“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“Ignorance is the enemy and it fills your head with lies.” ~ Rodney Crowell

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, the Grand Poobah (my office buddy 😃) and I were yacking yesterday while he was working on an assignment that he didn’t know was appropriate or not. In the chapter he teaches on depression, he wanted to focus attention on suicide with the students reading various articles and watching a documentary about it before writing a paper. He wondered if this would be too triggering for some and we had a discussion about this.

Here’s the thing about triggers: we all have them. After my nephew died in the Navy, every time I heard anything about the military, my heart would pound and my stomach would get a hollow feeling. Before I was open about being bipolar, I’d get nervous talking about mental illness and the importance of awareness, yet I was living a lie which made me so anxious. After I engaged in self-harm, I would get horribly defensive if anyone mentioned cutting or accused me of doing it until I was able to share what I had done. And yes, after I attempted suicide myself, I was extremely sensitive to the topic.

But being a prof of Psychology and Sociology, I can’t back away from these issues because I talk about them in most of my classes. I’ll admit that the first time I taught about suicide after my attempt, I started crying…right in front of my class. I was so embarrassed because that has only happened a couple of times in my entire 3 decades of teaching, but the incident was still fresh in my mind. When I started crying, I quickly thought of lying to my students and telling them I wasn’t feeling well, etc. but then went back to how hypocritical I had been covering up being bipolar for most of my life. I lecture to my students how you have to live authentically and how there is no shame in having a mental illness or having attempted suicide. With that in mind and after a deep breath, I shared that I had attempted suicide myself and explained where I had been in my life at that time.

As I was talking, I couldn’t believe the reactions of the class…some shed tears and some nodded so genuinely that I knew they had had suicidal ideation themselves. After the lecture was over and resources perused, papers were turned in and this is some of what was written to me (with any identifying info taken out but all words of the students as they were written):

“I think the reason it was so hard for me to watch this film is because I have a history with depression. I will not lie and say I have never had a suicidal thought because I have. I used to be in a dark place with my mind and I am not ashamed of that because of how much I have grown. My chest started to get tight while watching the film because it took me back to that time in my life when I was really unhappy. I paused the film and took a break and it helped me. I thought this documentary was very sad and it shows a part of human life that is not shown that much. Suicide is not talked about as much as it should be. There should be more awareness and conversation.”

“This week was a very hard week for me when going over the material. I personally have battled with thoughts of suicide but never had the courage try anything. I grew up with a bipolar mother and struggled with my own anxiety and depression.”

“This topic is tough for me to discuss. I have lost multiple friends due to suicide. I was also almost a suicide victim myself. I struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. To fully understand the impact of mental health and suicide, I will lay out my story. This is hard for me to do, but I feel it is essential to speak about it.”

“Lastly , I am a survivor of depression and attempting suicide as well. I chose article one because it really touches my life in the last year. My son was self harming by cutting himself on the legs and arms. The day I was told I stopped at nothing trying to find my son’s help. It went from that to last month I found out my son tried x-pills, 2 years of alcohol misuse, becoming withdrawn, rebellious, and just 2 months ago he attempted fighting my daughter and I , he would go from saying he wanted to kill himself, to nobody loving him, to breaking down crying. Glass shattered everywhere, holes in my wall that I’m still trying to get fixed, me trying to console him and my daughter, finally having to call for assistance and watching my son leave by the ambulance screaming he loves me.”

“I can relate to those who express suicidal thoughts, as its something I myself have struggled with. The best way to describe it, is a voice inside your head telling you that no one cares, and your life doesn’t really matter.”

The saddest thing about these comments is that I only picked out these 5 out of the 20 students I had; however, EVERY one of them wrote about their own personal struggles with suicide (the majority) or having a friend or sibling that has attempted or completed. That boggles my mind.

There is so much pain out there. So much loneliness. So much neediness in terms of connection. How horrible that for my students that this has already touched their lives. And from comments in other classes, I also know this class wasn’t an anomaly at all.

Now we talk about triggers which is something I hadn’t heard of or been cautioned about until a few years ago. Us professors are told to tell students when we’ll be studying a subject matter that could be triggering to them and to offer them alternatives. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the research begs to differ.

Take a look at findings published in Clinical Psychology Article:

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.”

Also, Forbes magazine reported this:

“Across all the variations in the studies, trigger warnings had trivial effects. In the words of Mevagh Sanson, senior author of the study, “The results suggest a trigger warning is neither meaningfully helpful nor harmful.” “The format of the presumably upsetting content, whether in text or on video, did not matter. Neither did a personal history of trauma; participants who reported they had experienced actual trauma in their lives responded to the distressing material similarly, regardless of whether it was preceded by a trigger warning or not.”

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education says this:

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.””

What do psychologists think? Let’s take a look-see at an article in Psychological Science:

“Specifically, we found that trigger warnings did not help trauma survivors brace themselves to face potentially upsetting content,” said Payton Jones, a researcher at Harvard University and lead author on the study. “In some cases, they made things worse.” Worryingly, the researchers discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase the extent to which people see trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run.”

So, this sheds all new light in terms of triggers. Not only do they don’t seem to work, but they can also increase the distress of a student.

Now, what are usually seen as triggers? Suicide, eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental illness, sex, murder, death and anything else the professor deems might be triggering to a student.

There’s absolutely no doubt these are very difficult subjects to learn about, but they are very important to understand. Every 11 seconds, another American takes their own life while there’s also 14 people being hurt by their intimate partner. One in 5 Americans live with a mental illness (51+ million people) and someone is raped every 68 seconds.

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Look, these are serious numbers and obviously going to touch all of our lives in one way or another. I once had someone tell me, after a difficult lecture, that ignorance is bliss. Heh? IGNORANCE is bliss? NOT understanding and being oblivious and uninformed is better? For who exactly? You? Us? Me?

If we don’t address these issues…talk about these issues…and learn all we can about them, how in the hell are we going to work at turning these numbers around?

You know, I was really distressed over the sexual abuse I experienced from my psychologist and I’ll be honest: anytime I heard about sexual abuse or rape, I would break out in a sweat and feel like my stomach dropped 10 floors down an elevator. Worse, I started working on a psychology degree and guess what I had to learn all about? I was really nervous when the topic was being presented but the way the professor taught it, I was able to look at it academically and there was truly a comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through was normal. I learned about sexual abuse and realized that if I always turned my head away from it, I would never be able to use what I’d been through to help others. And that’s what I try to do now.

