The Shark Cage

I welcomed another woman to Bonnie’s last week who, like so many before her, asked me questions that I found hard to answer.

They went like this: how did I end up here? What did I do to deserve this? Why does this keep happening to me? Where did it all go wrong?

Shortly after usually comes the comparisons – disclosing how much happier they used to be prior to entering a DV relationship and even sometimes at the beginning of the relationship when the person was unaware of what was to come. But the part that intrigues me the most is the emotional change in someone that happens within minutes of speaking with her. The happiness and excitement turns to sadness, grief and fear.

This woman spoke about the previous year as if it was a prior life. She spoke with so much happiness and pride of this past life; She was employed in her dream job in a bank after completing a double degree at university and she was finally able to afford the rent of her dream home after years of saving up, moving to an affluent Sydney suburb. Prior to this, the woman spoke about the difficulties growing up, and how hard life had been with an abusive mother and non-existent father. The pride in her voice, very quickly changed to sadness, when she whispered how all that changed when she met her abusive ex-partner and father of her child.

This then led me to a thought, a hope. If she was able to do it once, she can do it again. This woman along with so many others, is able to take control and do something to change this pattern of abuse in her life.

This is where the shark cage concept comes in handy, developed by Ursula Benstead. The shark cage provides people with a metaphorical answer to their questions and in this case, assists women in regaining a sense of agency and control in their lives and relationships.

If I was to think about this concept and how I could apply it to this situation, I think it would go something like this: Of course you did nothing to deserve this. Imagine the world is a big beautiful ocean – there are lots of harmless friendly fish but there are a lot of sharks too – lots of them. Some are more present in certain waters than others, but they are still everywhere. They are predators and they are dangerous. To survive in this ocean you need a good shark cage.

It is important to note that as individuals we aren’t born with shark cages. It is up to the people around us when we are young to help us build a shark cage. Our caregivers and everyone we come in contact with in childhood contribute to the type of shark cage we build.

For this woman, I see hope and I see a positive future. But for now, it is about rebuilding that shark cage, building the trust in that shark cage and understanding and knowing how to respond to attempted shark cage breaches.

Written by Ciara

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