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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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Authentic community, yes please, but where?

I took down this post a day after posting it.  I thought I’d make some edits and look it over.  And deep down inside I thought, “maybe this is a little much”.  See, even now, I am figuring out what authentic living is for me.  Several days after taking the post down I had several people contact me and say that the post was a breath of fresh air.  Unbeknownst to me others have been struggling with similar things related to suffering and the church.  I decided after hearing that this was a source of hope to others I would go ahead and repost it.  After all, that has always been my hope that my story and sharing would be a source of something for others…  If this post or other stuff I share is a source of helping you know that you are not alone well then I think it’s freaking worth putting my stuff out there.

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I’ve been feeling like an orphan lately. A spiritual orphan of sorts. After 37 (ish) years in church and ministry I left. It was a culmination of things that led to isolation, depletion and burn-out, which eventually made me realize I needed to go for my own heart’s sake and health.

And now I find myself frequently asking myself questions of belonging:

to whom do I belong?

how do I belong?

is belonging possible?

It seems since leaving the church I have been left with all kinds of yearnings to continue some connection with faith, but how?– when most of what I was taught was that faith is connected to church community. And how could I possibly go back to church community when I am still recovering from so many wounds from the previous community I was a part of? And sometimes when I’m at this crisis juncture I resign myself to never finding another spiritual community again.

And then I came across this today by the dearest Anne Lamott:

My brand new sister-in-law died yesterday, as has been expected for weeks. We are heartbroken, relieved, amazed by Grace. My brothers and I are all accidentally devout believers, so we feel that death is a major change of address: that death is the end of dying, but not of life.

Or Life. Whatever you want to call it.

Life or life: This strange situation we find ourselves in, with no clear answers or meaning–well, you know, I mean besides love, or Love; taking care of the poor; and being amazed by beauty.

With Connie, who entered our lives eighteen months ago, with stage 4 cancer, we all just surrendered to the reality that my older brother John had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love.

I would not have picked a wife for him who had aggressive cancer in her liver and lungs, but that’s just me. She was everything he had ever hoped and dreamed of, as he was for her. We fell in love with her, too. This didn’t work for me at all, as Jax’s baby heart–and, who am I kidding, mine–were now guaranteed to break, big time, in the very foreseeable future.

I read this and I began to feel those yearnings hit the surface, again. She always has a way of writing with sheer, raw, heartbreakingly, open, truth-telling that I can’t help but not want to give up on the idea that on this earth– community just might exist where we are accepted just as we are: broken, imperfect, awkward, real, authentic

Maybe, just maybe there is a spiritual community that exists with a bunch of scarred-up and flawed-up people seeking to seek together and love together and suffer with and for one another…

Maybe

As much as all the various things that built up over time (endless budget meetings, being the first one in and the last one out, full-time work for part-time pay) left me feeling depleted and used up– what slowly began to eat away at my heart was the reality that I couldn’t be authentic or real about the suffering that I was experiencing.

I learned this lesson early on when my husband’s bipolar was brought to the attention of the lead pastor, our friend and he responded by stating that in this country we over diagnose and we over medicate. He was clearly uncomfortable and didn’t understand the disorder so he went on to say we needed to get help and then shortly thereafter began distancing himself.

Later I shared with the pastor’s wife my struggles with the bipolar and the depression I was experiencing as a result and she stopped talking to me and soon there-after we were no longer invited to family gatherings or events.

We continued to feel this distancing from community and staff, which led me to internalize that this must be our problem and ours alone.

I learned early on that these were not topics that were supposed to be discussed and I stopped sharing. I kept showing up for all the strategic meetings and all the work parties and to minister to others. Meanwhile, in my own life I continued to melt away.

When things would escalate to the point of violence– like the time my husband went into a rage and I needed to grab my daughter and physically run without shoes to a friend’s house– I knew that I would need to keep this to myself. A few days later I showed up to work… engaged in ministry… put on a smile… didn’t let on that anything was wrong at home…

For ten years I kept all these secrets.

I fulfilled my duties as pastor, but could not disclose my sufferings even within the circle of staff and leadership.

Yet, this church preached boldly and passionately about the need to be authentic in community. And it took some time to learn that authentic in this community meant: real minus the icky, awful, uncomfortable stuff like mental illness.

As all communities, this community had exceptions to what would be accepted as authentic.  There were all these rules and guidelines and norms about what could be shared, who could share and what was socially acceptable to publicly grieve. This was a culture that cultivated an environment of silence.

