Sitting on a train, a group of friends sees a person seeking power and control over a crowd. Watching a soccer match, a loud noise interrupts. Eating dinner at a café, a person screams and a crowd begins to run as bullets fly. People climb out an attic and over a wall to escape a room of horror. Men seek power and control through our response to the fear and terror in Paris. But this violence is not new and it doesn’t simply happen in public. Most of the time, this violence resides in our homes, our schools, our most personal relationships.
How do we respond to this need for control? How can we stop a cycle of violence? What can we teach our children that will stop cycles of abuse and the need to control others through fear and terror?
Our response in our family was to talk about how to stand up for those who are being hurt. My husband led the charge in encouraging us to not ‘allow’ people to harm others with words or actions at our school or in our home. We seek to provide a safe environment for feelings and thoughts through accurately labelling behavior and understanding why we feel how we feel.
As a therapist for families and children, I can’t help but think about what social science tells us about how to respond to displays of controlling and bullying behavior. Many times, if a bystander simply calls actions by a controlling person bullying, it will end the aggression. By correctly labelling a behavior, we can change the behavior. But what do we do when we see someone developing a pattern of power/control issues or when we are witnesses to abuse?
Parents come to me a lot, talking about how to limit their children’s fighting, how to assist their child in dealing with bullies, or working our other social conflict with the people they come into contact with all the time. My go-to response for all of it is to acknowledge the feeling. Acknowledge your feelings, acknowledge the feeling of the person who is being hurt, and acknowledge the feelings of the person who is hurting. It takes a lot of courage to talk openly about feelings and how others’ behavior harms us, but in doing so, we don’t allow the power person to use denial, or deflection to ignore the damage they are doing. We don’t allow them to minimize their responsibility.
This response also helps the person who is hurt find healing, hope, and a hero. This is necessary for the growth of the person who has been harmed. It also offers a choice to the person who was seeking power and control. It offers them help, healing, and a hero. However there are times when the power person does not seek to change, and chooses to continue to harm others. At this point, it can only be stopped by limiting the power hungry person.
People who do not recognize the validity of the experience of others, who seek to control other’s behavior or choices, who deny rights to those around them need limits. These limits will keep them from hurting others, and will keep them from ultimately hurting themselves. These limits must be imposed by our community, because without them we are not safe. We should seek to teach our children to acknowledge the feelings that others engender, to label behavior with courage and truthfulness, and to limit the violence of those who seek to control others. When our children have learned this very difficult lesson, they will be able to stand up on a train and stop a massacre or in a living room and end a fight. My hope is that my children and family see me acknowledging feelings, calling behavior what it is, limiting the opportunity for others to harm myself and others, and that they will learn to limiting the violence around them. Then maybe the world will change- One small family at a time.
Does someone in your famil or your life scare you a lot? Does someone seem to never be satisfied with your best efforts? Do you feel hopeless and helpless in a relationship? Talk to our counselors. We can help you set healthy boundaries, label behavior with truthfulness and courage, and work with you on healing your most personal hurts. Call us today at 940-222-8703 or make an appointment directly from our website.