Note: This guest blog has been adapted with permission by the author from ACES Connection.
Compassion and the Five Domains of Wellbeing
By James Encinas
I believe that ending violence requires more than the use of our resources to minimizing the harmful impacts of violence. I believe that there must be a step beyond taking on violence to avert deaths. We need a long term vision to guide our projects for social justice. And that includes an eye on prevention of violence in the first place. We now know that children brought up in a destructive environment live a traumatized existence and of course fail to get their developmental/emotional needs met. We also know that these same children often become acting-out teens and, later, acting-out adults.
Recently I had the pleasure to sit down with the founder and CEO of The Full Frame Initiative, Katya Fels Smyth and Audrey D. Jordan, The Full Frame Initiative’s Director of Community Engagement and Evaluation. We talked about domestic violence, poverty, and trauma and its impact on our children, families, and communities. They introduced me to The Full Frame Initiative’s Five Domains of Wellbeing. These five domains cover the universal, interdependent and non-hierarchical essential needs that we all have. They encompass social connectedness, stability, safety, mastery, and meaningful access to relevant resources.
Throughout my childhood I lacked safety, stability, and to some degree healthy connection. As I grew, the absence of these vital assets hindered my development, denied me the tools that lead one towards mastery and impeded my capacity to acquire meaningful access to the relevant resources that one needs to thrive and be happy. Growing up with domestic violence and trauma robbed me of fundamental core developmental needs, needs that today I feel deeply grateful to have acquired and posses.
A few days after my meeting with Katya and Audrey, I attended an all day training at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles titled “Batterer Dynamics, Assessment & Intervention”, presented by Alyce La Violette. She’s been working with battered women since 1978 and created one of the first batterer men programs in the nation; at this point she’s been running groups for men for over thirty-five years. As I sat and listened to her speak, it dawned on me that over 18 years have lapsed since I’d last seen her. At that time I had decided to embark on a film dealing with the subject of domestic violence, focused on men who abuse women, and Alyce was one of the people I sought out for guidance and help.
A consummate storyteller, Alyce is passionate, poignant, humorous and has a unique gift for effectively speaking to the sensitive topic of domestic violence. She is also a kind and compassionate human being. Looking back on it, I credit Alyce with my decision to eventually attend a batterer intervention program that helped support me in my own personal growth and development as a man.
During the training, Alyce shared scenes of a documentary in which some men from one of her batterer men groups had agreed to participate, with the hope that other men who watched the film would benefit. (By the way, if we are going to look at the issue of domestic violence through a trauma-informed lens, we are going to have to do something about the terms “batterer” and “perpetrator”. Alyce explained that in Canada the term used is “people who use aggression”.).
The scenes gave us a glimpse into some of the issues that men who use aggression contend with, as well as insights, learning and transformations that transpired throughout the group experience. One of the men’s group participants was Dave. Dave, who stood almost 7 feet tall, was a man who used severe aggression that gave rise to disastrous aftermaths. In a fit of rage he broke his wife’s neck—a crime that put him in prison, severed his relationship with his children and physically, emotionally, and mentally damaged and traumatized the woman he at one time promised to love and protect.
Not until after Dave left prison and joined the men’s group did his life began to change. We viewed as Dave struggled with his guilt and shame. Observed him coming to the realization that what he’d done was inconceivable and irreversible. Witnessed his remorse, sorrow, anguish and pain. When the scenes came to an end someone asked Alyce, “What happened to Dave?”
“Dave ended up getting throat cancer,” said Alyce. Throughout his cancer treatment he continued in the men’s group. At one point, doctors had to remove part of his tongue and graph some skin from his forearm to rebuild it. Other men in the group ribbed him about that, asking to see his hairy tongue.
Dave learned, and as he did he began to obtain the essential needs identified by The Full Frame Initiative and commenced the transformation into the person he was meant to be. He grew socially connected to his men’s group, developed stability and safety, set off on the pursuit of mastery and started the ball rolling towards seeking out the meaningful access to relevant resources that would enhance his life. Dave became an advocate against domestic violence and spoke at schools, shelters and batterer men programs. He modeled and practiced restorative justice.
One day Alyce got a call—it was Dave. He told her that his children called and wanted to see him. This was the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world. Dave died shortly thereafter, with Alyce and all the men in his group at his bedside.
James Encinas is currently on a bicycle “Ride for Change” across the country to help bring awareness to and gather support for Trauma Informed Care Services and Solutions. James, who originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career, obtained a teaching credential in 1996 and for fifteen years was an educator and role model for the heavily Latino population at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice, California. In 2012, James took a leave from the LAUSD School District to work as Lead Organizer, Teacher Recruitment & Development, at Future is Now Schools. James, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Saint Joseph’s University, is a member of the first ever cohort of Aspen Teacher Leader Fellows and a Cotsen Fellow. He will be blogging during his ride and you can follow him via ACES Connection.