Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sacred Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

About Sexual Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Anger Management vs Batterers' Treatment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Emotional Bank Account on Empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Yank a Root, Plant a Flower

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

There is an important life lesson in that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Grandpa.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Learned Stress

When we experience an occasional fearful situation, our brain directs the release of the flight or fight stress hormone, cortisol. When the danger subsides and we feel safe again, the flow of cortisol subsides. While this hormone is necessary when we are in imminent danger, a steady flow of it is not healthy.

Living in abusive relationships fight or flight is our constant companion. Every moment of every day we must be hyper-vigilant, trying to avoid the expected next blowup. Even after leaving the relationship, our bodies are not able to readily adjust to the fact that the danger is over and turn off the fight or flight reaction. Feeling unsafe becomes our bodies’ norm. It is learned stress. 

When we add the current events onto the mix we find our health in danger. Our minds are constantly stewing about everything that is difficult in our lives and the world. We exhaust ourselves and feel paralyzed. We stop nurturing ourselves—or never start. Drugs, alcohol or other addictions can enter the picture as a way to cope. However, they send us into numbness. In a sense we stop experiencing the trauma but we also miss out on the happiness in our lives.

To heal, the body needs to recognize that the danger has passed and we are now safe. 

Being gentle with ourselves and practicing self-care/compassion can move us in the right direction. I’ve been working on ways to ease the commotion in my brain and body. There is a lot of suggestions from the foremost minds in mental and physical health. Let me share with you the ones that work best for me.

The popularity of mindfulness is growing. Living in the present moment we can ask ourselves if we feel safe in this moment. When our minds spin off into the future “awfulizing” what could disrupt our peace, we bring it back to “I am safe in this moment.” When our mind spins off into the past, “I thought I was safe then and look what happened,” again, we remind ourselves, “I am safe in this moment.” Working toward staying in the present can help calm the anxiety.

Part of the mindfulness practice includes taking time to sit quietly and listen to our breath. Deep restful breathing calms the body and mind. When our restless mind allows destructive thoughts to arise, we recognize them and then let them go without berating ourselves. Labeling them can help us step outside the thought and tell ourselves, “That is my fear of ending up in another abusive relationship. Now that I know the danger signs, I will walk away from anyone who doesn’t treat me with respect.” It takes some practice, but following our breath is helpful in times of stress.

I shoot for taking time to sit in the quiet or with some peaceful music every day. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, just a few minutes to concentrate on my breath. It’s a good time to spend in prayer or meditation, quieting my thoughts. I’m still working on learning to observe any thoughts that arise and not become engaged in them. Some days are easier than others. The harder days, I use a guided meditation. (free meditations are available at—click on Listen— then Podcasts.)

Coloring books for adults are becoming popular. Coloring is also a mindful activity, keeps you in the present moment instead of fretting. There are free mandalas available on the internet. Also coloring books from museums. (

When my mind is particularly active, I’ve found that journaling about my concerns is a good segue into the quiet. Spitting everything that is bothering me onto a blank page seems to help me put it to rest, allowing me to better concentrate on my work or go to sleep.

Sleep is way more important than I realized. When working and raising children, sleep is a luxury and the first thing that goes by the wayside while holding the head of a vomiting child or helping with the homework that is due tomorrow and forgotten until this very moment. We learned to exist on little sleep.  

Though there is no set rule, since our bodies are all different, it is suggested that we shoot for 7-8 hours. That meant I had to turn off the news and late-night talkshows and learn to fall asleep earlier than what had been my habit. It took some practice. Once settled, the restless brain syndrome (my made-up name for the problem) sets in. My brain throttles up and ruminates on everything and anything that frustrates or worries me. I swear, it would pick some tiny thing that would be a fluff of lint in the light of day and whip it up into an astroid about to crash into the earth. Also, it would prod me to take a peek at the news just in case I was missing something really important. If neither of these worked, it would start throwing down odds that I was going to lay away until my “normal” bedtime, anyway. There has been a period of laying awake but I am settling into this new routine. I do feel better the next day which reinforces the change.

The light from our computers also affects our ability to go to sleep. That means shutting down our electronic devices at least an hour before bed. I’m working on turning off my electronics for the night after dinner. I’m not quite comfortable with this, yet. Picking up my phone or other device is a knee-jerk reaction. 

The way the brain constantly collects and processes data is amazing and no small feat now that we are besieged with information through electronics/social media. Something that used to be a catch-up-with-friends social time now inundates us with information that heightens our stress level. Consider a day without it. Sunday is my day to feed my spirit. OWN's Soul Sunday, a cup of tea, good book and a sunny spot makes for a lovely day and does wonders for my harried brain. I didn’t realize how driven I was to keep up with everything. It was exhausting. I’m considering expanding my media fast to 2 days.

Exercise, yoga and T’ai Chi are also great to help quiet the mind and keep the body supple and healthy. I like the app Yoga Studio. It’s free and has classes for different levels of ability. You can even put together your own class if you’d like. 

