This session was presented to Titus 2 Community on their Talk Live Tuesday show. You can find the session here. While the title might be catchy, the real subject is about How to Get a Handle on Conflict. www.Relavate.org
Biology of attachment and trauma
[Originally published on April 15, 2017 by Terry Levy, PhD, B.C.F.E. on LinkedIn]
The limbic system is the social and emotional part of the brain, governing attachment, nurturing instincts, learning, implicit memory (preverbal, unconscious), motivation, stress response, and the immune system. The circuits of the limbic brain are wired together almost entirely by attachment experiences, and are altered by stress and trauma. In other words, the neurons of the limbic regions are genetically programmed to connect with one another via early child–caregiver interactions. The primary structures of the limbic system are:
• Amygdala: Regulating emotion, learning, memory, interpreting facial expressions, and fear conditioning, it serves as an “alarm bell” activated by threatening and frightening experiences. It is programmed to respond to fear and potential threat. It is where implicit memory is created and stored, in utero and during the first 18 months of life.
• Hippocampus: This organizes explicit memory, in concert with the cerebral cortex, which allows us to remember facts and autobiographical events consciously. By around age 2, a child is learning language, has conscious awareness, and can remember him- or herself in a specific past event. The hippocampus is also vital to retrieving information encoded in the past; it can become impaired due to chronic stress, which can affect the ability to accurately remember.
• Hypothalamus: Interacting with the pituitary, it regulates the autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine system by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin (the bonding chemical). It regulates primal drives and functions, including hunger, sexual arousal, blood pressure, heart rate, thirst, and the sleep–wake cycle.
• Middle prefrontal regions: Located at the intersection of the brain stem, limbic system, and cortex, they include the anterior cingulate, orbitofrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, and the prefrontal cortex. These structures play a key role in modulating attention, self-regulation, awareness, and the integration of cognitive and emotional information.
• Thalamus: A major relay station to the cerebral cortex, it sends signals to the brain stem to stimulate the release of norepinephrine throughout the brain, resulting in alertness and arousal.
The brain and nervous system are composed of billions of neurons, which form connections with many other neurons to create a neural network. Neurons communicate with one another between gaps, or synapses, via electrical and chemical messages. Neurons that fire together become wired together. Over time, the brain circuits and networks that result from these firings lead to “wiring” of the brain. The social and emotional environment of the infant—early attachment experiences—are critical to the development of those neural networks. Changes in the wiring of brain circuits can occur at any time in life as a result of new and healing experiences (neuroplasticity).
The following is a list of the most significant neurochemicals that relate to attachment, mood, behavior, and stress:
• cortisol: Released by the adrenal glands during the stress response; increases heart rate and blood pressure and results in arousal and anxiety.
• dopamine: Associated with attention, motivation, bonding, and pleasure; drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines trigger the release of dopamine; mobilizes the body for fight, flight, freeze response.
• serotonin: Affects mood, impulse control, and survival; plays a key role in depression, aggression, and anxiety; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are popular antidepressants and increase serotonin flow.
• norepinephrine: Regulates arousal, alertness, attention, and motivation; makes senses more alert under stress.
•epinephrine (adrenaline): Prepares us for danger or threat by focusing attention, sharpening senses, and increasing fear.
• neuropeptides: Endorphins buffer stress, reduce pain, and increase pleasure (e.g., runner’s high). Endorphins increase during parent–child connection.
• oxytocin: Promotes maternal behavior (nurturing, nursing) toward children. Loving touch increases oxytocin in the blood of caregivers.
• vasopressin: Also plays a role in bonding and attachment, as well as inhibiting fear and reducing stress hormones.
Stress alters and dysregulates biology
When the stress response is chronically triggered, such as during childhood maltreatment and compromised attachment, key biological systems become altered and dysregulated. Research on Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which focuses on the mind–body connection, has found that people who suffer trauma have higher rates of serious illnesses than the general population. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study found that adults who experienced trauma and disrupted attachment as children—including physical and sexual abuse, and parental mental illness, substance abuse, and criminal behavior—had higher rates of cancer, heart disease, bronchitis, diabetes, stroke, and gastrointestinal disorders, than nontraumatized adults.
