I recently had an email from one of my readers, who felt very irate about what he described as the “M” omission in my articles on abusive relationships. He went on to explain that although he agreed with WHAT I said about abusive relationships, in his view it had all been said before, and did nothing to address the issue of WHY there is such an epidemic of abusive relationships.

 He believed that I, and others like me in my profession, helped to perpetuate the problem because he believed that we do not address the “M” issue, which is the part mothers play in treating their children abusively. He felt very frustrated about the continuing epidemic of domestic abuse, and the omission by professionals of the part that Mothers play in the bigger picture. 

As it happens, I largely agree with him, and I share his frustration, but I believe his view is a little myopic. I pointed out to him in my response that addressing the issue of Abusive Relationships, is a bit like trying to eliminate world poverty; it is beyond any one individual, or even one profession to resolve, because it is a complex and multidimensional issue, requiring those of us who care, to do as Ghandi said and, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”.

This man also told me how aggrieved he was at the damage he saw his former wife inflicting on his son by her verbal abuse. Sad as this may be, taking up a stance of who is to blame doesn’t help matters, but working together collaboratively in our particular spheres of influence can. Spending our time, energy and focus pointing the finger is not the answer. I flagged up to him The Upstream Story, of which there are many variations, demonstrating both his and my dilemma;

 One day, the people of a small village heard screams for help coming from the nearby river, where they found a drowning woman. They quickly pulled her to safety, only to find that a few minutes later another drowning woman came floating along also screaming for help. Once again the villagers pulled her out to safety, but a few minutes later yet another drowning woman came floating down the river. Soon the drowning women (and some men) are coming faster and faster and before long, there are children coming along too. Someone poses the question about how these people come to be in the river in the first place. Some suggest that they should go upstream to find out the cause of the problem, but there are so many bodies coming down the river that some of the villagers cannot be spared to go upstream. An argument ensues between those who favor intervention, (pulling the drowning out) and those who favor prevention (keeping them from getting into the river) and others who think it would be a good idea to set up a warning system.

Eventually, they decide to collaborate. Some pull bodies out, some will go upstream to stop bodies being thrown in, pushed in or falling in, and a third group are tasked with going upstream to warn people of the dangers of ending up in the river. Eventually fewer bodies are coming downstream so some of the villagers can go upstream to join either the prevention group or the warning group, thereby seriously reducing the number of drowning people coming down the river.

This story illustrates the fact that there is no one solution, and the value of both intervention and prevention strategies, as well as the need for collaboration to resolve the problem. Lives can be lost if people form oppositional groups of Upstreamers and Downstreamers, wasting valuable time and resources competing and arguing about whose role is most important. So what is the solution?

First of all, let us have a little more light on the complexity of the problem. Bruce D Perry, author of the excellent paper on the “Vortex of Violence” describes the situation well,

 “When you are helpless, frustrated, humiliated and overwhelmed, it is common to bring this into your interactions with others. If the other is smaller and weaker, it is likely that the direction of frustration and violence will be from more powerful to least powerful. A typical flow of rage will start with a man frustrated and humiliated outside of the home. He will absorb this humiliation, modify some of it, and pass some on. At home, he will direct his anger and rage at his spouse -- she will absorb, modify and pass on. The overwhelmed and assaulted mother (usually when father leaves) will pass the humiliation and violence to the demanding children. These older children will absorb, modify and pass on -- to younger or weaker children. The child at the center of the vortex may have no human to ‘pass on’ to -- they will absorb, accumulate, wait until they are old enough, big enough, strong enough to hurt humans -- or they may pass on to animals. “
So, the roots of abusive relationships appear to lie in the family, and if we are to bring about the necessary social change on any scale, sufficient to reduce abuse and violence in relationships, it must start in the family. It is never right for men to abuse women, nor is it right for women to take their frustrations out on their children, even if there may be times when they are suffering from “diminished responsibility”.  Each of us has to be accountable for the effects of our own behavior and the damage we cause.

To eradicate the problem of abusive and violent relationships requires nothing less than committed involvement from us all, playing our part in challenging and changing the attitudes, norms and beliefs that support the current passive acceptance of abuse in relationships. That is what this man who emailed me was doing. He was challenging what he perceived as an unhelpful attitude.

Statutory services and groups in both the UK and America have the resources and networks to focus on Primary Prevention. Voluntary and Community groups pull the bodies out and teach them to swim, while people like myself help to educate them and others, to recognize and avoid abuse in all its forms.

Education is an intervention, when it highlights to women information that clarifies aspects of abusive behavior, which they have been tolerating, thinking it normal, whether that be from a man or their own parents or family members.

Education can also be preventative, when highlighting to men and women the Intra-generational effects that their abusive behavior (and tolerating it), can have on their children and grand children. In other words, it can raise their awareness regarding their legacy of abuse. This is what is meant by the scripture “The sins of the Fathers (and mothers) are visited on the children, down to the fourth and fifth generation” (Sin meaning where they don’t get things right)
Remember, “Evil thrives when good men (and women) do nothing. We all need to become part of the solution. What part will you play, and what will your legacy be in breaking the cycles of abuse and violence in our society?

Author's Bio: 

Grace Chatting is a senior accredited member of the British Association of Counseling and Psychotherapy, a qualified Social Worker, Family Mediator, and a Life and Relationship Coach.

She lives and works in the UK, Spain and Ireland, teaching and empowering people to become all that they can be.

For the past 30 years Grace has immersed herself in studying all aspects of what makes people, couples and families tick. During this time she has worked with literally tens of thousands of people and has built up considerable expertise in successful couple relationships and prevention of family breakdown. She also has a high level of expertise in working with women in recovery from Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships.

So many of her clients would say "Why don't they teach this stuff in school?" and Grace agreed. The idea gradually took root and resulted in the Relationship Academy http://relationshipacademy.co.uk