Archive | July 2012

Zero Tolerance Domestic Violence Laws

When I teach my anger management class, I encounter class participants who have never before been in trouble with the law, but nevertheless now find themselves court ordered to be there. Due to several domestic violence incidents which resulted in severe injury and even death, more and more towns, cities and states are enacting zero tolerance domestic violence laws — and more and more partners are finding themselves in situations they never imagined they would be in.

Suppose a couple gets involved in an argument. The argument becomes more and more heated, and they engage in a full-blown shouting match. A neighbor hears the shouting, feels uncomfortable, and calls the police. The police show up. If a zero tolerance law is in effect, the police must arrest someone, and sometimes arrest both people — regardless of the fact that neither has touched the other physically, and regardless of the fact that neither party has pressed charges. Zero tolerance domestic violence means tolerance for no form of domestic violence. And, shouting is a form of domestic violence.

So, one or both parties find themselves embarked on a journey they did not anticipate: getting charged with an offense; having to obtain legal counsel, either through the public defender’s office or privately; appearing before a judge; receiving a sentence, usually through a plea deal, and usually involving attending anger management classes for anywhere from eight to twenty-six weeks. All this involves time and money. In my anger management classes, 100% of participants acknowledge that the incident that brought them to class started over “something stupid,” and if they had managed their anger differently they would have saved themselves, their partner and their family a lot of hardship.

The next time you feel the urge to let loose with a torrent of angry words, whether you are in the privacy of your own home or driving down the street in your car, be mindful that your behavior might precipitate a call to the police by a concerned citizen. Stop shouting. Stop talking. Take a breath. If you can leave the vicinity, tell your partner you need to leave for a half hour, and go for a walk. Calm down. Think about your own contribution to the problem, not how wrong your partner is. Develop a plan for approaching your partner peacefully when you return. If you were arguing about an issue that needs resolution, table it until the two of you can talk calmly about it.

You have a choice whether or not to get caught up in the zero tolerance net.

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How Do People Respond to You?

We can learn a lot by observing how the people around us respond when we talk with them. If they seem interested and engaged, it is a sign that your communication style is healthy and effective. On the other hand, if they look away, become silent, look down at the floor, and seem generally bored, it may say more about the way you are communicating than about their attention span or lack of respect. And, if several people respond to you in similarly disinterested ways, it’s time to pay attention to how you are generating disinterest in what you are saying.

First, notice your tone of voice. Is it harsh, critical, or demanding? Think about how you might soften your tone, so that you don’t come across as “attacking” your listeners.

Second, notice your choice of words. For example, instead of saying, “I see you finally emptied the garbage,” you might say, “You emptied the garbage. Thank you!” That word “finally” contains an indictment — that he/she failed to empty the garbage when you wanted it done. Watch for other words you may use that turn seemingly innocent statements into veiled criticism.

Third, notice your body language. Do you yourself multi-task while you talk, rather than establishing eye contact? Do you stand with your arms folded or hands on your hips? What facial expression do you display — is it a frown or a scowl, or is it neutral or pleasant?

Finally, notice whether you tend to dominate conversations, making them all about you and yours. Do you express interest in the other person’s experiences, family, opinions, or is it a running monologue on your part? Do you talk on and on, barely taking a breath, so that the other person can barely get a word in edgewise, or do you pause between thoughts to allow space for the other to interject their own thoughts?

If you have been unhappy with the way others respond to you when you talk with them, use the questions above to do a self-assessment. If you change your style of communicating, you may generate more interest in what you say.

The Escalation of Anger, Part 2

Because arguments so often escalate into verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, this topic warrants additional discussion. Let’s take a look at situations that typically lead to escalation, and suggestions on how to handle these situations differently:

  • You dominate conversations, leaving the other person with little space to talk. This causes the other to pen up anger until he/she finally explodes. [Suggestion: Avoid monologues. Pause at frequent intervals, and allow the other to respond, so that you’re truly conversing, rather than giving a speech.]
  • You blame the other for the problems in the relationship. [Suggestion: Consider what role you play in the problem.]
  • You can’t control your own anger when the other person gets angry. [Suggestion: Focus on what the other is trying to express. Say something like, “In other words,….” or “So you felt that….” and add, “I imagine that makes you feel….” Responding in this way helps to defuse the other’s anger, because he/she feels heard.]
  • You control what the other person can talk about. [Suggestion: If a topic is uncomfortable, explore within yourself what it is triggering. It is most likely an indication of an area that needs work on your part.]
  • You engage in the one-up/one-down loop. [Suggestion: See The Escalation of Anger, Part 1.]

As you can see, awareness is a healthy first step in any of these situations. In any of your interactions, be mindful of the impact your words or actions have on the other person and on the relationship. Don’t minimize the effect of what you say and do. Recognize when you are being emotionally abusive, and takes steps to change.