Similar outcomes have been found in other studies: women maltreated as children had a ninefold increase in heart disease; 60 percent of women treated for gastrointestinal illness had an abuse history; significantly higher rates of chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia occurred when there was a history of trauma and PTSD diagnoses.
WHAT ANXIOUS AND ANGRY KIDS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEIR BRAIN
[This article was written by Nicole Schwarz and can be found in ImperfectFamilies.com]
“Settle down,” you say above the screaming.
It sounds more like a threat than a caring suggestion.
“I don’t know how!” your child jeers back.
You shake your head, sighing. How many times do you need to remind her to take a deep breath when she’s upset?
Obviously, something’s missing here.
BIG FEELINGS. BIG CONFUSION.
Big feelings like anger, frustration, jealousy, anxiety, sadness, and stress can be overwhelming to kids. Without warning, their body is flooded with physical sensations – racing heart, tense muscles, sweat, tingling fingers.
Plus, their thoughts can get pretty confusing, “I hate you, mom!” on the outside may conflict with, “Wait, what? I don’t hate my mom, why did I just say that?” on the inside.
When we step back, it’s easy to see why some kids feel so helpless when it comes to managing big feelings.
One way to empower your child (and to reassure them that they are totally normal), is to teach them about the brain.
Here is a very simplified explanation of the brain and how it works. You can alter this script depending on the age and developmental stage of your child.
(Of course, there are people who actually study the brain, and they have much more detailed explanations of these principles if you’re interested.)
THE BRAIN HAS LOTS OF JOBS:
What to tell your kids: “Have you ever thought about all of the things your brain is in charge of? I mean, your brain is the control center for pretty much everything you think, feel, or do! That’s pretty amazing. Let’s list some things your brain controls.”
For you: Keep this in mind when thinking about discipline. Changing your response can change the entire conversation, simply because you’ve appealed to a different part of the brain.
THEIR BRAIN IS GROWING AND CHANGING:
What to tell your kids: “Scientists say that when you do something over and over you create new pathways in your brain. When you were a baby, you couldn’t do much, but now your brain has learned so many things. And, guess what? Your brain is going to keep growing and changing until you’re much older.”
For you: You have the opportunity to influence strong, healthy, positive connections in your child’s brain by responding from a calm, confident, empathetic stance. (Feel like it’s too late? Start now!)
What to tell your kids: “Remember when we talked about the brain having a lot of different jobs? One part of your brain is in charge of making good decisions, managing your big feelings, thinking things through, and being empathetic. One author calls this your ‘upstairs brain’ – like the upstairs of a house!”
For you: Sorry parents, this part is very slow to develop. I know you want your kids to have these skills right.now. but there’s no rushing this process. You can influence good pathways, though, remember?
What to tell your kids: “Ok, so there’s another part of the brain. That authorcalls it the ‘downstairs brain.’ This part is in charge of some really important things like breathing and digesting food, and it also holds a lot of your emotions! So, this is where your big angry or worried feelings come from!”
For you: This is the most primitive and reactive part of the brain. This is also the part that’s running the show during your child’s meltdown about having peas for dinner.
FLIGHT, FIGHT OR FREEZE:
What to tell your kids: “Inside this ‘downstairs brain’ is a tiny part who’s job is to react to threats! When it thinks you are in danger it will tell you to do one of three things – run away, fight back, or freeze. Let’s think of some times when these responses would be really helpful.”
For you: You have this part in your brain too, it’s called the amygdala! Power struggles are often the result of two amygdala’s going head-to-head (so to speak).
EMPOWERING YOUR KIDS.
Now that you’ve laid the foundation, you can use this information to teach and talk about their thoughts, feelings and behaviors in terms of their brain function.
