Monday, December 29, 2014

A Ceremony of Gratitude

Since fall, 3 women who were pivotal in my life passed away. Two were in their mid 80s and my mother was 96. Vastly different women, but all gave me gifts that made me who I am today.
Alice passed away first. She was a mother of 5. Loved each child like a rock. Always had a pot of something good on the stove and made room for any extra folks that tagged along come dinner time. When I was in her presence, I felt loved as a part of her family. She was fun and playful, always had a sparkle in her eyes. She and her husband were a team and very much in love. I wanted to have a big heart like her. I wanted my children to know that I loved them like a rock. It was during a 4th of July party at her house that my former husband blew up at me an outed himself as an abuser. It was she who stood up to my spouse and protected me.
My mother passed away a few weeks after Alice did. She’d had a difficult early life and wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of mother. In spite of her pain, she focused on the good things in her life and was always quick to tell one of her funny life stories. I also learned from the sayings she was always quoting: You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. What ever you do— give it 100%. If someone doesn’t like you—kill them with kindness, you’ll either win them over or drive them crazy. She was the one who told me it is never okay for a man to hit a women—never. (That became my touchstone to what I’d put up with when it came to abuse. Now I know that abuse is much more than hitting.) She taught me to be kind to others. When I needed her most, she was there.
Helen was my sister-in-law’s step-mom. When my former husband took me away from my family, we moved to the area where Helen and her husband lived. She was stylish, feminine and strong. She managed a department of a store. Having been raised feeling I was mousy and unattractive and having a spouse who saw me as a millstone around his neck, my self image was in the dumpster. But Helen made me feel intelligent, beautiful and feminine. She saw things in me that no one else had ever recognized. Characteristics that I hoped I’d developed. She made me feel worthy.
Distance and timing of notification prevented me from attending the funerals of my dear friends. My mother, who had outlived her peers, had insisted that she didn’t want anything more than a graveside service. Thinking about these three women I needed more than a phone call or lowering of the casket into the ground. I needed a recognition ceremony, one that acknowledged their cherished place in my life. 
I gathered three candles together and set them on my prayer/meditation table. As I lit one for each of these unique women, I thanked God for them, for the lessons they’d taught me and especially for their love and encouragement at my most difficult times. I looked at pictures, remembering their gestures, smiles, laughs. Gratitude filled me. It was a holy moment.
It wasn’t much of a ceremony but it was enough to ease my heartache, acknowledge them and say goodbye. We often think ceremonies have to be overseen by a faith leader. They don’t. We can create our own.
Here on the cusp of a new year, I'm thinking a ceremony that celebrates the joys from 2014 and releases the sorrows. Maybe you'd like to join me in spending a quiet moment reflecting on all the blessings received this past year. Then spend time unpacking the painful stuff so we don't carry it into 2015.
I count you all among my cherished blessings. Wishing you a joy-filled 2015.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Children's Best Interest