So here’s the answer to the Grand Poobah who is going to be reading this: keep your assignment on suicide. Students can take breaks when reading articles or watching videos but the information is vital. Suicide (as well as so many other topics I mentioned) is an epidemic and NOT talking about it and teaching about it only keeps it hidden away. I want my students to understand why people want to kill themselves…what signs they can look for…how to talk to someone who is suicidal. I want them to know what early signs of domestic violence are and to understand the pathology of mental illnesses. I want them to be educated in the issues that Americans face every day of their lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve had students come to me days after being raped and I would never ever expect them to complete a unit on sexual assault so soon after the traumatic experience…so there’s obvious exceptions to this. But, ignorance is not bliss and the info we teach isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Until we face things and help students to understand that their own experiences can be talked about and explored and validated, we are doing them an injustice. We’re simply keeping everyone in the dark.

Kristi xoxo

“It took all the strength I had not to fall apart…” ~ Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive)

So, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and although I’ve written about this before, it’s such an important problem to understand and address with so many myths abounding about it.

Let’s take a look-see at some facts which clearly illustrate what an epidemic DV truly is:

  • 20 people are physically abused every minute by an intimate partner in the U.S. Total number: 10 million a year. Now take a look at this, peeps: by the time you read through this blog post which I’m going to gauge at 5 minutes, 100 people will have been physically abused by the one person in the world who is supposed to love them. And remember…I said PEOPLE, not women. BOTH men and women experience DV with 1:4 women and 1:9 men experiencing some level of physical violence in their lifetimes. That’s a scary thought.
  • Domestic violence is the #1 leading cause of violent death for women in the U.S. – even more than rape, muggings, and car accidents combined.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year with 90% being an eye-witness. This is heart-breaking to me and we know that kids exposed to DV experience a plethora of behavioral, social, psychological and even physical issues.
  • On average, 3 women are killed by her partner every day (the UK has the same stat). Every. Single. Day. Worldwide, it’s over 50,000 women a year which is about 137 a day. Every. Single. Day.
From The Guardian – the faces of some of the women killed in the UK.

Even scarier? According to an article in TIME: “Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe.” And why? Because COVID has given abusers more tools and more chances to control their victim (COVID doesn’t cause one to be abusive but it can exacerbate abuse). One main thing all abusers do is isolate their victims and the pandemic made this extremely easy to do.

How do we know this for sure? Well, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine found this: In Portland, Oregon public schools closed March 16th, 2020 and residents were quarantined at home beginning on March 23rd; soon after, the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks. The same thing happened in San Antonio, Texas. After schools closed on March 20th, 2020 and stay-at-home orders began March 24th, the San Antonio Police Department experienced an 18% increase in calls pertaining to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019. And, this trend is happening all over the country.

Excellent book by Leslie Morgan Steiner that tells her story of being in a DV relationship and how she was able to leave. It’s available on amazon.com.

In other words, this already horrible problem is worsening.

When I teach about DV in my classes, one of the first questions my students pose is this: “Why does she stay?” which is something VERY wrong to ask about a DV victim. Couldn’t we also say: “Why did she allow herself to get robbed? Hit by a drunk driver? Mugged?” There is no other crime, except rape, where the victim is more often than not blamed and we wonder why victims are reluctant to seek help. (You know, it’s also interesting that the pronoun ‘she’ is always used when asking about victims…men who experience DV are a ‘hidden’ group).

So, I use the Power and Control Wheel to explain why it’s so difficult for victims to leave (this wheel was developed in 1984 for female victims and work has been done on a wheel for male victims which is similar in most regards):

Research Gate
  • Being intimidated and constantly reminded that this person is one to fear (including showing weapons, breaking things, and creating an atmosphere where there’s always the threat of violence).
  • Being beaten down emotionally and made to feel as if they don’t deserve anything better.
  • Being shut off from their family and friends and having every part of their life controlled from computer use, to miles driven in a day, to trackers on phones.
  • Being told that ‘everyone’ has problems, that the abuse wasn’t ‘that bad’ and making light of it, or that the victim caused it themselves.
  • Using the kids: if anyone told me to do something or my son would get hurt, I’d do it in heartbeat. Hands down.
  • Using male privilege in that the man is ‘king of his castle’ and even using scripture to justify the abuse.
  • Using financial abuse by controlling all of the money. You need money to leave and to live.
  • Living in an atmosphere of constant threats. “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” And this is a viable threat since around 75% of victims who die were killed as they attempted to leave the relationship or after the relationship had ended.

There are other reasons why the victim finds it extremely dangerous and difficult to leave:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Trauma bonding which is experiencing powerful feelings it’s difficult to make sense of since the abuse is also alternated with kindness. Also, the person the victim fell in love with is still clear in their mind.
  • The hope for change is strong, and the love from the ‘love-bombing’ stage is powerful. At first, this person is your soulmate! The one person who understands you! The one person who reflects back what they know you want to see! The one person you can confide all your secrets in! And then, after the person has completely fallen in love, the devaluation begins and abuse comes into the relationship…just bit by bit…until the victim is trapped. BTW: love-bombing is not LOVE on the part of the abuser! It’s a manipulative technique used to trap victims.
  • Societal denial (“But he’s a nice man!”)
  • Threats of retaliation (threats of custody; threats to withhold money; threats to interfere with the person’s job; etc.)
  • Access to a shelter that is available, can take kids, is accessible for those that are deaf, disabled, etc. A study in 2017 showed that “…while more than 72,000 victims of domestic violence received services on a single day, nearly 12,000 requests were turned away because programs lacked the resources to help.” Also, shelters are cutting staff due to a lack of resources/funding.

So, are there signs that someone could be an abuser? Red flags? Oh yeah. However, when someone is falling in love, the emotions supercede the rational side of our minds and we either don’t see these signs clearly or rationalize the signs away.

