Friday, October 30, 2015

Family Abuse, Evaluating Your Experience

A significant source of pain for survivors of abuse is the never-ending internal conversation: What happened?, Did it really happen?, Did what happened rise to the level of abuse?, and How bad was it?

Answering these questions is difficult for two reasons. First, abuse is recalled in fragments because it registers in the older, nonverbal parts of the brain (the reptile brain).  Second, there is no commonly understood scale of "badness" or "realness" outside of ourselves to help make sense of the past, and sometimes the present as well.

The good news is that there are objective ways to evaluate your experience.  They are derived from new understandings about how human beings develop, the nature of trauma, the mechanics of memory, and the components that make up resilience.

In this article, we will pick one of the most easily understood evaluation tools, a list of Basic Human Needs.  This list is a compilation of what every human, in every culture, needs to have in order to live a healthy, well-adjusted, complete life.  Meeting them does not depend on wealth, access to electricity or plumbing, age, or gender.  Significant gaps or failures of access have consequences for the human being who experiences them.

Here's a typical version of the list:

How to use this list to evaluate your experience:  

1.  Read the list to yourself, preferably out loud.  Look up words you don't understand (like empathy or efficacy).  Notice how the words are grouped under larger categories.  People who try this are often surprised to see how large the "Connection" and "Meaning" categories are.

2.  Pick one period in your life, like childhood or your current situation, and cross out the words on this list that you don't feel were (or are) available to you.  Notice the pattern of what's missing and what remains.

One woman who was leaving a long-term romantic relationship said she crossed out everything but air and water, and "sometimes I even felt there wasn't enough air in the room because he was so controlling."

In many families, especially ones where being seen and not heard is the standard for behavior for children, food, shelter, and a place to sleep covers the parental responsibilities.  The rest is the job of school, a sports team, and then whomever you hook up with.  There is no recognition that a child can't wait 18 years to feel belonging, hope, or nurturing.

3.  Take a few minutes to look at the picture that emerges from crossing out/what's left on the Basic Human Needs List. The visual image you have created by crossing out what was missing for you provides a new kind of information about what you have, and have not, experienced.  Often, it's a picture that feels very sad. If you can tolerate it, sit with the sadness for a few minutes. This is a sadness you've been holding onto, without acknowledging or feeling it. Part of you already knows what this picture is showing.

4.  If this were a list of vitamins and nutrients, the next step would be obvious.  You would see where your diet is lacking and you'd know what to add to improve it for better health. This list works the same way.  Now that you see what has been unavailable for you as a person, you can make changes to fill in the gaps.  For example, if sharing and mutuality are not part of your experience, you now know that these things are important (not frivolous demands made by needy people), and you can look for safe ways to bring more sharing and mutuality into your life.

If you are unable to make changes, the picture you've made using this list can show you how bad things are, and validate your sense that things aren't right by naming what's going wrong.  Use it to answer the questions in the first paragraph:
What happened?/  What's happening?
Did it really happen?/  Is it really happening?
Did what happened rise to the level of abuse?/  Is it abuse?
How bad was it?/  How bad is it?

Where this list won't help you:  Abuse and neglect are like yin and yang, two interconnected sides of what can go wrong for human children and adults.  When you are planning how to fill in the gaps, it doesn't matter whether you classify "lack of honesty," for example, in the relationships you are looking at as abuse or neglect.  

Before you fill those gaps, you might feel not only sadness but also anger at those who failed you. How normal of you!  You might want to take this list and show it to your parent or partner to prove their treatment of you is wrong and hurtful.  Again, how normal of you! In fact, the more abuse and neglect you have suffered in your life, the greater the urge to confront or punish those responsible.

But the odds are the reality you've discovered in the list won't help you get through to those who have failed you. Within the family, blaming and confronting an evil parent or even a guilt-ridden apologetic one, has a backlash of guilt evoked by our universal code of honoring parents that is worse than walking away. Happy endings are rare, and the burden of repairing the damage still falls on the child.

