Bloodied But Unbowed

25, May 2011 at 4:03 PM (solution-oriented) (, , )

For the first time in nearly two years, I am certain: that every action I take is right and good; that I am no longer taking action merely to survive, but to thrive; that I am slowly being released from fear, guilt, shame, and self-doubt; that the energy I am expending is no longer being wasted on trying to prevent violence but to create peace; that I can be me again, and that what I was, what I am, and what I can continue to become does not, and never did, deserve to be treated in any way that causes suffering as I define that for myself; for the first time in nearly two years I am certain that every action I take is contributing to my freedom: to think, to speak, to feel, and to make decisions that are right for me; and that as a more truly free person, I can be better to and for myself and therefore everything else there is in the world. With this statement I celebrate the first week I have not been contacted by the person who worked every day of his life with me to prevent me from being free and certain of these things. I look forward to where I might be in another week. I may not be in a better place than I am at this moment, it’s of course entirely possible I may even feel worse– recovering from trauma and abuse is a lot of very complex work. But now, at least, I know my actions are right and good– and that’s all I ever need to be sure of in myself– and that I am therefore on a path away from suffering and toward harmony.

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Traumatic Bonding

1, May 2011 at 11:21 AM (conflicted, solution-oriented) (, , , , )

From Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (italics in original, underline mine):

One of the great tragedies of all forms of abuse is that the abused person can become emotionally dependent on the perpetrator through a process called traumatic bonding. The assaults that an abuser makes on the woman’s self-opinion, his undermining of her progress in her life, the wedges he drives between her and other people, the psychological effects left on her when he turns scary– all can combine to cause her to need him more and more. This is a bitter psychological irony. Child abuse works in the same way, in fact, children can become more strongly attached to abusive parents than to nonabusive ones. Survivors of hostage-taking situations or of torture can exhibit similar effects, attempting to protect their tormentors from legal consequences, insisting that the hostage takers actually had their best interests at heart or even describing them as kind and caring individuals– a phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome. […]

Almost no abuser is mean or frightening all the time. At least occasionally he is loving, gentle, and humorous and perhaps even capable of compassion and empathy. This intermittent, and usually unpredictable, kindness is critical to forming traumatic attachments. When a person has suffered harsh, painful treatment over an extended period of time, he or she naturally feels a flood of love and gratitude toward anyone who brings relief, like the surge of affection one might feel for the hand that offers a glass of water on a scorching day. But in situations of abuse, the rescuer and the tormentor are the very same person. When a man stops [abusing his partner], the typical response is to feel grateful to him. […]

Your abusive partner’s cycles of moving in and out of periods of cruelty can cause you to feel very close to him during those times when he is finally kind and loving. You can end up feeling that the nightmare of his abusiveness is an experience the two of you have shared and are escaping from together, a dangerous illusion that trauma can cause. I commonly hear an abused woman say about her partner, “He really knows me,” or “No one understands me the way he does.” This may be true, but the reason he seems to understand you well is that he has studied ways to manipulate your emotions and control your reactions. At times he may seem to grasp how badly he has hurt you, which can make you feel close to him, but it’s another illusion; if he could really be empathetic about the pain he has caused, he would stop abusing you for good.

[…]

The trauma of chronic abuse can also make a woman develop fears of being alone at night, anxiety about her competence to manage her life on her own, and feelings of isolation from other people, especially if the abuser has driven her apart from her friends and family. All of these effects of abuse can make it much more difficult to separate from an abusive partner than a nonabusive one. The pull to reunify can therefore be great. Researchers have found that most abused women leave the abuser multiple times before finally being able to stay away for good. This prolonged process is largely due to the abuser’s ongoing coercion and manipulation but also is caused by the trauma bonds he has engendered in his partner.

One exercise that can help you address this trap involves making a list of all the ways, including emotional ones, in which you feel dependent on your partner, then making another list of the big or small steps you might take to begin to become more independent. These lists can guide you in focusing your energy in the directions you need to go.

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When You or Someone You Know “Disappears”

28, April 2011 at 8:55 PM (solution-oriented) (, , , , , )

I write this from the experience of seeing a friend “disappear” and finding out a few years later that she was in an abusive relationship with a controlling partner, and also from friends telling me now that I have gotten out from under an abusive and controlling partner that they did notice I disappeared when I met him, but they– just like I with my friend– didn’t know what it meant:

