Monday, February 19, 2018

Dating After Abuse

Trust is bashed in by an abuser. We joined with our partners believing they had our best interests at heart, like we had theirs. We believed that they would love and cherish us, encourage us, be our wing-men—protect us. It is what they promised. So, we pasted them into our expectation-dream. Awakening to the truth was painful. They lied, cheated and attacked us both verbally and physically. It is no surprise we vowed to never again open our hearts to anyone.

We not only lost trust in our partners, we also lost trust in our judgement. We blame ourselves for ending up with a violent person. How could we be so stupid? How can we ever again believe that we are making the right decision about anyone?

Before we even consider dating, we must heal the lack of trust in ourselves. Working with a therapist we can rebuild our confidence in our ability to make good decisions, learn to like and respect ourselves again and clean up the debris left inside. During the healing process is a good time to begin to uncover our gifts and find a passion in life (other than finding a new partner). Then put ourselves in places where healthy people go. Join a cause. Volunteer. 

When you start dating, expect that you will go through a few people before you find the right one. Grab anxiety about being alone by the scruff of the neck and hang it on the hook in your closet. Shut the door. Remind yourself that it takes time to get to know someone. This time around there will be no innocence of passion, like your first love when you fell open armed into the abyss. However, it will be a more mature and authentic love.

I can’t promise you will never be romanced by another potential abuser. They don’t come with “dangerous” etched into their foreheads—though that would be nice. The good news is that there are clues that tell us when someone is potentially violent—red flags. We didn’t know to watch for them before. This time we are smarter.

We have experienced the well honed, believable facade that those seeking to control us wear. They seemed absolutely crazy about us, wanted to be with us all the time, wanted to know everything about us, began planning our future together. All this felt heady. Who doesn’t want to be loved and adored? (Maybe there are some people, but I’d be suspicious of them. 🤔) How do we know who is legit?

Since we cannot be sure who is being genuine and who is a fraud, we have to make some agreements with ourselves. Since we know that abusive, violent people cannot remain behind their facade forever, time is our friend. With patience on our part, they will eventually show their true personality. 

Our first agreement is to not allow anyone to rush us into intimacy. Even if we would love to be swallowed up in the romance because it feels so good and we’ve missed it so much—we slow things down. If this person is seeking a quality relationship, he or she will respect our wish to take it slow.

The second agreement is that before we make any long-term commitment we collect data. I know it doesn’t sound very romantic, but avoiding a violent partner makes it necessary. We want to see how this person reacts to life situations, such as how he or she:

    • Reacts to a personal disappointment.
    • Reacts to confrontation.
    • Reacts to as obstacle in her path.
    • Responds to a “no” from us.
    • Behaves during an illness or difficult circumstance.
    • Cares for us during our illness or difficult circumstance.
    • Interacts with his family and friends.
    • Interacts with our family and friends.
    • Interacts with children.
    • Interacts with animals.
    • Spends her free time. Is she active in a cause that enriches other’s lives?

When the whispering comes from our gut saying, “Something’s not right here,” “Ouch. He can’t really mean that?” “Why don’t I ever get to pick the movie we see?” “She must not have heard what I said, she didn’t acknowledge my opinion.” “Whoa, he’s getting awfully angry because I didn’t agree with him.” You get the idea. We pay attention. We do not disregard bad behavior. Anything that makes us feel discounted, ignored or disrespected will no longer be explained away. We will not make excuses for him or her. Absolutely no more minimizing or denying what we witnessed. No matter how much time and energy we gave to this person—we walk. We don’t waste one more minute on anyone who does not deserve our love. We  clear the space for a better partner to enter.

We have control over who we allow to stay in our lives. Our super-power is that we have the strength to walk away at the first flap of a red flag. No demeaning or beating ourselves up by saying, “I did it again.” We accept that we can’t know who they are before we know who they are. Taking time to observe a potential life partner is paramount. Will it guarantee that you will live happily ever-after? There are no guarantees in life. However, It will put you in a better position to find the best partner for you. Someone who will work with you to build a healthy relationship.

The bottom line is:

We trust others until they prove untrustworthy, then we trust ourselves enough to walk away. 

This is the victory.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Power of "I AM"

I would like to know why negative beliefs about ourselves replay in our minds and the good, positive thoughts about who we are don’t. Why not, “I am intelligent and capable” instead of “I am so stupid—I always blow it”?

The two words—I Am—are powerful. They are “creating” words, a declaration. What follows those words can build us up or beat us down. It’s our choice.

