Monday, October 22, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #22

Domestic Abuse Misconception #22: The abuse is just between the two adults and has no impact on any children in the home. This is about as far from the truth as possible. Growing up amid domestic abuse has a profound and lasting impact on a child's development, relationships, physical and mental health, academics, and future. 

The Childhood Domestic Violence Association states that children of homes where domestic abuse is present are six times more likely to commit suicide and 50% more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. The stress of living with the trauma can actually alter a child's DNA. And children who grow up with domestic abuse are three times more likely to perpetuate the cycle of abusive relationships, either as abusers or victims, ensuring abuse gets passed on to another generation.  

For more information regarding the effects of abuse on children, read this article

(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 21, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #21

Domestic Abuse Misconception #21: After a victim has established boundaries and pulled away from the abuser, his declaration of love and displays of affection are proof of his genuine love for her. Unfortunately, this behavior is incredibly common and is called "hoovering," because it is meant to suck the victim back into the relationship. It isn't a sign of love. It is a sign of control. 

Abusers need power and control. And they fear abandonment. When a victim starts to break away they will do anything and say anything to stop it. While we have seen that this is often when violence takes place, some with take the "catch more flies with honey" approach. 

Just as the abuser love bombed his way into the relationship at the beginning, he may try this tactic again when he feels he is losing control. It is important to see it for what it is. It is important for others to see it for what it is. 

(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 20, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #20

Domestic Abuse Misconception #20: Some relationships are just mutually abusive, with each partner acting abusively toward the other, so they both need to be dealt with equally. The truth is that this is extremely rare. In abusive relationships one partner is always the primary aggressor. 

It is easy to see how people would think that some relationships are just mutually abusive. Or even get it wrong as to who is actually the abuser. The reason being is that some victims respond to abuse in ways that can, in themselves, appear abusive. This is sometimes called "reactive abuse." There are plenty of times a victim can resort to yelling or throwing objects or even violence in response to the overwhelming power and control she is enduring. Her violence may be in self-defense or may be proactive, to head off abuse from the abuser. 

When law enforcement is called, it isn't uncommon for the victim or both parties to be arrested. Teasing out who the abuser, also known as the "predominant aggressor," is from the victim can be a challenge for law enforcement that requires training. 

It is common for abusers to claim victim status to gain sympathy and twist the narrative in their favor. It is common for victims to be pushed to extreme measures out of fear, self-protection, or desperation. Things aren't always what they seem at the moment. It is important to look at the whole puzzle and not just one piece. 

Here are some guidelines for determining the predominant aggressor. 

(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 19, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #19

Domestic Abuse Misconception #19: The best thing to do is to give the abusers a list of changes the you need to see and when you see those changes, he won't abuse any more. Oh, it only it were that easy! The truth is that an abuser will use even a checklist as a means to power and control. 

I think this is one of the ones that goes against conventional wisdom because we all assume that an abuser is just like us. He's not. He can jump through any hoop you give him if he wants to because the abuse is not out of his control. He can ace any checklist you dish out. But then he can use it against you. 

The minute you give him a checklist you are locking yourself in. Abusers are great actors and they can play the part to get what they want and what they want is you back where they had you and where they think you belong. As the attached article says:
If he is counting on you to explain to him what he needs to change, then in his mind, he doesn’t need to change anything.  And your willingness to offer him a checklist is accepted as a promise that you are willing to reconcile with him as soon as those line items are checked off.
Any abuser who claims to truly want to move away from abuse and toward healing with want to make changes and he will know what changes need to happen because the abuse is intentional. He's a big boy. He can figure this out. He can get help. If he really wants to change he WILL get help and he will make the changes because HE wants to, not because you gave him a list. 

(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 #18

Domestic Abuse Misconception #18: Abusers act alone. The truth is that the abuser will use any tool possible to maintain power and control and one of his best tools is other people, especially other people important to the victim. 

This is incredibly common with narcissists, and most abusers actually have strong narcissist characteristics. The people that the abuser rounds up are called Flying Monkeys. The flying monkeys are often people close to the members, friends, coworkers...people who have some amount of influence over the victim. It is a way for the abuser to win people over to his side and to deprive the victim of much needed support. 

Flying Monkeys may not even know this is happening. Because the abuser is so adept at changing the narrative, at playing the part of the poor, pitiful victim, the Flying Monkeys can get pulled in to rushing to his defense and attacking the victim. This is particularly common when the victim is beginning to wake up to the abuse and set boundaries and take steps to get healthy. 

Having a friend or family member come out of left field to attack you for seeking safety or try to coerce you into reconciling with an abuser is devastating to a victim, who can begin to wonder who, if anybody, can be trusted. 

It is so important that victims see this for what it is. A smear campaign. Abuse by proxy. Just another way for the abuser to assert control. It is also important for the victim to know who is safe.

And be on your guard that you don't get recruited for the Fellowship of the Flying Monkeys. Learn the dynamics of abuse. Know how the abuser works. Learn to see through the act. First, do no harm.

This article sheds more light on the world of Flying Monkeys.

(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.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #17

Domestic Abuse Misconception #17: Jealousy just means that he loves her. It is harmless and will go away as the relationship develops. The truth is that excessive jealousy is probably one of the first signs that a relationship could turn abusive. 

This is particularly important to keep in mind when you are in the early stages of a relationship. While  possessiveness and insecurity of your new love interest might be flattering at first, take note. If he can't stand the thought of you being friends with other guys, can't stand the idea that you have ever had another boyfriend, has to know where you are and what you are doing at all times of the day and night, something is very, very wrong. You are no longer a person to him. You are a possession. 

Jealousy can get really dangerous really fast. As this article states:
"Statistically, the most obscene homicidal and suicidal effects of Domestic Violence generally occur from pathologically jealous men against female partners." 
I have heard on more than one occasion that the statement, "If I can't have you, nobody can," should be viewed as a death threat. You hear that, you get help. Fast. (In the Asheville area call the Helpmate at (828)254-0516. Nationally, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800)799-SAFE.)

Jealousy isn't love. Jealousy is control. Don't get those confused.

(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 16, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #16

Domestic Abuse Misconception #16: The abuse seems rather mild right now and I can assume it will stay that way. The reality is that most abuse escalates over time. You cannot assume that the little digs at your dignity, the belittling, the overriding of your decisions, the jealousy that seems kinda cannot assume that these relatively minor means of manipulation and control will indeed stay minor. 

Most abuse starts small. In fact, most abusive relationships start with what is called "love bombing" wherein the abuser showers the victims with so much adoration and affection that she is, in effect, a fish that is hooked and then reeled in. 

The abuse starts gradually as the abuser tests the boundaries and pushes the line bit by bit and the victim might not even notice, much like the proverbial frog in the increasingly hot water. 

Escalation can get severe. It can get dangerous. Abusers who have never been physically violent before can suddenly turn dangerous. As I mentioned in Misconception #7, in 28-33% of domestic abuse murders, there was no prior physical abuse. This is the ultimate escalation. 

I have shared before that abusers don't just get better on their own. In fact, it is rare for them to change at all. But I also need to note that abusers rarely sustain over time the same level of abuse. Most abuse will get worse over time. It is important to learn the signs of escalation as well as seek help from those who are equipped to give it.

Here is an excellent article on escalation. 

(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.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15

Domestic Abuse Misconception #15: If an abuser apologizes for his behavior then it means that he has changed. The truth is, apologizing for abusive behavior is never a sign of any change and is just one point in what is commonly called the Cycle of Abuse. 

Abusive relationships aren't always overtly or even covertly abusive. In most abusive relationships, the actual abuse is just part and parcel of a cycle. The Cycle of Abuse includes a period of tension building, where the victim feels the need to walk on eggshells and fear is escalating. Then comes the actual abuse, be it physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, financial...some episode or more intense interaction that is set on controlling the victim and breaking her down. Next comes what is often called the "honeymoon phase," with the apology or the promises that it will never happen again. The vow to change. Perhaps the begging for forgiveness. It might include a denial that the abuse ever happened. Often this is followed a period of relative calm and peace before the tension builds again. 

Some victims describe this cycle more as a switch being flipped. He is "up" and nice and caring and then it flips and he is "down" and brooding, manipulative, and threatening. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Over and over and over again. 

Whether it is the cycle or the switch, each period can last minutes or months. It isn't always consistent and that is what is so very hard. This is one of the reasons victims stay, hanging on to the promise that "this time he'll change for good." This is one of the reasons friends and family might minimize the abuse, because right now he is so nice. This cycle is what can drive a victim to question her own sanity. 

This is why a mere apology, a beg for forgiveness, an apparent act of kindness will really tell you nothing about an abuser. This is why trust can only be established after consistent behavior change over a period of time...probably a long period of time. 

True repentance will always bear fruit over time. Promises of change, as discussed in Misconception #12, must always be accompanied with the true fruit of repentance and the very hard work to break the cycle. The reality is that few abusers are willing to break that cycle.

It is important to be aware of this cycle when supporting a victim. She knows this cycle better than anyone. Do not press her to trust him prematurely, without the evidence of true repentance. Trust can only be earned with behavior change over a long period of time, proving that the cycle has been broken. 

(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 14, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #14

Domestic Abuse Misconception #14: The church is the safest place for a victim to seek help. The truth is that it is actually one of the least safe places for victims. Here is a sobering statistic. One study showed that 7 out of 10 victims seek help first from their place of worship but of those who have done so, only 4% would recommend doing it.

I don't think that most churches are intentionally cruel and intend to do harm, it is more that they are grossly ill-equipped to care for people in this situation. It is incredibly common for people within the church, especially church leadership, to provide input and guidance in an area where they have no specific training. There is this idea that if you know the Bible, if you know theology, then you are able to address any situation out there and that is, quite frankly, just not true. 

Domestic abuse is a very special situation that requires extensive knowledge in the dynamics of abuse. Training and understanding is essential. A family practice physician should never attempt to do brain surgery except in the most dire of situations (trapped on a desert island, stranded on a ship in the arctic, isolated in the heart of the rain forest...and then only if not doing so means certain death). A wise physician will always refer to a specialist for conditions he or she is not qualified to treat. To do otherwise would be considered malpractice. 

Yet the church commits malpractice all the time when it comes to abuse. Sometimes it is well meaning, but ignorance. Sometimes it is the toxic combination of ignorance plus arrogance. Sometimes it is just a blind spot. But blind spots are dangerous (I know. Our Toyota Tundra has one.) and the only way to operate safely is to be aware of your blind spots. 

Why is this so important? The truth is that abuse handled poorly by anybody does incredible damage to the victim and often further enables the abuser. But abuse handled poorly by the church does exponential damage because the church, in effect, is speaking for God. The spiritual damage done to a victim is horrific when she is destroyed by her abuser and then that abuse is disbelieved, the damage is minimized, she is forced into couples counseling, rebuked for not submitting enough, admonished to try harder, commanded to forgive, and sometimes even threatened with church discipline if she doesn't obey their authority. (This pattern happens more than you've believe.)

This is a horrific tragedy because this kind of spiritual malpractice paints a picture of God that is totally opposite of who he says he is: the God of the oppressed. 

So, what can churches do to be the safe place that victims need? Here are some basic steps:

Believe the victim. 
Support the victim.
Refer the victim to professionals and agencies that are competent to serve them.
Educate and equip the congregation to care for victims in their midst. 

Believe. Support. Refer. Equip. Make victims glad they came to you first.

Here is an excellent article on the matter. 

(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 13, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #13

Domestic Abuse Misconception #13: It is important to for someone to take charge and tell the victim what to do. Actually, the opposite is true. A victim needs to be empowered to make the wisest decisions about her own life.

