I work with adults who have learning disabilities and who need support, often because they are going through child protection proceedings. I help them to get their voices heard and to have a say in the proceedings. Lots of the parents I work with have mild learning disabilities and LOTS of them would make wonderful parents if only they had the right help in place. Unfortunately, the right kind of support is unavailable in many areas and so a disproportionate number of parents with learning disabilities, about 65% in the UK, have their children removed into care.
I have observed a recurring theme with most of the parents who I work with, and that is domestic abuse. We used to refer to it as domestic violence but of course abuse takes many forms and does not necessarily include physical violence. Lots of the parents I work with are in situations where one or both of them drink, then a row occurs, then a fight begins, neighbours call the police and the police bring in social services. It`s very common and so part of my remit is to support parents to recognise when they are making unhelpful life decisions and how to walk away and cool down before a row erupts.
This has led me to ponder why it is that some of us are attracted to complicated, sometimes damaged people?
I have a friend who has been involved with someone who can at best be extremely boring in a drunken, talking rubbish sort of a way and at worst can be a scarily aggressive and destructive nightmare. Fortunately, there are no children involved. My friend has loved this man for five years and for much of the time has been happy, yet some of the time spent with him has caused her great anxiety and distress. Occasionally his behaviour becomes so unmanageable, he repeatedly leaves my friend no alternative except to leave and then she goes back to her abusive partner.
I think one of the things about my friend that I have come to understand is that she is a rescuer. She sees vulnerable people who may be struggling with life and thinks, `I can fix that.` When she first spotted her partner I suspect that subconsciously she looked at him and thought, `there`s a challenge, I can soon sort him out!` and to some extent she has. Lots of the women I work with have similar nurturing aspects to their characters and want to help a vulnerable person become strong. The thing that they don`t take on board when they first meet someone who needs that spiritual lift though, is to recognise just how toxic people can become when they don`t receive enough love, praise and emotional warmth in their lives, especially when they are children. (I`ve written a piece called Toxic Narcisism which I will post here some time which goes into this much more deeply.)
When I consider how hard it is for my friend to leave her relationship with such a damaged man, I have to also consider how very much more difficult it must be for someone with a learning disability to sort out their decision making, understand their thought processes, learn strategies to cope and so on. Last year I ran some classes to help some of the people I work with, begin to take a different path. Guess who turned up to class? Women! Next time I hope to get some dads together and with a male colleague, try and support them to change. I KNOW people can change, all they need is to be open to it.
I don`t know if my friend will ever succeed in leaving her partner, part of me hopes that she does, part of me wishes he would seek help for his issues. I know on avarage it takes women in the UK around 12 times of trying to leave before they finally make the break but I reckon my friend has gone beyond that! Her personal belongings have dwindled down so much, she can pack everything into a bin liner and clear off in minutes, it`s quite nice in some ways, a sort of Buddhist detachment from owning stuff which I rather admire.