A Timely Ending

Jack the New Therapist aka the FNG will be no longer.  It has become a failed collaboration.  That is what my reasonable self says.  My snarky self is pointing at this:

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The Resting Bored Face

Jack has one of the worst Resting Bored Faces I’ve come across.  There are three places you never want to see an RBF: 1) on a date 2) while you’re speaking publicly 3) on the face of your therapist while you’re sharing something.  He doesn’t mirror or even change his facial expression very much.  He is extremely low affect.  He rarely smiles.  It is strange.  He is putting the clinical in clinical psychologist.

It’s more than that though.  He won’t actually therapize.  He just expects me to sit and talk ad nauseum, and I hate doing that.  That is too client-centered for my taste.  He rarely asks questions.  When he does he says, “Do you mind if I ask a question?” Sweet fancy Moses, please ask a question!! If I mention a past traumatic event, he looks visibly jarred by it.  He then says, “I’m just really angry that you experienced that.  That shouldn’t have happened to you.”

I’m way beyond that now.  Of course, that should not have happened to me.  What I need is some kind of insight into resolving remaining emotional dissonance, and I now see that he can’t offer that.  He can’t get past the nature of my past traumatic experiences.  He’s hunting for something.  An explanation for something. It feels as if he doesn’t believe me on some level.  I present how I present, and he continually refers to studies that show that I should be a mess.  So, the questions that he has managed to ask are not meant to help me.  They have been probing questions.

  • Do I trust that my male therapist won’t be sexually inappropriate with me if studies show that our first experience with a man–our father–becomes our template? (Yes, he actually asked me that.)
  • How am I able to form solid relationships with men or women since both my parents were abusive? How has that even been a possibility for me since studies show…?
  • How am I able to experience any kind of sexual intimacy with a partner after being sexually brutalized since studies show…”

Do you see a theme here? This wasn’t therapy.  This was some kind of inquisition, and I don’t say that in cynical way.  The Spanish Inquisition was an inquiry into whether or not a Jew who converted to Christianity was, in fact, an honest convert.  This felt like an inquiry into whether or not I was “fronting”.  Was I really stable? Was I really recovered or effectively recovering? After all, studies show that you can’t fully heal after trafficking, childhood sexual abuse, and longterm exposure to traumatic environments in childhood and adulthood.  Studies show that you struggle, your hippocampus shrinks, and you remain fragile in some way for the rest of your life.  Well, I never liked those studies.  Excuse my language, but fuck’ em.  I don’t want a smaller hippocampus or a lifelong struggle.  He wants me to provide evidence that how I appear in his office is true in my life.

No.  I don’t have to do that nor should I have to in a therapist’s office.  For all his training, he should have known better.  There are healthy ways to gauge the state of a client.

All that aside, I think this experience has answered my question: Do I still need intensive therapy?

I don’t think I do right now.  I’ve been at this since March 2015.  My favored therapist saw me through the dissolution of my marriage, the fallout, and the processing of the trauma associated with domestic violence.  He saw me through the process of “getting my shit together”.  He was one of the best therapists I’ve ever worked with.  Perhaps it was good that he moved out-of-state.  It allowed me to assess myself and see that I didn’t need the Hot Seat anymore.  After everything that has happened since mid-2015, that’s a weighty realization as I head into 2018.

And this is where I must say that the unimaginable is possible.  I don’t want to sound “inspiration porn-y”, but I do want to be honest.  I could not have imagined my life in January 2015.  I knew that I was miserable and despairing.  I knew that I was getting sicker and sicker.  I knew that I no longer loved my husband.  I was starting to figure out that he was abusive.  I knew that I was living a life that I hated.  I wanted so much more for myself and my daughters, but I didn’t know how to get there.  It all felt out of reach for me and them.  Impossible.  How do you start over in mid-life?

One step at a time taken with great anxiety, however, and my life changed little by little.  Your life does not change overnight.  It changes with sometimes very small steps made by you.  And, truthfully, it all depends on how much you want it.  How badly do you want to be free of what is keeping you from something better? For a while, you have to be single-minded.  Tenacious and relentless.  You must get used to the idea of uncertainty which human beings tend to disdain.  More than that, you must dislike your present circumstances more than you dislike not knowing what will happen.  Once that tips, it becomes a lot easier to make big changes.  The outcome becomes less important to you than making the necessary changes even if those necessary changes are ripping out the foundations of your life.

Currently, I would say that the hardest part of the past two-and-half years has been learning to live with uncertainty.  It hasn’t been the loss of a marriage.  I had a bad marriage.  The grief associated with the loss of a dream or an idea hit me harder.  The trauma that occurred within that marriage was very painful to process.  The things that he said to me infested me in ways I didn’t know until they came creeping out when I was alone at night.  That was very difficult, and I have cried harder and longer over the past two years than I think I have in my entire life.

And yet I can say now that it was a deep cleansing.  Sexual violence can leave us feeling defiled in a very particular way.  I was sexually brutalized for days in a drug-induced haze when I was in the trafficking environment.  When I left that place, I felt utterly shattered and desecrated to my core, but it didn’t feel personal.  Human traffickers are criminals.  They are doing what they do–the job they have chosen.  In that way, it was easier for me to heal.  While I experienced shame, it was somehow easier to deal with because, while I felt for years that it was my fault, it didn’t land or fester in certain areas of my identity.

After the sexual violence in my marriage occurred, I was brought low into a place of utter desolation.  My husband raped me.  More than once.  And then he blamed me for it.  He tore my hip apart.  He herniated the muscles supporting my pelvic floor.  I required two corrective surgeries–one requiring months of rehabilitation in which I had to learn how to walk again and the other requiring a stay in the hospital and weeks of no driving, no lifting, and sitting on pillows.  It was humiliating.

I will probably not discuss the nature of the domestic violence in my former marriage again, and I do so now with a reason.  What I have realized now that I have some distance is that it feels harder to overcome trauma endured from a friend.  From an intimate.  Brené Brown suggests in her latest book that it is harder to hate someone close up.  To counter popular and anonymous hatred, we should then move in.  What if that hatred comes from someone close to you? From someone who promised to love you? The opposite of love isn’t what most people assume.  It isn’t throwing candelabras and screaming while stomping around and launching invective.  No, that’s not hatred.  That’s rage.  Hatred in an intimate relationship is complete disengagement to the point of treating the former beloved as if they do not exist, and, when the beloved continually seeks out some form of validation that they do indeed matter, lashing out in violence to make the point that they do not and will not.

