chapter  6
14 Pages

Confidence with Difficult Conversations

The need to explore taboo subjects in particular relation to the sexual abuse of children
WithBarry O’Sullivan

The culture within a group can change and sometimes should be challenged to do so, even if this involves discussion of the most difficult taboo subjects. Unless relevant taboo subjects are explored, discussed and sometimes challenged, the culture of any given group will be unable to change and evolve. For priests, counsellors and others responsible for safeguarding children in the 22 Roman Catholic dioceses of England and Wales and elsewhere, and for those responsible for facilitating training to prevent child sexual abuse, having the confidence to have difficult conversations is vital. This chapter explores the impact of taboo subjects on individuals, on relationships between two people and on the dynamics within a group, and their influence on training people to work in an area where the significant taboo of child sex abuse and its impact on both the trainer and the trainees cannot be ignored.

As Shulman says: “We need to learn how to use our feelings, not lose our feelings.” The more people who work with children are able to open up to new areas, and explore the feelings that come with them, the more their ability to address taboo areas will increase. Whenever introducing taboo subjects it is common to observe resistance on the part of the individual or the group, as well as heightened defensiveness, denial, anger and increased avoidance. However, it is clear from the extensive library of psychological research and from my own experiences in more than a decade of child safeguarding experience in the Roman Catholic Church that the determination of priests, counsellors or safeguarding officers to persist and to send the message that they are willing and able to confront a particularly sensitive issue will, in turn, give confidence to victims, families, parishioners and others to engage in the process. This chapter illustrates that with certain taboo topics there cannot be any change or growth without the feelings of discomfort and pain that will ensue. It explores how these feelings can be overcome if those attempting to resolve issues understand what is required and develop the confidence to have difficult conversations.