We all know that divorce doesn’t end the struggle with controlling spouses. (I hear your collective, “No, duh.”) The power struggle and control continues after divorce and the pawns most often used to needle one another are the children. In many cases an ex is trying to control his former partner through the children. It’s the most tender area an abuser can attack a mom. Many victims stay with the abuser so that he doesn’t have the children alone, she’s there to protect them. While I understand this (did it myself,) I would not recommend staying with a violent partner.
Children are wounded when they live with abuse. I know that it feels like the court system’s understanding of family violence is moving ahead at the speed of a snail. Laws need to be honed or established in many states to protect kids. My hope is that we will come to a time when courts listen to qualified people who assess every situation and recommend what is in the best interest of the child when it comes to custody and visitation.  
Many Mom’s have mentioned that they feel the continuous custody issues are a game their ex is playing with them. As a controlling person, he’s trying to rack up wins for himself and losses for her.  Power struggles like this are at the expense of the children’s well being. I suggest mom’s change the way they view the situation to prevent them from getting sucked into his game. 
If you’re dealing with this problem, consider thinking differently. The next time you get a request/demand for adapting or adjusting your child's time or activities, instead of feeling it’s another opportunity for your ex to “score one” against you, ask yourself: Is this opportunity in the best interest of my son/daughter? Let your answer to this question be your bottom line. The controlling person can think what they want. You have no control over that. What’s different is that you know in your heart you are making the right decision for you child. (However, if the request is to take your child out of the country and your gut says that he may not return, trust your instincts and block the request.)
Be gracious where you can. If your ex has signed your child up to play a sport, musical instrument or other activity that may infringe on some of your time with you child or be inconvenient for you, cooperate for your child’s sake. Take your child to practice. Go to the games or events and cheer the loudest. Varied activities are important for a well rounded education. Anything that feeds you child’s spirit is a win for him or her.
Your ex may never reciprocate and agree to your requests for adjustments to visitation, but you will have done the right thing. Your child will notice. I’m not suggesting that you give on every issue. Work through the courts where needed, ease up where you can. Kids should not have to deal with adult problems. Let them be kids. It takes a lot of pressure off them to know that you are handling and protecting their wellbeing. 
If you are making decisions and judgements on behalf of you children’s best interest, you will no longer see requests as a power struggle between you and your ex. Your focus is where it belongs, on your children. You are refusing to play your ex’s game. It will take the emotional charge out of it for you, and the winners are your kids.
There is another power struggle to avoid. During this season it's worth mentioning. Often the ex is in a financial position to give more “stuff” to the children. Remember, kids don’t care about stuff. Granted, in their teen years having the same stuff their friends have does seems important to them. However, kids won’t remember who gave them what -- they will remember how you made them feel. Give your kids your time, attention and love. That is the most valuable gift you have to offer. The only one that matters.

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season. May the coming year be filled with happy surprises.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Chuckle And Wink Won't Explain Away Bad Behavior Anymore

Because Ray Rice punched out his then girlfriend, now wife, Janey, I think that the NFL as well as others have learned that “boys will be boys” stated with a chuckle and wink won’t excuse abuse anymore. The brutal behavior in the elevator has brought domestic abuse to the forefront. That’s the only good thing about it. I’ve not written much about this incident. Been waiting to see how it played out. The incident has continued to fill the headlines. People debating the roll the NFL should have in disciplining the player. The contract includes a code of conduct that is meant to keep a black eye off the NFL. If they are serious about that, they need to prevent black eyes and other injuries to the partners and children of the players. The best way to prevent abuse is to educate employees. Some may need batterer’s treatment, others, awareness training. Sounds like the only educating they’ve done so far is to teach victims to stay silent.
The more survivors willing to come forward reduces the chance that domestic abuse will be swept under the carpet like gun control was after the death of so many children, innocent bystanders and police officers. There are no deep-pocketed lobbyists protecting abusers. Or are there?
Think of the pressure put on Janey as a result of this incident- the NFL would like to down-play what happened so it can go away and they can get back to playing the game, not to mention smooth things over so that sponsors won’t pull out. The NFL has huge amounts of money to loose, and Ray, his career. So they look to Janey to make herself responsible for the whole mess. She’s in a no-win situation. If she files charges, he will hate her and possibly make her pay for destroying his career (in the abuser’s mind his bad behavior is his partner’s fault.) The league will make her the scapegoat, blackballing her and painting her as the one at fault.
Former wives of NFL players are coming forward to report how the league had drawn them into a cult-like existence where what happens in your home stays in your home. Women were expected to buck up and put up with violence or affairs to protect not only the player, but the whole team and the integrity of the NFL. If they didn’t play nice, they were booted into poverty.
If nothing else, the Ray Rice incident has shown how this behavior has been cultivated but will no longer be accepted. Other sports clubs are reevaluating their codes of conduct. I’d call that a step forward. Now we need the legal system to prosecute perpetrators, no matter who they are. Big money has managed to trump that in the past. It’s time to put the blame where it belongs— the abuser ruined his own career, not the wife who came forward to save herself and children. 
I’m glad to see victims of rape and abuse speak out with a new strength, no longer afraid that they won’t be taken seriously. Still, they are met with stupid comments and myths like:
  • “These claimants are just jumping on the bandwagon, out for money.” Really? Most of these cases are past the statute of limitations. 
  • “They are seeking to become a celebrity.” Seriously? Why would anyone declare themselves victims of abuse when there is such a stigma attached? Unfortunately, there are easier ways to become a celeb these days, but that’s another blog.
  • “They just want to make trouble.” Once again, victim blaming. Those who perpetrated the violence made this happen. 
  • “It’s a family matter. We don’t interfere.” If Ray had punched someone on the street, wouldn’t he have been arrested and charged? Why should battery laws only apply if the victim is not his partner or child? Why should celebrities be above the law?
  • “She must like it, she stays. She could just leave.” Seriously, who would welcome being terrorized and punched in the face? Women stay for many reasons, mostly they feel trapped and terrorized. Leaving is the most dangerous time for victims and children. When they leave, they are 70% more likely to be murdered. See my post Why Women Stay or Return to Abusers from January 9, 2011 for a better understanding of this issue.
  • “She said it was her fault. She antagonized him.” We covered this in the paragraph about the pressure put on Janey. Victims live in such fear that they will do anything to make peace. Including accept the blame and marry the perpetrator. After all, he’s been telling her all along that he wouldn’t hit her if she didn’t make him so angry. Anything short of taking responsibility for the incident could cost the victim her life. 
  • “She hit him first.” The difference between a man’s and a women’s punch is usually about 100 pounds (in the case of a football player- 200 pounds.) As a large man, he could have easily restrained her to protect himself. Instead he chose to punch her out. When Janey hit Ray he was not afraid for his life. When a man hits a woman, she’s afraid for her life. I’d call that a huge difference. Let me make it clear— no one needs to be hitting anyone. 

