October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Around the country this unfortunately prevalent phenomenon is getting the attention it needs, at least for now. We are perhaps more attuned at this time because of the lurid media coverage of Ray Rice and the responses of those around him.
As my contribution to raising awareness about domestic violence, I offer the following suggestions for preventing it in the first place:
1. Acknowledge that most people are capable of hitting and otherwise abusing their intimate partners. This is not something that happens to other people. This will keep you humble and less judgmental as well as more empathic towards both victims and perpetrators.
2. Take a careful, thorough look at the environment in which you were raised. It provides the foundation for who you become. If you are raised with domestic violence, you internalize those experiences. This doesn’t mean you are doomed to repeat them, but forewarned is forearmed. The propensity is there.
3. Open your eyes to cultural influences about violence, especially but not exclusively towards intimate partners. Despite significant gains, we still live in a male-dominated culture in this country. This affects our attitudes and beliefs about what is acceptable and not-acceptable treatment of others.
4. Accept that we all get angry. That is not the problem. The solution is neither to repress your angry feelings nor deny they exist. The solution is to find ways of expressing your feelings that do not hurt yourself or others.
5. Be realistic about the significance of alcohol (and certain drugs) in the perpetration of violence. Substances significantly affect judgment and impulse control. If your relationship with alcohol and drugs is unhealthy, take a look at that first. The rest will more easily fall into place.
6. Examine your expectations of others. And by extension, what happens when those expectations are not met. By nature, expectations are always a set-up for disappointment. The phrase “unrealistic expectations” is redundant. If we “expect” others to behave in a certain way, we are invariably let down. When we are let down, depending upon the degree, it can get ugly.
7. Evaluate the presence of shame and guilt. Shame can be toxic and guilt can be overwhelming. It happens more than we’d like to admit that those feelings are so painful that the only way people can get away from them is to lash out at others. Unfortunately, it only makes matters worse and sets up a cycle of violence.
8. Learn the difference between wants and needs. And, more importantly, how you go about getting those wants and needs met. If you feel your intimate partner should be able to “intuit” your wants and needs, you’re wrong. That’s a parent’s job. If you didn’t get that as a child, the longing for that throughout life is magnified. Serious deprivation leads to intense longing as well as rage. When this becomes part of adult relationships, it is a prescription for future violence. Accept that adults most of the time must ASK for what they want and need.
9. Admit to yourself when/if you are suffering. If you are feeling depressed and/or anxious, denial is only going to make things worse. Underlying substance abuse, suicidality and violence is usually some other form of mental illness. Getting help for the core issues will not only help you suffer less but also reduces the chance that you will be violent towards your intimate partner in the future.
10. Get help sooner rather than later. Before you do something you will regret for the rest of your life. There is help in the form of individual counseling, groups, spiritual support, 12-step programs, books and so on. I personally recommend all of the above. Not only will you help yourself, you will help those around you. It is a sure-fire way to improve the quality of your life.