The Hoover Manoeuvre – Getting Sucked Back In

sharks hoovering

So you’ve tried to leave your abusive ex, have finally made your narrow escape and regained some threads of your sanity. Whew!

Until…

You find yourself inundated with emails and text messages telling you how much they miss you and will always love you. And then they’ll begin to reminisce about the good times and about all the wonderful things you’ve achieved together. They paint such a nostalgic picture of the perfect family unit, the beautiful home, your amazing children, the plans you talked about for your shared future and everything you both stand to lose if you stay separated.

Ouch! The pangs of nostalgia can be excruciating…and inviting. Your tormentor wasn’t abusive in the beginning, after all. It may have been many years before her true colours began to show…perhaps under the usual stresses and strains of marriage and childbirth; perhaps when the financial pressures began to mount up. But don’t forget that the monster inside her did finally emerge and once she was ensconced, she (or he, of course) is there for the term of your natural life. Mr Hyde, once released from inside Dr Jekyll, was forever fused with whatever good had previously existed inside him. Hyde soon overpowered Jekyll until the good doctor no longer existed. That’s the way it works.

Hopefully, you manage to withstand the lure of such sweet descriptions of the idyllic aspects of your shared past. And believe me, it is a lure, bright and shining, dangling enticingly before your eyes. Once you allow yourself to be drawn in closer though, the bait will be ready and waiting for you.

She knows you’re hungry…emotionally…because by this stage she’s skillfully isolated you from so many things in life that are essential to your well-being. She has spent years stripping you bare of everything, other than herself (and her sphere of influence), that sustains you. She controls your friends, your extended family and most of all, your children; perhaps even your grandchildren. She still has a tight rein on your finances and assets. Controlling people are sure to set things up in such a way as to make it near impossible for you to leave. Well…you may be able to leave…but when you do, you may not be able to survive. That’s all part of their master-plan.

bait-catch-coho-salmon-1058295She knows that, at some point, if she’s persistent enough (and controlling people are persistent to the point of madness), you’ll find yourself so frenzied that you’ll gulp that bait right down. Once that hook is embedded in your soul, you’ll be reeled in, hook, line and sinker. The more you thrash, the more it hurts; and the only option is for you to return to her loving embrace so she can remove that hook and ease your pain.

Clever, isn’t it? In a sick, carnal, primitive and conniving way, that is.

What you don’t know, at this point, is that the ocean in which you’d begun to swim freely, as scary as it was (your first taste of freedom always is) is nowhere near as terrifying as the shark tank into which she’s about to toss you.

You’ll find yourself once again belting at the four walls that metaphorically enclose you. No one but she can hear you. It’s just you in that tank…you and the sharks. And now…they are hungry for you. Recognize those sharks? You should. They are her ‘flying monkeys’…trained to do her bidding. Read more about flying monkeys here.

baby monkey on mothers back

Is it possible to resist the bait, no matter how hungry you think you are? First, you have to recognize what that bait is and understand that it’s pure poison. That’s the hard part. Why? Because the bait will look good and smell good. It will be incredibly tempting…a little like your favourite drink laced with arsenic.

You need to know your own triggers…your weak points…your vulnerabilities. We all have them and they’re not, in and of themselves, a negative thing. Unless we allow them to be used against us.

What might those vulnerabilities be? Your responsibilities to your children? Your parents approval? Your co-workers esteem or your fears for your financial future? Perhaps they’re less tangible…your need for affection, recognition, or kudos for doing the ‘right’ thing? Your need to see your marriage as a success and not a failure? The need to make your father proud? The possibilities are as numerous as the personalities of abuse victims themselves. You can guarantee though, that guilt trips will be used left, right and crooked, until you feel like you’re the abuser when the truth is the polar opposite.

When your self-esteem is so low that you believe everything she says about you, internalizing it until you feel utterly worthless without her approval, you’re in deep trouble…and she knows it. She knows it’s not going to be too difficult to hook you back into her web of control.

Even if you don’t recognize your vulnerabilities yourself, you can be certain your abuser does. And she uses those vulnerabilities as bait, disguising her weapon, that agonizing hook, with whatever is bound to tempt you most. Once you take the bait, you’re in for another tortuous round. The abuse cycle begins again. Come in Spinner.

You’ve been sucked back in to the vortex. In the words of popular treatises on abuse, you’ve been ‘hoovered.’ A la the emotional vacuum cleaner.

Some of the sharks who will be circling you in that claustrophobic tank I referred to, waiting for the kill, will be the very people your abuser has deliberately enlisted to her cause and has turned against you. They will be people you care about very much – your children, your family of origin, your friends and co-workers. The temptation to let them do her bidding will be overwhelming, given the fragility of your identity and self-esteem, which she has skillfully and relentlessly eroded over time.

I hope and pray the time will come when you can say ‘enough is enough’. A time when you can recognize that you are worthy of so much more. A time when you also realize that the people who have been poisoned against you, need you to help them back to emotional health.

You can best achieve this by employing the tough love principle and not allowing yourself to be bullied, brow-beaten and emotionally blackmailed into submission. Show the world, especially your loved ones, who you really are. Put up the boundaries that will ensure you are respected, not used. Claim your destiny, which is never meant to include subjugation and control, and watch your loved ones…eventually…over time…claim theirs. If you can’t think of yourself at this time…please understand there are others who need you to show your strength – for the benefit of their soul’s growth.

This post is intensely personal, as I’m standing by helplessly, watching someone I love very much, being sucked back into a horrendously abusive situation. I see all the traps, all the manipulation, all the guilt trips and cruelty…and I stand by, and can do nothing. I can only hope and pray that he will soon understand his true worth; that he deserves the highest kind of love, not the abased version he currently submits to.