Ray Rice’s bad behavior has given us the opportunity to educate society and get rid of the ridiculous and dangerous beliefs. We need to keep this conversation going. No matter how many times we must respond to these archaic myths, we have to keep repeating the truth until everyone gets it. No sweeping it under the rug. Violence is not okay. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

What Victims of Domestic Violence Want Their Faith Leaders to Know

As members of your faith community, we see you as persons of integrity. By your teachings we know you to be wise and insightful; unbiased and fair; nonjudgmental and kind. You are the ones who remind us of what is important in life and of our own intrinsic value. Knowing this, you are the ones we come to seeking wisdom, truth and direction when we feel afraid, lost and alone.
On average about three women die every day in the Untied States at the hands of the men who profess to love them. You are in a unique position to help save victims. As victims/survivors, this is what we would like you to know.
Should one of us show up in your office and say, “My husband is a good man. He works hard to provide for us but I’m a terrible wife. I can’t make my husband happy no matter how hard I try. I should know how but don’t. There is something terribly wrong with me. I’ve done everything I know how to do yet I can’t seem do anything right. I am a horrible, stupid person. A failure. I don’t know who else to turn to. I am here because I respect you. Help me be a good wife. Tell me how to make things better. Please don’t tell my husband I’ve come to see you, it will upset him.”
Would you know that what she is really saying is:
My husband (who may be a pillar of the church and highly respected in the community) is controlling and always angry with me. He screams at me and tells me I am stupid and worthless. That I deserve nothing and am lucky he keeps me around. My job is to do his bidding. If I don’t do it quick enough or to his liking, he punishes me. He is inconsistent in his requirements so I never know for sure exactly what I need to do to meet his standards. In the end, I rarely succeed. Then he will either scream at me or physically brutalize me. I have no money because he doesn’t allow me to work (or if I work, he takes my paycheck.) He doesn’t tell me anything about our financial situation. He accuses me of spending too much on myself, groceries and clothing for our children. Help me find a way to stay with him and end the abuse. I’m afraid that I can’t make it on my own. Coming here is dangerous for me. If you tell my partner about this appointment he will verbally and physically abuse me. I’m afraid that he might kill me.
Shocking, yes. Approximately 30% of women in the United States exist in, at least, verbally abusive relationships. Chances are one of us will come to you, broken and desperate. Would you know how to identify me as a victim and how to help?
As a faith leader, you can not only help by guiding me to organizations that can partner with me, but you are also in a unique position to help me with my spiritual questions. Listed below are suggestions on both of these fronts:
  • If I show up with physical injuries encourage me (or take me) to the ER. Assure me that no one will contact the police or my husband unless I give permission (or because they are required by law to report life-threatening injuries.) Some injuries (i.e. strangulation) can result in death several hours (or even a day or two) after the incident occurred. In some states you are a mandatory reporter of suspected lethal violence. Know the law in your state. Have a procedure in place.
  • Take seriously my fear of the perpetrator’s retaliation. He may appear to be the kindest member of your worship center — believe what I tell you, anyway. Trust that I know the abuser best and what the abuser is capable of doing. 
  • Acknowledge that this is a high-risk time for me, especially if I am minimizing the situation. It’s better to be overly cautious. Search the internet domestic violence sites for “safety planning” information. Use those materials to help me consider what I can do to stay safe until I am ready to leave.
