There have been so many tragedies this past month or so, that it feels we are a nation in mourning. And in shock. Police officers being murdered on two different occasions, the tragic attack in Nice, France that left so many dead… When I drive down the street and see American flags, some are at half-staff and some at full height. It has occurred to me that with so many tragedies, it is difficult to keep up with knowing at what height the flag should be displayed. It is up to the President of the United States to determine when and for how long flags are lowered, and keeping abreast of those proclamations—well, it requires a lot of attention.
If you are a law enforcement officer anywhere in this country, or if you know or love an officer, I am very sorry for your loss. Though law enforcement is not my specialty, it is clear that the loss of any officer in such a brutal way, is a loss to the entire law enforcement community. No one should have to fear being ambushed on or off the job.
We are a nation in shock. In mourning. In anger. In confusion. In trauma. A lot of us may not know what to think. But none of it is good.
And a lot of us feel powerless. What is one person to do against the possibility of a next assailant? I am sure a lot of people are puzzling over this. And I do have an answer. No, it does not involve prevention, though I would love to have an answer for that. And anything that could prevent a disaster would be publicized far more widely than this blog ever will.
We are in serious need of comfort. Let us, please, go out of our way to be kind to one another. It won’t fix things, but it can make them more bearable. And you never know, maybe the person on the receiving end of your smile or kind words is in more dire need of your kindness than you will ever know. Maybe they will feel inclined to follow your example, to be a little kinder themselves. Maybe we can start with a smile, a comforting word, a sincere compliment, holding a door open, letting someone ahead of us in traffic…
This just feels to me like something that can’t hurt, and just may help some people find some joy in the midst of all this sorrow. So let’s get started.
An acquaintance of mine (No, mot a client) sought counseling after suffering abuse that would rival stories more likely to be heard from oppressed women in third-world countries. The counselor’s response? “You read too much; those things don’t happen.” I’m amazed this person kept trying till they found someone to take them seriously.
In contrast, when I survived an abusive situation several years ago and attended a support group, I was immediately believed. That was incredibly therapeutic.
To be fair, there is the occasional person who lies about being abused, usually with some ulterior motive in mind such as gaining a legal advantage. These people make it more difficult for true victims, and should be ashamed of themselves. The overwhelming majority, however, are far more likely to understate the extent of their suffering, and are not at all prone to exaggeration.
This need to be heard, and believed, applies to a plethora of situations and/or experiences. For those who have never heard of Re-evaluation Co-counseling—yes, I am aware that that is the overwhelming majority of the population—it is a movement instituted by Harvey Jackins and is geared toward non-professionals. In a nutshell, 2 or more people share their stories with one another, process the attendant emotions, and ultimately reach resolution. The theory is that processing of the emotions, what Freud referred to as catharsis, is necessary and sufficient for coming to terms with an individual’s angst.
The part I find interesting is, a group member may not wish to share their actual story. They are sometimes told “Then make a story up; it will have the same emotional content.” (Sometimes I wonder if histrionics who invent lies for attention have this end in mind.)
Memory can be a funny thing. Often people will recall the gist of an event but details will get confused. Memories are frequently “chunked” with other memories. Essentially, when the details of a story turn out to be inaccurate, this does not mean a person is lying; they are giving you their own best and most honest recollection.
As a counselor, it is not my job to grill a client regarding the accuracy of their recollection. My job is to help them process the event and help them develop the best possible coping skills and help to make peace with their own unique traumatic history. This starts with listening to, and believing, their story.
For six years, I taught college psychology classes. Every one received a unit, at my insistence, regarding the signs of a potential abuser, about how domestic and intimate partner abuse is almost always driven by the abuser’s desire for power and control. I often listed the people I knew personally who had lost their lives to this scourge. (No, I didn’t know any of them well.)
Somehow, I failed to mention one person: Thane Griffin. I had been listing female victims of intimate partner abuse, and Thane Griffin was a man murdered by another man he had never met. Yet he was arguably a victim of this type of abuse, and was one victim in a high-profile murder spree in November, 1995–the shooter was Jerry Hessler.
Mr. Griffin had a daughter, Laura, who had apparently refused so much as a first date with Hessler. She ultimately married and moved to Hawaii with her husband. Laura’s parents, Thane and Sue Griffin, continued to reside in Ohio, where Mr. Griffin was ultimately gunned down in the doorway of his own home.
