Emotionally Abusive Relationships- Repost

It may be hard to believe, but both men and women can be in emotionally abusive relationships.  Why is that people stay in a relationship with an abusive person?  It is more complicated than you think.Couple Fighting at School

First, most people don’t start out being emotionally abusive in a relationship, and it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the relationship started to become unhealthy.  Unfortunately after awhile it all becomes a big blur of fighting, screaming, name calling, sometimes even suicidal threats that then lead to a pattern of apologies and make up sex.

Usually when I hear about these type of relationships the abuse starts out very subtle.  Over the first few weeks your new boyfriend or girlfriend may appear charming, laid back and fun to be around.  You start to develop feelings for them.  Then one night they surprise you when they raise their voice over some small issue about not texting them back right away.  At this point you write it off as them having a bad day or being stressed over other things.  Soon you realize they are irritable more often than not.  They yell over little things and start to call you names in angry moments.  A warning bell goes off in your head, but they always seem so apologetic afterwards.  Plus, you realize you’ve already developed feelings so it seems easier to forgive and forget in those first few months.  Another excuse I hear a lot in the beginning of a relationship is that it only happens when they are drinking.  You tend to let it go because the next morning they are back to their normal self and don’t even remember they said something rude.

However, in time each fight makes the emotional abuse become worse and worse.  With each honeymoon period that follows, they tell you things will be different this time around.  You believe them because you think your love can conquer anything.  What is hard for people from the outside to understand is after being told you are stupid, ugly, and any other disrespectful word you can think of, instead of sticking up for yourself you start to doubt your own judgment.  The abuser has started to convince you that no one else would ever want to be with you.  They  can even convince you that you’re lucky to just be in their presence.  Many people who have been emotionally beaten down will do anything they possibly can to prove to their partner they are worthy of their love.   I know this sounds crazy, but emotional abuse does a number on a person’s self-esteem.  This is why some people use it because then it is easier to control the other person.

Some people have given their last dime to their abusive partner to make them happy.  They stop talking to people because their partner tells them to.  They will skip class to run an errand for them.  However, no matter what they do, it never seems to be enough.  They usually still make you feel like you are always too fat, too stupid, too needy, too slutty, too something.

tiredFriends and family who are legitimately concerned about the person being emotionally abused may start to apply pressure to break up with the abuser.  This may sound logical and smart to someone who hasn’t been in an abusive relationship, but to those who are in it, the abuser still seems 50 feet tall and they still feel like they’re 6 inches.  They may logically agree with their friends and family, however they have become used to this dynamic and again don’t trust their own judgment.  The thought of breaking up can seem overwhelming like they are trying to conquer a giant.  They may not be ready to leave even though that solution seems obvious to others.

Being ready to leave is different than knowing you need to leave.  Leaving a relationship is a process.  If you’ve been controlled by someone for a long time it can seem impossible to actually think for yourself and even believe in yourself.  You may consider leaving for a long time before actually being able to go through with it.  Eventually, the relationship becomes so painful that you may finally have the guts to let go.  Most people have to leave a relationship on their own terms and in their own time.  It can be hard for friends and family to realize this.  I also want people to realize this type of abuse has long term affects.  Even after this person leaves the relationship, they still have a long way to go to recover their self-confidence.

After finally leaving an emotionally abusive relationship it can take months, sometimes years to feel yourself again.  An abusive person will strip away a lot of your strength and confidence.  Because you loved the person so much you do start to believe the way they do.  If you have actually adopted the belief that you are worthless piece of crap, realize that belief won’t change overnight.  Your relationship lasted months or years.  That is about how long you’ve been hearing these horrible things about yourself.  To turn that around is going to take about the same amount of time.  You may feel better sooner than later, but to fully recover your self-esteem will take some time.

I encourage students not to give up.  If you’ve been through this type of situation hopefully it has made you smarter and stronger.  You aren’t doomed to repeat the pattern.  Learn from the mistakes and next time you will strongrecognize the red flags.  Talk about it with others.  The quickest way to reduce shame is to accept what happened and use it to help others.  It will help you to heal which keeps your abuser from stealing happiness from your future.  They took enough from your past, don’t let them take any more from you now.  So many people have been where you’ve been and are in healthy relationships today.  You’ll get there too, just give yourself some time.