  • Attempting to do couple’s counseling or talking with my partner behind my back can be dangerous for the me and for you. It’s hard for people who have not been up-close and personal with abuse to understand how terrifying and dangerous it is for the victim and anyone who interferes in the perpetrator’s “business.”  Consider what will happen after a couples counseling session where I have disclosed my partner’s bad behavior to you in front of him. While he may seem calm and contrite as we leave your office, rage is building inside him. When we return home he will take his fury out on me in a violent way. Therapists trained in dealing with domestic abuse agree that the best route is for the perpetrator to go into batterer’s treatment (not anger management, which is a different treatment) while the victim sees a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse.
  • Don’t tell me to just leave my partner. This is a very difficult and complicated decision for me. There are many reasons why that may not be possible at this time. I have to leave in my own time-frame, when I feel ready. A women’s shelter or therapist trained in domestic abuse counseling can help me.
  • Allow me to express my mixed feelings about the relationship. It’s not unusual that victims are torn between staying and leaving. While it’s a no-brainer for you, for me years of mind control and scare tactics kept me fearful and bound to the abuser. On average, it takes 7 attempts to leave before the victim stays out of the relationship. Be nonjudgmental if I chooses to stay with my abuser. Let me know your door is always open.
  • Tell me it’s not my fault that he treats me this way. My partner is telling me that it is my fault and I believe him. See, if it’s my fault, I have some control and can change my behavior so things will go back to the way they were when we first met. I will twist myself into a pretzel to make that happen. Help me see that abuse is a choice my partner makes and that nothing I do is so awful that I deserve to be harmed.
  • Tell me that this isn’t: 
    • My cross to bear
    • Karma for some terrible thing I did in a previous life. 
    • Something I have to endure because I made my bed, now I have to lay in it. 
  • Explain that my partner broke our covenant to love and cherish each other and I am released to leave. That God will understand. I take my vows to God seriously.
  • Assure me that God loves me and wants me to be safe. Just like I want my children safe and happy.
  • Teach me how a man should treat his wife according to God’s law. Clarify the submissive wife passage from Ephesians in the Bible. Show me what the Bible or our faith teachings say regarding how a man should treat his wife. Also clarify any passage or teaching that my partner may use to justify his behavior. Assure me that all men are not like this.
  • Direct me to those who can teach me how to be safe now and how to safely get my children and myself out of the situation when I am ready. People who can help me negotiate the court system. Have the phone numbers for the women’s shelter hotline, domestic violence advocates, police, etc. on hand. Offer to let me call from your office.
  • Encourage me to see a therapist who knows how to work with victims. Have the contact information for a few of them.
  • Help me grieve:
    • The fact that I cannot make my partner change. I fell in love with the man he pretended to be. If he could be that way then, why can’t he be that way all the time?
    • The dreams that I had for my life with him. Help me move toward understanding that those dreams will not happen with this person. That I can have new dreams that can come true.
  • Teach me how to pray about my situation. I’ve prayed to be a better wife and for my partner to change. He hasn’t. I don’t know how to pray about all this. Why should God listen to me? 
  • Tell me why God let this happen to my children and me. I carry a huge amount of guilt about what my children are going through as a result of my choices. Please don’t add to that guilt. 
  • Don’t let me lean on you in inappropriate ways. I am hurting and extremely vulnerable. It is your job to keep our relationship healthy and proper. I’m terrified to stand on my own two feet. Refer me to agencies that can help me take back my power and move forward.
  • Should you suspect that I am using drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors to numb the pain, please direct me to help.
You are an important part of my recovery. I may feel angry with God for putting me through this. I may feel I’ve let God down. Since my faith is very important to me, your help sorting through my questions will strengthen my faith and remind me of God’s enduring love for me.
Thank you.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Forgiving is a Process

