What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Domestic Violence is such a huge, complicated and insidious topic.  One blog post cannot possibly encompass all of its facets; however, it can give some important insights. To begin, abuse is based on entitled behaviors.  The abuser lives in a world where they believe they are above the rules.  Interestingly, they may obey the rules in public – at work or in front of friends and relatives – but behind closed doors, it is a different story. Here is one snapshot version of abuse:

She never thought it could happen to her.  She lived an affluent life – and worked very hard to get there.  She was the catalyst behind her husband’s climb in the medical field – although he would never admit it or give her credit for the way she supported and empowered him to succeed.

The abuse started when her first child was born – very common in abuse patterns.  As a couple, they had decided that she would stay home with their children and forgo an outside career path.  She was elated and totally satisfied being a stay-at-home parent.  They were the best years of her life and the best work she felt she had ever done.  She felt it was her calling to raise these fabulous beings – what an incredible experience.

But her greatest loves also became her greatest weakness.  The love she had for her children was quickly turned against her and used to control and abuse her.  She loved her children more than anything and would do whatever it took to protect them and keep them safe.  Her husband knew this – thus it became her prison.  He knew her children meant the world to her – they were her beautiful angels.   He thought that fact –  and their affluent lifestyle would keep her imprisoned in their facade of a marriage – that she would never leave.  He knew she wanted the best for their children – to have the things she never had growing up – the advantages of privilege and unconditional parental love.

He thought he could behave and do whatever he wanted to her because she would never disrupt this “perfect” world by divorcing him.  And yes, she thought long and hard about it – it was not a decision she took lightly.  Yet, day by day – with each child that was born, his abuse became more terrorizing.  She lived in constant fear.  Her deliberating over the decision to divorce was not about what would happen to her – she knew she could withstand whatever she needed to.  She was more concerned about what it would do to her children – she wanted to make sure they would be safe.

She consulted an attorney months before she made the decision and was assured that she would be taken care of financially – she and her children would be able to carry on with a similar lifestyle.  However, nothing was further from the truth.  Instead, she was badgered and bullied in the court system.  Her rights and the rights of her children violated at every point.

The abuse they had all suffered during the marriage left no marks – it was verbal and psychological – no traces of evidence – the perfect plan.  He knew that. He threatened to hit her once – was going to punch her in the face.  She saw him stop and reconsider –  probably because it would leave a mark – evidence.  He was too concerned with his public image to leave a mark others could see.

Once they separated, he was able to shut down her access to their bank accounts – she was at the mercy of his and his attorney’s dirty tricks.  She quickly started going into debt to cover living expenses. There were so many lies and dirty tricks pulled on her – things she never expected.   She was told she would need to start working again and was given some fictitious salary she supposedly was going to be able to earn because of her education level and skills, even though she had been out of the work force for years – in order to support herself and her children. This amount was used in the financial negotiations.

He fought her for custody even though she had been the stay-at-home parent – another common pattern.  It is well-know that it is best for children of divorce to have a similar living arrangement after divorce if it is financially possible.  However, the court did not make sure her children were taken care of in this way.  The court allowed his reign of terror to continue and actually aided him in carrying it out.

He wanted to take her children away from her because he knew what they meant to her.  He knew that when they suffered – she suffered.  That was the only thing he had to use against her and punish her.  He knew she wasn’t upset about leaving him – she had fallen out of love with him years ago from all of the abuse.  But she would be torn apart to not be with her children or to see them harmed. They were her greatest loves – she would do anything for them – anything.

She spent years in the court system with his constant attacks.  She was given minimal spousal maintenance.  He was so intent on financially ruining her that he sold his practice and tried to reduce child support – while at the same time fighting her for custody.  It took years and all of the retirement money she received from the settlement to fight him  – finally gaining full custody of her children so they could be safe.  She fought against judges, attorneys, parenting consultants, parenting coaches,  and therapists.

In the end, she did win.  However, it was at a huge cost to her and to her children.  She lost everything including her home. Her children endured years of hardship, while one of their parents was living a life of ease and wealth.  They were punished for holding him accountable for his bad behavior, while the family court system sat by and did almost nothing.

Abuse strikes all economic levels.  It is a myth that it only affects men and women in lower educational or income levels.  In fact, the more intelligent the abuser, the more severe and calculated the abuse.  My work as a therapist is to help educate women and men who are caught in the prison of abuse to understand the dynamics so they can find a path of peace and freedom.

