Friday, December 28, 2012

Victim Blues

When I lived with abusers I apologized frequently for things that weren't logical or healthy. It is a real sign of growth when we apologize only for our own poor behavior. In remembrance of the old days and my old ways, here's a tragic poem.

Victim Blues

"I'm sorry"
That I'm not enough
and I mess up
again and again, somehow

"I'm sorry"
You're not happy with me,
not today, or any day,
Or even any half day

I'm sorry for making you angry again
I'm sorry for misreading your mind
I'm sorry for questioning your motives
I'm sorry I am so frustrating and faulty

"I'm sorry"
For having need
and leaking a feeling
for not remaining forever numb

"I'm sorry"
Words I said daily
and  which the abuser never said
words that held me trapped

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Recovery from Abuse

Rescues a life
from endless suffering
but requires facing the pain
as it moves along slowly

Releases us from
shame's heavy burdens
and clears the way for
new choices

Restores dignity
renews faith
brings hope
for better tomorrows

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Myths I Told Myself

I told myself myths to try to make sense out of my confusing marriage. I didn't recognize the role of myth-telling in supporting my denial.

I told myself:
  • My spouse really does love me
  • I must have heard him incorrectly
  • I must be misunderstanding him
  • Since we love each other, everything will work out
  • He tells me the truth about myself
  • He tells me the truth about himself
  • He doesn't mean what he just said
  • He would never do that thing he just threatened
  • He just needs lots of my love to shore up his insecurity
  • My love and God's love will change him
  • He didn't mean to hurt me
  • He won't do this ever again
  • His tears mean that things are going to change for the better
  • His tears mean that he really does care and wants to do better
  • When things don't add up, it's because I'm stupid
  • When he is in a better job environment, he will start be less angry
  • If I would be more perfect, he wouldn't need to be angry with me
  • If I forgive him, he will have the courage to stop exploding
  • He just has an anger issue
  • Good wives hang in their no matter how miserable a marriage is
  • I just need to focus on his good qualities
  • He's trying to do better
  • It can't be abuse
It was abuse. His love wasn't healthy. And all my wishful thinking made no difference at all. Facing the truth is what changed my life for the better. When I stepped out of denial, I was able to make new choices and free myself and my children from the abuser.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Who is in Control?

Isn't it crazy all the things we do to try to control things we have no control over? The illusion that we have some control is alluring, but accomplishes little.

We can't control the abusers mood--but we try anyway. We try to create a stress-free home. We allow the abuser to isolate us in an attempt to avoid the abuser's tantrums. We stop saying what we think. We stop saying anything about how we feel. We dress, cook, eat, sleep, and live according to his specifications. We tell her she's right, even when we're sure that she's wrong. We pour out empathy for his rough day at work. We stay up too late to complete projects she requires us to do. But do any such methods keep the abuser from "getting angry" or "becoming suicidal"?

We try to control the abuser's behavior. We leave the room to help bring down the tension in the room. We take over all parenting responsibilities to protect the children. We lie about the expense incurred with a purchase. We invent gratitude so she'll be nice. We stay home so he won't get jealous. We walk home so he won't drive abusively. We give false flattery so she'll let up on us. We verbally agree with her so she won't need to punish us. We change our behavior into any possible contortion with one goal in mind--to keep her or him from "losing it."

We try to control other's perceptions. We lie about the bruise. We forget everything. We blame ourselves for problems that the abuser has created. We lie to ourselves even more than we lie to any remaining family or friends. We become unsure about any details that might stir up controversy. We try to keep so busy that no one will see how unhappy we are.

We try to control when and where the abuser lets loose. We try to keep his temper from reaching its height until after the kids go to bed. We try to leave a party early so she won't explode until we're out of the public eye. We try to placate him. We try to baby her. We try to redirect a conversation. We take the blame with profuse apologies. We start a fight when we can't take the escalating tension over with--we know that abuse is coming, so why not get it over with?