This is the opposite of love, and it is extraordinarily difficult to heal from.  Why? This kind of treatment erodes your ability to retain hope and trust.  As much as I wanted to believe that someone I loved wouldn’t do to me what my ex-husband did, I could not.  When someone said, “But, I love you,” my mind would simply counter with, “That is what he said.”  If your partner could hurt you so profoundly while saying he loves you afterwards, then how will you ever know what is true again? It is this uncertainty that has nearly undone me.  It is this uncertainty that has done the most damage to my ability to trust myself again and my ability to make good judgment calls.

What is to be done about it? How does one heal from it? For real? How? Well, this is what I have done and continue to do:

  • If it is not true, then do not believe it.  Or, at least acknowledge that you intellectually do not buy into it even if you emotionally agree with it.  Beginning to separate the two is the beginning of the healing process.  It also helps you begin to discern what’s driving your responses.
  • If you aren’t sure whether it’s true or not, then ask someone, like a therapist or close friend, to help you figure it out.  Trauma weaves a strange web, and sometimes when something causes a flare-up or exacerbates PTSD symptoms, you just can’t discern what’s true anymore.  Call someone who knows you so that you don’t fall down the rabbit hole.
  • It is okay if your emotions are not catching up with what you know cognitively.  It takes time to bridge the gap (this is called dissonance).  An example from my own life is this thought: “I am disposable.”  Cognitively, I know that this is false.  Emotionally, it feels so true sometimes.  How do I merge the emotional belief and the cognition so that the dissonance is resolved? This is where EMDR comes in.  This is why seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma and EMDR is so vital.  When it flares up, I have to make a choice, and sometimes I can’t.  I must ride the wave of pain that always passes.
  • Build a squad of people who are good to you.  Those people should see you as you are far beyond what has happened to you–your identity is not tied into your trauma. More than that, who you are is in no way reflective of how your former abusers saw you.  That goes a long way into bridging dissonance.
  • Take a look at what you are letting into your imagination.  When you leave an abuser and an abusive environment, you get to choose what comes into your mind and imagination.  You finally have say.  What will you read? What movies and shows will you watch? What forms of entertainment will you consume? What music will you listen to? How will you rebuild your brain? This matters.  Will it be dark and mournful or hopeful and beautiful? Empowering? Or angry? Passive? Active? What helps you feel better? This is a time to begin to think about your tastes, your likes and dislikes, who you were, and who you are becoming.
  • Take some time to try to imagine your future life and do something in the present that your future self will thank you for.  This might sound cheesy, but this actually helped me make the final decision to go back to graduate school.  When I took into account the time that it would take me to complete my graduate degree I winced.  But, then I realized that the time would pass anyway, and I imagined my future self thinking, “I’m so glad that I did this.”  I knew that I wouldn’t regret my decision.
  • We must all banish the idea of “arriving”.  There will never come a time when life will be easier.  We will never be happier when X happens.  I promise.  I once thought that I would be happier when I lost the “baby weight”.  I did.  I wasn’t.  I then thought that my life would be perfect once I finally had meaningful sex with a man who really loved me.  I did.  I won’t lie about that one.  That was a marker of my life vastly improving, but I was still me.  I still struggled with finances, thought patterns and habits that I disliked, and my disdain for that one tooth I don’t like.  And, I’m still an introvert.

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  • Lastly, be kind to yourself.  Be very, very, very kind to yourself.  This is probably the hardest thing to do out of everything.  It might, however, be the most important.

We are in the holiday season now.  If there were any time of year to show yourself patience and kindness, then it’s now.  With that, I wish you, my readers, the deepest peace and restfulness that you are probably wishing everyone else through your holiday greetings and well-wishes.  May it truly be so for each of you.

Shalom…

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Easing into The Season

For my non-American readers, Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the States.  It is a big deal.  It marks the beginning of The Holidays–a season of high stress, joy, high consumerism on display, dread, meaningful religious observations, turmoil, GERD, Mariah Carey on loop, and so much more.  I sound cynical.  I’m not.  It’s the truth though.  As soon as Thanksgiving hits, people start grabbing the Tums off the racks, eating too much to cope, maxing out their credit cards in order to buy gifts to make all their family and friends happy, and figuring out ways to avoid family conflict.  It is a rough time of year for almost everyone I know.  And now that there is political polarization to the extreme in America, one wonders if tapas and finger foods should replace foods requiring forks and knives.

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“Well, I’m sorry! I didn’t know that he could make a shiv out of a stick of butter! I tried, okay!”

I have panic attacks every Thanksgiving.  For real.  For the past seven years, they have hit me hard.  They start around 10:30 in the morning, and, every year, I don’t seem to know what they are.

“What is happening to me?”

The first time it happened, I took a Xanax at 11 AM.  I passed out on the kitchen floor and woke up around 1 PM.  So, that would be a ‘no’ to the Xanax then.  The second year, I took half a Xanax thinking it was a dosage problem.  The same thing happened except at least I was on a couch. Throw the Xanax away.

To me, anxiety is like being nauseated mentally.  It is a plague.  I am anxious to some degree almost all the time.  My mind is perpetually on edge.  It has been this way since the domestic violence started in my former marriage.  I have not fully calmed down from that.  The last episode of domestic violence was over three years ago, but I am still hypervigilant at times.  I know that this will subside.  I was anxious for years after I escaped the trafficking environment.  I was easily kicked into “survival mode” by any number of triggers.  The sound of a car backfiring was a trigger.  It sounded like a gun shot.  If someone yelled at me, held eye contact too long, deliberately tried to intimidate me, or touched me in a way that I perceived as threatening, I froze.

What about Thanksgiving sets me off? I’m not sure.  I tried to solve it on Thursday when I realized that there was a pattern.  Here are some things that I did observe.  Maybe you will find it helpful.

Thanksgiving has always been a day that I work my ass off.  I really like entertaining and cooking for everyone, but, historically, my ex-husband would never help me.  For him, it was his day off.  He would go in the bedroom and play games on his laptop while putting his feet up.  He would ignore his children and me.  I felt like his servant, and that feeling started to degrade and erode me.  It permeated the entire relationship and culminated in the sexual violence that put me in an operating room–twice.

Almost all the traumatic experiences I had growing up in my father and mother’s homes were centered around my accepting “my place” as an object, and that objectification felt eerily similar to how I felt in my marriage.  My father spent his energy trying to convince me that I was not a person but merely property–his property.  I was to express my acceptance of this at all times by calling ‘sir’ and obeying him at all times.  I could never do that.  I obeyed him because I was afraid of him, but I argued with him about calling him ‘sir’.  In Texas and the rest of the South, we call our elders, strangers, and people outside the family ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ out of respect, but I simply could not understand why I should call my own father ‘sir’.  It made no sense to me.  So, I refused.  This enraged my father.  What did my defiance cause? Well, I endured hours of military-like torture–the sort that Navy SEALs endure in an attempt to break me.  I, however, got to keep myself.  I never called him ‘sir’, and this might be why I survived intact.  My ridiculously stubborn nature saved my innate personality.  I always told my mother that it would serve me one day!

My mother’s house was different.  She ran a military-like household as well in terms of order and cleanliness.  She was obsessed–literally–with cleanliness.  She lined things up, dusted weekly, and vacuumed in straight lines.  If I moved a tchotchke out of place, she would notice–and have a fit.  If I didn’t vacuum the carpet in perfect lines, she would notice.  God forbid I leave a footprint! I would have to vacuum the carpet all over again.  I had to organize my closet by color and season.  Oh, and no wire hangers.  My mother and Joan Crawford were one and the same person.

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My underwear and sock drawers had to be perfectly arranged.  If they were not, she would dump out their contents on the floor and insist I arrange them all over again.  She would go through all my drawers every Saturday in order to find my personal journal.  Sometimes she should would read it out loud to me and mock the contents.  I had to hide every personal item from her.  I was not allowed privacy–ever.  She would bounce quarters off my bed to make sure it was perfectly made, and she would run her fingers on the surfaces of all my furniture looking for dust while I stood against the wall watching her inspect everything.  She reveled in her own power over me.  I was not a person to her.  I was an extension of her or nothing at all depending upon her needs.

She began this process when I was old enough to clean–around 7 years-old.

This isn’t an uplifting read.  Why recount it? Well, in my experience, when we have strong emotional experiences that increase to panic when there is nothing in the present to panic about, then we are panicking over something in the past; and, there is a cue in the present that is activating our “survival” mode.  I recount this to offer up an example of what could possibly activate that “survival” mode.

I grew up, as so many people do, being treated as less than a whole person.  Thanksgiving also marked the beginning of the worst time of year in my family as my mother was prone to suicide attempts during the holiday season.  Some of the worst violence I witnessed was during the holidays.  I was also often forced to see my father during the holidays which bred inordinate terror in me.  I have resolved most of my feelings around that past trauma, but recall that recent trauma can often kick up old trauma.  This is why new traumas re-traumatize.  That which is settled and adaptively processed gets re-activated with new traumas.  I was brutalized in my marriage.  There was no way that I wasn’t going to have to face down old abuse again.  It would all have to be looked at again because this is what brains do.  They make connections: “Oh, this looks just like that.”

What do you get then? Panic attacks that come out of nowhere coupled with fear and dread.  Emotional flashbacks.  They are confusing.  Annoying.  Inconvenient.  What is the strategy?

First: They will pass.  Know this.  They will pass.

  • The fastest way to get through them is to talk to a person who loves you.  Seriously.  Talk to a person who loves you.  Love has a way of helping you discharge fear, and discharging fear is the fastest way to ease panic.
  • Engage your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  Remember it like this: “Rest and digest”.  You have to slow down your breathing and bring your digestive system online.  Most people instinctively know this which is why emotional eating is so common.  Eating counteracts the fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system-SNS) because it brings your digestive system online.  I suggest drinking a non-caffeinated beverage like a mint tea.  Mints are cooling herbs.  It cools and eases the stomach.  Believe it or not, it helps. (Look for a spearmint tea if you have hormone problems.  Spearmint clears up estrogen-related skin issues–chin acne– on the face and helps the intestines clear excess estrogen)
  • Smell some lavender and frankincense essential oils.  Engaging your senses is part of how you engage your PNS, and frankincense actually does quite a bit in the body.
  • Exercise.  Go for a walk.  Move.  80% of your neurons (not your neural connections) are in your cerebellum.  The cerebellum is the part of the brain that governs movement. If 80% of your neurons are devoted to movement, then it must be really important to move.  So, move when you are anxious or panicky.

The holidays can be a wonderfully meaningful time of year.  There is a lot about them that I absolutely love this being one of them:

They can also be one of the most painful times of the year for people for myriad reasons, and sometimes we don’t even know why.  But, we feel it.  From Thanksgiving to mid-January.  It doesn’t have to be this way regardless of your history.  There are ways to enjoy this time of year even when your sympathetic nervous system is on high alert.  We don’t have to wait until we’ve got all our “issues” resolved to enjoy this time of year.

 

 

The Buffer and Rat Park

I went to therapy on Tuesday with a migraine.

I have to pause for a moment and talk about migraines, pain, and trauma.  Whenever I have mentioned the nightmare known as The Migraine on any blog, well-meaning people have offered helpful comments.  I certainly want more good information particularly if I don’t have it, but it must be explained first that a migraine is not a headache (please bear with me as I will make a point).  It’s a neurological event that, if left untreated, can leave lesions on the brain, thusly, leaving the brain vulnerable to a future ischemic attack.  Who knew? I certainly didn’t.  You can’t fool around if you have “chronic migraine” (15 or more attacks in a month).  I am one of those people.  A dark room, a few Excedrin for Migraine, and lavender oil don’t help me.  Regretfully…

I began experiencing migraines after an auto collision, and these pain-mongering menaces arrived days later and never left.

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They are the bane of my existence.  I have tried everything known to, well, anyone for 13 years now and continue to pursue every avenue of treatment and prevention available from PT, diet therapy, pharmaceutical interventions to yoga, breathwork, chiropractic, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, myofascial release work, European herbal remedies…you name it.  They don’t stop.  Ever.  They might abate for a while, but they always return.  I was in the ER on Tuesday night for an infusion of the magic cocktail due to a migraine that lasted around 16 days.  It sucked, and I felt very discouraged.

Once again, I was in therapy during this round in the ring with Mega Migraine, and my therapist, who has experience counseling people with chronic pain, tried to coach me through the pain suggesting different strategies.  He also asked me carefully if past trauma played a role in the frequency of my migraines–a legitimate but admittedly tiresome question.  At times, however, one starts to feel patronized.  I did my best to answer his questions while I massaged stabbed myself as if I had an ice pick trigger points and squinted at him possibly slurring my words.

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MJ in therapy…

This is where, I observe, that people with PTSD or past trauma might experience a defensive response (looking catatonic can be defensive in nature, I suppose).  I do, at times, feel emotionally defended when people suggest that migraines or any other illness are psychosomatic if you’ve experienced trauma; that is an oversimplification as humans are far too complex.  I didn’t, however, defend myself at all on Tuesday because I was in too much pain, and, for what it’s worth, I know the emotional stressors that trigger a migraine attack.  I also know that a car crash has damaged the nerves in my neck (neuropathic pain), and I also have vasculitis in my CNS thanks to SLE (Lupus) not to mention genetics.  These are three “quantitative” etiologies for these migraines that have nothing to do with PTSD or past trauma; so, I felt safe enough to address the more qualitative reasons.

For example, the sound of my mother’s voice will trigger a migraine in a certain part of my head–around the trigeminal nerve to be exact–in about five minutes.  This is a primary reason I’m pursing EMDR.  That is a classic trauma-based somatic response.  I want that outta here! If one of my daughters becomes labile and needs to go to the Behavioral Health ER for something like suicidal ideation or a sudden onset of a mixed state, I will most likely experience a migraine within 12 hours after that.  That is a classic stress trigger for me.  My ex-husband’s antics will trigger a stress-related migraine particularly if it hurts one of my daughters in a meaningful way, but this does not mean that a migraine emerges out of the ether and descends upon me, the migraineur, in some sort of psychosomatic fog.  Blood pressure, adrenaline, and cortisol most likely play a huge role in affecting the blood vessels in the brain thanks to the stress experienced from these events, thusly, causing a migraine.  We are not machines even though Descartes would like to attribute such a description to humans.

Westerners can be quick to banish anything stress-related and almost act as if the resultant symptoms are not real.  Stress causes heart attacks.  That’s as real as it gets.

Look at the rise of hypertension and diabetes or even cancer.  One can point at diet first, but what fuels the poor diet choices (leaving out low income and class issues)? Stress.  Why, for example, won’t people give up their favorite foods loaded with salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats? Stress.   People are often trying to mitigate stress using the closest thing at hand to do that–food products i.e. substances.  The Big Three make us feel better for a time, and that’s real and measurable.  Reduce stress and one observes a subsequent reduction in illness and its damaging effects on the body and mind.  This is a known principle.  Once stress is reduced, the automatic habits that go along with that stress tend to reduce as well i.e. emotional and/or stress eating, increased alcohol intake, increased caffeine intake, increased substance use for stress and emotional management.  It’s tough, however, if the very things used for stress mitigation are themselves addictive which, alcohol and opiates aside, dairy and gluten are as their proteins occupy the opiate receptors in the human brain.  That’s why it is such a pain in the ass to give them up.  What’s more, the very things that ultimately exacerbate our stress levels and level our health surround us namely industrialized food products.  Our biology works against us here.

What if then one has done everything one can, but the stress cannot be reduced?

Isn’t that the magic question though? I can’t control my children or my ex-husband.  You can’t make an infant sleep through the night nor can you control another person’s behaviors or driving habits, and it’s these very things that potentially exacerbate myriad illnesses in us if we are already under internal pressure–how other people’s choices affect our lives.

Enter The Buffer.

What is The Buffer?

Well, we are supposed to have natural buffers in our lives that help support us in ways that our proxy support systems– Fat, Sugar, Salt, Caffeine, Entertainment, Substances, and other things–do.  The emotional soothing and regulation that we get from these sources are supposed to be provided to us from something else.  Like what?

Let me introduce you to Rat Park.  What is Rat Park?

“The Rat Park Experiment aimed to prove that psychology – a person’s mental, emotional, and psychosocial states – was the greatest cause of addiction, not the drug itself. Prior to Alexander’s experiment, addiction studies using lab rats did not alter the rat’s environment. Scientists placed rats in tiny, isolated cages and starved them for hours on end. The “Skinner Boxes” the rats lived in 24/7 allowed no room for movement and no interaction with other rats.

Using the Skinner Boxes, scientists hooked rats up to various drugs using intravenous needles implanted in their jugular veins. The rats could choose to inject themselves with the drug by pushing a lever in the cage. Scientists studied drug addiction this way, using heroin, amphetamine, morphine, and cocaine. Typically, the rats would press the lever often enough to consume large doses of the drugs. The studies thus concluded that the drugs were irresistibly addicting by their specific properties.

However, rats by nature are social, industrious creatures that thrive on contact and communication with other rats. Putting a rat in solitary confinement does the same thing as to a human, it drives them insane. If prisoners in solitary confinement had the option to take mind-numbing narcotics, they likely would. The Skinner Box studies also made it incredibly easy for rats to take the drugs, and it offered no alternatives. The need for a different type of study was clear, and Alexander and his colleagues stepped up to the plate.”

Are you curious yet?

“The goal of Bruce Alexander’s Experiment was to prove that drugs do not cause addiction, but that a person’s living condition does. He wanted to refute other studies that connected opiate addiction in laboratory rats to addictive properties within the drug itself. Alexander constructed Rat Park with wheels and balls for play, plenty of food and mating space, and 16-20 rats of both sexes mingling with one another. He tested a variety of theories using different experiments with Rat Park to show that the rat’s environment played the largest part in whether a rat became addicted to opiates or not.

In the experiment, the social rats had the choice to drink fluids from one of two dispensers. One had plain tap water, and the other had a morphine solution. The scientists ran a variety of experiments to test the rats’ willingness to consume the morphine solution compared to rats in solitary confinement. They found that:

  • The caged rats ingested much larger doses of the morphine solution – about 19 times more than Rat Park rats in one of the experiments.
  • The Rat Park rats consistently resisted the morphine water, preferring plain water.
  • Even rats in cages that were fed nothing but morphine water for 57 days chose plain water when moved to Rat Park, voluntarily going through withdrawal.
  • No matter what they tried, Alexander and his team produced nothing that resembled addiction in rats that were housed in Rat Park.

Based on the study, the team concluded that drugs themselves do not cause addictions. Rather, a person’s environment feeds an addiction. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, hopelessness, and lack of control based on unsatisfactory living conditions make a person dependent on substances. Under normal living conditions, people can resist drug and alcohol addiction…

Today, psychologists and substance abuse experts acknowledge the fact that drug and alcohol addiction involves transmitters within the brain. Certain chemicals latch on to different receptors in the brain, altering the way users think and feel. The user becomes addicted to the high he or she experiences while on the substance, and soon has to use it all the time to cope with other feelings. The more neuroscience discovers about addictions and the brain, the more physicians can find solutions to treat addictions.

What scientists today realize is that addiction is as mental as it is physical. Humans do not have to be physically isolated, like the rats in the Skinner Boxes, to become addicted to substances. Emotional isolation is enough to produce the same affects. Humans cope with their feelings of dislocation with drugs and alcohol, finding an “escape” or a way to smother the pain. A human’s cage may be invisible, but it is no less there.” (online source)

Many people have written about Rat Park.  My takeaway is this: In order to heal and progress in a meaningful way we must build a buffer.  We must emerge from our human cages with as much dedicated effort as possible and do something different than we’ve been doing.

Why do I call it a buffer? That’s what my neurologist called it, and it struck a chord.  She had prescribed five medications for me to take in order to prevent constant migraine pain.  Five.  It’s ridiculous.  When I asked her why so many she said, “These medications are your buffer.  Your life is so stressful.  You have nothing in your life properly supporting you right now.  Until you have real buffers in place like people you can count on consistently to alleviate some of your intense stress like your sick kids and abusive husband, you need the medication.  Otherwise, you won’t be functional because your brain is just too irritable.  Your circumstances have to change, and the meds are bridging the gap for you until they do.”  Well, that’s a lousy answer, but is that not a true answer for so many of us? Who is absorbing the stresses and inequities of our situations? Us.  Our bodies.  Our minds.  Our spirits.  We are caged in circumstances that we did not entirely choose.

Psychologist Adi Jaffe states:

“To make matters more complicated, we know that biological influences related to genetic differences, neonatal (birth-related) circumstances and early nutrition can alter brain mechanisms and make people more, or less, susceptible to the effects of trauma. For instance, we now know that early life trauma alters the function of the Hypothelamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, making individuals who have been exposed to trauma at an early age far more susceptible to stress, anxiety and substance use; or that hypoxia during delivery (certainly a form of trauma) can increase the chances of mental health defects later in life. Like the Rat Heaven experiment, it should be somewhat obvious that without these early traumas, the individuals in question (those who struggle with addiction) would experience less “need” for heavy-duty coping strategies like, let’s say, opiates. So biology is important here at least in this regard.

So trauma and stress are not at all objective truths but rather individually determined patterns of influence. I am fully on board with making sure that the treatment system we use does not exacerbate the problems that stress and trauma bring about (so no shaming, breaking-down, or expulsion of clients for their struggles), but I think that the picture this TED talk and the related book presents is far too simplified to be as helpful as we want it to be. I believe that more focus should be given to improved prevention efforts in order to reduce the likelihood of these early traumas and therefore of later drug seeking experience in the first place. I also know that significant efforts are already being put into this sort of work through a multitude of social-services organizations and government agencies. Needless to say, the demand for drug use has not abated despite these efforts.  It’s been happening for at least 8000 years already and I’m thinking it’s here to stay.” (Adi Jaffe)

Where does this leave me? What is my point? It’s not as if we can suddenly jump from our circumstantial cages and swan dive into a metaphorical Rat Park as lovely as that would be, but can we migrate to such a place given the chance to make small, meaningful changes consistently? Is that possible? I think so.

How? 

Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past 13 years.  The reason that I know it’s been 13 years is that the very auto accident that resulted in my now ever-present migraines occurred two weeks after I ended my relationship with my father–my primary abuser.  That was a monumental choice in my life, and, while I did not know it at the time, it set me on a course of recovery.  The trajectory of my life changed in that moment.  A few years later, I ended my relationship with my mother, my secondary abuser.  And, a year and half ago, I ended my marriage.  I finally climbed out of that cage.  No more abuse.  From anyone.  

Was it hard? Excruciating.  It is hard for me to describe the emotional suffering and turmoil I experienced last year.  The pain and grief were nothing if not backbreaking.  I think I wept more last year than I have in my entire life, and it wasn’t because I missed my ex-husband.  It was simply an overflow of pain, grief, loneliness, fear, and existential alienation that I was forced to set aside in order to survive.  I had pretended to be fine for so long that when it came time to be truthful with myself, it became a reckoning.  I spent many sleepless nights sobbing.  I can barely write about it even now.  I felt like I was somehow vomiting forth my viscera through my tears, but, I think, it all had to go.  Years and years of absorbing the inequities, the emotional and physical abuse, and believing that in order for others to be happy I had to diminish had to be sucked from me as a poison.  And do you know what has happened? Unbelievably, my Lupus blood panel is now normal.  For the first time since my diagnosis, I am in remission.

My neurologist also wants to look at reducing those medications.  I am getting better.

I enrolled in grad school.

And…ahem…I met someone, y’all.

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It’s true. Aaaaaanyway….

Yes.  This is hard.  I have never lied on this blog about the inordinate difficulty involved in turning your life around.  BUT…it is possible.  And that is what I have always wanted to know.  I never cared if creating a life worth living was hard.  I only wanted to know if it was a possibility for me.

Is it possible? Yes, it is.

So, excuse my language, but fuck hard.  Do what is possible because, while it might seem impossible, it’s not.

You can do this.  Keep going.

The Disgust Cycle in Healing

I want to address something that inevitably comes up during the healing process after a break-up or divorce particularly if your ex-partner was not a very nice person.  What do I mean by ‘not nice’?

Well, my marriage ended for many little reasons much like this proverb:

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

 

The primary catalyst for my separation and divorce, however, was domestic violence.  As an aside, I want to make note of something significant for a moment.  Less supportive people have questioned me about my divorce including my family.  People can be extremely judgmental about divorce, and some groups who we might hope or even assume would support vulnerable families in need even think that domestic violence is not a legitimate reason to end a marriage as noted in this study–“Poll Shows Lack of Conversation on Domestic, Sexual Violence in Churches”.  Judgment and blame then become part of the cycle of abuse and even recovery.  The victims are initially questioned rather than the perpetrators of violence, and the questions may look like this:

  • “S/he was so nice to everyone.  You seemed so happy when we saw you.  What was going on to make him/her do the things you say?” (the implication being that some outside influence could “make” a person harm another i.e. stress at work or nagging)
  • “Well, if it was so bad, then why didn’t you report it? Why didn’t any of us know?” (This question is based in ignorance.  The dynamics that keep domestic abuse of any kind in place are shame and fear.  With shame and fear in place, one wouldn’t self-report.)
  • “If s/he was abusing you enough for you to divorce, then why weren’t the police ever called?” (I was asked this.  A few times.)

The first thing to note is that all of these questions smack of victim-blaming.  Secondly, there is no perspective-taking present within these questions.  Thirdly, there is no acknowledgment of the Resiliency Spectrum.  What do I mean? I will use a scenario from my marriage to explain.

There was abuse present throughout my marriage, but some of the abuse did not register as “abusive”to me due to my past experiences with abuse.  I was troubled by the behaviors to be sure, but I did not feel traumatized by them.  When my ex-husband consumed too much alcohol, he was capable of verbal and physical abuse.  Weird things happened.  Yes, weird.  That’s how I interpreted the interactions: “That was weird”.  Even when the “knife incident” occurred, I was still relatively shocked more than anything else.  It didn’t register as trauma although it probably should have.  When your spouse brandishes a blade and waves it around in your face menacingly, you should feel something other than surprise.  I was asked very directly by my therapist, “Why did you not call the police when he did that? That was a felony.”

Well, I had seen my mother do worse things than that.  I was so shocked by his behavior that I froze, and then I was far more interested in diffusing the situation.  Getting the police involved never occurred to me.  I grew up around so much violence that, while I knew my environment wasn’t normative, I wasn’t terribly shocked by it when I saw it again.  I am not justifying it.  I needed to be recalibrated and reacquainted with what a safe and healthy relationship looked like.  The Resiliency Spectrum describes a state of being in which what might be traumatic to one person is not for another.  The death of a pet might be a 9 or 10 on one person’s Resiliency Spectrum while the same event might register as a 3 for another.

Who, however, wants to trot out their past abuse stories with other people? Furthermore, who should have to? If you are experiencing abuse, then you are.  You have the right to feel safe, secure, loved, and accepted.  That’s it.

With that foundation laid, what happens when you bump up against your own Resiliency Spectrum in terms of cognition and emotion? That’s a very abstract question.  I’ll put it another way with an example.

I was in a therapy session discussing my ex-husband when a wave of disgust washed over me.  I shuddered and blurted out, “Oh my gosh, he saw me naked.”  I became nauseous.  I tasted bile.  I actually threw up in my mouth a little.

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My therapist jumped on that immediately.  “What just happened there? What are you feeling?”

“I feel disgust.  Viscerally.”  That seemed legitimate to me.

“Why?” he pressed.

“Well, I…don’t know.”

We went round and round for a while until we came upon the answer:

“Do you believe that you should have known better? Do you believe that you should have been able to discern that he had the potential to abuse you? Do you feel disgust at him or yourself? Are you disgusted with him that he saw you naked or yourself that you revealed yourself to a man who abused you AND you missed all the signs that he could and did?”

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“Well, shit.”

Yes, that is exactly how I felt, and I felt tremendous shame over it.  I felt disgusted with myself.  How did I miss it? How did I not get it for so long? What if I miss it again?

My therapist always turns it around for me, and he did it this time, too.  He leaned in and looked at me squarely:

“When you met him, did you believe what he told you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you have any reason not to based upon what he presented?”

“No.”

“Did you do the best you could at that time in your life with all the information and resources you had?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Then you have nothing to feel badly about.  Once again, this is not your fault.  This is not your fault.”

This is what I mean by bumping up against your own Resiliency Spectrum.  Cognitively, I know that it’s not my fault, and most of what I endured, while understanding the behaviors to be wrong, I tolerated to a degree because they were not out of the norm for me.  Emotionally, it feels like my fault because I feel like I should have known better.  I feel like I should have done something about it sooner.  Just because you can tolerate something doesn’t mean that you should.

This is, however, the process of recalibration; the process of aligning cognition with emotion.  The feelings of disgust that radiate outwards but originate from within need to be named for what they are.  They are more about me than they are about him.  I was vulnerable.  Yes, he saw me naked, but, in a way, I never saw him naked.  That lack of reciprocity caused me to want to judge myself because I kept giving myself away regardless of what I received in return.  My own hope was the currency I kept using in the relationship.  It cost him next to nothing to be with me, but it left me bankrupt.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, then I suppose I would encourage you by saying that this is part of self-regulation, integration, and trauma recovery.  It’s not unusual.  It’s a marker on the road of recovery.

 

 

 

Embrace the Process of Healing

“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”— Hillel the Elder

I’m 44 years-old, and I’ve been on the “therapy circuit” since I was 16.  As soon as I could drive, I found a therapist on my own and started going.  I knew that my experiences and family of origin were well beyond what could be described as normal.  My mother behaved just like Joan Crawford from the film “Mommy Dearest”, and my father was indescribably awful.  My father’s wife was like a Disney queen.  If she could have sent me into the woods with a random huntsman in order to have me “disappeared”, then she would have.

What I have learned is that you can only sustain therapy and counsel for so long.  For the intervention and work to be permanently effective, you have to build new neural connections and adaptively process your trauma.  Part of that processing involves addressing and changing core beliefs.  For that to happen, you have to find the right therapeutic approach which fits your needs not to mention the right clinician.  If you don’t like your therapist, then you won’t feel safe.  Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen for you then.

You also need to have stability in your life.  You can’t do trauma and core belief work if you aren’t safe in your home and lack support.  You cannot fight a battle on two or more fronts.  The therapist’s office becomes the battleground, and, when you leave that office, the battleground is your mind.  Feeling safe in your life is key to actually doing the deep trauma and core belief processing.  This is a potential reason why many people don’t get that far in their processing.  When there is trauma in the past, there can often be repeated exposure to trauma in the present.  Safety feels like a fantasy or luxury rather than a requirement not to mention that one can lose a sense of what it even means to feel safe.  Losing control of boundaries becomes a normalized way of life.

As I have engaged in the healing process, I have observed that the pattern has been roughly two years of therapy with time off in between.  Years in between.  That fits for someone with my past trauma.  Both my parents were highly abusive, and I was trafficked.  My return to therapy this time was caused by domestic violence, and I was none too happy about it.  Alas, I knew that it was necessary.  Old traumas can become fresh again when new trauma is experienced.  Surprisingly, past trauma that I thought was settled has resurrected, but it has not been bad.  It has come from much deeper places that I didn’t even know existed, and I suspect that it is those deeper places that hold the key to lasting healing.  I feel much more rooted even now than I have in the past.

Why share all this?

Well, sometimes we get tired of our own process.  I even fear that others will get tired of my process.

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“Really? You’re back in therapy? Gosh…”

I have wondered if my entire life will be lived out in a chair in a therapist’s office, and I have felt robbed.  But, this is life.  This is true for everyone.  No, not everyone will endure an abduction or incest or something spectacularly terrible, but no one gets off this planet unscathed.  If you are alive, then you hurt.  Some hurt more than others.  Some are more sensitive to emotional pain than others simply due to the size of their hippocampus.  Some people carry epigenetic influences that influence how they process emotional pain. We don’t control everything about ourselves both external and internal.

