I have written much over the years about consequences, rewards and sanctions, punitive punishment – behaviour modification. It is a recurring theme and something I can’t get away from, even as mine reach their early 20’s. Something that has happened recently with my eldest has magnified this again and angered and saddened me.
Due to her vulnerabilities, she was involved in an incident that included police and safeguarding. She was at the centre but after much waiting and investigation her part in the incident was dropped. I fully understand the need to safeguard children and vulnerable adults of course, however the lasting impact on her mental health from this ordeal has been difficult to see and to support.
I see this often in families as well who have had contact with social services and whether cases are upheld or not it has a long-term impact on ALL involved. It is hard to see sometimes who the victims are and who aren’t. I realise this may be a controversial post this week, but I wanted to raise considerations around these very complex issues and how we might be able to help – whether we live, or work, with the vulnerable people involved.
Even on a smaller scale of course there are everyday instances that we come across that are hard to see who started something, or who is the aggressor. I am running a course on siblings, as I’ve mentioned in other blogs, and that is always tricky. I will confess that I was one of ‘those’ siblings who annoyed my brother until he reacted and then he got told off! When we are dealing with events that we’ve not seen it is very hard to know who is telling the truth.
I also know with my own children that what they believe has happened is often not what others believe happened. Slowly over 6 months the story linked to my daughter is unfolding and even though still not clear I know that she has not withheld information, she just isn’t aware of the subtleties of what people say, think, feel, or act around her.
What I’ve come to understand over these months is that it is never clear cut. Often there isn’t a persecutor and a victim, a wronged and a wrong doer. There are complexities that need careful handling. The way she has had to atone for something perceived by others as wrong has been underserved. In previous posts I’ve talked about our need to advocate for vulnerable children, the same can be said as they reach adulthood. We know that those who have experienced trauma in their early childhood are often younger emotionally than they are chronologically. Being able to safeguard ALL vulnerable people is very difficult and requires sensitivity as well as diligence.
So, what does this mean for us today?
Yes of course we need to act when we see things that aren’t right in our worlds. We need to speak out against injustice and safeguard people as much as possible. At the same time, we also need to be mindful of the impact of what we say and do on others and their mental health. We need to scaffold and support those who need it and to model compassion along with upholding justice for all. Look underneath the behaviour, as we always say, to the unmet needs beneath. Only when they are met can people begin to act appropriately and function well in society.