Never forget what your abuser does to you. Forgive…by all means. But never forget. Watch for my next post…’The Art of Not Forgetting.’

Love and light.

 

 

 

 

 

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Using Religion to Justify Domestic Abuse

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I’ve had the privilege of being a personal assistant to a gifted psychologist who is also a dedicated and genuine Christian. During that time I was privy to hundreds of patient files containing their narratives, their issues, their hopes, their dreams and mostly, their pain. Due to confidentiality requirements, I’m not going to share any of their stories here.

I can, however, share the insights I gained, not only from access to personal information but also from my own conversations with clients I formed relationships with as they sat in my small office, which doubled as a waiting room. Hardly able to contain their emotions while waiting to be called into my boss’s office, many opened up and spilled aspects of their stories while I did my best to make them feel welcome and safe. I’ll ever be grateful for their trust and for what they’ve taught me about life, love and learning.

In itself, faith in God is not to blame.  Narcissists however, use their religious beliefs to manipulate, control and dominate you through fear. To them, religion is a golden tower behind which they hide their dark, shadowy side; standing firmly behind that golden tower while they whip you with out of context scriptures and archane, patriarchal (usually but not always) tactics designed to keep you downtrodden. They tend to have impossible standards of spiritual and moral perfection you have no hope of attaining, leaving you feeling insecure and inadequate. As soon as they perceive that vulnerability, which they’ve carefully cultivated in you, they’ll hone in on it and use it against you at every turn.

Let’s look at that much-quoted and misrepresented biblical admonition for wives to ‘submit’ to their husbands. This is, of course, a misogynistic favourite. It’s all too easy to wield it over the heads of women who desire, with all their hearts, to live according to God’s word. ‘Submit!’ shouts the priest from the pulpit, shaking his fist at a sea of bowed feminine heads. ‘Submit!’ bellows the controlling husband, waving the holy book in front of his wife’s tearful face. ‘Submit!’ order the religious texts written by those ignorant of the nuances of language and translation.

Submit. This one six-letter word has been used to strike fear into the hearts of millions of women for thousands of years…but what does it really mean?

Its original meaning is simple and beautiful. To ‘submit’ means to ‘lift up’. We are to lift up our menfolk to encourage them, and to give them comfort and support. We are, of course, to lift them up in prayer. But there’s another aspect to consider, one that is rarely spoken about. It’s this. We are to lift up our husbands by helping them to stay on that narrow path God calls us to follow; and that means we are to correct them, albeit respectfully, when they stray from that path, and help guide them back to the light, if you will. That means saying ‘no’ sometimes; disagreeing; insisting on respectful and loving treatment and objecting when they become too steeped in worldly things. Ah yes, that’s something narcissists don’t want to hear.

And let’s not forget it works both ways. That is, we are to submit one to another. Yes, husbands must uplift their wives also. It’s worth noting too, that the instruction to submit is specifically meant for husbands and wives. It does not imply that all women are meant to submit to all men; or vice versa.

Sadly, I have witnessed many pious women, their shoulders hunched and eyes cast down, enter through the therapist’s door. After years of ‘submitting’ (in the wrong sense of the word) to controlling husbands, waiting for God to intervene and mend their marriages and their hearts, they come to a Christian counsellor for instruction. Those who walked through my employer’s door were lucky indeed. They’d found a psychologist with an educated understanding of scripture and a rich, deep faith. Without a doubt, she is also one of the strongest, most assertive women I’ve ever met. Those downtrodden women invariably left her office with their heads held a little higher. It was a pleasure to watch them blossom as she taught them how to become the women God intended them to be. Sometimes, that meant the end of their marriages, a possibility they believed God would never condone.

But trust me, God does not condone abuse.

But the bible says God hates divorce, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it does…sort of.

In fact, the word divorce turns up in the scriptures a number of times, in both the old and new testaments and in different contexts. These contexts are important, as are the nuances of language and the difficulties of translation. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Yeshua spoke) cannot easily be directly translated into English. Translating first into Greek, as most of the scriptures were, adds another layer of complexity. There can be several degrees of separation between the original meanings and contexts of words and phrases, and their current meanings and contexts.

The word divorce is a perfect example. In Matthew 19, for instance, it is made clear that a man is not to ‘put away’ one wife and marry another. In modern texts, this ‘putting away’ is translated as ‘divorce’. Seems clear enough at first reading, doesn’t it? But let’s look further.

What does to ‘put away’ really mean? Wisdom dictates that it means much more than to separate physically from a woman, or to instigate legal proceedings for divorce. A man can put a woman away from him by a thousand emotional and psychological cuts. (Please note that in the author’s opinion, a woman can do exactly the same thing but they are not as easily excused in religious circles.) Words have the power of life and death over the human spirit; they can be wielded like a sword. In a spiritual sense, words can be used to murder. If a man and a woman become one – a unity in spirit – and yet one of them severs that unity with a spiritual weapon, is this not putting that person away from them in the most brutal manner?

This then, is what God truly hates. In His eyes, divorce has already taken place at the severing of the spiritual and emotional bond between a man and a woman; a bond that is meant to be both tender and strong; a bond that is meant to fulfill a higher purpose.

Abuse (not only physical and sexual abuse but psychological/emotional abuse, too) severs that bond. From a spiritual perspective, there is no difference. Yet the Church frequently teaches us the contrary. And so domestic violence in all its forms is aided and abetted by religion, despite God Himself prohibiting it in no uncertain terms.
Read more at Narcissistic Religious Abuse Tactics.

