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The Behaviors We Fail to Define as Domestic Violence

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Remember that the primary strategy of domestic violence is to control; to establish control; to maintain control; to exert control over another human being, in this case a partner.  This is the fundamental premise of domestic abuse: to control a domestic partner in order to preserve and perpetuate one’s identity, agenda & existence.

Theorists debate the reasons for domestic violence.  Why do people domestically abuse?  Feminists believe that it is due to the overarching patriarchal constructs in society that value the male experience over that of female experience.  In patriarchal societies male dominance, which lead to abuse is viewed as acceptable aspects of masculinity.  Family system therapists have questioned if it is an issue of learned behavior.  Do abusers learn to abuse by what is modeled in their home?  Ecological psychologists consider environmental systems.  Are those who are exposed to the stressors of poverty more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors under the pressure of extreme stress?

I get it– in identifying root causes perhaps we can predict and prevent (this is especially important for legislative and policy making purposes).  What we’re finding in the domestic violence literature is these root causes are complex and there can be overlapping contributing factors to abusive behaviors.  From an individual perspective, we can’t always identify someone as an abuser based on these variables alone.  In fact, sometimes reviewing these variables alone can be problematic, as some will utilize justifications for someone’s abusive behaviors when they can’t simply place the person or his/her abusive behaviors into a categorical box.

Whatever the cause/reason for domestic abuse the outcome remain: a domestically violent individual uses abusive behaviors and strategies to produce fear, submission and oppression of their partner in order to control.

Let’s talk behaviors.  For the majority of us physical aggression and violence in a relationship is recognized as domestic abuse.  Although, you will find people creating justifications for physical abuse, especially when they are having difficulty believing that a family member or friend could act abusively.  Research shows that only half of those who are exposed to domestic violence report it.  Statistically speaking between 25-34% of women are domestically abused (1 in 3 or 4 women; 1 in 7 men) and only half of these survivors will report.  The reasons for this include: 1) they fear retaliation from their abuser, 2) they believe they will not be able to access help (i.e. police won’t help, will not be able to access resources needed like housing, financial assistance, etc.), 3) they have had family and friends tell them that the partner’s behaviors are not abuse and that perhaps they are making a big deal out of nothing.  This is why advocacy and education is tremendously important because those that justify are complicit to the harm that domestic violence produces for the survivor.

Now imagine– if it is easy to justify or ignore an individual’s experience with physical violence– when there are physical representations of domestic abuse on the individual’s person– how easy is it deny a person’s disclosure and experience with psychological and emotional abuse?

Yes, domestic violence occurs in many different forms.  One form of domestic violence that researchers are documenting have to do with abusers using a partner’s credit and ruining their credit to make it difficult for the survivor to leave or to obtain housing on their own.  Some abusers use contraception as a form of control by poking holes in their condoms to increase the chances of the survivor getting pregnant.  The belief for the abuser is if she gets pregnant then 1) they will be linked permanently and 2) having a child makes it more difficult to leave and to live independently.  These are strategies of control and more often than not there are multiple strategies that are being used to control another person.  In times of domestic violence where the abuse is more subtle or difficult to quantify survivors are less understood or believed.

Psychological and emotional forms of domestic violence occur.  At times, these forms are difficult to identify for the survivor and that is why it’s important we talk about it.  These forms of abuse are often ignored by family and friends, which further isolates and makes confusing the process of identifying emotional abuse for the survivor.  We all need more education around this so that we can support survivors’ agency and human right to do what is in her best overall health and interest.

Survivors need this information to alleviate the isolation one feels when being emotionally abused.  Survivors need to hear that you are not alone and that you are not crazy.  The abuse is meant to make you feel crazy and to make you doubt your own inner voice, but you are not crazy.  Survivors need to hear that the pain you feel is legitimate and real and although you don’t carry visible physical signs of your wounds the pain is excruciating and can lead to many complex feelings of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Psychological/Emotional abuse:

Character Assassination: When an abuser picks apart the character or personality of their partner by stating that their character/personality differences are wrong or weird or unacceptable.  We all are different.  We all have different ways of navigating the world.  We all think and process things differently.  An abuser who uses this tactic views the difference of their partner as less than.  The abuser will see their way of being or character as superior to the other person and will make comments or emotionally sabotage the other person by planting seeds of doubt about what the other person does or thinks.  Abusers who sabotage their partner’s character do this in private, as well as by demeaning them in public or putting them down in front of family or friends.