  • Jealousy – “He loves me so much he can’t stand me to be with anyone else!” 🙄
  • Controlling behavior – picking out clothes, looking at phones, insisting on shared social media accounts, etc.
  • Isolation – ‘We only need each other.’
  • Blames others for problems – nothing is ever the abusers fault and they are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions. However, they insist others take total responsibility for anything they perceive was wrong.
  • Hypersensitivity – I once had a partner who called me some pretty horrible names (along with some threats) that I ‘had’ to forgive him for since we were committed to one another, all while being chided for being sensitive. However, when I finally got so angry during an argument and called him a name (which wasn’t a curse word), I never saw him again. Go figure.
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Use force during arguments or ‘playful’ use of it during sex
  • Verbal abuse – names, put-downs, etc.
  • Sudden mood swings – from nice to angry and back again. When I experienced this, I was simply told “I have an anger issue.” Ya think?
  • History and/or threats of violence
  • Also, abusers are also more likely to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Anyhoot, that’s just some info on DV that is so important to understand and so important to share. No one deserves to be abused and this isn’t an individual or a couple problem. It’s a WE problem. The annual cost for DV in the U.S. is estimated to be around $12 billion which includes health care, counseling, emergency services, work missed, etc. There’s also the threat of others being caught in the middle of incidents and 3/4 of victims are harassed at work by their abuser.

Just writing this today has made me sad because whenever I talk about DV, it’s ma’s face I see. Ma was young and vulnerable and heart broken when she met R and he used all of that to his advantage. I saw ma with black eyes, bruises all along her arms/legs/face, with internal injuries, and the list goes on. Plus, I know me and sis didn’t see it all…she tried to cover up as much as she could.

Ma!

I also saw ma go from a vibrant, funny woman to a shell of who she had previously been. To survive R, she drank with him and now has liver damage and esophageal varices that pose a risk to her. For 28 years, the light in ma’s eyes dimmed and a lot of times it was completely out. After she left R and was safe, she slowly started to blossom. Started to live again. Enjoy again. She’s made friends and goes places and is believes in herself more and more. Of course she carries scars from her marriage to R…how could she not? She lived with a monster for 3 decades and was abused throughout. But, ma is strong and has come through on the other side with a new lease on life. We’re so proud of her!

So that’s why I’m passionate about teaching this to my students and writing about it to you, my sweet peeps. This is an epidemic no vaccines or store closings are going to fix. And the saddest part of all? Long after COVID is under control, women will still die everyday because of DV. Kids will be damaged for life. And both men and women will experience assault from the one person they wanted to love forever.

Kristi xoxo

“But you are not alone…I am here with you…” ~ Michael Jackson

So, the beginning of this post is going to show you my ‘Professor K’ side and I hope you’ll bear with me…and maybe learn a new bit of info to boot. In the United States we have awareness months and here is a SHORT list of issues that I feel are particularly important…let’s take a look-see:

  • January:
  • February:
    • American Heart Month – leading cause of death in the U.S. and a person dies of this every 36 seconds.
    • March:
      • Colon Cancer – it’s estimated that around 150,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year and is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
    • April:
      • Autism – 1:54 kids diagnosed each year with boys representing the majority of cases.
      • Child Abuse Prevention – there are 3.6 million referrals to agencies every year which represent 6.6 million kids. Between 4-7 kids die each day due to abuse/neglect.
      • Sexual Assault – 1:6 women and 1:33 men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
    • May:
      • ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s Disease) – 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. 80% die within 2-5 years of their diagnosis.
      • Brain Tumor – 24,530 new cases are diagnosed each year.
      • Mental Heath Awareness – 1:5 adults (with 45% seeking treatment) have a mental illness and 1:20 have a serious mental illness (schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar) with 65.5% getting treatment. 16.5% of youth have a mental illness with 50% receiving help. And, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-34: 46% have a diagnosed mental health condition and 90% have symptoms of one.
    • June:
      • Alzheimer’s – 1:3 seniors die of this each year and 6 million are living with it currently.
    • September:
      • Childhood Cancer – 16,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and it’s the #1 cause of death by disease in children.
    • October:
      • Breast Cancer – 13% of women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over their lifetime as are 2620 men (who are most likely to die from the disease).
      • Domestic Violence – 1:4 women and 1:9 men experience SEVERE physical violence which figures to 20 victims per minute.
      • Bullying – 20% of student are bullied at school and 31% of people have experienced it as an adult. Bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide ideation/completion.
    • November:
      • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – 16 million adults and 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Whew. Now remember, this isn’t all of the awareness months we have…just a sampling of the major physical and mental diseases that are experienced by so many people.

What’s my point? Well…this: around 9% of people have had COVID with 1:6 experiencing severe symptoms; approximately 2% will die from the infection and as of today, there have been 561,052 deaths in the U.S. Yes, COVID is serious and we need to tackle it. (By the way…did you know that during the same time period, 24,000 – 62,000 Americans died from the flu and pneumonia and is the 9th leading cause of deaths yearly? I didn’t. 😳) But, 48,500 people (kids – elderly) die of suicide each year and we take 1 month to highlight it. There’s no vaccine…no daily advice…and very few PSA’s, etc.

Sssssooooo…why do we only take a month to tackle the huge issues we have consistently in the U.S.? One month to focus on mental health when 20% of us have a mental health issue or illness? And, thanks to COVID, this number is increasing. The loneliness and depression people have felt during the pandemic…the stress and anxiety of losing jobs…it’s worsening and I think this trend will continue.

Let me tell you what it’s like to have a severe mental illness, which for me is bipolar: it’s hell. Truly…it’s that simple of a description. Hell. Every single day I’m on this earth I struggle with what’s happening in my mind. I can’t remember ever not having this…it’s been with me for the vast majority of my life. Like I’ve shared before, it was evident something was wrong with me as early as 3rd grade and by the time I was 13, my grandma talked to my mom about her worries regarding my mental health. I attempted suicide in high school and was either so depressed I could barely slog through my days, or I was so manic I could hardly sit still in class and did some really stupid things after school that I’m not real proud of. It was hard for others to handle this, so I really had only 1 close friend, but she was amazing; I know it was sometimes hard on her to be there for me like she was (thank you, M…I love you🥰) .

