Monday, November 26, 2018

Mid-Life Musings

It's been an existential crisis kind of week....month....year....jumble of years. As I try to make sense of my thoughts and emotions my doggie begs to be adored and scratched, wiping my hands away from the keyboard. Duty must come before words. It is hard to make sense of it all.

I don't know exactly how to describe the maelstrom of thoughts, struggles, feelings, longings, disappointments, internal battles of faith and dreams and purpose. How to make sense of the experiences that have colored my world and shaped my heart?

I guess this could be called a mid-life crisis, though I think I have been having one of those since I was about 30, overwhelmed with more children than hands, no longer mistaken for a teenager, and realizing that running away to a ranch in Montana was no longer an option.

My life has been, by the standards of the world, a very wonderful thing. No poverty. No oppression. No discrimination (well, some of that). A roof over my head. Shoes on my feet. Food in my belly. A kind husband (always go for the one who is kind). Children who are amazing beyond anything I could ever imagine. And I get to live in a place where tourists come and come and come (you can go away now and take the traffic with you, says my tired, cynical self).

And yet I am at a place in my life where I don't really see a path forward and I see all of the paths behind me that I never took. What is my purpose? My kids are gradually leaving town for grand adventures, following their dreams. It never occurred to me to really, truly follow mine. I had neither the confidence nor the strength of resolve to take that path. And I look in the rear view mirror and they are there. Waving goodbye. Which, if any are still possible? Am I too old to pursue what I long to do and long to be? Statistically, I have likely another 30 years, at least, on the planet. If I take after my grandmothers, then let's bump that up to 40. Then why does it feel like it is all over? The grey hair? The changing body? The feeling of defeat?

And then there is so much I don't get. So much of what I used to believe I just don't know about any more. I have more questions and fewer answers. The Christian life isn't near as neat and tidy as it was packaged and sold to me. I have spent some time dumping out everything I believe and slowly, gradually, picking back up the important things, the essential things, and putting them back in my bag of certainty. That bag is much lighter now. Some people call it the deconstruction of faith. It is something I have had to do. The shoulds, the must haves, the extrabiblical mandates, and the lopsided emphases were killing me.

How do I channel the disillusionment into compassion? How do I love my neighbor with a clean conscience? How do I funnel the fact that I think too much, wrestle too much, feel too much into an outward facing love for other people? How can I reflect something of the character of God to others? How do I grab onto that compassion and love and mercy for myself? How do I embrace the intensity of emotion that comes with this time in my life and accept it for what it is? So many questions.

I guess that it what it is. A period of more questions than answers. Of more listening than speaking. Of more waiting on God than doing. A period of lightening my own load so I can bear somebody else's burdens.

Maybe that is what mid-life is all about. Grieving the loss of dreams and maybe getting some new ones. Letting go of the old ideals of what gives me value and learning to believe something new about myself. I just don't want to be one of those old, cranky people who waves her finger at others, scolding them for their screw-ups. I want to be MORE kind. MORE compassionate. MORE committed to listening and caring and coming alongside. MORE willing to set aside my dreams for the good of someone else.

I want God to use me for something good. I guess that is what it amounts to.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #31

Domestic Abuse Misconception #31: Domestic abuse just isn't that prevalent or that serious. I saved this one for last. Domestic abuse is incredibly widespread. A woman is twice as likely to be abused than to get breast cancer. One out of every four women is or has been in an abusive relationship. So if you are sitting in church and there are 100 women there, 25 women have or are experiencing or will experience domestic abuse. 

Sure, you say, domestic abuse is bad and all but it doesn't get really bad very often, does it?

The fact of the matter is that domestic abuse can, and often does, turn deadly. The numbers are horrifying. One graphic I found, with numbers from the FBI, showed that between September 10, 2001 and June 6, 2012 11,766 women were murdered by husbands and boyfriends. This was more than the deaths during that time frame in the War on Terror (deaths on US soil (9/11), troops in Afghanistan, troops in Iraq) combined. 

