Saturday, June 26, 2010

When Grandparents Are Left Out...

Judging from my own life, I can tell you that Grandparents can be a treasured part of a child's life. They add a dimension that a parent isn't able to and often can be a safe place for children when the world around them seems to be so chaotic and out of control. I lost my Grandparents quite a few years ago, but I have very fond memories of them and I still remember things we used to do and things they used to say to me that make me feel great. If you are a Grandparent, I would encourage you that you are such a necessary part of your family and important to your grandchildren on more levels than you may even know. Just the experience that you have, the stories that you can share and the things that you can teach your grandchildren will become wonderful memories they can revisit in years to come. You are a window into a world that they will probably never get the chance to experience without you, and that is worth more than words can tell.

Today's question is from just such a Grandmother who is finding her relationship with her grandson being cut off and she is very distressed. Although there are always two sides to every story, for one reason or another, Grandparents can find themselves in this situation all too often. Frustrating as it is, there may be ways to work out whatever the complications are, if both sides are willing. Although I empathize with the woman who wrote me, I also know that there is a reason why her daughter is behaving the way she is. Perhaps it comes from her home of origin, perhaps it doesn't, but whatever is happening here, both sides need to be heard and a solution found for the betterment of the child in question. I'll let you decide:

"My question is a rather painful one. I have a daughter who is single, who has a son. She's 28, a smart young lady, very self supporting and someone I am proud of, however....She has deep control issues. This pattern has cost her plenty over the years but refuses to see them or address them. I was a huge part of my grandson's life while she was going to school to get her degree in nursing. I took care of him while she attended school and work. He is a pure joy. Since getting her degree and now working full time as a RN, she refuses to let me see my grandson. She gets upset about little things and instead of coping with them, she uses her son and a lever to hurt her family. I have not seen my grandson in close to a year. Each attempt is shot down. I am not the only one in the family she reacts to this way. If you cross her, she controls everyone by refusing to allow contact with her son. I have told her she is only hurting him, however, she replies, "she's the mother and she makes the decisions." In the last four months I have tried to spend time with my grandson many times and she's refuses. She reacts the same way with the rest of the family too. I'm worried about my grandson's mental health. It must be hard on him being 8 and losing contact with his family. We all have tried to talk to her about this and she gets upset and hangs up or shuts the door. She reacts the same way with his father. However, he is sadly losing interest in doing battle with her and has moved on. He has his own issues and chooses not to fight her anymore in court or out. This young man is being slowly cut out of everyones life. I agree she is the mother and can make decisions, but she is only hurting her son. Any suggestions please?"

It is always hard answering questions of this type when you don't have a lot of background on the situation. As I said above, adult children often take on characteristics with their children that they learned growing up from their own parents so it could be that this mother doesn't see the hurt that she may have caused in her daughter's life and that her daughter is trying to protect her son from experiencing hurt in his own life. However, as most of us who are parents of grown or adolescent children have learned, that is a job that we will not accomplish any time soon.

If any of you are like me, when your children were born you thought that you could build a platform under them that they could be launched out into life from, that you could give them the benefit of your experiences, they would learn from them and not make the same mistakes that you did. LOL :) In a perfect world, that may be but as a very wise friend shared with me once, I am the product of the learning I did throughout my life and my children need to learn similar lessons. We all have to learn about life through personal experience. It would be great if we could always benefit from the experience of others, but that doesn't seem to be the way God ordained it. We must experience life for ourselves, so the best we can offer our children is the benefit of our life experience and walk alongside them as they figure out the solutions to the problems they have. Isn't that how God works with us? He seldom fixes the problem for us, but He gives us wisdom that we can apply as we solve life's problems for ourselves.

Read through the answer that I provided this Grandmother and see if you agree or not:

"This must be very difficult for you and the rest of your family. It is clear that you have strong feelings for your grandson, and I do agree that when relationships with grandparents are healthy ones, grandparents add a wonderful dimension to a child's life. It is sad that this is happening.

Most control issues come from a place of great fear. There are usually significant issues of woundedness that cause people to try to control their world like you describe. Unfortunately, there are not too many ways around her decisions because, as you said, she is the mother.

One way in is to appeal to the courts and try to win visitation rights as a grandparent. Although you might gain your rights, most likely your relationship with your daughter would suffer. However, there could be a possibility that you could ask for arbitration or family counseling as a means to work this out and that could be an asset. This is not my area of expertise so I would direct you to a family law attorney for more information.

From a psychological point of view, I might suggest evaluating your relationship with her and trying to find any areas where she may feel controlled or has felt controlled. The idea is to create a safe place where she doesn't have to resort to those controlling behaviors. As I said before, control comes from fear, but it also comes from a lack of trust. Has she been hurt by the family? Does she feel controlled by you or others in the family? Does she have reasons not to trust you? When I say that, please understand that her reasons don't necessarily have to be valid. Does she have perceptions of problems with you that would cause her not to trust? Have you asked her what her reasons are for not allowing you to see your grandson? She must have some reasons that she can articulate. If she does, that is a place to start. If her reasons are valid, acknowledge them and own any part of them that you can. These are ways to build a path back into her life and with that, your grandson.

Unfortunately, when someone is controlling like that, there is little that you can do unless they are breaking the law or abusing the child. It is a difficult situation and always a slippery slope when dealing with someone else's fear. There are always other reasons for people to behave like this, but the ones I have indicated here are the most common."