I’ve not attempted to delve into institutional abuse in this post. That hotly debated topic could take years to unravel and is, I believe, not within my area of expertise. If you have been abused at the hands of anyone within a religious setting, the damage will go deep. You need love, acceptance and understanding. I urge you to seek outside help…and to keep searching until you find a caring, supportive therapist you feel comfortable with. It will undoubtedly be extremely difficult for you to trust someone in authority, and with good reason. Don’t give up. You were meant to fulfil a unique purpose in your life, not to suffer endlessly because of the heinous actions of other human beings.

One of the most disturbing phenomena occurring within church circles, and which receives no press, is the tendency to alienate women who’ve made the decision to leave abusive husbands, after years of cruelty.  Far too often, I’ve witnessed these women being ousted from their spiritual families. Cut off! Deprived of spiritual and emotional support. Quite literally, they’ve been told they’re no longer welcome in the church ‘family’. Their spouses, however…men…remain safely cloistered within patriarchal circles. Their spiritual lives don’t miss a beat. Their friends and mentors don’t drop away. For women…hurting, abused and used women…the story is so different. They find themselves alone and friendless, carrying all the guilt and shame the church ‘fathers’ have foisted upon them.

It’s time to shine light upon the darkness.

I have no doubt that abuse is actively or passively promoted by certain factions within virtually every religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Scientology or Callithumpian! I’ve spoken exclusively from my own experience within the Christian community from both sides of the therapist’s door.

Love and light.

 

Australia still says ‘Yes’!

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Image of a face; male on one side, female on the other

Artwork by Melinda Jensen

Read…and weep. 

Especially those of you who consider yourselves decent human beings;  compassionate and reasonable human beings who would never tolerate the presence, here in Australia, of an underclass…and yet you voted, ‘No’. I am calling on you to have a good, long look inside yourself.

There are celebrations here in Australia; among those who believe in equality. All of us who believe in love. All of us who believe we’re not gods at the centre of the universe, casting judgment upon the masses…nor making decisions that impinge on the basic human rights of others. We’re celebrating…but with a dark and heartbreaking undercurrent.

But right now…before I launch into my story…my daughters’ story…my granddaughter’s story…

READ…

Tomorrow at 9am (Qld time), the verdict of the marriage equality survey will be announced. Ever since it was agreed that the nation would vote, I’ve felt progressively more quietly downtrodden – while the support has been truly beautiful, hearing of friends and family silently voting no has made me feel sick, and the ones doing it loudly even more so. The sheer number of people I thought – by association and friendship – were supportive of me as a person who think I’m lesser, not worthy, or abhorrent is terrifying. That’s what a no vote says to me – that I am not okay, not worthy, don’t deserve happiness or love. I don’t understand and I can’t comprehend it.

Being in a relationship with a man, a woman, a non binary person or anyone else makes me no less pansexual. Marriage equality being passed in Australia makes me no less pansexual. The hate I’ve witnessed, read about and been subject to makes me no less pansexual. In the end, regardless of the result, that is what this survey means to me – disenchantment, mistrust and alienation. The fact that a nation was willing to put so many people through this heartbreak just to prove a point – to vote on an established human right – is inconceivable.

Hug your family tomorrow. We need it.

Substitute the word ‘black’ for ‘pansexual’. You’re not racist, of course! Mixed race marriages have been legal for six or seven decades. Think about that for a moment. There are people living today who still bear the scars of that humiliation  and whose descendants will continue to struggle with their identities for hundreds of years to come. All because the dominant classes acted from fear instead of love.

Hark back 200 years and witness my ancestors who fled their mother country in fear for their lives – fled to the harsh colonies in Australia; that barren and frightening land. Why? Because they were convicts? No.

Because they were adventurous? Seeking a new life in the land of the free? Not exactly.

It was because they committed the worst of sins…

An ‘Orange’ married a ‘Green’.

Taboo. And so they risked their lives and their livelihoods in the name of love. We look back on those days and shake our heads at the collective ignorance, the bigotry and harsh injustices. Society was so misguided back then, we think, feeling a little smug because we’re so much more enlightened these days.

Aren’t we?

In traditional Judaism, girls are permitted to marry as young as twelve years of age, and boys at thirteen. Do we then refuse to allow all Jews to marry in this country…because sexual relationships with children are surely an abomination? For that matter, do we refuse to allow followers of other religions, like Islam, to marry because they too, allow child marriage, along with polygamy? No?

That brings me to the point made by advocates of the ‘No’ vote that I find most loathsome – that the normalization of paedosex will naturally progress from the legalization of same-sex marriage. There is no rationale behind this train of thought. Any deductive argument in its defense crumbles to rubble before the end of the first paragraph.

Paedophilia is almost the sole domain of the heterosexual male. Before you shout me down, please note I said ‘almost’. Yes, there are women – vile, sick women. Yes, there are gay and lesbian paedophiles. We’re all familiar with the stories of little boys being lured into men’s toilets, and while that’s a cliche, it’s one with a basis in truth. Sometimes, it happens. (I haven’t personally read or heard of a lesbian paedophile but it stands to reason that some would exist in this world.)

BUT: The majority of sexual assaults on children take place at the hands of heterosexual men, many of whom are married or have female partners. And sometimes, their heterosexual female partners are complicit, or worse, active participants. Incest is hardly a thing of the past.

According to the hypothesis that underlies the position that paedosex naturally follows from the legalization of same-sex marriage, it would be more logical then, to refuse to allow heterosexual couples to marry.

