3 years on…

Mmmmm…
It won’t happen to me.
I would be out of here if he ever laid a hand on me.
He has a temper, but he wouldn’t do that.
I pushed him over the edge. It’s my fault and he’s sorry.
I am getting things in order to make it possible for me to leave. I’ll be safe until then.
He promised to get help. He’s making an appointment with a counseller as soon as things settle down.
…sound familiar?
A narcissist likes to be in control. No, that’s not entirely true – they have to be in control. It is imperative that they control the environment but if something goes wrong it’s your fault. When there is an incident that snatches control away from them they react violently because that’s the only way they know to regain control.
It may start out as verbal abuse and intimidation. There may be sneering comments that strike at the very root of your confidence or there may be lots of yelling. Eventually, you stop responding to those things because they become a normal part of your life. You try to “be good”, to keep the peace and keep the abuse at bay, but you can’t. There’s always something that ignites it.
Once you stop responding, the narcissist has to go one more level to regain control over you. bugs can be temper tantrums, violent gestures, even throwing things. You try a little harder to keep things calm at home, but you find that you are getting jumpy and when you hear a sudden noise, adrenalin rushes into your system – you get butterflies, your heart pounds, and you shake. Again, at some point, your mind accepts that this is normal and it doesn’t respond with the same dramatic fear that it did before.
At this point he has to take it further to get control and usually this will be some sort of violence. If you are in the process of taking your life back from a narcissist you will experience violence at some point.
If you loved 50 Shades of Grey you will likely not love what I am about to say. That book portrays sexual abuse as being romantic, hot, and normal. You know, whatever two consenting adults do behind closed doors is okay, right?
No. Because when you have been victimised by a narcissist you can no longer say no. You no longer have the ability to think for yourself. There is a part of your brain that shuts down and goes into survival mode. Oh, you may say “No”, or “Stop”, or whatever, but he doesn’t stop and you don’t push it. After all, if you fight against it something worse might happen. Your brain stops recording images, feelings, and time and you just float in a haze. The really sad thing is that once you begin to react that way, it becomes habitual.

Sexual violence gives the narcissist control as much as other types of violence. It isn’t a matter of ignorance, or selfishness – it isn’t even about satisfaction. It is about his need for control. It isn’t normal and it isn’t okay.

No means no. Stop means stop. There is nothing sexy about being forced when you are not ready and when you don’t want it. There is nothing hot about having your every move controlled, from the things you eat, how much money you spend to how often, if at all, you go to the gym. If you think that is romantic, or sexy, or love, you are wrong.

Since abuse creeps in to your life so slowly you don’t really notice it. Something happens and you swear he’ll never get the chance to do that again. He changes, he goes to the meetings, admits he’s aware of his bad behaviour and he swears he’s on top of it all. and you believe he’s changed.
The thing is that no matter what you believe, there is every chance you are going to end up in A&E or the morgue at some point if you don’t get out and stay out, not only by his hand, but by your own. Everyone is capable of violence and a narcissist is more capable than others. Still think it won’t happen to you?
No matter what is going on in your life, no matter what your circumstances are you have options. There are family violence agencies in every city. There are churches, hotlines, and friends and family just waiting to help you. It will not be easy, but it is possible.
I didn’t think I had options. I’de had seven kids, three of which were still at home, I’de been a stay at home mum and hadn’t worked outside of the house since the 1980s. It was 2006 and I was 46 years old, 20 kilos overweight, and had zero self confidence and less self esteem. I didn’t know anyone who could help me. I knew no one would believe me, after all, he had portrayed me as the crazy one. He was Mr Nice Guy, Mr Perfect Citizen, Mr Community Minded and Mr Help Anyone and Everyone.
I had pleaded with and begged with God to rescue me, but there was no one to rescue me, and it seemed even God didn’t care. But for me it came down to – Stay and Die, or Leave to Live. It has not been easy, and it has been a long hard road. There have been times where I’ve been as close to death since leaving, as I was while in the relationship. And although  it’s been long and hard, I never expected or ever believed my life could and would get SO much better and continually surprises me with “more” better.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist that is escalating, or even if you’re not sure it’s abusive, check out an abuse hotline and talk with someone, and don’t wait. It’s too late once you’re just another statistic…
If you need help, please call 000 or LifeLine on 131114

Life is WooHoo !!

