Thursday, November 8, 2012

AVOIDING PEOPLE WHEN YOU GO BACK TO HIM



                Today I am going to describe a pattern that sometimes plays out with when a woman is struggling with a partner who doesn’t treat her right. If it sounds familiar, you’ll find it helpful to recognize it and not let it happen again. And if you haven’t lived this one, you can think ahead about how to make sure you never do.
 
                It goes like this: First, you find yourself mired in one of those periods when he is just being rotten to you day after day, and you feel like you just can’t take it anymore. You rant to some of your closest people about what a jerk he is, and they are right behind you on it. You say you’re done with him, and they cheer you on to give him the boot, helping you to plan how you’ll do it. You’re all a team.
  
              But over a period of days or weeks you are feeling less and less sure. The thought of ending your relationship starts to feel overwhelming, and the loss seems too great. He senses that you are leaning toward the door – or you tell him outright – and he improves his behavior some and promises to make bigger changes. The upshot is that you are going to give it another try.
  
              Now comes the tricky part. You’ve been bonding with loved ones about how awful he is, so how do you explain to them that you’re staying?
  
              And something else starts to happen, which is that the crisis of your relationship almost coming apart makes you and your partner feel closer. He’s being sweet, and you’re feeling a little resentful towards people around you for being so negative about him. You tell yourself that they don’t really understand him, or you for that matter; in fact, you feel like he’s the only person who really gets you.
  
              So now you and he have become a secret society, a special team together against that hostile, non-comprehending world out there. You have a deep connection with each other that they just can’t grasp.
  
              In short, you have two reasons to keep them all away; you are a little ashamed in front of them, but at the same time you are feeling that you and your partner are a little bit above them.
  
              But what is really happening is that you are growing more traumatized and more isolated. Your partner is drawing you into a traumatic bond, and leading you away from your support system. Your secret society is not a healthy place to be. It’s an illusion, and a destructive one.
  
               Your people love you. Don’t cut them out. Whatever you decide about how to handle your relationship, keep reaching back toward the hands that are reaching out to you.


“I can’t ever let my partner come between me and my people. I have to see this for what it is.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

GOOD PEOPLE ABOUND



              You may feel quite shaken up in your view of the human race. Any woman who suffers serious mistreatment from a partner she had loved and trusted struggles with feelings of betrayal. And betrayal can knock you off your foundation at a core level, so that:

·           the world starts to feel like an unsafe place.
·           everyone’s motives start to be suspect
·           you start to question your sense of what is real

            If your partner were terrible all the time, it would actually be easier to deal with in many ways; you would tell yourself, “Well, he turned out to be a jerk.” But when someone you love goes back and forth between kindness and cruelty, generosity and selfishness, tenderness and intimidation, loving you and cheating on you, you can come to feel that it’s impossible to understand people. Your feelings for the primary person in your life tend to carry over into how you view everyone.

              Your partner may further feed the problem by encouraging you to think badly of others. He may tell you that people are lying to you or taking advantage of you; that your friends have hidden motives; that you are na├»ve in your dealings with people; that “everyone is just out for themselves.” He’s talking about himself, though he probably doesn’t know it. 

              And yes, there are sharks out there. But the world is also full of so many thoughtful, caring, honest individuals. Most people don’t use other people, or trick them, or threaten them. In fact, most people are doing their best to live ethical lives and to be decent and responsible for other people.

              So don’t let your partner (or ex-partner) distort your outlook on your species. Look for the good in people, and notice their efforts to make human connection. Be smart, yes, but don’t harden your heart. You will find many gems in the human race.


“I will stay open to people and give them a chance. I’m keeping my heart alive.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

WHEN HIS PUT-DOWNS SOUND TRUE

Some of the hardest put-downs to deal with are the ones that seem to have aspects of truth to them. Maybe he’s snarling at you that you can’t handle money, and the truth is that your finances really are in a mess. Maybe he’s calling you fat, and in reality you have indeed put on some pounds. Maybe he’s saying that everyone thinks you’re a psycho, and the truth is that some important friends actually have turned against you.

Does this mean that he’s trying to help you to face some things that you need to face? Does this mean you are wrong to feel bad about the ways you are being verbally torn apart?

No.