Later, we can see the craziness so clearly. But while we're surviving abuse we think we're keeping ourselves and/or our children safer with our attempts to control our uncontrollable spouse. Real change begins with facing the truth about our primary relationship and our own behavior. Denial has to be let go of. Courage is born out of the pain of seeing clearly. With God's help we can see through all the dishonesty. When we pray for His wisdom, He gives us His wisdom, and His strength. We cannot control the abuser for any length of time--but we can trust God and begin learning how to trust ourselves too. With more self-awareness, we can stop blindly reacting . We can consider new decisions that truly have the power to change our lives for the better. We have the ability to let go of illusive control and reclaim our real power to make good decisions for our well-being.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Healthy or Abusive?


Healthy people
Take responsibility for their needs;
Feel everyone else should take care of their needs

Healthy people
Forgive others and forgive themselves when mistakes are made
Require perfection and specialize in blaming and punishing

Healthy people
Listen to criticism and evaluate it
Assume that they are the only one entitled to give criticism

Healthy people
try to understand others
tell others how they should be

Healthy people
use self-control
lack impulse control

Healthy people
try to resolve disagreements in a win-win way
set out to demolish whoever disagrees with them in a you-lose way

Healthy people
care about the welfare of others
ignore the welfare of others

Healthy people
give love without strings
always have conditions

Monday, August 20, 2012

Manipulation During Divorce Proceedings

"An abuser focuses on being charming and persuasive during a custody dispute, with an effect that can be highly misleading to Guardians ad Litem, court mediators, judges, police officers, therapists, family members, and friends. He can be skilled at discussing his hurt feelings and at characterizing the relationship as mutually destructive. He will often admit to some milder acts of violence, such as shoving or throwing things, in order to increase his own credibility and create the impression that the victim is exaggerating. He may discuss errors he has made in the past and emphasize the efforts he is making to change, in order to make his partner seem vindictive and unwilling to let go of the past."

--Lundy Bancroft, "Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes"

My former husband did precisely as Lundy Bancroft describes. He used his skill in manipulation to try to give professionals false impressions during the divorce process. I hadn't known to expect this and was shocked and frightened. I felt sure that everyone would believe him and that it would harm my children during the divorce process.

He called social services to self-report accidently grabbing his son's neck to protect him from cars in the car rental area of the airport. He made this call after I left him and I was filing for divorce. In reality, he choked his five year old son after telling him that he was going to spank him. He did this behind the rental van in the airport when no cars were driving by. His report was done to misdirect authorities, giving the impression that he was an overly sensitive guy who felt unnecessary guilt. He misreported to protect himself from any accusations I might make. He used social services and a well-thought out lie to manipulate the system.

He told the lawyers that he had willingly gone to marriage counseling and had even offered to do so again. In reality, we went to couples counseling but he ended the sessions as soon as the counselor understood that he had anger issues. And the last time he had offered, I had just let him know that I was going to a domestic violence shelter for help. He didn't want to fix the marital issues of his abuse; he wanted to gain sympathy and goodwill for himself by claiming that he was willing to try and implying that I was not.

He admitted to the lawyer that he had blocked my exit from rooms when he was mad, and that I had pushed him out of the way. Sounds mutual, but I never pushed him. And the one time I tried to squeeze by him, he hit the wall next to my head and gave me a warning that he wouldn't be so nice next time I did that. His purpose was to intimidate me.

He told friends that we had fought and he was worried about my safety when he was trying to find me when I left. There hadn't been a two-way fight. I left when I could feel the escalation of tension that signaled that more abuse was coming. His real reason for his words was to elicite information on where I had gone to.

He signed up for classes at the domestic violence shelter when he realized that I had gone and had reported the abuse. This really impressed the workers who were used to dealing almost exclusively with court-ordered offenders. The problem was that he went to look conscientious and to give altered versions of what had been going on in the home.

He told the judge that there were divorce proceedings going on and that I asked for a restraining order as an emotional ploy. In reality, I got a restraining order before I had decided to file for divorce. I got it to protect the children, at urging from workers at the domestic violence shelter. I also hadn't yet served him with any divorce papers at the time of that hearing. He wanted the judge to believe his side so that she would not reinstate the restraining order.

