Dialogue with George Rolph #1
September 18, 2004
Archive of dvblog entries.
As I stated inan earlier McBlog entry, I am fortunate to have George Rolph comment upon my entries on domestic violence. I will be presenting the original text (my earlier entries) upon which he is commenting "in normal font and in quotation marks", his commentary in italics, and my responses in bold. The dialogue with George Rolph will occur over several dvblog entries.
George opens his commentary with a caution, "What I am going to write is based on personal experience and study but no one, least of all you, need take any notice of it whatsoever. What I am going to write is not a 'fix-all' for everyone. Please, take what you think is good and dump the rest."
I have long believed that only a fool disregards advice from someone who knows more about a subject than he or she does, and George knows more about domestic violence than I do. Taking his observations seriously does not mean that I agree with all of them, however. Quite the contrary. It means I pay them the respect of carefully holding them up to the truth of my own experience and research, and of deciding whether they make sense -- or does another explanation seem more plausible? When Iíve conducted this comparison in the past, Georgeís analysis has held up better than any other Iíve encountered. But we diverge on several points. In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned the fact that George and I diverge on the importance of forgiveness Ė namely, I donít embrace the concept of forgiving my abuser even if such a process might have some healing effects on my own psyche. The cost-benefit analysis doesn't seem worth it to me. This difference may be explained by Georgeís more Christian approach to domestic violence and, I suspect, to the world.
And, yet, in disagreeing with George on this point, I would not make the statement, "he is wrong." I would not make that statement for two reasons. 1) I think that domestic violence is an extraordinarily complicated phenomenon and there is no one 'right' or 'wrong' answer for every situation. For example, if a victim believes that forgiveness is essential to healing or if he/she must have a continuing relationship with the former abuser (e.g. through shared custody of a child), then forgiveness probably is a correct response at some point. 2) -I- may be wrong. It has happened at least once or twice.
People who have not encountered what has become the standard approach to DV in universities, shelters, therapy, etc. will not know how refreshing and reassuring George's words of caution are. I will be critiquing the standard approach in some detail in future dvblog entries and, so, I won't dwell upon the differences here except to mention two in passing. 1) George offers the 'victim' respect by not pre-emptively negating the interpretation that a victim places upon his/her own experiences. Elsewhere in his commentary, George strongly disagrees with one of my interpretations so he is not being passive or sugar-coating the dialogue. 2) There is no dogma in his approach. It is a true dialogue.
My original text: "Silence on the subject became a habit for me, and one I haven't shaken off yet...for a lot of reasons -- embarrassment, fear of my own anger, shame, confusion."
George Rolph: All very common and all very dangerous. My organisation is not called "No More Silence" for nothing! It is VITAL, CRITICAL, to speak out. In speaking out and making public what has happened to us we begin to move from subconscious denial (suppression) to conscious acceptance that these things really happened to us. Its like opening a door that all those negative feeling have been pushing against for all those years. There is a corresponding release of pressure. With the release comes relief. The trick is to allow yourself to feel the anger and the shame etc. Let it come and let it happen without struggle. After a time you make a conscious decision to stop feeling it for the rest of the day and you get on with your life again.
I tell the guys who call my help line to go for a walk. On the way out, to let the feelings come up inside. Walk until the feelings have peaked and then stop. When you stop, if you want to cry, or shout, or just stand still and shake, that's OK. Just don't go for a walk in crowded areas if you want to shout! Get out in the country, or a park. After a while, start to take notice of your surroundings. Sit and contemplate them for a while. Next, place all you have felt into context. This helps you put the feelings and memories together. It keeps things tidy in your mind. On the way home, think about anything but your abuse memories. Plan your day or a forthcoming event. Think about your kids or relatives. Think of the things your are doing at home. Just leave the abuse alone. Next day, repeat it all again. Its like mentally jogging. In time, a short time normally, you will notice that the feelings are diminishing. Control over them is increasing.
Perspective will be regained. As the power of the feelings diminish so your control over them grows. This means you are able to view them dispassionately if you need too. It really works. Try it.
My response: Extraordinarily good advice. While I was in California in my 20s, I went to a psycho-therapist for about a year to try and understand several experiences from my past with which I had difficulty; for example, I ran away from home at 16 and lived on the street for a short period. I found it difficult to deal with some of the violence surrounding that period. As the therapist and I rehashed some memories that I was consciously pushing away, I was shocked by the raw power of the emotions I felt, not just during the sessions but afterward and for days. As always, I tried to analyze what was going on. I think there is an emotional dynamic involved in opening yourself up to memories that you've pushed away for years, one that is akin to the emotional dynamic of childhood. Namely, your emotions are immediate and raw. When you are a child, you burst into tears at a harsh word or small setback but you can burst into laughter as easily the next minute. Waiting for Christmas takes FOREVER. As a child, you have not acquired the filters and skills (like patience or perspective) that come with aging and experience. These filters and skills can be negative, not positive, of course. For example, the filter of despair and the skill of evasion. Positive or negative, however, the process of aging dulls the immediacy and rawness of many emotions. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than gulping life raw, you learn to savor. And the "gulping" part can often be rekindled by dealing with experiences that are new or so intense that they bypass your filters. (I think this is one reason I love to travelÖmy reactions to new places, tastes, smells, and customs feel rawer and, so, more real.)
When you open a psychological door that has been held shut for years, I think you return to the immediacy and rawness of childhood because you are dealing with memories/events without the 'benefit' of filters. It is as though the event happened to you yesterday and you haven't processed it. Or, perhaps more accurately, whatever processing has occurred has been done 'badly' by attaching guilt, shame, judgments, etc. to the experience. Therapy -- or just facing the problem honestly, which is what therapy should aim for in my opinion -- allows you to access the experience, correct the 'wrong processing' and deal with the raw experience by applying healthy filters and skills. While these are being applied, the emotions arising can be very immediate and very raw indeed. This is the "shaking" of which George speaks. But what the hell -- there are a lot worse things than a little bit of trembling.
Enough for today. And I haven't even exhausted my comments on the first excerpt from George's response! This may be a l-o-o-ng dialogue.
Best to all,