If you have a different perspective, I would encourage you to leave a comment that might help others who read this blog. It seems as though our world is changing and life is becoming so much harder for people. It is a sad reality and one I hope and pray can be turned around sooner than later.

I'll leave you with this last bit of humor. Bill Cosby had a wonderful way of taking the difficulties of life and making people laugh. In this video, he talks about Grandparents and Parents and children, but underneath it all is a possible connection to the discussion that we are having here. See if you can pick it up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Men Can Also Be The Victims of Abuse

Although most of us are more familiar with the domestic violence situation where the male counterpart is the violent or emotional abuser, men can be the victims of abuse and domestic violence as well. 835,000 men are assaulted by intimate partners every year in the United States, as compared to 1.3 million women.
The problem with intimate partner violence against men is that males find it a very shameful thing to talk about so they often suffer in silence. Although most domestic violence organizations and Women's Centers in the local communities are very open to domestic violence victims of both sexes, these organizations are somewhat biased towards women, simply because it is the female population they serve most often. Men find it very difficult to go to them for help. Unless men take the initiative to find a personal counselor who can help them, they often feel a certain level of helplessness and shame as they continue in their relationships with abusive women.
The following question came to me which illustrates this situation very well.
"I am a very confused man. I was married to my second wife in July of 2009 after being on my own for 6 years raising my son. By August my new wife stopped having anything to do with me and moved out in February. Those 7 months were very stressful as she wouldn’t talk to me, she wasn’t interested in counseling, etc. In March she contacted me and asked if we could work on our marriage and I was very open to doing so. Since then, there have been 3 other times when we start to work on our marriage and then she suddenly shuts me out for weeks and then sends me an email saying how nasty I am.

In the last round she hacked into my FB account and read and email that I wrote to a lady in our church who is a good friend and had also been in an abusive relationship. I was seeking her advice and guidance and in my email I stated how I wanted my marriage to work that I was glad we were going to counseling but that I would guard my heart this time because of the past history. My wife felt totally betrayed because I did say that I was in an abusive relationship even though I did say that I was hopeful that counseling could help us.
My wife (who lives in another town) sent me an email after reading what I wrote saying how I betrayed her trust by talking to another woman about what I was going through. I’ve also talked to a counselor and my pastor and some other good friends about the situation as well. They are all concerned that I am in a relationship that is so volatile.

I love my wife but I am afraid of her. If she gets mad for any reason she shuts me out for weeks or months and always ends up sending me an email saying our marriage is over. I’m trying very hard to get over this last round and nasty email because it just hurts so much and I’m so afraid that if I do or say anything wrong I’ll get emotionally shut out if we do get back together.
My wife admits she is very jealous and controlling and she has used key logger programs in the past to get access to my passwords, etc to see who I am talking to and what I’m talking about. I believe in my marriage vows but at the same time I am so confused because I don’t know if I should keep trying to reconcile or if I should get out of the relationship now. My family and friend all feel that I need to get out because the marriage has taken a very heavy emotional toll on me. I am now on antidepressants, anti anxiety pills and I take sleeping pills every night. I’ve never been on this type of medication before and it has all started since I got married. There were earlier instances before we were married where she would shut me out but she always had a reason why.

For some reason I just can’t seem to break the bond I have with my wife. I realize I have let her do the things to me that she has and I have always taken her back but now I need to know if I should trust my family or focus on trying once again to heal my marriage. My counselor has said that the relationship is very unhealthy and abusive but she doesn’t know if my wife is doing it intentionally or not. We did attend one counseling session together but my wife didn’t like what was said to her so she refused to go back.

Please help me understand why I’m staying in a relationship that is causing me so much emotional pain. Thank you."

These kinds of scenarios are heartbreaking, but the truth is that they are happening more often than the average person might think. Because violence against males happens less often, and violent, aggressive tendencies are less apparent in the female of the species, it has been thought that the female perpetrators may be suffering from one of a select variety of mental illnesses or there may be a component of drug and/or alcohol use. In these cases, many of the male victims do not have the information available to them that would help them identify the cause of the violent or addictive tendencies in their spouses so they tend to suffer longer in their relationships before revealing their situations.
The answer I gave to my male questioner appears below:
"Thanks so much for your question. Honestly, these kinds of situations are very complicated. Emotions run deep and the bonding between two people in a marriage relationship is always more connected than any other type of relationship. I am sorry to hear of your struggles and hope I will be able to offer some assistance.

The first thing to bear in mind is that healthy relationships grow. There is something very wrong if one or both people aren't growing in the relationship. Fear has no place in a marriage and if there is fear there, then something needs to be done about it; whether that involves counseling individually, marriage counseling or as a last resort - separation and/or divorce. The next thing to understand when there are problems in the relationship is that if only one person is trying to heal, the relationship doesn't get very far.

The situation with your wife is filled with many red flags. You can't heal a relationship if the people in it aren't both willing to face the issues that are making the difficulties in the marriage. Showing up to a counseling appointment and never going back is not a good sign that the person wants to change. Whatever is at issue in her life is not going to be healed until she is willing to address it and put in the work that is necessary to change and heal. You don't have the skill set to be able to help her and if she is not willing to work with a professional, there may be little that you can do to improve the situation.