As we heal, we often discover that issues we thought we’d “put behind us,” “got a handle on,” “worked out” come around to look squarely in our face and say, “I’m back!”
Probably one of our most difficult struggles is forgiving our abuser. In my Blog on Real-Life Forgiveness (August 25, 2011) I mentioned Robert Enright, PhD. (author of Forgiveness is a Choice) who tells us that real forgiveness happens when we let go of the desire to take revenge and no longer wish evil on the one who harmed us. We do this even though we know the offender doesn’t deserve forgiveness. In essence, we stop carrying anger and resentment. 
We often feel an urgent need to forgive. This rush to forgiveness can be due to our faith tenants, fear that God will not forgive us if we can’t forgive others. Let’s face it, the God who loves us knows what’s in our hearts, why we feel that way we do and our struggle to heal. For some of us, we may never be able to forgive, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make us horrible people, it recognizes the severity of the abuse. Even if we cannot forgive, we can still move forward and have a wonderful life. The healing process we go through is ripe with lessons. They come as we are ready to face them and it takes time to embrace them. This process can’t be, nor should it be, rushed.
Demands to instantly forgive also may come from our former partner or faith community. These demands are unreasonable and heap guilt on us (the victims,) shaming us and feeding our anxiety. We don’t need that. Shaming will never move us to forgive. It will only make us feel worse about ourselves, stalling the process. We need to be surrounded by people who meet us where we are and don’t try to tell us what to do or how to feel.
There are good reasons to hang onto anger and resentment and not rush into forgiving. We need to stay away from our abusers until we build up some emotional strength. Since we’ve lived in a state of denial, minimizing and explaining away our partners’ bad behavior, we may not fully comprehend how dangerous these men can be. Often they become deadly when we leave. This is where anger helps us by blocking forgiveness. Experiencing anger keeps us (and our children) at a safe distance. Anger also drives us to move forward with our lives, pushing us to make important decisions about our future. Giving us the time we need, we come to understand that forgiving doesn’t mean we reconcile with our partners. When ready, we can forgive from a distance. 
The thing about forgiveness is that you cannot reach the point of letting the offenses go until you are truly ready. The hard part: You can’t make yourself be ready. The easy part: The evolution of forgiveness can work inside you if you let it. Layers of anger, hurt, frustration and many more emotions must be shed one by one until we come to the last speck of resentment and flick it away. Even after that, residue from the past can occasionally drift thorough our minds, however, it’s not as unnerving as it once was.  
Before you can start, you must feel ready. You will know in the deepest part of you when it’s time. Can you leave yourself open to the idea and listen to your gut feeling? No more beating yourself up about how or when? If pressed by others, smile and say, “Thank you for your concern. I’ve got this one,” then walk away.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (author of Women Who Run With the Wolves) talks about forgiveness having many seasons. That it isn’t a 100% or nothing deal. It changes daily. One day we may forgive 40%, another day feel only 15% forgiving. 
That was my experience. As I moved through the forgiving process, there were times when I felt I’d made astounding progress (that 40%.) Then some action or word opened the floodgate and fury enveloped me (back to zero.) Sometimes I grew anxious to be finished and tried to stuff kind thoughts of the individual in my heart only to have the bottom fall out and anger gush back in. Be aware that the path to forgiveness isn’t straight.
The process shouldn’t happen until we know in the core of our being that: 
  • What happened to us was wrong and should not have occurred. 
  • It was important (a big deal.) 
  • We were neither responsible for, nor deserving of, the abuse. 
  • We accept the truth - it was as bad as it was. 
Nothing anyone (including us) say or do will change these facts — forgiving will not change what happened.
When we get to that place of acceptance, we can allow ourselves to surrender to the process. Let it unfold as it will. And it will. That’s what is so remarkable about us. We don’t have to be aware of the work going on inside us. As we pull our lives together, moving forward and focusing on our future, the past becomes less important. The labels we carried, related to the pain and humiliation we experienced, fall away. We no longer dwell on the past, or feel the need to reiterate our story to elicit comments to confirm that what happened was heinous. In the deepest part of us that spent years trying to understand and rationalize away what occurred, we accept the truth. We stop waiting for a sincere apology or some behavior that makes what can’t be made right, right. We stop wishing that our abusers would suffer. Instead, we focus on our present life and make it a good one. 
I’ve lived through this process. Anger, pain, resentment peeled away through my acceptance and healing. During a lament to God about how I just wanted the person to suffer comparable pain to what he’d inflicted on the family, I was clearly informed, “How do you know he hasn’t?” I didn’t know. In that moment, I understood that it wasn’t my call to make. Vindictiveness fell away. 
Now, at every wedding, birth, christening event, where I encounter my former partner, I notice there's been a change in me. The anger and resentment I carried are gone. I’m grateful for that. I'm not interested in reconciliation or rehashing the story. I feel an inner peace. It took time.
Surrender to the process. Know it may take many years. If you feel you are stuck, consider seeing a therapist. I found treatment designed for Post Traumatic Stress was also very helpful. Know that your journey is deeply personal and will unfold as it will. The end result could be the ability to forgive or to accept that for you forgiving is not an option. What ever comes, Be kind to yourself.