Acquaintance Rape

September is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I wrote this post last year, but feel it is worth repeating.  Date rape happens more often than people think and the beginning of the school year is when most rapes occur.  You think you would know if you’d been raped right?  Not necessarily.  I’ve had women come in for counseling because they felt a friend or acquaintance took advantage of them, either while they were drinking or while they were feeling vulnerable.  They either felt they couldn’t say no or felt pressured by the person they thought they could trust.

Acquaintance Rape happens a lot more often then being assaulted by a stranger.  Over 77% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone they know.  Of those 77% only 2% will actually report the assault.  Why do you think so many women refuse to come forward?  Sometimes it is out of fear.  Sometimes it’s because the woman blames herself for getting into the situation.  Sometimes the woman feels she didn’t say no forcefully enough.   A lot of the time, women will minimize their feelings and try to tell themselves to just forget what happened.

The following situation is an example of why sexual assault isn’t always so black and white:   One night a woman runs into one of her male friends.  She is upset, and he offers to listen and give her some advice.  She starts crying and opening up about what happened with another guy.  She tells him she feels rejected and unlovable.   Her male friend offers comfort and support.  He may start to hug her and rub her back.  It starts to get late and he asks her to stay a little longer so she won’t feel lonely.  They hang out and talk some more.  He starts to cuddle with her and before she realizes it they are kissing.  She says she should leave, but he convinces her that the other guy is stupid for rejecting her.  He tells he thinks she is beautiful, and he would never do that to her.  He continues to touch her and she gives in.  Soon most of their clothing is removed.  She starts to push him away again, but he resists and continues to hold and touch her.  He tells her not to worry, he’ll treat her right.  She feels guilty for letting things go this far.  She also feels she owes him for listening to her.  They have sex.

The best outcome of this scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She feels she consented in the end because she didn’t say no.  She may confront her friend and tell him she regrets her decision and doesn’t want to have sex with him again.  She may or may not ever choose to open up to him again when she feels upset or vulnerable.  She may also have lost some respect or trust for him, but doesn’t feel traumatized by the event.

The next best scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She regrets it, but doesn’t feel strong enough to say anything to him.  She may act like it never happened.  She most likely will avoid talking to him when she feels so upset and vulnerable.  She has lost trust and respect for her friend.  A distance grows between them.  She may feel a little upset about the event, but tells herself she has lived and learned.  Next time she will open up to a girlfriend or talk to her guy friends during the daytime when she feels a little safer.

The worst scenario is the next day she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about what happened.  She feels violated.  She regrets not saying no more forcefully, but feels he should have known she wasn’t there for sex.  She wishes he would have listened when she tried to stop him earlier and pushed him away.  She not only has lost trust and respect for this male friend, she now feels like he is a predator who only listened to her so he could get sex.  She feels traumatized by the event and can’t stop thinking about it.  She is very emotional and doesn’t know what she should do now.  She is very afraid of seeing him again.  Will anyone believe her?  She may start to blame herself and tell herself all the things she should have done.  She most likely won’t report it.  She will go on to blame herself even though somewhere inside she knows she was sexually assaulted by her friend.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that  1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted.  September happens to be the month when most sexual assaults are reported.  School has just begun and many college students are experiencing their freedom for the first time.  Students go out with their friends and blow off stress from the week.  Some may drink and end up in situations similar to the one above.  The next day they may feel they were assaulted, but don’t report it because they blame themselves for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, sexual assault can happen in all different types of situations.  However, they all leave the person assaulted feeling very vulnerable, scared and alone.  A lot of guilt is also embedded into these situations.  I used the above example to show that rape isn’t always black and white.  Different people are going to feel differently after experiencing similar situations.  However, your feelings are not wrong, whether you feel just slightly uncomfortable or horribly traumatized.  Everyone is different, and your feelings are more true than the details of how it happened.  No one can tell you that you shouldn’t feel something.

