by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
The most common question people in abusive relationships ask is, “Will my partner change?” I have been answering this question for decades and each time I sit with the answer, its meaning deepens. Today, I can answer that question in one word: SAFE. If patients master the elements of the acronym SAFE, the answer is yes!
SAFE ~ This one word speaks to the heart of effective psychotherapy for intimate partner abuse. When we refer to this word, we are talking about safety for both people in the relationship.
Staying safe is not a notion reserved for the abused, rather it is a status-quo sought by both domestic abuse victims and perpetrators/offenders. “Staying safe” from the potential damages of domestic violence becomes a daily commitment and a practiced way of being with oneself and with each other.
In so doing, these patients cultivate skills that support their individual well-being and the health of their relationship. And they do this through embodying the elements of the acronym SAFE.
S — Silence ~ Finding the silence within before picking up the offensive or defensive bat.
A — Accountability ~ Being responsible for your thoughts, feelings and actions.
F — Freedom ~ Exercising conscious choice, liberating personal and relationship potential.
E — Evolutionary ~ Embracing the fact that psychotherapeutic change is an evolutionary process.
S is for Silence
Why would anyone in their right mind think of the word “silence” in domestic violence circles? What does one thing have to do with the other? The chaos of a couple entangled in a vicious power struggle, or mangled up in narcissistic abuse or physical assault is a far cry from silent. I agree.
So, what does one have to do with the other? Teaching both perpetrators and victims how to access silence serves as a cornerstone to an effective, therapeutic domestic abuse intervention. Here’s why.
Lost in the noise of one’s aggression…blindsided by the intensity of one’s own arousal, often times perpetrators aren’t aware of what’s actually happening within, until it’s too late to create other outcomes. Yes, they are still responsible.
I have found when I teach these patients self-regulation and affect modulation as part of their time-out strategy, they make significant strides in mitigating violence: verbal, psychological and physical. It then becomes the basis for teaching these patient’s self-control, over controlling other. (Please read that again.)
For victims, it is equally significant in fostering successful therapeutic outcome. It is in the silence, that the victim often hears/feels the violations for what they are, over what they have been conditioned to believe them to be. From here, the possibilities are endless as these people become the lost aspects of themselves that they long and love, and there’s no turning back.
After forty years of witnessing patient’s growth, I remain convinced that giving them the key to the stillness within is the basis for opening any door they desire.
A is for Accountability
Accountability is truly where it all begins. It’s the first step in any psychotherapeutic change process. What you are accountable for, you are responsible for… I use the terms inter-changeably.
This first step involves the utter recognition of one’s ability to respond. This ownership of and choice in one’s actions, feelings and thoughts is essential for successful therapeutic outcome.
For the perpetrator or primary aggressor, nothing further happens therapeutically until accountability is authentically established. For the abused, only with relinquishing responsibility for their partner’s thoughts, feelings and actions…can they expect lasting therapeutic change.
The net result is the practiced co-dependency issues become central to the therapeutic process, along with general boundaries issues on both sides. With this, the development of conflict resolutions skills and mastery of nonviolent communication can then become a vital link in the healing of an abusive relationship.
F is for Freedom
Freedom is invariably an outcome of effective successful psychotherapy. Inherent in becoming accountable for one’s thoughts, feelings and actions is the freedom to choose. At the end of the day, it’s truly about choices.
Both batterers (depending on the psychopathology) and their abused partners can grow to support each other’s higher good, respectively. And what they create together becomes an enhancement of their collective individual growth.
In treatment, I seek to usher the abused out from the oppression of entanglement in dynamics severing them from themselves. And I inspire those that batter to rid themselves of their conscious and unconscious addiction to controlling people (against their will) and controlling external circumstances (beyond their control).
The net result is the creation of a platform that allows each person individual expression and growth. Mutual trust, regard and respect can be fostered with this foundation, fulfilling the couple’s therapy goals.
E is for Evolutionary
Psychotherapy is an evolutionary process. Each person in the relationship takes full ownership of their individual recovery and healing process, relinquishing attachment to that of their partner. Accordingly, I have little tolerance for, “fix my husband” or “fix my wife.”
Here’s why. It simply cannot be done, because genuine lasting change is always an inside job. It’s evolutionary in that it evolves energetically and organically out from itself…not because of another’s expectation or demand. To facilitate that evolution, I employ Energy Psychology to assist patients in effectively releasing emotional trauma and developmental injuries.
When patients fully embody being the principles of this acronym SAFE and support it in one another, change is expected. If you are in a relationship characterized by violation and oppression, consider psychotherapy that is SAFE for both of you.
For more information about domestic abuse therapy, visit http://www.preventabusiverelationships.com/domestic_violence_trt.php
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Psychologist Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps individuals and couples worldwide recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse.
© Dr Jeanne King — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention