Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What To Say to a Victim of Abuse


Last month we heard from two survivors of domestic violence. They shared the painful comments they received from others when they disclosed that they were in abusive relationships. This month let’s look at what victims need to hear from their families and friends. 

The best thing a friend or family member can do, is to listen to and confirm the victims feelings. 

“I’m sorry this happened to you.”

Victims need to know that you believe them. You may be totally shocked and never saw any signs. It’s easy to respond with “I can’t believe it” when taken by surprise. If you do, stop yourself and confirm that you believe she is telling the truth and you are in her corner.

If you are not surprised, be kind with your words. Telling her you saw it coming or you were aware of it all along, can be hurtful and make her feel more foolish than she already does. The above statement is enough. Let her talk. You be a good listener.

Be careful not to demonize the perpetrator. Stay with confirming that his behavior was wrong. If you attack him, she may feel the need to protect him and not take steps to leave. 

Let her experience her own anger. Confirm her right to her feelings. Refrain from becoming angry and going off on a tirade. If you do, you will be carrying her anger for her. She needs to feel it and deal with it herself. Let her know that you are a safe person to whom she can express her feeling.

 “You don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Victims have been brainwashed to believe that the abuse is their fault. There may have been times when she fought back, making her feel she participated in the violence, even provoked it. We know that women fight back only in an attempt to protect themselves or their children. 

“The abuse is not your fault.”

Perpetrators pick apart everything a victim does or says and constantly criticizes them. Victims internalize this and feel shame—believing they are inherently inadequate and incapable. Remind her that she is not responsible for his violent choices—he is.

“You deserve better.”

Remind her of all the wonderful things about her. Her abuser has been telling her how worthless and stupid she is. Help her see her gifts and abilities. 

Additional ways to help:

  • Call the police immediately if you witness any abuse.
  • Offer to help her find a shelter or do the research on your own so you are ready to help in an emergency.
  • Offer to let her call for help from your cell or home phone when she is ready to reach out for help.
  • Ask if it is okay for you to take pictures of any bruising or injuries on her. Print them, write the date on the back and keep them in a safe place. They can be used as evidence, later.
  • Keep a dated list of abuse that you have witnessed. It can be helpful if she goes to court.
  • Note on your calendar dates when you saw bruising on her. Include the location on her body, their size and color. Again this helps prove on-going abuse and can result in a longer sentence for the perpetrator.
  • See Safety Planning information in the tab at the top of this page. Go over the information together. Offer to keep a suitcase of her clothing and important documents at your house should she need to leave her home quickly. Have a signal that tells you she is in danger and you should call the police.
Abusers can be very dangerous. Those who have never used physical violence, may do so when the victim is trying to leave. Never put yourself in danger by confronting the abuser. Even if you think you can reason with him, you can’t. Most likely, your good intention will give the perpetrator an excuse to attack the victim or you.

Standing with a victim who is struggling to decide whether or not to leave can be difficult. You know she should leave, but she may not be ready to make that move for many logical reasons. If you cheerlead her out of the relationship before she is ready to stay out, she will most likely return to him. Feeling she has let you down will add to her already burgeoning guilt. She doesn’t need that. Let her know that you will continue to love her and will respect her decision even if you disagree.

It takes courage to walk with a friend through domestic abuse. It may weigh heavy on you. If so, shelter  hotlines or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-7997233) can be a resource to give you guidance and support as you help your friend.

Helping someone else, should never hurt you. If you feel overwhelmed, take care of yourself. Give your friend the number for the shelter and the national hotline. There are others who are trained to work with victims. You can be the seed planter and let the professionals take over.





Saturday, October 15, 2016

How Not to Respond to a Victim of Abuse in the Military



My second blogging guest is Regina Vasquez, a Marine Corps Veteran. She is an advocate for Veterans and service members at Veteran Advocate and Founder & Executive Director at Fatigues Clothesline. She has been a member of One Billion Rising Veteran Empowerment Team USA and Volunteer-Womens Veterans Advocate

Regina is an artist see her work at Art by Regina Vasquez.