Remember what abuse is. It is the use of power and manipulation to gain and maintain control over the life of another person. This means that the victim of abuse has, for perhaps years, had no voice and no choice in her life. She has been beaten down, told she didn't matter, demeaned, and devalued. She has perhaps lived in constant fear. She has been a prisoner in her own home and even in her own body.

This is why it is so very important to allow her to make her own choices and gradually get back the power to run her own life. This is why so many domestic abuse organizations strongly encourage the empowerment model. 

You can read more about empowerment here

(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 12, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #12

Domestic Abuse Misconception #12: Anybody can change and an abuser will change if just given a chance. The truth is that yes, anybody can change, but the reality is that very few abusers do change. 

Most victims will hold out hope after hope after hope that their abuser will change. And most victims I know have given their abuser so many chances to do so. And when she does finally break the silence and seek help she is often encouraged to give more chances, hold onto more hope, forgive yet again, and trust the person who has laid her to waste.

And sometimes it looks like the abuser is changing. He is jumping through the hoops. He is acting nice. He may be pouring it on thick. But is it real change?

Lundy Bancroft is one of the most respected experts in working with abusers. (If you want to really understand abusers, read his book Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. It is absolutely terrifying.)

Even if others may see some changes (and abusers are master manipulators and excellent actors) Bancroft admits that it really is only the victim who is best able to assess if real change has taken place. Only she can really tell. He wrote this excellent piece that I highly encourage you to read
And remember that anybody can act the part for a certain amount of time. An abuser can play Dr. Jekyll for a good long time before reverting to Mr. Hyde. Encouraging a victim to trust prematurely is incredibly damaging. Trust has to be earned and it can only be earned when she sees the behavior change withstand the test of time.

That said, what would change in an abuser look like?

Here is Lundy Bancroft's  list of of some ways to assess change in an abuser:

  • Admitting fully to what he has done
  • Stopping excuses
  • Stopping all blaming of her
  • Making amends
  • Accepting responsibility (recognizing that abuse is a choice)
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior, admitting their wrongness
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive his abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness will be a decades-long process, not declaring himself cured
  • Not starting to say, “so now it’s your turn to do your work”, not using change as a bargaining chip
  • Not demanding credit for improvements he has made
  • Not treating improvements as chips or vouchers to be spent on occasional acts of abuse (e.g. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time, so why are you making such a big deal about it?”)
  • Developing respectful, kind, supportive behaviors
  • Carrying his weight
  • Sharing power
  • Changing how he is in highly heated conflicts
  • Changing how he responds to his partner’s (or former partner’s) anger and grievances
  • Changing his parenting
  • Changing his treatment of her as a parent
  • Changing his attitudes towards females in general
  • Accepting the consequences of his actions (including not feeling sorry for himself about those consequences, and not blaming her or the children for them)

(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.)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #11

Domestic Abuse Misconception #11: Reconciliation and the preservation of the marriage should always be the goal. NO! NO! NO! Safety should be the goal. Healing should be the goal. But the truth is that in many cases safety and healing cannot happen within the context and framework of the marriage. 

My husband asked me yesterday if I had gotten any push back from these posts. I replied not yet but then again I think most of the people who would be offended by these topics have long ago unfriended me, unfollowed me, or just made sure not to read my posts. This one may be different.

Some of you the idea that preservation of the marriage is always the goal seems foolish and ridiculous. For many of us, though, we see this all the time. Within conservative Christian circles divorce is considered one of the all-time evils, causing the breakdown of the family and going against the "what God has joined together...." declaration. 

And yet....and yet even God allows divorce.

The problem with the mindset of marriage above all else is that it places the preservation of the institution over the well being of the people the institution was created for. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and was raked over the coals for it he declared that "The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) In the same way, marriage was created for man, not man for marriage.

Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his church, often called "the bride of Christ," a union of gentleness, kindness, self-sacrifice.  A marriage filled with abuse is a gross perversion of that picture, depicting Christ as the controlling, manipulative, self-centered monster bent on destroying the one that he "loves." That isn't a picture of Christ and his church. That is a picture of hell.

People say, 'But didn't they take vows before God?" Yes, they did. And abuse is a blatant and horrific breaking of those vows. If and when a victim moves toward divorce, it isn't that she is the one breaking her vow, she is asking to be free from the one who has already broken his, and is destroying her in the process. 

I'm not a theologian, but I have worked long and hard to try to understand the heart of God. I see a God who is for the oppressed. For the victim. For a proper and honest depiction of love. Who is for healing. Who is for life.

I am not saying that all marriages that include abuse must move to divorce. That may not always be the best or safest option. What I am saying is that safety and healing and genuine wholeness, the overall well being of the victim, must take priority because that is who God is. 

If you question my reasoning on this point, consider these words.

(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.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #10

Domestic Abuse Misconception #10: Nobody's perfect. We are all sinners. So both parties share in the responsibility for the abuse. 

If I had a dollar for every time I or one of my dear friends have encountered this idea....

Again, here is the problem of someone who knows about one thing assuming that it applies to something else they don't understand.

Yes. It is true. Nobody is perfect.

Yes. It is true. We are all sinners.

But HELL NO! Both parties do NOT share in the responsibility for the abuse. 

Please remember this. Abuse is the use of power and manipulation to control another person. Abuse sees the other person as less than. As a piece of property. Abuse comes from a sense of entitlement. An abuser uses whatever means to get what he wants regardless of the wishes or needs of the other person. 

Assuming that both share in the responsibility is basically saying that the victim deserved the abuse. 

In case this isn't clear enough I will say it again. THERE IS NEVER EVER A VALID REASON TO ABUSE ANOTHER PERSON. 

All those pithy sayings about marriage...."It takes two." Well, yes. It takes two to tango. It takes two to have a healthy marriage. But it only takes ONE to DESTROY IT. 

Victims are abused twice over. First from the abuser and second from those who tell her that the abuse is her fault and if she would just .....whatever.....submit, build him up, lose weight, have more sex....then he would quit destroying her life. 

OK, people. How cruel can you be to do this to someone? Yet it happens all the damn time. 

Please understand this. There are no perfect people but abuse is not a relationship problem or a marriage problem. ABUSE IS AN ABUSE PROBLEM. 

(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 9, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #9

Domestic Abuse Misconception #9: A victim should just keep these matters to herself. A wife, especially, should not disclose abuse because doing so is dishonoring to her husband. 

This is an idea that is more likely to be found in church circles, which often confuse disclosure with gossip,  and perhaps more "polite" society where "we just don't talk about those things." 

The truth is that abuse, any kind of abuse, thrives on secrecy. The first step out of abuse is disclosing that it is happening. It is not dishonoring to disclose abuse. It is about the only way to make it stop. And it is the only path toward healing. 

Secrets are rarely a good thing. They aren't healthy. They isolate. They wear a soul down with shame. The Bible continually calls us to expose evil. Ignoring evil or covering it up only leads to more destruction. 

It is important to tell someone if you are being abused, controlled, manipulated. Now, the challenge is that telling someone who doesn't get it and is dead set on fixing you or setting you straight or telling you what they think you need to do can be incredibly damaging to your trust. Call your local domestic abuse hotline (in the Asheville area it is Helpmate at 828-254-0516) or The National Domestic Abuse Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE). Share with a trusted friend. Shoot, share with me if you don't know who to tell. I can help you find safe people to talk to. 

And for those of you who are receive the honor of being entrusted with such difficult information, here is information from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Australia (abuse is a global problem): 

  • Listen to what she has to say.
  • Believe what she tells you. It will have taken a lot for her to talk to you. People are much more likely to cover up or downplay the abuse, rather than to make it up or exaggerate. You might find it hard to imagine someone you know could behave abusively. But the person who is abusive will probably show you a very different side to the side the victim sees.
  • Take the abuse seriously. Abuse can be damaging both physically and emotionally. Don’t underestimate the danger she may be in.
  • Help her to recognise the abuse and understand how it may be affecting her or her children.
  • Tell her you think she has been brave in being able to talk about the abuse, and in being able to keep going despite the abuse.
  • Help to build her confidence in herself.
  • Help her to understand that the abuse is not her fault and that no-one deserves to be abused, no matter what they do. Let her know you think that the way her partner is treating her is wrong. For example, ‘No-one, not even your husband, has the right to mistreat you’
  • Help her to protect herself. You could say ‘I’m afraid of what he could do to you or the children‘ or ‘I’m worried that it will get worse’ . Talk to her about how she thinks she could protect herself. See the section ‘Helping to increase her safety’ (see below).
  • Help her to think about what she can do and see how you can help her to achieve it.
  • Offer practical assistance like minding the children for a while, cooking a meal for her, offering a safe place to stay, transport or to accompany her to court, etc.
  • Respect her right to make her own decisions, even if you don’t agree with them. Respect her cultural or religious values and beliefs.
  • Maintain some level of regular contact with her. Having an opportunity to talk regularly to a supportive friend or relative can be very important.
  • Find out about Intervention Orders (Victorian name for a court protection order – in NSW these are called ‘Apprehended Violence Orders’, and in other states they are ‘Protection’, ‘Restraining’ or ‘Domestic Violence’ Orders) and other legal options available and pass this information on to her if she wants it.
  • Tell her about the services available. Remind her that if she calls a service, she can just get support and information, they won’t pressure her to leave if she doesn’t want to.
  • Keep supporting her after she has left the relationship. The period of separation could be a dangerous time for her, as the abuse may increase. She may need practical support and encouragement to help her establish a new life and recover from the abuse. She could also seek counselling or join a support group.
(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.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #8

Domestic Abuse Misconception #8: If things are really that bad then she would just leave. 

The truth is that things can still really be "that bad" but she doesn't leave for so many reasons. 

She doesn't leave because she still has such a strong emotional connection with her abuser. 

She doesn't leave because she is financially dependent on her abuser. 

She doesn't leave because she doesn't want to have to let her children spend time alone with her abuser without her there to protect them. 

She doesn't leave because nobody would believe her and she would have no support.

She doesn't leave because she has nowhere to go. 

She doesn't leave because her church might tell her it is wrong to do so. 

She doesn't leave because she knows that wherever she goes, he will be able to find her. 

A victim will leave her abuser and return and leave and return a number of times, the average being seven, before she leaves for good. The process of leaving is a terrifying and brutal process and it is terrifying for good reason. 75% of homicides occur as the victim tries to leave or in the several weeks after she leaves. It is, in many ways, safer to stay in the relationship.

This is why it is so very important for a victim to reach out to trusted and informed friends or a domestic abuse shelter and make a safety plan. 

If you are in an abusive relationship and need help in figuring out what to do next or making a safety plan, call  the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or in the Asheville area you can call Helpmate at 828-254-0516. 

(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 7, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #7

Domestic Abuse Misconception #7: If there has been no physical abuse then it is not dangerous. This couldn't be further from the truth. I already emphasized in a previous post that abuse is still abuse, even if there has been no physical violence. That all the various other forms of abuse--emotional, spiritual, sexual, financial, verbal--all, over time, tear down a victim to the point that she is a shell of her former self. Often victims are actually driven to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism or even to suicide to escape what has turned into a living hell.

But listen to this and listen well: In 28-33% of all domestic violence MURDERS, there has been NO PRIOR PHYSICAL VIOLENCE.

So before you dismiss the evil of abuse as "not that big of a deal because he doesn't hit her," take the above statistic to heart. Abuse, in any form, should ALWAYS be taken seriously.

Here are some more statistics for consideration.

(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 6, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #6

(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 #6: There is no way to know if a person will turn abusive. The truth is that there are red flags.

Yesterday I talked about how abusers don't necessarily look like abusers. How very hard for all concerned, then. Are there no caution signs at all? No way to know if your current boyfriend or husband (or girlfriend or wife) will one day turn abusive and/or violent? Well, there are characteristics that serve as red flags. I think these need to be taught to everyone, especially young people getting into relationships.

Here is an excellent list of red flags. Please note that these behaviors generally escalate. And if any of the last four behaviors (14-17) are present along with several of the others, then there is a heightened risk of physical violence.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #5

(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 #5: It is easy to tell who is an abuser because he will act like one to everybody. There is no way anybody I know is an abuser.

Oh, how I wish this were true. Then it would be easy to stay away from one. Maybe even easier to get away. It would certainly make it so much easier for the victim to be believed. But that isn't how abuse works.

Abusers come in all shapes and sizes and nationalities and ethnic groups and religions and socio-economic classes with any level of education or none at all. You can't walk up to a crowd of people or sit down at a dinner party or fellowship with people at church and say, "Oh, THAT guy is an abuser." You just can't tell that easily.

One of the biggest obstacles for a victim is to disclose the abuse only to be told by others that there is no way that is happening because her abuser is so very nice.

This is what you need to know.

Abuse is about power and control. It isn't about a bad personality. Abusers can be warm, smart, funny, and completely and utterly charming. They are the ultimate wolves in sheep's clothing. Most abusers do so in private, behind closed doors. Those who physically abuse their victims often inflict damage on parts of the body that nobody else will ever see. Emotional abusers may act like Dr. Jekyll in front of others and turn into Mr. Hyde behind closed doors. It is possible for close family and friends not to know of the abuse, even when they see the victim struggling to cope with life.

I have known victims whose children didn't even understand the abuse was happening because it was so very clandestine and the abuser wielded his power and control out of sight of the children (though children witnessing the abuse is much more common and an issue to be addressed in another post).

The point of this post is that you cannot assume that just because a person doesn't seem like his is abuser, he isn't. Abusers are masters at manipulation and changing a narrative to their benefit. There are, however, red flags to look for. I will share those tomorrow.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #4

(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 #4: All marriages go through difficult times. What she is calling abuse is just a rough patch that she needs to push through and get over.

This is probably one of the most damaging misconceptions out there because it minimizes the abuse and calls it something it isn't. It is absolutely horrifying and demeaning and heartbreaking for a victim to finally have the courage to speak up and be honest about what she is experiencing only to have people tell her, "Oh, everybody goes through hard times."

There is a huge difference between a marriage that is, at times or even most of the time, stressful, difficult, disappointing or tedious and one that is destructive and abusive. Remember that abuse is about power and control and ownership and the systematic tearing down of another person.

NEVER ASSUME. Never assume that because someone tells you the tip of the iceberg that you know the whole story. Listen carefully, get clarification, and say tenderly, "Tell me more."

Leslie Vernick wrote a wonderful piece in one of her columns that explains the differences between a difficult, disappointing and destructive marriage.

Do you see the difference?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #3

(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 #3: Abuse is a relationship problem that can be fixed with couples counseling. This idea is incredibly prevalent, the thought being that they just need to learn how to own their own junk and take responsibility for their own crap and learn to get along.

Nope! Nope! Nope!

Couples counseling is NEVER recommended where abuse is present. Why? Because abuse is not a relationship problem. It is an abuse problem. There is a power imbalance within the relationship that the abuser is dead set on maintaining at all costs. The abuser doesn't abuse because the victim is irritating or dysfunctional in some way (we all are). The abuser abuses because he wants power and control above all else and he feels jolly well entitled to it.

Most victims seeking help have often already tried couples counseling, often with disastrous results. Just as the abuser seeks to maintain control in the home and in the relationship, he seeks to maintain control in the counseling as well, often even snowing the counselor. (Not all counselors are well trained in the dynamics of domestic abuse, a post for another day.) And if the victim speaks up and is honest with the counselor in front of the abuser, she will pay for it.

Victims need safe, one-on-one counseling with a counselor who is well versed in abuse. Abusers need a very different kind of program and high accountability. But they never, ever should be seen together to try to get them to work things out. It won't work and will end up doing more damage.

This article explains it well.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Domestic Abuse Misconception #2

(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 #2: If it isn't physical, it isn't abuse. This may be one of the most common ideas out there. There are professionals who believe it. There are friends and family who believe it. There are victims themselves who believe it.

The truth is that abuse doesn't have to be physical to be abuse. In fact, physical abuse is just one way, one way an abuser maintains control over his victim. There can be financial abuse, sexual abuse and, yes, even spiritual abuse. And the common thread through all of them will be emotional abuse. Because you can't reduce your intimate partner to your possession to be ruled and controlled and manipulated without intense emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is massively damaging, more so even than physical abuse, Family and friends may not see it. The victim herself may not see it. There is no reason to call the police. No reason to visit the emergency room. No visible evidence of the destruction being done to her very being.

Emotional abuse is often called "crazymaking," because the back and forth and mixed messages and gaslighting all go hand in hand to keep the victim walking on eggshells and doubting her own sanity. In fact, most victims of emotional abuse wish that there were some physical abuse so that they would have a tangible reason for their pain. More women attempt suicide to escape emotional abuse because there seems so little hope for another way out.

This link talks about the various forms of abuse and at the bottom is a chart and each tab will bring up examples of that kind of abuse. Take a look. You might be surprised.

