Friday, June 27, 2008

Two Faces of Coping

Inside Perspective of Coping:

Doing just fine
Can't remember much
Of the wounds
Hiding the scars
Pushing ahead
No one can hurt me
I'm on guard
My walls built high
Heart's encased

Outside Perspective of Coping:

Barely hanging on
Bound by the past
All about wounds
Oozing bitterness
Dragging burdens
Easily offended
Uptight and rigid
Difficult to know

Monday, June 23, 2008

Boundaries (Part 4)

Have you ever noticed abusers don't respond to boundaries in the same ways that healthy people do?

For people who respect others, encountering a boundary can cause some initial surprise and upset, but then they are supportive of the other's needs. They care about how their behavior is affecting the other.

But with abusers a boundary is information to use against the other person. If their victim is sensitive about something then it becomes an important tool or weapon in the abuser's hands.

For example, if a wife said, "It's really important to me to arrive to church early, a respectful partner might say, "It's not as important to me, but I am willing to make a special effort to get us there 10 minutes before the start of service" or he might say," why don't we go in separate cars on Sundays when I am running behind schedule so that you can get there when you need to." An abusive spouse, on the other hand, might regularly work to get to church late once he learns of her preference. He might do it by picking a fight, by waiting until the expected departure time to begin dressing for church, or by asking her to do things that make her run late and then attack her for making them late again. Or he might make a big production of getting there at the time she requested but finding ways to punish her by making the children angry at her over it, mocking her for her uptightness, or playing the martyr to "her demands."

Learning to assertively state our needs and wants is essential, but be forewarned that abusers will instinctively resist and tromp on boundaries.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Boundaries (Part 3)

How do we know if we are succeeding in implementing boundaries? My biggest clue is that I feel uncomfortable and almost mean when I work to clarify a boundary that someone continually tries to step on or over. But when I re-examine my words and actions, I find I didn't do or say anything mean.

It feels uncomfortable because I am not giving in to the other's demands anywhere near as much as I did when I was younger.
It feels almost mean because now I can do something for myself instead of focusing exclusively on the other's desires.
It feels strange to say "no" because I still need to say it more frequently.

I tend to feel fine while I say my honest answer, but then old tapes quip the guilt messages. But that's okay, the tapes are wearing out, the messages aren't so loud and clear anymore. I know I like boundaries and that they are good.

May God bless each of us on our journey of learning to use the word "no" appropriately. May he equip us to make our boundaries functional.

Father's Day Blues

Father's Day Blues
by Tanya T. Warrington

Tragic and happy memories collide
Leaving me blue.
Vacations, gardening, and holiday fun
And hurtful words and sexual advances
All tumble together like a load in a dryer

How much better it might have been
If only...
But ifs didn't happen
It's so sad, really sad

I can see it clearly now
The unhappy years
of bowing to fear
controlled, always controlled
pushed and pulled to meet his needs
Thankfully, it is all so long ago

Sometimes the best way through sadness is to look at it and give it a space to be, before returning to embracing the joys in life and holding onto blessings. Our heavenly Father, is so different than an out-of-control earthly father. He understands our pain and can carry us through to new days that include eternal hope and loving care.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boundaries (Part 2)

I love the movie Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The heroine has boundary issues that are ruining her life but she grows in boundary keeping before the movie is over. She is the child of an alcoholic. She has tried to get married multiple times but each time runs away when it is time to walk down the aisle. The hero of the story challenges her that she doesn't know who she is and what she wants--to the point that she eats her eggs, however, her current beau eats eggs. I love it when toward the end of the movie, she takes the time to really get to know herself, including tasting eggs cooked a bunch of different ways and deciding her culinary preferences. She, at last, gains functional boundaries and starts changing her life, using her talents to begin a new business, building a better friendship with her best friend, and proposing marriage to the man she truly loves. The process the movie reveals is truthful, how quickly the changes take place is Hollywood magic.

Last night, I was rereading a chapter in Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. My husband saw what I was reading and looked over my shoulder at the pages full of underlining, stars, and notes in the margins. "How many times have you read that book? You must have it memorized," he said.