On your side, you are not growing and the environment within the relationship is toxic to you. That isn't a good sign either. You asked why you are staying in a relationship that causes you so much pain and the easy answer is that there is a part in all of us that is created to be in relationship with another person. The negative attachment that you are experiencing is more preferable than being lonely on some level. That is the place for you to work on with a counselor in individual therapy sessions. Although this situation has been intensely painful for you, the good side of it is that it has exposed some wounds in your heart that need to be healed, and I would encourage you to do so. You have acknowledged that you have allowed your wife to treat you dishonorably, but the real question is why. Besides the issues of self worth and self respect, there are boundary issues that need to be addressed and if you are afraid to set those boundaries with her, that would be another issue to discuss with your counselor.

The situation on your wife's side may be the result of committment issues or one of several forms of mental illness, or perhaps even some addiction issues. But in any of those cases, the answer lies with some professional help and if your wife is unwilling to do that, there is really no reason to believe that the situation will improve. Please take a look at a website called BPD Central, located at Once you read through this information, click on "Indicators" and read what is there. This information may look familiar to you. If not, then your wife may be struggling with other issues.

I agree with your counselor. This relationship is very unhealthy and the hope of change doesn't look very great. At this point, your marriage vows have been broken, not by you, but by your wife. She has not honored you or cherished you and what kind of marriage can survive if only one of the individuals in it honors their vows? I would also advise you to take into consideration the effect this is having on your son. Besides watching someone abuse his father, there is also the idea that in the condition you describe yourself as being in, how connected and available are you to him, and what quality can you give him in your relationship with him?

I'm sorry that the news I am giving you is not any better than it is. I truly wish you all the best because I know how difficult these decisions are. If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me again."

If you know of any males who may be in this kind of situation, I would encourage you to be supportive and encouraging to him as it may be very difficult for him to admit the situation that he finds himself in. These types of situations are atypical of what we might think of when we think of domestic violence, but they do exist.....unfortunately.
Male Victims of Female Perpetrated Domestic Violence

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Question About Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is one of those things that seem vague to describe, but very real when you are experiencing it. I don't believe that there is any form of abuse that manifests itself which is not accompanied by emotional abuse. But how do we define what abuse is? If everything is abuse, then nothing is abuse. According to abuse is defined as:

# 1) to use wrongly or improperly, misuse, 2) to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: 3) to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about;

Abuse turns into trauma when an emotional wound or shock creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person.

To define emotional abuse, it would include speaking harmfully, insultingly and in a way that the person is harmed emotionally. Emotional abuse is a punch to the inner man, and often takes time to manifest in signs of insecurity, uncertainty, heartache, low self esteem and withdrawal. It is a slow, wearing down of healthy boundaries, emotional resources, trust in personal perceptions and self concept. Abuse originates within the motive of the abuser which is often very hard to prove or detect, so victims resort to blaming themselves, judging themselves as weak or unable to cope. This type of wounding is deep and takes far longer to heal.

A simple definition of a common type of emotional abuse is: “Emotionally wounding another person and then demeaning them for feeling that pain.” Often the abuser will speak out things in fits of rage or anger that strike at the very core of the victim's self esteem and their identity. When the identity is challenged, there is little a person can do to change because identity is not behavior. Identity is who the person is and if another arduously criticizes or condemns it, there is little to be changed. This is why if an individual is forced to fundamentally change who they are in order to try to please another, those two people are not a good fit for each other.

Here is a question from someone who is dealing with emotional and verbal abuse:

"I finally confronted my husband again about his angry tirades. He recently had 2 episodes: one that involved me and one that involved my son (who is a college student living at home). My son left last week to stay with his biological father and is afraid to come back. This has been going on for some time now and approximately a year ago, I told him that his angry outbursts/tirades scared me. Nothing changed. He would never admit that he'd done anything wrong and immediately talked about divorce after I had suggested separation. He absolutely would not discuss separation and continued talking about divorce and settlement. He said that he saw no other option. So, finally, I agreed and then things changed a bit. He asked me if I thought it was worth saving. After some discussion, I finally gave in and agreed to try to make it work, though he really didn't offer a viable solution to control his anger. He told me that he will take a valium (prescribed by a local doctor to him) when he feels stressed out.

I talked to my son on the phone and he sounds very disappointed that I didn't go through with divorcing his step-dad. Did I make a mistake? I'm so confused. I love him, but hate being afraid and walking on eggshells. I know that I've allowed this to happen, but I just don't know what to do. I suspect that his solution will not work since he got this prescription a year ago and hasn't used it before now - when I was going to go ahead and leave.

Help, I think I made a mistake. Is he just saying what he needs to in order to keep me there? Thanks for any advice."

When people describe these relationships, they find themselves being very confused. That confusion may be attributed to what is known as the Stockholm syndrome which was discovered when as a result of a bank robbery in Stockholm, hostages were found to have become compassionate and defensive about their captors. The reason being that The captive or abuse victim sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor or abuse victim exhibits it in some form toward the hostage or abuse victim. However, victims often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence. If the perpetrator is purely evil and abusive, the abuse victim will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will submerge the anger they feel in response to the terror and concentrate on the abuser's “good side” to protect themselves.

When abuse victims go into denial, they verbalize the "good side" of their abusers character. This is the part of the relationship they focus on in order to stay. In truth it more often than not, instead of being a "good side" it is an absence of the abuse, interpreted as love or kindness rather than true nurture, love and honor that would go towards restoring the relationship. This then becomes confusing to the victim.