It’s been 30 years since I was last single that is if I ever was at all, having “known” my ex-husband since I was seven years old.  The landscape has certainly changed and even the vocabulary is unfamiliar.  I feel somewhat socially hindered, I am not familiar with the rules and in reality, and I don’t know if I want to engage in social recreation.  Upon reflection, I believe it will take more than I will ever find in a man to be better than none  ;)

I have determined that it isn’t life as a grown up that is complicated; it was life with a partner that was complicated.  Single life holds many pleasures which I had largely unanticipated.  I have experienced something extraordinary about life which I have never known.  Life is fun!  Life is exciting!  Everyday can be better than the day before, as more of the complicated web I had intertwined into my life is disentangled by simple pleasures such as laughter and my recently found enjoyment of life itself. Of the intense fear, insecurity and relief with which I began this journey, only the relief remains.

The rare days in which the attachment factor of the relationship prevailed, are replaced with feelings of nostalgia which are inherently set in the past.  On those days I remind myself how good it is to be self-reliant and in doing so I am reaffirming my self-esteem.  If I ignored that crucial aspect of building my self-esteem on a daily basis, which years of abuse had rendered non-existent, I would remain stuck in those days and find myself way back with the anger, bitterness and depression.

There is not one aspect of my life has remained the same.  I have learned to celebrate the daily personal victories but not to discount the immense losses.  Acknowledging the losses is equally important as acknowledging the victories.  In dealing with the grief that accompanied those losses, I have all the strength I once used to balance on the tightrope which I lived during my marriage and indeed the entirety of my life. This strength together with the knowledge that grief has had a course to run before closure could occur has been sufficient.  Although many precious people, things and an undeniable gargantuan of personal emotional investment have been lost, I realise much of that which I mourned was both flawed and worthless.

The full consequences of the relationship dissolution will for me, never be known.  Yet I conclude that the joy I have found in not only life itself, but in myself, continually out weighs all possible negative repercussions that have or indeed may follow.

Grief- The Hidden Experience

When a woman who has been abused in a relationship decides to leave, or when a victim of sexual abuse decides to speak up, we all tend to focus on the positive aspects of that decision. There is no doubt those decisions can have a very positive influence in the rest of that person’s life. On the other hand, we are not as good at recognising her immense losses. We expect her to be happy about her new life. We celebrate her strength, but we are not too good at allowing her to grieve for the person or persons that have been left behind; for the loss of such things as the relationship, her status in society, her familiar environment, and many other important aspects of her life. In this paper I will draw together researched evidence that I believe supports my personal experience of leaving an abusive relationship.

Bowlby (cited in Warden 1988) defines attachment as any form of behaviour that results in a person attaining, or retaining, proximity to some other differentiated and preferred individual. He argues that attachments come from a need for security and safety, and they have a survival value. Their goal is to maintain an affectionate bond, and when that is threatened, people have a reaction that includes very specific behaviours, such as clinging, crying, or angry coercion. If these actions are successful and the bond is restored, the actions cease and the distress is alleviated. If that does not happen, the person will experience withdrawal, apathy, and despair. According to Doka (1989) “There are circumstances, however, in which a person experiences a sense of loss but does not have a socially recognised right, role, or capacity to grieve. The person suffers a loss but has little or no opportunity to mourn publicly.”

When considering sexual, physical and emotional abuse as a powerful reason to damage the bonds created by attachment, the consequent grief experienced by the survivor is undoubtedly a loss that is not, or cannot be, openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported. Doka argues that societies have grieving rules that attempt to specify who, when, where, how, how long, and for whom people should grieve. I have found that these rules do not reflect the nature of the attachment, the sense of loss or the feelings of the survivor. Therefore, the grief is disenfranchised. Doka goes on to say that the very nature of disenfranchised grief creates additional problems for grief, while removing or minimising sources of support.

In my own and indeed the experience of other women, the interventions received by survivors of abuse from support services are not counselling interventions, but information and support. That support is short-term, intensive and geared to solve immediate problems, such as housing, income, and safety. This, together with the pressures placed on services to meet certain outcomes, does not provide the opportunity for helpful conversations in which women could be encouraged to express and mourn their losses. In addition, the financial constraints most women face after separation prevent them from accessing private counselling.

Most people in our society (including community and social workers) think that abused people are much better off out of that relationship. They might also think that, even if it seems difficult right now, given the appropriate time, survivors can forget about their current predicaments and get on with their lives. This attitude prevents both the survivor and the worker from recognising that important aspects of the person’s life have been lost, and that these losses have negative implications for the person involved. The Grief Recovery Institute mentions that one of the most damaging ‘killer clichés’ about loss is that ‘time heals all wounds’. Although recovery from loss does take time, it is the action within time that leads to successful recovery (Grief Recovery Institute 2002). Perhaps if those actions were attended to, it would help survivors minimise the number of attempts they make to break free from abusive relationships. Allowing them to express and acknowledge what they have lost, even when it goes against society’s held ideas. It does not mean that we accept what happened to them as right. Rather; we are accepting, without judgment that those are the feelings being experienced by the person at that particular moment in time.