I loved the book and movie “The Help.” There were a lot of lessons to learn from that story. One that spoke loudly to me came from Aibileen, a maid who cares for Mae Mobley a 4-year-old who is ignored by her uncaring mother. Aibileen repeatedly told the child, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”  She has the child repeat those words often, hoping that May Mobley will internalize that truth over the negative messages she was receiving from her mother. In the story, when Aibileen is walking away after being fired, May Mobley runs after her screaming. Aibileen kneels, takes the child into her arms and has her repeat those words. I wanted to stand up a shout, “Bravo!”

We become what we believe. If the story we tell ourselves is—
 I am:
    • stupid,
    • weak,
    • hopeless,
    • uneducated or unskilled, 
    • unloveable,
    • worthless,
    • unable to make good decisions or
    • unable to make it on my own,
it becomes our reality. If we believe we can’t do anything right, failure will manifest in our life. When this is our practice, even the least import, totally human error becomes blown out of proportion feeding the belief that we are losers.

Can we be kind to ourselves? Can we love ourselves as we love others? We would never talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves. Yet, we have accepted negative messages about us from others as our truth.

The seeds for our stories may have been planted by our parents, partners, teachers, the media and other influential people in our lives. They become ingrained in our psyche and hold us prisoners in our current situations. Any thought of changing things kicks us into what my therapist called “awfulizing.” He described it as spinning a story to the worst possible outcome and making it our expected result. Terrorized by that, we become frozen in place.

The challenge is to catch ourselves awfulizing. Ask what beliefs are feeding these thoughts? Where did they come from? When we determine the source, it is time to ask, “Is it true?” We can write down our ideas or talk with a supportive person. After we answer the question, we again ask, “Is it true?” We keep asking the question until we’ve exhausted all our feelings about the belief or come to an aha moment of clarity. It will take some work to sort through all the negativity. The outcome is worth the time spent.

If we can catch ourselves, we can interrupt the false belief and replace it with a declaration of truth—we are intelligent and capable human beings. Not perfect, not gifted in every area (we don’t need to be), but able to traverse the path that leads us to more fulfilling and happy lives.

 Connecting with support groups can help rebuild confidence and keep us moving in the direction we want to go. They will lovingly call us out when we are drifting backwards and remind us of our gifts and abilities. 

It’s been shown that if you stand like Super Woman or Super Man, feet apart, hands on hips, shoulders broad, head held high for a few minutes before an important meeting, interview or challenge, you will go into that activity with confidence. I suggest, while standing there, you declare…
  • I am strong,
  • I am capable,
  • I deserve a great life, and
  • I am gong to kick butt at this meeting/job interview/presentation/court date. 
(I wouldn’t do it in a busy hallway, unless others are doing the super-person stance, too. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?)

Let’s  make it a goal this year to speak our way into a better life by challenging our old beliefs and speak only I Am statements that build us up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sacred Stories

Since the beginning of humankind, stories have been an integral part of our lives. Before language our ancestors drew pictures on cave walls, depicting their activities. With language skills, they sat around campfires, an appointed elder relating tales of those who had come before.

We are in the season of remembering scared stories. A time some of us recall how God demonstrated great love for his people through the miracle of a flame burning for 8 days. Others the story of a baby born in Bethlehem and a guiding star. Many remember their ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom. Stories that speak to the heart of who we are and where we’ve come from, giving us a sense of our connections, emboldening us, comforting us.

I know many of you are going through a difficult time. Holidays can trigger feelings of loneliness and depression. My wish for you is that you will find comfort and joy in remembering the sacred stories of those who paved the way for you. That you will hold them in your heart this season and throughout the new year. 

Your life also has sacred stories from your struggles and victories. Take a moment to remember how you’ve grown in this last year. You may not be where you’d like to be in your life, but you have taken steps in that direction. Celebrate those. Know that you are on the right track. 

This is the season to anticipate and renew our faith in a better future. This is a season to reclaim hope. May it be so for all of us.

Monday, November 27, 2017

About Sexual Assault

Sexual assault attacks one’s dignity, self-worth and right to control one’s own body. Sadly, it is a part of nearly all women’s lives and some men’s.

A much-needed tsunami of truth and outrage is flowing across the nation right now. Many women and men are speaking out about being sexually assaulted. These courageous people deserve to be lauded and supported. 

Those who have come forward  also speak for others who cannot disclose their experiences for many valid reasons. Still, as victims, we stand together, drawing strength and feeling validated by others’ words. There is no weakness or shame in not speaking up. It’s a matter of being ready to share one’s story. That moment is different for every victim and should be respected. When we are ready, we speak our truth to those who have earned the right to hear it.

