We are all first responders at some point in our lives. We are mothers, fathers, siblings, professionals, and friends. As a first responder to abuse, at some point, you will likely face the opportunity to confront a person about their abusive personality and behavior. Whether the abuser is a client, co-worker, family member, or friend, when you are in a position to support a victim by interfacing with the abuser to enact change, you will want to be equipped with the best tools for doing so. Confronting an abuser can be intimidating. It requires courage and resolve.
We always advise you to receive permission from the victim first because there might be issues of personal safety or other matters where the victim knows best. Once you do, prepare yourself for the conversation with the abuser. If you don’t possess the proper talking points, you may be manipulated by the abuser into prematurely believing that they have changed, or that there was never an issue with their behavior. To circumvent this we created “The Accountability Model of Courage” to assist you when you interface with abusers and to help them grow and terminate their harmful behaviors. This model provides a template for helping the abuser take responsibility and face the reality that their actions are not socially or interpersonally acceptable. Oftentimes, those who abuse are only partially aware that their verbal interactions with the victim are way out of line with social norms. Being confronted disrupts their sense of misplaced confidence and can lead to learning how to own up to mistakes, make reparations, and change their ways.
Let’s take a look at the steps here:
The first step, FACING is a profound act of encouragement that takes place between you and the person in your community who may be abusive. Facing begins as a calm, thoughtful, and even-handed conversation about what abusers need to recognize: the abusive behaviors they are displaying. This amounts to challenging them with a steady hand and a strong voice. You are not taking any overt action, as in an intervention. Instead, you are helping the abuser become aware, to think, and to face the reality that what they are doing is obvious to you and harmful to the victim.
Step two, OWNING involves the abuser taking responsibility for their distorted belief that their behavior is in any way acceptable. Ownership is not for the faint of heart, of either the person helping the abuser to face what they are doing, or for the individual admitting the abuse they are doing. Owning and its act of acknowledgment require abusers to fully admit their behavior is hurting others. Doing less than that is a false owning.
The third step ACCOUNTABILITY, is about holding firm boundaries and consequences for the damage they have done. Boundaries are often difficult for abusers to accept, but ultimately it is essential if there is to be hope for change. Genuine remorse and repentance are humbling and are significant signals that an abuser truly understands what they have done and is willing to make meaningful and tangible reparations. These reparations require doing what the victim/survivor needs in order to feel safe, protected, and satisfied with the repairs. If property has been damaged, fix it. If the victim’s reputation was damaged, it might take double or triple effort to salvage it, and ensure that it is never tainted again, but it must be done. Hiding or taking a course of action that stalls or avoids consequences or public humility for the abuser for fear that it will harm their public image is unacceptable. When the abuser holds an important position in your life or in the community, for example, it’s critical that you as the first responder do not forego any of these steps or allow their position to excuse their behavior, allow the abuse to continue, or avoid its consequences.
Step four, RESOURCING, means that once you have helped an abuser to face and own their abusive behaviors, you offer yourself as an accountability resource. There is help available to them. Additionally, rich resources that can both support the abuser in getting help and serve to uphold the work they need to do to change include specialized programs that work with abusers on tangible efforts to change, such as volunteering to participate in a batterer’s prevention program and qualified individual therapy. A strong accountability partner is an invaluable resource, someone with knowledge of the nature and activity of the abuses occurring, how this particular abuser has enacted that activity, and holding them accountable for the changes that need to occur.
Step five, REQUIREMENTS, are at the heart of what makes an accountability relationship meaningful rather than harmful to the victim. As an accountability partner, it is essential that you clarify your relationship expectations with the abuser. Name specifically what you will and will not accept. For example, if you are meeting with the abuser in any capacity be sure to state that you are there to support them only in their tangible efforts to change. If you are socializing with an abuser and are not holding them accountable for their harmful behaviors, you are colluding in the abuse and adding significant trauma to the victim. As the abuser takes responsibility for the deep and serious psychological, emotional, and cognitive reworking they must do if they want their relationship to thrive, they will also need to come to grips with the requirements of what a relationship needs. While hundreds of books have been written on the subject, here are just a few of the essential requirements that an abuser needs to accept and learn how to meet:
- Necessary repairs
- Emotional and physical safety
- Mutual respect
- Caring attention
- Accountable freedom
- Protective boundaries
DETERMINING, the fifth step, is setting a new bar of matching words to actions, which the abuser is not used to experiencing. If a couple is separated for example, and the abuser commits to checking in with their partner at 6:00 p.m. every evening, your role as a healthy accountability partner is to accept nothing less. Checking in at 6:15, for example, is not matching words to actions. Abusers are boundary breakers. As the accountability partner, it’s essential that you clarify you will not play any part in the relationship if the abuser does not fully keep their commitments. To accept less is colluding in the abuse and traumatizing to the victim. Finally, confronting outcomes involves recognizing, analyzing, and going through the steps again. You are there either to cautiously celebrate their progress or firmly address failures, while being mindful of the possibility that the abuser may need to reset their efforts and start at the beginning. To start over requires owning, repairing, and fully facing consequences. While supporting and being there for victims is critical, a topic we divulged in our blog post on the Healing Model of Compassion, confronting abusers is also a necessary step especially when there is abuse in a marriage or between family members who want to work things out. Healing cannot fully occur if the abuser does not enact change. The Healing Model of Courage helps the abuser to feel social pressure to mend their behaviors and their relationships while also receiving support in their tangible efforts of change.
We highly encourage you to share this resource with anyone you know who regularly interacts with abusers and to enroll in our full training curriculum. Click here for more information about The M3ND Project’s training. The M3ND Project specializes in training first responder organizations and individuals on identifying and responding to Original Abuse and Double Abuse®. We are here to help.