The Continuum of Violence

Over and over again, in the last few weeks, months, years and decades we continue to be overwhelmed by the news of horrible acts of violence. Most recently, in a small, quiet town in rural Texas, where “you would least expect it,” it happened again: a mass murder in an unassuming country Baptist church. More than fifty people were killed in cold blood, including children and the elderly. An unfathomable act for most of us trying to process such terror, even as it becomes more and more a part of the norm.

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While many are asking why and debating the gun control issue, therapists realize that these news stories that are becoming much too frequent are really only the tip of the iceberg. We see in our practices the wider spectrum of violent acts, including spousal and child abuse, which are physical, sexual and verbal in nature. We see victims of trauma routinely who present complex, long term symptoms of anguish and pain, sometimes leading into generations of further pain and maladaptive behavior.

It seems as though there may be no end to this stream of inhumane behavior. This may indeed be true, that violence prevails no matter what interventions are attempted. But I believe that as a therapist I have a duty to try to intervene, even if only on a case-by-case basis.

With over four decades in this field, I can’t help but notice the continuum of aggressive and violent behavior. On one end it seems small, almost trivial, maybe “teasing,” or passive-aggressive in nature. Like bugging someone about wearing their favorite baseball cap or the way they wear their hair or calling them names just to be funny. This can grow into more full-fledged bullying, like playground bullying, cyberbullying or workplace bullying. There is a distinction between bullying and abuse, the latter crosses the line into physical harm and violence, but I would contend that this wider range of behaviors can be considered to be those of disrespect and ultimately harmful to some degree or another.

My point here is not to exaggerate the lesser of these acts into major problems on their own, but to recognize the larger picture so that we can more completely study and begin to understand this phenomenon of violence in our culture, our neighborhoods, our families and ourselves. I believe that the lack of respect, or disrespect, can behave like a cancer and grow to become a devastating story, sometimes told on the news. Therapists have an opportunity to intersect and intervene in these stories in a way that few do. I believe it’s our responsibility as professionals and human beings to do so with as much respectful clarity as possible.

Over the next weeks and months I will be returning to this topic of understanding and intervening violence and welcome your input into this discussion.

 

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Dealing with sexual trauma in therapy

We have reminded in the news once more that sexual harassment and abuse are very prominent issues in today’s society. The latest controversy around a famous movie producer for decades of sexual harassment and assault only adds to a long list of known cases of people using their positions of power to abuse others.

Of course, what we also know is this horrific phenomenon is not restricted to the rich and famous. Many therapists see the results of sexual trauma play out in our practices on a fairly regular basis. The range in behavior is vast, but the overreaching message of disrespect for another human being is resoundingly the same. In a therapeutic context, the victims of sexual misconduct are wounded deeply, mainly because of the serious lack of regard for their innermost sanctity and personhood.

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This goes far beyond the physical acts themselves. It is the robbery of emotional and spiritual safety. It is the denigration of personal value. The damage done is ultimately repairable, but not before the pain is fully recognized and experienced.

Therapy is about this very process. It is the full recognition of what has been taken away without self blame or shame. Most often, the healing process involves self-forgiveness for being broken by the event, even though there is really nothing internally to forgive. A violation occurred externally, but struck so privately and personally that it frequently feels like a stain on one’s soul or psyche. With this understanding, it then makes perfect sense that coming forward by the victims may be indeterminately delayed, for fear of being seen with such a stain and/or having to endure more disgrace and humiliation because of it.

Cleansing and healing the wound made by someone else’s invasive or attacking behavior is the task that therapists are asked to assist with. Respect-Focused Therapy suggests that the best, most effective way we can do that is by concentrating our full energy and focus on truly respecting a person’s pain as well as the whole person completely. With the experience of receiving such depth of genuine respect, it is hoped that these individuals will have the platform on which to begin building, once again, their own self-respect as well as respect for others around them.

RFT Book Cover

Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.