SOMETIMES THE BRAIN IS WRONG:
What to tell your kids: “There are times when your brain thinks there’s a problem, and sends you the signals to ‘fight, flight or freeze’ but there’s really no reason to panic.
Like when you see a big black thing on the floor of your room. Your body might freeze – not wanting to get any closer. You might scream, ‘Mom! There’s a huge spider in here!’ But, when we get down on the floor, we realize it is actually a piece of black fuzz!”
For you: This is true for you as well! Sometimes, your brain will tell you that the situation in front of you requires IMMEDIATE ATTENTION (sibling rivalry, aggressive behavior, etc.) Actually, in most cases, these things are not true emergencies.
BUILDING A BRIDGE:
What to tell your kids: “I know it’s scary when you have such big feelings. That ‘downstairs brain’ is really loud. It will say things like, ‘Math test! Panic!’ or ‘Your sister has the TV remote! Grab it!’ But remember, you still have the ‘upstairs brain!’ We’re going to work together to switch from the ‘downstairs brain’ to the ‘upstairs brain’ when you’re feeling big feelings. Can you help me think of some things that may help?”
For you: If you know your child is responding from the “downstairs brain” it’s time to switch tactics and get the “upstairs brain” on board. You can do this by responding with empathy, getting down to their level, and offering connection.
CALM BRAINS MAKE GOOD CHOICES:
What to tell your kids: “Since the ‘downstairs brain’ is not always right and tends to over-react in some situations, we need to make sure we use the ‘upstairs brain’ to make decisions. I know this is hard to remember when the ‘downstairs brain’ is in charge, but we are going to practice and I’ll help you through it.”
For you: Instead of focusing on getting your child to calm down, think more about how you can calm your own “upstairs brain.” You’ll be better able to support, connect and empathize with your child’s big feelings.
PARENTING AND THE BRAIN
Now, you and your child have a shared language to use when talking about big feelings, big actions, or big worries.
But remember, this is not just about your child. There are a lot of things you can do to encourage strong, healthy, happy brain development…even if your child is too young, or not interested in learning about the brain:
Do You Show a Pattern of Abuse?
This checklist is from a booklet written by Robert Needham and Debra Pryde. Any number of or a few of these characteristics do not indicate an individual is abusive or domestically violent. We all become angry and act out in anger. However, when about a third of these behaviors are exhibited on a regular basis, then there is reason to be concerned you or someone in your home is abusive.
When half or more of these characteristics are present in the home, there is cause for concern. Manifesting many or most of these traits on a regualr or daily basis, most likely indicates the home is not only unhealthy but toxic. The person who displays such has likely turned the home into a den of domestic violence. The perpetrator needs to be examined and enter into therapy. The abused need to be protected, supported, and provided with good counseling.
Discernment is crucial and wisdom has to be brought to bear for the best interest of all the members in the family.
So, do you or someone you know in your family have a pattern of abuse?
- I change from kindness and charm one moment to explosive, cruel or hateful behavior.
- I am critical of others’ efforts, especially if they are happy or enthusiastic.
- I blame others for my failures.
- I react angrily if my family member cries or expresses emotional distress or dismay when I accuse him or her of something.
- I am extremely jealous of their friends or family.
- I wrongly accuse my spouse of improper interest in others of the opposite gender.
- I am condescending.
- I have disregard for or discredit family members’ views, feelings, interests, or preferences.
- I attack others verbally.
- I shout loudly when angry.
- I grab his or her arm or neck roughly or painfully.
- Afterward, I become remorseful and try to be kind after being very angry, then begin to get cold and increasingly irritable as the tension builds, until I explode again.
- I am unreasonable or unapproachable during discussions.
- I threaten with the loss of the children, or other ‘punishments’ if he or she confides in someone else about my or our problems.
- I have stated or implied that I need to “teach them a lesson.”
- I want my family isolated from friends or family.
- I punish with long periods of silence.
