Warning: the attached article below is brutal, but honest and Real about domestic violence. Below are my thoughts after reading this story.
In 2002, I was living in New Mexico when I received my master’s degree in counseling psychology. I found my way to a court-mandated program for domestic violence and family counseling. Having been physically beaten and verbally abused as a child and sexually assaulted in college and again in my early 20’s, I thought my counseling training, combined with my personal experience meant I could justifiably sit with the victims. I believed I was especially qualified.
I could. I was.
But I wasn’t assigned to facilitate groups for the victims. I was soon requested to co-facilitate groups for perpetrators. I don’t’ remember how I decided to say yes, how they chose me. I do remember the first time I left home, left my daughter, wondering if I could tolerate their stories. Perpetrator stories.
My Buddhist practice, deepened by my depth psychology training, helped me hold space, as well as my work with gang kids the previous year in Los Angeles. They were my greatest teachers as we engaged stories of family legacy, recognized defenses, explored the impact of judging others, faced my own fears. They were the ones who inspired the program I’ve taught ever since.
Then the perpetrators taught me more.
A bit of what I’ve learned is this. After all the people I’ve worked with over the years, after knowing the stories and histories of my own family, the memories of my personal messiness and anger issues, there are no real perpetrators. Only victims. Somewhere, sometime in the past someone deeply wounded them. Each of us carries many wounds, as well as, the wounds of our ancestors. The cycle goes on and on. We repeat what we know. Until we find a way to know something different.
Knowing a perpetrator is created because someone harmed them before does NOT condone or excuse their behavior. Understanding gave me room to listen to their stories. Some were allowed to return to their families, some were so deeply wounded they ended up in prison. One who returned to prison sat in my group a few times. Telling us the story like he’d been to the local coffee shop and how he liked his coffee. How he’d “left her for dead. Went into the kitchen to get a beer and she crawled out the window.” Surprised she left him. No affect that she’d finally reported him and he went to jail. His father was a drug dealer, he started using cocaine around 10. He looked to be in his 60’s from the harshness of his life, but was probably in his late 30’s given his timeline. His father beat him. Who knows what else happened to him. He couldn’t make it through the program.
He crosses my mind at random moments. I wonder what happened to him the way I wonder about some of the gang kids I worked with in Los Angeles, barely babies acting so puffed up until we shared our suffering and handed their tears and their hearts to me because I had given them mine. They knew nothing other than the reality that most of their family members were in prison, they barely survived by what they were taught. Surviving. Always only surviving, coping, repeating.
What I’ve learned is we each keep perpetuating our legacy until one day we choose to step away, fight to change rather than fight to keep the legacy alive. I’ve stepped so far away and I have deep compassion.
With compassion I have boundaries. Boundaries are most important. Boundaries start with self-care, like oxygen on a plane. Put it on yourSelf first, then you have what it takes to help others.
Then more compassion, over and over again starting with the Self and then gently handing to others, to strangers like the ones I read about in this article.
Compassion. Even when I walk away, I have compassion. Doesn’t condone, but definitely helps me understand.
Click here to read article: New York Times: What if I Had Killed Her That Night?