 

Gaslighting

GASLIGHTING is so prevalent in our society – it is a terrible and yet effective behavior used to control and manipulate. It is very difficult to grab ahold of because it is not concrete – and when you try to respond and counter with reason or logic, your reality is denied. The more you try to get the person who is gaslighting you to understand, the worse it gets as in doing so, you are giving your power away.  I see it so much in my therapy practice and I have personally experienced it. I am hoping to help educate others so they can move past this horrific type of attack.
What does gaslighting mean? Wikipedia describes it as a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
The term owes its origin to a 1938 play called Gas Light and its 1944 film adaptation.
Gaslighting is commonly used by toxic and abusive individuals to diminish others – most often close intimates or other people who they wish to gain control over, and punish.
Gaslighting is an incredibly malicious tactic. It is based on deep-seated anger and aggression. It is difficult to see it coming as the perpetrator purposely employs a premeditated, surprise attack to increase the traumatizing impact to their victim.
Why the need or impulse to gaslight?
The perpetrator is projecting their own unhealed emotional trauma onto an emotionally available partner. They become increasingly irritated and threatened with the partner’s emotional expression capabilities because it touches their own deep-seated fears of intimacy and emotional inadequacy. Consequently, they lash out in retaliation wanting to strangle and suffocate the life-force in another, as it painfully touches their own unhealed wounding. Wounding most likely due to an emotionally abandoning parent.
Gaslighting is used to punish people by stripping their power and getting them to distrust themselves. It’s also about consciously destroying a person’s own character to themselves and anyone else who will listen. It is mocking and shaming – leaving the intended victim disoriented and traumatized. It is important to realize that this is not normal behavior and is most likely pathological in nature.

What Should Not Happen In Therapy

Heard the most outrageous story of a therapy experience. My blood is boiling!
 
A young woman was in a therapy session yesterday at a very reputable organization affiliated with a major university here in town talking about very personal and intimate things – while her therapist is on the computer – one would think typing notes, which in and of itself is so impersonal. But no, actually she, the therapist, is online shopping! The client could see through the images in the therapist’s glasses that she was shopping on her computer while she the client was laying out her very personal story – that the therapist is supposed to be compassionately and thoughtfully listening to I might add. At least that is how it is how it rolls in my neighborhood!
 
This kind of conduct is so egregious! I can’t even begin to express my shock, horror and outrage at hearing of this person’s experience. I regard the therapy experience and my part in it as something very sacred. To hear of another person in my profession acting like it is beneath her to listen to someone attentively and with regard that is PAYING for her services is beyond infuriating to me. That is her JOB to listen and be an empathetic vessel.
 
Imagine how this client must have felt – to be regarded so flippantly. It makes me so angry as again, I take my roll in the therapeutic experience very seriously. We have to – so much damage can be done by an uncaring, lazy therapist – people are already coming in with things that have left them feeling devalued and crushed. It is our job to make sure the client has a safe place from which to do the very vulnerable work of healing.
 
First of all, the behavior of this therapist is unethical – just to start. Not to mention, disrespectful, invalidating, dismissive, etc. I am hoping this professional – and I use that term lightly – will be reported by this client for her horrifying conduct. I am going to do my own checking to see if there is anything I can do to report this gross misconduct. We all have a duty to uphold the ethics of our professions – that is the only way this world will become a better place. People cannot just sit around and do nothing and expect things to change.

Love

Love never dies – other things die, but love endures forever – it is a powerful force that stands strong in the face of whatever comes its way and it cannot be taken down. Lifetime after lifetime after lifetime – it only grows stronger.

Only ignorant fools believe they can tamper with love – how silly of them- playing their foolish games of lies and deceit. Love is too smart for that – too vast and all encompassing to be affected by small, petty people with petty lives who are filled with jealousy and envy at not ever having experienced the gift of true love. They can only scratch at its door.

It is all an illusion. True love is forever. It can never be broken – the bonds too deep and secure – eternal in the cosmic vastness of existence.

Love gets past the guards of deception – nothing can block its way – for it is always there. It was there at the beginning before time began – the great experiment. And it has not been affected – it has not. It is still true and unyielding. Patiently waiting – its knowing beyond the conception of small minds. Power beyond measure. It is true my love, it is true.

The Codependent Myth

A common myth in abusive relationships is that they are codependent – codependency is a label that refers to people who are chemically dependent on substances such as alcohol and narcotics – so that when they try to quit they suffer traumatic physical symptoms.

