At the core of CPV is violence but it is also about threat, intimidation and control. Living with these behaviours means living in fear and living on your nerves. It is exhausting and can leave us unable to describe what is happening in our homes. When we are rendered speechless, it is easy for others to assume we are exaggerating, or not coping because we are weak. This is the main reason why I’ve written about living with CPV. I think that you need to live it to really understand it. Those supporting families who have not lived it need to listen and believe.
The first time that a social worker said to us ‘I get that this is more than a meltdown, that it is terrifying’ we felt the biggest sense of relief that someone understood.
The social worker who ‘got’ the violence, taught us how to hold our child when he was lashing out and completely out of control. Together with the therapeutic work that comes with holding this has been the single most effective strategy we have been taught. I would go so far as to say it has been a game-changer.
Underlying CPV is trauma and blinding fear. It is visceral rage. During these times, no amount of reasoning works.
We have made progress by exploring what the anger and aggression is about. This can only be done after the event and not in the eye of the storm. I started by wondering ‘this anger feels like it’s about something really huge, not something like whether or not you had any sweets left’. I went from this to a guessing game, where I had to do the guessing ‘out of ten, how close do you think I am, ok, changing classes?’. The response may be 5 out of 10. I would always throw in a few silly guesses to keep things light. One day I hit on on something significant and it allowed us to explore it in more depth. It was important for me to say ‘that must feel devastating and scary’ because that would often cause a little light to come on and I would see hope and connection in the eyes of a frightened child. It has also been important to say ‘I understand why you feel so angry, I feel angry for you too’.
If an episode of aggression resulted in destruction, we usually cleaned up the the mess together, whilst talking about what had happened. I have no idea whether this kind of repair was effective or not.
When everyone has recovered, it’s important to be curious about what these episodes feel like for the child. We managed a few dialogues which helped me to understand ‘red brain’ and what I was doing or not doing which either made the situation better or worse. This ‘we’ll solve it together’ approach has worked for us.
We have a plan in place, just in case things get really serious. I am lucky to live across the road from two police officers who are unflustered by aggressive behaviours and who I trust to help me intervene if ever I need them to. Every once in a while I check in with them to make sure they are still happy to be part of our back up plan.
I won’t ever know for sure, but I think that the early work we did around CPV has made our teenage years significantly less violent than they might otherwise have been. Aggression has raised it’s head a bit lately. Holding is now impossible so my immediate response is about keeping everyone safe and allowing the raging person to run for cover. I have however drawn a line, ‘if you ever physically hurt anyone in this house I will call the police’ and I mean it.
I am uneasy with some of the language around CPV and the term CPV itself. It’s important to me that we don’t forget that our children are operating from a place of intense fear. They don’t wake up in the morning and consciously decide to harm us or our belongings. At the same time I’m not seeking to deny the high impact that these behaviours have on families.
Early and sensitive interventions, that involve the whole family and are cognisant of a child’s early experiences are where we should be headed I think. There needs to be a greater consideration of FASD too. Those living with violence need much greater support and understanding, plus a break every now and again. And may I put in a plea for proper research into violent behaviours and what does and does not help.
Speaking without any research behind me, I wonder if some children have been so damaged by their early experiences that they cannot function within a family setting. We need to be honest about this and not place children expecting everything in the garden to be rosy. Right now, there is no incentive for adopters to speak honestly about their experiences and for the right decisions and interventions to be implemented. We need to move to a place of informed realism because without it we are stuck with optimism, and when that fails, blame and it’s just not good enough.