The truth is that even when he seems to be right, he’s still wrong. And he's definitely not trying to help, though he may tell you he is. Here are reasons not to take his statements to heart:

1) Because he’s exaggerating your difficulties in order to hurt you, even if there are partial truths in his words.

2) Because he’s telling you that everything that is difficult in your life is your own fault, and that it shows what a weak person you are underneath. And that’s completely false.

3) Because he’s ignoring how profoundly his mistreatment of you has contributed to these problems, or even created them entirely. When you live with a chronically insulting and undermining partner, your self-esteem suffers, your friendships suffer, your concentration suffers. He’s certainly not helping – he’s making everything worse.

4) Because people’s difficulties don’t – and shouldn’t – define who they are.

A man who chronically mistreats you is a terrible source of information about who you are. His vision is too distorted, too self-centered, and too self-serving to have any useful clarity, especially when the subject is you.

To put it concisely: It is impossible for a man to see a woman clearly while he is controlling her, abusing her, or cheating on her
.

A meditation for today: “I will listen carefully to my own inner voices, and to people who love me and treat me well. His harangues need to go in one ear and out the other.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

RETHINKING CHARM

As a society, we place a high value on charm; when we meet new people, we love it if they are very quickly smooth, funny, entertaining, and flattering. We are charmed when they seem immediately ready to jump into doing favors for us. We love confidence, lively story-telling, and a sharp personal appearance.

And it all can be bad news.

This is a hard pattern to overcome. We have been so heavily taught by our culture, by romantic stories, by television and movies, and by popular songs, to fall in love with charm that we are addicted to it. We run after it like children after the Pied Piper, thinking it will deeply meet our cravings. And it usually leads either nowhere -- which is okay, but disappointing -- or into harm.

It's not our fault that we got hooked on charm, given our societal training, but we need to get past it. Abusers tend to be charming. Sociopaths tend to be charming. People with personality disorders tend to be charming. Con artists tend to be charming. Users tend to be charming.

Is every charming person exploitative? No. But charm is not a good sign. We need to do a 180 degree turn in how we think about charm. Our current thinking is:

"Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of bad experience to convince me that you are actually not a trustworthy person."

We need to switch this to its opposite:

"Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of good experience to conclude that you are okay."

In other words, charm should count against the person in deciding whether to trust them, not for them. If we would practice this, we would often save ourselves from an abusive relationship, from people who steal our money, from bosses who turn out to be terrors, from nightmarish housemates, and from other situations of harm that we find ourselves sucked into.

Why is charm a warning sign? First of all, developing and maintaining a charming exterior takes a lot of work all the time. People who choose to put that much exaggerated effort into how they present themselves are often doing so because they have something to hide. They move through the world taking advantage of people, so they need to put that way of operating in a package that looks appealing or everyone would run away from them. Exploiters tend to be charmers.

Second, the other most common reason for people to be so focused on putting forth an exaggeratedly powerful positive image is that they deeply hate themselves (way beyond the typical kinds of self-esteem issues that we all struggle with). They are convinced, largely unconsciously, that anyone who saw who they really are would despise them and want nothing to do with them. And as a result they have developed a psychological condition known as a personality disorder. This self-hating charmer is not meaning to take advantage of people, but ends up doing so anyhow (for a complex set of reasons -- I'll write about personality disorder and how it works another time). If someone with a personality disorder plays a key role in your life, that can be as stressful as dealing with an abuser or a sociopath.

(By the way, sociopaths are considered to have a personality disorder, but I choose to put them in a somewhat separate category, because they know they're using people, and they just don't care.)

And people can have mixtures of these issues; for example, there are abusers who have personality disorders (although most don't even though they may seem like they do).

So what's the solution? Here are a few things we can do:

* Be wary of charmers. Keep one hand on your wallet. Listen carefully to your own inner voices and warnings, and get to know the person gradually, watching their behavior. Stop respecting and admiring charm.

* Look for a different set of qualities in people, instead of charm. Look for sincerity, dependability, good listening, and an ability to share the spotlight (not having to always be the center of attention). Look for an ability to take feedback and realize when they have made mistakes. Look for flexibility. Look for deep kindness over time (not just big generosity right now, which is part of charm). Look for a person who has successful relationships with (healthy) friends and relatives that have held up for many years. Look for substance.