Let’s unlearn stress by nurturing our bodies and spirits every day. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Go of the Rope

In his book Friedman’s Fables, Edwin H. Friedman tells the story of a young man who had worked hard to learn and grow so that he could use his gifts and do something in the world. Finally the window of opportunity opens. Excited about his future, the young man headed for town. 
As he began to cross the bridge that led to the center of the city, he noticed a man coming toward him uncoiling a rope from around his waist. The man stopped in front of the young man and asked him if he would hold the end of the rope for a moment. Surprised by this incident and being a kind person, the young man took the end of the rope. The man gave a stern directive to hold tight with both hands then he promptly jumped over the side of the bridge. He was suspended above the rushing river.  
The young man, not being strong enough to pull the man up, held tight and braced himself against the edge of the bridge so the jumper wouldn’t fall to his death. He called to the jumper to climb up the rope. But the man reminded the young man that he had promised to hold on and was now in change of the jumper life. The young man suggested other ways the jumper could help save his own life but his pleas were ignored.
When I read this story, I saw this as a perfect metaphor for abusive relationships. They arrest our life, dreams, hopes and passions. We become totally responsible for taking care of another’s needs. And like the jumper, abusers don’t care that the person holding the rope is forced to give up his or her life. The abuser is not willing to make any changes, preferring the status quo. 
Understanding that the jumper refuses to help himself, the young man relinquishes the responsibility for the outcome to the jumper. He clearly states that if the jumper doesn’t climb up the rope, he will let go. Like our abusers, the jumper tried all his old ticks to force the young man to hang on.  We were told:
  • I can’t live without you
  • I’m sorry/I will change
  • You said you loved me
  • I’ll kill myself and/or you
  • I’ll take the children away from you
  • You are too stupid and inept to survive without me
  • No one else would ever want you
These are only a few of the physical and emotional threats. 
Because we have been conditioned to believe that we are responsible for our partner’s well being, we do a number on ourselves thinking:
  • If I had been a better partner this wouldn’t be happening
  • I made my bed, now I have to lay in it
  • I promised to stay
  • He’s in pain, I have to help him/fix him
  • I can’t make it on my own
Along with many other derogatory messages that have been embedded in our psyche.
If you haven’t already, it is time to give the responsibility for you partner’s life back to your partner. Let go of the guilt, feelings of responsibility and sympathy. Let go of the rope.

Monday, March 27, 2017

If He'd Just Stop Drinking: Domestic Abuse and Alcohol

While both alcohol use and violence may appear in a relationship, they are independent issues. Those of us who lived with abusers who were also heavy drinkers often claimed, “If he’d just stop drinking, everything would be okay.” Many members of society still believe that alcohol or drug use causes abuse. However, there is no research to support that theory. Studies indicate that the “majority (76 percent) of physical abuse incidents occur in the absence of alcohol use.”(1) Also, the majority of heavy drinkers do not abuse their partners. Studies do indicate that the use of alcohol allows abusers to more easily enforce their own internal rules through any means. This results in a higher rate of injuries to partners of heavy drinkers who are abusers.

As defined by The National Institute on Drug Abuse: 

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. (2 & 3)

Domestic violence defined by the National Coalition Against Domestic Abuse:

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. (4)

Alcohol can intensify an already difficult situation. Continued use of what was once used to self-medicate anxious feelings, may now increase that anxiety. Combined with the predisposition to control one’s partner and the growing fear of losing that control, alcohol may exacerbate the situation, resulting in an increased risk of severe injury or death for the victim. 

Removing alcohol from the picture may temporarily reduce the violence, but the desire to control at all costs, embedded within the core of the perpetrator, remains. The abuse will not only continue but its severity will likely escalate. 

There are specific strategies used to gain and hold a position of power. The controlling partner: 

Isolates the victim from family and friends. They are a threat because they may confirm the victims initial feelings that something is wrong with the relationship and encourage her to leave. 

Plays mind games by putting her down, redirecting conversations or disrupting her plans, instilling confusion and mistrust in herself. (5)

Creates constant chaos around the victim to keep her off balance and focused on “making things better.” The victim feels that resisting is more difficult than complying because they are exhausted by the overwhelming expectations and demands.

Threatens to harm the victim, her pets or children to assure that she will be reluctant to reach out for help. 

Demonstrates omnipotence or power by controlling all finances, withholding information or flaunting the law. Keeping track of her through constant phone calls, texts or tracking devices instills a sense that resistance is futile.

Humiliates and degrades the victim in public or private. She becomes reluctant to be around others—furthering her isolation. As her self-esteem declines, her dependence on the controlling partner increases.

Enforces trivial demands by a creating petty rules to fortify his control. Every time she performs one of these tasks it reinforces that he holds the power.

The insidiousness of the above behaviors is topped off with an occasional indulgence—an act of kindness. This “gift” to the victim throws her off balance and motivates her to comply and believe that “He will change.” She may minimize and deny what he is doing to her. When the abuse returns, she feels hopeless and helpless.

When I asked Doctor Darald Hanusa (who developed a well respected batterer’s treatment program(6)), why men abuse their partners, he responded without hesitation. “Because they can.” Society has taught them that it is permissible to control your partner through violence. 