After my grandfather collapsed at his home he was rushed to a hospital ER and later that day he was diagnosed with leukemia. The shock of these events rattled me and when I shared this with my pastor he expressed no condolences or words– he just simply walked away toward his office. My grandfather died two days later and no one said a word to me about it. At my place of worship, my place of spiritual community I silently grieved alone.

You can imagine my confusion.

For a long time I thought it was me.

The past three years I’ve been in recovery. In terms of spiritual community, I often feel confused more than ever.

But I know now that this wasn’t right. I know that it wasn’t all me. I’m not perfect– I don’t claim to have my shit together, but authentic community doesn’t require polished, perfected, shit-don’t- stink, kinds of people.

I learned this, too.

I learned this when on several occasions when I was especially down and out, feeling a specialized kind of crazy in this recovery process I called out to a bunch of ladies– this ragamuffin, hard core group of women friends and they got it. I was a blubbering, sobbing, mascara-stained mess and the leader of our army said, “You’re not alone, DeAnza– we got you”.

“No requirements– we got you”.
“You don’t have to be perfect– we got you”.
“You are lovely as you are– we got you”.

I’m still confused about formal church and community.  At some point, I imagine I’ll find a spiritual community or at least hope to…

Silence is no way to live. Silence breeds shame and it is a disservice to people– it compounds suffering.

This is also what I know: this example is what community should be like– however you define it– whoever is in your community– wherever your community resides– it should be like this: a refuge place where you can bare your soul and know that you won’t be respected any less for doing so.

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V-Day for Women

I’ve never been a big one for Valentines day or all the mumbo jumbo around this consumeristic celebration of love.  Like I tell my girls, love is about everyday.  It matters how you love the people in your life every day.  And that love takes all shapes and sizes– as much as love is about romance it is also about the love we share together as ma ma and daughter, brother and sister, friends and so on…  I have always been a big supporter of Eve Ensler and all the activist work she does to bring awareness to violence against women.  I believe wholeheartedly in female empowerment.  So today I celebrate V day in recognition of women all over the world.  I hope for a safer– more compassionate and inclusive world for all women.  I am just one woman, who desires to raise my girls to know their capacity, strength and passion in the world so that they may follow their heart courageously and unapologetically.  This is hope for my daughters and all the daughters of our earth.

photo-10(In all you do be brave, be honest, love, love, love and follow your heart.

Your heart won’t steer you wrong.)

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UPDATED: ‘About’ Page…

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The ‘About’ page has been recently updated and will give you more information about what you will find on this blog.  This blog is meant to be a resource for the community, as well as a place to dialogue and share ideas!  Here is the new missional write up for what this blog is ‘About’.  I hope this can be a resource for you and please, please, please (not to sound desperate or anything ;)– I just think we’re all better for hearing from one another) share your ideas with the community.  We need your voice!

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What “Created for More” is all about:

Welcome to Created for More.  This is a blog about sustaining and maintaining healthy lives and relationships.  In this blog you will find tips, ideas, life lessons and advice on balancing your life.  

My name is DeAnza and I am a licensed therapist in Seattle.  I have devoted my life’s work to assisting people to living lives more authentically and compassionately.  I am passionate about helping people to thrive, grow and hope.  I acknowledge the fact that we live in a society that does not embrace all people.  There are many ‘isms’ that push people to the margins of society.  Yet, despite that stark reality– I think there is a way to live liberated, brave, courageous lives through self-acceptance, compassion and hope.

As much as therapy is about healing and acceptance in the individual, I believe therapy/psychology is also a vehicle for justice and advocacy.   Societal stigma tells us that to struggle or to be different is bad, unacceptable or wrong when in reality being human is challenging.  We all have challenges and that doesn’t make us bad or wrong it makes us human.

Psychology challenges stigma by giving accurate psychological health information to the public and advocating for those suffering with mental health.  Mental health is a part of our overall health.  Did you know our brains are just as susceptible to disease, dysfunction and malfunction as any other organ of our body– why wouldn’t we take care of it like we do other parts of our bodies?

We need to live without shame in that.

In this blog you will find different articles to healing, establishing healthy relationships with self and others, educational information on psychological issues and ailments, advocacy information and opportunities.

This is a blog about life– growing, learning, developing, creating and the things most important to us like: family, community and relationships.  Topics may vary and include the following: therapy, trauma, theology, feminism, health, sexuality, identity, LGBTQ, race, gender,  society/ culture, justice, compassion and more.

Join in the movement of living a life that is free, liberated– fully embracing all your potential.  You are Created for More then the status quo– what do you dream about, hope for, desire?  And know that you are important, needed and vital to this community!