Domestic Abuse Misconception #1

(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 #1: Abuse is the result of anger. The truth is abuse is about power and control. Abusers can be very calm, cool, and collected and still calculate to maintain control over their victim. That power and control can take many forms. Here is the power and control wheel. Take a look.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Domestic Violence Hits the Radar

Eight years ago domestic violence really wasn't on my radar. It happened to other people out there somewhere. It involved black eyes and angry men and drugs and alcohol and trips to the ER. I was so misinformed. I didn't get it.
Then I got a front row seat. I watched in horror as one of my daughters became trapped in a relationship with a controlling, manipulative, threatening man. I watched as the life was sucked out of her. I watched as she became a shell of her former self.
It took me a while to put the pieces together. To realize that what she was experiencing was abuse. That this indeed was domestic violence.
I now see it for what it is and I see it all around. Rather than a single blip on my radar, my screen lights up all over as I hear story after story after story of women I know struggling to make sense of what is happening to them or struggling to recover from what was happening to them.
So for the past few years I have listened and learned and read and read some more and attended meetings and training with Helpmate, our local domestic violence organization. I want young women to know the red flags in relationships before they get in too deep. I want women in such relationships to know and understand what is happening to them and to know that there is help. I want friends and family to know how to recognize the signs of these relationships and how to respond with empathy and support. I want churches to become places of safety and refuge.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each day this month I will address a myth about domestic violence by sharing a little something I have learned. This won't be an academic exercise and I may not be able to track down the source. These will just be tidbits of what I now know. I hope they will be helpful to you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My Next Battle

For the past few months or so it seems that one of my emotional, developmental tasks has been coming to grips with going grey. My grasping of this and acceptance of my hair as it is has had its ups and downs, but gradually I am moving in a good direction. It seems my next task may be a bit more daunting. Whereas, should I decide that my confidence, my psyche, my self-esteem just isn't quite there yet, the grey is an easy, quick fix. But my other issue isn't.

One of the reasons that I have so desired to let myself go grey and be at peace with it is to help push back against the cultural stereotypes of beauty and the negative view of aging. I can't complain about it, about the expectations that I can get older internally but externally I can't change (whoever came up with this crackpot idea anyway?) and yet still cave to the pressure. I'm a bit of a rebel. I will refuse the status quo if I think the status quo is screwed up. So, grey I am becoming.

My next task is gonna be a beast though as it entails coming to terms with my changing body. I have so much more against me here. Not only do I have the beauty culture against me, I have the fitness culture against me, too. And behind all that I have the message I received from birth: that being fat is about the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

I have told bits and pieces of my story before. Of my weight obsessed mother who hated her body. Of the weight obsessed culture of my childhood. Of my own success in weight loss that led to a serious eating disorder in high school.

Over time I began to eat healthy and watched my body go up and down in size until it adjusted because it knew I wasn't going to starve it any more. Then I learned to trust my body. My hunger. My cravings. I began eating when I was hungry and not when I wasn't (well, some of the time anyway). I grew babies and nursed babies and my body responded to me kindly as I treated it kindly. My relationship with food has been healthy, I would say more healthy than average, even more healthy than most, for decades now. My relationship with my changing body has been a different story.

It is still so easy to put my value in my appearance. That is what our culture does. I've written about some of my struggles in posts like #metoo and Eating Out of the Trash Can. Youth, beauty, fitness. That's what really matters, right? It certainly would seem so. But time marches on and marches right across your torso, thighs, hips, and arms. Menopause enters. Estrogen leaves. Metabolism tanks. Skin elasticity goes to pot. Who I am as defined by my physical body comes into question. Our culture tells me I must fight. Fight it all. I must eat less. Exercise more. I must look awesome in a bikini at age 62 (yes, I saw that on a magazine cover once). It is all too much.

I am a grandma, dammit! I know people in their 70s and 80s who are still wringing their hands over their weight and trying yet another diet. I don't want to spend the rest of my life fighting my body. Fighting nature. There is do much more to life than driving yourself insane trying to achieve some subjective, and quite honestly fucked up (yes, I said it because sometimes situations warrant it and this is one of those) standard of beauty and acceptance.

So here I am. Looking 55 in the face. A bit more bulky than I was this time last year. Considerably more wobbly. But making the choice to say no to the pressure to maintain the body of my youth. We gotta fight this, people. Who's with me?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lessons in Lawn Mowing

I cut the grass this morning and it was awful. It often is awful. It is awful because our mower sucks. If you let it cut off then you have to wait at least 30 minutes before you can start it again. And, worse yet, the self-propel function ceased working a couple of years ago. If you live on flat land that might not be an issue, but alas! The mountains. Anyway, that means that cutting the grass needs to be done by brute force without interruption.

This morning I prepared myself, or so I thought. I went ahead and filled a glass with ice water because I knew at some point I would be about to die. I set the glass where I could grab it without letting go of the handle. It was a welcome relief as I came to it about halfway through and guzzled down all that I could, minus the flung piece of stick that swam around.

Unfortunately, this morning was oppressively muggy. The grass was slick from dew. And it just took way more out of me than it might in more favorable conditions. At one point I really thought I wasn't going to be able to finish and tried to yell, over the roar of the lawn mower, for someone to bring me more water. I'm not that much of a loudmouth and nobody heard. I finished. Barely.

I realized that this is life. When faced with an overwhelming task or jam packed week, it is wise to set out points of refreshing. We aren't machines. We aren't even crappy lawnmowers. We need points of rest. Refreshing. A cup of cold water. Sometimes we can't set one out ourselves. Sometimes we might need to ask someone to be alert to our need. Next time I will ask my husband to have his office window open and be alert to my possible yelling for help.

If cutting the grass is easy for you you might not understand why it is such a big deal to somebody else. You might have a kick-ass mower or a level yard or more muscles and stamina and perhaps a cool, refreshing breeze. You might not realize that the person struggling to tame their yard is dealing with steep slopes, rocky soil, soggy grass, heat and humidity, or (like me) rapidly shriveling muscle mass (damn you, menopause!). It is easy to assume that if something is easy for you, it should be easy for someone else. But our loads are not apples to apples.

I know so many with various challenges in life that others just don't understand. They are continually met with the "why don't you just ...." Such ignorant, unwanted advice is condescending and demoralizing. The parent of the special needs child can't just.....whatever. The single mom can't just.....whatever. The person with debilitating depression can't just....whatever. They have more obstacles than you can see.

