The follow is are remarks by board member Margaret Powell BScOT, Reg(Ont), MEd(Psych), republished here with her permission.

Thank you for being here tonight to support the very important work that the many hardworking and devote dental professionals do for women who need their smiles restored as a result of violence in their lives.

IWD is a time for us to join together to celebrate all of the wonderful women we know, to acknowledge our contributions to our society, and to support each other in the knowledge that there continues to be gender inequity, domestic abuse, and violence against us.  And to work to find meaningful and real change.

Many years ago, Dr. Martin Seligman’s research showed that when puppies were raised in an environment wherein mild electric shocks were administered across the floor of their laboratory kennels, those puppies who could find ways to stop the shocks grew up to be twitchy/neurotic, but those puppies who were not able to stop the shocks, well they became despondent, they curled up and barely ate, or groomed themselves.  Even more significantly, when the researchers opened the doors of their cages to show them they could leave their painful environments, these puppies didn’t bother to try to leave, it took on average over 75 physical removals before the puppies would then opt to leave their toxic environment. They had internalized that nothing they did would have any effect or lead to constructive change in their circumstances. This is learned helplessness and hopelessness.

By the time a woman leaves her violent environment she too will likely have received many inescapable toxic shocks; psychological, social, emotional, sexual and physical in nature and like the puppies of Seligman’s study, she too will struggle with the internalized aftermath of her experiences.  And as Bessel van der Kolk will tell us, in his seminal book, The Body Keeps the Score; that for those who have been victims of human perpetrated violence there will be triggers, and flashbacks, often debilitating.  She will need to struggle with a destroyed self esteem, internalized toxic shame, guilt, embarrassment, even self hatred. She will need to contend with fears of being judged, blamed and scolded for choosing her partner, for staying, or for leaving, and contending with inevitable subsequent mental health issues of depression, and anxiety.  She may panic when needing to be out in the world in fear of encountering her abusers, she may struggle to sleep, to eat, to have enough energy to get through her days, she may find that her cognitive abilities are disordered and she can’t track time, place or tasks. She may have difficulty regulating her emotional responses and at times over react when others engage with her, or she may be in a state of shutdown or numbness.

And of course, when we consider the need to care for oneself there is always the very real matter of finances. Living in an abusive situation often entails barriers to accessing family funds, and Dental care is essential but costly, however when one is dealing with all of the above, …. Well, it can be just too overwhelming and not an option to take the steps to attend to one’s needs.

What can we do to help?  Well, there is this little story that offers a simple and yet effective way to approach complicated matters:

 A woman’s furnace breaks down….”she calls in the repair person, who arrives with their tool box, they walk about the furnace assessing and diagnosing the problem, they take a hammer out of their box of tools and hit the furnace three times in the needed spot – TAP, TAP, TAP… magically the furnace is now repaired.  The woman feeling so relieved, asked what she owed, and was told $1,000. She was taken aback, and requested an itemized breakdown. The woman was told that she was charged $1 for the Tap, Tap, Tap, and $999 for knowing where. We must not dismiss the power and efficacy of knowledge, experience and expertise to make a difference in one’s own life and the lives of others!

Each and every one of us has knowledge, experience and expertise in our own unique areas of interest or training.  It behooves us to find ways to make a difference by utilizing our knowledge, experience and expertise to help others.

Women don’t end up in shelters in need of dental care just because of their own personal experiences, the violence in their lives is indicative of the much larger unaddressed problems in our society.

I think that we need to understand more deeply the complexity of how people end up hurting the ones they love.

As I go through some of the factors that would contribute to domestic violence, I ask you to imagine or remember when you too were struggling with one or more of the following stressors in your life and how hard it was for you to give caring and kindness to your partner and family.

We need to provide more services and support for people who have mental health problems, provide help for those with histories of torture and abuse, offer compassion and treatment options for those suffering from substance abuse and gambling addictions, genuinely assist new Canadians into our society, finally provide affordable day care to relieve financial burdens on families, ensure decent and affordable housing, increase access to social and recreational services, and of course provide consistent and sustainable financial supplements when needed.

Imagine struggling with a few of the above, along with a nasty workplace boss, a sick child, worries of other family members and the knowledge that no matter what you do, it likely won’t make anything better.  All of the above contribute to people doing terrible things to the people they love.

So, back to TAP, TAP, TAP…Where and how can each of us employ the TAP, TAP, TAP method of bringing about change?

While our governments, educational institutions, social agencies, medical and dental services, etc. need to be funded and mandated to better meet the needs of people, they cannot do it all, we must all see and help each other have more gentle and kinder lives.

Imagine, where we would be if each and every day each of us set a small, achievable goal to be part of the solution and we did one daily TAP, TAP, TAP towards a better society.