I have gender-fluid friends and members of my family – all of whom I’d trust implicitly with my children – well, grandchildren then; my daughters have long-since left their childhoods behind them. There are however, a number of heterosexual people I’d hesitate to entrust with something so precious as a human life. Call it intuition, if you will. I call it spiritual discernment.

My last point is one I approach with some trepidation – the Christian viewpoint. And yet, it is, in some ways, the most salient point – largely because it is the Christian contingent in this country who have voiced their objections so venomously. I won’t attempt to broach this subject from a doctrinal perspective. Nor will I pretend to be knowledgeable enough to quote scripture with any certainty of a perfect understanding of its original meaning. What is needed from those who believe in God, is the humility to admit that, not only do we struggle to comprehend scripture as it’s translated today (it’s complicated!), but the vast majority of us are abysmally ignorant of the nuances of the language in which it was first written. I’ll also go out on a limb and say I believe we don’t have the full scriptures to hand. How could we? Thousands of years of translations at the hands of mere humanity; lost manuscripts; the politically motivated church leaders in charge of deciding which books and verses to include and which to destroy or hide under lock and key – all of it points to the fact we need to listen with our hearts.

And my heart says that the harsh and judgmental voices of so many ‘No’ voters have shredded the souls of so many vulnerable human beings. They have been invalidated, belittled and made to feel ‘less than’; they have, as made clear in the quote above, been hurt to the very core. They are humiliated and shamed. There was a significant rise in the number of suicides among the ‘non-heterosexual’ community in the lead-up to this sham of a postal survey. They felt as monsters on display awaiting a verdict. Guilty of the sin of being who they are. Offered up to the masses for scrutiny; for trial and sentencing.

In the memorable words of the ‘elephant man’, ‘I am not a monster!’

As a mother, it utterly breaks my heart.

The author of the heartfelt plea I’ve quoted here is my youngest daughter, Kim Kahler. Both my daughters are ‘other’. I am incredibly proud of them. They are so much more than I ever was or will ever be.

I have witnessed their acts of compassion and sacrifice, their contributions to society, their commitment to the environment, their admirable work ethic and unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom, their responsible parenting and their quests for justice. And I have seen them brought low by those who resort to small-mindedness, ignorance, bigotry and pure hate. They have not responded in kind.

So to all of you who voted ‘No’ – I know you have your reasons. But please…please…realize and take responsibility for the depth of pain you’ve inflicted on vulnerable human beings who need, more than anything else, your love.

Search your hearts and recognize the darkness there.

 

 

 

 

The Question on Everyone’s Lips: Why do victims stay so long?

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sinking woman, koratmember

Image courtesy of koratmember at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

To those who’ve been in psychological and emotional captivity to an abusive partner, spouse or parent, the answer is abundantly clear. It’s complicated but obvious; yet far from obvious to outside observers.

Even those who know us well and have watched us struggle, find our actions inexplicable. We try to explain, we really do. But even to ourselves, the words sound hollow and illogical.

And so we clam up, feeling judged and misunderstood. And lonely…desperately lonely. In the short term, that’s probably all we can do. It takes time – a long time – for us to understand ourselves, and our situations, sufficiently to articulate the truth. In the meantime, until we find the strength to leave the abuser once and for all, friends and family often drop off like lemmings from a cliff, leaving us without much-needed support and encouragement. And that’s all part of our abuser’s grand plan.

I was lucky. I have two epic daughters and a strong mother. They didn’t quite understand but they were accepting and unswervingly supportive.

angry man

Image courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But by and large, I was isolated for over three years from every one of my former friends, and from most of my wider family. There were even attempts to alienate me from my eldest daughter and two grandchildren. Not only was my abuser angry, loud and frightening when my grandchildren came to stay with me, as they’d done since they were tiny, but his own children carried out their own sniper attacks while I was sleeping. (Read my post about flying monkeys here.)

 

My grandchildren would invariably leave, after a weekend spent with me, (once peaceful and serene), so distressed that my daughter no longer allowed them to visit. So I made the 45 minute drive into town to spend time with them whenever time and energy allowed – which wasn’t nearly often enough. I was kept far too busy jumping through hoops to avoid the backlash of my abuser’s anger. As you can see, the ways an abuser isolates his victims from their support network is, by no means, always obvious. More frequently, it’s a covert operation.

And I was sick; so desperately sick with a chronic illness I’d battled for nearly two decades. And let’s not forget that abusers target the ill; the vulnerable. (Note: All of us who are, by nature, compassionate and caring, are hence, vulnerable.)

So that’s reason number 1: We no longer have family and friends to turn to. No one knows what’s going on. No-one believes us when we tell them.

Let me tell you, it’s quite possible to be driven, quite literally, mad. I know, because that’s the state in which I found myself one September. Utterly bereft. Utterly confused. Utterly without any knowledge of or belief in my own reality.

You started out as quite normal. It’s normal to enter relationships with a healthy outlook that assumes shared power; shared responsibility; shared decision-making; shared affection. Everything is mutual and equal. THAT is normal.

THAT’S what you expected, as we all should. But that’s not what happens in abusive relationships.

Instead, you’re manipulated from the outset…subtly at first, and then, when you’re broken in (and broken), the abuse becomes blatant. But by then, you don’t trust yourself. Your reality is skewed. You no longer remember who you truly are. Before long, you can’t answer simple questions about yourself, like, ‘What’s your favourite colour?’

It’s all part of the plan. THEIR plan.