If you do feel traumatized, it does help to talk about it.  Processing your feelings can help you move through them.  This will make them less powerful in your mind and help you learn to not blame yourself.  You won’t “get over it”, but it may help you not think about it all the time or have nightmares about it.   I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I do know that women have worked through this and felt they were able to take their power back.  If you are continuing to struggle, please see a counselor or someone non-judgmental who won’t tell you how to feel, but help you process your feelings no matter what they are.

Am I Dating a Master Manipulator?

Have you ever met someone and everything just clicked right away?  But then a few months down the road you ask yourself, “Who is this person”?

In the beginning of a relationship most people put their best foot forward.  They make sacrifices they wouldn’t normally make because they are so excited to be in this new relationship.  This is normal.  At first you may watch that basketball game even though you don’t like it.  Or you may go to church with that person even though you haven’t been to church in years.   Most people want to make that other person happy and it is easy in the beginning because the relationship is exciting and new.

As time goes by people usually settle into the relationship and you may share that you don’t prefer to eat seafood or like to go backpacking in the wilderness.  Those changes aren’t so dramatic.  The longer you are in a relationship the more you find out about each other and realize both of you will have to make sacrifices at some point.  No two people are exactly alike.

But there are people out there who will pretend to be just like you in the beginning of the relationship.  The person I am describing is capable of mimicking anyone they approach.  They often convince others that they are just like them.  They are very persuasive and can read people really easily.  They are adept at sizing people up by watching nonverbal cues and reading people’s faces.  They use that information to get close to you and you may feel like this is the first person who really “gets” you.  They seem to understand you so well that you feel like they have been able to see inside your heart and soul.  When in fact this is not the case.  They are just very good actors and should try their luck out in Hollywood.  However, before you know it, you’ve fallen in love.

The blissful part of the relationship may last a couple of months.  By this time you have become very attached and may even feel ready to be with this person forever.  Then all of a sudden they seem to change.  They may become mean at times, impatient, or refuse to do things they used to do.  They may stop calling you back, be late for a date, or not even show up.  This is when the roller coaster begins.   You feel mad, betrayed, upset, hurt.  You text them constantly to find out what is going on, but they don’t respond.  Then out of the blue they text you back or call.  They may try to convince you that you’re overreacting.  At first, just hearing from them is enough to forget how mad you were, so you may agree that you overreacted and blow it off.   Those feelings of love coming pouring back into your heart and you forget about your hurt feelings.   A week later, it may happen again that they don’t text you for a day and then tell you they left their phone at their friend’s house.  You believe them and all is well again.

Over time this happens more often.  Instead of being nice for a week, its only for a day.   You start to hold onto the anger longer.  When they realize it isn’t going to so easy to smooth things over, they’ll start to apologize and promise to  make it up to you.  They then usually become so attentive that you end up forgiving them.   It is so great when you’re together it convinces you that you’ve turned a corner in your relationship.  However, it never lasts.  When they are not with you, you wonder what they are doing because they ignore you.  When you finally see them again, they are so loving and kind you feel like an idiot for ever doubting them.  The fighting may increase, but the intermittent reinforcement of their attentiveness and promises of love keep you hooked.

It takes a very long time to break off a relationship like this.  Even though all your friends and family will start to hate this person, you feel like you know another side to him or her.  In time though, you will wonder if anything they’ve ever told you was true.  It is hard to say.  Were they being real when they were telling you how much they love you and giving you a lot of attention?  Or were they being more real when they were ignoring you and putting you down when they were mad?  There may have been times when they were genuine, but it was so inconsistent that you may never know the true answers to those questions.

They may have loved you in their own way.  They may have been sincere in that moment when they apologized, but when that moment passed, that sincerity was gone.  It is hard to trust someone like this.  They have a hard time following through with anything, not just relationships.  They usually pick the loyal, kind, giving types of people to hook up with.  You are not stupid for being a loyal, kind, giving person.  Just be aware that not everyone is as genuine and as unselfish as you are.

In most cases, these relationships eventually implode.  They will end up hurting  you so much over time that you eventually do end up leaving for good.  It can be hard not to blame yourself.  Remember, most of the time they KNEW what they were doing and preyed on your vulnerable emotions.  Eventually your heart will heal and then you can use what you learned to be more aware of these patterns in the future.

One thing I see as a red flag is someone who is too complimentary.  If someone barely knows me and continues to tell me how great I am or constantly tells me how great I look, that is a red flag to me.  You have to really know me to be able to compliment me genuinely.  However, this works because it is very hard to resist someone who seems so into you.  The other thing is they love the chase.  Resisting them sometimes eggs them on.  It is a red flag if a person doesn’t eventually give up if you tell them you aren’t ready for a relationship.  Or at least listen to you and give you some space.  This person seems to become more aggressive in their pursuit to get you to date them.   These two things are very common in manipulative people.  Please be aware that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

The one last thing you can do to safe guard yourself from a person like this is to become more confident.  If you feel good about yourself, you won’t be so vulnerable to someone who compliments you all the time.  If you are confident being single, then they won’t have that edge when they pursue you so aggressively.  You’ll be able to resist and they will go find someone easier to manipulate.

Emotionally Abusive Relationships

It may be hard to believe, but both men and women can be in emotionally abusive relationships.  Why is that people stay in a relationship with an abusive person?  It is more complicated than you think.

First, most people don’t start out being emotionally abusive in a relationship, and it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the relationship started to become unhealthy.  Unfortunately after awhile it all becomes a big blur of fighting, screaming, name calling, sometimes even suicidal threats that then lead to a pattern of apologies and make up sex.

Usually when I hear about these type of relationships the abuse starts out very subtle.  Over the first few weeks your new boyfriend or girlfriend may appear charming, laid back and fun to be around.  You start to develop feelings for them.  Then one night they surprise you when they raise their voice over some small issue about not texting them back right away.  At this point you write it off as them having a bad day or being stressed over other things.  Soon you realize they are irritable more often than not.  They yell over little things and start to call you names in angry moments.  A warning bell goes off in your head, but they always seem so apologetic afterwards.  Plus, you realize you’ve already developed feelings so it seems easier to forgive and forget in those first few months.  Another excuse I hear a lot in the beginning of a relationship is that it only happens when they are drinking.  You tend to let it go because the next morning they are back to their normal self and don’t even remember they said something rude.

However, in time each fight makes the emotional abuse become worse and worse.  With each honeymoon period that follows, they tell you things will be different this time around.  You believe them because you think your love can conquer anything.  What is hard for people from the outside to understand is after being told you are stupid, ugly, and any other disrespectful word you can think of, instead of sticking up for yourself you start to doubt your own judgment.  The abuser has started to convince you that no one else would ever want to be with you.  They  can even convince you that you’re lucky to just be in their presence.  Many people who have been emotionally beaten down will do anything they possibly can to prove to their partner they are worthy of their love.   I know this sounds crazy, but emotional abuse does a number on a person’s self-esteem.  This is why some people use it because then it is easier to control the other person.

Some people have given their last dime to their abusive partner to make them happy.  They stop talking to people because their partner tells them to.  They will skip class to run an errand for them.  However, no matter what they do, it never seems to be enough.  They usually still make you feel like you are always too fat, too stupid, too needy, too slutty, too something.

Friends and family who are legitimately concerned about the person being emotionally abused may start to apply pressure to break up with the abuser.  This may sound logical and smart to someone who hasn’t been in an abusive relationship, but to those who are in it, the abuser still seems 50 feet tall and they still feel like they’re 6 inches.  They may logically agree with their friends and family, however they have become used to this dynamic and again don’t trust their own judgment.  The thought of breaking up can seem overwhelming like they are trying to conquer a giant.  They may not be ready to leave even though that solution seems obvious to others.

Being ready to leave is different than knowing you need to leave.  Leaving a relationship is a process.  If you’ve been controlled by someone for a long time it can seem impossible to actually think for yourself and even believe in yourself.  You may consider leaving for a long time before actually being able to go through with it.  Eventually, the relationship becomes so painful that you may finally have the guts to let go.  Most people have to leave a relationship on their own terms and in their own time.  It can be hard for friends and family to realize this.  I also want people to realize this type of abuse has long term affects.  Even after this person leaves the relationship, they still have a long way to go to recover their self-confidence.

After finally leaving an emotionally abusive relationship it can take months, sometimes years to feel yourself again.  An abusive person will strip away a lot of your strength and confidence.  Because you loved the person so much you do start to believe the way they do.  If you have actually adopted the belief that you are worthless piece of crap, realize that belief won’t change overnight.  Your relationship lasted months or years.  That is about how long you’ve been hearing these horrible things about yourself.  To turn that around is going to take about the same amount of time.  You may feel better sooner than later, but to fully recover your self-esteem will take some time.

I encourage students not to give up.  If you’ve been through this type of situation hopefully it has made you smarter and stronger.  You aren’t doomed to repeat the pattern.  Learn from the mistakes and next time you will recognize the red flags.  Talk about it with others.  The quickest way to reduce shame is to accept what happened and use it to help others.  It will help you to heal which keeps your abuser from stealing happiness from your future.  They took enough from your past, don’t let them take any more from you now.  So many people have been where you’ve been and are in healthy relationships today.  You’ll get there too, just give yourself some time.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It is true, everyone has different ways of showing love.  I like the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman*.  Some people really need words of affirmation to feel loved.  However, sometimes people say nice things, but never really back those words up with any nice actions.  Words don’t carry a lot of weight if you don’t really mean what you say.  It may be time to put your money where your mouth is and back up those words with some actions of love this holiday season.

Even if you aren’t someone who really needs words to feel loved, you may be getting caught in the trap of listening to words instead of looking at your girlfriend or boyfriend’s actions.  How many of you have been in a relationship where your partner showed up late for dates or sometimes didn’t show up at all, neglected text messages and then texted back hours or days later only to pretend everything was fine, or just continued to lie to you?  Now, how many of you have forgiven the same partner when they finally showed up or texted back and told you a bunch of crap about how great you are and how you get them in a way that no one else does?

Words are easy to say…and some people are even better at knowing WHAT to say in those tense moments to make you smile again.  In black and white it seems so easy to realize that this person really doesn’t mean what they are saying.  Their words don’t really make sense in light of their actions.  However, when you really love someone, you want to believe the best of them.  You want things to work out.  You can’t imagine not having this person in your life.

Trust me, I’ve been there.  I realize how much you want to trust those words your partner is telling you.   To believe and hope they love you as much as they say they do.  Sometimes the longing for love is so strong that it is easy to forget all the bad things when you hear the simple words, “I love you”.  You can see the potential and know some where deep inside is the really good person you fell in love with.  That little spark of hope is all most people need to hold on.  So you believe their BS about how much they love you and how you’re the only one who is really there for them.  Your partner then realizes the moment of crisis has passed and they go on to do whatever the hell they want again.

Words without actions to back them up are empty.  In time, it will become obvious whether this person truly loves you.  People who love you want to be there for you, even when it may not be convenient for them.  They make efforts to put you first.  They follow through on what they say they are going to do.  They include you in their life, and want you to be around their family and friends.  They are respectful to you in private and around others.  They want to hang out with you even when you aren’t having sex.

When those words are too often backed up with lies, disrespect, anger and neglect, you need to be courageous enough to see it.  Not everyone is ready to truly love another person.  Not everyone is selfless enough to make those kind of sacrifices.  Your partner may not be in the right place or time to give you what you need.  You deserve someone who remembers you, shows up, initiates, is respectful.

The first step is to first learn to love yourself.  Start to believe that you are lovable and have so much to offer someone in a relationship.  The second step is realize that you deserve someone to love you in the ways you need.  You don’t have to settle for less.  The third step is to wait for that person to arrive.  We can’t always make love happen when and where we want it to.  Learning to be alone, even when it is hard is a valuable lesson.  The forth step is love with all your heart when you do find that person, even if that means you risk getting hurt in the end.  Every person we let into our lives has something to offer.  Even if it doesn’t work out, that person can teach you something so you’ll be smarter the next time.  Don’t give up!!