[You can download my interview with Dr. Enright by going to www.hazelden.org/bookstore. Search for my book But He’ll Change and click on a copy. Scroll down the page to the .pdf link for Interviews with experts. This is a free download.]

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Numbing Out - Once a Gift, Now a Burden

Numbness is well-known to those of us who spent years rubbing shoulders with vulnerability and fear due to a violent partner. These two terrifying feelings grip us when control over our own life is snatched away by a power seeker. Distressed and helpless, many of us sought to avoid our unease with busyness (work, volunteering, over commitment), junk foods, alcohol, sex  or drugs, in an effort to assure ourselves that what happened doesn’t really matter and to let it go. We’d flip the feelings switch to off and slide into grayness.
In the beginning, these periods would often last for a couple days as we walked through the motions of our lives, pretending things were normal. But we weren’t there. We were hiding in the heel of our existence, waiting for the warmth of feelings and color to slowly bleed back into our perceptions. As time went on, the periods between the violent incidents shortened, and the abuse escalated to the point where the warmth and color never returned. We stayed an empty shell, wearing our smile mask, doing and saying the things we were supposed to, unable to feel anything -- especially happiness.  
We left our partners, and swore that we’d never let anything make us feel empty and cold again. Free, we celebrated and marveled at the sound of giggling children, the blue of the sky, deep greens of the forest, and scent of spring coming. Yes, we would leave the grayness behind. But, starting a new life was difficult and painful. Stress weighed heavy and our old friend numbness, lurking about our elbow, seemed the only manner of relief. Our response? Grab the alcohol to take the edge off, eat our way through bags of cookies, or the most dangerous thing - a new partner - anyone - just someone to carry part of the load for a while to give us a moment to breathe. 
Even when we come to the point where our lives putter comfortably along or take a spectacular turn for the best, out of habit, we slide into the depths of grayness when triggers or ripples of unease appear. When a friend doesn’t immediately return our phone call, we worry that they are angry with us and rush to our feeling-avoidance activities for relief. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable feelings: sadness, grief, loneliness, anger. “My life is great now, I should be happy,” we say, “Haven’t I suffered enough?” 
Yes, we have suffered enough. Yet, we are left with this distorted response to anxiety. When our experience has been that even the smallest annoyance ballooned into horror, how do we live with any level of unease? How do we evaluate what is minor when what we’ve lived with is the off-the-chart fury? As a result, everything feels major. 
We know that life brings both happiness and sorrow. How do we buddy up to discomfort without allowing it to overtake us? How do we learn to live with some unease alongside the ease, and even see it as necessary to add depth to happiness? 
Can we catch ourselves before we do that backslide? Instead, look at our desire for (the numbing habit of our choice) as a warning that there may be some smoldering feelings that need to be addressed or perhaps it’s just a medium issue that needs a little attention? Can we talk ourselves down from the cusp of grayness and put healthy habits in place without allowing them to become unhealthy? Think dieting that becomes anorexia.