I don't think I do yet. But he's right. I've read it more than a couple of times. The wise explanations and counsel in the book are relationship gold for me. As a former abuse victim, I have had to work hard to develop boundaries that function properly and I need tune-ups periodically. My natural instincts when I am under stress still return to old ways sometimes. It is irritating when I say yes to someone out of peacemaking or people pleasing. I like it much better when I operate within healthy boundaries--life is simpler and less stressful when I honor who I am and what I need and want.

God is the one fashioned our personalities, temperments, talents, limitations, and interests. We honor Him when we are ourselves.

So think about it today. How do you like your eggs? Who are you? Who is supportive and honest in your life? Are there any things, situations, or people you need to say "no" to in order to be true to yourself? Are there good things you could say "yes" to that would bless yourself and others? Are you honestly sharing yourself with others, or faking it on the outside and paying with negative emotions stuffed on the inside? Are your relationships intimate and real? Are you being who you long to be?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Boundaries (Part 1)

Growing up in an abusive home, prevents the formation of healthy boundaries. Abusers often don't recognize boundaries. When they do see boundaries, they intentionally bulldoze right through, ignoring the limits others have set.

Learning how to set healthy boundaries for ourselves is a huge step in the healing process. At first boundaries feel awkward. It requires practice and patience, but the benefits were well worth all the effort.

Boundaries are limits we set to define who we are and what we will allow in our relationships with others. According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend in their excellent book, Boundaries, "We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside." So the first step is to identify the behaviors and people that nurture us.
What nurtures you? What helps you to be your best? What helps you to grow?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Feeling Dry?

Focusing on healing from abuse can be draining. Sometimes it feels like the process will never end. Sometimes it leaves us thirsty for easier times.

As I write today, rain is steadily falling outside my window, soaking my garden with life-giving water. I know that soon I will notice that my chili plants and lettuce sprouts are dramatically taller. Each spring I marvel at the difference in benefit to my plants between rain and my watering can. Sprinkles from water that has seeped through the ground and then been drawn up in a well does not deliver as much life as fresh drenching rain.

When we are feeling fried or wilted by life’s hardships, we need a good rain too. Going to church, listening to Christian radio, and reading Christian blogs and books is like healthy well water. It is good. But a soaking of life-giving strength is delivered best through one-on-one time with God in his Word/the Bible. Receiving a fresh douse of the Holy Spirit’s presence and walking in Jesus Christ is irreplaceable. The pain we experience is temporary—life with our eternal Father is eternal. May God strengthen you with his outpouring of love today, Readers!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Life is flat when you are in survival mode. Muting the negative emotions wipes out awareness of positive emotions as well. In recovery, learning to celebrate is a challenge and an exciting step forward.

Celebrations mark an occasion in our memory. To celebrate is to honor. Our society honors historical incidents and people with holidays focused on remembering. Worldwide, people celebrate births and weddings.

When abuse saturates a home, communal celebrations are often tainted or ruined. Some people have such horrific holiday memories that it causes depression and flashbacks each year until they have processed the memories and feelings enough that they are able to start building new traditions and celebrations.

So wouldn’t it be easiest to ignore celebrations?

Easier, maybe. But if you desire full healing from abuse, you need to learn how to celebrate small and big turning points, anniversaries, achievements, and blessings. Giving it a try might feel strange at first, you might feel stupid or sad or angry or stunted—but it will improve with practice. Celebration is a skill that can be learned.

Have you ever celebrated your decision to pursue healthy living, abuse-free living? If not, then I challenge you to do so before the week is over. How? Any way that marks the occasion and engenders positive feelings. You can celebrate privately or invite one or more people to participate.

There are so many ways to celebrate. You could buy flowers or helium balloons, and put them on your coffee table, kitchen table, or nightstand—each time you look at the flowers think to yourself, I am healing from abuse one step at a time, I am building a healthier and happier life for myself. You can eat ice cream or cake with friends and tell them what you are celebrating. You can make a certificate on the computer and hang it up where you can read it frequently. You can dance, twirl, run, or skip. You can sing or hum a happy tune. You can fix a special meal and share it with a loved one. You can create or purchase a piece of art that reminds you of what you are celebrating.

