January 25, 2014

Asking the Right Questions Lead to Better Answers

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*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on Monday, January 27, 2014

Last week I was asked how we can stop domestic violence from occurring.
Having worked as a detective in the Aurora Police Department’s Domestic Violence Reduction Unit for five years, the question is not new to me. It’s also not new to the dedicated staff of Mutual Ground who exists solely to serve victims of domestic violence; nor is it new to the area counseling services that specialize in anger management therapy for abusers.
It’s a great question because before we can fix it, we have to understand why it occurs in the first place.  Like most perplexities in life, the questions are so important because they can lead us to the answers.
There is one thing I know for sure.  Some people have never learned to manage conflict appropriately.  The way I resolve conflict comes largely from the way I was raised.  That’s probably true for the vast majority of us. 
Perhaps you come from a family whose method of resolving conflict is to politely smile and brush things under the rug.  This avoidance technique isn’t a very effective way of handling issues that are inevitable in any family because avoidance teaches that it’s not okay to express feelings.  Even more damaging is the issues that go unresolved when we don’t confront them. 
If your family falls on the other end of the spectrum where everything is a confrontation, you likely have some pretty volatile dinner conversations.  Homes like this are filled with screaming, rage, and
perhaps violence when there is disagreement.  In these homes, it is not uncommon to see fists flying and injuries occurring when people don’t see eye-to-eye.
The right answer is precisely between the two spectrums.
Those who learn to deal with conflict by confronting it head-on in a respectful manner are those best equipped to navigate successfully through life.  That is not to say there isn’t screaming and yelling.  Spirited discussions and hearty disagreements often mean that people are emotional and animated and that’s okay.   Families of all shapes and sizes are going to have conflict.  Sharing space and navigating the stressful journey of life will bring with it both peaks and valleys and that means we aren’t always going to be at our best.
What matters to the well-being of each person in the family is how we manage those feelings while we are experiencing them.  That means being self-aware enough to know when you need to walk away and having courage enough not to let the issue go unresolved. 
It’s not uncommon for small children to throw temper tantrums.  Many experts believe it is a result of the frustration they experience when they are not able to communicate what they want.  For toddlers, it’s understandable; for adults, not so much.
What happens as we progress through life and why is it that some people learn to temper themselves while others continue to lash out in volatility?
As we get older and can express ourselves through language, we learn what achieves the best results and what doesn’t.  For those of us who were fortunate enough to have role models that handled conflict wisely, we likely emulate that temperance.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have moments where we lack rationale and become frustrated with others.  It simply means that healthy people learn to recognize and regulate it.  Most of us have mechanisms in place that prompt us to stand down when we feel anger festering. 
Those who have not learned to do this were likely never taught.  And that’s how domestic violence is born.  We do as we see. 
Fortunately, we can unlearn bad behaviors.  But we can only do that by first acknowledging that we need to be better.  Maybe the first question is simply, “Why am I the way I am?”  The answers might lead to more questions.  That’s never a bad thing.
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