My brain has a little demon bastard in it. This guy (I picture him as a guy…go figure 🙄) dictates when I’m up and when I’m down. When I can function around other people and when I can’t. When I can go out without either crying or having anxiety or when I have to stay home and try to deal with the panic/mania my brain is producing. It tells me to spend $1000’s of dollars at a time and when I get depressed, it shames me for that money spent so I eat noodles and salad every night to save a few bucks (and remember, my anorexia feeds off of these small menus). It dictates how much love I can give at any one time or compels me to push people away. In other words, this mother fucker (sorry, ma…but you feel the same way about him 😐) has control over me.

Think about that. Control. Other words for control are: Power. Command. Dominance. Pretty strong stuff. ‘Kristi’ is rarely in control…and even when I think I am, it’s only because this guy has loosened his hold for a while and is allowing me that privilege. Look, try to understand it this way: when ma had breast cancer (over 20 years ago and has been fine every since 🙏), she had good days and shitty days. But regardless of how she felt on any given day, she always had the cancer. It was there with her for a year.

In the same way, no matter how those of us with mental illnesses feel…we still have the mental illness. This is why you simply can’t tell someone suffering from depression to ‘cheer up!’ Or someone suffering from anxiety to ‘calm down!’ Or someone suffering from a personality disorder to ‘get right!’. It’s akin to telling someone suffering from ALS to just ‘get up and walk’. See my point?

To be honest, I never knew the strength of my demon-guy until I had a mental breakdown 3 years ago and I realized that he is one strong son-of-a- bitch. He took me from being a fairly confident, secure woman to someone who was absolutely nothing. Everything that had been good in my mind was tossed away and only a shell remained. He filled this shell with suicidal ideation until I attempted again. He told me to cut myself all over my body…and I did. He poured words into my head like ‘worthless’, ‘ugly’, ‘you deserve to die’, and I believed them. In other words? He tried to kill me, and he almost succeeded.

Long after COVID is under control with yearly vaccinations, etc. we will still have people suffering from everything I talked about above. There’s no vaccine for cancer…for sexual assault…for human trafficking…for domestic violence…for child abuse. None. And there never will be.

That’s why it’s so important that we don’t have special ‘months’ where these issues are highlighted; instead, they need to be talked about all year around and publicized continuously. If we can all come together as a society and fight COVID…why can’t we do that with mental illness? Come together and learn how to recognize it in ourselves and others…how to seek treatment…how to help a friend or family member…how to direct people to the resources they need…how to listen…how to help…just how to talk about it.

Yes, I know suicide and mental illness and domestic violence and rape and child abuse and all of these other things are ‘icky’ to talk about. Just like the ASPCA commercials that show abused and dying pets. It kills me to see those and I used to look away. I don’t anymore. I watch them when they come on. Why? Because animals are being abused and killed daily and the only way to stop these commercials is to stop this treatment. I donate to local pet shelters…I rescue dogs…I always tell new puppy owners to spay or neuter their pets…I try my best to do what I can.

From Beacon Health Options

We can’t turn away and say: “I don’t want to see a PSA commercial about suicide while I’m trying to watch Wheel of Fortune.” You know what I don’t want? Someone committing suicide while I’m watching Wheel of Fortune. Why can’t we have these months where we strongly highlight various illnesses/diseases, but still talk about them and learn about them always? Domestic violence awareness shouldn’t end on October 31st. Sexual assault awareness should continue past April. And mental health awareness shouldn’t only be in May. We can’t let these arbitrary ‘months’ and the media dictate what we pay attention too. People are dying every single day due to mental illness. We need more than a month.

The ‘theme’ of this month highlighting mental health is “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” But you know what? When those of us who suffer from mental illness only hear and feel this support for 31 days out of the year, it pretty much feels like we are.

Kristi xoxo

“…Revved up Like a Deuce, Another Runner in the Night.” ~ Bruce Springsteen I

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Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

So, in a post last week, I talked about whether or not love is blind and I said that actually it’s not since we all have our preferences along with what we NEED to see.  But like I do, I’ve been going over that in my mind and started thinking about how love truly is blind in certain circumstances…places where none of us want to go, where we say we would never go, and swear we would leave as soon as the issue is clear.  My son and I were talking about it yesterday, and he said this:  “Love isn’t necessarily blind in the beginning, but it can become blind after the love has taken hold.”  Let’s take a look-see.

For you sweet newbies, my ma was married to R (I won’t say what I usually do when I hear his name in my head but I have to say something so I guess asshole will suffice), for 28 years and although my sis and I knew about it and tried very hard to get her to leave him, she didn’t for all of those years.  In fact, she wouldn’t admit to the abuse until close to the time she was able to get away.  I saw black eyes more times than I can count, black and blue arms, marks by her neck, a beating so bad that she was rushed to the ER and was throwing up blood, and an eye injury so serious I took her to the doctor to make sure she wasn’t going to lose her vision in it.

Now, for the big question:  why the hell did she stay?   The first reason after the initial act (just a ‘little’ slap) was, she told me, almost unbelievable to her.  She grew up with parents who were never violent in any way and my dad treated her very well; she didn’t have any experience with domestic violence so it was out of her realm of comprehension that it could happen to her.  Using my favorite phrase, she was simply gobsmacked and since it was ‘small’, and he profusely apologized, she assumed it was a one-off and wouldn’t happen again.  The second reason?  Because she loved him.  Because she had fallen in love with who she believed to be a good man, and this one incident didn’t change that.  The next dozen didn’t change it.  The love was still there and she said she could compartmentalize the bad and only focus on the good.

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Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Years later, after the abuse intensified , she continued to stay for a myriad of reasons:  he broke her down so far she had absolutely no self-esteem or feelings of worth; he manipulated her thinking to believe she was the cause of the violence; he psychologically abused her to presume she was unlovable and no one else would ever want her, and the list goes on.  In other words, he used the proverbial ‘Game Book’ entitled:  “How to Beat Your Wife and Get Away with it for Decades.”  (Probably the only fucking book he ever read 🤬).

So, she stayed for love in the beginning, and he used that initial showering of love to get away with just enough until she was essentially his prisoner.  I remember my grandma, T, and I sitting down with ma before she even married him and telling her how much we disliked him and were suspicious he was hurting her.  She looked us straight in the eye…  said she loved him…he loved her…and everything was fine.