Thane Griffin was the fourth victim of fatal gunshot wounds. The other three were a woman who had ended their relationship, the husband she had later married, and their baby girl Amanda, who she was holding in her arms in an attempt to protect her. Hessler made an attempt on the entire family of another woman who had broken up with him over a decade ago, and at least two people suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds that night; details are available on the internet.
Hessler had been hospitalized numerous times for mental issues involving threats of violence, yet these victims were ultimately unable to protect themselves despite being on the lookout.
Laura Griffin would likely have been murdered had she become involved in a relationship with this man. When he didn’t get his way and she was out of his reach, he murdered her father instead. This is how far the worst of these abusers will go.
Mercifully, most cases don’t end like this. Most targeted or potential victims find a way out, though it may involve some scary and difficult times. Even top experts cannot predict with certainty just who will “snap,” who will ultimately kill.
Is there a point to this, besides just making your hair curl? Yes, and it is pretty basic: If someone isn’t ready to leave a bad situation, please be aware that they may know–not always consciously, but on some level–that they are dealing with someone whose anger could be lethal.
Never, ever advise a friend in danger to just leave willy-nilly. Make sure they have a safety plan; domestic violence shelters are very good at that. Suggest they call their local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). There is no shame in needing help.
This column is in memory of all victims, but I especially wish to honor Jean Ann Dodds, Paul Thane Griffin, Emily Suzanne Rykwalder, Joyce Elaine Agriesti, Susan Henslee, Mary Pat Kington, and Kathleen Curtis.
I am sorry you have felt humiliated by the media attention to your husband’s violence toward you. Hopefully, you will come to learn that no one can shame you: They can shame only themselves.
When it comes to the thought of leaving someone you have only recently married and with whom you have a child: He can likely convince you that the courts will grant him full custody and leave you unable to protect your child. According to Lundy Bancroft, abusive fathers do petition for custody at twice the rate of non-abusive fathers. An excellent attorney is essential to protecting your interests.
What message is your highly-publicized abuse giving to others? The media is loving that this story has so much traction. Others who are currently being victimized (this includes some men–and not all abuse is in traditional male-female relationships) are watching your case to assess if they can safely leave. Some are still deciding, balancing the good with the bad. They, and you, need to realize that absent a minimum of a year’s participation in a program designed specifically for domestic abusers, the bad will only get worse. (I am not referring to Anger Management programs. An abuser’s anger is perfectly managed, and directed laser-like at the victim.) It ends in death with alarming frequency.
Maybe your protests to the media indicate simple posturing in order to keep yourself alive; it would make perfect sense.
If a man is strong enough to play professional football, surely he knows his hands are potentially lethal weapons. It puzzles me that prosecutors seem to have made no mention of this.
The most dangerous time for a victim is in the act of leaving. I would never wish for you to leave without an airtight plan, for your safety and that of your child. You can’t just grab your things and go. That is way too risky.
Your being well-known will not prevent your local shelter from hearing your story and working with you. Or maybe you have a different way out.
If you don’t take some self-protective action, I worry that you could turn into the next Kasandra Perkins. Remember Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Jovan Belcher’s girlfriend who was shot in front of their 3-month-old child before he turned the gun on himself? Please, do not let that be you.
Yes, parental alienation is real. The DSM-V (the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, that thick book your therapist pulls out in order to define the answer to What’s your problem?)–that tome that is utilized by everyone in the mental health professions–specifies that certain behaviors are considered psychological abuse of a child. (Previous editions only acknowledged physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect of a child.) These behaviors include berating the “alleged offender” (usually the other parent) in the child’s presence, and telling the child that person will harm or abandon them. This is done skillfully and often at the hands of alienators (targeting parents).
Fortunately, most parents do not alienate their children from the other parent, at least not intentionally. It does occur sometimes by accident, as parents may be careless about the words they utter when the children are within earshot. And there are many instances of low-level alienation that tend to work themselves out with time.
Some children are amenable to becoming alienated; others are not. Thank goodness for the invulnerability of those others.
If you have a friend whose children inexplicably reject him or her, please do not reassure your friend that children always come around. Some do; some don’t.
If you or a friend sees the beginnings of inexplicable rejection, I highly recommend reading “Co-Parenting With a Toxic Ex” by Amy J. L. Baker and Paul R. Fine. It is basically a workbook, an excellent step-by-step guide for parents who need to both recognize and counteract whatever is going on. Some suggestions sound counterintuitive; don’t give up before you read the explanations.