* Look for people whose entertaining qualities are a little subtler. There are many people who are tremendous fun, have great senses of humor, or are quite uninhibited, but it doesn't all come pouring out at once the second you meet them.

* Look for people who aren't overly dramatic. The drama-junkie is entertaining at first, but will bring a lot of bad drama into your life that you don't need.

* Stop expecting romance right at the beginning of a dating relationship. Meaningful, satisfying romance takes a while to build. The guy who is instantly romantic is often a guy who can't really make friends with a woman or can't take women seriously as people. The most romantic first dates rarely seem to lead to the most romantic relationships.

There are so many great people in the world. But to find them, we sometimes have to change where we're looking. Some charming people turn out to be genuinely great, but so often they don't. Keep your eyes open and look for people who have something deeper and more genuine to offer.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

CAN THE FAMILY COURT GET UP TO SPEED ON THE PAST FORTY YEARS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE RESEARCH?

Family courts across the continent are continuing to operate largely disconnected from the last four decades of research and clinical writing on incest perpetration, including the stories of survivors. The unfortunate result in many cases that I have researched is that court and court-appointed personnel are basing their decisions on myths and misconceptions that went out long ago, sometimes leading to disastrous results for children and their non-offending parents. Here are some of the key points that family courts are often missing (I use "he" for the suspected perpetrator and "she" for the alleged victim, since this is statistically the most common scenario):

* A child's relationship with a parent that is sexually abusing her will often have some positive (or at least positive appearing) aspects.

Courts in some cases stop looking carefully at evidence of sexual abuse by a father if they get reports that the child is sometimes happy to see him, is physically affectionate with him, or expresses interest in seeing him. The reality is that incest perpetrators typically develop a bond (though not a healthy one) with their victims through doing favors, giving positive attention, expressing love (and even describing the sexual abuse as proof of that love), and buying gifts. This is extremely confusing for the child and tends to leave her with powerful ambivalent feelings and adds to the difficulty she faces in making the hard decision of whether to disclose his behavior, and then whether to testify against him.

Furthermore, incest perpetrators do profound psychological damage to their victims without being horrible to them all the time. In fact, survivors say that the positive-appearing aspects of their relationships with their fathers made the emotional wounds in many ways deeper and harder to heal from.

I have been involved in a number of cases where court personnel acknowledged that the sexual abuse had occurred or had probably occurred, but then have gone on to state that the child's relationship with the father has some positive aspects, and therefore is very important to preserve in an extensive form. This conclusion does not follow from the research evidence regarding harm and is specifically contradicted by survivors' stories; contact between an incest perpetrator and a victim should occur only with highly-trained and vigilant supervision, and should stop any time the victim wishes it to or starts to show significant emotional deterioration following visits.

* It is common for a victim to recant disclosures of sexual abuse some time later, and even more so in cases where she has continued to have unsupervised contact with the suspected perpetrator.

Incest perpetrators are known to control and intimidate the victim in various ways following a disclosure; commonly reported tactics include threatening to harm the child or actually doing so, telling the child that he will go to jail if she doesn't recant, threatening to harm the mother, telling the child that she will never get to see him (the father) again if she doesn't recant, promising her purchases, vacations, or other rewards in return for recanting, and promising her that the abuse will stop in return for recanting. Obviously the more extensive access the suspected perpetrator has to the child through visitation, phone calls, texting, and email, or if the child is continuing to live with him, the greater the risk of a forced recantation.

* The suspected perpetrator will make angry, outraged, and hurt-sounding denials in close to 100% of cases. A correctly-accused perpetrator will be very difficult to distinguish by his public behavior, including his behavior at court, from one who is false accused. The perpetrator is often a respected and successful member of the community.

Courts have to rely on the evidence, not on how the suspect presents himself or what his public reputation is like.

* Incest perpetration is almost always surrounded by a other behaviors by the man that violate the child's boundaries in subtler, less overtly illegal, ways. These behaviors usually begin well before the outright sexual abuse begins, and then continue along side it.

Courts sometimes make the mistake of discounting evidence of boundary violations toward a child "because they don't rise to the level of sexual abuse." Such boundary violations need to be taken seriously always, but in a case where there are other indications of sexual abuse -- such as a child's disclosure, for example -- such lower level boundary violations should be treated as evidence pointing to the likelihood that the outright sexual abuse being disclosed did in fact take place.