He told the therapist I took our children to after I left that he felt bad that he was too impatient with the kids sometimes. He didn't mention the bruises and other injuries. He didn't mention the threats. His words were about getting to give a friendly report to the court.

He told friends that he didn't understand why I was divorcing him and that he wanted to reconcile. He expressed how heart-broken he was. He told friends and our children that I was divorcing him because I had found another man. It was a lie. When I left to protect the whole family from his abuse that was escalating. I wore my wedding ring during the divorce process and never even went on a date until half a year after the divorce was final. He was projecting his own issues onto me and trying to gain sympathy and pity.

He changed the arrangements for one of our neutral-party witness (for the children to be dropped off by me and picked up by him), and then claimed that I abondoned the children and he rescued them. He told me that the neutral party had called him saying that he couldn't supervise on that particular day. He asked me to take the kids to church and leave the kids in the care of a kind elderly babysitter and he would pick them up from her. I did as asked without thinking to check with the usual neutral party. He picked them up as he told me he would. Two days later my lawyer and I got letters from his lawyer declaring that I had abandoned the children at a different location than we had previously agreed to. His purpose was to sway my lawyer into believing that I wasn't psychologically balanced and I was irresponsible.

Abusers aren't honest. They're experts at mixing part truth with deception and manipulation. While we were married, my abuser's manipulation often worked with me. I was confused and pliable. I was upset each time that he told lies during the divorce process. I had believed everything he said for so long that I feared everyone else would believe him too. But it didn't work out that way. The shelter and the judge for the temporary restraining order believed me and helped me. He didn't find out from friends where the children and I were hiding. The false report to the social services was listened to by the judge during a second hearing for the restraining order, but despite the false report she turned the temporary restraining order into a permanent restraining order and added me under its protection (I had only asked for the children to be protected). I don't know how much sympathy he got from his given reason for the divorce, but it didn't have any long term impact on me or on the children. His show with the change of the neutral witness ended up making him look bad when the former witness consented to write a letter to the court, verifying that my husband had planned the switch and gave her the week off. His tricks didn't work during the divorce process.

Repeatedly during the separation and divorce period, I prayed asking God to help people see the truth and to aid the children and I in staying safe. I asked him to be the final judge. And God faithfully did all of this and more.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What to Say

A psychologist told to tell my abused child, "It isn't your fault." It is important. It is the truth. It is good advice. But I noticed it bounces off of a victim's heart for a long time. Abused victims struggle with unjust guilt. It is one of the unfair things about the abuse—the victim is convinced that it is her/his fault, somehow. If only they would have looked different, played different, were more perfect, and behaved better...maybe, then, they wouldn't have been abused. Long after the head knows the truth the heart still struggles.

I discovered some other things I could say that helped my child integrate the truth of their innocence into their heart where it belongs. Little kids still think about magic and make-believe, so we can use it to bless their hearts. Try engaging her or his heart by responding to their stress with make-believe. Try saying something like, "I wish I had a magic wand and I could have turned the abuser into X (i.e. a frog, a fly, a harmless pebble....) or “I wish I could tap you with a magic wand and make the yucky things that happened disappear forever.”

It can help your child to realize how unfair the abuser was by saying something like "You're very strong for your age, but the abuser was so much bigger. It was really wrong for that big person to hurt you like that."

If you get hints or hunches about what the child's guilt centers around you can address it directly. "You didn't deserve to be treated that way. No one does. No matter what they..." (Say or do or wear or whether or not they were following the rules or what they agreed to play, etc.)

If your child is distraught or frightened and doesn't really want to talk there are non-verbal ways to help as well. I noticed when the police interviewed my child he held the giant stuffed animal that they had in the room. So I bought a huge stuffed animal that resided on our cough for a couple of years. I explained that my child could ask me for a hug anytime and that the big stuffed animal on the couch was there for anyone in the family to hold anytime . I would tell them that I'd noticed that I felt a little bit better when I held the cuddly dog toy and I hoped that it might help him feel a little better too.

