CAN PHYSICALLY VIOLENT RELATIONSHIPS BE HEALED? July 29, 1998

By Mike McManus

WASHINGTON -- Last summer there was a strange demonstration at the Mall. Women carried 1,500 life-sized, blood-red wooden figures of women between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, behind mournful bagpipes. Each figure represented a woman who was killed by a physically abusive partner in 1997. Her story was typed out and pinned to each figure.

The demonstration was staged by `The Silent Witness National Initiative,' organized by Janet Hagberg of Minneapolis-St. Paul. ''Our goal is to eliminate domestic violence,'' she said.

Is that possible? Quincy, Mass. has been murder free for 11 years and Seattle, for three years and Nashville is down 50 percent. Why?

Ms. Hagberg points to specific programs that are working to save lives. One she pointed to was the Compassion Workshop developed by Dr. Steven Stosny ''that has an 87 percent success rate for court-ordered batterers.'' A year after his workshops in Prince George's County, Md., 74 percent of victims report that even verbal aggression has ended!

Stosny's results are dramatically better than the average court-ordered intervention. A ''USA Today'' story this week spotlighted a study of anti-battering programs in Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas and Denver which reported that 40 to 45 percent of men battered again within 30 months of attending a treatment program. And that is after a 50 percent dropout rate. So the known cure rate is really not 55 percent, but half of that, 27 percent. Further, according to the victims, even when physical abuse ended, verbal abuse increased which can be devastating.

What is the difference between these two approaches?

Rosemary Boerboom in St. Paul who has switched from teaching the ineffectual Duluth model (which began in Duluth, Minn.) to Stosny's, told me: ''The Duluth model is a socio-political analysis of inequality, based on the theory that abuse is a tactic of power and control men use against women. It is an analysis of patriarchy and second-class status of women.

''The Stosny model is based on the best learning theory about how people change. He talks about anger as a defense against hurt. Participants get a very powerful tool called HEALS, which is a technique of emotional regulation that really works and is easy. Instead of trying to change people by shaming and blaming, Stosny increases their self-esteem,'' said Ms. Boerboom.

Steve Stosny told me, ''Compassion is more empowering than anger. On the first night, we say, ''Imagine the worst thing you ever said or did to a person you love. Now imagine a stranger doing that. What would you do?' Most would have an instinct to protect a loved one. That is our deepest nature, our core value. Compassion stops abuse. When they get disconnected from core values, when they feel shame, they attempt to dominate spouse and children.''

Therefore, he teaches a HEALS model that makes resolution of anger and depression automatic, once learned and practiced. First he asks participants to envision a blinking neon sign, when they feel anger rising, that blinks, HEALS. The H is for Healing. The E of the word is to Explain to yourself, the lowest core hurts, one is feeling beneath the anger, perhaps a feeling of being disregarded, unimportant, guilty, devalued, powerless or unlovable.

A is to Access your core values, your soul, the deepest part of you, your value as a child of God, says Stosny. L is to remember to Love yourself. The trick is to feel compassion first for yourself, and then for the person who offended you. S is to Solve the problem.

He says, ''If my wife calls me a `brainless twit,' I see the flashing HEALS sign. At first, I feel unlovable. But am I unlovable? No, I might have just made a mistake. I know that does not mean I am unlovable. So I can feel compassion for her core hurt. When I feel compassion for her, I can't be angry at her. Nor do I feel hurt anymore.'' Thus, the HEALS model dissipates anger.

Janet Hagberg uses the model daily. Recently her group held a successful fund-raiser. But the woman who organized it was very angry and made various criticisms. Janet went home feeling livid. She flashed HEALS in her mind, and went to her lowest feeling. Powerless? No, it went deeper to unlovable. ``But am I unlovable? Absolutely not. What is going on with her? Perhaps she has a tough marriage, and what we said got close to her own experience. Now I can be compassionate toward her.''

To learn about Stosny's books, tapes or workshops, call 301 921-2010 or www.compassionpower.com

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