If you look to the justice system, you'll have a long wait and a great possibility for disappointment. Even people whose perpetrators get the death penalty rarely report they feel better, let alone have the missing pieces restored.

The course of action that works well for most people is to remake their lives with the help of diagnostic tools like the one above.  The world is a diverse and lively place where you can find people who will respect and validate your needs.  There's no reason to look back.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What Does It Take to Recover From Abuse?

There are many human beings on this planet who have endured and survived abuse and neglect. Modern common knowledge has asserted in response to their pain that if you are still alive, you will recover by some natural internal process determined by your character traits or as a result of "resilience".  

Some people do indeed "buck up" and "move on", at least they appear to have recovered. Many more live shortened lives distorted by the painful residuals of what happened in the past.  In recent decades, there has been a push in the healing and scientific community to figure out something that works better than pushing recovery back on those who have suffered.

While many talented, interested people have contributed to a better understanding of recovery, we refer here to published work done by Judith Herman, M.D., Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., and Peter Levine, Ph.D.  All responsible approaches to healing draw on the wisdom of earlier talented people.  Dr. Levine's work also connects with healing traditions from older cultures where shamans and the human community did the recovery work we now expect from doctors and therapists.

Isn't recovery a personal quest, defined differently by each person?  It certainly is personal because abuse and neglect* are directed at you personally, unlike natural devastation generated by large impersonal forces (like storms and wars).  Abuse works because it upsets the biology of living things by distorting or denying the things we need to keep mind, body, and spirit healthy.  The study of recovery is based on what we have in common as humans, a reality that underlies the truth that abuse is personal.

What does abuse look like?  Here's a sample of some of the possible ways abuse can destabilize a human being, any human being:

Physical:  Starving, beating, restraining, taking away housing, money, jobs, etc.

Psychological:  Isolation, humiliation, subjugation, preventing education or consistent loving relationships, etc.

Spiritual:  Persecution, prejudice and discrimination, unreasonable demands and blame, etc.

What works?  Cycling through a personal process that hits 3 different areas of human life, physical and emotional safety, remembering in a way that moves what happened into the past, into a safe-to-access story that acknowledges the pain but doesn't overwhelm any more, and reconnecting with yourself and with others - being able to accept and give love and care again.  The "personal" in this process is the part where you control how and when and with whom you work on recovery.  It doesn't mean you do it alone. Reconnecting is all about including others.  Safety and Remembering are both private and inclusive of others, including animals.

The drawing below (based on Judith Herman's work) is a reminder that this is not a linear, "check off the box and move on to the next thing" process.  It seems to work out best as a "little of this, little of that as tolerated" cycle.  Every small success makes tackling the other aspects easier.

Where do willpower and character play a part in recovery?  They don't.  While none of these components is going to happen without your cooperation, you can't will yourself into recovery any more than you can will yourself to get over the flu faster. Positive thinking has its place, but it is not a way to recover from abuse.  Denial, and the always popular "not talking about it", just lets the consequences of abuse roll on under the surface, affecting everyone in its path.

Recovery in this model (which is based on examining the actual recovery process of thousands of survivors of abuse) is about doing, in small steps, the actions and mental shifts that hit one or more of these three marks, over and over again.  Abuse doesn't break a person down in a day; recovery takes time too.

What about resilience?  Resilience is currently understood as what you have in your past that can help you re-establish safety, remembering, and reconnecting.  If you had a secure childhood, it helps your recovery from adult abuse because you have a baseline to which you can refer.

Fortunately, you can build resilience for the future by going through the recovery process. Avoiding recovery uses whatever resilience you had, and leaves you very vulnerable to any future stress.  Even the normal things like aging, illness, changes in circumstance are more destabilizing if they are piled on a life already depleted by abuse without complete recovery, which includes all 3 elements.

What now?  Read the books by Herman, van der Kolk, and Levine, visit their websites for videos, classes, therapists who carry on their work with clients (using the links in the third paragraph above).  Building your recovery around these components has worked for many many people.  I hope you will become one of them and have a richer, calmer, and fuller life as a result.

