All work referenced is cited with permission, and family names have been changed to protect confidentiality. I am very grateful to the Thomas family and to Marek Potocki for granting permission to reference the journeys we went on together.
I began paying more attention to the use of metaphor in NVR after attending Dan Dulberger’s training in the use of NVR in families where young adults are struggling to emerge into adulthood and remain entrenched in their dependency on their parents. Dan used a number of metaphors in his training to explain the position that parents take when encouraging young people into autonomy. He explained the gradual process of de-accommodation by referring to eagles, who line a special place in the nest with feathers and softness for the eggs, but the part of the nest for the fledglings is much less comfortable – indeed Dan referred to eagles removing feathers from the nest in order to encourage the fledglings to fly. Eagles know that their babies have to leave the nest for their safety and the survival of the whole family.
The concept of de-accommodation can be a tough one for families, especially those that may have adopted children and have spent years using therapeutic parenting. My work with the Thomas family was threaded with metaphor from beginning to end, and they found this one particularly useful, saying this: Since adopting Maria, we’ve been parenting therapeutically, building strong attachment, and providing her with a safe environment in which to grow – just as a bird provides a cosy nest for its young chicks. But when they are ready to fledge, the mother bird de-feathers the nest, to encourage the young bird to fly, as it is meant to do. We are choosing to gradually de-feather Maria’s nest, to encourage her on the journey toward adulthood – not in an extreme, sudden way, but neither continually providing more feathers for her nest.
Working collaboratively with families can result in metaphors being found which have particular resonance with cultural or religious beliefs and values. The Thomas family are Christians, and when it came to thinking about raising parental presence, an image came into my mind which I shared with them, to see if it would fit. Here, they describe it in their own words: In [the Bible], God led the Israelites through the wilderness by appearing as a pillar of cloud (by day) and fire (by night). He instructed them to follow where he led, and to stop where he stopped. He didn’t ask them or wait for them to agree, he led them. We are choosing to trust in God, and to represent him to Maria. We are to lead her in the same way that God led the Israelites. We want to hear from God, and to lead her irrespective of whether she chooses to follow. Our responsibility is to lead her proactively, without feeling the need to seek her agreement beforehand, and without reacting to her every emotion.
Maria’s parents and Maria had loved the book ‘The Boy who Built a Wall Around Himself’ by Ali Redford, which uses the metaphor of a wall to explain how children who have had traumatic experiences can build barriers between themselves and other people in order to protect themselves. We were able to build on this concept in a way which enabled the parents to understand their evolving role in a different way: We are choosing to remain outside the wall. We recognise how easy it is to be sucked into Maria’s emotions, and to join her in the dark on her side of the wall. We choose to let her dismantle her own wall at her own pace, and we need to remind each other that she needs [us] to be a reassuring presence outside the wall, ready to help her into the wider world.
The examples above also illustrate a progression through the work – it begins with the practitioner offering a metaphor, then the practitioner and family together find a metaphor that fits culturally, and finally the family bring a metaphor from their own treasure store of resources. The parents begin by doing – ‘choosing to gradually de-feather the nest’ and end up being – ‘she needs us to be a reassuring presence outside the wall’.
Shifting focus to the training and supervision context, this year, we have been encouraging trainees on our Foundation Level in NVR to come up with their own ways of explaining NVR to families, using creative language and pictures. In March, Marek Potocki from Derby City Council drew this when we invited ideas.
I loved how he used the symbol of fire in different ways – the fire represents the ‘major issue’ and all the NVR strategies become ways of putting out the flames. ‘Looking after yourself’ is represented as the fire extinguisher, and stepping away from conflict creates a fire break which prevents the flame from moving along the line of matches. When I contacted Marek to ask him for his permission to use his example, as well as enthusiastically agreeing, he replied, “Enjoying my NVR journey so far and slowly starting to deliver on 1 to 1 basis- still working on my own delivery style but with the support from my colleagues that looks very promising.” I found it so encouraging that Marek is ‘working on his own delivery style’ – he has absorbed the importance of not just ‘doing’ NVR but ‘being’ NVR – bringing your own ideas and your whole self to the work, at the same time as using the presence of others alongside – ‘with the support from my colleagues’.
I hope these examples will inspire you in your journey in NVR to find ways to make connections imaginatively – both with the families we work with, and the practitioners we seek to coach and supervise, and in this way enabling that movement from doing to embodiment of non violent resistance.
Accredited NVR Practitoner