One of my own experiences was with a doctor who was supposed to give me a check up to assure I was healthy enough to work in a concession stand at my son’s baseball games. At the appointment there were many clues that things were not right, starting with the doctor staying in the room while I undressed behind a curtain to when he suddenly started doing a breast exam unlike any I’d had before. The whole exam was creepy and shocking. I felt violated and embarrassed. During that era, we didn’t question doctors—after all they vowed to do no harm.

As I left, I wondered if I should say something to the receptionist. Why would she or anyone believe me? Maybe they knew he did that kind of thing? Was I misunderstanding what had occurred? Did I want to admit to myself what happened and how violated I felt? 

Every day, women somewhere go thorough the decision whether to trade their dignity for not making trouble, to save their career or to survive just one more day. They are left feeling used like a paper towel crumpled and tossed away without a second thought. 

I hadn’t planned to write about this when I sat down today. I hadn’t thought about this incident in many years. I know there are women who have more horrific stories than mine and some who identify with what happened to me. Funny how our thoughts immediately go to ‘what happened to me wasn’t as bad as others’ experiences’ in an attempt to minimize what we went through or rewrite it so we don’t feel the full spectrum of the horror. 

Assault is assault. There are no qualifiers for which is more acceptable and bearable because it wasn’t as bad as someone else’s situation. It is time to put the guilt and shame where it belongs, on the perpetrator.

You can bet that a lot of high profile men are quaking in their boots right now. I hope that abusers who are not high profile are also feeling the pressure. For too long society has accepted bad behavior with statements like:
    • What’s wrong with women? 
    • Why are they so oversensitive? 
    • They should feel flattered.
    • They make a big deal out of nothing.
    • Can’t they take a joke?
    • It was playful banter or shenanigans.
    • If it were so bad, why didn’t they say so at the time?
    • They’re trying to destroy men’s careers.
    • They want to take over—i.e. the war on men.
    • Why do they dress or behave like that and expect us to not act on the invitation?
    • They sleep their way to the top all the time.
    • Boys will be boys.
To those who say, “I can’t even give a woman a compliment because she may cry sexual assault,” I say, “baloney.” Don’t attempt to make abusers the victims. It will not work anymore. Neither will claims of being drunk or high on drugs be an accepted excuse for bad behavior.

Do I really need to spell this all out? Isn’t it common sense? 

Telling a woman that she looks terrific in that dress is acceptable. Telling her you’d like to rip it off her or putting your arms around her and grabbing her breasts while saying it, is not. Neither is leering at her body.

Playful banter or shenanigans slither over the line into sexual assault when you’ve been told to knock it off and you don’t.

No means no. If she can’t say, “yes” it’s a “no.” If she’s forced or coerced to say “yes” it is a “no.” If during sex, she says, “stop” and you don’t, it is rape. The same rules apply when males are victimized.

I could go on with a list of inappropriate behaviors, but instead let me tell you what is acceptable. 
    • Treating others like you would like to be treated.
    • Respecting others’ personal space.
    • Engaging in a sexual encounter where both parties come willingly and choose the act without being coerced, drugged or their career threatened if they say “no.”
There is no turning back. Victims have found their voices. It is time to believe them. Let’s rip away the stigma for both female and male victims so more feel free to come forward.

I’d like to believe that as the current predators are prosecuted, legally and socially, sexual assault will end. This is a place to start. Unfortunately, there is a deeper and pervasive sexual assault on children in this country. I hope that the tsunami of outrage continues and flows over child abusers, too.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Anger Management vs Batterers' Treatment

Anger Management Treatment (AMT) is designed for those who frequently experience momentary outbursts of anger to intense rage.  The programs are not regulated or certified. They teach participants to pin point their triggers and develop ways to control their anger or express it in an appropriate manner (i.e. deep breaths, time-outs, delaying a discussion until one has calmed down). 

Clinical experience and preliminary evaluations by Edward W. Gondolf and David Russell show that anger control does not help end spousal abuse and that the tools taught are likely to be misused by batterers. “[Intimate partner] abuse is not anger-driven but more of a socially impose “need” to control women.”1

AMT does not address the issue of power and control that is at the root of abuse. While it can reduce the outburst, it does not address the perpetrator's faulty beliefs regarding male dominance and entitlement. He may use the “tools” he learned in treatment to abuse. He sees his partner’s behavior as the trigger that provokes his temper—laying the blame squarely on the victim. The assumption is that she needs to change her behavior.2 Time-outs can give the perpetrator time to go to the local bar—fueling his rage, delaying a discussion can mean days of stony silent treatments toward the victim. The abuse continues in a different but equally destructive manner.