(* rather than say "abuse and neglect" every time, I'm shortening it to "abuse".  All abuse has an aspect of neglect and all neglect is abusive.  The usual definition is that abuse is something someone does to you, and neglect is something someone does NOT do that should have been done.)


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Don't People Care?

When you reveal you are a victim of abuse, a survivor of war or combat, let your friends know your partner is harming you and your children, etc....why don't people care?

Once the polite 30 seconds of sympathy are over, the intrusive curious questions and blame begin.  Why is that?

But people do care, you may be saying.  People as a whole are good-hearted, generous, and protective of those who are suffering.  But people are not a whole, they are individuals, and they are individually very selective about who and what they "care" about.  If you've ever found yourself in the "not so much" column, you'll know what I mean.  And you will have asked yourself "why don't people care?"

Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery has some answers in the first few pages of her classic book about violence.  If you have been on the receiving end of the invisible slap in the face that is not caring, her words may bring you some resolution and comfort:

...when traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides.

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.

...In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line of defense. if secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of the victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization.
After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.

The perpetrator's arguments prove irresistible when the bystander faces them in isolation. Without a supportive social environment, the bystander usually succumbs to the temptation to look the other way. This is true even when the victim is an idealized and valued member of society. Soldiers in every war, even those who have been regarded as heroes, complain bitterly that no one wants to know the real truth about war. When the victim is already devalued (a woman, a child), she may find that the most traumatic events of her life take place outside the realm of socially validated reality. Her experience becomes unspeakable.
Asking a friend, partner, or parent to support you turns out to be a much bigger deal than you might think because of the burden of joining you in your pain and shame to stand with you.  Herman goes on to say the answer lies in forming a responsive social alliance to counteract the automatic advantage that goes to abusers:
...To hold traumatic reality in consciousness requires a social context that affirms and protects the victim and that joins victim and witness in a common alliance. For the individual victim, this social context is created by relationships with friends, lovers, and family. For the larger society, the social context is created by political movements that give voice to the disempowered.
The systematic study of psychological trauma therefore depends on the support of a political movement. Indeed, whether such study can be pursued or discussed in public is itself a political question. The study of war trauma becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the sacrifice of young men in war. The study of trauma in sexual and domestic life becomes legitimate only in a context that challenges the subordination of women and children.
Advances in the field occur only when they are supported by a political movement powerful enough to legitimatize an alliance between investigators and [victims] and to counteract the ordinary social processes of silencing and denial. In the absence of strong political movements for human rights, the active process of bearing witness inevitably gives way to the active process of forgetting. Repression, dissociation, and denial are phenomena of social as well as individual consciousness. (p 9)

WNL:  If you've been assaulted, abused, stalked, or any of a number of bad things that can happen, you have not only been changed by the situation, but also by the response of those around you to that situation.  Your best bet is to connect with hotlines and resource organizations specializing in what happened to you and take full advantage of their expertise.  Family and friends can be your supplemental source of support.  They can't be what you need on their own.  

When you are secure and in recovery, you can be one of those people that builds a political movement that changes things for people like you. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cell Phone Self Defense

You probably already think of your cell phone as a safety device.  How about taking fuller advantage of its possibilities with some of the specially designed apps you could put on it, most of them completely free.

Among the list below are some first-generation safety programs, aimed at girls who go out in a dangerous world.  A bit damsel-in-distress oriented, but still useful.  Others are for people of any gender who go to remote or dangerous places, and could use a lifeline.  Suggestion:  Take a look at several before you decide, maybe even download and try out a few.  Most are free and the most expensive has a 30-day free trial.

Circle of  6 is an award-winning app for iPhone and Android.  It sends SOS alerts from your phone, using GPS, to notify your selected circle of 6 about your situation, to call you or come get you.  Preprogrammed hotline numbers and a local emergency number of your choice.