If your child is acting out in anger because of the abuse, you can join them in a way that helps them feel understood and safe. More than once I took my child to a park with a river and we threw rocks into the water until we felt a little better. I would put words to the experience saying things such as, "I feel angry too. Let's go throw rocks in the water" and while we threw the rocks I would make occasional comments about it, such as "Oh, look how big this rock is. I can throw some of my mad out with this one." You can encourage other healthy actions to get out the anger such as urging stomping and saying something like, "Most of the time we try not to stomp around when we're upset, but today let’s try stomping really, really hard to get some of our mad out. Stomp! Stomp!" and then something like "Hey! This is helping. I'm getting some of my mad out. Do you want to stomp too?"

If your child feels like "they should have known" that the abuser was not trustworthy. Share the truth, "He/She fooled me too. I thought he/she was nice. But he/she wasn't what he/she seemed. He/she was sneaky and tricky." Again, you can incorporate some imagination with saying something like, "I thought he was fun and nice like a good puppy, but really he was a sneaky like a poisonous snake." Whatever metaphors work for you and your child can help them absorb the reality of the abuser's dishonesty and harmfulness.

My child also needed to hear that I would have done things to protect them if I had understood what the abuser was up to. "If I had known the bad things/ yucky things he/she was doing, I would have..." Pick actions that would make your child feel safer and cherished. It isn't the time to vent your angriest picture of what you'd like to do to the abuser. "I would have built a tall wall all around him so that he couldn't hurt people"(Using make-believe) or "I would have called the police and he/she would have been in big trouble a long time ago" or "I wouldn't have let him/her in the house because you are my special kid. I never would have let him/her do that to you."

You can't change what happened and you can't spare your child from all the pain they need to walk through. You can't rush the healing process. But you can respond in caring ways and creative ways that will help your youngster to process what happened. Try experimenting to find out how you can help your precious child recover.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Twisted Entitlement

Wrapping our head around how an abuser behaves is challenging for a victim because their perspectives are so different. The abuser doesn't acknowledge how hard you try to please him/her. He or she feels entitled to treat you however he or she wants. He or she feels entitled.

The abuser is thoroughly convinced that you are a debtor. He feels that you owe him:

·       You owe him subservience. Because he is the king.

·       You owe her complete empathy. Because the whole world is against her.

·        You owe him worship. He is better than you.

·       You owe her obedience. She is always right.

·       You owe him instant gratification. His needs are always first.

·       You owe her surrender. Her will must reign.

·       You owe him whatever kind of sex he wants whenever he wants it. You were made to meet his sexual needs.

·       You owe her praise. She is better than you notice.

·       You owe him mindreading. He shouldn't ever need to tell you what he needs or wants.

·       You owe her appreciation. She has sacrificed so much to put up with you.

·       You owe him loyalty. He has been so giving, hasn't he.

·       You owe her complete trust. She is your superior.

In reality, you do not owe your abuser any of these things. The abuser is a human being who isn’t more elevated or special than the rest of the humans on the planet. He or she is a fallible, troubled individual who has lost touch with reality and is trying to coerce you into meeting their imagined needs and rights.

You are entitled to relationships that build you up, rather than tear you down. You have the right to have healthy, two-way relationships with people who are kind to you. You don’t have to agree with others all the time. You should be able to ask for help meeting one of your needs, without chaos and violence being meted out as punishment. You are entitled to feel safe in your own home. If someone you live with has stripped away your rights, so that they can feel superior to you, consider whether entitlement is feeding abuse. Recognizing what is going on is the first step toward freedom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Helping Your Child Recover

Here are some ways parents can help their abused children during their recovery process:

  • Buy an extra large stuffed animal to live on the couch that your child can cuddle with whenever they want.
  • Color pictures together.
  • Keep your normal routines as much as possible.
  • Never complain about taking them to counseling.
  • Keep discipline as normal as possible.
  • Exercise together as a family to reduce stress.
  • Be willing to listen.
  • Don't pull away if the kid wants to be held or hugged or to sit on your lap more than usual. Healthy touch is reassuring and healing.
  • Expect and accept any temporary regressions in behavior.
  • Let the child initiate conversations as they want.
  • Keep the child safe from situations that might tempt them to hurt others. Such as no sleepovers for awhile if the child was sexually abused.
  • Don't talk about the abuse with others on the phone or in person within their hearing.
  • If the child realizes you've told their teacher or their grandparents about the abuse, acknowledge that you did tell this trusted person who cares about them--but give reassurance that you aren't running around telling everyone.
  • Respect your child's boundaries of when to talk and when not to.
  • Trust your child's play--even if it is strange for awhile. As long as they aren't hurting themselves or others playing things out is a child's way of processing.
  • If you have a child who is cutting themselves.Get them to counseling and do what you can to limit their opportunities. Cutting can be a way of blocking unwanted feelings and memories.
  • If your child isn't sleeping, try increasing the time for the bedtime routine. Don't get angry if your child moves around the house at night trying to feel safe. Give your child reassurance and ask a counselor for suggestions.
  • If your adolescent or teen starts doing harmful behaviors in an attempt to cope, set limits to keep them safe and give consequences as needed, but be careful not to heap on shame. Show compassion for their stress and redirect them toward healthier and more helpful ways of dealing with their feelings.
  • Acknowledge your child's courage.
  • Don't ignore behavior that is crying out for attention. Re-direct and reassure as makes sense.
  • Get support for yourself too. It is stressful to walk through recovery from abuse. If you're well-supported you'll be able to give more to your child.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Dozen Tips for Finding Safe People

Once you are free from an abusive relationship, how do you find safe people to develop meaningful relationships with? You know what you don't like—abuse. But you also have a history of being attracted to abusers. You are probably skilled in hypervigilance but it hasn't kept you out of harm's way. So what do you do?

1.     Be patient with yourself as you learn. Accept that having been abused changes you and it will take time to learn to avoid abusers and find nice people. Pray asking God to help you identify people that you can trust. Be willing to let go of relationships with people who use &/or abuse you or drag you down or restrict your freedom.

2.     Remember that things like charm, sense of humor, and being interesting are not traits that reveal what type of character the other has. They can be attractive, but they tell you nothing about the others behavior that will make a relationship positive or negative, safe or unsafe.

3.     Observe how a potential friend treats others—restaurant staff, grocery clerks, co-workers, former spouse, his or her children, pets, etc.

4.     Pay attention to your gut—rather than dismissing its warnings. If you feel internal alarms going off, then pay attention to them. There are tons of people out there, you don't have to try to force yourself to be comfortable with someone who continually worries or stresses you.

5.     Pay attention to how the other treats you. This doesn't mean whether they give great gifts or they show up frequently. How does this person interact with you? Do their words and their actions match? Ask God to help you clearly see the other person's character.

6.     Evaluate how you feel after spending time with this person. Do you feel uplifted or down? Do you feel better or worse about yourself? Do you feel drained? Are you confused? Do things seem like they are moving too fast?

7.     Don't dismiss the reputation of the potential friend. When someone doesn't have a very good reputation, there is normally a valid reason. If people give you warnings about this person, you need to listen and check things out more carefully.

8.     Focus on finding out about character traits that have a huge impact on relationships. Does he handle stress well? Does she say unkind things about others? Does he behave arrogantly or humbly? Does she manage her anger in a mature way? Does he keep his promises? Is she responsible with money? Is he honest and real? Is she above-average in selfishness? Is he inconsiderate? Is she demanding? Is he judgemental? Is she dishonest? Is he always in crisis?

9.     Would you be concerned if your sister or your child became friends with this person?

10.  Does everyone keep saying that you are such a positive influence on this person? (This might be code for this person is usually obnoxious, or dangerous, or irresponsible.)

11.  How does your potential friend respond to your feelings? Thoughts? Beliefs? Do you feel heard? Respected? Supported? Is he or she there for emotional support or are you always the one who is giving extra?

12.  When you state that you don't want to do something, does he listen or does he dismiss your objections? Does she respect your boundaries?

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