- I reply or treat others with sarcasm.
- I belittle others’ accomplishments.
- I belittle others’ physical appearance.
- I use name-calling.
- I react inappropriately or angrily or ‘hurt’ by family members’ faults.
- I insist on complete control of finances.
- I become angry over their trifling infractions to my rules.
- I rarely or never admit when I am wrong or at fault to my family members.
- I make rules and then change them without warning.
- I blame others for my anger.
- I believe that I would not become so angry if my family members were more godly, submissive or cooperative.
For a good study, see what God says about anger:
Taken from What Do You Do When You’re Abused by Your Husband? by Robert B. Needham and Debra S. Pryde.
5 Stages of an Abuser’s Battle Plan? What is this?
The material below is an adaptation of John C. Maxwell’s Relationships: A New Beginning or a Bitter End (1997). These stages are approximate but reflect observable behaviors of those who would be classified as an abuser. The information is not substantiated by research, though there is significant research that addresses each of the following areas. However, what I present here is based on my personal experience as a child and then later, as a pastor abused by some in three churches. These phases also reflect what I’ve observed among friends and associates who have been subjected to spousal or parental abuse, stories from journals and books, and in pastoral counseling sessions.
The U.S. Department of Justice calls abuse in the home domestic violence. They define domestic violence “as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone” (http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm). The information on their website goes on to define and describe the various ways in which domestic violence is exercised. It is well worth reading.
Please note, while there are women who have abused their children and/or husbands, statistically the majority of offenders are men. Therefore, the pronouns in this article are masculine.
What's the point?
The point of this article is to bring to light what people suffer at the hands of domestic oppressors. It also underscores the abuser's strategy and methods for absolute control. Unless you have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, it may be hard to believe it happens. Sure, you see this sort of thing in movies or television news magazine shows yet it can be incomprehensible that these things could be perpetrated by your son or brother or happen to your friends or loved ones. It's hard to accept when the accused abuser is such a nice person and that family always looked so happy. It’s a facade and for many reasons.
In my experience, these things happen in Christian homes with the same frequency as non-Christian ones. Domestic violence occurs more often in fundamentalist churches, patriarchal families, or cult-like Christian groups. People of this ilk also tend to abuse their pastors with pleasure and impunity. The abusive pastor is a bitter reality.
Abusers have a strategy
Abusers (I prefer to call them tyrants) tend to have a strategy of conquering and dominating their prized possessions – namely the spouse and children. This strategy is rarely something they map out on paper. It’s more of an intuitive approach they have learned since childhood; a variety of techniques they have learned that help them gain an advantage to take what they want. To that extent, I call it a battle plan.
Their actions probably but not necessarily indicate a personality disorder or mental illness. Some say it’s just sin. Yet it is a particular type of sin the Bible calls wicked and evil. All people are sinners and sin to some degree but not all people sin with a tyrant’s type of evil.
So what are common stages of an abuser’s battle plan?
1. The Remedy stage: fix the problem or perceived problem.
This means the offender has determined the “problem” is his wife and/or child. Initially, the man will give what we call a presentation problem – what he presents as the cause for the conflict or trouble in his family. It could be the messy house, the disrespectful looks he receives, family members disagreeing with him, robbing him of his money or time, choosing bad friends, or his spouse having horrible parents and siblings.
If these problems are not fixed according to his expectations and demands, then he claims the real problem is his wife or child. “If only she would do ______. Then everything will be fine.” Or, “If my kid would just stop _________, we wouldn’t be having this trouble!” Typically, what he presents are major issues only in the theatre of his warped mind and at most, his analysis of his wife or child is barely half true.
When the abuser tells his story, he paints a picture of a wife or child who is almost always at fault. Rarely, if ever, does he admit to thinking or doing anything that is wrong. He might admit he does this or that thing but it is often insignificant. Often, he will launch into a defensive tirade.