Violent partners often use alcohol as an excuse for their bad behavior. They also claim to have lost control because they were angry and frustrated. However, those who treat batterers agree that assaulting is always a matter of choice. The fact that they only abuse their partner, not their boss or associate, dispels the out-of-control claim. In addition, they usually abuse in private and are careful to not leave bruises where they can be seen. 

One batterer who went through treatment shared his perspective. “It was like having a new toy," he said. "I had the buttons and I could make her do whatever I wanted. I was trying to intimidate her. I wanted to control her for the simple reason that I knew I could do it. It made me feel powerful.”(7)

Abuse is not a disease like alcoholism. It is a choice. 

Both domestic abuse and alcoholism wreak havoc on our families.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

For confidential help regarding substance abuse call the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation at 1-800-257-7810

  1. (
  2. Alcohol | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)  
  4. (
  5. I am using he as the perpetrator and she as the victim for ease of writing. Either men or women can and do abuse.
  6. Darald Hanusa Ph.D., L.C.S.W
  7. (

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The War Between Men and Women

I don’t know where the belief that men and women are at war came from. I really didn’t know much about this concept before I married.

My vision for marriage was two people working together to build a safe and loving home for their children. They would be helpmates, confidants, giving of themselves to make life better for one another. Creating the proverbial “soft place to land” for every member of the family.

I was stunned when words of confrontation spewed from my partner’s mouth. There was a war between the sexes he claimed. His over-riding message was that he was going to get me before I got him. He accused me of fighting for domination over him, manipulating situations to make him look bad, betraying him, creating power struggles to beat him down and turn him into a wuss. Fighting? Domination? Manipulating? Betraying? Power struggles? I remember being dumbfounded at how he saw our relationship and who he believed I was. 

One day I asked, “Why does our marriage have to be a war?” His response was that the war between men and women had been going on forever. “Why?” I asked. He dismissed me as if I was an idiot.

Everyday, like a wrestler, he’d stare me down as he circled the mat. I tried to explain that I was not at war with him—I was on his side. He insisted that I wasn’t. That I was playing him. He did all in his power to force me into a corner so I would fight. I refused to have any part of it.

The more hostel he became the more loving I became. I thought that would make a difference. After all, love can heal a wounded heart. I believed that if I continued to reassure him that I was not a threat to him, and if I returned love for his fury, he would come around. I mean, love always wins, doesn’t it? 

Being a people pleaser I bowed down and then bowed down lower until I became a doormat. That didn’t change anything. He still raged on. In the end, my response was what it always had been, I did nothing and said nothing more about it. All I could do was watch his hostility mushroom, escalating into a tempestuous storm.

Inside, I knew who I was and what my intentions were. He did, as abusers do, continue to tell me who I “really” was and what I was “really” thinking, summoning up an adversary to justify his hostility. I didn’t argue with him. It would have made no difference. Yet, I wondered, “If I’m so horrible, why does he stay with me?”

Why did I stay? I stayed with him until the pain of staying was greater than my fear of surviving on my own.

One of my favorite spiritual leaders is Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun. She spoke at my Presbyterian church a few years ago. I was thrilled to hear her again when Oprah interviewed her on Soul Sunday (OWN).

Sister Joan said, “Nothing is going to change in the world until the situation with women changes.”

That resinated with me. 

She went on to talk about how women carry the other half of humankind’s life experiences. Yet women’s needs, gifts and intelligence are dismissed. Women should to be at the table or only half of life experience and knowledge are involved in making important decisions. “Isn’t that why the poorest of the poor are women and children?” she pointed out.

Marriage should not be a war, but a collaboration, a way to examine all the intricacies of a question in order to make the best decision for all involved. Doesn't it make sense to have those with additional information give input and be a part of the conversation?  Controlling men refuse to accept that women would not make decisions that favor themselves and children at men’s expense. What women see as a negotiation resulting in a win-win controllers see as a loss for them.

Women desire a partnership, but those with a sense of entitlement can only see that as a threat to their position and power. It is common for controlling people to take an issue such as wanting an equal voice and blow it up into a something outrageous. Consider the term “feminist.” It has been contorted by some into meaning “man-haters” when it really means having equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, a seat at the table in decisions that affect them, you know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” thing?

When it comes to war, Sister Joan says, “Women are the booty of war. Their bodies have become an instrument of war. Their children have become the fodder of war. Their homes have become the rubble of war. Their daily struggles to live have become one of the horrors of war and their futures have been left shattered in the shambles of war through they have nothing whatsoever to say about the waging of wars.”

When I heard that statement, I thought of the women and children refugees that are currently in the news. It also made me think of the women and children living with domestic violence. They, too, become refugees from the war waged within their homes. It may be on a smaller scale, but to the those who suffer from the ravages created by a controlling partner, it is no small issue. Women in both those situations are running for their lives and the lives of their children.

When people ask Sister Joan, “What can we do?” She replies, “Something.” Make a difference in the circle that surrounds you. Do what you can to stand up for the other half.

Many of you are already standing up against domestic abuse as advocates, shelter workers, volunteers, speakers, therapists and by financial contributions. Today, I salute you for doing something.