*Here is a little background on the Five Love Languages in case you’ve never read the book.  It is based on the premise that there are five different ways to show love.  Each person likes to receive and give love differently and usually prefers one or two types most often.  It is a good idea to know what your partner’s love language is so you can back those words of love up with actions.  Here the the five different types:   Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service & Physical Touch.

Date Rape

I had the first interview with Jaycee Lee Dugard on my DVR.  I watched it last night and it prompted me to write a post about a topic I see too often in my office.  Jaycee wasn’t on a date when she was raped, but the story made me think of several of my clients from the past who have been date raped.  Jaycee’s story is incredible and a lot of things she said in her interview are things I say to my students when they have been through a traumatic event such as rape.  I can’t imagine being Jaycee’s counselor.  I’ve never counseled someone who has undergone so much trauma over such a long period of time.  She stated in the interview that she wanted to tell her story to help other survivors of sexual abuse.  I know the statistics are high for women who have been sexually assaulted.  In college the numbers go up.  Date rape is more common than people realize because it goes unreported most of the time.

I want to point out some of the things that Jaycee said in her interview in hopes that it may help those of you out there reading this who have survived some type of sexual abuse.  Obviously, Jaycee’s story is an extreme one which is why it so amazing that she can speak about what happened to her at all.  If you are not aware, she was kidnapped at age 11 and held prisoner in Phillip Garrido’s back yard for 18 years.  Jaycee was raped repeatedly for several years and had two children  by Garrido in her teenage years.  She stated in her interview that she is not angry and doesn’t feel rage toward Phillip or his wife, Nancy.  She stated that she is unwilling to give him any more of her than he has already taken.  I can’t imagine how hard that is for her to not feel anger.  Although, I agree, it only means he wins if she continues to be angry.  Anger and rage take a lot of energy.  That energy can be put to better use because it isn’t hurting the person you want it to hurt.  Students always ask me how to let go of the anger.  The answer isn’t easy or simple.  It is a matter of refocusing your thoughts and feelings.  Those feelings of anger and rage will come unexpectedly and threaten to take over.  When that happens it is a matter of distracting yourself and focusing on the blessings you do have in this life.  I know Jaycee focused on her mother in those dark times.  She also looked at the moon and remembered the pine cone she last touched before she was taken which were symbols of home.  She stated today she focuses on her daughters and being back home.  I believe she is also grateful just to be alive.

I also tell students to let yourself grieve.  This person has taken a lot from you.  They’ve taken your trust in people, your innocence, and sometimes your virginity.  There isn’t a way to get some of those things back.  It is okay to cry when you need to.  It is healthy to recognize the loss, and it will take some time to adjust.  Most students tell me they just want to forget it happened.  I will tell you from my experience that isn’t possible.  I recommend telling your story.  I see people who have locked this secret in their heart for years.  They haven’t told anyone or maybe only confided in one other person.  It can consume your thoughts if you’ve been too afraid or ashamed to share.  I think it was healing for Jaycee to write down her story and then talk about it in an interview with Diane Sawyer.  I can’t explain the science behind why talking about the trauma is healing.  I just know it seems to help those who do open up.  Some people tell me it is validating that someone hears them and believes them.  It takes away some of the burden and helps them to realize it wasn’t their fault.  Some people are better at communicating their feelings through journals, music or art.  Any way that you can let some of those emotions out is helpful.  I think the best part about telling your story is you may be able to help someone else.

