Is abusive behavior learned?

Friday’s Feature from the Executive Director – This week I watched a video featured on TED Talks. The presentation, given by Esta Soler, is entitled “How we turned the tide on domestic violence (Hint: the Polaroid helped).” In her presentation, Esta advances the philosophy that abusive behavior is learned. If you learn it, then you can unlearn it.

This last summer, my son asked me a bombshell of a question, “Why did you divorce dad?” He asked me this question when we were in the car running errands the day before a family vacation. I am sure he did not know the weight of the question he was asking. Having a difficult time switching gears from the “to-do” list in my head to the milestone moment before me, there was a long pregnant pause. I long imagined this moment would come, and when it did, I was unable to find my words. My very perceptive son broke the silence and said, “Dad was abusive, wasn’t he?” For about an hour, we sat in the parking lot of a retail store talking about what happened 15 years ago when my son was only two. I was surprised that while he had no memory of that time, he intuitively knew why I ended the marriage. Then my son said something I will never forget: “I don’t want to be like my father.” How very self-aware of a 17-year-old young man.

Over the years, I have watched my son grow more and more compassionate and empathic. In that moment, I witnessed him make a choice not to repeat the mistakes of his father. Abuse and violent behavior does not have to be handed down from one generation to the next. What is learned can be unlearned. If you would like to view the TED Talks video on YouTube, click here: