Understanding Me is a group offered to women who are residents of Women’s Crisis Services of the Waterloo Region. It is a psycho educational group developed by Pamela Mank MSW, RSW, and is also available at Mosaic Counselling in Kitchener for women living in the community. Understanding Me is a themed group with a focus for women who have experienced violence within their interpersonal relationships. Women’s Crisis services have adapted the group to an eight week program which aligns with the typical length of stay for women at the shelter. The group is co facilitated by the Child and Family Therapist or the Clinical Support Worker and Residential Support Worker within the shelter. The weekly topics focus on Anger, Self Esteem, Family of Origin, Why Abuse Happens, Feelings of Guilt and Shame related to violence, Healthy Relationships and The impact Violence has on Children.
The impact that violence has on children is a significant point of discussion and learning within the group. We discuss the potential impacts of violence for children during their various developmental stages and how it can affect how children form attachments to caregivers. Assisting women in making sense of their own childhood experiences can often help women identify with and understand how their children have experienced domestic violence. Strategies about what women can do to help their children express and cope with their feelings are offered and an opportunity to process these ideas is encouraged.
Women have the opportunity to discuss how the experiences and relationships they have had as children guide them in relating to their world and within their adult relationships. John Bowlby (1969/1982), an expert in child attachment theory, states that “one of the important tasks of the family is to teach the child about relating to others. In infancy, we know that children form their ideas about relating to others based on their experiences of their relationships with primary caregivers”. (Taken from the Understanding Me Curriculum pg. 100). Children, who experience violence or abuse within their families, often use these early relationship experiences as a template for how they develop relationships in their adulthood and as a result, often find themselves in relationships that are unhelpful and hurtful.
The Understanding Me group strives to assist women in identifying and talking about their own struggles with abusive relationships in a supportive, non judgemental group environment. This process can break down the barriers of silence and isolation often associated with violence within families which can also lead to individual healing for women. Creating awareness and insight into how children are impacted by the violence within families, can further lead to women’s deeper understanding about their children’s own experiences and behaviours which can then lead to improved relationships with their children. Through this process, the Understanding Me group can assist women in moving forward, past the abuse and toward the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of violence for future generations.