There are some truly terrifying statistics. Pregnant women are at much higher risk for homicide. The presence of a gun in domestic violence raises the risk of homicide 500%. Intimate partners are not the only ones in danger. Family members, friends, law enforcement, and even strangers have been killed along with the intended victim. And, as I shared in Misconception #8, 75% of homicides occur while the victim is seeking to leave the relationship or in the weeks or months after she has left. 

Domestic abuse is a serious, serious problem and a life or death issue. Here is a link to more information on domestic abuse and homicides. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #30

Domestic Abuse Misconception #30: Religious beliefs and scripture will always be used to encourage and comfort the victim. Oh, people! It is just not so. 

Most people understand that domestic abuse sometimes does include physical abuse. Hopefully most now understand that it always includes emotional abuse as well as financial abuse. Domestic abuse can also include sexual abuse, resulting in a victim's inability to say no, or at times resulting in flat out rape. But many people don't understand that there can also be spiritual abuse. 

Spiritual abuse happens with the person with the power uses specific religious ideology or scripture (often out of context) to maintain control over the victim and to coerce the victim into some activity. 

It is common for an abuser to demand obedience and submission to demand power over his victim. He might also demand forgiveness and reconciliation, emphasizing the sacredness of marriage vows. He might use scripture to his own advantage. He might use the words of faith to manipulate and give the appearance of repentance and transformation, pulling the wool of the eyes of both victim and onlookers. 

But spiritual abuse doesn't just happen between the abuser and his victim. If the victim's church becomes involved in the situation, the same dynamic can take place, in effect, giving the victim a double dose of abuse. 

As I discussed in Misconception #14, uninformed and ill-equipped churches are rarely a safe place for victims of abuse. Churches carry their own authority with them. Pastors and elders speak of their spiritual authority over their flock. Victims are beaten down and unsure of themselves and, at this point, very vulnerable to others telling them what to do. It is a perfect storm. 

Here are some of the ways (and there are so many more) church leaders or members can use religious ideas and scripture in ways that are harmful to anyone, but especially to victims of domestic abuse:

-Forcing the couple to meet together.
-Treating the abuse problem as a marital problem.
-Demanding the victim examine her heart and confess her sin which is causing the abuse. 
-Telling the victim she needs to be meeting the abuser's needs by having more sex with him.
-Commanding forgiveness from the victim and reconciliation with the abuser.
-Insisting the victim get help only from "approved" therapists and community groups.
-Telling the victim it is God's will that she suffer emotional and physical harm at the hands of her abuser.
-Threatening church discipline if the victim refuses to comply with their demands regarding her relationship with the abuser.

When those who claim belief in God then use those beliefs to get and maintain control over another, it is abuse. And it isn't only abuse, it is a slap in the face of God because it is a blatant lie about his character and who he is. He is not a God of oppression but of safety and freedom.

Here is a good article that spells out spiritual abuse.

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Domestic Abuse Misconception #29

Domestic Abuse Misconception #29: Once the victim leaves, she won't go back. That would seem logical, wouldn't it? It is so hard to leave you would think that once a victim got up the courage to leave that she would run far, far away, never to return. Sadly, that is just not the case.

A victim leave her abuser and then returns to him on seven times on average before she leaves for good. Why on earth would she do that? There are a lot of reasons, really. 

Lets start with fear. Fear for her and her children's safety. There is financial need. There are the promises of change from the abuser. There is the pressure from others to return and reconcile, especially if the abuser has enlisted Flying Monkeys (Misconception #18) and/or the victim is part of a church that believes that reconciliation is always the desired (or required) outcome. 

Sometimes victims return because the abuse is all they know. They are, in a way, addicted to the adrenaline rush of the up and down. They don't know how to function without it. Some say that the victim suffers from Stockholm Syndrome and identifies with and has an unhealthy attachment to her abuser. And many victims have such a low view of themselves that they don't believe anybody else will ever love them. That the abuser is as good as it's gonna get. She will endure Mr. Hyde if she can only have Dr. Jekyll every so often. 

It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch a victim that you love return to her abuser. The discouragement and helplessness are overwhelming. Yet remember that this is her decision and she will leave for when she is at the point of being ready to do so.