My answer to this individual is as follows:

"Abusive relationships can be very complicated, can't they? I'm sorry to hear of the struggles you are having and can understand your confusion. However, the one thing that you need to see, as with any negotiation, there has to be a viable plan that action is taken on.

Many times, when our loved one promises to change, we accept that because that is really what we want to hear. However promises without action are useless. Especially when there are anger issues, steps need to be taken and followed through on in order to effect change. Your husband is not getting angry because he doesn't have enough valium in his system. He is getting angry because there is a wound or a hurt inside that gets poked when something feels like the original event. Unless he deals with the issues that are creating the emotions, little change will happen. Valium can only numb out the emotion, it doesn't resolve the underlying issues.

The cycle of violence looks like this: There is an event, then an explosion, then the abuser apologizes and says it won't happen again, then there is a honeymoon period from which the tension begins to build again and there is another explosion. This cycle continues to repeat, getting more intense with shorter honeymoon periods. If professional help is not introduced, little will change. You asked if he is just saying what he needs to in order to keep you there - probably yes. That is what happens most often...especially when no steps are taken to correct the problem. This is his problem, not yours or your son's and unless he takes responsibility, unless he really wants to change (doesn't do it because you asked him to) you will continue to repeat the pattern.

I wish I had better news for you. Love doesn't hurt and you should never be afraid of someone who is supposed to love you. If you need help, I would advise you to contact your local women's center or domestic violence organization. They usually provide abuse counseling and have advocates who can walk with you through any legal process you need to encounter."

Anyone who finds themselves in an emotionally abusive situation will more than likely have a hard time articulating as well as proving what is actually happening. However, whether you can articulate what is happening or not, in order to bring about change, there are action steps that need to be taken in order to make that happen. If there is no action being demonstrated, there is no change happening whether promises to change are being made or not; People must understand that in order for change to happen, action must happen first. Don't settle for less.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Co-Dependence or as it is otherwise known, Enabling

Today, I have a question from someone who is trying to identify the characteristics of a co-dependent loved one. Co-dependence within a marriage can look like enabling someone to continue in an undesirable behavior, or within a family it can interfere with the couples ability to be truly independent and complete the individuation process. Sometimes as parents, we don't realize when we are being co-dependent with our grown children, but it is something that needs to be talked about.
The question is:
"Hi - I've been dealing with serious difficulties in my marriage over the three years since the wedding. My wife is extremely inconsistent and emotional. After much work, I'm feeling as though my wife may have codependence issues from her family of origin and other relationships. Could you give a description of what types of general behaviours could be expected and how a person may act if they are codependent, but not in a codependent relationship?"
Even the best parents, out of a sense of love and caring may step over boundaries that they shouldn't. An honoring relationship doesn't take out of the hands of a competent person that which they can do for themselves, or should do for themselves. When we have trouble seeing someone we love struggle, it is important to ask ourselves why we want to help. Is it to relieve our own angst or because the other person truly needs help?
Studies have been done on children who have been born naturally and those that were born through a Cesarean section. Oddly enough, those who didn't have to struggle to be born are often more lay back and don't have as strong a desire to struggle through problems in order to achieve their goals. Interesting, huh?
The answer to the above question may shed some light on this subject:
"I'd be happy to share with you what I know about codependency. In what I'm about to tell you, it is important to know that even though these behaviors may be annoying, the person is not bad. Codependent people have learned these behaviors in order to survive through childhood and have depended on them in order to protect themselves. Sometimes women learn these behaviors because they believe they are feminine and that is what it means to be a lady. Other times, they have learned this behavior as a means to get their needs met. Whatever the reason is, it was legitimate at the time, in the circumstances where it was learned. When the person then changes their circumstances, the behavior doesn't work well anymore. It's like learning your lines to be in a play. You learn what to say, when to say it and where to say your lines. If you are then put in another play, those lines won't work, the marks you hit don't match and it becomes a mess if you don't learn new lines and new ways of behaving.

People who are codependent tend to feel responsible for others. They believe that they have control over what someone else feels, thinks, the choices they make, their well being and perhaps even their destiny. These are the abused women who fully believe that if they just change their behavior, how they act, what they say and what they feel, their abusers will be happy. These are the children who believe that if they are just better boys and girls, mommy will be happy and everything will be right with the world.

These folks will feel guilty when other people have problems and feel compelled to help that person solve the problem. They give advice, unasked for suggestions and try to "fix" everything. They also feel rejected when their "help" doesn't work or their advice isn't taken. They try to anticipate other people's needs and meet those needs and then wonder why others don't do that for them.

Codependent individuals say yes when they want to say no and get roped into doing things they don't want to do, or do more than their part. They usually don't know what they want or need and put others needs before their own consistently. This is a self worth issue. They work to please others at their own expense.

They can do much for others, but are unable to accept help or gifts or even compliments for themselves and they feel the most safe when they are giving to others. They will get very upset when another person experiences some kind of injustice, but are not so upset when they themselves are treated badly.

They are attracted to needy people and find that needy people are
attracted to them. Life tends to be boring if they aren't in a crisis, or have a problem to solve. Solving problems gives them self esteem. When someone needs them, they will drop what they are doing and respond. They over-commit themselves and often feel pressured, but at the same time, they relish the pressure because it shows others they are working hard to solve a problem.

