Domestic Violence Offender Treatment Group Content
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Domestic Violence Offender Treatment Group Content

Making the case for courtship?

The processes behind the initial attraction to a particular individual is primarily subconscious.   This initial attraction makes for some risky choices if we are not careful.  There are many schools of thought that try to explain initial attraction.  I think one of the best explanation that I have come across in my studies of relationships is provided in "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.

Before we can understand initial attraction, we need to know a little bit about how the brain works in sizing up and categorizing the people we meet.  A simple explanation of the brain will suffice for this discussion.  First we have the "old brain"and it doesn't have anything to do with how old you are-it is in fact the instinctual part of our thinking.  Whenever we meet someone, the old brain immediately kicks into action.  This part of our brain is primarily concerned with survival, safety and procreation (or sex).  Whenever we come into contact with someone new the old brain puts them into a particular category.  The categories seem to be pretty simple-is this someone who will take care of me (nurture me), is this someone I need to take care of (nurture them), is this someone who may harm me (submit, avoid or attack them) or is this someone that I can procreate with (have sex with).  This part of your brain does not use the processes of the "new brain" to identify the person beyond these basic categories.  The particulars of the individual are of no concern to the old brain.  When the old brain becomes attracted to someone in the procreate category it quickly moves from attraction to lust without even knowing anything in-particular about them.  

Unfortunately for us, it is in the particulars of the individual that make for a good relationship match.  See the "new brain" the analytical part of you is concerned with issues that will greatly impact compatibility between individuals such as; likes and interest, goals and aspirations, needs, wants and desires and family and friends.  This part of the relationship building process takes more time.  

In our culture today dominated by can't wait-immediate gratification we seem to be playing right into the old brain risky choice process of relationships.  Instead of delaying action on the old brain's lust for an individual we jump right in the sack with them.  Afterwards the new brain is left with trying to make sense of it all and pursue a relationship with that person because we have had sex with them.  That's when we find out the particulars of the individual and in many instances find we have nothing in common.  

If you want to find a "right fit" relationship for you, I would recommend that you bring back the old idea of courtship or dating.  That way you discover the particulars of the individual before acting on the lust.  If you follow this suggestion I am confident that you will discover that what you really need in a life partner is intimacy not just "sex".  Going back to courtship and dating will enable you to have intimacy in you life.    

Impulsive Behavior and Personal Responsibiity

Demonstrated through an in-group exercise how impulsive responses appear to occur to quick for them to be a choice.<< MORE >>

Development of higher levels of moral thinking

The development of higher levels of moral thinking is an essential component in stopping the abuse and violence in relationships.  Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development was presented to the participants.  According to the theory, there are six levels of moral thinking. 

We begin life and our moral thinking with the lowest level, which is dominated by the concept of reward and punishment.  In this basic view, things are determined to be good if it is rewarded and bad if it is punished.  In this immature level of moral thinking, the consequence determines good vs bad.  The concept of right and wrong are absent from the decision making model at this level.  In other words if the behavior is punished, it is viewed as bad and if the behavior is rewarded, then it is viewed as good.  This stage of development is likely to be quiet confusing.  The simple fact is that parents of children at this stage must be ever consistent and vigilant.  In some cases, a child’s behavior is rewarded (by laughter/approval) in one situation and punished when it occurs in another situation.  An example would be when a child says a bad word in front of company and they respond by laughter and approval.  In another instance when it occurs in front of the parent, it is punished.  The child learns that the setting in which the behavior occurs determines good (reward) or bad (punishment).  

In the next levels, the focus remains on the consequence of the behavior to determine right or wrong.  When we rely on the consequence of our choices to determine good and bad, we are unable to adequately understand that it is the choice not the consequence that makes the behavior good or bad.  In these lower levels of moral thinking, the predominant theme is the pleasure principle. 

At some point in moral development, we begin to focus on how other’s respond to our behavior-Approval of others.  In this stage, parents, siblings, friends can exert tremendous influence on our choices.  Approval will reinforce the behavior and thereby increase the frequency of the choice while; disapproval will decrease the frequency of the choice.  In this stage the relative importance the individual places on each group’s approval will determine the weight given to their reaction.  As an example, the class clown places a great deal of importance on approval of peers and relatively little importance on the disapproval of teachers.  In this example the best method to reduce the acting out of the class clown is to use group disapproval as a primary means of stopping behavior.  The smart teacher knows to co-opt the other classmates in providing negative reinforcement to the class clowns antics. 

The evolving moral thinking process moves towards the concept of “Law and Authority”.  Once the individual begins to see some consistency in the world, they begin to recognize that there are a set of laws and rules.  These laws and rules can be used to predict outcomes of behavior and effectively increase their proficiency in determining what choices to make.  This stage lays the foundation for a more mature understanding of right and wrong/good and bad.  The application of rules to behavior leads one to understand social contracts or the giving of one’s word.  It is in this and subsequent stages that the consequences of a choice become less important in determining right and wrong.  The move is towards a set of ethical principles by which to make choices.  The individual begins to see that the behavior is right or wrong not the consequence of the behavior.  Now the real opportunity for self-disciple emerges.