With gratitude for her years of service and the work she does now, I share her thoughts:

My name is Regina and I'm a Fully Disabled Marine Veteran living with symptoms of PTSD. I like to think of myself as someone of faith and within my faith I found the strength to be strong.  I am 37 years old. I have overcome obstacles that leaves others in awe and wondering how did I do it. For starters, I mentioned I am a woman of faith. God helped me through it. There were many instances I was thrown off course towards healing but I've regained myself and prayed for guidance to get myself back on that path.

Some of the instances that thrown me off of my path were people who I thought were friends. Ever heard the saying, you find out who your friends are when times get tough?  Well, I did find out and boy did it almost crush me.  

I was involved in a domestic violent relationship. My husband felt he was entitled to break me down by hitting and calling me crazy to the point it skyrocketed my symptoms of PTSD through the roof. I even checked myself into the mental ward because I was made to feel worthless. 

I had a friend, a Marine as well who I confined in about the abuse I endured. Her reaction to what I told her left me feeling confused and hurt. I explained how he called me a c*** and after I asked him multiple times to stop I felt compelled to slap his mouth out of defense. In turn he slapped me so hard across my face and nearly broke my jaw and started beating me up. I couldn't move. He irritated the service connected injuries I had to my back and neck.

What my friend told me after confiding in her I would never ever tell another veteran or non veteran friend.

“You’re a Marine, he had to defend himself. What do you expect?"

I will never forget those words. They made me doubt and question myself. After I left her house I made a promise to myself to never talk to her again. I don't ever want to talk to a person who feels it's ok for someone to beat another person no matter what kind of training we had. I may be a Marine but I do not deserve to be called a c*** or get beaten for defending myself. I understand I should have never slapped him but that never gave him the right to beat me to the point of fearing for my life.

I feel so disgusted having to talk about this. I would never ever say those words to someone. Instead I would have giving myself a hug and talk about resources to help me.



Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How Hurtful Other's Comments Can Be to Victims of Abuse


Katharine Robinson is my first guest blogger for Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. 
Since leaving her abusive partner, she has earned a degree in English and Psychology and has written a dissertation on Domestic Abuse. She gives talks to health professionals and works with victims as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate, helping others leave a violent relationships and create happy lives. 
Katharine lives in the UK and feels blessed to have a new supportive and understanding partner as her rock. She is also very proud of the adults her children have become. She is currently working on a book (working title: One in Four) telling the story of her struggle within the abusive relationship, her escape and journey to wholeness. She shares how the experience affected her family and her determination to become an advocate.
Here is Katharine’s experience in her own words:

It takes at least 35 times for a woman to be abused by her partner/husband before she will speak up about it. She might tell a close friend, family member or the police, following an incident where she has had no choice but to call them for her safety.
So when a woman then decides after any period of time to end an abusive and/or violent relationship/marriage the last thing that she wants to hear are negative comments. However, all too often this is exactly what a victim will hear from those least expected.
The comments that I heard as those around me became aware that I ended my marriage were such as the following;
My parents actually said, ‘why didn’t you tell us before, didn’t you think that you could trust us?’ Not completely negative, but I felt a little deflated about it because I did trust them, but I was way too scared to leave. They couldn’t understand this and still today, some 7 years on, my mum will ask why I didn’t tell them sooner. I had told them I was not happy in my marriage two years earlier but not the full account.
Many people who were friends years before the end of my marriage, stood back over the last few years. Now they are speaking to me again and have said, ‘I always knew he was a bad egg. There was something not right about him. That is why we stopped speaking with you and of course him.’ What they didn’t realise was what they had done to me at that time—they ostracize me. When I told them that the marriage was over they told me this and I felt low about it again, feeling I had made a poor judgement, I was useless and worthless for making that poor decision.
Probably the most common comment that I heard, was simply ‘why did you let him do this to you, why did you allow him to behave like this?’ as if I had stood, thought about it and had made a conscious decision to let this happen to me! I found it hard to answer because I didn’t let him do this to me. I didn’t allow him to behave this way. He chose to take control of me and use and abuse me. I didn’t once stand there and allow it.
I was asked to attend a workshop as a guest speaker and survivor. A professional who works within the public health service asked me why I had stayed with this person for as long as I did if he was that awful. Why hadn’t I just left? Again this is something that people seem to have no idea about. The effect that a perpetrator has on a victim from the beginning can be phenomenal and from my experience my ex-husband took the control of me and my life from the first day we started dating.
Some people said, ‘your poor children look at what they have been put through for all of those years!’ Those people had no idea exactly how awful I felt about what my children had heard, seen and witnessed? Still to this day, I feel horrendous guilt about what I had put them through, what they had endured at the hands of their father, believing that it was partly my doing. I know that I should have tried to protect the children more. That is easy to say but so hard to do when your life is in the hands of a perpetrator. Thankfully, my children know it was never my fault and don’t bear a grudge. However, other people’s lack of knowledge or understanding is hurtful and I wish that they would have thought a little before they spoke.
I wish that people could have said something positive, like; well at least now we can all look forward to new beginnings and positivity. Raising matters from the abusive past and about my former partner’s behaviour, made me endure the abuse for a little bit longer.