Although they may not admit this, there is a deep down feeling that others are responsible for them, they blame others for not being responsible for them, blame others for the way they feel and say other people make them crazy. They often feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.

Other people often become impatient or angry with them because of these characteristics.

You can find more information about codependency in a book called Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie. These characteristics and more are listed in that book and it gives you a very well rounded perspective of a codependent person as well as ways to heal from codependency.

I hope this information helps to answer your question. If your wife is willing to go to counseling, she would benefit from that as this issue is very difficult to deal with on your own. These behaviors are the safety measures that have been put in place over time and fear will keep her locked in to them. Someone will need to walk this journey with her and a counselor is more able to hold her accountable than you are. It would not be advisable for you to fill that role."

Have a great day everyone! We're in the middle of a pouring rainstorm here. Looks like summer may be a few more weeks off!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Perception Is Often Skewed with Abuse

In the following question, you can see that abusive relationships can many times have the "frog in the kettle" effect where it continually escalates over time and people seem to just get used to it or they believe that they are doing the abuser some kind of favor by hiding the abuse. In the long run, that is not a good plan. Abusers need victims in order to abuse and if you refuse to be a victim, the abuse can't go on.

Here is the question:

" Hi. My husband and I have been married just over 1 yr but have been together for nearly 10. We started dating in college at the age of 18. Throughout our relationship there have been instances of physical abuse. The instances range from pushing/shoving, hair pulling, choking, punching holes in walls, breaking things, etc. He has never once hit me. These instances have been spaced out over time, the most recent one happened a month ago. I had a lot of doubts before I married him, which I never voiced to anyone. I never said a word to anyone about his abusive behavior even though it scared me. I didn't want people to have a bad impression of him. Leading up to the most recent incident I have been feeling withdrawn, detached from him and depressed. I've felt trapped. I have lacked the desire to have sex with him for over a year and a half, which I have blamed myself for, chalking it up to hormones or any other excuse I can think of that might be wrong with me. He's very controlling, which he doesn't see. He also doesn't see the things he's done as a form of abuse. I feel like the most recent incident has really put me over the edge and I can't stand to be around him. I'm now seeing a psychologist and after fighting with me, my husband has agreed to go to counseling to try to save our marriage. The problem I'm having is that I don't know if I want to even work on this, I feel empty and as though I've already made up my mind that I don't want to be with him. I have said I will go to marriage counseling with him because I'm guilty for feeling this way, like it owe it to him to try to work things out. Before we spend tons of money on counseling, what are the chances that he will really change and won't ever be physically abusive to me in the future? I have lost that trust and I'm not sure I will get it back. I should add that he also has an addictive personality. He is a successful man but is addicted to smoking pot. He smokes several times a day, every day. This is another thing that concerns me, which he does not feel is reason for concern and says he will not quit doing, ever. Am I a horrible person for wanting get out of this marriage? Do I owe it to him to try to work things out? He has made threats that he will make my life a living hell if I try to leave or divorce him. I feel he has a jeckyl & hyde personality where he gets really angry but then is sweet as can be. Right now he's being overly nice, which is very uncomfortable. He makes me feel like I'm the one that's crazy. Please give me some insight. Thanks."

It always amazes me when I see stories where women have been in a non-marriage relationship with their abusers and still marry them anyway. In this situation, there are quite a few red flags; drug use (which never enhances a relationship), intimidation and bullying, and when I hear people say the phrase "S/He makes me feel like I'm the one that's crazy" I start looking for signs of other mental health concerns that should be assessed.

When you are dealing with a possible mental illness, what scripture says about perishing for lack of knowledge is very accurate. When mental illness is present, the spouse or significant other doesn't have the skill set to help the individual and abuse can go on for years if a person is not aware of what may be an underlying cause for the situation.

The answer I gave this person is below:

"The first thing I want you to know is that this is not your fault and you are not crazy. Abusive relationships are not life giving so therefore, why should it be any big surprise that you have died in this situation? You said he didn't hit you, but what is the difference between hitting and choking, or hitting and shoving, or hitting and hair pulling? His behavior is threatening. Even if all he did was punch holes in walls, the demonstration of violence says, "I could do it to you so watch out."

You are being physically abused, emotionally abused and more than likely verbally abused. You don't feel safe, your emotions have died.....what is there to stay for? He has broken the contract and he has broken the law. He vowed to love, honor and cherish you....has he done that? No. Love doesn't hurt, love is patient, kind, not boastful, not prideful. There is no honor here and honor is what the heart responds to. If you received this kind of treatment from a stranger, what would you do? Call the police? Run away? Never come in contact with the person again? So what makes this any different?

One thing that you might do is check out a website at and check out these symptoms. The reason I refer you there is that you are talking about self destructive behavior, mood swings, threatening behavior, control, and you feel as though you are the crazy one. When taken all together in an ongoing pattern, these symptoms speak to a picture of a possible mental illness, but even as I say that, I must tell you that I see warning signs and am not diagnosing him in any way, only someone on site could do that. The drugs add another dimension to the situation. If after researching this website, you believe there is an appropriate amount of evident to conclude that you may be dealing with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, there are several options. You may want to consider discussing this with him and having him go to a competent psychologist for assessment, or if you believe that would be unsafe for you, you may want to consider leaving the situation. Personality disorders are not curable, but if the individual is willing to do a significant amount of work over a long period of time, they can become manageable.