The conflict is not resolved because no one can ever satisfy his expectations and demands. After all, he is the king of his family and does all he can to create a kingdom in his image, on earth as it is in his mind.
2. The Repositioning stage: “who caused the problem?”
I didn't do it!
The focus shifts from solving the problem to protecting oneself. He says he is the victim. His misery is caused by “them.” He begins to tell everyone how bad he has it but threatens his wife or child if they ever say anything bad about him. He did not cause the problems, his wife or child did.
The abuser generalizes things. It is hard for him to explain specific problems. You hear accusations like, “She always does ____________” or “That brat of mine never ____________!” He speaks with hyperbole when he explains what his wife or child is like. He exaggerates what happens to him.
If he does give specifics, they are lengthy and detailed. Further, those specifics are repeated again and again, almost verbatum as if he's memorized a script. Liars and criminals do the same.
Little to no trust
There becomes a diminishing trust level in the family. From the beginning, the abuser never really trusted his spouse and won’t trust his child. He wins over his partner’s trust but hides who he is like. If needed, he will lie to paint a picture of what he thinks she will like about him. He wants her to be impressed by his achievements, brilliance, charm, or good looks. The other tact could be to portray himself as a victim in need of sympathy and rescue.
As time progresses, say, within a few months after marriage or living together, his initial distrust of the woman turns into aggressive jealousy, complaints about what she does that “makes” him not believe her, or outright charges that she is doing something immoral, illegal, or offensive to his standards. He interprets her words or actions through his twisted perceptions.
Cautious and unclear communication
You better not say anything!
The abused person's communication is cautious while the abuser's is unclear. The wife or child is fearful of saying anything that might set the man off. The fear intensifies as time progresses because whether positive or negative, what they say could set off a firestorm of verbal or physical violence.
The abuser never wants to be clear when he talks to his victims. This is deliberate because he needs to keep his family off center, confused, and primed for manipulation. He lies and then denies he has lied and blames this “miscommunication” on the family members. He'll state things like, they didn’t hear him right, or they are twisting what he said, or they are making things up because he never said what they claim.
3. The Rights stage: “I am right, so you must be wrong!”
The perpetrator expects his needs and wants will always be met. He is always right. He cannot fathom any notion he could be wrong. If proven, he will deny it or ignore it because his shame is too overwhelming. This is one reason why he hurts others. He wants them to experience more pain than he experiences. The more righteous and correct the abuser believes himself to be, the worse the abuser is. Therefore the greater the impossibility to ever admit a fault or he is wrong. His view, his way, and the little, dark world in which he lives is in the right. All others are wrong.
Any ally his spouse or child finds turns into an enemy that is “out to get him.” He begins by calling his wife or child names, which he says are “harmless” or “teasing.” As time progresses, he labels his wife with derogatory words such as “cunt, whore, idiot, worthless tramp, ugly witch, bitch” and worse. Giving her vile names is intended to diminish her dignity and emotionally beat her into helpless slavery. When he runs out of names, he screams and yells the terms over and over again.
He does the same thing to his child. At first, the child is “silly, a rug rat, little gremlin, or brat.” In time, the tyrant labels the child “a stupid idiot, asshole, lazy slob, worthless jerk,” and worse.
He is a prince when there is an audience
It should be noted that in the presence of other people, the king of nothing will lavish accolades on his family. “My wife is the best” or “my child is a genius like me and can do anything he puts his mind to.” Such contradictory dribble is confusing to his family because that is not what they hear in private. Yet, this is a ploy used to impress others with his possessions (family members) and to bolster his view that what he has is good, right, and superior. They must see him as a perfect prince.
This stage hones in on being right
In this stage, the focus shifts more firmly on winning his battle. It is not enough to possess what he says is his, he must never be wrong and always be right. There can not be a hint from his wife or child that they disagree with his rightness, that they disapprove of him, or prefer anything other than what he likes and wants.
So, if he likes liver and onions and his children don’t it, he will interpret their actions as telling him he is wrong to like liver and onions. He will scold or scream and send his son or daughter off to the room without food. If he hates brown rice but his wife fixes a pilaf with brown rice, he will beat her down with criticism or perhaps beat her physically. He has the right not to like brown rice and she is wrong to contradict him.
Nearly everything becomes a battle in his war to win at all costs. The king of the home becomes a vicious tyrant who imposes his will on his domain with increasingly brutal force.
4. The Removal stage
The above stages are general descriptions found in a home with domestic violence. The level of intensity depends on the tyrant. It also depends on whether there is resistance from his spouse or child, which he would say is defiance and insubordination. Such little kingdoms usually do not go beyond the third stage. However, that is bad enough.
The on-going torment can be likened to a hurricane. For some families, it is a perpetual tropical storm. For others, it is a level 5 hurricane with destruction in its wake. Like those storms, the fury comes and then recedes as the eye of the storm moves through. The respite in the eye of the storm depends on the velocity of the tempest and size of the eye. Then, the other side of the storm comes through and whips up more destruction. With hurricanes, there is an end. With despots, the storm comes around again and again and again with no end in sight.
Time to get rid of the problem
In this fourth stage, the abuser might decide to get rid of his “problem.” He must get rid of his opposition. He comes to this point when he’s tired of his conquest. After all, what fun is there in ravaging a kingdom that’s full of rubble and ashes? On the other hand, he could come to this point when he determines there is a new and better princess to take and a new kingdom to establish. It’s all about the adventure and the conquest.
He must be the victor
When he does leave, he does so as a victor. He needs to. First, he must rally his supporters and seek out others who will come to his aid in this battle. He will recruit anyone he believes will support him in this venture. He makes sure other people know he is absolutely justified in whatever scheme he takes. If he chooses divorce or simply runs away and can get away with it, he will make sure there is nothing left of his old domain. If he chooses to rid himself of his old dominion, he will do what he can to take all the spoils, leaving nothing behind. His success will depend on the capital he has (money, prestige, political influence, or legal associations). He will put up a valiant fight to pillage everything he can. After all, he could not stand to be slighted by anyone who would dare rob him of all that belongs to him.
The abused POW with PTSD
If the trauma has been at a sustained level four, too often the wife is no longer herself. She resembles someone from a prisoner of war camp. The same is true with his traumatized children. Research now tells us that traumatized women and children suffer mental and emotional conditions similar to war zone veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The women and children who are resilient and can fix their sights on a hopeful future will rebound and do fairly well in life. Those who cannot, live in perpetual torment. However, the battle scars always remain and the memories never fade away.
rebel and leave
On the other hand, this stage could be the point at which the wife or child decides to rebel and commit treason – at least in the tyrant’s mind. They begin to fight back in any way they can. When they finally realize this normality for them is not a healthy thing or normal for stable, loving homes, they will do what they can to leave. For some, this means packing up and moving out, filing for a divorce and putting that hell behind them. For others, it means secretly plotting an escape and when a safe refuge is found, fleeing when they can.
Worst case scenario
In the most egregious circumstances, the dictator will do what he can to murder his wife and sometimes his children. Most spousal homicides are caused by the tyrant. This is why the husband is suspect number one until proven otherwise. On the other hand, if the wife or child is pushed to the brink of believing there is no other way to escape, the king could be assassinated.
5. The Revenge stage
This is the point where the abuser refuses to let go of his human chattel. If a family member leaves or if he leaves, some abusers take the position that someone must pay. How dare anyone commit treason like that! How dare anyone treat me like that! At this stage, he is unwilling or perhaps unable to resign himself to his new existence. That being the case, he becomes a fanatic with a cause. And his cause is to get revenge.
It is nearly impossible for such abusers to let go. They believe their fight is right. Therefore, it is immoral to do anything less than win (whatever that means to them).
