Sunday, November 18, 2012

Affection, Love, Hurt and Defining Relationships

It is nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship if you don’t know what one looks like.  If a child grows up in a home with abuse and chaos, it will be difficult for her or him to then seek out a healthy partner and establish a healthy relationship.  One woman told me that she wondered how she ended up “loving the man she hated all her life.”  She grew up with her step-dad beating her mom and then ended up with a violent partner herself.  She hated her step-dad and didn’t understand how or why her mom stayed with him.   She thought she’d make different choices.

A grown man told me the story about how he learned that affection and suffering are two sides of the same coin.  He grew up watching his dad beat his mom.  He saw, heard, and absorbed the experiences over and over and over.  Sometimes he listened in his bed and hoped it would be over soon.  Sometimes he tried to help her.  He learned that he was powerless to help, except when he could comfort her after the hurt.    The love comes after the beating.     Dad goes to sleep, gets arrested, passes out, runs away, slinks to shadows and her little man is there to comfort her.  And she to comfort him.  It is a temporary fix, a calming balm, but never to last because mom never picked the boy over the dad.  The boy learned that affection and love are conditional, temporary, and go with hurt and abuse.  He didn’t know he learned this lesson until he was a grown man.

He remembers the day he learned that love and affection are separate from pain and can be given and received freely.  He went to the home of a friend and saw how the family hugged and greeted each other.  His first thought was that “something bad” must have happened because affection comes after hurt.  He asked his friend what happened and was surprised to learn that this family always greeted each other in this way and that it was possible to express love without paying the price of suffering. 

I had the chance to talk with a mom who’d previously been in a violent relationship and had gone through a counseling program.  She said that it was nice for her and her kids to hug because they loved each other, not for comfort, not following a beating.

The greatest gifts we can give our children are the knowledge that they are loved, valued, and safe.    Being safe includes discipline, order, and consistency.    Not only is it damaging to experience home violence for a child, they are often learning that abuse must be tolerated.  They learn that if someone hurts you, it is OK to put up with it, to stay with that person because people who love you are the same ones who hurt you.   And, perhaps more insidious,  that to get to love you must go through pain.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Power of Labels

Herman Cain’s campaign is flailing and sputtering out of control due to Cain’s documented behavior with women. Cain’s campaign seems to be relying on some good ole misogynistic labels and myths to get him out of his increasingly dire situation. And, like many people who engage in subterfuge, Cain does tell us some truth, even if he doesn't realize it. From a Bloomberg article 11/09/11 (link below):

Herman Cain said that sexual harassment claims against him are the work of political insiders trying to prevent a businessman from being elected U.S. president and that he expects more accusations.

Note: the article mentions the label “businessman” several times.

I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period,” Cain said

“In denying Bialek’s claim yesterday, Cain said the “Democrat machine in America has brought forth a troubled woman” to make false accusations against him.

OK, now let’s deconstruct:

Businessman: Violations of women don’t matter because Mr. Cain has business (i.e. man’s work) to attend. Stop distracting him with your whiney, petty complaints. It was just a joke. Don’t be so damn serious. If you can’t run with the big boys, stay home. Why would we worry about “boys being boys” when Mr. Cain has the keys to economic recovery in his pocket (just reach down in there honey and grab them.)

I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.: Mr. Cain probably actually believes this. Many abusive people do not (even to themselves) recognize, acknowledge, admit, or even consider that they could have done something wrong. Denial of reality is a surprisingly effective technique – as long as the person who is doing it a) believes it and b) says it enough times. The victims themselves with doubt their own truth, “Well, maybe it was just a joke…He didn’t actually abuse me because he only pulled my hair, etc”

Acknowledging as much, he [Cain] said, “It is natural that some voters would be turned off by the mere mention of the accusations.” He added, “Sexual harassment is a very serious charge.”: Women lie about abuse and throw this allegation out for some gain (i.e. politics, divorce, revenge). Some women do lie about abuse for gain, just as some people might make a false insurance claim, or embezzle money, or some other dishonest act. However, the much more probable and prevalent lie is the denial and minimization of the abuse.

Democratic machine: It wasn’t my fault because other people are out to get me. People who use this excuse often rely on it through their whole lives, “The teacher didn’t like me, my boss didn’t like me, the police officer was out to get me, my wife said I abused her because she wanted custody, etc.”

Troubled woman: Read “whore.” This is the most effective technique of all. Not only does it stop many folks from even examining the facts, it also shuts the victim down and any other uppity women who might want tell their stories. I have talked with thousands of women in my career who told me that during a beating, her abusive male partner called her a “whore, slut, trash, etc.” In more public areas, if a woman is successfully labeled a “whore”, it won’t matter what evidence is present as she’ll have been relegated to the trash heap.

Men who abuse women use all these techniques – and more – to deny the victim’s reality that her abuse is REAL and VALID. But, that last one, labeling her a “whore” is the gold standard, whether used in the bedroom, the boardroom, or the courtroom.

Linkt to article:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

She is Me

"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. THEN THEY CAME for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. THEN THEY CAME for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."

- Pastor Martin Niemoller

I watched with pride recently as one of my clients testified
about the violence she endured from her ex-boyfriend. The defense attorney asked her, "If it was so bad, why didn't you call the police?" A family member had called in this case. With stark honestly my client said, "I really don't know. I think I was ashamed. My neighbors respect me and I didn't want them to know."
Well, that is it. Shame. Embarrassment. Being bad. Being silenced because of her own fear of being found out as a woman unworthy.
I have worked with thousands of women who have been victimized by the person who is supposed to love and cherish her the most. The very shame of that situation is enough to keep them silenced. The majority of them have expressed these thoughts: I didn't tell anyone because I thought it was my fault. He said if I was a better wife, he wouldn't get so mad. He compared me to other women and said they were good mothers and I was not. I believed him. Everyone thought I had a great life and I was too ashamed to acknowledge that I didn't. People like me (fill in the blank - doctor, lawyer, police officer, social worker, psychologist, stay-at-home mom), don't live like this. I thought I was the only one.
Domestic violence is not an equal opportunity crime. It is a gender-based crime. All women ought to be outraged by it. If one women is battered, we are all battered.
Women can beat men. I've seen many cases. And I'm not addressing domestic violence in same sex relationships here in this blog entry. What I'm talking about is the vast majority of domestic violence crime - and it isn't simply one man beating and subjugating one woman. Domestic violence is the ugly operationalization of how women are valued in the world.
I wonder how it is that I have counseled thousands of women and how each one feels alone. Does that mean we are not supporting each other? Are we unable or unwilling to identify when our friends or sisters are in pain? Do we blame them - call her slut, whore, drunk, bad mother, bad wife - when really she is a victim and product of her environment and assigned value?
She is me. She is you. Don't let her or yourself be silenced by shame and fear. If more of us name it , own it, and demand better we can increase safety and value for all women. And, that makes things better for all people.