I’ve written in other posts about ‘crazy-making behaviour‘. Let me recap on one of an abuser’s major weapons – Gaslighting.

The movie, ‘Gaslight’ is a golden oldie, starring Ingrid Bergman (as the victim) and Charles Boyer (as the perpetrator). (As a bonus, a young Angela Lansbury makes her debut appearance!) Despite seeming a bit cheesy due to the era, it’s well worth a watch. If you’ve been abused, it will make your hairs stand on end.

To explain briefly, to gaslight someone is to set up certain conditions, and then deny they ever happened. All the while, the ‘gaslighter’ is coupling his or her denials with declarations of love, concern and undying affection, which creates a powerful emotional conditioning. Let me draw a parallel from my own experience.

My neurological condition is known for its cognitive difficulties. During times of stress and illness exacerbation, I rely on written lists; and when I really need to remember something important, I make an extra effort to commit it to long-term memory. I’ve been doing this for around 20 years now and although I still have momentary lapses, by and large, I’ve trained my memory to work fairly well.

Unfortunately, like all abusers, my tormentor seized on this vulnerability and used it against me. Relentlessly. We’d make joint decisions, during which he would seem perfectly agreeable and then I’d wake up the next morning to be told the conversations had never taken place. But also, of course, that he ‘understood’ because ‘poor me’, I have such cognitive difficulties…and he loved me anyway, despite how difficult I was. His performance was worthy of an Oscar and I fell for it over and over, with each episode becoming more and more cruel.

He started to drop the I love you‘s and began to look at me sidelong, like a snake, as if I were filth beneath his martyred feet. By that time, I doubted my own sanity and he openly told me I was f..ing psycho; the crazy one etc. When I stood my ground and opposed him, he became cold, callous and calculating; interspersed with every aggressive and passive-aggressive tactic he could pull out of his bag of psychopathic tricks.

Coupled with all the other modes of abuse and control, I found myself doubting my own sense of reality. It tipped me over the edge. By that time, I felt crazy. And then, of course, he used that against me. The spiral into the abyss of madness was swift and terrifying.

And that’s reason number 2: We reach a point where we no longer trust ourselves or our own reality. If we believe we’re crazy, we also believe we can’t cope on our own; and so we stay with the person who has driven us out of our minds.

And if you fall into this trap? (How can we not?) If you believe you’re not quite sane? What do you do? You cling desperately to the abuser who has deliberately…callously…manipulated your reality to fit his own ends. He wants you to believe HIM (or HER); and so give up on yourself. Who are you then? What do you know? Who and what do you trust?

Remember, family and friends have already disappeared one by one.

And so the trauma bond becomes complete. You have no choice (because your judgment and sanity have been taken from you) but to put all your trust in the only person left to look after you – your abuser.

You may have heard of Stockholm Syndrome. If not, here’s the lowdown:

It’s a psychological phenomenon that is frequently displayed by:

  • Abused Children
  • Battered/Abused Women
  • Prisoners of War
  • Cult Members
  • Incest Victims
  • Criminal Hostage Situations
  • Concentration Camp Prisoners
  • Controlling/Intimidating Relationships

It’s characterized by an intense emotional bond that forms between those who hold all the power in a situation and their victims, who hold no power whatsoever. It’s a survival strategy that makes no sense to an outside observer but perfect sense from a psychological perspective. It actually enhances the chances of survival for victims. Unfortunately, it also diminishes the likelihood a victim will leave an abusive situation because:

  • Victims have been powerfully conditioned to show feelings of love, cooperation, appeasement and admiration for their abusers. If they don’t, they will be punished severely, either physically, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially…or all of the above.
  • If victims depend solely on the abuser for sustenance (from food, shelter and clothing to human contact, affection, social interaction and validation), a ‘sick’ loop forms wherein victims are inordinately grateful for the tidbits tossed from the masters table.
  • This gratitude and ‘good behaviour’ result from time to time, but not always (just to keep us on our toes), in magnanimous gestures from our captors – maybe a whole day of relaxed conversation, free from verbal and psychological attacks; maybe some tender caresses and dove-eyed smiles instead of the habitual silent treatment and snake-eyed glares; perhaps even a leave-pass to see a friend. And so we walk on eggshells, trained like a terrified dog who, beaten brutally by his master, still wags his tail and follows that master faithfully wherever he goes.
Sad dog

Image courtesy of Patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To learn more about the origins of the term Stockholm Syndrome, visit this link:

Stockholm Syndrome: Counseling Resources

In a nutshell though, the trauma bond – often referred to as Stockholm Syndrome is the third and probably most powerful reason victims of abuse just CAN’T escape their bondage.

 

There are other reasons victims stay with their abusers for far too long that are a little easier to comprehend.

We’re plain scared! Having been punished beyond all proportion for our imagined misdeeds, we know full well the extent of the backlash we’ll receive if we do leave. Some of us have been threatened physically; others have had children threatened; for others it’s been the threat of a smear campaign that promises to destroy our futures.

So, reason number 4 is that we’re just plain terrified!

And because our abuser has almost certainly held the financial reins and likely either destroyed our careers by covert means or ‘persuaded’ us not to work for any number of selfish reasons … we’re broke! We have no money and nowhere to go. We’re likely sick and debilitated; left without the capacity or skills to regroup, find work and establish ourselves financially..

So, that’s another reason we stay. We’re broke! We have no capacity for work and nowhere safe to go. That’s reason number 5 in a nutshell.

This list is far from definitive but I hope it gives an insider glimpse into that baffling question – Why on earth would you stay with such a monster?