Jaycee mentions in her interview that she felt she was keeping Philip Garrido from hurting other little girls.  If she stayed with him he wouldn’t have to seek out other girls to rape.  This is what prompts many women to report their rape.  Even though it is extremely difficult, in their mind it is worth it because it may save someone else.  I know a lot of rape survivors who go on and counsel others going though the same thing.  By reaching out to someone else, you can get outside of your own pain.  It helps the brain to feel that at least something good is coming out of this horrible thing that happened.  We all know that life isn’t fair.  Bad things happen to good people.  I can ask why all I want, but the reality is that it could happen to anyone.  Jaycee thought this man was only going to ask her for directions.  She didn’t sense any danger when she was suddenly kidnapped.  In a date rape situation this happens all the time.  You trust the person you are with.  You don’t sense the danger.  You believe this person will listen if you say no or get the hint by your body language that you want to stop.  Unfortunately, there are many people out there only concerned about what they want and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

If you are blaming yourself for being raped, please stop.  It is not your fault.  Your mind is going to play tricks on you.  We all want to feel in control.  Our brains tell us, “if only” all day long.  It is not your fault that this person chose to violate you.  In Jaycee’s interview she says it is his shame, not hers.  He is the one with the problem, not her.  She was an innocent victim who survived and is now thriving.  She told her story so other victims could learn to feel the same way.  I plan to buy and read her book, “A Stolen Life: A Memoir” that comes out today.  I believe it may be helpful to many survivors of sexual abuse.  I encourage all those out there who have survived being raped to continue to work on healing yourself and I hope in time you are able to find peace.

Pain, Pain Go Away!!

Sometimes pain is like rain, it just keeps on coming…when it rains, it pours!  Our lives can be like this at times.  Sometimes we will have a drought with no pain for awhile.  It lulls us into complacency and denial.  We think life is great and we’ve finally found a way to be happy.  Then the forecast changes and the outlook sucks for an undetermined amount of time.

Why is life so hard?  I’ve asked myself this question many times.  It is hard for me to comprehend why we have to go through what we go through.  I have to admit, some of us will go through more than others.  Fair?  Nope.  Reality?  Yep.  I’ve asked God many times why I’m facing certain challenges or forced to wait so long for something I want.  The best answer I’ve been able to find is that it usually does make me stronger, wiser, and better able to relate to other people who are in pain.  I can look back at my painful memories and it helps me to know how to encourage other people through their pain.

As a counselor, I sometimes feel guilty if I haven’t had a certain experience, yet I’m trying to help someone else through it.  Thank God I don’t have to experience everything to be an effective counselor.   A good friend of mine just had a baby.  A couple weeks after he was born the doctor heard a heart murmur.  A routine check-up quickly became an ongoing nightmare of tests and surgery with many  more tests and surgeries to come in the future.  They found that her son had a hole in his heart and his aorta was not functioning properly.  Being in the hospital watching your child suffer and go through so much when they are so small and vulnerable is like being in hell.  I don’t have to be a mother to empathize with and support my friend.  You realize who your real friends are when tragedy strikes.

It is hard to be there for others while they are going through pain, but that is usually when people need their friends most.  There isn’t anything I can say that will make my friend’s son better, but just knowing that I care and can give her a hug may help her get through those dark moments.  It may also be helpful for me to run errands or make a meal for her while she is so focused on her son right now.  There are plenty of things people can do for others while they are in pain, even if you don’t really know what its like to feel their pain.

However, I do realize now that my own painful experiences have made me a more compassionate and empathetic person.  I believe this is why 12 step programs are so effective to helping people stop addictive behaviors.  Someone is there who understands the pain of recovering from addiction.  They can help guide others through it.  The person helping also may begin to feel a sense of purpose for the pain they had to go through.  Pain can be a  powerful connection for people.  Misery does love company.  Many great songs, poems, books, plays, movies and art are written and created out of extreme places of pain.  They become so popular because so many people can relate in some way to another persons pain.  It helps me to process my pain by listening to music or reading a book.  It seems wrong, but it helps me to know I’m not the only one who wins the bad lotteries in life.

