Thursday, October 14, 2004

New book on family violence

A few months ago, I spent a day at the Bukid Kabataan in Cavite. The place is home and school for abused kids and is run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. One cute little boy there was known for wringing the necks of ducklings and chicks who happened to wander his way. ``I can’t help it, S’ter,’’ he would explain.

This boy is a survivor of family violence. And the book that is the subject of this column is right up his alley.

No fancy title for this book. ``The Path to Healing: A Primer on Family Violence’’ (121 pages, Anvil Publishing) is what it says it is. Written by psychologists Dr. Lourdes A. Carandang and Beatrix Aileen L.Sison, the book is a timely offering in this day and age when women are coming out of closets, bedrooms, basements and prison-homes to talk about their bloody ordeal in the hands of their spouses and partners. Timely too because the number of children who are victims seems to be increasing. The children are, in fact, the main focus of the book.

The book will be launched soon and is now available in bookstores. Are you in need of help or helping someone? ``The Path to Healing’’ is for you.

It is important to stress that the book is the result of in-depth research and intervention of the authors with families exposed to different forms of abuse. And so the extensive use of quotes from the subjects themselves.

The book is based on a pioneering research that focused not just on the abused children and the abusive parents but also on other key family members. It uses the family systems approach which is based on the belief that any stress, pain or joy experienced by one member affects all other members--``ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay nararamdaman ng buong katawan.’’

The family, the so-called basic unit of society, is under siege not just from without, but more alarmingly, from within. And so the book aims to empower family members by providing a good understanding of child abuse and the dynamics of family violence.

How and why does abuse happen? How can family members work together to stop and prevent any form of violence on a family member? What alternative and non-violent ways could be used to resolve conflicts?

The book’s authors let the reader enter the inner world of families where abuse occurs. They present real-life cases and use comics-type illustrations and diagrams to show the dynamics in a family. They also delve into the family origins of the parties involved. This is to show the roots of the violent tendencies in the distant past.

Often used are Filipino phrases (translated into English) which reflect the subjects’ way of thinking, for example, ``sinapian ako ng demonyo’’ (I was possessed by the devil). Many tips and points for reflection are also in Filipino, something counselors and therapists might find practical to use.

The book defines and tackles the four different forms of abuse—physical, sexual, verbal and emotional. It examines the intergenerational patterns, the family myths, the quality of a marital relationship, child-rearing practices, the family situation (poverty, number of children, etc.), substance abuse and other related problems of the perpetrator violence.

The little chapter on family myths is peppered with quotes that show beliefs that have not helped in curbing violence. Examples: ``Ang anak ang bubuhay o sasagip sa pamilya. (The child supports or saves the family.) ``Kayong mag-ina ang magiging asawa ko Hindi magkakalayo ang tingin ko sa inyo.’’ (Both of you, mother and child, will be my spouses. You both look almost the same to me.) ``Kakambal ko ang kamalasan sa buhay. (Misfortune is my twin.) ``Hindi ako mabubuhay kung wala akong kasamang lalaki.’’ (I cannot live without a man.) ``Ang pamilya ay dapat magkasama parati.’’ (The family should always be together.) ``Ang babae sa bahay lang.’’ (The woman is only for the house.)

The book is not all sob stories. The chapter ``Resiliency Factors: How People Survive the Abuse’’ points to the innate strengths of children that should be harnessed. Children’s natural ability to play, dream hope and bring delight, their courage to speak the truth—all these draw from a deep source that adults should recognize.

It goes without saying that a mother’s strength and the support system which extends to the community (the media included) are vital in order that children survive and transcend their ordeal.

What can families do now? The books answers this by offering ways of dealing with family conflicts. It has do’s and don’t’s in dealing with children and tips, many in Filipino, for improving the marital relationships.

The appendices contain the outline of modules on the family offered by a team of psychologists led by Carandang who is a veteran in family and child counseling. There is even a script for a skit that could be used as a basis for discussion and reflection.

Laws have been enacted and refined to help women and children who have been battered and to protect those who might be in danger. But what steps to take when currently in the face of violence and more important, what is there to know so that the victims and their supporters could take the proper action?

And most important of all, how to heal? Of what use are the legal action, the vindication, and even putting an end to the violence if there is no healing of the unseen inner wounds that have been inflicted? But for the cycle of violence to end and in order to heal well, one must also know and understand.

Carandang and Sison’s book is chockful of insights and how-to’s. It avoids the jargon of therapists, is very Pinoy and easy to read. This is one book that should be left lying around in unlikely places for anyone to pick up and read.