Red Panic Button ($2.99) is an iPhone and Android app that, when set up by an adult, looks perfect for a child or older adult who might need rescuing - like missing a bus connection - or even safely staying home alone.

MyForce  puts a live security guard in your pocket for $15.00 a month.  With the slogan "Never walk alone" you send an alert and their 24/7 safety agents act instantly, pinpointing your exact location and tracking your whereabouts. There's no need to tell them where you are or what's happening.  They listen in and assess the details.  30-day free trial.  For Android, iPhone, BlackBerry.

bSafe You says "peace of mind is priceless" but they also position this app as a lifestyle assistant, which is a little weird, but in a way refreshing.  Claims to work everywhere in all countries, for iPhone and Android, the features list starts with keeping track of friends and where they are.  Next comes a "Hide" feature when you don't want to share your location.  Then, a map feature and a flashlight.

BSafe Fake Call to get you out of meetings or dates.  Make the phone ring with a tap so you can answer and make a getaway.   Easy private check-in and meet-up features.

Help is one tap away.  "When bSafe You is open on your screen it forces the screen to stay open for safety right at your fingertips."  Nice!  If alarm is triggered you set off an optional siren, and bSafe starts recording video and voice as well as broadcasting your location.  Video, voice, location, and time stamps are stored securely on servers to share with police. 

Set a timer to follow you while jogging or hiking.  If you have not checked in on time bSafe alarm will alert your Guardians.  Your Guardians (people you choose) will get access to your full trace from when Timer Mode was activated as well as evidence gathered by video and voice. 

WNL:  This is an interesting and creatively-featured social and safety app all in one.  And it's free for iPhone and Android.  Worth a long look.

EmergenSee personal security system is an app free for families, individuals, and college students, with additional service applications for colleges, businesses and government agencies.  Review a list of features the safety app includes here.  When you send an alert, your contacts are notified along with 911 if you wish, and video and audio are activated on your phone.  There is also a stealth recording feature where the phone appears to be off yet is still recording video and audio.  I believe this may be unique to EmergenSee.

This company offering the free app is geared towards all sort of business, university, and international applications.  Talk to them about your needs and they may have some ideas.  

Wickr Leave No Trace is an app for one of your other security needs - the ability to communicate securely.  From the website:   
The Internet is forever.  Your private communications don´t need to be. Wickr is a free app that provides: military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video messages, sender-based control over who can read messages, where and for how long, best available privacy, anonymity and secure file shredding features, security that is simple to use.
For Android and iPhone, and its Free.

WNL:  This is an amazing and expanding side of personal technology that has the potential to change women's lives.  Indian women are creating apps and the YWCA of Singapore has one for the Android OS as well.  Amnesty International is building an app for journalists and activists in danger, which turns out to be more complicated than you might think.  Community RED, a woman-run startup in Washington, D.C., is interfacing with journalists in danger to come up with hacks and applications to keep news flowing and people safe. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Broadband Beauty Tips

End of the year, time for some rearranging of your life, perhaps?  WNL suggests exploring your make-up and skin care routines - or lack thereof - as a possibility.  Since there's now a free, convenient way to get great advice and tutorials on what to use and how to use it, take the plunge!

Along with endless cat and dog hijinks, streaming movies, and TV on your desk or laptop, the internet has opened the secret, high-priced world of beauty and beauty products to even the most ignorant or recalcitrant among us.  Take a little tour with me of some of the best...and let me know what you've found to add to this list.

Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz has a website -  and a YouTube channel where he has stashed video consultations on all sorts of beauty and skin questions.  Lumps, bumps, wrinkles, dark spots, lasers, skin care.  Dr. Derm covers it all in a friendly, understandable format.  A great first stop on your road to upgrading your appearance.  Did you know you just got to pick the brains of a top skin doctor for free? 

Now to the UK where so many of the beauty gurus originate and hang out.  Why is that, I wonder?  Anyway, the link above will take you to an interview with Caroline Hirons, the superstar of all things makeup and skin care to many in that universe, where she is questioned by Sam and Nic, who call themselves Pixiwoo.  

