By Alan Sharpe, CFRE

Fund Development Manager

Someone once said, “Those who look outside, dream. Those who look inside, awake.”

At Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region, one of our jobs is to empower abused women by helping them “look inside.”

Understanding Me is a psycho-educational group that we offer to women at our two shelters, Anselma House in Kitchener and Haven House in Cambridge. Understanding Me helps women who have experienced violence in their interpersonal relationships.

Once a week for eight weeks, participants discuss 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.

Our Understanding Me group helps women talk about their struggles with abusive relationships in a supportive, non-judgemental, group environment. This process breaks down the barriers of silence and isolation often associated with violence within families. And it leads to individual healing for our women.

Gaining insight into how children are impacted by violence within families also helps our women improve their relationships with their children.

Understanding Me helps women move beyond violence and abuse, toward the ultimate goal of breaking the cycle of violence for future generations. As one of our workers puts it, “Understanding Me helps our women make decisions in which their head, heart and gut are all in agreement. Sometimes our heart says ‘yes’ while our head or gut says ‘no.'” The best and safest decisions we make are the ones where our head, heart and gut all agree that the decision is the one to make.”

What is meant by the “ME” in the Understanding Me program?
When women experience abuse from a partner or family member, it is like a toxin injected into the bloodstream and, if not stopped, the abuse insidiously permeates the mind, soul, and body of women , it gradually withers away at their core sense of self and identity, withers away at their level of confidence, trust, and self-worth.

It is common to hear women in the Understanding Me program say, “I lost myself; I don’t know who I am anymore; I can’t trust myself and don’t know who to trust; I’m not important.”

When women experience abuse from a partner or family member, and are regularly told, “It is your fault, you are responsible for what I did or said to you,” the searing, deep feelings are guilt and shame, self-doubt, fear and confusion. It is common to hear women in the Understanding Me program say “I believed that the reason I was yelled, called names, hit and punched is because I did something wrong; I was made to feel guilty, shamed, responsible, or there was something wrong with me.”

The Understanding Me program is a theme- based educational program that explores the thoughts, feelings, and concepts related to the experience of abuse in order to provide the knowledge and tools for women to navigate their journey of healing, and hope to re-build their lives, sense of self and identity.

The devastating layers of false beliefs, myths, painful emotions and fears that keep women stuck in an abusive relationship shift to a place of potential for change and growth through the exploration and discussion on concepts such as power and control, pattern of abuse, socio-cultural and economic factors, responsibility for abuse, self-esteem development and confidence-building tools.

When women hear and learn for the first time that they are not responsible for what has happened to them or that abuse is a learnt behaviour, a common initial response is one of “shock and disbelief” followed by a sense of relief, validation and acknowledgement of their experience.

Gradually, through the participation in the weekly sessions of the Understanding Me program, women begin to understand the “ME “ in the program, namely, that they can repair and rebuild their sense of self, they are and can be at the helm of living their lives in ways that reflect their core identity, beliefs, values and choices.

The task of processing the effects of abuse is an unbearably painful one. Key components often noted are women’s determination, empowerment and courage to spear ahead one painstakingly step at time. Women in the Understanding Me program come to a realization that they deserve better and it is possible to break away from abuse. The Understanding Me program provides the knowledge, validation, confidence-building and goal- setting tools to support women to choose and create the lives they want and into their future.

Your financial support of Women’s Crisis Services makes the Understanding Me program possible. Please donate now to help even more women to be empowered through understanding.