Some children are alienated by the same person who abused their mother (or father). There is a major element of control and sometimes revenge. The children are frequently so hateful to the targeted parent that it is tempting to just give up. Please don’t; your children need both parents (absent one or both parents being an actual physical danger to them).
Some of the signs of potential parental alienation that have resonated with me are:
When they complain about how awful the targeted parent is, the complaints are often over miniscule issues, such as “She/he wouldn’t buy me the $250 shirt I wanted.” Sometimes the children will blatantly lie about the targeted parent. They feel no compunction to treat this parent with even basic courtesy, such as thanking them for huge gifts. (And don’t think this won’t carry over to how they behave in the larger world.) The words they use in their tirades are often the exact phrases that have been previously used by the targeting parent.
A favorite scheme of targeting parents is “erase and replace,” meaning that children are often taught that Dad (or Mom) no longer deserves that title. Children are made to call the new stepparent Dad or Mom, and to call the actual parent by their first name whenever the targeting parent is around. Vacations are often planned by the targeting parent in direct conflict with the target’s court ordered parenting time. Or the less-favored parent is invited to come to school events and then made to sit far away from the child and to not be acknowledged in any way. Sometimes the targeting parent manages to “one-up” every gift from the targeted parent: Dad saved his money to take the child to the play she always wanted to see, so Mom then takes her to New York to see the Broadway version.
As you can see, this teaches children to be manipulative. It is clearly not good parenting. But there is hope.
Amy J. L. Baker and Paul R. Fine have done excellent research. I highly recommend “Co-Parenting With a Toxic Ex” as a guidebook to minimize and counteract the negative messages your child may receive.
Domestic and Intimate Partner Abuse and Violence continue to be a major societal problem, sometimes even resulting in the victim’s death. Despite massive increases in awareness and education, people continue to be victimized on a daily basis.
As a mental health counselor, I see people with numerous complaints who fail to recognize the pattern of abuse until they see the Power and Control Wheel (featured in the DV section of my web page). I also see that rare individual who has committed isolated acts of abuse and sincerely wants to stop (and quickly succeeds).
I am talking, rather, about the probably 99 percent of cases that fit the profile of someone who insists on power and control, and many will stop at nothing.
Many victims receive needed assistance through local domestic violence shelters, 24-hour hotlines, support groups, and victim advocates. Some will elect to engage the services of a professional mental health counselor.
Not every counselor or psychologist is an expert on domestic abuse, any more than all can be expected to specialize in bulimia or post-partum depression. It is essential to find someone who understands the dynamics and has the ability to work with the trauma that often results. Some helpful hints in choosing such a counselor include:
Ask them about their specific background in this field.
Inquire about how they will respect your specific belief system.
Run like the dickens if you are told that you need to stay and work it through, for religious or other reasons.
Avoid joint counseling if you have the tiniest inkling that what you say in session may be used against you later, or if you have even the smallest apprehension. Misguided attempts at couples counseling can further endanger the victim.
Ask yourself if you feel you are being taken seriously. This is essential.
Do you feel you are being treated with respect?
Will you feel comfortable sharing your secrets? (If the answer is No, that does not impugn the professional. But you will do your best work if the two of you are a good “fit.”)
I would love nothing more than to work my way out of a job, as regards working with abuse victims. Every time someone gets the help they need, we move a bit closer toward that goal.
This past October 22, “Dear Abby” published a letter, to which I responded on uexpress.com/dearabby on October 29. She has not published my response or any response with a similar sentiment, which is sad, because it is some good free advice. Because it is well worth sharing with anyone who reads my web page, here goes:
I am writing in response to “Concerned in the Midwest” whose wife is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from abuse by her previous husband. You suggested counseling, and I agree. I am a mental health counselor in Ohio, so it’s pretty clear I would be in favor of counseling.
“Concerned” states that his wife flinches or panics if he brushes her hair from her face or makes a sudden movement; this is a typical PTSD reaction.
The bad news is, many (maybe most) people will not seek counseling no matter how badly they need it. The good news is, there are things a person can do without the aid of a counselor, that can help to de-sensitize them to whatever makes them flinch.
“Concerned” might, with his wife’s express permission, let her know he is about to brush her hair back from her face, then couple that with a hug, or a kind word…After doing this several times, always with his wife’s knowledge and full agreement, his wife is likely to not feel so threatened. This is based on the plasticity of the brain, the fact that the brain is continuously re-wiring itself, so that this woman’s beloved husband brushing the hair back from her face now is likely to be experienced as pleasant, and does not (or at least not as much) trigger the traumatic memories of her abusive ex. (If this instead makes matters worse, it is important to quit immediately, to do no harm.)