From the perspective of an abuse victim, the decision to stay seems like a logical one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“12 Life Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure”

Light is only just now being shed on the phenomenon of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)- something experienced by many, if not most, survivors of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and ongoing emotional and psychological abuse. In fact, the biggest predictor of developing CPTSD is the emotional/psychological aspect of abuse; greater even than that of sexual abuse.

I can relate particularly well to the deep fear of trust, difficulties with emotional regulation, emotional flashbacks (big-time!), deeply wounded inner child and the ever-present, utterly relentless toxic shame.

Thanks to A Broken Blue Sky for sharing such important information and personal insights. We’re all on a journey … and sometimes it feels as though it will never end.

Traumatic Memories & the Trauma Response

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silhouette of a man asking for help

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/foto76

Memories can be wonderful … but not always. Sometimes they thrust themselves into consciousness without warning or invitation, knocking the air clean out of our lungs. Like a kick in the gut with steel-capped boots, an unwelcome memory can force us to your knees , gagging, or send us stumbling numbly in search of a dark, dark cupboard in which to hide … a cupboard that holds no Narnia on its other side, but only ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.

Some time after the witching hour last night, a memory came to visit. I tried to grab it by the throat and force it back through the door of my dreams, but still it came … stealthy and relentless. And then came another … and yet another. Today I’m barely able to function.

Such is the reality of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a response all too common to survivors of verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. I wish I could tell you how to make it stop. Psychologists will teach you cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT) – the mode of therapy that is currently flavour of the month. It aims to mediate your emotions by getting you to control your own thought processes and attitudes. What the ‘experts’ don’t seem to understand, or tell you, is that the deep-seated feelings of horror and terror that result from years of cruelty actually circumvent the normal neural pathways. And that lack of understanding comes very close to ‘victim blaming’; it unleashes a barrage of guilt and alienates us from much needed love and support.
During my own (long-ago, pre-illness) studies of psychology, I learned that it is, in fact, not possible for researchers to determine whether the physical responses associated with anxiety – the release of stress hormones, which lead to rapid heart rate and pulse, etc) – pre-empt the feeling of fear itself, or whether the fear triggers the physical response. It’s the physical processes that make us shake with fear or paralyze us; that make us feel sick and our palms sweat as the blood thuds and throbs through our heads, leaving us spent. Researchers still don’t know whether the chicken comes before the egg.

Truth is, memories or events that evoke a trauma response trigger automatic emotions first … and the thoughts then follow. From there we scramble to make cognitive sense of them while our fight or flight responses are on auto-pilot, ready to take off like a jump jet. Add in the fact that stress (in all its forms – anxiety, fear etc) shuts down our normal cognitive processes, making it impossible to think straight, and we have a wrecking ball massive enough to demolish the very fabric of our being.

Under these circumstances I believe it’s virtually impossible to be rational – although I baulk at fully embracing that concept with its implication that we just can’t help ourselves. There has to be some level of personal responsibility, certainly, but there needs to be an attitude of compassion, too. Compassion not only from others but also compassion for ourselves. Sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack. That doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be out of control; to rant and rave at others; to get drunk and drive fast in an attempt to get away from ourselves; or to engage in any other forms of destructive behaviour.

What it means is to understand that the feeling itself is okay.

We are NOT DEFECTIVE! We are injured and may always carry painful scars that adhere to our souls … wounds that are easily reopened. It is NOT OUR FAULT. We are who we are. Survivors.

shy girl

We need to accept ourselves with all our battle-scars even if no-one else does, and we need to nurture our own wounded inner child. Imagine how you might treat a little girl or boy who has been irrevocably damaged by some adult monster. What would you say to her? How would you soothe and reassure him? If you were harmed by an intimate partner and not by a parent, your inner child is still just as wounded. We all carry that vulnerable facet deep within us and it is this very precious, fragile part of our souls that our abusers hone in on in their attempts to destroy us.

Some of us turn to God and hand our brokenness to Him; the perfect parent; the ever-loving spouse who cherishes us in a way no human being ever can. He is the keeper of my soul and my only true solace when the demons of trauma return to torment me. He scoops me up and cradles me in His powerful yet gentle arms and kisses me like the wounded child I truly am.

 

 

 

Feeding misogyny: what it means to be naked

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Original artwork by Melinda Jensen

For the past few days I’ve procrastinated about bringing up a controversial and volatile subject; but that ‘still, small voice’ is so insistent, I’ve decided to wade right on in. Past experience assures me that the topic – ‘nakedness’, or ‘nudity’, in all its nuances – raises strong opinions and heated debate on both sides.

There is a certain niche culture that embraces and even worships the human body at its most exposed; artists and sculptors endlessly depict it, actors wantonly portray it and photographers of a certain ilk are somewhat lecherously obsessed with it. Other sections of society are more coy, though coyness is fast disappearing in a world that rewards image over substance, superficiality over depth. Where ordinary mortals may once have been relatively protected from exposure to mass human nudity, needing to actively seek it out in order to experience it outside their own mirrors and bedrooms, today’s similarly ordinary mortals are subjected to nakedness any number of times in a day, without their consent. Why? What does it mean? And how do we cope with the onslaught?

Let’s take a look at what history teaches about the implication of nudity as it is used to express societal attitudes. There is little dispute that in the beginning of time, when humanity was just emerging, the issue was merely a practical one. Clothes were fashioned and adopted according to the dictates of climate, habitat and mode of living. As humankind’s thought processes became more advanced however, what was once merely a practical consideration began to take on a host of possible meanings, bringing with it an even larger host of emotional responses.