Hmmmmm.  Love is blind.

After living with R for 5 excruciating years and then having to see him for 23 more, I swore to myself I would NEVER ever ever ever be in a situation like my poor ma found herself in.  Never.  And seeing that written, and remembering how smug I was every time I said it, makes me realize how terribly naive we are when it comes to our hearts.  Those fragile, irrational hearts that can cloud our eyes and dull our senses because all that matters in the end is the love.  Right?

I’m going to be honest with you (because I always try to be), as much as I loved Hubby 3 (shutty the mouthy) and still do…we talk almost daily and are very close…our first 2 years of marriage were horrible.  Like I’ve said before, Hubby came from an extremely physically, verbally abusive home which was coupled with neglect so awful he basically had to raise himself from about the age of 10.  His adult relationships were very volatile with tons of drama, yelling, throwing things, alcohol fueled incidents, etc.  Then he married me, and guess what?  He started re-creating the only dynamic he knew.  So, I got yelled at, accused and berated for the most absurd things which forced drama into our lives, had things thrown at me, had my bathroom door ripped off the hinges because he was upset I had slammed it, had a chair thrown across my kitchen, had my arms grabbed.

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

And I stayed.  Yep…I surely did.  Why you ask?  Because I loved him.  I really really loved him.  I was terrified when he was angry and would cry when he’d scream at me (and once, peed myself 😟), but I loved him.  And guess what?  Love is blind.  But finally, after those first 2 years, I told him this:  “If you ever do anything to me again, you will be out of here and probably in jail.  Period.  You need to grow the fuck up, learn some self-control, and realize I’m the best fucking (sorry for the cussing, ma 😳) thing that’s ever crossed your path.”  And he began too.

Hubby put so much effort into his behavior and words…he truly did.  He made changes that most people wouldn’t think are possible and our last 8 years together were actually very happy and fun.  Yes, we’d butt heads at time, but I’ll tell you what:  he changed into a kind, sweet, loving guy who would run bubble baths for me when I was having a bad day, wrote notes for me every single morning of our lives together to start my day off with a smile, took me to Chicago each year after Christmas for a fancy schmancy time to celebrate the year, and told me he loved and appreciated me more times than I could ever try to count.

Just last week were were yacking on the phone and I told him I was feeling down and here’s what he said:  “Kristi, you are a beautiful woman who is the sweetest person I’ve ever known.  You made me a better man and no one has ever given me the chances you did.  I will always love you for doing that.”  But you know what?  I should have left him the first time he was abusive to me.  The very first time.  But I didn’t because of that love I had for him.  Yes, after 2 years it was ‘worth’ it but the road to get there was NOT guaranteed at all (so please please please don’t think I’m advocating staying with an abusive partner…not at all!) and it could have ended horribly.  I gambled and that time, I ‘won.’  A million to one shot (I think I’m going to buy a lottery ticket today…you never know 😳).

Not so with J who was physically abusive twice, psychologically abusive for most of our 3 years together, verbally abusive countless times, would go into rages (which I now understand to be part of his Borderline PD), and finally was cheating on me in very public ways numerous times (in other words, he never tried to hide it once it started happening) and blaming me for it.  And once again, I stayed.  I had gambled once, and won!  Who’s to say I wasn’t on a streak?

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Photo by Anton Hooijdonk on Pexels.com

Like a broken record, I stayed at first because of the love I had for him.  I loved him with a passion and yearning I’ve never had before and doubt I’ll ever have again.  I can honestly say I felt he was my soulmate.  My forever.  I could see all of the good in him (because like Hubby, there is a lot of good) through the bad.  I kept thinking that all he needs is patience.  Understanding.  Security.  Why?  Because he too grew up in a very abusive home and also had PTSD from his 3 tours overseas.  Of course I needed to stay…for fuck sakes, he needed me!  And I also needed him.

So, I took him back again and again after he’d leave and cheat.  After he’d swear to me about things right before catching him in a lie.  After he put his hands on me.  After he said horrible things to me.  I stayed because I loved him.  Because I was blind to what was outside of that love.  It’s almost like our heart creates a space that doesn’t allow anything ‘bad’ to get in to threaten those feelings.  I had to work my way out of that tunnel I found myself in where I couldn’t see anything but what I wanted to see.  Maybe that’s why people say hindsight is 20/20.  And it really is.

Look, we see what we want to see.  We believe what we want to believe.  We love who we love no matter how irrational it might be.  We are blinded while in love (or at least I’m convinced we are) and that accounts for a lot of things we accept in our relationships.

And I’m going to tell you one more truth today:  Even though I have ‘learned my lesson’ about this phenomenon, I also understand it could happen again.  Because each time we open our hearts to love, we are taking the risk of being overpowered by it.  So, what I’m hoping to remember is this:  to keep my eyes as wide open as I can in the beginning.  Look for red flags.  Trust that intuition.  Let the mind rule the heart while it still has a chance.  Actually, I think that’s something we all need to do.

Kristi xoxo

“…But I Grew Strong, and I Learned How to Get Along.” ~ Gloria Gaynor

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So, something happened last night and when it did, I was quite gobsmacked.  A friend and I were chatting about relationships, and she said, “You know the saying… no one wants a woman who has ever been abused.”

What?  I guess when she said that, 2 things quickly ran through my mind:  first, that a relationship with me is probably not advisable, and second, I am ‘dirty’ or ‘shameful’ for having been in abusive situations.

I guess I can understand the idea of a relationship not being the easiest thing with someone who has been abused…whether man or woman.  There is a lot of baggage we carry and although time can soften those memories or even push them down so far you aren’t really conscious of them, I know how easy it is for those to affect others.  My friend and I have been discussing trust lately and both of us have struggled with situations that have broken it, and let me tell you peeps, nothing breaks trust more than abuse.  Once that happens, and although you tell yourself again and again the next relationship is a new playing field, it’s easy to be wary of how the game is going to be played.

