“Either/or”…what else?

steve_goreAs a society we find it very easy to slip into what is known as totalising. We take one story or aspect of a person and use it to define them, and use that aspect to totally explain the person.  If we know someone is an addict, we might make conclusions about how trustworthy they are, maybe we might consider them a “failure” by social standards, and we ascribe behaviours to that thing…”They are late because they are an addict.”, “They lost their job because they are an addict.”  This is a very common way of making sense our world and since this way is supported, it is somewhat accepted.  It is also quite unhelpful.

Many of the people I work with have experienced abuse from someone they love, a parent or a partner.  When society learns that a father sexually abused his child, we kick into totalising and binary thinking and struggle to believe anything good about the man.  This can be incredibly difficult for the child, even into adulthood.  Totalising creates one story that urges them to hate this person who they love dearly, and tells them they should overlook  all the good memories of holidays, gifts, support and love.

If they reveal the abuse they will be required to hate this person they love.  If they don’t then there is something really broken about them.  This either/or approach to how we think about abusers can silence people in abusive relationships.  While it is tempting to get stuck on the idea that people don’t reveal abuse because of shame and fear, it can often be more complicated than that.  They may be keeping silent out of love and confusion.

I’ve found it helpful to step away from those “either/or” statements and explore “both/and”.  We don’t overlook, minimise, forgive or accept the abuse but we also explore the good qualities of the person and honour those.  “He was both a loving boyfriend and a violent drunk.”, “She was both a fantastic mother and an abusive binge drinker.”

Let’s be clear, this is not about justifying, explaining or minimising the abusive behaviour – this approach is about the victim of the abuse being allowed to both love and hate a person, so being allowed the freedom to truly own their experience, without the judgement of society telling how they should feel.

Ka kite ano