To break the habit, let’s be aware when we reach for that bag of chips, find our eyes bloodshot from hours or staring at our computer screens and gadgets, or open a bottle of wine. We need to ask ourselves, “What is driving my desire to numb out?”  Suppose we find a quiet spot, sit and allow the feeling to billow, even if it brings tears. Let’s ask ourselves where this issue really falls on a scale from 1 to 10. If it’s toward the high end of importance we can see a therapist. If it’s on the lower end we can talk to a friend or write in a journal, freeing our frustration and pain. When we allow ourselves to feel discomfort and fully experience it, we can pass through the darkness and leave it behind. Fully felt, the feelings dissipate. No longer do we drag the pain along like a ball and chain, or toss it over our head like a veil, distorting our view. Instead we give due attention to both happiness and sorrow, ribbons of awareness that enable us to feel the full spectrum of what it means to be alive.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Four Agreements to Make With Yourself

In keeping with my theme this year of books that have meaning to me, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz comes to mind. The wisdom of this book helped me put into perspective my rights and place in this world. Like our mission statement, these four agreements that we make with ourselves, are guidelines to become who we want to be. They both free us and challenge us to be authentic. Another point is that they help us to see others more objectively. Below are the four agreements along with my thoughts and questions that led me to challenge myself to do things different.
Be impeccable with your word. “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love”  
History has shown us that words can build up or destroy by instilling fear. Small sects to whole countries have been swayed into heinous acts against others by those who wield powerful discourse. Can our words be ones that help create healthy esteem in others? When we’re exhausted, angry or frustrated, can we refrain from saying something that later we wish we hadn’t said? 
You’ve heard me say in several posts that we should treat ourselves as we would our best friend. What we say to and about ourselves can instill self-respect or spiral us into low self-esteem that will deliver us into unhealthy and painful life experiences. Can we use language that is kind and encouraging to ourselves?
This also spoke to my people pleasing issue, the desire to tell others what I think they want to hear so they will like me. Instead, can we honestly express our opinions? I’m not talking about when responding to questions like “does my butt look fat in these pants?”(though that question can be answered as my friend Paula taught me, “They’re okay, but I think you can do better.”) I’m talking about who we are and what we believe. Do we know, in the deepest part of us, that we have a right to our opinion and it’s as valuable and valid as anyone else's? Do we have the courage to, in a kind way, honestly express ourselves?
The book also challenges us to pay attention to what we send out into the world. Are our words kind or hateful? Spewing hatred has caused a deep division among us. Can we spew loving words instead? Can we resist sending that nasty, judgmental email, Facebook post, or Tweet? (That’s a big order for me, especially during elections.) It only feeds the fear and hatred already cloaking the earth and thwarts any healing process. Do we want to cultivate anger and division or respect and unity? 
Don’t take anything personally. We each view the world from the perspective of personal experiences. All very different. Being the center of our world, we come to believe that we are responsible for everything, and everything is about us. Not so. While we may know that the unkind or judgmental thing someone said about us is really “emotional garbage” from their world, we may internalize it. If what they say hurts us, we need to ask ourselves why we are accepting that garbage. Is there something inside our belief system that tells us they are right? If so, we need to clean that up. Knowing who we are and what our intentions are, we don’t accept what others say. If people cut us off as they speed by us in traffic, we don’t flip them the bird. We don’t know what’s going on in their life. They are caught up in their own world, not trying to deliberately annoy us. Like my sister occasionally reminds me, “This is not the Joanna Hunter Show.” It’s not about us, it’s about them. Can we, with compassion, accept that and let it go?
Don’t make assumptions.  When we make assumptions, we believe they are true even though we have no proof. It’s amazing how many assumptions we make during one day. Someone we know walks by us in the mall and doesn’t say “hello,” and we immediately spin an assumption, “She deliberately ignored me. She must be angry with me.” We assume that our spouse can read our minds: “He should know how I feel.” Someone makes a comment and we don’t know how to take it: “She was insulting me.” These assumptions can bring us unnecessary  pain. Can we consider that our friend in the mall was deep in thought and just didn’t see us? Can we have the courage to ask for clarification when we don’t know how to take someone’s remark? Can we not expect our spouse to read our mind, and just tell him or her what we want or need? In other words, can we make the effort to keep communication clear and not assume the worst? Why not assume the best instead?
Alway do your best.  “Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”
Can we rest in the knowledge that we’ve done our best, even if it’s not what we could have done had we not had a cold, not been up all night with a sick child, or been given more time to complete the project? A number of unexpected things can interfere with our performance. Can we refrain from beating ourself up and let it go? 

