I have facilitated court mandated 52-week intervention groups for the male perpetrators of domestic violence for almost two decades and have become convinced that change happens only in an environment of love, where each group member has something to offer all the others. The violent person needs not only to receive love but also to give love in return. The more lethal members have much to give; they can heal other members by sharing the severity of their violence. As group cohesiveness develops, the truly violent member can reveal to the other group members his lethality without offense and without being shamed. I have observed with my clients that through listening and sharing their stories they discover and learn a new way of viewing their problems and interacting with the world. They start to feel safe and their life takes on a new meaning as they begin to own the stories they tell.
The abuser that accepts 100% responsibility for their own actions comes to view violence (emotional, verbal, physical, etc.) as never being an acceptable solution when solving problems. These men come to see that their impulse control problem fueled by self-hatred is more powerful than they are. Dealing with their anger problems alone is ineffective and not enough. They need others to help them; and need others to give back what they have received. In a group of fellow batterers they can face themselves, they hear their life story and experience the feeling of self-acceptance. This experience of being understood and fitting in involves honesty. This happens by telling the truth about their violent behavior. They also learn where they fit by listening to how others have handled or are attempting to handle similar situations. By listening they discover a way of life that really works. Listening and telling is how they participate and how they learn to stop violence.
The narcissist and sociopathic clients seem to not experience a need to belong. I believe their profound self-hatred stops the development of real love for self and others. They are constitutionally incapable of empathizing with their victims and often inflict great (physical or emotional) pain on meaningful others while enjoying their writhing and suffering. Some of these clients openly admit to the purgatory they put their partners through. The sociopath in particular does it for pure pleasure. Impressing upon the personality disordered defendant that greater legal punishment will be the consequence if they get caught for continued violence appears to be the only effective tool for impulse control while they are in intervention. These men are powerful teachers for group members.
As a professional working with violent men my duty is to be an instrument of change and putting the injured parts of my clients together into some kind of whole. I do not abuse power or control and I model self-love and compassion. The same assertive, trustworthy, and caring woman shows up each week to group. I have found that many clients experience alienation and separation because the connection with something larger than oneself is missing. Creating a non-shaming group environment is essential to the acceptance of outside help.
An argument for the principles that being good and fitting in involves honesty with self pervades all spiritual visions. The act of confronting the truth of one’s own violence begins the development of empathy and the recognition that others weaknesses make them not different from, but like oneself. Being an instrument in raising tolerance for differences, along with an understanding that we all struggle with the same demons, we all share the same fears and sorrows, we all do the best we can with what we have is the foundation for conflict resolution and self-responsibility.
Thank you for reading this article. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about abusive relationships and what it takes to put an end to the violence. And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.