On the other hand, I would recommend abuse counseling for you. Having been in this relationship as long as you have, you have been changed by it and are, in ways, enabling his behavior. Shoving, hair pulling, choking etc is assault and should have been reported to the police. Do you realize that in a choke hold, it only takes 11 lbs of pressure for 8 seconds to kill you? Choking is very, very far up the violence scale.

In regard to the guilt you feel, it is an emotion that is a response to manipulation and is perpetuated by low self esteem. You owe this man nothing. He has abused you and continues to abuse you. I would not be surprised if the abuse is also blamed on you. He is not safe and you are not a bad person for leaving, should you choose that plan of action. Leaving the relationship is the normal consequence for this kind of thing.

What you need is a plan and a support network and a good attorney. Make sure you decide what you are going to do if and when he "makes your life a living hell". If he stalks you, there are laws against that. Since he has made that threat, your attorney should know that. I would encourage you to contact your local Women's Center or domestic violence organization. They can provide you the support you need, court advocates, counseling and anything you need for little to no cost. Take your life it up to an abuser is of little value and you are worth more than that."

In leaving these types of situations, the woman needs a plan and needs a support network. The most dangerous time for a woman leaving an abusive relationship is at the time she leaves so support for her and having a safe place to go is huge in giving her the courage to face the situation. When physical abuse is present, this fact alone escalates the danger many times. The good news is that in most states if a woman needs help leaving a situation like this, she can call on the police and have them there while she is leaving. The laws may be different from state to state here in the US, so it is wise to check out what is available beforehand. Most Women's Centers have court advocates and abuse counselors who work with this kind of thing daily and are current on the laws and rights of individuals with respect to these situations.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How Much Abuse is Too Much?

This is an age old question that plagues every person who considers leaving a relationship. I have to be honest with you as a reader of my blog, abuse is a deal breaker for me. I don't believe it is ever warranted, and if someone persists in abusive behavior, won't take responsibility for it and do something to change, then there need to be consequences for that. In this series of questions, this part of the dialogue between myself and this person who lives in another country, is the last question over several exchanges. Her husband has been very verbally and emotionally abusive to her, he has been physical several times in the past, they have gone to counseling and have reached out for help but the counseling was stopped after several months. At this point, she is being advised not to leave the relationship by Christian counselors and church leaders because they want her to give her husband a chance to change.
Here is the question that is often asked:
"I have always been taught that reconciliation and restoration of relationships should be the end-goal. I have also been taught not to follow my feelings - eg, you may feel like gossiping, but you choose not to. I am afraid that if I ask for a severance of relationship, he will be able to get back-up support to pressure me to "patch things up" if he is working towards change, eg. from the Bible, from books, from the psychologist, from friends, from spiritual leaders, etc. How do I withstand that pressure and justify freedom from abuse when I haven't been (and probably will never be, as he is on a good behaviour bond) beaten? How severe does domestic violence have to be before it becomes justifiable to leave the relationship?"
Here is my answer:
"Yes, I understand the pressure that comes from parts of the Christian Community in terms of leaving relationships. However, it must be understood that what Jesus was talking about in the New Testament scriptures was divorce for no cause, similar to what we have today and He referred back to the Old Testament scriptures when He did it. Anyone in that day who heard Him speak would have known exactly what He was talking about. You don't just divorce someone because they don't put the cap back on the toothpaste tube. However emotional and physical safety need to be a priority and when those boundaries are consistently crossed, action of some kind needs to be taken. Whether a person divorces or not, the priority at that point becomes being safe by whatever means are needed to achieve that safety.

Although I can't speak for laws where you are, there are laws here that deal with verbal assault, assault in general and then when the physical comes into it, that is called battery. Again, I am not an attorney or a police officer, so the legal aspects of those things are beyond the scope of what I can give you here, but it is an example. If he has EVER put his hands on you, that is against the law, at least where I am from and Jesus taught us to obey the laws of the land.

It is never easy to oppose authority, but I have never failed to see the Lord provide for women who have chosen to leave an abusive relationship. He simply waits for them to make a decision and once that decision is made, doors seem to open for them. You are not going to be able to go into a big theological debate with these people about why you want to leave. Is your husband fulfilling his part of the marriage contract that he made with you on your wedding day? Is he honoring you and cherishing you? Is he, as head of the home, providing an environment where you and your family can thrive and grow. If not, he is being neglectful towards you.

There comes a point in every abusive marriage where the abuse victim has to stand up and say "enough!". Everyone will have their opinion, but you have to live with the situation and you have to choose what you can live with and what you can't. The pastors and the friends and the psychologist and the authors of the books don't have to live with it, you your opinion counts more than anyone else. Divorce, when considered a sin is no different than any other sin and is forgiven just as any other sin is forgiven. The problem is, the church has made marriage into an idol. 40 years ago, alcoholism and nicotine addiction were the idol. People who drank and smoked were ostracized from the church and now people say very little about it, they even have support groups created to help people with addictions that are held within the church structure. Today the issue is marriage/divorce and 40 years from now who knows what the issue will be. All I know is that the God I serve values women, has taken steps to protect them from the "hardened hearts" of men and it is not His will that any person should be harmed. I believe that the reason He hates divorce is because of the consequences of it; it can be painful, it can be destructive and the aftermath can be difficult for all involved. However, He did not say not to do it and He gave individuals a way out. Scripture says that God always provides a way out....why would He not provide a way out of such sinful and destructive relationships as those with abuse involved? The Lord forgave and stood up for the woman caught in adultery and He also forgave Rahab in the Old Testament. Although those are not direct examples of what we are talking about, I believe they do show the heart of God towards women who are being abused by and taken advantage of by men.