Communication patterns in responding to conflict in relationships

Conflict is inevitable in interpersonal relationships.  The pattern of communication between the two parties involved in the conflict will either move the conflict towards escalation or tend to de-escalate.  One way to begin to analyze the pattern of communication in conflict is to use transactional analysis.  Dr. Eric Berne developed the approach to understanding communication.  In transactional analysis, each participant can speak from one of three perspectives; either a parent (voice of authority), adult (attentive/straight forward) or child (emotional).  The parent (P) voice is characterized by demands and commands and is used appropriately by the person in (of) authority within relationships of unequal power.  The adult (A) voice uses suggestions and request and is used in relationships where there is equality of power.  The child (C) voice uses blame, denial and projection and is used by a person in a subordinate position of power.

Closer look at emotional barriers to healthy relationships

In both the men and women’s groups the focus centered on the barriers to a man’s full expression of feelings. Men are socialized to avoid expressing feelings that are commonly viewed as signs of weakness or vulnerability. Individual group members listed as many feeling words as they could think of in two minutes. Next each individual evaluated the list and indicated whether the feeling word was viewed as positive, negative or neutral. The results were shared with the larger group by summarizing the breakdown of positive, negative and neutral feeling words.

There were some interesting differences between the list prepared by men and women. In the women’s group, the majority of participants were able to identify more than 15 feeling words in the allotted time. The men on the other hand, were more likely to identify fewer than ten words with a significant number only able to list five or less. Another difference was that the men were more likely to have a higher proportion of negative feeling words than the women.

The discussion then focused on possible explanations for the differences. At that point we began to discuss how the different responses to expressions of feelings as children might in part explain the differences found in adults. The participants were able to recognize how adults, other children and teachers responded differently to little boys and girls expressions of feelings. Typically, when a boy experiences emotional hurt and naturally begins to cry, he is very likely to be made fun of by other boys and girls. He is called names, bullied and if he allows it to happen often enough he will become an outcast from the "group". This experience teaches the boy a valuable playground lesson – expressing vulnerability, pain or hurt equals weakness and weakness equals unmanliness. The boy learns how to channel hurt, pain or vulnerability into hostility, anger and aggression, which he equates with strength and being manly. His peers respond to these expressions very differently. He is now viewed as tough, strong and courageous. The group therefore, reinforces his new "manly" expressions.

The girl’s experience with expressions of emotional hurt is responded to very differently. Boys and adults typically (of course not always) respond to a little girl’s expressions of vulnerability with protection, attempts to rescue or advocacy. The girls are rescued and comforted when they are vulnerable. The girls learn that they are free to accurately express their emotional state and are in fact reinforced to do so.

So what does all this mean for adult relationships? In the case of men, if they fail to grow into a complete mature emotional male, intimate relationships will create fear and vulnerability in them. They will have a difficult time being emotionally genuine. Whenever they feel threatened or vulnerable, they will likely resort to their childhood responses that safeguarded their "manhood". In other words they will utilize anger, hostility and aggression in the place of accurately expressing their emotional pain or vulnerability. Their partner then responds to the anger, hostility and aggression and may in fact fail to see that they inflicted emotional pain on the man.

In the case of women, if they fail to grow into a mature woman that is genuine in their emotional expressions, they will experience significant disappointment in relationships. This is especially true if their partner fails to come to their rescue or protect them in vulnerable situations. Since their partners may be emotionally immature as well, they may grow desensitized over time to the woman’s emotional hurt or vulnerability. They may in fact respond with hostility, aggression or anger, which increases the woman’s feeling of vulnerability or fear. This cycle is likely to spiral out of control and if not changed may lead to eventual violence.

The answer to this problem is emotional maturity by both men and women. Men must learn to accept the vulnerability that is germane to mature interpersonal relationships. Men can learn this in a number of ways; first, they experience a significant personal loss such as death of a loved one or serious health concerns for a child or second significant tragedy. The lesson learned when this happens is that I am vulnerable and if responded to with support, comfort or other appropriate actions by other loved ones the man is freed to experience the vulnerability without fear of loss of manhood.

In the case of women, they need to avoid utilizing expressions of vulnerability or hurt in attempts to manipulate their partners. This lesson is essential so that when circumstances present where they are genuinely vulnerable or hurt, their partner can support them with confidence-free of concerns about being manipulated.