For those of us with deep trauma, it is our duty to ourselves and others to participate in this process of healing so that we learn to exercise influence over what we can rather than being influenced and tossed about.  It’s much like when my hip was injured.  I was in pain and limping.  I lost mobility and couldn’t sit properly or even walk well.  I had to see a rheumatologist and then an orthopedist.  I had an MRI and then injections directly into my hip joint.  It all sucked.  Ultimately, I needed a surgical repair followed up by four months of physical therapy with daily and often painful rehabilitation exercises that I had to do at home.  All of this was done to 1) strengthen my hip joint 2) strengthen and repair the surrounding muscle groups that had been overcompensating for the injury 3) aid in healing and 4) teach me how to properly walk again because, due to the nature of the injury, the compensation for it, and the surgery itself, I lost my ability to walk properly.  The injustice of this situation is that I received the initial injury in a domestic violence situation.  But what of it? It’s my hip.  I want to heal.  So, like it or not, I had to conform to the healing protocol and put in the work.

This analogy works.  As humans, we hurt, and we are vulnerable to myriad kinds of injury.  Sometimes we are hurt in ways that defy imagination, and the injustice of our injuries can break us.  No one is held accountable.  No one takes responsibility, and, due to the stigma often applied to mental health issues and victims of sexual abuse and violence, we are often blamed for our own injuries making us victims twice over.  It is impossible to understand.  And yet we must learn to walk again.  That is the commitment we must hold for ourselves and the people we love–and the people we have not yet met but will.  For the people we will eventually love.

There is something within this kind of work that is imperative to acknowledge–hope.  We engage in a thorough healing process because we have hope that what we are doing is building something better.  We are building a better present that will lead to a better future.  We are becoming healthier and safer people so that we can expand our lives to welcome in safe and healthy people.  We do this work for a reason.  It’s not futile.  We are not masochists.  We are not stuck.  We do not love sitting around and talking about the past.  We are shaking off the chains so that we can not only walk again but run.  Or even fly.

That is what this entire healing process is about.  So, ignore the naysayers and the trolls.  Turn away from negative friends and family members.  This is your life.  Your shot.  Grab it and run with it.  You can do it.  You are worth it.  Keep going.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”–Marianne Williamson

Saying No is Good

Saying ‘no’ is good.  I seem to rarely do it, but I’ve heard other people tell me this.  I am kidding.  Sort of.

I really find out just how good saying ‘no’ is particularly when I said ‘yes’ but really wanted to say ‘no’.  Do you know what I mean?

If you are addicted to doing the “right” thing and making everyone happy, then I am certain that you know what I mean.

Case in point:

aspic-pe-blog.jpg

Aspic.

Someone made this on purpose! And some poor sod said ‘yes’ to eating it even though they would rather have endured a root canal without novacaine.  There they are, smiling at the creator of this disgusting delicious creation, mouth full of cool, gelatinous edibles, and all they can think to say as something slime-like oozes through their back molars is, “Wherever did you find this recipe?”

I agreed to having lunch with my ex-husband.  I should have said no.  I ate the metaphorical aspic.

He was not mean to me.  It was simply too triggering.  It took me a week to process a two-and-half hour lunch.  That’s not okay, but it’s informational.  After a year of post-separation therapy, it was an unexpected means of taking my own temperature in terms of post-traumatic healing.  I’m simply not there yet.

I thought I was.  I overestimated myself.  I don’t think it’s bad to overestimate oneself.  That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning sometimes, but, when it comes to having lunch with a former abuser, it might be good to be prepared.  Funnily enough, I thought I was.

What was my takeaway after the dust settled?

  1. Know your triggers.  I know his methods and wiles, but there is one thing that he does that triggers me.  His victim persona is a punch to the gut every time.  I didn’t realize it until we had lunch.  When he plays the victim, I want to take a sledgehammer to something; or, go into my room and cry for a week.
  2. Have at least one person in your corner who can remind you of what is true about your identity and your circumstances.  This will make it so much easier to come out from under those post-traumatic triggered responses particularly if a run-in with a formerly abusive partner is the cause.
  3. Take care of yourself.  Do what it takes to practice self-care and self-soothing.  The feelings will pass.  They will! I promise.  In the meantime, do what it takes to bring consolation and comfort to yourself.
  4. Look out for ANTs (automatic negative thoughts/thought distortions).  I got caught up in a slew of these last week, and it sucked.  Your brain will always tell stories.  That’s what it does, and, for whatever reason, it’s never an awesome story.  It’s always a catastrophic story involving abandonment, sharks, plane crashes, and some sort of plot from Law & Order:SVU.  Our job is to develop a mindfulness practice (I know, we are starting to get sick of that new buzz word) in order to stop the brain’s sordid and scary storytelling.  This is one of the primary points of mindfulness.  It is to learn to become aware of the brain’s latest plot twist, stop it, and then take control of it in the form of non-judgmental observations and containment.  With practice, this becomes a skill, and we are no longer held hostage to the Stephen King/John Grisham/James Patterson/Nicholas Sparks writing collective in our brains.
  5. Imagine saying no and then put that into practice.  If you are not up to doing something because you know that it will cause you to have a setback or cause a triggered response, then consider saying no.  I’m pondering this myself.  I say yes to a lot of things even though I know that I might be triggered.  I feel obligated, but, frankly, my distress tolerance might not yet match the occasion.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t one day be able to engage in the proposed situation.  It just means that I’m not there today.  And, that is okay.  After I had hip surgery, I couldn’t run for four months.  I couldn’t even walk for six weeks.  So, saying yes to a 5K two months after surgery would have definitely caused a setback in my healing process.  It’s not so different when we’re healing emotionally and psychologically.

That’s what I learned last week.  I sure hope it sticks because the idea of using aspic as a metaphor for anything again is…well…I’ll just say ‘no’ to that.

Further Reading:

 

Entitlement and Domestic Abuse

I am going to record this for a very specific reason.

Sometimes people give something away in the moment, and that’s the moment that things crystalize.  That’s the insight that you needed to confirm your hypothesis.  That’s when you know that you were right.

That happened for me yesterday.

For readers new to my blog, I will explain that I am going through a divorce.  I have been separated for almost a year, and the process arriving at this point was very difficult.  I documented that process on this blog very intentionally so that men and women experiencing domestic violence could see what the therapeutic process looked like.  I just finished editing my entire blog, and I was a bit astounded at some of the raw content.  I really was in denial for a long time.  I made some of my posts private because I didn’t want them out there for public consumption any longer.  I stayed in the marriage too long.  I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening to me.