In regard to the teaching of not following your feelings, I am aware of that teaching, however if we aren't supposed to pay attention to our feelings, why did God give them to us? God has feelings and scripture often says that Jesus was moved by compassion before He healed someone. We aren't supposed to base our decisions entirely on them, but feelings are messengers and we are supposed to pay attention to the message. Take fear for example; if you are walking on a dark street and all of a sudden the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you get a nervous twitch in your stomach...that is a warning. Individuals who haven't paid attention to that warning have ended up murdered, raped or assaulted. If we ascribe to the teaching that we aren't to follow our feelings, then we cut off a very valuable part of our discernment which is a gift that God has given us. Scripture also says that God gives us the desires of our hearts...which means that He places desires in our hearts that He would have us follow. If we weren't moved by desire...which is also a would be be able to follow Him in those areas? The idea that feelings are bad and should be ignored is a very false premise...the truth is that we aren't to be ruled by emotion, but we are to use it in conjunction with wisdom, with reasoning and with truth in order to make informed and good decisions.

How severe does the domestic violence have to be? Here are the definitions to keep in mind: (not my words, these came from the dictionary)

"# The definition of abuse: 1) to use wrongly or improperly, misuse, 2) to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: 3) to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about;
# Abuse turns into trauma when an emotional wound or shock creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological development of a person"

In simple terms, severity relates to a pattern of behavior. Usually individuals can deal with difficult behavior when someone has a bad day or they are ill and irritable. Those situations don't happen all the time. However, when the pattern of bad behavior persists monthly, weekly or daily, then there is little time for the victim to recover and over time, that creates lasting damage to the emotional and psychological health of the victim. The issue that I see with those who are pressuring you to stay is that they are not giving you credit for the years of chances that you have already given your husband to change. When you found yourself asking for help, it was not because this had been the first time your husband had been abusive. He had been abusive many, many times. At this point, the consequences of that abuse are apparent, are beyond what you can overcome. That needs to be taken into consideration.

In leaving the situation, you are not saying that you don't believe this person is incapable of change and healing, it just says that you have reached a point where you cannot endure the process any longer and if he is going to change and heal, he is fully capable of doing that without you there to be the recipient of his bad behavior. You withstand the pressure by standing with people who agree with you, finding an abuse counselor who can be of support to you and by standing firm in the knowledge of why you are leaving. If you have reached a point that you are not able to grow in this relationship, or that you cannot recover from the abuse that has happened to you within this relationship, those may be deal breakers for you. You define what your deal breakers are and then stand in your convictions. That will require some courage and inner strength. Like I said before, once out of these relationships, most women find they have a clearer head and can see what has happened to them over the time they have been with the abuser.

If you aren't at a place where you believe you can withstand the outside pressure, you have to assess that. If you aren't strong enough, then my best advice would be to seek out an abuse counselor, someone who has experience with abused women, and work on those inner beliefs that keep you there. Invest in yourself, strengthen yourself, get healthy and create a support network around you that you can fall back on when you feel tired and hopeless. Just understand that whether you divorce or not, God loves you and that will NEVER change. You will never be "less than" in His eyes for anything that you do or don't do. He loves you unconditionally."

As you can see, this is a very complex subject. There are no pat answers, simply because people are individuals and as such, their relationships are unique. However, abuse has a very distinct and repeatable pattern to it; so much so that many, many books and much research have been written on the subject. Bottom line, at least for me, is that relationship is a privilege and we all must honor and respect each other in them. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to do that, first need to be confronted and if there is no change, then the two people go to a mediator and if they continue to refuse to make the changes necessary, then the consequences are clear. That is the Matthew 18 principle.

Abusive Boyfriend Question

I receive questions all the time from individuals around the world dealing with the subject of abuse and I've decided to post some of them on my blog in order to help people understand how prevalent this is and hopefully provide some direction for others who are dealing with abuse in their relationships. I am saddened by the number of questions that come in, especially from young people in dating relationships who are putting up with violence and abusive behaviors. People who are in your lives are their by privilege, not right and if they do not treat you well, then they lose the privilege to be in your life. This is illustrated by the following question:

"I have been living with my boyfriend on and off for 3 1/2 years. He has broken up with me 4 times and the last time we broke up he ended up in prison.[4 months] When he got out he contacted me and wanted to move in right away. I wasn't ready for that, but I allowed him to move in. Since then, I have no friends and we have been evicted from our apartment that I rented for 2 years from my brother. Now, I don't talk to my family. I have been financially supporting this man for over a year now. When we got evicted it wasn't because we didn't pay rent, it was because my brother said he was tired of looking at us and my brother punched my boyfriend in the mouth. My son who is 13 & I and my boyfriend were broke and homeless for several days. His family wouldn't help us. We ended up going to another state from where we were living and staying with an old friend of mine for 3 weeks. My boyfriend has a job now and does give me the check every week but he makes sure he gets most of it spent on him and I am still paying all the bills with my money. Anytime we argue I am scared to talk and he says he doesn't tell me anything because I will question him. He also finds a way to blame my son for things that doesn't have anything to do with the argument. Just today, I called him at work and he started yelling at me telling me he would have to quit his job to make me happy and be with me. He said he didn't get much sleep last night and then he started telling me he was sorry he wasn't a _______ [like my deceased husband]so he could talk to me all the time. I always feel like I am doing everything to make him happy I even went to couples counseling with him for several months. I just don't know what to do anymore. I cry on and off all the time and I am very emotional. I know I can't afford to stay here because my bills are so much more than what I was paying my brother. I also have to travel back and forth from state to state every couple of months because my boyfriend is on probation. This has cost me so much, not to mention the long drive. When my boyfriend starts on me about my son I take up for my son , but I don't understand why he has to bring my son into the argument. He yells at me I don't do what he tells me too and he doesn't know why I can't it things through my head, when he tells me something. He says he doesn't need anyone but me, but then he gets calls from people at work. I don't know what to do anymore."

There are several things here that should be mentioned as red flags. This individual didn't pay attention to herself and allowed this person to move back in with her when she didn't really want to do that. The other thing that stands out is that she has moved into a position of financial support for this individual and yet is expecting him to take care of her. The two are diametrically opposed. Takers are not givers. Abusers like this prey upon a woman's nurturing and care giving side. Women need to be wise in these kinds of situations and not move into taking care of someone who is able to take care of themselves. If they do, then then without an agreement as to when the "help" will end, they find themselves being taken advantage of as well as being abused. When money enters into a relationship between friends and/or family, it creates what is a called a dual relationship. Dual relationships occur when one type of relationship overlaps with another type of relationship. In this case it would be a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that is overlaid by a debtor/creditor type of relationship. How do these individuals know, without specific agreements and expectations, which relationship is being engaged in at the time? The boyfriend might be speaking to the girlfriend and expecting mercy from his girlfriend and the girlfriend is looking at him as a debtor and expecting him to pay his bill.

As a counselor, it is much easier to see. If I have a counselor/client relationship with an employee, then how does that employee know who s/he is talking to at any specific time? How difficult would it be for you, as my employee, to discuss things in the counseling session that might effect how I see you as an employee and how difficult might it be for me to know specific things about you, the client/employee, such as if you have a theft problem that you want to work on and not have that effect my employer/employee relationship with you? It would be difficult. Human beings don't tend to compartmentalize things that well.

When we lose boundaries with one another, we move into different levels of relationship that most of the time the people aren't ready for. Our society as a whole is losing its ability to see boundaries, treat each other with respect and look at each other as valuable. When that happens, people move into these types of relationships expecting something other than what they are bound to get.

Here was my answer to this individual:

"I am so sorry to hear that you are in such a tough situation. Emotional and verbal abuse are very difficult to defend against and it sounds as though he is somewhat controlling as well. This is a bad combination and it doesn't allow anyone in the relationship to thrive and grow as they should.

You said that you don't know what to do anymore, which I assume is asking me for some direction as to your next course of action. Basically, there are only a few options at your fingertips, the most important one being to lay down appropriate boundaries and enforce them. Your boyfriend made the decision to do whatever he did to end up in prison and he has to accept the consequences. That means if you don't have the money to go to Louisiana to see him, he either needs to send you the money to come or you don't go. If he treats you inappropriately, you need to put boundaries in place that keep him from doing that and if he doesn't respect them, then you remove yourself from the situation. You are not responsible for his behavior or his responses and if he is not able to treat you with respect or honor, then he doesn't get the privilege of being in your really is as simple as that. Abusers can only abuse if they have a victim who allows them to do that.

Another option would be to engage in couples counseling although I realize that you have already gone down that road. Since this was unsuccessful, that should tell you something about his ability to become what is needed in this relationship. One person cannot work on a relationship.

There are several red flags here, which are also boundaries that need to be enforced. First is the financial. You have placed yourself in a position with this man that you are taking care of him financially and then expecting him to give back to you. When a person engages in financial support of another person, one they are not married to especially, it is for the express reason of giving them a hand back up into a position of being able to take care of themselves. It is not designed to be long term and there should be agreements about it, such as how much support is needed, whether the money will be paid back or not and over what period of time the support lasts. There should be a reasonable amount of time given and when that boundary is reached, the support ends. Both parties know the time frame.

It is never advisable to get into financial debt or give loans to family or friends...that is what is called engaging in a dual relationship and those relationships have built in problems that take great maturity and understanding to overcome. In this situation you are providing financial support and also have the privilege of being abused as well. What do you see wrong with that picture?

The next red flag is that you didn't value yourself enough to follow the instinct you had in not letting this person move back in with you. Abusive relationships have the side effect of eroding your confidence level in yourself away, resulting in this kind of behavior. That alone is a reason to stay out of them.

In closing, I want to tell you that his issues, his ability to be happy or not happy have nothing to do with you. If he isn't happy, there are choices that he can make in his own life to rectify that problem. You have no control over that aspect of his life, but you have control of it in your own. Abusers will blame, ridicule and define you in ways that are very negative rather than take responsibility for their own actions and reactions. You don't have to allow this kind of behavior around you or your son.

Please go to my website , go to Library and under the category of Abuse, download the article on the "Cycle of Domestic Violence". You may see some things in that cycle that are familiar to you."