In 1998, researchers commissioned by Australia’s Office of Status of Women interviewed 150 women about their experiences of domestic violence, its effects and what support was, or would have been, helpful (Keys Young 1998). The women identified emotional and personal support as one of their major unmet needs. They commented that feelings of trauma, guilt, loneliness, confusion, and sadness were common after leaving the relationship. They said things like: “I lost my kids. They can’t understand why I left. I can’t tell them what happened, so they think I left them. I’ve left my job, my home, my husband and my kids. And I can’t tell them why” (Keys Young 1998:62). ” That’s who I really, really feel for at the moment, is the kids. I’m not there for them. Now I’m grieving for that process” (Keys Young 1998:63). It is not only society that inhibits abused women from mourning their losses. Kauffman (1989) argues that: In self-disenfranchised grief, incipient grief is not recognised or [is] covered over, much the same as in socially disenfranchised grief, except that the source is oneself. He affirms that the specific psychological phenomenon operating is shame. The person will then inhibit the expression of grief regardless of other people’s opinions. The source of shame is not based in the actual views of others, but on what the person imagines are the views of others, or in the intra-psychic dynamics of the individual. Individuals are disenfranchised by their own shame. Kauffman calls shame the social emotion, because to some extent people’s awareness of themselves in the company of others is regulated by shame. The grief that covers shame could have consequences for the person’s relation to other people, themselves, their own humanness, and for realising what is sacred within themselves and their communities.

In the Keys Young report, women spoke of shame as being one of the major factors inhibiting them from disclosing about domestic violence or seeking help (Keys Young 1998:28). “I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening to me because I was ashamed. It’s too much of a shame job. It is a complete shame thing … Even in my mind, even today, I cannot justify why I allowed that to happen”. The shame of disclosure is then compounded with the shame of grieving and regret. In my own experience I concur with Jenny Dwyer and Robyn Miller (1996) who have explored the ways in which society prevents women from mourning losses as a direct consequence of an abusive relationship. For mothers, this is the loss of the family unit, loss of the marriage, loss of self-esteem and identity, and loss of the expected future. It is compounded by self-blame and profound despair as they face the full consequences of their disclosure and the actual events of the abuse. The consequences include loss of the family and community, loss of self-esteem and identity, and loss of a normal future. In addition, experience from supporting women on telephone counselling lines has identified the following issues of which I have identified:

  • loss of some aspects of their past, when their own survival prompted them to bury some memories until they were able to deal with them properly;
  • loss of dearly loved members of the perpetrator’s family, such as in-laws, or other people with whom they had relationships they treasured;
  • loss of the right to tell their own stories for fear of being shunned or being seen by others as responsible for the abuse they suffered; loss of the dream of being ‘properly’ loved by someone and being a partner in a respectful relationship;
  • loss of innocence and trust in others;
  • a sense of loss of their own ‘good judgement capacities’, given that they are often made to feel responsible for the violence because they ‘always choose that type of man’.

Herman (1992) indicates that recovery unfolds in three stages, all of which have a central task: the establishment of safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnection with ordinary life. About remembrance and mourning, she says that the survivor very often resists the need for mourning, not only out of fear but also out of pride, not to allow the perpetrator to have a victory over her. Herman highlights the importance of reframing that mourning as an act of courage, rather than an act of humiliation. If a woman is unable to grieve, she will be cut off from a part of herself, and robbed of an important part of her healing. In Herman’s words: “Her healing depends on the discovery of restorative love in her own life; it does not require that this love be extended to the perpetrator. Once the survivor has mourned the traumatic event, she may be surprised to discover how uninteresting the perpetrator has become to her and how little concern she feels for his fate. She may even feel sorrow and compassion for him, but this disengaged feeling is not the same as forgiveness (1992:190).

According to Herman, once the survivor has had the opportunity to mourn the old self that the trauma destroyed, she has to face the task of developing a new self and creating new relationships. Herman compares this experience with the experience of a person migrating to a new country, in which she has to create a new life in a culture different from the one she has left behind. That in itself is wonderful and frightening. Perhaps the task for workers should be to conceptualise a more integrated support for women and children who have been victims of abuse. That will need policies implemented to support victims to go beyond the crisis. Women leave and are supported by available services, at the level they are funded to do so. It is not lack of commitment; it is lack of resources due to lack of funding.