+ If you have a friend who starts a new relationship and you notice they seem to have “disappeared”, especially for a very long time, please do not assume they are simply caught up in enjoying their new partner; they may be in an abusive situation. It is typical, especially in the beginning of a new relationship, that someone and their new partner would indulge in being alone together; however, in a healthy relationship, couples eventually resume normal social habits and contacts with friends, often integrating their social circles (introducing their partner to friends and family, taking their new partner to their favourite places, etc). This should go both ways, with both people in the relationship inviting each other into their social lives. If you become concerned that someone you know is not maintaining normal social activities, especially after a very long time, beware: it is very likely the case that your disappeared friend is in a relationship with an abusively controlling partner. Reach out to them. If they do not respond, try again, keep trying. Be especially concerned if your friend says they will call you but doesn’t, accepts invitations to meet you but fails to show up, or seems to explain their withdrawal from their normal activities and friendships by blaming themselves (eg, “I guess I’ve just become flakey”, “I wanted to go but at the last minute I wasn’t in the mood”, etc) or making excuses for their partner (eg, “He just doesn’t like to be around people”, “He had a bad day at work, and I didn’t want to just leave him at home by himself” etc. A partner who doesn’t like to be around people or who had a bad day at work should not be preventing someone from going out themselves or otherwise maintaining normal social relationships). Any sudden change of character in a friend is cause for concern; for instance, if your friend has always been reliable but suddenly starts flaking out, there may be something wrong in their life. Call them up, ask them how things are going, ask if everything’s ok. Listen closely to them, as it may not be safe to tell you what is really going on, or they may be worried what you will think of them or their partner if they tell you the (whole) truth. Reassure them that they will not lose your respect if something is wrong. If they are with a person who is especially emotionally abusive, they may be themselves very confused about whether what is going on is “normal” or their own fault. Trust your gut instincts and what you know about your friend. If something seems wrong or out of the ordinary, reach out and help.

+ If you are in a new relationship and your partner never leaves your side, calls constantly to see what you’re up to, abandons all of his own usual social habits and contacts, never asks you meet his friends and family, does not invite you to go out with him or to his favourite places, refuses to meet your friends/family, refuses to go out by himself, or sulks, pouts, complains (before, during, or afterwards) while amongst your friends or if you go out by yourself, or otherwise exhibits anti-social or other behaviours which make it difficult or uncomfortable to maintain your normal social activities and contacts: do not interpret his constant presence and attention as “he just really likes you”– even if he tells you this– you may be with an abusively controlling partner. In a healthy relationship, your new partner would want to become part of your life which includes friends, family, and activities/interests outside the confines of your relationship. A partner who is always in your presence or who “doesn’t want to share you with anyone else” is not loving you more than someone who maintains his normal social habits and activities, he is supervising you. Beware that abusive and controlling partners will always blame-shift and claim to be the victims of their relationships. They say things like, “We abuse each other”, “We just have a bad relationship dynamic”, or “She always makes me feel like ____, so I can never ____.” An abuser’s first agenda item is to do everything possible to isolate their victim, so that they can control your activities, and manipulate others’ impressions of you. They do not invite you to meet their friends or family, so that they can never form their own impression of you. This comes in handy when your partner attempts to discredit or blame you for all or most of the problems in the relationship– his friends and family are entirely dependent on his perspective. He gets rewarded with sympathy and support, and you get punished with isolation and the inability to get support or hold him accountable for his abusiveness. He may also interfere with your own relationships that you had prior to meeting him, such as calling your friends out of “concern” for you or to “get perspective”. Some partners can and do look to your friends and family for perspective and to get to know you better; but you know an abuser because he will speak about you negatively and actively campaign for your friends’ sympathy and support in an attempt to drive a wedge between you and anyone who may be a support to you when needed. I cannot stress this enough, if this is what is happening in your relationship, do not be afraid to reach out to your friends or family. Remember, your friends love you and will help you. Anyone who does not believe you and help you, or who judges you for being in your situation, or who is skeptical of you because of what your partner has told them, these people were not your friends to begin with– do not waste your time feeling bad about it, keep looking and you WILL find support.

+ No matter what your current relationship status, whether you are single, in a new relationship, or even if you have been in a healthy and enjoyable relationship for some time, tell your friends and family now: “If I ever disappear, there is something very wrong. Please make contact with me, don’t give up.” Discuss this in advance with your most trusted friend(s), you can even have a code word that only you and they know, so if you are unsafe or so confused that all you can tell them is this word, they will know you need their help and support.

Trust and take care of your loved ones, trust and take care of yourself, don’t give up.

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Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse

10, April 2011 at 12:45 AM (sad or sorry for myself, solution-oriented) (, , , , , , )

If you would like to print out a version without my comments, please see the page Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse.