Greek and Roman gods were often depicted naked, with a couple of theories being put forward as explanation. Some sources indicate that in day to day existence, ancient Greek and Roman citizens wore long, flowing robes and even in the public baths, where people disrobed freely, the sexes were generally segregated. Other sources insist that communal bathing, with the genders mixed, was not uncommon and that Greek citizens frequently dropped their robes to work naked in the fields, to dance, and of course, to exercise.

According to the first theory, there existed a widespread cultural attitude of respect for the human body, and Greek philosophy held that health of both mind and body were of paramount importance to spiritual and psychological maturity. The display of the body was considered a sign of health and strength of character, and did not elicit responses of lust and ribaldry. It is thought that in the depiction of gods in particular, nudity was used to indicate that a hero or god had passed beyond the need for such protection as clothes offered.  And while it is true that Olympic athletes originally performed naked, historians believe this was both to prevent cheating and to allow them to move more freely, since the clothing of the day was restrictive and cumbersome. It is also noteworthy that women were not allowed to participate, and married women were not even allowed to attend. At a separate festival, celebrating the goddess Hera, young women were permitted to participate in foot races but were covered in loose tunics that fell to their knees.

Nudity was reserved then, almost exclusively for men, as evidenced by a number of surviving sculptures. And the prevailing attitude towards that nudity was one of respect for the health, strength and spiritual achievements of those depicted.

What seems indisputable is that during that particular period in history, a state of undress denoted a certain respect for a being’s divinity or accomplishments.

Yet…such are the vagueries of history…that other sources insists the Greeks were, in fact, vain creatures who succumbed to the lures of the flesh from very early on. This contradictory view argues that the rampant displays of nudity were fueled by vanity and hedonism, and that the Olympic games, right from the get-go, were characterized by orgies, dope-taking, prostitution and blood-lust.

How can we make sense of such blatant contradictions? For the purposes of my post, either scenario can be used to argue against the acceptability of today’s pornographic images, which center almost entirely on the female form (gay porn aside).

Considering the first scenario – can it be said that today, women are being displayed naked as a symbol of their strength, health, power and spiritual achievement? The answer must be a resounding no. They are there for the viewing pleasure and titillation of, in fact for the arousal of, lust in men. (Mostly! Yes, I hear those of you who are protesting that there’s a growing culture of women who use porn for the same reason.)

Considering the second scenario – that historical nudity was linked to hedonism, orgiastic behaviour, drugs, prostitution and blood-lust – what does that tell us about today’s culture of porn, including the so-called ‘soft-porn’, whereby fashion magazines, movies, television and even newspapers feature partially naked or even fully-naked women? It clearly tells us that a woman’s nudity is used for ribald and lustful purposes, certainly not to empower or engender respect.

Think of the image of Miley Cyrus on her wrecking ball.  I hardly think it conjures up respect, nor a reverence for her spiritual (or other) attainments. It conjures instead mirth, derision or lust, and frequently all three.

So how has the panorama evolved since the days of myth and legend? Firstly, to state the obvious, today’s nudity is overwhelmingly female. The one constant is that these ‘objects’ of lust have been almost exclusively used for the pleasure of the masculine of the species.

What else? We’ve all heard that the only constant in life is change, and history bears this out. As the centuries rolled by, along with changes catalyzed by ever-expanding exploration, discovery, industrial and scientific inroads and social change, so too has the context and connotation of ‘nakedness’ changed. There have been epic landmarks to note these changes.

No human condition more clearly depicts gross inequality and injustice than that of slavery. A slave has no worth above that of his monetary value, a value set by his potential owners in the same way it would be set for pigs or cattle or even farm produce. He is valued only for his perceived capacity for hard labour and obedience. He is beaten and abused because his life has no value and he is assigned no dignity or inherent worth. A slave is an object of degradation. At the moment he is sold into slavery he is stripped of his humanity at the same time as he is stripped of his clothes and paraded naked for the inspection of his masters. Not allowed to so much as look upon the face of a white woman without risking punishment, even death, he is himself (and herself) able to be intimately scrutinized in all his naked vulnerability. The message is clear. To be naked correlates with inferiority, dis-empowerment, humiliation and being at the mercy of a ruling class.

From the Christian scriptures we learn that Jesus was stripped naked, flogged and tortured, then hung on a cross to die a brutal death – classed as a low-life criminal. He died, bare and exposed to his detractors, laughed at and ridiculed as they shredded his robes – the ultimate humiliation. His nakedness too, marked him as inferior, dis-empowered, and at the mercy of a ruling class.

Where does this leave the argument of modern day feminists who forcefully insist on their right to parade naked and semi-naked, enter prostitution, pose for porn magazines and movies, claiming it is empowering for them to do with their bodies whatever they please?

Frankly, they’re on shaky ground. Clambering to appropriate some prized position as if it truly were an indication of equality and empowerment. Playing right into the industry’s hands … and dare I say it, right into the hands of the dominant culture; a privileged white male culture, who once again, achieve exactly what they want. That is, an endless supply of objects for their amusement, titillation, and (as I have shown above), objects of humiliation and inferiority who have been successfully brainwashed into believing they are joining a ruling class, when in fact, they are simply still being ruled by it. In a different manner to which women have been dominated throughout the centuries, yes. But dominated all the same, through manipulation of their psyches.

Much research points to the likelihood of pornography inciting violence against women, and when we view the historical context of nudity, and perceive it as the tool it has been – one used to dominate, humiliate, denigrate and dis-empower – it isn’t difficult to fathom its role in today’s escalating culture of violence against the feminine.

