people are unwilling to confront abusers and hold them accountable for their harmful actions. This is why The M3ND Project founder, Annette Oltmans, created The Accountability Model of Courage to equip responders to bravely and lovingly stand up to the person who is causing harm in the relationship. Confrontation by family and friends can influence an abuser to embark on the necessary process of self-examination, giving them the best opportunity to recognize and acknowledge their wrongful behavior.
- Finally, when awareness about abuse and trauma is prominent within our communities they too may become restored. Unconscious biases contribute substantially to double abuse and sustain the culture that pushes victims into deeper oppression.. Exposing those biases, therefore, is a key component to M3ND’s educational process for responders. Further, by educating and equipping communities to address abuse in firm, compassionate, and healing ways, they become safe places for trauma victims to reach out and receive the help they need.
Now is the time to put a stop to the rising trend in the incidence of domestic violence. We can make an incredible difference by choosing to learn more about what makes a healthy relationship and become confident in how we respond to abuse. We believe that we all have an opportunity to help a victim of abuse at some point in our lives. Will you be the one who walks away or will you lend a hand to lift them up?
Join us in our upcoming training cohort, M3ND: Responding to Abuse.
Terms and Definitions- https://themendproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Definitions-1.pdf
Information about our upcoming 7-week course- https://mailchi.mp/themendproject/training-1