This is when the tyrant takes his crusade outside of normal social boundaries. His first step is to launch a propaganda blitz to demonize his former wife or child. Nearly everyone he comes in contact with hears about his suffering and how horrible his ex or child is. He tells police, the judge, lawyers, teachers, waitresses, bar tenders, counselors and therapists about those demons. He will send emails to everyone (even strangers), slander his partner or kid on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram or any other media. He may write letters to all who can help him cause problems for his ex or children. Some tyrants seek out reporters or even make false claims to the court in order to have the woman arrested or the child placed in foster care.
He wants it all
The next assault is to use every resource to go after what he believes he has lost but is owed: more time with his children, the return of all of his former property even if the court ruled otherwise (house, car, dog, furniture, jewelry he gave her, toys he bought his child, and then some), a claim on all bank accounts and investments, ad infinitum. The end game is to make sure he has everything and they have nothing.
He might remove his child from his will, sue to gain possession of a family trust, set up fraudulent accounts in her name or in his child’s name to pile up incredible debt and ruin their credit, file false reports to the IRS, or do anything else to bankrupt her or the child.
His appetite for revenge is voracious. He could stalk her to make sure she lives in constant fear. He may threaten her male friends or new boyfriend with violence or death. He could make false reports of her threatening him with a deadly weapon and then file restraining order after restraining order.
He wants them to suffer
This sort of villain would not be content with his wife or child’s death. Instead, he takes great pleasure in the adrenaline rush he gets with revenge. Making sure she barely exists in a unending state of hell gives him wicked satisfaction.
If these vicious actions took place during a declared war, the perpetrators would be in serious violation of the Geneva Convention. Instead, these atrocities happen behind closed doors or as the Bible says – in the dark. They abuse in secret and work to hide behind the lack of evidence or witnesses, and behind charming personalities. He is the elder or pastor in your church, the defacto leader of your club, the principal at the high school, the councilman in your city, or the overall nice guy you call your neighbor.
They abuse because they can
Domestic violence happens because they have a level of freedom to do so and our culture’s penchant to idolize nice guys (or likable gals). Trying to uncover domestic violence is worse in Christian cultures because things like this “don’t happen in churches.” And for a number of reasons, the women or children who report abuse to their pastor or leadership are met with skepticism, disbelief, or outright denial. Too often, the leaders who do give the abused a hearing, will find ways to explain the abuse away. I’ve heard things like, “Abuse isn’t even in the Bible” or “She is overly sensitive.” More often, they deny plausibility because of the man’s public demeanor. So, they will tell the woman to hang in there because he’s going through whatever he’s going through, or tell her to show more respect and submit more. At the same time, such might also tell the child to obey immediately, completely, and without question. and deny there is anything wrong.
Sometimes, a leader in the church will not receive a complaint against the abusive man because he himself is abusive. He may fear if the perpetrator is revealed that increases the possibility he too would be exposed.
What to do?
If you are in a position of authority or responsibility and a woman or child comes to you with a story of abuse, listen and listen well. Believe what she or the child tells you, for love believes all things unless evidence proves otherwise (see 1 Corinthians 13:7). Don’t dismiss it. If it is apparent physical abuse or the family member is in imminent danger, immediately report it to authorities. They can take action and investigate.
Should the spouse or child tell you there has not been any physical threat, then arrange for counseling with a competent counselor or therapist who is a master at drilling down into the truth but is also able to keep from rendering a guilty verdict before hearing and investigating both sides of the story. As Christians, we need to seek the facts and go after the truth. In the meantime, with the one who asserts there is abuse, treat with compassion, gentleness, and tender care. With regard to the accused, see if he has a pattern consistent with any of these stages. Discovery is more than possible.
In the meantime, leaders need to become intelligently informed and aware about the evil of domestic violence. They need to find experienced and reputable counselors or therapists who are proficient and wise about the matter and find resources to aid the abused. Then, they need to develop a protocol for their church or organization to help the abused. And that's just the start.
What makes you what you are?