Many adults like to include alcohol or food when they are in a celebration mood. Use prudence and common sense with this. If your abuser misused alcohol or drugs, I urge you to keep your celebrations substance-free. If you have a tendency to want to use mind-altering substances to numb yourself, to forget, then work on learning simple ways to celebrate your current life without any liquor or drugs. If you struggle with eating issues (excessive eating to hide from emotions, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or purging), learn to celebrate without making food the central ingredient. Make healthy choices when you honor some happening in your life. Be respectful to yourself.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Leaving a Physical Abuser

Recent news coverage concerning a man in Colorado who killed a process server with a bat and tried to choke his kids to death is a fresh reminder of the dangers of living with an abusive spouse who is physically violent. The process server was delivering a restraining order as well as divorce papers. Clearly the wife was ready to take steps to end abuse but an adequate safety plan was not in place for the safety of herself and her children.

In case anyone who reads this blog is currently living with a physical abuser, I want to review some basics. If you aren’t in this group you still might find it helpful to read since you don’t know when a family member, friend, or neighbor might come to you for help.

Important Facts on Leaving a Physical Abuser:

  1. Abuse will continue to get worse over time. Some batterers worsen slowly and some quickly.
  2. If you leave successfully and then return, the odds are extremely high that the abuse will become much worse.
  3. Leaving a physical abuser is a catalyst for the most dangerous abuse. The majority of domestic violence homicides happen when the partner attempts to leave.
  4. If the abuser has ever threatened you with a weapon or has threatened to kill you or your children, the danger level is especially high and you need extra help to leave safely. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE/7233).
  5. A safety plan should be in place. Have one or two people who know that you are leaving, why you are leaving, and where you are going.
  6. If there has been any physical abuse at all, I advice leaving when the abuser is absent from the home. Leave a mild letter that says you and the kids are taking a trip. Specify when you will contact him via phone to touch base. You don’t need to say where you will be. This letter will avoid charges that you’ve kidnapped the children.
  7. Any note you leave for your spouse should be short and calm in tone. It is not the time to make accusations or get even. Saying you want some time to think is enough.
  8. If it is important to have a restraining order served, arrange for it to be served after you are already safely away. Restraining orders really deter some abusers and other abusers totally disregard authorities and legal orders.
  9. Sometimes abused women are determined that they should stay in their home and keep control over all their possessions. If you’ve only experienced verbal and emotional abuse, this might work out for you. But with physical violence and sexual violence in your shared history, I advice letting go of the house. You will be safer hidden in a shelter or at a friend’s home than trying to be safe in the house that he feels entitled to keep.
  10. If you need to be in hiding for a few weeks or couple of months, use cash, don’t log onto old email accounts, use a post office box, and always use a pay phone when contacting the abuser or any of his relatives.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Do You Want Healing? (Part 2)

It saddens me when I encounter people who have left an abuser, but do not seek healing within themselves. I understand the pain and the fear that pushes at them. But they are settling for a life of continued bondage.

Abuse damages our thinking; it plants buried bombs in our minds, hearts, and souls. Ending an abusive relationship is great—a huge improvement in quality of life—but it will not automatically heal internal wounds.

Some people have told me they can’t bear to remember abuse and just want to forget and move forward. It is good to move forward. Your forward movement, however, will be moderated by how much healing you seek. Are you willing to marry another, but never trust your spouse fully because of what a former spouse did to you? Do you want to attend church, but still have a chip on your shoulder because God didn’t help you the way you wanted him to when you were in an abusive relationship? Do you settle for loneliness and isolation because you are fearful and suspicious about everyone’s intentions? These are all common issues for those who have been abused. Having the issues is a natural by-product of abuse—but what to do with the pain is a choice.

If you desire to thrive, you’ll need to seek healing for the past wounds. We know this to be true in the physical realm. A broken ankle can be ignored. If it is ignored, it may do partial healing on its own. Doing nothing to support the healing process only works to a small degree. The most likely results will be a lifelong handicap, a limp. If on the other hand, someone breaks an ankle and then seeks healing help it will lead to setting the bone (which hurts), casting (which is time-consuming and irritating), and physical therapy (which often involves more pain and then improvement and strengthening), and then finally the reward of fully restored walking without a limp (which is the result of an ankle becoming as strong as before or almost as strong). Ignoring pain seems easier and can be quicker—but the results are not enviable. Facing pain and seeking help has a price at the front end—but desirable results. We have a choice. I’d rather walk, skip, or run as I desire, rather than have limited function for the rest of my life. How about you?

Are you willing to accept help and short-term pain to seek full, long-term healing?

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft