Guest Opinion: Men escaping a trap of abusive behavior

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to violence and other stresses in the lives of children.

A recent headline said, "SR woman strangled, husband arrested." Stories like this are too common, and domestic violence must be understood and addressed.

At the heart of the problem is an inappropriate response to anger. Anger is a normal emotion that, if responded to skillfully, can be the motivation behind many good things. If the organizers of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers had never felt anger, their movement wouldn't exist. Their effective action changed the culture regarding drinking and driving. No more slaps on the wrist for driving under the influence.

The word "violence'"doesn't refer just to hitting, pushing, tripping, etc. It includes emotional violence. Any verbal communication calculated to intimidate and deprive family members of their dignity and self-esteem is violence.

While there is no excuse for violent behavior, there are explanations for why some men resort to it. More than two-thirds of the men who respond to anger with violence were physically or sexually abused as children, or they saw their fathers abuse their mothers.

Growing up in this environment leaves deep wounds that follow these men throughout their lives. When they feel intense anger, they have no clue how to skillfully deal with it. As a result, when tempers flare, they unload their anger violently against family members.

Also, many men who were abused as children turn to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves, limiting their ability to get in touch with their feelings.

When a man is unable to get in touch with his feelings, he is unable to express them. So, when he is angry, he may stuff the emotion (until the pressure cooker heats up and he explodes), or he may allow it to escalate. The results can be deadly.

Sonoma County is unique in that it is the home of an organization that supports men who are committed to changing their abusive behaviors. This organization is called Men Evolving Non-violently. MEN is organized as a collective of members operating by consensus. There are no chiefs. MEN provides three essential domestic violence services:

; Support groups that meet each week. Sessions are facilitated by collective members trained as peer counselors.

; A 24-hour hotline — 528-2636 — staffed by collective members, offering confidential support to callers in crisis and providing resource information to men and their family members.

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