Spousal abuse is about maintaining power and control over the other. Anger is only one of the many behaviors perpetrators use to intimidate and terrify their partners into submission. Controlling partners feel entitled to use any means to assert their power. If they believe their authority position is endangered, they take any action they deem necessary to reclaim the upper hand. They are never “out of control” but are continually calculating how to stay in power.

While anger is addressed, batterers’ treatment (BT) is designed to identify the beliefs that support controlling partners’ choices and change them. Perpetrators are held accountable for their past violent behavior and expected to learn new skills to stop. Treatment teaches perpetrators that violent acts and words are a choice—their choice. They alone are responsible for their coercive and controlling behavior and it is their responsibility to stop it. 

Lasting change can be achieved through specialized treatment programs that help controllers see their partners as people with feelings, needs and rights. An additional goal of BT is to create a safer environment for the victims and families.

BT programs are usually state certified. Support for victims is a crucial part of treatment. Intake from spouses and frequent “check-ins,” to determine any change in their level of fear, is key to their safety. Keeping the spouses in the loop is also an opportunity to verify that new behaviors are in practice at home as well as to update spouses on what they should expect in the future. 

The program provides victims with important data regarding their partners efforts to end their entitlement beliefs through therapy. This allows victims to make the important decision; should I stay or leave? The safest time for a victims to leave is while their partners are in treatment. Though victims often struggle with leaving when the abusers are finally getting help. BT professionals never shame or try to dissuade victims from leaving. 

“The effects of living with long term abuse interfere with being able to trust yourself.”3 Stopping the abuse or leaving is not the end of the story. Victims also need treatment to heal from violence. After years of being blamed, they need to understand that they are not responsible for their partners’ choices. Rebuilding self-esteem is necessary, as well as self-trust. Seeing a therapist who is trained in working with victims of abuse helps survivors move through the healing process and on to a better, peaceful and stable life.

(For more information on batterers' treatment and how to find and work with a therapist go to Hazelden's online bookstore at, scroll down and click on the link "Interviews with Domestic Abuse Experts" for a free download. The first interview is with Darald Hanusa  Ph.D. L.C.S.W. The second interview is with Jennifer Parker, M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W.) 

  1. Edward W. Gondolf, EdD, MPH and David Russell. Anger Management vs Perpetrator Intervention Programs:  
  2. I am using “she” as the victim and “he” as the controlling partner for ease of writing. Abusers can be male or female.
  3. Jennifer Parker, M.S.S.W., L.C.S.W.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Emotional Bank Account on Empty

The day came when I felt empty. I had nothing left to give to the relationship. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. All the dreams and hopes I’d held going into the marriage were dashed on the rocks of reality. I was no longer afraid of leaving because I was already dead inside.

During my healing process, I came across the term Emotion Bank Account (EBA), ‘… a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being.” (1)

Kind words, respect, kept promises, thoughtful acts, listening, being on time are some of the behaviors that make deposits into an EBA. Trust is built between you on the demonstration of your honesty, commitment and dependability. If your partner makes a statement that could be taken in a hurtful way, you know him or her well enough to understand the real intention of the comment. If your friend is late for an outing with you, you become concerned instead of angry because you know your friend would not deliberately blow you off.

Disparaging and disrespectful comments, interruptions, disregard for the other’s time, physical or emotional attacks and betraying trust are a few of the behaviors that drain EBAs. Relationships do not thrive on these behaviors, they shrivel up and die. 

When I learned about the Cycle of Abuse, I had an aha moment. The honeymoon stage, where the abuser becomes contrite and loving, reoccurs just often enough to throw a few bones of hope that things will change to the starving victim.(2) I remember how grateful I felt to receive any kindness—grateful enough to stay a little longer. Since the cycle grows shorter and the honeymoon period almost or does fade away, it was no wonder that I became an empty shell. 

Had my EBA been filled, I would have had something to give back, from a reservoir of confidence, self-esteem, safety and trust. As it was, there was nothing left to give. When he asked why I left him, I told him he had continually hacked off chunks of the love I had for him until it was gone. He had thrown our life away one handful after another. I knew he didn’t understand since he had little regard for my feelings.

