In the late 90’s I worked as a support group facilitator for groups of men who were arrested for assault family violence. During my training for certification I attended a conference where the trainer told attendees that these men never change. The implication was that the best we could hope for is fewer incidents of arrest. Since our program was only six weeks long, I could see how someone would doubt the possibility of change. But that philosophy didn’t match my faith walk so when I returned to my job, I created a curriculum that focused on teaching abusers how to change.
Before entering our program, participants had to attend an orientation session. During orientations they had to tell their stories. Facilitators listened carefully as the men described the incident(s) that landed them in jail, on probation, and being sentenced in the program. We listened for denial, minimization, and justification of their abusive behavior. Most stories were told to minimize and justify what happened. The rest were flat out denials. We thanked the men for sharing and explained the purpose for the meeting. They received a the schedule for the next six weeks. We also told them orientation is the only time they would be allowed to make excuses for poor behavior and they should expect to be held accountable. We also told them that change is a process that begins with a made up mind.
For the next six weeks we set out to teach them a process for changing.
- Acknowledge personal change is necessary. You cannot change what you don’t see.
- Admit to yourself you need to change. You can see your flaws and either live with them or choose to do something about them.
- Learn how to do the opposite. Ask yourself, “What should I do instead?” and practice doing what is correct.
- Set time specific goals to start and write down the desired results. Ask yourself, “How will I know if what I’m doing is working?” and make a list to answer that question.
- Celebrate successes and overcome setbacks. Celebrate by doing something kind for someone else. Overcome setbacks by returning to Step 1 and keep moving forward.
Most men didn’t know I was using biblical principals unless they were actively involved in their local church. Yes, our clients were from all walks of life. Family violence shows up in the most interesting places.
Steps 1 & 2 are from 1 John 1:9 (if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive them).
Steps 3 & 4 are 2 Chronicles 7:14 (If we turn from our wicked ways, God will hear us and heal), and
Step 5 is Galatians 6:9 (Don’t get discouraged with trying to do good) and Romans 12:2 (Be transformed by the renewing of the mind).
We were discouraged from giving the men and their families hope, but without something to hope for what is the point in trying. I always told the group “You are not hopeless until you stop breathing.”
I live by that philosophy and I tell my middle school math students that there is always hope. As a teacher I get a fresh group of students every year who feel hopeless about learning math or about something personal. I spend a great deal of time building confidence and walking all of my students through the same change process I used with the support groups. They don’t know it, but by the end of every school year, I see growth in practically every student and the “hopeless” students leave knowing they can find success if they look with eyes of hope.
In closing today, I can hear Danny Gokey singing Hope in Front of Me.
Hope is what keeps me moving forward. I rejoice in hope.