What a Seasoned Marriage and Family Therapist Taught me about Domestic Violence

Ray Rice. His case is bringing more awareness to Domestic Violence, yet is it all in vain?  All the info that is spread so eagerly by the media is thrown out over the air some times instilling even worse beliefs in our society about the whole thing.

Let me explain.

Over several media platforms, the other travesty is the way people talk about Domestic Violence and the victim, Janay Rice.

Many people are confused as to why she would stay with Ray after all the things he did–and it makes sense to be confused–DV is a highly complex thing. 

However, if we make black-and-white conclusions on the matter, it causes us to think about the entire issue in a very limited way.

One of the major take aways I took from Grad school and the amazing Dr. Shelley Haddock, was this:

DV is complex. In multiple ways. 

Annnnd… it could happen to any one, including you and me. 

Here’s a better break down:

The victim. Most people label this person as “weak, uneducated, poor SES (social economic status), or think with the mind set that “If I were them… I’d leave that b*stard!”

But this is FAR from true. Working with victims myself, I’ve seen that they come from all backgrounds, tend to be very well educated, and very strong people.

Not to sound like a broken record, but DV is complex… it takes a psychological, biological, chemical, and societal hold, and what we often forget about is that these people have a bond. A bond that is intense, it’s chemically laden (like the oxytocin/amygdala crazed process of your first love), and can also be further sealed by societal factors. This initial love bond can be transformed into a trauma bond over time, in which the traumas are no longer seen as “traumas” and instead a victim responds with a cognitive dissonance to them. Since love bonds naturally feel better, most women will tend to nurture these and will minimize the trauma bonds as a way of self/love preservation.

Another complex factor is how to treat DV. For MFT’s, we were taught to only try to attempt it in very minor cases (unless we were fully seasoned and specialized in the area), however, every case is different and you have to look at a multitude of factors.

In the examples given to me, the best chances for these couples were typically when the perpetrator went through intensive IFS therapy (Internal Family Systems, in which a person can uncover a lot of their own beliefs, patterns, and how these beliefs interact with each other and the logic behind it; see more: http://www.selfleadership.org/about-internal-family-systems.html ) and the couple has a mutual goal of wanting to make things work (in which later couples therapy would ensue).

Also, another tricky part is making sure to see the perpetrator as always at fault, yet as a whole person nonetheless (with good, bad, neutral parts). It’s easy to paint this person as “completely bad”, but there’s no hope for their recovery if you do. The other thing is, these people often need a lot of time and intense therapy to make changes because these patterns are like addictions and engrained. Law enforcement is often not well educated on these premises, and unfortunately many of these people go through non-specific, programs and end up re-offending (shocker!). But that’s a whole other can of worms…

Again, the main takeaway I was hoping to achieve was to inform people that, these things are complex… and it could happen to anyone.

If you know of a victim or couple struggling with this, the best thing you can do is to lend an ear, take the view point of “it could happen to any one”, and gently help support them in seeking guidance from a professional who specializes in this area–again, many counselors don’t even know how to address this, so it’s CRUCIAL to find one that does.

I hope this helped paint a wider view of DV… if you have any thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to ask–let’s learn together!

All the best,

Jenny out.

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