As I thought about the EBA concept, I realized that we also have an EBA with ourselves. I began to look at what kind of deposits was I making into mine. Here’s where that inner critic can sabotage our emotional health. Is our self-talk disparaging or encouraging? Do we expect only the worst outcome from any given situation or the best?  Do we read uplifting and encouraging materials and limit those that are disturbing or violent? Do we respect the needs of our bodies for sleep, exercise and nutrition? I have a notecard on my desk that says: “The most important promises to keep are the ones you make to yourself.” Are we learning to trust and respect ourselves? If we take care of our own EBA we will be less likely to put up with those who attempt to drain them.

We also have EBAs with our children. Nurturing them is paramount in their emotional growth. It’s important to catch them being good and tell them so. Being trustworthy, honest and kind not only builds a solid relationship with our children but also teaches them how to treat others. Opportunities to help those in need also fills their EBAs with good feelings about themselves and builds their self-esteem. 

Thinking about this reminds me of a parable of a man who takes a tour of hell. He discovers a long table filled with a bounty of delicious food. All the inhabitants of hell sat around the table. The problem was that each person had long spoons attached where their hands should have been. They sat in eternity starving because they could not bring the bowl of the spoons up to their mouths to eat.

Next, the man went to tour heaven. To his surprise he discovered the exact same scene. The people gathered around the table abundant with food also had spoons attached to where their hands should have been. The difference was these heavenly beings were not trying to feed themselves, they were feeding the persons who sat across from them.

What kind of deposits are we making into other’s emotional bank accounts? What kind of deposits are we making into our own?

  1. From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covy (© 1989 by Stephen R. Covey)
  2. See the Cycle of Abuse tab at the top of this page.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Yank a Root, Plant a Flower

As a kid, being too short to push a mower, I was assigned the job of weeding. You can imagine how enthusiastic I was about that. I’d slump into the grass in the hot sun stewing and sweating as I ripped at the weeds around the trees and bushes. One day my grandfather’s shadow fell across me. I looked up and he said, “You can’t get rid of weeds by tearing off the tops of them. The root will stay and grow stronger. It will not only bear a new top but also send out shoots to grow more weeds. If  you want to get rid of the weeds, you have to pull them out by the root.” He squatted down and showed me how to loosen up the soil and slip the weeds out roots intact.

There is an important life lesson in that.

Once we leave a violent relationship, we think we have solved the problem. After all, everyone around us is saying, “You’re out now, let it go.” However, it’s not over. Leaving is a necessary and important part of ending the problem. You can’t remove the false beliefs if you are with someone who continually plants and fertilizes them. 

We are left with deep rooted negative beliefs about ourselves. We have lost our self-respect and trust in our ability to function in the world. Those affect our every decision from thinking that if we give up and let our lives fall into destitution it will in some way punish our abusers, to going into an interview for a job with our inner critics screaming, “You can’t do this job. You are an idiot! You will fail.”

Negative core beliefs nourish themselves with the help of that inner critic. The voice magnifies our every fear and self-abasing feeling into a confirmation that we are stupid, inept, clumsy, foolish, etc., establishing those negative views more firmly in our psyche. From there they bleed bad outcomes into our lives. 

We may rush into new relationships, hoping they will heal our fears and challenges. Trying to fix our lives in that manner usually lands us in other abusive relationships. Our inner critics are all too happy to point out that we are fools. We may not apply for any challenging jobs because we believe that we will fail. Instead, we resign ourselves to low-paying work. Fear and financial difficulties may prevent us from taking classes that would help us secure a better paying positions. We will most assuredly make some mistakes as we pull our lives together. Our critical voices will be happy to remind us that we are inept.

Suppose, we refuse to allow our critics to go on a rampage. We shut them down with an affirmation such as: “I am capable of taking care of myself and children,” “Investing in my future is a good thing so I will go back to school,” “I am capable of learning new skills.” “I am a human. I am not perfect and do not need to be. This error was a momentary lapse, not a big todo.” Then we take the steps that will improve our lives.

As we loosen up the ligatures of fear that hold us back we can extract false beliefs. Every brave step forward instills self-respect and self-trust.  Just like it takes time to get all the remnants of the roots out of the garden, it takes time and persistence to remove the negative thinking. By calling out our inner critics and slapping affirmations over their mouths, we can extract the false beliefs and grow declarations of truth in their place, then act on them. We are capable of creating wonderful fulfilling lives for ourselves.

Addressing the root of any problem or challenge is a habit that will prevent us from dealing with the same problem over and over. If, we only hack at the branches (do the easiest thing to give temporary relief) we leave the root problem intact allowing it to send out more roots and branches that we will have to confront again. Go for the root the first time and put an end to the problem. Plant some flowers.

Thanks, Grandpa.