Take cheating.  Please.  Before J cheated on me the first time, I would ask him if he was talking to his ex.  He would look me in the eye, tell me a firm no, and also made me feel that questioning him was wrong because I had nothing to worry about.  And?  Those words meant nothing, because all along he was planning for the moment.  After, when we got back together, he said the same.  He had learned his lesson…saw how much it hurt me…and vowed, eye to eye and holding hands, it would never happen again.  The next day, it did.  Of course, through this all he was emotionally and verbally abusive to me.  In retrospect, which truly is so much clearer than when you are in the midst of something, I could see the purpose in that:  the worse I felt about myself, the more likely he could proverbially have his cake and eat it too.

The-shame-no-one-talks-about-in-sexual-abuse-1

How do you get past that?  How do you allow yourself, in a new relationship, to believe the person when they say the same?  Once you’ve been burned, how do you not assume that all stoves are hot?  It’s almost reflexive…an ‘instinctual’ reaction that has been created to protect you from this happening again.  It’s not that you are ‘blaming’ the new guy/gal for something they haven’t done.  It’s not that you don’t want to believe what they are reassuring you of.  It’s not that they have hurt you.  But unfortunately, our past experiences dictate so many of our future ones, and when something has made such a lasting impact on you, it’s hard to brush it aside.

Now, the idea you should never be with someone who’s been abused?  Hmmmm…gonna narrow your playing field, that’s for sure:  1:3 girls and 1:5 boys will be sexually abused by 18 (scary as fuck, isn’t it?), and about 3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year…and these are only the ones recognized and turned in for help.  So there are an awful lot of victims out there walking around as adults.

What upset me the most about the comment of never being an a relationship with someone who was abused made me feel disgraced.  Embarrassed.  As if I was at fault for what happened.  As if I could have stopped it anytime.

With J, it seems I should have been easily able too.  But like anyone who has been abused by a partner, once you have been manipulated, broken down emotionally, made to feel less than in every situation, it’s tougher than it sounds.  You see, I liken an abusers tactics to fishing (something I actually love to do):  the victim needs to be hooked and then played with so they don’t fight what’s happening.  That’s what abusers do.  They bait their hook based on what they see in you (vulnerability, sadness, loneliness) and use that to catch you and reel you in, all the while making you think you are in a better place.  But it’s not, because it’s a net where everything you wanted was just an illusion.  Then, abusers break down their victim.  It’s not as dramatic as cutting off your head and scaling you, but it’s damaging none the less.  Once you’ve been broken down to the very bottom of who you are, it’s very very tough to pull yourself up…or even believe you should try.  This is so hard for people who haven’t experienced abusive partner relationships to understand.

And then with the psychologist.  I was a teenager when he started sexually abusing me.  I had come to depend on him to where I trusted him with my life.  The power dynamic between a psychologist and client is very one sided, with the professional having all of the influence and advantage.  People seek out help because they are dealing with something that is insurmountable to face alone, and the person they seek help from becomes something of a guru.  A savior.  And once that’s been established, especially in a 15 year old and for 2 years, being able to see it any other way is almost impossible to do.  Then, to be told you owe them…that’s it’s going to be healing for both of you…that it puts you on a higher level than his other patients, is something I needed to hear at that point in my life.  It made me feel like I must be special, and that I must have some power over him too.  I mistakenly believed I was so much better than I had thought for him to see me in a sexual way.  That was a heady thing to someone who desperately needed that validation.

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Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

But it leaves a mark.  A scar.  Like a smudge across your face that everyone can see.  You perceive yourself as being different, because you are.  You’ve been through something that was dirty.  Wrong.  Degrading.  Humiliating.  Hurtful.  The feeling of powerlessness that goes along with such abuse stays with you, whether it’s been 5 or 35 years.  And since having a mental illness feels the same way in terms of feeling different (for lack of a better word), it’s a double whammy.  Having bipolar makes me more sensitive, emotional, more likely to ruminate, etc. so processing the abuse, and then putting it in a compartment to try to ensure it’s effects on new situations are minimal, is tough to do.

When ma was going through her divorce with R who had abused her, she would say how she never addressed it because of the shame it wrought inside of her.  I told her, time and time again, that the shame was on R, not her.  She was the victim.  Not the perpetrator.  I wish I could listen to my own words.

Those of us who have been abused already feel guilt, a sense of betrayal by those who have hurt us, feelings of stigmatization, and damage to our perceptions of our self-worth.   We don’t want to be seen different or damaged.  We want to be seen as survivors who have come through abusive situations with strength.  With lessons to share.  With an experience that allows for empathy.  With more compassion for all who have faced such dark periods in their lives.  Maybe others will never ultimately see it the way I do, but I think it’s admirable.

Kristi xoxo

P.S.  Wanna show me some love, peeps?  Just click on the FOLLOW button on the right! 🙂 xoxo

Let ’em Say It.

So, my sister and I were yacking yesterday (have you noticed that I’m usually talking with someone?) and we started discussing words that people are very apprehensive to say.  Let’s take a look-see:

  • suicide
  • domestic violence
  • cutting
  • depression
  • abuse
  • rape
  • molestation

And the list could go on.

The reason we got on this subject was that we were talking about the Netflix series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”  This little 8 year old boy was brutally murdered by his mother and her boyfriend and suffered horrific abuse all of his life.  The most heart-breaking thing about this poor child was how social services and law enforcement let him down time after time after time, allowing this abuse to continue.  Once, a social worker actually told little Gabriel to quit lying about being hurt by his mom.  Wow.

As my sis (T) and I were talking about this, I told her how incredibly hard this documentary is to watch and how, at that point, I hadn’t finished the last couple of episodes.  So we had this conversation:

“Are you going to finish watching it?”
“Yes, T. But it’s hard to get through…it’s upsetting me so much.”
“Well guess what? What he went through is harder than what you’re watching.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Kristi, how are we going to stop things like this from happening if we can’t face it or talk about it?”

And she is absolutely right (she loves hearing that from me).  There are so many issues we need to acknowledge, learn to talk about, learn to ask about, but for some reason we turn away from them.  Maybe hoping they’ll go away?

In my classes, I talk about a LOT of ‘icky’ stuff;  after all, I teach Psych and Socio so it’s part of the job.  We talk about everything I listed above, and I know how uncomfortable that makes some of my students.  Many of them have never heard the words being used so freely.  And to be honest with you, some of them are still new to me.

