An Associates’ Story
I have found over time that the NVR approach has not only influenced me personally in many ways but has had a profound effect in my own family life. I am particularly taken with the ideas of using supporters, unifying, being ‘disobedient’ to the attempts of others to control you and of reclaiming personal power and agency. Understanding that my co-operation and obedience is required in order for the oppressive practices of others to be legitimised is a powerful realisation.
One example of the ways that NVR influences my responses to events in my own life happened recently, and I am sure this story will be familiar to many parents of teenagers, which is one reason for sharing it with you. I am a parent too…
My 15-year-old son was out one evening with a group of 5 other teenage boys. While out, one of the group kicked at a wing mirror on a parked car and caused some damage. My son was identified as the culprit, and subsequently police came to the home and arrested him, beginning a 4-month period of great personal stress for us as a family. He was bailed and attended the police station on 2 occasions and was then given a date for a court hearing. During this time, we ascertained from him and others that he was not the one responsible for the damage, but the boy who was identified would not admit to it.
My husband and I, against the wishes of my son, got the details of all the boys involved and contacted them and their parents. We explained the position we were in, visited their homes and spoke directly to them and to the boy who we had been told did the damage, and we maintained close contact with them throughout the period of the case. We made ourselves felt, even though the boy did not own up and actually, we did not expect him to. It was more about showing our presence and resistance to this behaviour – persisting in refusing to go away but not threatening or accusing him or anyone else.
We experienced some dilemmas as parents, knowing how much to tell our friends and family as we felt that our son needed confidentiality and support. However, we also needed support, so eventually we began to tell close family and friends and were so impressed and surprised by the level of their concern and willingness to help us in any way they could. We also told our son’s head of year at school and found that he along with 3 of our friends were all willing to act as character referees for our son for the court case. This small personal experience of using supporters at a time of personal stress was really useful in helping me to empathize with the position of parents I work with therapeutically. It was hard for me to admit to my struggle to others, I worried about how they would view me as a parent (particularly given my profession) and about my son’s (and our family’s) reputation. However, choosing those I thought would be most understanding and not expecting everyone to offer the same thing was a useful way of approaching it. Our son saw us as unified, transparent and acting in his best interests.
My husband and I understood from this incident, that we had allowed our son more personal freedom than he could cope with, and we needed to be more physically present in his life. In addition, although our son had not been directly responsible for the act, we felt that he and all his friends needed to make reparation to the car owner as they were all present and all bore some responsibility for the action. Having consulted with the group of boys involved, my husband and I wrote directly to the car owner via the police on behalf of the boys to offer that the boys would club together to pay for the damage sustained.
The case was eventually dropped by the CPS due to lack of evidence. Reflecting on it has helped me to appreciate that NVR enabled myself and my husband to take a more authoritative position as parents and to feel confident and validated in how to do this in a way that was nonviolent towards our son and which meant that we could maintain our values as parents. Despite his initial pleas for us to not tell anyone or to approach his friends, he has responded well to this approach and has become more open and communicative with us and more choosy about his peer group!
I am sharing this small story as a way of offering something of myself to families I work with, in a spirit of openness and humility for those whose struggles are so much greater and whose courage inspires me.
You are not alone!
Systemic Psychotherapist and Social Worker
Jill is a qualified Systemic Psychotherapist and Social Worker. With 30 years experience of working with children and families. Read more…