Name Call: Emotional abusers verbally put down their partner.  They may yell at them and call them names and make them feel less valued or dumb or insignificant in the world.

Emotional Manipulation: Abusers typically know triggers and areas that are sensitive to their partners.  They know what kind of emotional dynamic or language to use to get a certain kind of outcome from their partner.  The survivor may have even said, “no” or “I’m not comfortable with this or that” and the abuser may use previous information or knowledge about the survivor to derive guilt or shame in order to get the outcome that they wanted in the situation.

Gaslight: Emotional gas lighting is a recent term that refers to the absolute denial and displacement of emotional abuse/manipulation by the abuser.  In other words, the survivor at some point may call out these behaviors and how it creates feelings of hurt and pain and the abuser will deny the behavior.  Additionally, they will use this opportunity to question the survivor’s emotional stability and acuity.  “Are you okay”?  “Why don’t you see that I just love you”?  “You know you’ve always had trust issues”.  “Why can’t you assume the best of me”?

Insistence that they are the Experts in your life/experience: Psychological abusers believe that they know the survivor’s experience better than the survivor.   They believe that they know what the survivor needs and what they need to be doing.  A survivor may try to explain that this or that doesn’t work the same in their experience and the abuser is convinced that they know the situation better.  They undermine the survivor’s experience by saying things like, “you know you have this habit of…” They will insist that the survivor submit to their perspective and opinion on the situation.

Emotionally Withholding and Angry: When the survivor is unable or unwilling to go along with (fill in the blank) the abuser will be emotionally withholding, cold, distant and pout.  The cold stance may shift to anger over time and will manifest in putting pressure on the survivor to do what it is the abuser wants.

What happens to the Survivor?

The emotional and psychological consequences of this sort of abuse is extensive.  Survivors describe everything from depression to anxiety to feelings of inadequacy.  Survivors talk about how they have difficulty trusting their judgement.  They struggle to identify their own needs or desires because they hear the voice of their abuser overriding their own.  I’ve had survivors describe to me a sort of brain fog where they had difficulty thinking or focusing on anything.  When they did feel that they had an idea or opinion on a matter they weren’t sure if they could trust the new information.  Survivors describe feelings of doubt and self-blame about their situation.  I’ve heard women describe a somatic pressure on their chest or abdomen that are associated with exposure to emotional oppression and suppression.  For some the pain is indescribable– it is difficult to find language to describe the invisible pain.  Still others describe feeling completely isolated– left to navigate this emotional landscape on their own while in incredible pain and confusion.

I think one thing this blog can provide is a place to affirm that this suffering is real.

The suffering is real and survivors must not endure this suffering alone.  As one sojourner, I know the benefits of community and advocacy support.  There are no easy or quick solutions but I can’t leave this entry without giving some information to those who may need to reach out for assistance.  You can find that information below and know that I believe you and I hope for you– safety & relief from this pain.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://wscadv.org

LifeWire: http://www.lifewire.org // 800-827-8840

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Sisters, go ahead embrace your too muchness

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I recently saw this blog post that a friend shared on FaceBook called: I am A “Too Much” Woman .  It is a fantastic follow up to the blog post I posted the other day Hard Ball for Women.  Ev’Yan Whitney elevates the conversation of embracing the feminine voice, standing firm in our womanly expressions and being confident in our sensuality  to a whole other level.  Complete liberation in our voice requires women to do the self-exploratory work on a holistic level– spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally and sexually.  Whitney gives a model for the process of embracing ourselves as whole and beloved people on her blog Sex Love Liberation.   Check it out.  For now here are a few thoughts:

Too Much Women are Women who

 “A hedonist, feminist, pleasure seeker, empath. I want a lot—justice, sincerity, spaciousness, ease, intimacy, actualization, respect, to be seen, to be understood, your undivided attention, and all of your promises to be kept”. By Ev’Yan Whitney

1. We need not fear people’s judgments of our too muchness.

The way we take space emotionally, intellectually, physically, sexually and relationally is not a threat to other people’s right to take their space.  Taking space is a natural extension of living in an unapologetic, authentic way.  We just do what we do and we celebrate others freedom to spread out and take their own space.

2. Remember that the shaming responses to you embracing your gifts are not based on truth, but rather insecurity and the desire to control.

When you live authentically know that when you receive messages like, “You’re too loud”, “You’re too intense”, “You’re too difficult”, “You’re too wild”, “You’re too needy”, “You’re too sensitive”— these are shaming messages.  Shame that is imposed on an individual by outside observers are meant to diminish, encourage you to shrink back and essentially control you so that you remain someone that is palatable and conforming to cultural rules.