Here a victims explains her reasons for returning to her abuser before she left for good. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #28

Domestic Abuse Misconception #28: Financial abuse just isn't that big of a deal. The reality is that, while financial abuse may not sound like a serious issue, it has a huge impact on a victim's life, ability to leave an abusive relationship, and ability to start a new life away from her abuser.

Financial abuse, or economic abuse, is almost always present when there are other forms of abuse. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 94-99% of domestic abuse survivors have experience economic abuse.

Financial abuse happens when an abuser takes the victim's money, refuses to let the victim get a job, jeopardizes her ability to keep a job due to stalking and other abuse, refuses to let her get the education she needs to get a job, 
limits her access to money, hides income in separate accounts, takes out loans in her name, or forces the victim to pay for all necessities for both the abuser and the victim. Again, this is all done as a means of power and control. 

The damage is huge. A victim who has no access to money has very few options. Most victims find they are unable to leave their abuser because of economic reasons. The ability to establish a new life, free from abuse, is particularly challenging when the abuser has run up huge bills in the victim's name and likely ruined her credit.

Please don't ever take financial abuse lightly. It may not seem as serious as physical abuse or emotional abuse but it is certainly destructive with the intention on limiting the victim's freedom.

Here is an article that discusses some of the challenges a victim may have when trying to move forward with her life. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #27

Domestic Abuse Misconception #27: Taking a neutral position won't hurt anybody. Ah, the neutrality myth. And it is just that. A myth. Truth is that remaining neutral always helps the oppressor, the abuser. 

I can see how many friends and family members and even pastors would want to take a neutral position. After all, their loyalty is to both parties. Most people don't want to have to pick sides. 

Trying to maintain a neutral position sends a lot of messages. Neutrality tell the abuser that what he is doing just isn't that bad and that he can cause unspeakable damage with no relational consequences. It tells the victim that she must be partially at fault, otherwise you wouldn't be so on the fence. It tells her that you really don't believe her. It tells her that she is on her own. 

Neutrality benefits no one other than the one who wishes to remain neutral and keep their hands from getting dirty. But unspeakable atrocities have been done while good people chose to turn a blind eye and look away and stay out of it and do nothing. Doing nothing always helps the abuser. 

Jeff Crippen, one of the foremost authorities of domestic abuse and the church, has written this powerful article on the myth of neutrality and the damage it does. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #26

Domestic Abuse Misconception #26: The children will always side with the victim. Sadly, this is just not true. Children can end up siding with the abuser, making a heartbreaking situation even more heartbreaking for the victim. 

Domestic abuse is a very complex dynamic and it only gets more complex when you throw children in the mix. At some point the victim can't take the abuse any longer and sets up boundaries or separates from her abuser. I want to deal a little more with what happens to the children if and when the parents separate. 

I was surprised recently when a survivor of abuse told me that it is quite common for the children to side with the abuser. I have read many explanations for this. Perhaps the children are angry with the victim for "breaking up the family." Perhaps the children have identified where the power in the family is and they want to stay on the good side of the power. Perhaps the children don't even understand the abuse themselves because, to them, this is just normal family life, since they have nothing to compare it to. For many children the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, so together parents, even in the midst of abuse, are better than parents that are apart.

Perhaps one of the most common reasons that the children may side with the abuser is that he very well may be courting them to his side to maintain that power and control. If he can't control his partner firsthand, then he can do so through the children. This really is a hideous game of emotional chess, with children as pawns. 

This is not to say that a victim should just stay put for the sake of the children. I touched on the impact that domestic abuse has on children iMisconception #22. The damage is pervasive and life long. This is to say that you cannot assume that the abuse isn't real if the children side with the abuser. This to call you to lend an extra hand of support to victims when they find that the children they love more than life are being used as weapons against them. This is to help you understand the intricate and difficult maze of dynamics that a victim must navigate in dealing with her abuser.

Read the following article and learn more. 

(Note: In all of my posts I use "he" for abuser and "she" for victim for simplicity and because, in the majority of cases, the abuser is male. But it can be the opposite with a female abuser. Dynamics of abuse can also happen in same sex relationships.)