Understanding the Role of Embodied Processing in Unraveling Domestic Violence: Exploring the Depths of Rage and HealingOct 03, 2023
Warning: this important conversation includes the topic of domestic violence. Please consider whether this article may be disturbing to you. If you anticipate this topic to be too triggering for you to hear about and effectively process on your own, we recommend you choose not to read this.
Family, domestic and sexual violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia, occurring across all socioeconomic and demographic groups, predominantly affecting women and children. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. 1 in 3 women (30.5%) has experienced physical violence since the age of 15.
Many domestic violence incidents stem from overwhelming rage, often exacerbated by substances like alcohol or drugs. This rage acts as a defense against an underlying sense of helplessness and can temporarily impair cognitive control.
When this explosive anger surfaces, individuals often act violently, only to later regret their actions when their frontal cortex regains control.
Having worked with both men and women who have lashed out in such a manner—throwing objects, cornering, screaming, and worse —it's evident that this intense rage, taking control, leads to a vicious cycle.
It shifts the person into a fight-or-flight response over which they have no conscious control. Subsequently, they fall into a spiral of shame and regret, perpetuating this destructive cycle.
These instinctual responses frequently emerge within relationships, particularly in family dynamics. Childhood experiences often suppress these energies, which then resurface unconsciously in adult relationships, fueling reactive behaviors. As the structures containing these suppressed energies weaken, vulnerability and emotional wounds come to the forefront.
Rage acts as a defense mechanism against exposing and experiencing this vulnerability.
Substance use, particularly alcohol and drugs, can further erode these suppressive structures, increasing the likelihood of rage surfacing under the influence.
Addressing this issue requires somatic therapy such as Embodied Processing. Embodied Processing enables a person to learn containment techniques.
These techniques allow them to consciously and responsibly confront and contain these energies when triggered. It fosters the capacity to face triggered emotions without unconscious reactions and outbursts, facilitating integration and resolution rather than explosive release.
It's crucial to distinguish this explanation from premeditated violence, which is a calculated and conscious act, not driven by instincts. This perspective aims to understand the causal factors behind incidents that are not premeditated, in order to help prevent and treat them effectively.
As opposed to relying solely on punitive measures, which are limited due to the loss of conscious control in the heat of the moment.
For survivors, Embodied Processing can help to shift from a fawn/freeze dorsal nervous system response to a state where the person can assert themselves. It teaches them to embrace anger, set boundaries, and say "No."
Premature empathy and compassion are not helpful and can inhibit the person from fully stepping into this. As they experience and integrate their anger, empathy and understanding may come naturally. However, this is not to be acted on by 'supporting' or 'helping' the person who abused them. This could throw them back into the cycle of abuse and rescuer/fawning roles.
Instead, it is advisable for survivors to focus on their own healing and self-empowerment.
This article is based on responses made by Matt Kay in the Embodied Processing student community group.
Peace & Blessing,
The Centre for Healing