Not only is this video a great introduction to Caroline Hirons, in her no-nonsense manner, she shows and tells the products and pathways to good skin care.  You could not possibly afford to see her in person.  How amazing that she shares her expertise for free on YouTube.  

About himself in Wayne's own words,

I have been working in the makeup industry for the past 15 years. Originally I trained in exercise and nutrition but when acne struck me at 20 it changed the course of my life. My goal at the time was to get the flawless smooth skin I once had. Once my skin was back to normal I became fascinated with makeup. The whole concept intrigued me…

After much training (self taught) and then formal education I slowly began creating a career for myself. Working in bridal makeup and then moving into one on one training and workshops my client base grew.

Editorial makeup was never my passion. The images are so heavily retouched that it portrayed an unrealistic image that I didn’t want to be a part of. Thankfully my career expanded without the use of retouching and so began a passion of mine. Teaching. And what better format for that than YouTube. Over a short period of time I grew a beautiful audience.

I really enjoy Wayne's videos whether he's using himself as the demo or one of the models who seem to be enjoying the experience.  He devotes a good percentage of his videos to keeping skin healthy, free of blackheads and blemishes, which sets him apart from most makeup/skin care bloggers.  He is also very sensitive to looking natural and your best rather than made up, and some of his video subjects are up there in age.  He's a down-to-earth guy who has really applied both brains and passion to the challenge of looking good.

From her website "About",
With over 20 years of experience, Lisa Eldridge is one of the most highly regarded make-up artists on the international beauty and fashion circuits. Whether she’s called upon to create her signature look, best described as fresh and flawless or to work her magic for the catwalk or on editorial shoots, her understated, modern approach to beauty has made her indispensable to designers, magazine editors, art directors and celebrities alike. Through her online make-up tutorials, and her role as resident on-screen beauty expert for three seasons of Channel 4’s successful series ‘Ten Years Younger, Lisa has become one of the most recognised faces in the beauty industry, both in the UK and internationally. 
When I visited Lisa's video page it took me a while to realize that the top three pictures linked to collections of videos rather than videos themselves (like the smaller pictures below with the play symbol).  Select "Everyday Looks" to get started.  One of my personal favorites is the "Glowing, Youthful Make-up Look for Mature Skin" that shows the amazing before and after. 

Tiffany is  either your best friend in high school or the girl who was too cute and cool to pay any attention to you at all.  She grew up to be "TiffanyD".  In her own words,
After spending my college years majoring in education and teaching little ones, I discovered that I am truly a teacher at heart. However, I had always dreamed of becoming a makeup artist. By combining my love of teaching with my love of makeup, I ventured into the world of YouTube creating makeup and beauty how-to videos for fun. People started watching and the channel grew faster and larger than I could have ever imagined. I had no idea it would ever become what it has and I'm so thankful for all my subscribers! It's truly so much fun and very rewarding knowing that I'm able to reach so many people and do what I love.  I now have two YouTube channels. MakeupByTiffanyD, my first and main channel, and my "priority" where videos are concerned, is all about beauty.
You'll love her or hate her.  Lovers like to kick back with a glass of wine in their bathrobes and watch Tiffany.  Soooo relaxing.  I am amazed at how well she is able to film herself putting on mascara. 

SO HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE TO SPEND?  Remarkably little it turns out, but not nothing.  Once you see a product you'd like to try, the web is a great place to comparison shop or find out who carries the blush you saw near where you live so you can try it on.  

Some products cost a lot, some very little, some last a long time, some are hard to find.  The web will help you figure out how to spend your dollars and your time.  What a change from the terror of department store makeup counters where the salesgirl made a commission from selling you more stuff.  Separating the person giving you advice and teaching you how to use a moisturizer or a blush from the person selling you the product could be one of the unsung improvements of our times.

(Painting is "Good Hair Day" by Lyn Southworth.  See more at Lyn Southworth Words and Pictures)