It is important to look more deeply into the lives of people to better understand the struggle. I know so many whose seemingly easy life tasks are made so much more difficult by conditions I may not see or understand. I want to be there for them with a cup of cold water. Please, if you know you are going to need one, let me know. I may not be able to cut your grass, but I can hopefully refresh your soul when you need it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Pro-Life Means Pro-Life Down the Road, Too

I am going to be very blunt here but I have to say this to all my friends who are pro-life. Being pro-life has to go beyond birth. Being pro-life means being a caring and loving support to the mother who chooses that life long after that life is born. Single women who choose life make a hard but holy choice. Not only are they choosing life for their baby, they are choosing their life, and it is a hard one. Single motherhood may be the hardest job on the planet. It can terrifying, frustrating, exhausting, and so lonely it crushes the soul. You don't fit in. Anywhere. Not with your single friends. Not with your childless couple friends. Not with your friends with children. So, yes. You make a good, choice. A beautiful choice. But a very hard choice.
So I make this plea to you, my pro-life friends. Don't forget the mothers years after they have made that choice. Check in on them. Encourage them. Include them. If the life she chose was of so much value at birth, remember that that life is still of value. Both lives are of value.
She made a choice to choose life. Please make the choice to support it down the road.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Dear Paige Patterson

(For those who have known me for years. let me explain. Two and a half years ago I became a member of a young church plant in Asheville, Emmaus Asheville. Emmaus is part of the Summit Network out of Raleigh, and therefore a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. So after 31 years as a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I jumped denominations. It was a hard decision but Matt and I fell in love with the mission, culture, and people of Emmaus and felt God calling us there. Therefore, as a member of the SBC, I signed this letter.)

Dear Paige Patterson-

I signed the letter.

I signed the letter because I am a member of a church that is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and I believe that God has put me in this place for such a time as this.

I signed the letter because I have a voice and choose to speak up. I must speak up.

I signed the letter because the objectification of women has to stop. Because the mistreatment of women has to stop. Because the abuse of women has to stop.

I signed the letter because I have had a front row seat to the devastation of abuse in women I love dearly and I know well that abuse of any kind, be it physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual, financial, can wound or kill the body of the abused but will always, always wound or kill the spirit of the abused.

I signed the letter because I have watched women in abusive marriages treated with disbelief, disrespect, contempt.

I signed the letter because I have seen pastors and people within the Body of Christ ill-equipped to handle the destructive and complex issue of abuse and do more harm than good.

I signed the letter because I am tired of the church giving grace to the abuser and law to the victim.

I signed the letter because I am tired of the church putting the institution of marriage above the care of the people within the marriage.

I signed the letter because an abusive marriage is not a picture of Christ and his church. It is a picture of hell.

I signed the letter because I have wondered why men coming out of seminaries are so arrogant and yet so ignorant of issues such a abuse. Now I know. If the leaders do not show Christlike love and compassion and care toward the sheep, neither will the shepherds they train.

I signed the letter because your attitudes that you have expressed show me nothing of the character of God.

I signed the letter because I believe that the pushback and criticsim you have received, that you labeled an attack and circled the wagons, was instead a calling out of your very own sinful behavior and attitudes.

I signed the letter because I am actively, in my own small voice of one, asking you to humble yourself, step down from your position of leadership, and seek the forgiveness of the God you profess for your own sins against women.

I signed the letter because I have a hope, a flailing one, but still a hope, that the views within the church are changing and that one day women will be seen and treated in every way, with the utmost care and respect.

I signed the letter and would like to call all my brothers and sisters within the SBC to do the same. To turn the tide. To bring hope. To be Jesus to each other and to a hurting world.

Ginny Barker
Swannanoa, NC

Saturday, February 24, 2018


It is Saturday evening and I can't seem to get hooked into any of the five books I am trying to read. I keep striking on on the sudoku because I have done all the easier ones and the only ones left are the ones that require a skill set greater than mine. I've read over the home inspection and vacuumed the house. And I started thinking. Maybe Saturday evening is for thinking.

I used to be quite the dreamer. At least I was when I was a kid. I was always dreaming of being someone else. Somewhere else. When Olga Korbut broke into our world and flipped and turned and jumped and twisted her way into our living rooms via the 1972 Olympics, I dreamed of doing the same. I suppose every little girl did. When The Sound of Music came to the movie theater I went to see it seven times and dreamed for months of being a little Bavarian girl high in the alps. And when The Waltons played out their rural mountain story every Thursday evening at 8pm I longed and longed and longed to be one of them. And to one day grow up to be just like Olivia Walton with a big farmhouse full of lively children who jumped from haylofts and milked cows and walked to the general store just like in the good ol' days.

As a teenager and even a young adult, I still spent a good deal of time, maybe way too much time, dreaming. Those dreams were mostly of whatever young man was my love interest of the day and when and how he would realize that he couldn't live without me.

I've had other dreams over the years: of living in an interracial urban intentional community, of raising my kids on a farm, of delivering babies or chasing storms, of playing the fiddle, of getting a masters degree, of writing a book, of being good at something. Of making a difference. Dreams live and then they die.

I have never done well with those "Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10 or 20) years?" I have never had that kind of vision. I have never equated my dreams with where I could see myself. I usually couldn't see myself. I used to think that was some awful omen that I was to die young but I've made it to 54 so far so there's that.

A while back my husband asked me that question. "What do you want to be doing in 10 years?" I just can't see it. I just don't know. I just don't dream any more. And I don't know why.

Perhaps it is because I've seen the foolishness of my dreams. Or the futility. Perhaps it is because life is just so different from how I ever pictured it. It isn't bad, there are indeed very wonderful things about my life, but it is different. Perhaps it is because my dreams are no longer just mine. My life is tied to so many people and therefore what I want doesn't hold the same weight any more. Perhaps it is the feeling of powerlessness that overtakes me when life seems to have spun out of control and I figure why get my hopes up to be disappointed. I really don't know.

Dreams at this age are different any way. What do you dream about at this age? My brain doesn't work. My body has taken on a life of its own without asking my permission. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And maybe I am just tired.

I guess life has taught me that my dreams pretty much need to stay just that. Dreams. Part contentment. Part resignation.