The subtleties of the game have changed. But the game itself has not.

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An Open Letter To Donald Trump From Some Angry Women.

It seems every time I open my mouth about the current American political situation I am inundated with abuse of one kind or another. However, given the nature of my own blog, it would be entirely remiss of me to not share what I believe is an excellent blog post that highlights the culture of oppression towards women that underpins societies all around the world. The fact that one of the US candidates flagrantly employs those very tactics of denigration, humiliation and subjugation towards women will lead to what can only be a return to 50’s style thinking. It will turn the efforts of suffragettes into a travesty. Read on. Feel free to comment but please keep it respectful. And also please understand that my objection to Donald Trump does not mean my support of Hillary. That’s not what this post is about.

Drifting Through

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Dear Mr. Trump… can I call you Mr. Trump? Is that ok? I want you to be happy, that’s very important to me.

Before I get started, let me say this letter isn’t from all women. The Trumpettes surely won’t approve of this message. But this is from most women.

We see right through you. We have all known you at some point. Your ways are not unfamiliar to us. We see through you because we’ve been dealing with you our whole lives.

We heard you call women pigs. And disgusting. And stupid. And bimbos.

We watched as you called a former Ms. Universe “Ms. Piggy” and then spent four days continuing to insult her.

We see your weakness. Your lust for attention at any cost, your need to denigrate women. We see all of it. And we’re mad.

Yes. We’re mad. And fired up. And here’s the thing about us……

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Passive Aggressive Abuse – The Silent Treatment

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(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

There is no more effective way to let someone know how little you mean to them than to use your silence. If you want to cut someone to the quick, simply don’t respond when they implore you for understanding or explanation. Walk away from their tears. Turn your back on their pain. Or better still, pretend to listen and respond appropriately, then disappear out of someone’s life, either permanently or temporarily.

Make no mistake about it, neglect and the silent treatment are highly effective and particularly cruel forms of emotional abuse. Trying to pinpoint why you feel so utterly crushed when someone treats you this way is like chasing phantoms in the dark – you’re not really sure what you’re looking for or why it hurts so much. On the surface, you’re reacting to ‘nothing’. The person hasn’t yelled at you, called you names, belittled you or intimidated you in any tangible way. If you complain about their treatment, it will be turned back on you.‘What do you mean? I haven’t done anything! You’re the one with the problem.’ Or you will simply be treated to more silence.

And it’s easy to convince you that you are, in fact, the one to blame. Trust me, you’re not.

So what constitutes the Silent Treatment?

  1. Not responding to your reasonable emotional needs.

  2. Walking away from you when you try to address an issue.

  3. Saying yes, but doing the opposite.

  4. Ignoring phone calls and text messages.

  5. Often accompanied by tears and reproachful looks or …

  6. alternatively, intimidating you with an angry glare.

  7. And, of course, simply not speaking to you, especially when you make it clear that you really need to dialogue.

 

The method a perpetrator employs depends on his or her unique personality and behaviour pattern. In the ‘good old days’, men would bury their heads in a newspaper while their wives tried everything they could to get some interaction. These days, people bury themselves in their work or engross themselves in computer games (therefore living a virtual reality while avoiding their true reality). Some hide themselves in a bottle of whiskey. Others busy themselves with friends and other activities. The one thing they all have in common is that their coping mechanism is avoidance. Avoidance of you, the person they supposedly love; avoidance of conflict; avoidance of the issues they have; and most of all, avoidance of who they really are. It’s easier to avoid you than to face whatever demons lurk within their souls. It’s easier to slay a virtual dragon than to fight the good fight in the real world.

If you’re confused about whether or not to be angry when you’re on the receiving end of this form of passive aggression … because, as I’ve already mentioned, you haven’t copped any overt abuse … remember this:

 

A decision to not take action is still a decision … and still an action.

The choice to not act is still a choice … and still an action.

Not taking action when action is required is still a conscious act.

 

The silent treatment is the dagger used by cowards.

 

Nurturing souls and their abusers

I’m reblogging this beautifully and succinctly written piece from ‘Sanctuary for the Abused’. It speaks directly to the heart of the matter. Note: The genders are interchangeable.

A Nurturing Soul Does Not Compute with a Sociopath

Angel imprisoned Pictures, Images and Photos

Many are often shocked to find an otherwise healthy and strong woman in an abusive situation and wonder why and how this happens.

This women is a nurturer. She has nurtured her own soul, conquered herself to find joy in the world.

She meets a man who seems to be so close to winning. He’s almost conquered himself. She finds great pleasure and joy in watching and taking part in the nurturing of other’s souls. She sees how beautiful he is. She wants him to win his inner battles. She wants to be a part of this great battle.

She sees his behavior change from kind and loving, to mean and cruel, and believes she is watching an inner battle of self being waged. She wants him to win the good fight. She sees the worth of his soul, and feels the battle is worth the wages.

This loving, nurturing woman joins the man in his own personal battle as a loving friend and wife.

But she doesn’t understand his swift mood changes from kind to cruel, are not representative of an internal battle over self, but merely manipulative behaviors, designed to gain power over others.

He is not battling over self control, but dominating the souls and hearts of others.

In the end, she finds herself in a painful powerless position having lost herself serving him, loving him, sacrificing for him, in the illusion he will be moved by her love to win.

But their is no battle within him. His heart is not moved. There is no battle to be won. She will lose everything in a quest that never was.

And the devil will rejoice in the crumbling of another soul, that was once previously strong.

Her whole life, her great quest to save her husband, is nothing but a lie.

by Natalie Fleming

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