The best way to handle pain is to try to stay balanced.  There is a time to feel to feel sorry for yourself, but there is also a time to pick your head up and keep moving forward.  Its okay to be sad and to cry.  Its also okay to have a good time and pretend things are okay for a few hours or a day.  Don’t sit in pain too long and don’t avoid pain for too long either.  Neither of those things is good to do for a prolonged period of time.  It is also okay to depend on others.  It is humbling to ask for help, but sometimes this is the best thing for us.  Pain has a way of cutting through what you want and forcing you to see what you need.  Letting someone else take over can be a valuable lesson that again helps us to be more thankful.  I know now that lots of beautiful things can come out of painful experiences.  Like a rainbow forms when the sun finally peaks back out after a storm.  If you are going through extreme pain now, hopefully someday soon you will be in a better place.  Maybe you will be able to see the reason for all the pain in time.  Until then, deal with it in the best way you know how and know that you aren’t alone.  Life does have its ups and downs.  I do believe what has gone down, eventually will go back up!

Is it Love or Abuse?

Everyone gets angry and has conflict in relationships.  How we handle our anger or our partner’s is essential to keep the relationship healthy.   We all have different tolerance levels of conflict as well.   In relationships I call this having boundaries.  We have physical boundaries in relationships and emotional boundaries.  I want to talk a little about both.

Boundaries look like a bull’s eye target.  You get to decide how someone treats you both physically and emotionally.  Emotional boundaries have to deal with respect.  The rings of the target represent the boundaries in a relationship.  The outer most ring defines the tone of voice you allow someone to use with you.  Some people allow their partner to raise their voice at them.  If you do, you are allowing your partner to cross that boundary.  For some people this boundary isn’t a problem.  If it is, you will let your partner know you will only have a conversation with them when they are calm and use a respectful tone of voice.  If they refuse to cooperate you would choose to leave the relationship in order to keep that boundary intact.

The next ring represents name calling or put downs.  Some people allow name calling in an argument.  If you do, you are allowing your partner to cross that emotional boundary.  If you don’t, you will refrain from engaging in a conversation with your partner unless they are more respectful.  You let them know you won’t tolerate being in a relationship with someone who continues to put you down no matter what happens.

The next ring represents coercion and threats.  Some people use coercion to persuade their partner to do something.  If that doesn’t work they will resort to threats.  How do you know when someone is using coercion?  The person will not be able to handle it if you use the words, “Maybe”, “I don’t know”, “I have to think about it”, or “No”.  If you don’t agree or say yes to them right away, they will resort to using threats to intimidate you.  If you allow coercion and threats, you will give in and let your partner have their way.  If you don’t, you will let them know you will have to leave the relationship if they continue to use this type of behavior.  **Warning** It is very easy to give in to a coercive and threatening person.  They know what buttons to push to scare and intimidate you.  A person allows someone to cross this boundary usually out of fear.  If someone is threatening you, you may need outside help to leave the relationship.

The next ring represents physical violence.  Some people allow a person to grab, push, hit, kick or throw things at them.  If you do, you are allowing this person to touch you in a violent manner.  This is unacceptable.  No one deserves to be physically abused.  No matter what you do, no one has the right to put their hands on you in a violent way.

The innermost ring represents sexual violence.  No one willingly allows someone to violate them sexually.   A person may not outwardly fight or verbally say no because of extreme fear.  This is the last boundary that is available for someone to cross.  The person is now actually penetrating your body.  Unless you give them VERBAL consent to have sex with you, this is an act of violence.  Silence is not consent!!!  Some women feel guilty because they didn’t feel brave enough to say no.  If you didn’t say yes, it was still a violation.  You can learn to be more assertive with your words and actions to reduce the risk of  a date rape situation, but remember it is never your fault if someone sexually assaults you.

Rape is so traumatic because this person effectively crossed every boundary you have in seconds.  It is not an easy thing to “get over” or “forget about”.  If you are in a relationship with someone who is violating your boundaries, please seek help.  Domestic Violence in any form is not okay.  The websites below can link you to the resources you need to get further help.  If you are entering a new relationship, be firm about the boundaries you set from the beginning.  You will deter abusive people if you refuse to let them cross those outer boundaries in the beginning.  It is hard to lose someone, but a violent relationship is never worth it.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence- www.ncadv.org

Domestic Violence Information- www.domesticviolence.org

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network- www.rainn.org