* It is virtually unheard of for children younger than teenagers to make up reports of sexual abuse, and even in teenagers it is very rare.

Mistaken reports of sexual abuse do not come from children making them up. They come from one of the following sources: 1) A statement by the child that was misinterpreted by adults; 2) The child having been manipulated or intimidated into making the false allegation. Proper unbiased investigation makes it possible to find out if one of these two is functioning in a case.

* Most sexual abuse allegations that are brought to the attention of family courts are brought in good faith, not as a "tactic."

Every large-sample study that has been done has found that true reports of sexual abuse are substantially more common than mistaken ones even when they occur in the context of child custody litigation. Further, the research has found that even most mistaken allegations are brought in good faith, meaning that the parent heard a disclosure or witnessed behaviors that would have worried most responsible parents. And finally, the research shows that sexual abuse allegations that are deliberately false are made equally by fathers and mothers; there is no basis for the belief that women are especially likely to make a false sexual abuse report during litigation.

* Domestic violence perpetrators (specifically, men who batter women), have been found in study after study to commit a far higher rate of incest than non-battering men do.

You can read a review of many studies on the subject in Chapter 4 of my book The Batterer as Parent. When there is persuasive evidence of a history of domestic violence, courts should make sure to investigate sexual abuse disclosures, and reports of lower level (not illegal) boundary violations, by that father with even more care and diligence.

* When a child discloses sexual abuse to a parent (by anyone), the parent needs to believe the child and take every possible step to protect her.

It may seem odd that I have to say this, but it is regrettably common for mothers in family courts to be criticized for believing the child, particularly if other systems such as child protection or the family court have declared that they cannot find enough evidence to restrict the father's visitation. If a mother persists in believing her child, and tries to explain the different ways in which systems failed to make a properly thorough and unbiased investigation, she may have various negative labels attached to her by court personnel or may be threatened with having the child removed from her even if any other responsible parent in her position would also remain concerned, given the facts of the case.

Everything I wrote above remains true if the child making the disclosure is a boy, by the way.
It is my fervent hope that family courts across the continent will take rapid steps to get themselves in alignment with the research and with the published accounts of survivors. A tremendous number of lives are in the balance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A POWERFUL KEY TO HEALING FROM TRAUMA

We are designed, deep down in our genetic structure, to heal naturally from emotional injury, including trauma. Amidst all of the focus on modern invention and discovery, we are missing the oldest, and for most people the most powerful, route to emotional wellness: deep crying.

Crying is the most misunderstood aspect of human experience. If we could get this one right, we could get everything else right; our failure to grasp how crying works is in many ways the core of the difficulties faced by our species.

I read a book a few years ago about crying that went on for chapters and chapters about what a mystery there is about why people cry. But there is no mystery about tears; they exist to make us well. From the time we are born until we grow as old as the ancients, we cry to relieve our pain. There is no more effective pain-killer on the earth, and that’s what it’s there for.

But crying does much more than make us feel better; it literally heals grief, and does so more deeply and powerfully, and in a way that is much longer lasting, than any other emotional healing approach we know about. Tears literally wash our grief away.

So why are we putting so much energy into trying not to cry, and to trying to stop each other from crying? Here are a few of the reasons:

• We confuse the pain (the grief, for example) with the healing of the pain. We think that when someone is crying, that’s a sign of how much they are hurting. But it isn’t. It’s a sign that some of their hurt is getting out of them. We mistakenly believe that if we stop them from crying (by “cheering them up” for example, or by “getting their mind off of it”), that we have made them feel better. But we haven’t. We’ve stopped their healing process, and left them with all the same pain they started with, which will come up to hurt them another day soon… So remember, the sadness is the pain, and the crying is the healing of that pain.

• We’re afraid that people will feel sorry for us if we cry, and it doesn’t feel good to have people feeling sorry for us… So stop feeling sorry for people who are crying, and just love and support them, and hope that people will learn to do the same for you.

• We believe that crying makes people weak. But it doesn’t, it makes them strong, especially if they cry long and hard. (It’s true that hours and hours, or years and years for that matter, of shallow, hesitant, lonely, weepy crying can sap your power. But deep, gut-wrenching, cleansing crying will leave you with more strength than you started with.)

