By Kieran McCartan, PhD, Kasia Uzieblo, PhD, & David S. Prescott, LICSW
The new year is often a time of reflection where we consider our thoughts, actions, and behaviours. The tradition is that people make new year’s resolutions (usually based around changing problematic or unhealthy behaviours) or start new behaviours and activities. As we all know, these resolutions often diminish over the course of the year either because life gets in the way or because we stumble on the way. Change is hard and change takes time. We see this with the client group that we work with and – as we are often reminded – the psychology of behaviour change is similar across all people. The major difference in terms of success is often engagement and motivation – both are individual factors embedded in a social context that may obstruct or facilitate these changes. In thinking about behaviour change and new year’s resolutions, it is important to note that the vast majority of these are individual and personal, but the question must be asked: what if they were community-based or societal in their motivation?
Sexual abuse is as much a communal and social issue as it is a personal issue. However, the level of change needed to improve narratives and behaviours at a community or societal level are vastly different compared to those involved in changing personal attitudes and behaviours. Sometimes it feels too vast, too challenging, and ultimately unsolvable. Is there a way to navigate this in a different way? Simply saying that we must change community and social beliefs surrounding sexual abuse and expecting it to happen overnight is unrealistic. So, what is realistic? Behaviour change involves negotiating the steps and goals along our path. Why does this not work with the community and social change? Well, it does, but it looks different. It’s more complex and more difficult to evidence. What should be done? We need to set realistic goals and set them with respect to the social, political, and cultural context that we find ourselves. What does this look like?
- Make the resolution that you will think differently about sexual abuse and be open to different conversations about it.
- Read, view, consider and inform yourself about the issues central to sexual abuse as well as what some of the barriers and challenges are.
- Consider how you might have an informed, proactive and considering conversation around it – especially with community members, and peers, that may disagree with you.
- Set realistic and achievable goals, which may just be “I will be more considered” or “I will strive to challenge problematic beliefs and attitudes when it’s safe to do so”.
- Recognise that you are not going to invoke large scale social change overnight while recognising that the more conversations that you have the more that you ebb away at problematic beliefs and attitudes.
- Realise that changing social values and norms is a team effort and that you need to work in partnership with other community members, all of whom move at different paces, and therefore we should realise that engagement and participation look different for different people. Therefore, it’s important be understanding and inclusive.