3. All the parts of your identity are good and enough.

The one thing that is wonderful about getting to a place of embracing our whole selves is that it takes so much pressure off of us to work for outside approval and validation.  We know what we bring and we know we’re not perfect, but that doesn’t scare us.  It doesn’t scare us because we are dedicated to being life learners.  The freedom from this bondage of fear liberates us to put energy in people/places that are important to us.

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Hard Ball for Women

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I recently had a professional experience that can only be described as an adult “mean girls” situation and all because I had a professional disagreement and stood my ground.

A few days later I was called in by my colleagues and told that in a nutshell, “they felt tension” and wanted to resolve it… What they really meant was, “DeAnza, you need to be fixed, because you are not playing by our rules”.

After further reflection I realized that the real issue in my group wasn’t that I had a professional disagreement… The real issue was that I was not complying to some unspoken set of rules and expectations that the other group members had for me and I was vocal about my thoughts and feelings.

Standing firm and confident in one’s voice can be difficult. As women we are told all kinds of things when we use our voice…

“You’re too emotional”.

“You’re not a team player”.

 “You’re the cause of conflict”.

 We believe all this stuff, because we’ve been told this for a long time. It becomes so ingrained into our consciousness that sometimes we don’t even question it. Most women I talk to describe a set of “rules” that include:

Be polite and nice at all times.

Take care of those around you.

Do not be too direct. You don’t want to come off as opinionated or pushy.

Do not speak your mind— you are not the authority on anything.

Be soft and gentle.

Be the one that everyone can come to when they need to vent.

Take one for the team and when you get tired do not show it or you’ll look like you’re rebelling.

Be soft spoken.

Be careful as to not look stressed.

If you’re in physical or emotional pain suck it up or your competency, strength and capability will be questioned. More importantly, you can’t be a burden to others.

Make people feel good by smiling and laughing at their jokes even when they are offensive or inappropriate.

When you’re in a mixed gender situation be prepared to be the hostess—making sure that everyone present has refreshments and clean up after everyone.

Be pretty.

Never get angry.

Recently I read an article in the LA times called Angry While Women. It reviewed the negative response to celebrity women’s expression of anger. Everyone from Beyonce, Kelly Ripa and Jada Pinkett Smith—women who have been vocal in the media about their disgust and anger at mistreatment in the workplace and their personal lives. These women went on to not only express their anger, but also to demand change—they put up a clear boundary— They said:

We deserve better.

 We won’t accept anything less than respect.

 We matter.

 We are no longer willing to compromise ourselves.

And to say these things and express the fact that we are fed up with anything less gets us all kinds of labels:

Women who raise their voices are shrill.

 Women who are angry are controlling.

 Women who speak their mind are the b-word.

 Women who say enough is enough are crazy.

 Women who establish boundaries are selfish.

There was a time in my 20’s and even in my early 30’s I would compromise far too often. I’d compromise my feelings, ideas and convictions—believing that I didn’t know what I was thinking anyway. In a way it was a means of survival, but in the end I slowly began seeing myself fold into the shadows. It was not a thriving, healthy existence and led to all kinds of complications like depression and isolation.

It was easy to turn on myself, because the idea that my existence mattered less than everyone else was reinforced by nearly everyone. In fact, I didn’t even hear that there was an alternative until I was in my women’s studies class in undergrad.

The characteristics that were reinforced to me as a child was that I was very gentle, sweet, quiet and cute. I was rewarded for these characteristics by nearly everyone. And so for a time it worked until it didn’t—until I realized that to be that person was to not be me. These reinforcements had me believing that I didn’t need to use my brain or my capacity to critically think because what mattered more was “how I made everyone else feel” not what I thought or valued. I started feeling very used up. This greatly impacted many of my adult life choices—my relationships, where I worked, the friends I had, etc.

When I made the conscious choice to reject this construct that I had inherited from all the women before me… I was told I was rebellious and asked what had happened to that ‘nice’ girl. Some went as far as to question my faith… My values as a mother… Whatever it would take to help me see the error of my ways.

Recently I established a boundary in a relationship where I was taken for granted, mistreated and abused and I was told by other family members that my behavior was rebellious.

Setting limits goes against everything we’re taught about what it means to be a woman in this society.

A book I had in undergrad was called Hard Ball for Women. While reading it in undergrad I wasn’t able to process it thoroughly, as there was an inner conflict of maintaining the “nice, sweet, pretty, girl” role and these new ideas. The following take aways have stuck with me and I’ve adapted them over time.