• We don't cry long enough and hard enough to discover its benefits. If you cry only a little bit, keeping it shallow and short, which is what most people do, you’ll come out thinking that crying doesn’t really do much. But watch how babies and young children cry; they cry with every fiber of their being, their heart just pours with grief as if the world were ending. And then – if no one makes fun of them for it or treats them unkindly – they keep it going for quite a while. And finally, they get the cleansing of their pain that they needed, and they are in high spirits and high energy for a long time afterward! Why are we denying children a healing process that obviously works so well? Just watch and see what happens when you love a child while he or she cries, and let them – in fact encourage them – to cry as long and hard as they need to. You will see what I’m describing.

• We’re afraid that we’ll get ridiculed for crying. And tragically, that is sometimes exactly what happens.

A study years back found that 80% of women and 70% of men said that they felt better after a “good” cry – meaning a deep and extended one. You will not find it easy to unearth any other healing approach that is successful with three-quarters of the population. Participants in that study also described numerous additional benefits, including that they found that they could think more clearly after crying, that they were capable of finding solutions to problems that previously had seemed impossible to overcome, and that they felt more loving and understanding towards other people.

And we are born to do it. No one has to teach us how to cry. It's in our biological programming.

Rather than being seen as a sidelight in the healing of trauma, we should come to recognize deep crying as the key.

This is the first round of a series of posts I am going to write about crying. In the weeks ahead, I will be answering questions such as: 1) How come some days I can cry my pain out and other days I can’t?, 2) But what if I’m one of those people who feel worse after crying, not better?, 3) How should I deal with my children’s crying?, 4) What should I say when a friend starts to cry?, 5) Does crying have to be a lonely activity?, and 6) How can I bring more crying -- and more deep emotional healing in general -- into my life?

In the mean time, I would love to have people write in with stories of transformative experiences you have had through crying.

Monday, January 2, 2012

AM I THE ABUSIVE ONE?

Living with an angry and controlling partner can become a twisted world where bad is good, down is up, and wrong is right. Many women over the years have said to me, “My partner tells me that I’m the one abusing him. He has said it so many times that I start to wonder if he’s right. How do I know if it’s him or me?”

We can look at some ways to answer that question, but first I would like you to read a few concepts, taking a deep breath after each one so that you can absorb it.

One: You are not responsible for his behavior. You do not make him do things. His actions are his own choice.

Breathe.

Two: You deserve to be treated well even when you make mistakes, and even if you make them a lot.

Breathe.

Three: Setting firm, clear limits for how your partner is allowed to treat you is not the same thing as controlling him, and should not be called control.

Breathe.

Four: Choosing to not always put your partner’s needs ahead of your own does not constitute hurting him, wronging him, or being selfish. You have the right to give substantial priority to your own needs and desires.

Breathe.

Five: If you scream and yell once in a while that does not mean that you are crazy or abusive (though he may say so). It depends on whether you are yelling degrading things, whether your partner is intimidated by you, whether you are yelling to control him (versus yelling to resist his control), and many other factors.

Breathe.

These five concepts cover most of the situations where angry and controlling men try to turn the tables on their partners. If you work on digesting each point, he will have a much harder time convincing you that you are really the one with the problem.

But I haven’t really answered your question yet. You may still wonder, “But what if he really isn’t the destructive one, and I am? How would I know?” Here’s how:

* He’s kind to you most of the time, and he treats you reasonably decently even when he’s mad or upset with you.

* He takes responsibility for his own actions, not frequently blaming them on you or on stress or other excuses. And he doesn't get scary.

* He has asked you repeatedly, and in a decent and thoughtful way (not in a stream of put-downs) to change specific behaviors of yours, and you seem to keep returning to doing those things he has asked you not to do.

* He has shown willingness to work on things you want him to work on, and has taken real steps regarding those issues (not just making promises).

If all of the above points are true then, okay, maybe you need to look at your treatment of him. But otherwise – and I’m willing to bet your situation falls into the “otherwise” category – your partner is doing what so many angry and controlling men do, which is turning things into their opposites in order to have even more weapons to hammer you with.