Those of y’all that know me have already heard my mom’s story.  She married her 2nd husband (the fucking asshole…sorry, that’s what I say EVERY TIME I think of him.) when I was in high school and they were married for 28 years.  During those 28 years, he beat her, strangled her, slammed her head against the ceramic tile in the bathtub more times than she can count, and mentally tortured her until she turned to alcohol to dull some of the pain.  It took so much to do so that she developed cirrhosis of the liver and has esophageal varices.  She finally came to me at 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 13th, 2011 (yep, I remember it to the minute) and said this:  “You said you would help me and I can’t take it anymore.  He’s going to kill me if I stay.”  Hubby 3 and I called the police, got a restraining order, got his stuff out, installed an alarm system, etc.  You know, T and I spent 28 years trying our best to help her, but like many of you know, until the person is ready, all you can do is be there the best you can.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

To this day, there are still people in our family that won’t use the words domestic violence in regards to what mom went through.  They won’t say that R beat the shit out of her, once to the point where she was throwing up blood in the ER with her back looking like someone water colored it purple (I will never forget that sight as long as I live).   They don’t want to admit that mom had black eyes more times they can remember (but chose to ignore), because talking about DV just isn’t OK.  In fact, some of them are actually friends with this monster on social media (Yes, he is a monster.  His 3rd wife died of a stroke she suffered after R threw her against a wall).  Well…I guess ignoring it makes it go away right?  (By the way, mom has been sober now for over a decade…T and I are so proud of her!).

NO!  Things like abuse, rape, suicide, and molestation thrive in secrecy.  And for years, my sis and I kept the ‘secret’ too.  We didn’t want to face what R was doing to mom and mom wouldn’t admit to anything;  but we knew we finally had too.  We HAD too.  We had to let the secret out so mom would know we were there for her, that we knew what was happening.  Mom talks about it now and is open with her experiences.  It’s no longer just ‘something in C’s marriage’, or ‘R is just crazy’, etc.; it was ABUSE.  Serious abuse that could have killed her, but by the grace of God, didn’t.

Mom’s guilty of sugar-coating things too though.  After my formal diagnosis of bipolar, she would tell her friends about “Kristi’s problem” , “Kristi’s condition.”  Finally, I said this to her (and I wish you could hear my screechy voice to get the full effect), “MA. I have bipolar.  I’m fucking mentally ill.  Get it?” She laughed…and yes, she got it.

Take suicide.  Sometimes people will ask me, “What was it like when you tried to hurt yourself?”  And I say, “You mean when I attempted suicide?”  Say what it is, man!  It’s OK to use the word.  I didn’t try to hurt myself.  I tried to KILL myself.  There’s a difference, isn’t there?

Yep.  I’ve also cut.  A lot.  In fact, if I EVER get a new partner (that’s a slim chance, peeps), I’m going to be most worried about him seeing the scars.  Anyhoot, I’m not going to lie about the scars people see.  “Oh my God…were you in an accident?”  “No.  I cut myself.  I’m bipolar, I was going through a terrible breakdown, and I used a razor blade and cut myself numerous times.  Luckily, I’m doing better now…thanks for asking.”  People look gobsmacked when I say that, but hey, it’s the truth.

How is it a little boy can be fatally abused while scores of people obviously turned their heads?  How can molestation go on for years in a household when there are obvious signs to what’s happening?  Why is it we say “How ya doing?” as we walk by someone who is looking down, instead of saying “Hey, you look really depressed.  Is something going on with you?  Would you like to talk?”

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

One of my students came to me a few months ago, and I knew she was trying to tell me something, but just couldn’t get it out.  Knowing she’d been depressed, I said this:  “Are you thinking about suicide?”  She literally gasped and started crying.  She said: “You said it.  You said suicide.  You SEE me.”  And yes, I did.

I know these words…these issues…these horrible problems are hard to discuss.  Uncomfortable to talk about.  Not ‘polite’ conversation.  And here’s what I say about that (in me and my sister’s words):  “Who fucking cares?!”

If we don’t ask a friend about her bruise, how will she know we are there to help and support her (or him) if it is abuse?  If we don’t look in the eyes of a child who is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse and ask them if anyone is touching them inappropriately, how will they find the strength to share their ‘secret?’  If we don’t use the words rape when a drunk girl is assaulted at a party while passed out, how can we ever punish the offenders and make sure they can’t hurt another girl again for a long time?  If we see a teen (or an old lady of 53) with multiple bandaids in odd areas and never ask if they are cutting themselves, how will they know others are suffering that same compulsion too?

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Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

My God…think about this.  We can’t use these uncomfortable words, so the consequence is to keep our heads buried while people continue to be hurt?  Really?  I’m sure when mom hears the words Domestic Violence, it isn’t as bad as when R had her on the floor with his hands around her neck, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe.  Right?

For fucks sake (I only use that word to make ma cringe and my sis laugh every time they read my blog), we have to address these issues head on.  Not use the vocabulary that tiptoes around the problem, but words that lay it out there bare.  Naked.  For all of us to see.  Because until we do that, grasshoppers, little sweet Gabriel isn’t going to be the only victim to be let down by us all.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

 

 

Discussion on Domestic Violence Victims

In one of my classes, we are currently talking about Domestic Violence and a discussion ensued yesterday regarding whether or not victims love themselves prior to getting into a relationship with the abuser.

Some of my students said you can love yourself, but still fall for the abuser because of their manipulation, idolization, and mask they wear.  Others said that only someone who didn’t love themselves would fall for that…would be vulnerable to their attention.

But, here’s the thing:  abusers are smart.  They are predators.  They know how to bait their hooks and trap their prey.  NO ONE would stay with a person who beat them on the first date!  Of course not!  All of my students say they would never ever stay with an abuser, but the truth is that many of them might do just that because what they don’t realize is how insidious the abuse is.  Abusers start out by idolizing you.  Making you feel like you’re the most special person in the world who can share anything and everything with them.  They are your soul-mate and once that’s felt, the hook has been set.  The next step is chipping away at what confidence, esteem, and love they have for themselves; slowly these things are chiseled away and the abuser is getting you to a place where you aren’t who you used to be.  They are devaluing you…making you feel less than…and eventually, your emotional/psychological boundaries have been compromised.  Also, that stuff you felt you could share with them?  That’s being used against you now.  They know your ‘weak spots’ and will use them any way they can.  Then, physical boundaries start to be tested.  A grab here.  A push there.  All the while seeing what your reaction is.

