As we leave October, the month set aside to pay attention to domestic abuse (DA), thoughts of “how can we stop it” take the forefront. As research, and our collective knowledge, grows, the what and how is taking on much clearer perspectives. There is a long-held systemic, deeply ingrained notion that men have a natural born place ahead of or in charge of women. This ancient insidious world view is intertwined with a long-held distain for anything that is female or feminine. Misogyny and patriarchy are, as we now know, the root cause of DA and coercive control. Knowing this fact does not seem to be doing anything to stop DA. Many who are keeping track of such things have noted in recent years that the #metoo and #timesup movements have created a backlash. Things seem to be getting more dangerous and more violent for women (Hill, 2019).
But what if we are looking to fix a system with the same lens that created and perpetuated that system? Would this not be like taking away the taste of vinegar with vinegar? Most of the world’s foundational belief systems, such as the current medical systems including psychiatry and psychology, and the legal, political systems, justice and economic systems have all been developed under the larger umbrella of misogynistic patriarchy. Perhaps it is time to look at these millenniums-long assumptions for what they really are, symptoms of intergenerational trauma, except we are not discussing two or three generations, but perhaps 6000 to 10,000 years’ worth of generations.
These powerful words, misogyny, and patriarchy, carry with them weight, as they can create an instant gut reaction that leave many defensive. It often comes with feelings of being attacked, and a generally unpleasant exchange. It is often viewed as a battle between men and women, but I would like to take a short moment to unpack both words. Misogyny is typically defined as the hatred or contempt for women. Patriarchy is seen as a system of society in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. These are surface definitions that are not often viewed from an attachment or developmental trauma lens. When we add the lens of the rupture that putting one group of people above and one group far below causes, we are now discussing complex trauma. When one group is given entitlement and privilege, and another is treated violently we are now discussing complex trauma and dissociation. When we add in what happens when fathers are taken out of the nurturing role and mothers are violently prevented from fully being able to achieve this role, we are now talking about a parentless species.
When one looks at the “common traits or attributes” of female – one gets words like nurturance, sensitivity, sweetness, supportiveness, gentleness and warmth. When one looks at the “common traits or attributes” of male you get words like strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness. When you look into “toxic masculinity” you get words like mental and physical toughness, aggression, stoicism. Interestingly enough, when you look for female toxic attributes you get notions like ‘false accusations’. Both categorizations do a terrible job in describing what it is to be male or female, because when you look at how our brains are structured and the possible function that they are capable of, perhaps it is not feminine or masculine, but a description of those who are able to use all of our brain structures/functions and those who have had early and/or prolonged neglect and abuse. What if it is not men against women or women against men, what if it is humanity against inhumanity, and these things got labelled incorrectly a long time ago?
What if these notions of feminine and masculine are distorted notions about those who are able to utilize their human traits of empathy, compassion, attunement, generosity, presence, guidance and appropriate boundaries, compared to those who are not able to utilize these traits?
What if somewhere, a long time ago, the notion of masculinity and femininity was greatly twisted as a result of several events that affected our ability to regulate our young? In other words, what if things like the invention of beer, or a new virus or two that came along with animal domestication, or some type of new disease that came from not knowing how to store the grains properly, or the over-reliance or environmental destruction of agriculture that might have contributed to famines, or perhaps a combination of them all created a perfect storm of developmental-relational/survival trauma? What if these documented inventions resulted in the first instances of psychopathy?
Allan Schore (2019) in his book The Development of the Unconscious Mind discusses the vulnerability that male infants have to maternal stress. Male infants are much more vulnerable to maternal absence than female infants. Male infants are much more dependant on their care givers to regulate their affective and sensorimotor circuitry in early life. Schore postulates that “the stress regulation circuits of the male brain mature more slowly than those of the female in prenatal, perinatal and postnatal critical periods, and that this is reflected in normal gender differences in right brain attachment functions” (p.89). What if the above-mentioned inventions led to the first instance of an infant/s who were not able to be regulated because of the effects of a virus, or alcohol or famine and disease? What if, because of natural vulnerabilities that the male infants have, that it just so happened that male infants were the ones who were more effected by these possible environmental influences?
What if psychopathy, the lack of empathy, lack of human connection, lack of regulation skills, lack of insight, lack of compassion, stoicism, aggression and use of manipulation, with a strong drive for greed, and violence is not a natural occurring part of humanity, but a freak set of circumstances that were the result of external forces that interfered with a mother or parents not being able to regulate their male offspring? If this male offspring, through no fault of anyone’s could not be regulated and began to feel the attachment wounds and pains that were not there before. I do realize this is a great leap of conceptualization. There is a global and grand assumption that mental illness is part of us, and that there has always been and always will be those who hurt others for whatever reason. But remember, we do live in a world that idolized psychopathy. We do live in a world where psychopathy is very similar to toxic masculinity. We live in a world where nurturing, softness, compassion, generosity, and empathy are generally seen as weakness and vilified. We live in a world that quite possibly has been “parentless” for many centuries. We live in world where the statistics show that DA and sexual abuse, as we all know, is extremely common. We live in a world that has a dark underbelly that affects us all, every day.
The logic that psychopaths are just a natural part of humanity flies right in the face of what is inside of us, the human central nervous system and the brain. The fields of attachment, developmental psychology, trauma and dissociation have all shown that humans are very sensitive to ‘human-to-human harm’, that we are a species that needs to be allo-parented and that safe, secure relationships is what really is the driving force in full human development.
We all know that healing traumatic wounds is not easy. Even today, with all that we have learned in the last one hundred and fifty years of studying complex trauma and dissociation, many have little to no idea how to heal these types of deep injuries. There is no way that our ancestors would have known what to do with an infant that was unable to be soothed, tended to, and cared for because of environmental factors. Typically, the opposite is true. Where there is a great deal of injury from lack of regulation, caring, softness, and gentleness removes dissociative barriers and will bring out the internal pain. In our field we have learned that safe is not safe for severely traumatized people.
Maybe we need to recognise that what we are missing is not more education about DA or more awareness of DA, but more focus on what we have learned in our field. When there is a great deal of inhumane injury, humanity is required. Maybe we need to look at DA from a place where the value of consistent, regulated, empathic, mindful, safe relationships are the key to stopping these travesties. Maybe we need to focus on the children who are the true victims of these crimes and the notion that men should be one way and women should be another. Maybe we need to see humans as human, where some are really good at parenting, and some are better at other things. Maybe we can accept that there is no manual, check list, or short fix to helping someone learn to heal these deep wounds. Maybe we can accept and share that deep meaningful therapeutic relationships, which work on issues of safety, transference and counter transference are the key to fixing these issues.
Hill, J., (2019). See what you made me do: Power and control and domestic abuse. Black Inc., Carlton, Vitoria.
Schore, A., (2019). The development of the unconscious mind. W.W. Norton and Co., New York, New York.