HARDBALL:

Women need to refrain from taking on more responsibility then is ours to own.

Something I practice in my personal and professional life is transparency. This includes being able to say when I’ve made a mistake. When I voice that I’ve made a mistake I find that it frees me from having to be perfect. When someone brings something to me about where I’ve messed up I can be less defensive and more open to the process of learning. However, there is a fine line in accepting one’s personal flaws and imperfections and taking ownership of other people’s behaviors and actions.

A former boss had dropped the ball on funding deadlines. He proceeded to place the blame on me for his oversight. As his employee, I internalized his complaint and took on the responsibility and vowed to never let it happen again. Taking his responsibility on had me questioning and doubting every decision I made in my job. This affected my work and my self-perception for years to come. It took many a- therapy sessions later to realize, “Ohhhhhhh yah! That wasn’t on me—that was on him”. I learned from there that I wasn’t willing to take on more then what was mine to own, because of the consequences it had on me. I set this as a boundary.

Women need to stop fearing conflict and tension.

 True— conflict is not fun. Conflict doesn’t feel good. Conflict is stressful.

However, women describe to me that some of their greatest fears is ‘being the cause or instigator of conflict’. When women have shared mistreatment in their workplace and I’ve affirmed their feelings and interpretation of the mistreatment—I usually inquire further to find out what she may need to do to advocate for herself. The response to this usually has something to do with the fear that if she speaks up she’ll be viewed as the one ‘rocking the boat’. The overwhelming fear sometimes has women choosing to put up with the mistreatment.

Here’s the thing: conflict happens. We have been taught for so long that we are supposed to avoid conflict at all costs that we don’t even consider that maybe the conflict is present because of someone else’s choices and not our own. Standing up for ourselves and putting an end to mistreatment does not mean that we are the cause of conflict—it means that we are addressing the conflict and setting limitations for our own self-care and health. The conflict exists whether or not we say anything—the question is how long do you want to endure manipulative and bullying behavior? What’s the cost to you?

Women need to reject the notion that we exist to make everyone else happy.

 Women often confuse compassion and kindness for the idea of ‘making everyone else happy’. When you set limitations for your life it does not mean that you are being unkind or unfair. The thing is your boundaries will likely not make other people happy with you. People do not like boundaries because it means that you are not going to flex to their whims and ideas of what they think you should do and who they think you should be. This doesn’t make people happy, but it’s also not your responsibility to make sure that people are happy.

I remember the first time I told this to my mom. She disagreed with a life decision I had made and she was trying with all her might to ‘get me back in line’. After trying every tactic from guilting, shaming, punishing… I looked at her and said, “Ma, my life doesn’t exist to make you feel fulfilled or complete or happy. I love you, but I recognize my choices will not always make you happy and I think we can agree to disagree”. I didn’t mean anything unkind or disrespectful by it, but I needed to vocalize that I recognized that we wouldn’t see eye to eye on this subject—oh and by the way we- need- not- ever- have- this- conversation- again. In that present moment it wasn’t necessarily appreciated, but over time my mom and I experienced a greater respect of one another.

Women need to stop apologizing.

I hear women apologizing for all sorts of things that they are not responsible for.  All this apologizing has a deeper subtext– an apologetic posture for existing.

Women’s ideas and thoughts and values may not always fit the conventional mold and guess what– that’s okay– nothing to apologize for.

I catch myself apologizing and I realize that it has become an automatic response– a reflex to societal stimuli.  I’ve recently taken on a mindful practice where I consciously practice being unapologetic.

  • Whoops I forgot to sign my kid’s request form… Okay I’ll get that tomorrow.
  • Oh I’m pitching a proposal that doesn’t fit your expectation– okay.  Maybe we’ll get it next time.
  • Oh I just posted something on Facebook that doesn’t match your politics… Okay… well it wasn’t personal to you and hope that we can continue a dialogue.

It takes a great deal of work to shift these beliefs about ourselves.

In the end, what I learned about this professional scuffle was that I wasn’t willing to give my power over to anyone and I’m not going to apologize for that.

I’m not proposing that if you follow these simple steps everything will be magical and conflict will dissolve into the cosmos… Many of my life experiences where I used my voice took years to resolve in my relationships and some still haven’t resolved and I don’t know that they ever will resolve. The thing is I am more at peace being true to me… And these days peace is something that can’t be taken for granted.