Have you ever heard the myth of a frog in boiling water?  It goes like this:  put a frog into a pot of boiling water and he’ll squeal and do anything he can to hop out.  BUT, put him in tepid water and turn the heat up very low to where the boiling is a process.  Because it’s so slow, the frog never fights it.  It’s in an environment that slowly becomes natural to them.

Now, even though I truly believe that anyone can be a victim of abuse by an abuser, I do believe that vulnerability to abusers can be attributed to different things.

  • First, I do think situations we go through can make us more needful of attention.  Partnership.  Togetherness.  It can validate someone who’s been rejected.  Abandoned.  Although we all need our own internal sense of self and self-love, external experience of this is important to us too.  
  • I also believe certain emotional traits can be seen in victims.  In this article, by Dr. Toby Goldsmith, he says that women of DV often:
    • have a poor self image
    • have low self-esteem
    • believe, unrealistically, they can change their abuser
    • feel a sense of powerlessness
    • believe that jealousy is ‘proof’ of love
  • Along with this, I believe personality traits can be tied to victimization too.  For example, people who are highly empathic have more sensitivity…they can align themselves with people more and feel with everything they have inside of them.  It’s more than just their heart that feels…it’s all of them that feels.  They are capable of giving so much in a relationship, and might believe that their care and love will ‘fix’ an abuser.  A great book to read regarding this is: The Empaths Survival Guide by Judith Orloff.
  • I’m a huge believer in the MBTI (You can take a free, online test and learn more about this assessment tool here: Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and feel there are some aspects of personality as described by the MBTI that could be correlated to DV:
    • Extroverts – extroverts often have difficulty with boundaries and let people in more easily than others.
    • Introverts – are often more isolated which is something attractive to abusers.  Also, they are more prone to depression and may also take on more blame because of ruminating over the situation and seeing blame in themselves.
    • Intuitionists – although you would think people with strong intuition would be BETTER at determining someone could be abusive, I believe (based on my own experience) that the gut feelings instead say things like this:  “But, I know there’s a good person in there!”  “I can tell they are suffering too, and I just need to figure them out.”
    • Feelers – feelers tend to make decisions based more on a personal, emotional level (thinking with their hearts more than their heads) and tend to personalize situations which can lead them to feeling guilt or culpability in abusive situations.  
  • In terms of mental disorders/illnesses, I think the following can be tied into victimization:
    • Borderline Personality Disorder
    • Dependent Personality Disorder
    • Bipolar Disorder
    • Depression 
    • Anxiety Disorders
  • I also study a lot about attachment.  The attachment babies make to their first caregiver, usually their mothers, makes the ‘framework’ for all other future attachments.  This attachment can be secure or insecure:
    • Secure attachment makes the baby, and then later adult feel that:  
      • They’re lovable as they are
      • They are important and valued
      • They are worth protection and understanding
      • They are safe
    • Insecure attachment makes people feel that:
      • They’re not good enough to protect and keep safe
      • They have little value and are unimportant
      • They are not worth soothing and understanding
      • Because of these, insecurely attached individuals feel unsure of themselves in relationships and live with feeling that they aren’t worth their partners love and effort.  
    • Obviously, my belief is those with insecure attachments (one being the avoidant type and the other being the ambivalent type) don’t see the value, worth, and loveableness they have and will stay with an abuser out of insecurity and perhaps the feeling that they don’t deserve any better.
    • Lastly, we can’t ignore the fact that people who grow up in abusive homes have a much higher chance of becoming abusers, or victims, themselves.  In the PBS documentary No Safe Place, it’s said: “We (also) know that women who come from a family in which they witnessed their mother being battered are more susceptible to developing what is called ‘battered women’s syndrome’.  Such women may come to believe there is nothing they can do to get out of an abusive relationship.”  

So, the answer to understanding the ‘whys’ behind women and abuse are complicated, and can be a combination of everything above, or circumstances unique to the victim themselves. 

The take away is this:  abused women and men should never be judged for being, or staying, in a domestically violent relationship.  The dynamics of power, control, physical/verbal/psychological/sexual abuse, isolation, financial issues, threats, using children as tools of manipulation, ownership of weapons, lack of family/social support, etc. can all make it difficult through impossible for the victim to leave safely, even if the abuse is severe.  No one deserves to be abused.  NO one.  But every victim deserves our compassion. 

    Kristi xoxo

    Too Much Pain :(

    So, I’m watching “Rocketman” this morning and I just start crying.  You have this prodigy, who’s talent is incredibly rare, but whose life was full of pain for decades.

    I hate all the pain I see in people.  And I see it everyday.

    I have students who hug on me, follow me, confide in me and I wonder where their family is.  Their friends.  How did they get to this point in their life without the comfort, love, and support they so desperately need?

    Then, I talk about horrible things in my classes:  rape, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying.  And I NEVER, EVER give any of these lectures without at least 5 students reaching out to me afterwards to tell me they’d be a victim of the topic.  EVER.

    How many students do this?

    I hear stories from students about being sexually abused by a family member when they were as young as 3.  Or raped as a high schooler, but not being able to tell anyone because they felt the shame was theirs.  Or students who grew up with violent parents, and who tried to shield their siblings from the worst of it.  Or women who left an abuser after years because they realized it was either that, or facing the possibility that their next beating could be their last.  Or guys who have told me they are gay, but had to put on this ‘tough’ persona in front of family and friends, because they knew if they didn’t, they would be bullied and ostracized by those they cared for the most.

    So many people out there are in pain.  So many have stories we can’t imagine.  And here’s the thing:  until we start really seeing people, and not shying away from actual connection; until we start asking the WHY behind behavior instead of just punishing it or judging it; until we ask people how they are and truly stop to listen;  until we look at a kid and see they need a hug instead of discipline;  until we drop our own masks and show that it’s ok to not be ok, things are never going to change.

    How is it we live in what’s supposed to be this connected world, yet people are more lonely and disconnected than ever?  How can we let so many people suffer in silence?  And why can’t we say the simple words of  “I care?”

    Maybe this needs to be reversed.

    Kristi xoxo

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