Easter Message

    As usual went to my favorite service-the Easter Vigil.  The service starts outside the church with the lighting of the New Fire.   As the congregation gathers around the New Fire, father establishes the new Pascal Candle by blessing the fire and the new candle then he lights the candle from the New Fire.  The congregation follows the deacon caring the candle into the Northex of the church were everyone begins to light their candles from the Pascal candle.  As the number of lit candles grows, the darkened Northex begins to come to light.  The deacon announces the "light of Christ" as we begin to process into the darkened Church.  As the congregation begins to assemble in the Church their individual light fills the Church with a beautiful glow.  This is one of my favorite parts of the entire Easter Vigil.  

    The Easter Message from our pastor-Father Mark was a simple but all so important prompting of all Catholics to fulfill their responsibilities.  As he put it we as Catholics need to "grow up", "stand up", and "show up".   I couldn't agree more.  However I think that this message is appropriate for so many of us.  Basically, I believe he was addressing the need for all of us to develop a mature faith by nourishing our spiritual life with spiritual food.  The primary sources of spiritual food for the Christian and Catholic is the Bible and specifically the Gospel mesages.  In addition the Church plays an integral part in developing into a mature or "grown up" Catholic.  It is essential for Catholics to keep abreast of Church teachings and doctrine.  It is our responsibility to educate ourselves as well as being educated.

    There is a tremendous need in our modern secular culture for more "grown up" Catholics to "stand up" so that we can be seen and heard.  It seems that Catholics have been reluctant to stand up and actively live out the faith publicly.  The source of Catholic reluctance is difficult for me to understand.  It seems that we are almost apologetic for our faith.  Acts of standing up are as simple as making the sign of the cross and praying before meals-even when we are eating out.  

    Finally. we are called to "show up".  It is by coming to Mass that we reinforce each other.  Weekly attendance or more is essential in becoming a "show up" Catholic.  The more Catholics support all the ministries by their active participation, the more the Church becomes an essential element in the social fabric.  This will help provide an effective counter to the secular culture.   "Grown up", "standing up" and "showing up" Catholics are the only hope to counter Pope John Paul  II grave concern for the Culture of Death that seems to be more and more prominent in the American culture.   It seems to me then, that it is up to us.  Changing the direction of our culture will only occur when we stand up and show up.

Barriers to Men being emotionally genuine

    The group topic focused on how uncomfortable and in some regards outright fearful men are of certain emotional states.  Beginning as a child men are socialized to hide any emotional state that is perceived by them or others (especially women) as weak or vulnerable.  Therefore when these genuine emotional states occur, men suppress the genuine feeling such as hurt, pain or fear and then express it as anger, hostility or frustration.   This helps protect their socialized constraint of what it means to be a "man".  

    The way in which this occurs to men when they are boys is by how others respond to them when they are in pain, hurt or fearful.  At some point a boy experiences vulnerability of some sort and if genuinely expressed others often respond by making fun of them, calling them weak, a sissie or a girl (in some cases even worse things happen).  The boy learns that certain feelings are associated with weakness or being unmanly.  Since one of his most feared things is to be seen as weak, he must turn this weakness into strength.  He finds that anger hostility and aggression keep his concept of manhood safe.  

    So what does this mean for men as they enter into adult relationships?  One profound problem this causes is that he is unable to handle the vulnerability that intimacy creates for him.  Therefore, whenever he feels threatened in a relationship, he resorts to what he knows best so that he can feel strong.  Now here is where it really gets goofy.  Let's say his girlfriend or spouse teases him in front of others in a way that makes him feel embarrassed.  Since, feeling embarrassed makes him feel weak, he responds to the situation with anger or hostility.  So instead of pointing out to his partner that what they said was hurtful and embarrassing, he attacks her to show how he is strong.   His partner know misreads how her statement impacted him and responds only to his anger or hostility.  This then leads to her not recognizing what she said as hurtful and embarrassing.  Therefore, she does not see the need to apologize for her statements.  

    In the end not being genuine with intimate partners about how you feel will lead to the inevitable destruction of the relationship. 

Domestic Violence Offender Group topics and discussion

    During last nights session, the group focused on how important it is to refrain from responding to nasty or mean spirited comments by a loved one especially when we know that they really don't mean them.  These comments are often made out of frustration, disappointment or while under increased stress.  The loved one becomes an easy target for the hurtful statements which may serve to reduce the speakers frustration or stress level.  When we respond negatively or equally hurtful, we prevent the other person from recognizing their hurtful statements since they focus on our response.  

    The discussion also included tips to recognize irrational statements that are designed to initiate conflict. Whenever the words "always" and "never" are included in a blaming statement, the statements will most likely be irrational.  As an example children may make a statement, "you never let me do what I want" when trying to get you to let them go to a particular activity.  This statement is likely untrue/irrational since hopefully you have at some time allowed them to do things they request.  This statement is an attempt to impart guilt so that you will give in to them.  The "repeater" technique is designed to reflect the irrational statement back to the speaker in hopes that they will hear what they said and recognize it as untrue.  An appropriate "repeater" to the statement would go something like: "You mean that I never let you do anything that you want to do?"  This statement should elicite a more rational response-which is where the discussion can begin.