Applying that label to human relationships is very misleading. If you feel “addicted” to your partner, you are probably feeling the confusing effects of his inconsistent on again/off again behavior. This is called intermittent reinforcement and is intended to keep you off balance. Gaslighting is another way to keep you off balance – making you doubt yourself and question your sanity.

This irrational behavior is confusing and can keep you stuck in a mental loop. That is where the problem lies – in the abuser’s behavior. The fact is, many women stay in spite of this behavior, not because of it. They suffer a loss of confidence that makes them worry about whether they can survive without their abusive partner

It is important to understand what codependency really is and that it has nothing to do with staying in an abusive relationship. This line of thinking blames the victim and makes her question herself – making it even more difficult to move through the mental fog and leave.

Being clear on the terms codependency and gaslighting can be extremely helpful in identifying what is really going on. Then the responsibility rests on the abuser and not the victim.

The False Happiness Revolution

The happiness revolution is designed to keep us so focused on trying to be happy that we are distracted from what is really going on. We are not designed to be “happy” beings – that is a scientific fact – happiness is not our natural state as human beings.

We need our critical thinking and discernment skills in order to protect ourselves. Our anxiety and depression are not guiding us to get happy; rather they are informing us of what is not balanced in our lives and how far we have strayed from our authentic selves – our inner centered awareness.

If we are caught in some fake happy la la land – then we will not see how we are being taken advantage of -how we are being misled -how our sovereignty is being pulled out from under us.

In addition, chasing this impossible paradigm of happiness distracts us and devalues us – we think we are doing something wrong when we are not able to be happy. When we are sad and frustrated, we are guilt tripped into focusing on being grateful for what we have – again, that is not the point. It is not that we are ungrateful, but rather that things are not in alignment with who we truly are – that we on the outside are not in alignment with our inner authenticity. Gratitude is not going to “fix” that.

Sitting with ourselves and really opening up to what our anxiety/depression, etc. are trying to tell us is the way. To be with the unpleasant feelings – they are our teachers.

Shame – Let’s Get Real

People talk about shame many times in a superficial way – from a perspective of privilege.  The shame of losing a race, the shame of failing a test, the shame of getting turned down by a prospective date.  These are entitled shames.  In these instances, we think we have experienced shame, but we are not even close to the deep dark shame that exists for many.

Shame is a very complicated and deep wound.  We are indoctrinated into shame early on in life.  There is deep shame rooted in the feelings of not being enough – not being accepted for who we are – for our authenticity and uniqueness.  If we were raised with narcissistic parents, we were rewarded for giving emotional support to our parents, but shamed for needing that emotional support in return.  We then began a pattern of giving away energy without ever getting our emotional needs met in return so that we could be loved and have our basic needs met for food and shelter.   The flow of energy was imbalanced and unhealthy.  That is one form of shame we can experience.  There are many others – deep, dark and paralyzing.

When I think of shame – I think of people shamed for their very existence.  For instance, the migrant workers who courageously risk their lives to come here and pick the fruit we eat -their bodies broken from horrendously difficult conditions – so they can support their families at home – shamed by structural violence.  I think of the woman who was sexually assaulted and carries the shame of being violated – who now has the task of working through the trauma that was forced on her – her life forever changed.  I think of innocent children physically and mentally abused by unconscious parents – courageously making their way into adulthood – trying to survive – trying to make sense of life when there was no sense in anything they experienced.  I think of young boys shamed for showing emotion – carrying the scars of having their authentic expression being ridiculed and shut down.  I think of the shame of financial abuse inflicted on women leaving abusive relationships – access to joint bank accounts shut down, losing their homes because money is withheld from them, bearing the stigma of financial incompetency that was not their fault, but rather a result of their partner’s illogical need to get even and debilitate them – just because they don’t want to be married to someone who abuses them anymore.

If we are going to talk about shame, let’s get real about it.  We are terrified to go into the depths of shame – yet we need to probe those depths in order to truly heal.  What are the deep dark secrets we have been avoiding by filling our days with constant purchases and activities – not allowing ourselves the time to sit and just be in order to let the things that need to come to the surface rise up for acknowledgement and healing.  It is in sitting with our emotions and feelings from those horrific experiences that we will find our most profound answers.  It can seem terrifying to face the unknown, yet on the other side of that fear and terror is liberation.