If you practice these, I think you will find, like my husband and I have, they will change your life for the better. Many years have passed since we first read the book. Yet, we still remind each other to “not take it personally,” or “you did your best, let it go.” I have to say it’s released me from a lot of guilt and frustration and made me more patient toward others. I hope you find that, too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Rebuilding Ourselves and Our Lives After Abuse

One Facebook friend asked me if there was a book that would speak to her now that she’s left and accepted the fact that that relationship is over. I couldn’t think of any at the time. Today, as I stood before my office bookcase, scanning the shelf stuffed with the books on what abuse is and how to leave, It dawned on me that I should be looking at the shelf above this one. It holds most all the books that helped me build the skills to have the life I now have. I thought I’d share some of these books and their lessons with you this year. 
One of the first books I read was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s author, Stephen Covey, shares how we can develop the skills to move from dependence to independence to interdependence. Each an important stepping stone to success in our professional and personal lives. 
Having left our abusive relationship, we are now technically independent. But, do we have the skills to take care of ourselves and family? Possibly not. To survive we had lived in reactive mode, pushed around by someone else’s whim, not allowed to move froward, to grow. We came out with a mangled view of ourselves and obliterated self-esteem. 
Covey tell us to be proactive. Look ahead. Where do we want to go professionally and personally? He calls it beginning with the end in mind. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do, pick an end result. (i.e. I want to work in a medical clinic.) You can always adjust it as you move forward, uncovering your passion, developing your skills and growing stronger. Determine what steps it will take to get to that end. (i.e. Approach friends in that field for advice. Apply for any job in a clinic. Take classes.) Then set your eyes on that future. Recognize the negative self-talk in your head is left over from the controlling people that were in your life. Tell the voice to shut up.
As you take control you will become truly independent - inner directed and your sense of worth determined by you, not what others think of you or that defeatist voice from your past.
From independence, Covey suggest you work toward interdependence.
“Interdependence is a far more mature, more advance concept. If I am physically interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realize that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone. If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognize the need for love, for giving and for receiving love from others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I realize that I need the best thinking of other people to join with my own.”
Though we join with others in our professional or personal life, we remain strong enough to speak up for what we believe. We cooperate, truly listen to the others' view points and try to understand their positions then negotiate a win/win solution. One that feels like a compromise not a loss. 
Covey suggests you write a mission statement. I talked about the importance of a mission statement in a previous post (October 2013). If you haven’t done one, this is a perfect time to do it.
Covey’s book is also were I learned about emotional bank accounts (EBAs). If you’ve read my book But He’ll Change, you will be familiar with this term. In every relationship we have an EBA where we make deposits through kindness, courtesy, honesty and keeping commitments. Accounts are drained by cruel treatment, thoughtlessness, no regard for commitments, and any kind of abuse. Of course, we now know to let go of relationships that drain our EBA.
Another important lesson for me was to stop hacking at the branches and go for the root of a problem. This is best described by the saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Too often we go for the quick-temporary-fix and not deal with the root of a problem. Covey taught me to look beyond the immediate relief choice and deal with the real problem.

The bottom line is to live your life with integrity. Respect yourself and others. Isn’t that the basic lesson of life - Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Covey gives you steps to get there.