Friday, September 30, 2016

What Not to Say to Abuse Victims


I asked my Facebook friends what were the dumbest and most thoughtless comments they received when they disclosed they had left their abusers. I was stunned at the level of cruelty. Some intentional, some just from lack of understanding.

Most all of us encountered surprise from family and friends. Abuse is typically done in the privacy of the home, not out in public. To the general population, abusers are often charming and charismatic, the very persona that drew their victims to them. However, behind closed doors their cruel and controlling personalities come out.

Understanding our friend's and family’s lack of knowledge regarding our situation doesn’t mean the comments hurt any less. Victims reported many knee-jerk responses: “I can’t believe it. He’s such a nice guy.” “Are you sure?” “You have such a great life, why screw it up?”

Then there was the shaming and blaming statements: “Why did you stay so long.” “It couldn’t have been that bad, you stayed.” “Other women have had it worse.” “Don’t say anything that could ruin his career.”

When you toss religion into the mix, the comments were more along this line: “God can heal  anything. You need to pray harder about this.” “Divorce is a sin.” “The church frowns on divorce.”

While we expected angry and cruel reactions from our former partners, the most hurtful comments often came from family members: “You’re making a big mistake.” “You didn’t try hard enough.” “What did you do to make him so angry that he hit you?” “You’ve always been a loser.” “There’s never been a divorce in our family.”

Every story is different, all are painful. It’s humiliating to admit you were taken in by a controlling person. Telling someone takes great courage. Victims need the people around them to believe them and listen more then giving opinions. They especially need others to know that domestic abuse is complicated and it’s difficult to leave an abuser. (See blog post: Why Victims Stay or Return to Their Abusers, January 12, 2012)

Should someone share this personal information with you, the best response is, “I’m sorry that happened to you. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment.” Then let her/him talk. 

If she is not sure what to do next, offer to help your friend connect with a shelter in the area. If there is no shelter, give her the number of the Domestic Violence Hotline (800 799-7233). An advocate can talk with her about available options. Encourage your friend to join a support group or connect with a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse. 

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Through Facebook I’ve met some remarkable women. Some of them have offered their thoughts on this topic. I will be posting them throughout October.

Meanwhile, you can share your thoughts by clicking on the comment button below.


Monday, August 29, 2016

3 Issues That Keep Victims From Moving On

The false-belief that we cannot live without our controlling partners is one reason many victims struggle when trying to move forward. Amid those horrible times, there were good times and we still love them—or who we though they were—or could be. The life we lived was familiar. The unfamiliar scares us—after all, things could be worse.

Think back to when you were a child. Did you have a blanket or stuffed toy that meant the world to you? You carried it everywhere, and slept with it tucked under your arm. When it was lost, you were hysterical. Frantic and in tears, you searched everywhere, terrified that you beloved companion was gone forever. When it was found you were elated.

Where is that toy today? Most likely it is packed away in a keepsake box or was tossed out years ago. While at that time it represented comfort. As you grew older, you learned to comfort yourself. You stopped carrying your precious toy or blanket because you matured beyond that stage of your life.

The same thing will happen when you cut ties to your ex. As you rebuild your life you will move beyond this relationship and create a stronger and healthier self-confidence. The time will come when you see your ex at some family function and not believe you were ever with that person.

