With so many opinions and definitions in our culture about abuse, how do you define abuse?
Must a bruise be present for you to believe your friend or neighbor is being abused? If there is not bruising, can abuse still be happening in a home? Why is it when women sit in my office trying to share with me their story of abuse their eyes are hooked on the floor, shame is palpable in the room, words start to flow out of their mouths but then stop as though they are scared to say anything? I believe abused women are scared to say, “I’m being abused” because they are often disregarded and misunderstood.
It seems fair to say that as a culture we do not fully grasp what abuse is and the many forms it presents itself.
The following definition of abuse can be found at Crying Out For Justice. Its a little long, but please stick with me.
“Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.
While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.”
Was your definition similar to the one above? In my experience, we tend to think about someone who abuses as simply having an anger problem. We say, “If he would just go to an anger-management program and counseling and work hard everything will be fine.” This is how I used to think, but not anymore.
I have been learning a lot about the nature of abusive men. Partly because of my own personal story and partly because I work with many who are wounded by abuse. Our society seems to think that an abuser just needs to change his behavior by going to counseling, anger-management classes, and read books (or some variation thereof).
But an abuser doesn’t need to change his behavior, he needs to change his beliefs.
His fundamental thinking in which he believes he is entitled to treat his spouse however he would like. For me, this shift in thinking has monumentally changed how I view abusive men and how I care for those who have been wounded.
Did you know…
-An abuser isn’t always abusive? He will go through days and months without being abusive. This can cause confusion on behalf of the abused.
-An abuser wants to create as much confusion as possible to those seeking to “figure him out”. So he will try to get you (the abused, the counselor, the friend, the pastor) to focus in the wrong direction. Oftentimes this will look like the abuser blaming the spouse for all of the relational problems and painting himself to be the victim.
-An abuser is usually the guy everyone likes. He’s easily likable, enjoyable, and can tend to come across as laid-back.
-An abuser will want you to focus on his feelings but not his thinking. He fears that if you figure out his thinking you will strip him of his power to control. Hence why he seeks to create as much confusion as possible (see above).
It is important that we begin to grasp the nature of abusers so that we can see it, stop it, and seek to bring healing.
-By Lianne Johnson, LPC
*For this post I used the male gender to represent the abuser and the female to represent the abused. The genders could easily be reversed, and in no way am I saying it can’t. Some of the above thoughts are adapted from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?, which is an amazingly great book.
“Yes, empathy requires some vulnerability, and we risk getting back a ‘mind your own damn business’ look, but it’s worth it.” – page 100, Daring Greatly
I’ve been slowly making may way through Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. It’s a great book. It even made #1 on the New York Times bestseller list! I honestly haven’t read a book written by her that I haven’t fully enjoyed and learned from yet, but if I ever do I’ll let you know.
After having read the quote I opened this post with, I stopped reading. I had to think more about what she was saying. I thought to myself, “Empathy requires vulnerability? Really…hmmm, why?”
When we choose to empathize with another in their suffering and/or emotion we are choosing to say, “I will not ignore your pain, your emotion, or your needs, and I am here for you.” Saying something like this absolutely requires us to be vulnerable!
Choosing to empathize with another requires things from us, doesn’t it? Showing empathy requires that we be vulnerable. Vulnerable with our time, emotional and mental energy, our personal comfort (or rather discomfort that can come when we become involved in another’s situation), sometimes it requires that we speak into their pain and sometimes we sit in silence with our friend. In your friendships do you think its “worth” all of the things it may cost you to show empathy? Sometimes I have found that the very thing keeping people from experiencing healthy and intimate friendships is their lack of willingness to “step into” their friends lives. To show empathy.
If we choose to not show empathy to those we claim are our friends, spouse, family, etc., then we can never hope to have relational intimacy. As Brene’ talks about in her book – We need to move about our relationships with COURAGE. Courage is what we need be vulnerable, which leads to our willingness to choose and risk showing empathy to another.
Courage is the first step….once we have courage nothing can stop us!
by: Lianne Johnson, LPC
By: Andy Gear
A trip my wife and I took to Massachusetts reminded me of something I had learned as a kid from a man who had lived in Sierra Leone: “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.”
Recently, my wife and I visited the town in Massachusetts where we spent our honeymoon. It’s just a little fisherman’s village, but it brought back so many memories of our first year together. One might assume that it made me nostalgic for that “honeymoon period” when we had no kids, no problems, and our whole life ahead of us. And it did. But I also remembered how difficult that first year was.
