“In a healthy relationship, both individuals’ worlds grow larger. In an unhealthy relationship, one person’s world gets bigger while they use controlling behaviors to make their partner’s world shrink smaller and smaller.”
I’ve said some variation of the above statement in countless trainings on domestic violence, and recently it has been at the forefront of my mind. Here at REACH, we’ve been thinking a lot about space, as we prepare to move into new office space this fall. And with each decision we make about the physical space- from the furniture layout to the paint color- we think about how these choices will impact the emotional state of those who will use it.
For REACH’s new office, we have been thinking about how we can intentionally create space that allows each person who walks in the door (staff, volunteers, survivors and their loved ones, community members, and our professional partners) to feel that this is a place where they are heard, supported, believed, and empowered to create change. Can it foster a sense of spaciousness and possibility as well as a place where one can feel safe and grounded? The new office, like the old one, will be a space for healing. Survivors will come to meet one-on-one with an advocate, and will be heard, and believed – possibly for the first time. They might begin to plan for their safety, or think about what they want out of their relationships, and what kind of future they envision for themselves and their children. In abusive relationships survivors often tell us they feel like they are walking on eggshells, that they become focused solely on survival, and they are often isolated from their friends, family, and community. In many ways, tangible and intangible, their world becomes smaller. For some, joining a REACH support group can be a step towards building social connection and decreasing their isolation. Sometimes when a survivor comes to REACH, what they want is simply…space. Space to think, space to breathe, space to acknowledge what they have experienced, and what they want and need.
Our office is a space for conversation. Conversation can be a vital piece of the healing process. It could be a private conversation with an advocate, or people who come together in small and large groups, for support and validation, for training and new information, to brainstorm around collective action.
Whether we are building new walls in an office building or laying the foundation to build healthy relationships and communities, all of us have the ability to create space for healing and dialogue. Our hope is that by beginning to heal, and working together with others, that survivors and community members alike will experience a sense of empowerment. Often small actions, like saying hi to a neighbor you haven’t met before, or attending a training to learn how you can support a friend you’re concerned about, can have a very big impact. So often we hear stories on the news, or read statistics from government agencies, and feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem of domestic violence, or the depth to which the cultural norms that support it are entrenched in our society. When we take the opportunity to support someone else and are able to listen with an open heart, or when we open up discussions among our colleagues and loved ones about the difficult and prevalent issue of domestic violence we foster opportunities for connection and our world is able to grow and expand.
For domestic violence awareness month, we are exploring this theme of “Creating Space for Change.” We invite you to join the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #creatingspace. You can be part of our efforts to physically create our new warm and welcoming space by visiting reachma.org/move.