Another reason some victims have trouble moving on is that they desperately want to be validated by their former partners. Survivors want their exs to admit they were monsters and be sorry. The truth is—narcissists will never, under any circumstances, face up to their wretched behavior or feel sorry for anything they did or anyone they hurt

Empathy and compassion are not a part of their psychological makeup. Even if their victims becomes ill or homeless, narcissists will never take responsibility for their contribution to the problem. They feel no or shame. They are more likely to see the occurrences as validation of their low opinions of their victims.

If you find yourself thinking that your partner will come around and feel sorry for what they’ve done to you, see a therapist trained in helping victims of abuse and talk through this issue. Being stuck in this mindset can cause you to unintentionally sabotage your own success. 

You cannot punish a narcissist by hurting yourself. The only way to punish a narcissist is to open you wings and soar. Once you accept your worthiness, you won’t need validation from anyone else—especially your ex.

Being kind and empathetic, victims can also be waylaid by exs who become intentionally homeless and impoverished to avoid paying support. They may try to manipulate their victims by asking to move in with them (or not move out) until they can “get back on their feet.” If that doesn't work, they may claim a trumped up illness to finagle their way back into their victims’ lives. Once they get a foot in the door, they will pull every stunt they can to stay and retake control.

Let’s be clear—success depends on one’s own efforts. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Having made the decision to end the relationship, you are no longer responsible to take care of your ex—for any reason. Focus on improving your life and let your ex take responsibility for his or hers. 

I know that if you have children with this person, you are not able to totally cut off communication with your ex. Work on emotionally distancing yourself from him or her and holding your boundaries. A therapist can help you develop a plan to deal with your ex and protect your progress. You deserve a happy life.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Safety Planning for Adults and Teens


Whether you stay with a controlling partner or leave, it’s important that you plan for your safety (as well as your children’s safety).

If you are like I was, you’ve run the gamut of “fixes” and nothing has worked. Feeling helpless, in an effort to cope, we try to ignore, deny or minimize what is happening. The danger of going numb is that we may not be aware that the severity of the abuse continues to escalate. If your partner hasn’t physically attacked you yet, there’s a good change he or she will.

I’ve added a page: “Safety Planning” (see tab above). Adults, or teens will find some detailed advice whether they plan to leave or continue in the controlling relationship.

Below are some general suggestions.

If You Chose to Stay

You know the indicators that your partner is heading toward a violent tirade or battering episode. Some of my warning signals were: the sound of his firm and determined footsteps coming across the wooden porch, the way he postured himself to look large and menacing, his voice became low and measured, and his eyes darkened. 

As victims, we are more adept at reading our partners’ body language than we are at recognizing our own feelings. Yet, our bodies react to the impending verbal or physical attack with a number of signals: a knot in our chests or stomachs, trembling, relentless chatter in our mind and stark terror—throwing us into fight or flight mode.

We may become paralyzed with fear, unable to run away. We didn’t fight back because past history showed us that whenever we tried to our partners met our attempts with harsher, more deadly violence. If you have a safety plan, you are prepared to react. You move into self-protection mode.  

Consider these questions as you develop your plan:
  1. When things begin to escalate, how can you safely remove yourself from the location? 
  2. Do you have a cellphone so you can call 911 if necessary?
  3. Have you downloaded a DV app to notify friends and 911 if you are in danger? (https://www.whengeorgiasmiled.org/the-aspire-news-app/)
  4. Do you have a neighbor who is willing to call the police if there is any indication that you are in trouble? 
  5. Where can you go? Do you have family or friends to stay with? 
  6. Do you know the location of your local shelter?
  7. What do you need to take with you—i.e. Clothing, personal items, copies of important documents, money, car keys? Have them packed and stored safely with a friend or family member.
  8. Document all abuse, noting the date and what occurred. Take photos of any injuries, print them and write the date and details on the back. Keep this information in a safety deposit box or at a friend’s house. Your documentation is admissible in court to show ongoing abuse. 
If You Have Children

If you have children, plan for their safety, too. I was privileged to hear Olga Trujillo, a survivor of abuse, speak about growing up in a violent home. Her saving grace was a neighbor lady who welcomed Olga into her home to sit and talk. The neighbor heard the chaos from next door and was aware of Olga’s situation. The woman never trashed Olga’s father, but talked to her about self-protection. She asked Olga where she could hide from her raging father until it was safe. Together they sang songs that Olga could sing softly while she hid. The songs distracted her from listening to the carnage. 

Developing a plan with your children gives them permission to protect themselves and not feel they have to try to stop daddy from hurting mommy. A plan gives them some control over the situation.
  1. Help them find a safe place to hide until the danger has passed. It can be at neighbor’s house or a hidden spot within the house. Have a code word that tells them when it is safe to come out. Let them practice moving to their “safe place” quickly.
  2. Plan something to distract them from the tirade while they hide in the house: songs to sing, earphones, paper and crayons, books— items stashed there.
  3. Teach them how and when to get help. Teach them how to dial 911 and give their address. Have a code word that tells them when to make that call.
If You Plan to Leave

It is especially important for victims to have help when planning to leave. The risk of death increases by 70% at that time. Partners who have never been physical can become physical batterers when their victims attempt to leave. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800- 799-7233) can assist you as you plan your exit. Your local shelter can provide you with an advocate to help you plan, leave safely and prepare to move through the court system for a No-Contact order or other legal issues. If you are in need of a place to live, the women’s shelter can house you or help you find housing. If finances are a concern, the shelter can often help you find needed resources.

Consider what safety measures are needed for protection:
  1. If your partner has been removed from your home change your locks. Install an alarm system.
  2. Download a DV app to notify your friends or 911 should you need help: https://www.whengeorgiasmiled.org/the-aspire-news-app/ 
  3. Keep a trusted friend aware of your daily activities, where you are going, when you will return.
  4. Keep a log of any unwanted contact with your ex.
  5. Take photographs of any injuries, print them and write the date and other details on the back. Keep these in a safe place. Your documentation is admissible in court to prove ongoing abuse.
  6. Notify teachers or any activity leader that your children are not to leave with your former partner.
See the Safety Planning tab above for more details.


If You are a Teen or Tween

Know that you deserve a relationship that makes your heart sing. If you are spending time crying over your partner and giving up who you are to please him or her, you are not in a healthy relationship. Someone who loves you will not call you names, embarrass you in front of others and insist on having his or her own way all the time. You can do better. I promise this is not the only person you will ever love, and he or she is definitely not the only one who will ever love you.
  • Tell your parents, a friend, a counselor, a clergyman or someone else whom you trust and who can help. The more isolated you are from friends and family, the more control the abuser has over you.
  • Download a DV app to notify your parents, friends or 911 should you need help: https://www.whengeorgiasmiled.org/the-aspire-news-app/ 
  • Alert the school counselor or security. They can watch out for you.
  • Plan and rehearse what you would do if your partner became abusive.
  • Keep a daily log of the abuse. Include date, time, what happened and photos of any injuries.
  • Break up with him or her in the safest way—by text message.
  • Do not meet your partner alone. Do not let him or her into your home or car when you are alone.
  • Avoid being alone at school, your job, or on the way to and from places.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Report stalking to the police.

Never believe that you have to go through this alone because no one cares about you. There is help. It is important to have a community of support. Reach out.


Friday, June 24, 2016

6 Tips For Healing From Abuse

After leaving my violent partner, I stood in a therapist’s office and announced, “You have 2 weeks to heal me.” A twitch of a smile showed at the corners of her lips. With compassion in her eyes, she said, “Then we’d better get started.” She understood my drive to get over the pain, fear and memories so I could begin to live again.

Of course, healing isn’t a 2 week fix, it takes time. There are many knots to untangle, much to unlearn, relearn and newly learn. It requires patience with oneself, determination and, most often, the guidance of a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse. 

Here are a few important tips I learned on my road to recovery.


1) No Dating Until the Larger Part of Healing Has Occurred

I attended a rebuilding group. At the first meeting, the facilitator announced, “You are a bad date.” He urged us to agree to refrain from dating for one year. That felt like a long time to me. I was looking for a White Knight to ride in and make my life perfect. To heal we must become our own White Knights. Survivors need time to focus on themselves and learn that they can make it on their own.

