Some thoughts on conditions needed to get entrenched behavior to change

To: The Supreme Abuser of US

A long, long time ago when I was a graduate student, one of my jobs was to conduct group and couples’ therapy with heterosexual couples that had experienced domestic violence and who had children in common. Some of the couples were attempting to reconcile while others splitting, but they all had reached parenting agreements that involved joint custody and thus, they all had to continue dealing with one another. The study was carried out in the context of the county court system and everyone was mandated to group therapy, separated by gender, while receipt of couple therapy was decided on a case-by-case basis.

I’m fuzzy now on whether I was involved in the men’s group therapy, but I know that being in the room with the women was some kind of intense, especially at the beginning of each group series for each new cohort. To put it bluntly, the women were really pissed that they’d been mandated for DV treatment when they almost always saw themselves as victims and were usually the ones who had been injured by their partners. It was a tough go initially to get any buy-in from them, but they were devoted to their children and knew that they had to figure out how to get along with their children’s fathers.

I also remember watching (or maybe co-facilitating, but I don’t think so) the men’s groups and how the initial angry denials and rationalizations eventually gave way to a sort of reckoning, often after one or more of the men disclosed having witnessed their fathers being violent towards their mothers. For most of them it was really hard to admit that they’d become that monster they’d always sworn not to become.

It was some of the hardest therapy work I’ve ever done.

If you were to actually read this letter you’d probably wonder why the heck I’m dredging up my ancient clinical training and telling you about it and this would be a totally fair question. Well, I’m circling back to it because it’s the most direct experience I’ve had working with embattled people who have to figure out how to be decent to one another for the sake of other people who are depending on them and I was hoping there might be some lessons to pull forward regarding our current political situation.

However, when I get down to it, I don’t think there are. You see, both parties in these couples had vested interests in their children – neither the mom nor the dad was walking away from their kids – and both were court ordered to do this work for the sake of their kids. These two factors clearly set those couples’ situations apart from what we have now in our country since both sides don’t have a strong investment in the well being of their charges and there’s no external pressure to behave civilly.

Yes, I know you and the GOP argue that you have the best interests of the country at heart but your actions aren’t exactly consistent with that stance. For example, you all are M.I.A. as our covid numbers get progressively grimmer by the day. At best, you’re invested in some of your charges’ well being while you’re more than willing to throw the rest of us under the bus. Additionally, the Supreme Court isn’t about to tell both parties that they have to work together on behalf of the country “or else,” so unless your mega enablers tell you they’re withholding payment if you don’t figure out how to fly right, there are no external contingencies to make you and the GOP change.

And no, I don’t think the Democrats are all wearing halos and have no interest in personal enrichment. Everyone has some work to do to get us on a reasonable course, it’s just that as I see it, the GOP has way (way) more work to do than the Democrats.

May we be safe from poisonous politics.
May we all be willing to pull together on behalf of the common good.
May we be strong enough to admit our mistakes and f*ing change.
May we accept that all of this is likely a pipe dream.

Tracy Simpson

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on conditions needed to get entrenched behavior to change

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