After all, it isn't about me.. I need to keep an open mind and take what comes.  Maybe dreams are overrated. So much else matters more.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Experience and Its Lessons

Experience is an excellent teacher. In fact, some might say it is the best teacher. An experience that brings on intense emotion can become seared in our mind and in our heart like nothing else. Students leaving college and seeking to break into the job market know the frustration of being told that you can't have a job until you have experience and yet wonder how you can get experience without a job.

Yes, experience teaches well. But what it teaches can be limited to, well, our own experience. It can be easy to assume that our experience is everybody's experience which, in fact, may be far from the truth.

Think about the person who trusts no one. They probably got that way because they have had their trust betrayed once, twice, or time and time again. On that front, their distrust makes perfect sense. Their experience has taught them well. Except that it hasn't. It has taught them not to trust when, in fact, there are trustworthy people out there and a life where you trust no one is fraught with angst and fear and cynicism and there can be no true bonding of friendship or intimacy without trust. So, the experience taught them well but taught them only part of the story.

Think about the person who trusts everyone. They may have grown up in a world of good and kind and trustworthy people. Many of us might call this person naive. A Pollyanna. Foolish, even. Their experience has taught them that people ARE trustworthy. This person can end up a sitting duck. A target for scammers. We still need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. People aren't always acting in good faith. Trust...but verify.

Our experiences are so important. Yet if we only focus on our personal experiences, we become nearsighted, only seeing what is right in front of us instead of the entire picture. And from there it is an easy step to black and white thinking. Setting up our perspective as right and all others as wrong. Champion my position and demonize the other party. We become so certain about what we believe, what we have seen, and that puffs up into arrogance and offensiveness, and before you know it you are living in a world of snarky memes and pat answers. A quick spin through the Facebook newsfeed and you'll see what I mean.

How do we fix it? I think we start by listening. Listen to each other. Learn from each other. Share our experiences with each other. The broader your frame of reference, the less foreign and scary other people will seem. They are people, by the way. Human beings.

It is so easy to get frustrated with people until you find that their experience may be coloring their thoughts and actions. I used to get so annoyed driving down a particular road in town when I got behind slow drivers. My shortsightedness had me antsy and eager to get on with things. Then I got a ticket on that road. After that, I drove the speed limit (a ludicrously low one) and understood why others had driven so slow. Sometimes I would have people behind me obviously irritated at my seemingly laid back and pokey pace and I wanted to stop and yell, "Don't you understand? I just got a ticket!" But no, they didn't understand because they hadn't gotten a ticket.

I need to remind myself of this the next time my adrenaline surges at somebody else's opinion. They have experience that is informing their ideas, words, and actions. Maybe I should ask what those are.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Empty Nest

Last night, for the first time in 28 years, Matt and I slept in an empty nest. Officially empty, that is. I mean, at this point, I still share a bed 3-4 nights a week with my granddaughter, a pint-sized, human version of a Kitchen-Aid mixer on overdrive. For some reason she detests the thought of covers and spends half the night pulling on my hair to self-soothe (Ow! Ow! OW!). But this is a season that I know will, one day, be behind me. And life will change. As it always does.

The empty nest is one of those things that parents long for and dread, sometimes with alternating emotions and sometimes at the same time. That is the way most of parenthood is, really. Mixed emotions. Mixed everything. A perpetual state of confusion. You love them so much you can hardly breathe and they drive you positively insane at the same time. You remember how badly you wanted a baby and then you wonder what the hell you were ever thinking and when when WHEN will you ever have a moment to yourself to think or your house to yourself to have a little bit...just a teensy weensy bit of peace and quiet where you brain cells can come out of hiding and maybe, just maybe, you can coax them back to life again.

So here it is. We went to bed last night and it felt so empty and it was weird. We woke up this morning and it was still weird. Peaceful, but weird.

I recently read the book Walking on Eggshells by Jane Isay. It was so wonderful to hear that other parents find having adult kids a challenge. In fact, the author said that most parents find parenting kids in their twenties (though you aren't really parenting, you are still relationaly their parents) just as challenging as any other stage. Sigh. We are eight years in to that decade with eight more to go.

That really was a wonderful book and encouraging to the likes of people like me, who want to have a good, healthy, respectful, loving relationship with my adult children but are having to learn by hunting and pecking, trial and error, like a dance. Step forward. Step back. Step forward and stumble on toes. Fall back. Gradually get the swing of things. Do a cartwheel. Look ridiculous. Whatever. Be a safety net, not a hammock. Love them but don't smother them. Listen way more than you speak. As one woman interviewed for the book said, "Keep your mouth closed and your door open."

Today I will go downstairs, to the emptiness. I will tidy up and clean. I will sort and stow. I will put my clothes in the washer without having to take out someone else's load first. I will look around and remember and be thankful for what I had. And what I have. For who I have. Even if they don't live here any longer.

Friday, February 16, 2018

On Sadness

Some emotions are hard to handle. I seem to be one of those people who feels certain emotions intensely. It is easy to try to wriggle away from them, cover them up, explain them away, even, at times, drink them away. Anything but just let them be.
Some emotions are red flags. Anger, for instance, is like an alarm system, telling you something is wrong either with a situation or the way you are perceiving it. Anger takes some digging to figure out what caused the alert and what needs to happen to defuse the ticking bomb from exploding again.
Other emotions sometimes just are. Sadness is one of those. Sadness can be the most natural of all emotions in light of grief and sorrow. In light of loss. There often isn't a thing to be done with sadness other than let it be. Covering it up or dressing it down will only push it underground to erupt in some more destructive way. Sometimes the best thing to do with sadness is just to feel it in all its heaviness and let the tears gradually, in time, carry it away.
Life gives ample opportunities to be sad. Even changes that are, on the whole, very good, can bring with them hard, hard emotions. I am staring the empty nest in the face. Within a few days my youngest will be gone...moving on to a new life 12 hours away. While I know this is so good, a step toward independence and learning and growing and adventure, and while I am excited for her, I am also sad. I will miss her dearly.
So today, in the middle of the hubbub of packing and plans and work and caring for my granddaughter and all the other calls on my time and attention and my head and my heart, I will let myself be sad.