We should not hurry into a new relationship because the highs and lows of the cycle of abuse (see above tab) has reinforced a deep connection called Trauma Bonding—a biological craving for intensity that no normal relationship provides. It is hard for a survivor to relate to others because the lack of fervor feels like a lack of interest. Those who have not laid a healthy foundation often unwittingly seek that intensity and find themselves with another violent partner. The good new is, this biological craving fades with time and a normal relationship will be satisfying. 


2) Develop Ways to Block the Urge to Return

Trauma Bonding triggers an urge to return to the violent partner. To avoid the bungie-bounce back into the relationship, accept the truth of who your partner is. 

Write in your journal:
  • Detail your partner’s every violent and unkind behavior. When feeling vulnerable, let this list remind you why you left and should not return.
  • Detail what you liked about your partner. Look over the list and ask yourself if he truly is that person or if this is his false persona (the one that he used to entice and hold you into the relationship)? Are the traits listed who you hoped he would become instead of who he is? 
Toss out these false beliefs:
  • The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know.
  • No one else will want me.
  • I can’t make it on my own.
You can have a new partner who is kind and loving. You can also build a wonderful life for yourself with no partner. 

Be aware of the mind games your controller plays. After you leave, your ex partner may put on that fake Mr. or Ms. Wonderful mask to lure you back. Develop healthy ways to respond without being caught up in the drama. Some of these games are:
  • Making promises they never keep—“I’m going into batterers’ treatment”, “I’ll quit drinking and doing drugs.”
  • Professing that they cannot make it without you—“I need your help to heal.”
  • Professing to be a new person—“I got religion.”
  • Blaming others—“They don’t understand our love.” “It’s us against the world.”
Be prepared for these and many others. Step out of the drama as you watch it play out. Alert the police if your ex makes suicidal threats of threats against you. Contact the police if your ex stalks you. Keep a record of any unwanted contact (text messages, email, phone calls).


3) Replace Your Unhealthy Self-Talk with the Truth

Survivors often say, “I don’t know what healthy thinking sounds like anymore.” After years of abuse, we internalized the negative and twisted messages we received. We learned we could not trust our own opinions or feelings.

Writing But He’ll Change, helped me identify my own and other survivors’ false beliefs and replace them with truths. Statements such as: I am a stupid, worthless nothing are countered with, I am intelligent. I have gifts and abilities in a variety of different areas. I am alive for a purpose. I am unique and needed by the world.

Write affirmations on cards and read them often to replace false beliefs with the truth.


4) Take Care of Yourself

If you have an addiction, seek specialized help. Addictions served to numb your ability to feel pain. These coping mechanisms will throw up a wall against healing. You have to walk through the pain to get to the other side. A therapist can guide you and stand with you during this process. Support groups are also a blessing.

Move yourself up on the People Who Deserve Happiness list. Treat yourself to a lavender scented bubble bath. Use your good towels. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Eat off of your best china. Value yourself as you would your dearest friend. Get active. Join a gym or take a yoga class.

Rediscover your gifts and abilities. What makes you heart sing? What activities did you enjoy before this relationship? Get involved in them. Also try new activities.

Set goals. Start with short-term goals to build your confidence. Set one long-term goal.

Make friends with your gut. It will guide you and help you make good decisions. Remember: Mistakes are not bad, they teach you and redirect you.


5) Surround Yourself With Supportive People

While it is important to talk about what happened, share only with those who have earned the right to hear your story. These are people who know how to listen, will believe you and respect your privacy. Anyone who tells you to just get over it does not belong in this group.


6) Breathe and Focus on the Good Stuff

Over time, the remnants of this relationship will loosen and fall away leaving only important life lessons. We no longer label ourselves as victims or survivors, we become people who spent a small portion of their lives in a violent relationship. There is much more to us than this one period of time. We are a collection of life experiences—each equally important. 

Becoming who we are meant to be takes a lifetime. It is up to us to decide who that is and what kind of a life we want. Then go out and make it happen.