No one ever told me that learning to live with another person would be so difficult. And if they did I ignored them, because we were young and in love. Why would we ever argue? We’re soul mates.
So I was surprised to learn during that first year that my wife is very different than me. We have different interests, different values, different ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, different views of money and conflict, and different ways of eating cereal. Because she was different than what I grew up with, I assumed that her differences were wrong, bad, or illogical. I remember going for walks with her in some of the old neighborhoods in U. City, talking about the things a young seminarian thinks important. I’d be in the middle of what I thought a life-changing idea, when she would stop me and make me observe a bed of flowers, an idyllic home, or the sun descending with the most beautiful shade of orange. I was so frustrated. Why didn’t she think like me? What was wrong with her? I tried to convince her to be more like me. That did not go over well at all. Then I remembered the saying I shared with you earlier, “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.” I dwelt on this thought.
What if the things that are different about my wife are not only acceptable but are very good? What if my wife and I are custom made for each other and our individual qualities are meant to shape us into more whole, balanced, and fully functioning human beings?
I developed a new assumption: who my wife is now is very good.
With this new assumption in mind, I began to act upon it. I slowly began to receive my wife’s differences not as trials to bear but as gifts to be enjoyed. I tried to allow that person to shine through, to learn from her.
The result has been life changing.
I’m not convinced that I’m any better at marriage, but I appreciate who my wife is. And in a small way I am becoming a more balanced, whole, and fully functioning human being. I believe that learning to embrace the beauty of who she is right now helped make my second trip to Massachusetts even better than the first.
By: Andy Gear, PLPC
I recently read a book entitled Your Sexually Addicted Spouse that I found very illuminating, and I wanted to pass on what I learned to you. In it Barbara Steffens specifically seeks to help partners of sexual addicts “survive, recover, and thrive.” But her ideas can be helpful for anyone dealing with pain from damaging relationships.
One of the most helpful ideas she brings up is the concept of relational trauma. When many of us think of trauma, we think about physical wounds. But she points out that victims of betrayal have also experienced very real trauma. This relational trauma is often just as painful and life altering as physical trauma. Many people even experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of being betrayed or emotionally victimized. The pain is increased when done by someone we should have been able to trust.
I have found this concept extremely helpful, because I have noticed that many people who have experienced consistent relational trauma tend to minimize what they have been through. People often believe that because they cannot locate one definitive trauma in their life, then they have no reason to feel hurt or traumatized. But Steffens helps us realize the lasting impact of chronic relational trauma.
The rest of the book proceeds to explain what it looks like to begin the journey of healing. If your life has been impacted by a damaging or hurtful relationship then I would encourage you not to ignore its impact. Please take the time to begin the journey of healing, because relational trauma is significant and your pain is real.
by Jonathan Hart
If this phrase fills you with a sense of foreboding, you’re not alone. For many, the holidays can be a time of guilt and frustration in which the traditional family gatherings are fraught with conflict, tension, and heartache. Family gatherings can be confusing. “Why is this so hard? Is it supposed to be like this? That’s just how they are, I need to get over it… but I can’t!”
Families are rarely perfect. We often feel pressures and expectations when we are among our closest relatives that we don’t feel anywhere else or at any other time of year. I’ve heard more than one person complain, “Mom (or Dad) treats me like I’m still twelve years old! They don’t seem to understand that I’m an adult now,” or “I just go along with it! I can’t seem to stand my ground with them.”
While these pressures and conflicts are not unusual, they are painful and difficult to handle for many people. We feel the power of these relationships and expectations deeply, and we aren’t sure what we have the right to challenge and what we don’t. All too often we avoid confronting what is painful because the consequences are just too great. “I can’t say that to my Mother! It would crush her! It would ruin the whole trip!”
If you are among those who need help sorting out the expectations and learning how to relate in a healthier way when you’re at home, I’d encourage you to sign up for the “Surviving the Holidays” seminar that we are presenting at Rooftop Church in Affton on Friday, November 9th from 5:30-9:00 PM. We will discuss how relationships are designed to function, how they get off track, and how to change the pattern in a healthy direction. For details on how to register for this event CLICK HERE!
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
When a breach has occurred in relationship, one of the hardest pieces to rebuild is trust. There has been hurt, maybe lashing out in both directions, recrimination, guilt, and shame.
