Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Open the Door to a Better Life

"The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”
- Flora Whittemore

There comes a time when we need to open and walk through the door labeled “Moving On.” Having slogged through the swamp of separation, court cases, child custody issues we are exhausted. Maybe some of these issues are trickling on, but in our gut we know it is time to turn our focus elsewhere.

It happened to me when I arrived at work one Monday morning. A co-worker with anxious, shining eyes asked, “What’s the latest catastrophe? Your life is like a soap opera.” I realized in that moment that 1) I was oversharing and 2) I was feeding the drama in my life by talking about my frustration from the antics my ex pulled. In that moment, I made the decision that I was not going allow him to hold a power position in my thoughts anymore. I shut the door—no more drama, no more complaining. 

We do need to tell our story to help us heal, (i.e. working with a therapist), to teach or help someone else and to anyone we feel has earned the right to hear it. I had a friend who was so traumatized that she told her story over and over to everyone and anyone. This went on for 10 or more years before she was willing to address her anguish with a therapist who gently eased her through the moving on door. Let’s not wait that long to get help.

When we first left, we needed our anger as a way to keep us from being drawn back into our exs’ lair. We stoked our fury by rehashing the violent scenes and sins of our former partners. It was necessary to keep us out of the relationship until our strength solidified. We now recognize their predictable behavior but don’t waste our time or energy reacting to their antics. Can we close this door? Letting anger go does not mean we forgive or forget how our former partners behaved. (see Real Life Forgiveness ) It is saying that we will no longer allow their darkness to take up space in our thoughts and feelings. 

We have, no doubt, spent some time plotting revenge on our exs. I’m not going to say that was necessary, but it was a way to release our anger. As long as we didn’t go through with anything that could be categorized as illegal, it served the purpose of temporary appeasement. Can we close the door on plotting revenge?

One evening I railed at God, saying I could let the desire for revenge go if I knew my ex had experienced as much suffering as he inflicted my children and me. I wasn’t asking for one drop more. A little voice in my head said, “How do you know he hasn’t?” There was no way I could know. Also, it was not my right to make that call. Mouth shut. Door closed.

It is normal to wonder what is going on in our former partners’ lives. We often worry:
  • Will their new partners be safe? Should we let them know what they are getting into? (The answer is no. Would any of us have listened to earlier partners?)
  • Maybe our exs have changed and all the effort we put in is now benefitting other people. (Let me assure you, they have not changed. Remember the honeymoon stage, where everything is like a fairytale? Tension and abuse will always follow. (The Cycle of Abuse) Controllers will continue to use tactics that have always worked for them.
  • Will the kids like the new person better than me? (No they won’t. We are their moms/dads. Our children will not remember the stuff our exs and new partners may provide. They will remember how our eyes lit up when they entered the room. Our love and attention are what matters.)

Can we close the door on snooping into our exs’ lives? Can we also stop (or not start) pumping our children for information about our exs as well as trashing our exs to our children? That door must be closed, locked and the key tossed away.

Can we open the door to fulfilling our dreams and passions? After spending years standing stagnate waiting to spring forward and  fulfill our partners every demand, it’s hard to get moving again. 

I felt so grateful to have a safe place, that I hunkered down and didn’t want to do anything. Besides, I didn’t know what I liked to do, eat or see. My preferences, needs and wants were ground into the dust long ago. Just curling up on the sofa seemed preferable to me. 

Staying in to lick our wounds is okay for a while, but not longterm. Too many wonderful opportunities can pass us by if we hide in our homes. You may, like I did, have to force yourself to call a friend and set a date for coffee, dinner or a movie. Get involved in causes, things that will make you feel good and build your self-esteem. It may be hard at first but do it anyway. Throw open the doors to opportunities— new and different experiences. See how wonderful and full your life can be.

What doors you choose to open or close determine the life you live. Go out and make yours a good one.

BTW- The best revenge is to go on to live a great life.  😉  (Just Sayin’)

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Relationships Aren't Abusive, People Are

A couple weeks ago, I came across a statement that caused me to ponder the term “abusive relationship.”  I don’t remember the exact words the author used but I came away thinking that using it may be dehumanizing the situation it is supposed to describe.  (Wish I had saved that article.)

Over time “Abusive Relationship” has become the go-to label. Kind of an entity all its own. But, have we come to the point where it has been used so often that those who hear it gloss over it without giving the deserved wince? Has overuse nullified its power? 

Does it take the human factor out of the situation and place the blame on the relationship? Does it move us one comfortable step away from the truth that something heinous happens—a person is being deprived of his or her rights, being attacked and in danger of being murdered?

According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, relationship means:
  1. A connection, association, or involvement. 
  2. Connection between persons by blood or marriage.
  3. An emotional or other connection between people.
  4. A sexual involvement , affair.
It’s not the relationship between the two people that is abusive. The abuse isn’t a two-way street. It is one person systematically and intentionally attacking his or her partner in order to maintain control. 

The question I’m asking myself is: Should I use more descriptive and exact words that better define what is really going on? 
    • She constantly belittles and humiliates her partner.
    • He beats his partner.
    • One partner uses power to force the other to comply with his or her wishes.
I could go on but you get the idea. Though it would increase the number of words in an article, blog or presentation, it’s something to consider. (Perhaps we should reevaluate all the go-to terms related to abuse.) 

I plan to select my words more carefully now. To use words that highlight the truth—one person consistently commits violent attacks on the other.

What do you think? I am interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. 

Click on the "comments" button below.

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 an 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?
    • Treats waiters and other service people.

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 http://www.hazelden.org/OA_HTML/ibeCCtpItmDspRte.jsp?item=15124&sitex=10020:22372:US, 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: www.scribd.com/document/323169484/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.