Campaign domestic violence: Abuse

In this film we address both physical and psychological violence. At school Dion notices how loving the mother of one of his friends is. It contrasts sharply with what he experiences at home. His mother dismisses him continuously and beats him regularly. Dion is not receiving warmth, affection or safety.

People often tend to judge parents who beat their children and qualify them as bad parents. However, these parents also have their own history and were often also abused as a child. As a consequence, they do not have a proper impression of how you can handle your child in a positive way. Because of their powerlessness, they fall back on what they are familiar with, although deep down in their heart they would love doing it differently. If you let these parents narrate and, for instance, ask them what expectations they had about themselves as a parent when their child was a new-born, then you almost always hear that they properly want to care for their child and do not want to inflict any damage. In the narrative therapy attention is paid to the problem of acting differently towards your child than you actually want to. The problem can be found in the behaviour, and as a person you are more than that. It is possible to change behaviour. At the CJG you can receive assistance to handle your child differently.

'Abuse may have long-term negative effects on the emotional development of a child. Forging harmonic relationships with others may become difficult for these children, now and in the future.'

We asked Areina Martina a number of questions. She is employed at JGCN, or rather Youth Care, and she specialises in the narrative approach. In particular in the area of domestic violence, child abuse and perpetrator counselling.

Areina, assume that you are being confronted with the case from the film. Then how do you apply the narrative approach? In other words: how would you provide assistance?

In the narrative therapy we work with ‘demand-oriented guidance’. Guidance is offered on the basis of questions instead of the unsolicited provision of advice. In this respect, the personal narrative and the personal ideals are important. I engage in the dialogue with the child and the mother with attention for the mutual relationship and context. I would, for instance, ask the mother if the violence used by her is also experienced as a problem by her. What are her thoughts about it? Does she also refer to what happens as ‘violence’? If not, then what does she call it? If yes, then what narrative or narratives of violence does she have? What were her ideals when this child was born and now? I ask the child similar questions.

By asking these questions we unravel together with the mother and the child what the thoughts in narratives and constructions are. And how these narratives and constructions can be multiple, diverse or even contradictory. For instance, experience frustration but simultaneously have good intentions. This approach analyses how the mother, the child and the aid organisation are related to each other and the environment. What coordination guarantees more cooperation and safety? It is important how convincing the narrative for the future of the mother and the child is and to what degree the aid organisation can support the wishful narratives of mother and child.

In other words: in these dialogues I support the personal narrative and ideal. Does this narrative tell everything there is to tell about her? How did she become who she is today? How can we break this down in a positive way? When is it safe for her child? What is the most important thing that must be realised in this area? Who from the personal environment can help realising the ideals? And do these ideals meet the safety requirements of the authorities.

If we merely associate the client, the perpetrator or the victim with the problem then it has a stigmatising and (additionally) shameful effect. With multiple narratives we strengthen the cooperation.


Alternatives and intensification

Apart from asking questions, I may without effort look for safety with the child. Could a superhero doll or a teddy bear help with this? But it can also well be that we give the problem shape, size and colour with clay. This way we literally place the bad feeling, the unpleasant experiences, separately (detached from the child) on the table in order to examine them separately.

In this approach I pay attention to the (narrative of the) child in the adult. After all, this mother is also the result of her upbringing, environment, norms and values. If she was brought up in an unsafe environment then it may be difficult sometimes to personally provide for a good and responsible upbringing. How significant was the safety in her upbringing? What were her wishes as a child?

'What you learn to recognise from your own upbringing, environment and memories, everything that formed but may also have damaged you. This narrative helps you in making different choices and developing ideals and values.'

An alternative is that after this meeting I send a letter to the mother and the child in which I provide a summary of the meeting. They can then read back how they can implement their ideals and actions. The positive feelings, e.g. care, commitment and love, are particularly emphasised. I emphasise the positive knowledge and skills of both, hence apart from the label of “bad parent” and “victim” and I therefore vary in a multiple sense. 

Areina, can you explain the background of NT a bit more?

Narrative therapy departs from the principle that personality or character is a single or reduced narrative and is more than that.

We build on the principle that our behaviour is multiple and determined by personal narratives and narratives from our environment. Narratives that we share with each other and that are fixed in our head and sometimes hold us hostage. I actually develop new, but mostly also liberating, personal narratives with clients and their environment. 

The knowledge of the client is used, which offers room to express positive thoughts, hope and intentions.

  • Mishandeling