It’s worth a try. If this couple was in my office, I would surely be suggesting this.
I have one more letter behind my name now. Just one, not a set. I am now an LPCC, or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, when I was formerly an LPC, or Licensed Professional Counselor. That extra “C” does make my life easier. As of this past October 7, I no longer need to have a supervisor sign off on diagnoses and correspondence. And I clients write their checks directly to me. Yup, counseling law required that as an LPCC I not collect my own money. The extra “C” did mean I jumped through enough hoops to satisfy the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. (I know, it’s a mouthful.) I got a criminal records check–which was a real accomplishment because it is hard to get my fingerprints. I completed and documented 3,000 hours. And of course additional hours were missed due to my sometimes forgetting to post them, so I’m sure I did way more than was necessary there. This included a huge amount of supervision–though I got lucky on that score. Running a private practice, I chose and paid my own supervisor. Where else do you get to choose your own boss? And my supervisor, plus a former supervisor who covered a very few hours back in the very beginning, filled out their own double-secret documentation for the Board. (Double-secret as in, I was not permitted to read it.) And I filled out a form. And I sent them a cashier’s check! That was the magic action, I’m thinking. I am happy, my clients are happy, and I’m guessing even the Board is happy. You’ve all experienced this at some point, though: You go through a major life change: getting married, getting that degree, getting the promotion you had your eye on…and then you wake up the next morning and the change matters, but you are still the same person you were before. Luckily, I liked the person I was before. And now the difference is I am a few days older and I have one more letter behind my name.
A couple months ago it was my turn to learn to accept help. I hate it. I want to be totally self-sufficient at all times, or at least to maintain the illusion that I am. I had foot surgery (from which I have recovered).
Darned if my husband wasn’t called away right after the surgery. And darned if he didn’t make sure I had someone in the house to bring me food, etc. You know…to wait on me hand and foot. The agency sent a very kind and capable woman. And I resisted. No, I wasn’t mean to her; I just didn’t utilize anywhere near all the services she was willing to offer.
I have to be macho, after all. Never mind that I was hobbling around on crutches.
Making better use of these services would have been a great opportunity to heal with more ease and comfort.
This is a reminder to me of why people hesitate to reach out for help when they are dealing trauma, grief, or other issues. Many of us revert to our 2-year-old self–you know, the one who grabs the coat out of mom’s or dad’s hand and puts both arms in the same sleeve rather than feel the least bit dependent.
Years ago, I heard the expression “First you adjust, then you re-adjust, and then you maladjust.” I did that with my bunioned feet till it didn’t make sense to maladjust any more. With surgery, there is a short time when the pain is greater than it was before, followed by the joy of healing.
Similarly, a counseling experience will likely help you feel better by degrees, but there is always a risk of emotional pain when dealing with unpleasant issues. Ask anyone who has had successful therapy, however, and they will almost invariably tell you it was well worth it.
One issue I come across, a lot, is abuse. And abusers frequently work hard at convincing their victims that their memories are false. Kind of like a person who intentionally trips you as you run past, then makes a big show of helping you up while commenting the entire time how they really tried to prevent the fall. A gymnast could begin to question his or her sense of balance.
This is frequently referred to as “crazy making,” the serious effort to convince you that you didn’t see what you know you saw, hear what you know you heard, or experience what you are absolutely certain you experienced.
When it comes to traumatic memories from further back in time, there is controversy about their accuracy. This controversy works like crazy-making: the victim cannot recover from a trauma that they are being told did not occur. A refusal to believe someone who is reporting severe trauma and/or pain leaves that victim without an ally.
There is even a False Memories Syndrome Foundation. According to wikipedia.com, numerous members of this group have actually been convicted of abuse. The Book The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis states that “If you feel something has happened, it probably has; details may vary but the essence is there.”
Jennifer Freyd, Ph.D., author of Betrayal Trauma, talks about how the body remembers traumatic events. She mentions research in which children who had suffered early traumas they did not recall, were put in a room full of toys, and acted out exactly what had happened! (Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. also has significant research in this area of body memory.)
This Foundation has led many to believe there is actually such a thing as False Memories Syndrome. According to the recently released DSM-V, which has been criticized for excessive diagnoses, there is no such diagnosis.
This creation of a phony syndrome has made it more difficult for professionals and their clients to collaboratively resolve traumatic events.