When you are married to your abuser, it doesn’t feel real.  You keep hoping that s/he will change.  You knew them when they were different.  Why won’t they go back to how they used to be? It’s magical thinking.

I caught myself wondering if he was really that bad the other day.  Not in a nostalgic sort of way.  I don’t miss him at all, but I have a buffet of memories.  They aren’t 100% bad.  Two of my daughters still see him.  I just wondered if he would ever choose a better way for himself, and I don’t know why I even started down that road.  This is the man who raped me.  This is the man who hurt my hip so badly that I needed a labral repair surgery.  This is the man that caused a pelvic floor herniation so severe that I needed corrective surgery.  I haven’t even mentioned the emotional abuse that went along with the aforementioned physical abuse.

So, what happened yesterday?

My daughter spent the afternoon with him.  When she returned, she was angry.  She stomped into the house and declared loudly, “Well, that was horrible! We got into a fight!”

It should be noted that my ex-husband and I never fought.  He was very passive.  He was very covert in the expression of his hostility.  It isn’t easy to explain.  He would lash out quickly and then calm down.  You wouldn’t know what hit you.  And then he would deny everything.  Literally!

“I never did that.  That did not happen.”

It was gaslighting all the time.

“Then why am I having surgery? Why have I been limping for three months?”

“I don’t know.  I didn’t do that.  That never happened.”

Reality did not line up with his self-assessment so reality had to be denied.

My daughter told me that her father, my ex, insisted on taking her picture yesterday while they were out.  This is something he has been trying to do for months.  She asks him to stop, but, when he thinks that she is not looking, he tries to do it clandestinely.  She always reiterates her wish, and he makes a point to openly sulk.  Yesterday, she finally stood her ground more assertively:

“You need to stop this.  I have told you many times to stop trying to take my picture.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  Please respect my boundaries.”

“My parental position supersedes your boundaries and right to say no.”

Did you catch that? He actually told her that he didn’t have to respect her as a person with rights or respect her consent because he is her parent.  I was shocked and livid.

This is a very nefarious form of entitlement in action, and I’m very familiar with it.  I saw glimpses of it during my marriage, but I could never pin it down.  Now? He actually said it out loud:

“I have a right to do what I want to you because of my position over you.”

I don’t know that any therapist or program can fix or heal someone who actually believes this or lives according to this belief.

The following information was taken from New York State’s Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence:

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Why Would Anyone Abuse Their Partner?

Coercive control gives abusers many unearned benefits, large and small, at the expense of their partner and children.16,17  Gaining access to those benefits is abusers’ goal.18   Those benefits include:

  • Being able to do as they please.
  • Getting their partner to comply with their demands, cater to them, and let them have their way.
  • Gaining unlimited access to partner’s money, time, attention, caretaking, labor and sexuality.
  • Stopping their partner from:
    • Hurting, betraying, or cheating on them.
    • Arguing with them; trying to have a voice in decisions, or expecting them to compromise.
    • Making demands on them (e.g., to do household chores).
    • Disclosing their abuse to others.
  • Keeping their partner’s life centered around them.
  • Having a safe outlet for anger and other feelings.

People often speak of domestic abuse  as “a choice” but, in reality, abusers make many choices over a long period of time – choices that stem from the belief that abusive behavior is a legitimate way to create and maintain their “rightful” position of power and privilege within their family19 – i.e., that they are entitled to act as they do.  (Domestic abusers who have non-domestic criminal histories also often think using violence is legitimate in other contexts.) At its root, domestic abuse  is motivated by the desire to gain and keep control,20 and the individual makes hundreds of small choices about how to continue controlling his/her partner. (One reason more men than women abuse their partners may be that men more often have power over a partner that they see as worth defending, but the feeling of entitlement is also influenced by other attitudes, values, perceptions and feelings, and by what the individual learned while growing up.)

Implications for intervention

Because domestic abuse is largely driven by attitudes and social inequality, therapeutic efforts to stop it are largely unsuccessful.  Mental health and substance abuse treatment cannot effectively address either abusers’ belief that they have the right to use violence to get what they want or the social inequality that supports those beliefs.  Yet abusers, especially those who also have mental health problems, are often sent to some sort of mental health treatment, either individually or in a batterer program.

In addition, the subjects that mental health treatment is likely to address often have little or no relationship to domestic abuse:

  • Factors the abuser can’t control that “cause” the abusive behavior.
  • The individual’s feelings and needs.
  • Conflict in the relationship.
  • The victim’s partner’s faults, problems or provocative behavior.
  • Incidents of physical violence – rather than the pattern of control.
  • Coping skills and communication.

Many of the social underpinnings of domestic abuse, such as male dominance, can’t be “treated” at all, as they are not the sort of individual problems that clinicians work on. For instance, you can’t “treat:”

  • A man’s belief that he owns his partner and is entitled to run her life.
  • The fact that someone sees their partner as an object.
  • A man’s belief that his partner is “less than” he is.

Entitlement attitudes are very hard to change – especially ones that are longstanding and culturally supported, and that benefit the individual who holds them. Treatment providers can, and should, challenge these beliefs, but they are not just matters of individual motivation or pathology. (OPDV)

Entitlement attitudes are very hard to change.  Did you read that?

Yes.  They are.  I tried.  For 19 years.  Nothing changed but me.  If you are in a relationship with an entitled person, think about why you are in that relationship.  What are you getting out of it? Do you believe that it’s possible to experience something better?

Lundy Bancroft, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go, wrote this:

We believe there are basics that all relationships need to have, indispensable elements such as:

  • love, affection, and kindness
  • mutual respect
  • freedom of both partners to express their true opinions and feelings
  • safe, loving physical intimacy
  • equality
  • making each other a high priority (though not necessarily the only priority)
  • accepting responsibility for one’s own actions
  • each partner caring about how his or her actions affect the other person

Nothing on this list is pie-in-the-sky. If your relationship is missing any of these elements, you have good reason to want that gap to be attended to— and to insist on it.

Entitlement is not on this list.  Funnily enough, neither is abuse.  Of any kind.

I was really upset yesterday about what my ex said to my daughter, but, at the same time, I was validated.  We are divorcing for many reasons.  All the right ones apparently.

Aim high.  Don’t settle for lesser loves.  You deserve the life you’ve always hoped for.

Further reading:

Should I Stay or Should I Go?