One basic tool for understanding how trust is rebuilt is what I refer to as the Intimacy feedback loop.
The first step is “Risking Vulnerability”. This is a hard one. It means choosing to tell, reveal, or do something that makes you feel vulnerable, risking that the other person will have the power to use it to hurt you (again). The challenge is in not risking unwisely. If your counterpart has not shown evidence of being willing to work on things or to be vulnerable in their own turn, you might not be ready to engage in this process. But if both of you are on the same page about building trust and being trust-worthy, then it is time to risk. Start small, be careful and cautious, but risk being vulnerable about something.
The next step is “Connection and Safety”. When one person risks becoming vulnerable and shares something sensitive or fearful, the other has two choices: to receive and hold gently, or to reject and misuse the information. When what is risked is received, heard, and validated, both partners feel closer to each other, and trust begins to grow. When what is risked is rejected or misused, the emotional distance is increased and trust is destroyed exponentially more.
Risk that results in safe connection (trust) leads to Intimacy. Intimacy leads to an increased capacity to risk, and so on around the circle. The building of trust happens incrementally, never all at once. This is especially true when damage has been done within the relationship. The one who has been hurt is rightly cautious of trusting the one who has hurt them. To expect anyone to “get over it” quickly is unreasonable, no matter what “it” is.
The hard task of the one who had done the harm is to receive and absorb this distrust, and to allow for it to be present, even after much has been amended. Acknowledging the hurt, behaving in a way contrary to the hurtful behavior, and to remain patient for healing is all a part of remaining trustworthy, and contributes to the rebuilding of trust. And it will take time.
Trust operates on a fader, not on an “on/off” switch. Sometimes you’ll trust at 40%, and sometimes at 10%. It will slide back and forth. Just because trust is lower today than it was yesterday does not mean it isn’t growing. It may just mean you’re having a bad day and that the pain is closer to the surface. It takes a great deal to totally destroy trust, just as total “100%” trust is impossible to achieve (and is unwarranted, given that we are all fallible human beings!).
Try to hold to the long view of this as a growth process; that with all the ups and downs, as long as you are continuing to hold each other gently and honor each others’ risks, trust will continue to grow between you. Give it the time it needs. Keep on walking the circle.
By Jonathan Hart, LPC
I work with a lot of couples, and one thing I notice a lot of is Expectations. I think this is a simple fact of being human. We place a lot of expectations in the people around us. The closer they are, the more we expect of them. Most of the arguments I hear (and honestly, most of the arguments I start myself) begin the same way: “You always…” or “You never…”. Loosely translated, what this usually works out to is something like this: “You don’t do what I want/hope/expect you to do. I have the right to expect that you will do this. My expectations are disappointed.”
Naturally when someone hears a statement like this, the human response is a defensive counterattack. “Oh Yeah? Well, YOU always…” and it only goes down hill from there. A good rule of thumb is to listen for the words “Always” and “Never”. Often, those words are code for the expectations that we have, and that we feel our partner is not meeting.
It is a natural pattern to look at everything our partner is supposed to be doing and highlight where they are dropping the ball. But what if we turned this pattern on its head? What if we were able to shift our focus away from the places our partner is disappointing us and look instead at how we can help them be everything they were made to be? To organize our efforts at encouraging and building them up instead of encouraging them to build us up?
I am not suggesting that we should simply try to do everything our partner tells us to do. That would be about as much fun as boot camp. That only feeds the conflict monster. I am suggesting that we work toward helping them be more emphatically themselves, rather than trying to shape them into who we want them to be.
This requires listening to and learning about who they are, who they want to be, their hopes and dreams, desires and fears. It requires starting at the bottom, working to understand what makes them tick and why they do things the way they do rather than trying to convince them that the way they are doing it is wrong. It requires placing yourself in the position of learner rather than expert. We are asking the question, “How can I help you reach your dreams and goals?” rather than “What have you done for me lately?”
This is not mindless subservience. Sometimes helping someone be better at being themselves can include challenge. It can include confronting hurtful and destructive patterns. It can include stretching and pushing someone we care about outside their customary limits. And again, these things must be done in a spirit, not of reshaping them into our own image of what they should be, but of helping them sharpen and explore their own potential. I am talking about placing yourself at the service of your partner.
There is a lot more to this idea than there is space to explore it here. Consider this a teaser, food for thought. I am asking you to simply consider what it might be like to “through love, serve one another”.