I am convinced, if that type of support was available, it would make a difference to the quality of life that many women and children would achieve, if we could think of services in a more adventurous and holistic way. It seems that as a society we are just beginning to understand the consequences of not only abuse but the untreated grief it generates and the many different ways it can emerge. It is not an individual worker or a service provider responsibility only. It requires a different way of thinking about our social views both individually and as a community.

 

 

References:

Doka, K. (1989) Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow,Lexington Books,Massachusetts

Dwyer, J. and Miller, R. (1996) The Experience of Victims, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, Vol. 17, No. 3

Grief Recovery Institute (2002) ‘Killer Clichés about Loss’, website: www.grief-recovery.com

Herman, Judith (1992) Trauma and Recovery: From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, Pandora,London

Kauffman, J. (1989) ‘Intrapsychic Dimensions of Disenfranchised Grief’, in K. Doka, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognising Hidden Sorrow, Lexington Books, Massachusetts

Keys Young (1998) Against the Odds¾How Women Survive Domestic Violence: The needs of women experiencing domestic violence who do not use domestic violence and related crisis services, Office of the Status of Women, Barton, ACT.

Warden, J.W. (1991) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy; a handbook for the mental health practice, 2nd edition, Springer Publishing, N.Y.

Becoming the best you ~ 1

Simply put, people with I Can attitudes believe in themselves.  They believe that fulfilment and happiness are not only possible, but also an expected way of living.  Indeed, this I Can attitude advances the individual towards positive outcomes, the realisation of goals, the fulfilment of dreams and overall wellbeing.  One very cool aspect of this thinking is that it is really quite easy;  a little I Can goes a long way and even better is that a little I Can generates even more I Can.

 There is no switch you can flick to go from being negative to positive.  It’s a multifaceted process involving many different issues, but one of the key issues is to develop an I Can attitude.  I Can people get things done because they never consider why they can’t do something.  The only thing that stops any one of us from having happy and fulfilling lives is that little voice inside our heads that tells us I can’t.  But why do we think that way?  Why is it that the vast majority of us are limited in this way?  From the moment we are born most of us are conditioned to accept that we will spend our lives working for someone else, making just about enough money to get by.  This is an average lifestyle.  So, by the time we are old enough to go out into the big wide world our aim is just to survive.  If we dream of anything better, chances are we will come up against our I can’t attitude and put the dreams to one side.  Yet, despite this, there are still people who go on to extraordinary achievements and phenomenal success.  How can these people manage to achieve success in this environment which encourages us all to be average?  What makes these people different?  One of the most important things about these people is their attitude.  Somehow, they have managed to overcome the I can’t attitude.  When they dream of what they could become, they don’t say I can’t and find all the reasons why not.  Instead, they say I Can and sure enough, they do.

 To make the most of life, you need to be able to live it to the full.  People with an I Can attitude know that life is

  1. A journey.  I Can people know they will probably make mistakes.  If they do, they don’t make a big deal out of it.  They accept the mistake, learn the lesson and move on.  They understand they have experienced an opportunity to learn something new and that if the lesson is not learned, life will come back to teach it repeatedly until it is learned.
  2. Not to be taken to seriously.  Taking life too seriously makes people uptight and stressed.  Laugh, have fun.  Recognise and accept that nothing is perfect.  Life comes in all shapes and sizes.  It’s a variety of experiences to be enjoyed.  I Can people make sure they enjoy it.
  3. Not just survival.  I Can people have realised the truth to a happy and fulfilling life.  It’s not about just getting by; it’s about having a dream and knowing you are going to get there.  The I Can person knows why she is here and understands her purpose.  Whether that purpose is to teach kids football or write a bestseller, the I Can person does it with two feet on the ground and his eyes fixed firmly on the destination.

 I Can people also recognise;

  • My glass is half full, not half empty.  I said earlier that in reality we grow up in an environment where our expectation is merely to survive.  This is an incredibly pessimistic outlook on life and surely misses the whole point of life itself.  In such a downbeat atmosphere, is it any wonder so many of us think I can’t and are dominated by the fear that things will go wrong?  Life depends on how you look at it.  The I Can attitude does not acknowledge pessimism and instead is that of the optimistic realist.  I Can people are aware that things can go wrong because life is like that, but that does not stop them from trying out opportunities to take them to better places and better opportunities.
  • I am not alone.  I Can people are aware that other people are more than willing to help them.  This is because the world reacts to sincerity in a way that a person reacts to a child.  There is no trickery involved.  I Can people are agents of change for the better, not hesitating to help others who are also on the way or seek to find the way.  Help yourself by helping others.

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