In the past several decades, various people and institutions in the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, the science of the brain, and the like, have obtained greater insight into how we become who we are. The current research has revealed that roughly fifty percent of who and what we are comes from the genes we inherit from both sides of our biological parents. The other fifty percent of our composition comes from our experiences and relationships.
It began with your mother or primary caregiver. You are who you are in large measure because of the relationships you have had up until now, and you will become what you will be because of your current and future relationships. The connections and interactions you have with others will be highly influential in your ever-changing life, far more so than you doing anything “alone” for your personal self-development!
Two main reasons for this are that you are created for relationships and you are formed by relationships.
Here are three crucial things to know about relationships:
1. You are Created for Them
Yep, that’s right! You and I are made for relationships.
Daniel J. Siegel in his fascinating book, Mindsight, puts it clearly,
We come into the world wired to make connections with one another, and the subsequent neural shaping of our brain, the very foundation of our sense of self, is built upon these intimate exchanges between the infant and her caregivers. In the early years this interpersonal regulation is essential for survival but throughout our lives, we continue to need such connections for a sense of vitality and well-being (Mindsight , Kindle location 383).
Daniel Goleman in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence reveals that “The social brain includes a multitude of circuitry, all designed to attune to and interact with another person’s brain” (Kindle location 639).
He goes on to explain how certain nerve cells found all over our brains, called “mirror neurons,” help us to “wirelessly connect” with other people. Goleman says these mirror neurons “activate in us exactly what we see in the other person: their emotions, their movements, and even their intentions” (Kindle location 650).
2. You Are Made By Them
You and I are literally formed by the relationships we have.
Daniel Goleman makes this case in his writings, particularly in Social Intelligence. He demonstrates that “To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology” (Kindle location 79).
What is amazing is that relationships are an integral part of how your brain and body are fashioned. Every single relationship you have had so far has played a part in how you have been formed, even down to the nerve and cellular level!
Quoting Siegel again,
It wasn’t until years later that I would come upon the research demonstrating how crucial it is to our development to have at least some relationships that are attuned, in which we feel we are held within another person’s internal world, in their head and in their heart—relationships that help us thrive and give us resilience. And only later still did I learn how the neural networks around the heart and throughout the body are intimately interwoven with the resonance circuits in the brain—so that when we 'feel felt' by another it also helps us to develop the internal strength of self-regulation, to become focused, thoughtful, and resourceful. Being close to someone early in our lives gives us the clarity to know how we feel, and the ability to feel close to others. Long before researchers began to unravel these neural mechanisms, poets and children like Rebecca knew that the heart is indeed a wise source of knowing (Mindsight; Kindle location 2999).
Goleman agrees, “But the exquisite social responsiveness of the brain demands that we realize that not just our own emotions but our very biology is being driven and molded, for better or for worse, by others—and in turn, that we take responsibility for how we affect the people in our lives” (Social Intelligence,Kindle location 5696).
This is why it is so crucial to have healthy, intimate relational interaction between a child and a loving parent in her first three years of life. Frequent nurturing and caring engagement between the primary caregiver(s) and the child significantly impacts the child’s biology, brain formation, intelligence quotient, the ability to form healthy bonds in relationships, the development of emotional maturity, social intelligence, and set the young one on a path toward an overall healthy lifestyle (all things positively considered).
So, what you are is in large part due to the relationships you have had thus far in life.
The final takeaway idea is:
3. You Are Nothing Without Them
The picture often used in science fiction movies of humans being manufactured from embryonic cells into fully functioning adults is quite mythical. Aliens or mad scientists might be able to produce physical bodies, but without both experience and interactive relationships, the bodies would not have acquired the necessary cellular and neurological connections needed to make them truly human. That is because experiences and relationships shape and weave the essential materials into what makes us human.
In other words, you and others have a symbiotic relationship. You need others and others need you. Without interaction with others, you would not be fully you!
Can You Relate?
Let me know what you think or if you have any questions.
- Dr. Don