I just found this a few days ago. I cried and cried as I read it. I remembered myself asking for so many of these things so many times over the years, I remembered the last proposal I made to save our relationship and how it included so many of the things below; I remembered all of his broken promises to do some of these things, and reflected on how my final plea for resolving our issues remains only hinted at because he blew me off repeatedly when I asked if he wanted to hear it. Although I was never as thorough nor could I have been as concise as the outline below, I cried also because I felt validated and proud of myself that my instincts about what I needed and deserved were not only reasonable but correct. I cried because I felt stupid for all my confidence, because I believed there were things about him that to this day are still feeding my faith that he has the strength do this. Finally, I cried– and I still do as I read it again– because I “hear” him objecting, “I can’t do this, I don’t think I should have to do this, I’m not capable, it’s too much, it’s too hard. It’s not worth it. Our relationship is not worth it. (You are not worth it.)”

Adapted from youarenotcrazy.com

Steps of Accepting Responsibility for Abuse

If he claims he’s “changed” but isn’t doing the steps below, he’s not really changing. He’s manipulating you.

1. Admit all his abusive behaviour. This includes emotional, sexual, or physical abuse of present or past partners. He must stop suggesting you are “acting hurt” because you are unstable, weak or stupid, and stop implying you’re trying to turn people against him because you’re jealous or resentful. He must acknowledge the good in you and any other person he has abused, rather than try to save face by insisting all his “abusees” are instigators or bad seeds. He must stop all denying and minimising, including questioning and rebuffing your memory of the abuse.

2. Acknowledge his behaviour is a choice, not a loss of control. He needs to recognise that during each incident he gives himself permission to be abusive, and then he continues to choose how much to let himself go.

3. Acknowledge that his abusive behaviour was wrong, unconditionally. He must identify his typical justifications, and admit they are just excuses to be abusive; like “I just lost control” or “I was just trying to get you to listen!” He can no longer try to defend his abuse by pointing out how much you get on his nerves (emphasising how victimised he is by your “annoying” behaviour). He needs to explain in detail about why his behaviours are totally unacceptable, stop blaming you, and make a heartfelt apology. He must stop asserting that your reactions to the abuse are abusive to him. He must admit he knows that your self-defense, blunt honesty about his hurtful actions, or refusal to be bullied is NOT abuse.

4. Recognise the impact his abuse has had on you, and show empathy. He needs to discuss in detail the immediate and enduring effects his abuse has had on you, including your fear, distrust, depression, anger, and loss of freedom and other rights. He must face you to validate your pain, knowing fully he caused it. During this empathetic description of the damage he has done, he can’t revert to self-pity, talking about how painful the experience has been for him. Apologising is critical; but he also has to recognise that being genuinely sorry is just the beginning, and meaningless unless he seriously examines the swath of destruction he has caused.

5. Make amends for the damage he’s done. He has to develop a sense that he is in debt to you and to your children as a result of his abusiveness. He can begin reparation by being consistently caring and supportive, talking with people whom he has misled in regard to the abuse in admitting to them he lied, putting your needs before his own without expecting to be congratulated for it, and many more actions related to cleaning up the emotional and literal messes that his behaviours have caused. As he does this, he needs to accept that he may never be able to fully compensate you. Identify in detail his pattern of controlling behaviours and entitled attitudes. He needs to speak in detail about the day-to-day tactics of abuse he has used. Accept the need to give up his privileges and do so, this means saying goodbye to double-standards.

6. Accept that overcoming abusiveness is likely to be a life-long process. At no time can he claim his work is done by saying, “I’ve bent enough”, or complain that he’s sick of hearing about his abusiveness or control and ask when you’re planning or going to get past it. He needs to come to terms with the reality of working on his issues for good, and that you may feel the effects of what he has done for many years. Equally important, he must be able to identify his underlying beliefs and values that have driven those behaviours, such as considering himself entitled to constant attention, looking down on you as inferior, or believing that men aren’t responsible for their actions if provoked by a partner.

7. He must treat you well from now on. He must honour a commitment to never repeat his abusive, manipulative, coercive, belittling behaviours. His improvement is not dependent on your good behaviour– such as saying that he won’t call you names as long as you don’t raise your voice to him. If he backslides, he cannot justify his abusive behaviours by saying, “Yeah, I screwed up, but for three years I behaved, don’t I get credit for that? You expect me to be perfect?” as if his good behaviour is chips to spend on occasional abuse.

8. Abandon his distorted, negative picture of you and swap it with a more empathetic view. He must stop asserting that your reactions to his abuse are abusive to him, proving he’s justified or excused. He must recognise his thought pattern that focuses on and exaggerates his grievances against you. As a result, his perceptions of your weaknesses tend to be quite harsh and unforgiving. He needs to compliment you and pay attention to your strengths and abilities.

9. Be willing to be accountable for his actions both past and future. He is no longer above reproach, and this attitude must be replaced with a willingness to accept feedback and criticism for any backsliding.

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