Thursday, January 18, 2007

wise words from Lundy

Hello! I've missed you, blog. I've been busy in the last couple of weeks. Therapy has been intense, work is crazy-busy, I started a poetry class that is really great, and I turned 35! I have a lot to write about, but little time to do it in. I do want to follow up on my last post, though.

My bad relationship list has a lot of commonalities with lists in Why Does He Do That?, and since Lundy Bancroft is the expert on bad relationships, the following is excerpted from his book. If you have been in abusive relationships in the past and are worried that you don't know how to avoid another one, or if you suspect or know you are in an abusive relationship currently, I highly recommend this book. Your intuition and experience is your best guide, but one of the worst things about abuse is it causes you to doubt your own perceptions, feelings, and intuition. It takes time to learn to trust yourself, but in the meantime, knowledge is power. This book is an eye-opener.

Why Does He Do That? : Inside the minds of angry and controlling men by Lundy Bancroft; New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2002.

"How can I tell if a man I'm seeing will become abusive?

He speaks disrespectfully about his former partners.
A certain amount of anger and resentment toward an ex-partner is normal, but beware of the man who is very focused on his bitterness or who tells you about it inappropriately early on in your dating. Be especially cautious of the man who talks about women from his past in degrading or condescending ways or who characterizes himself as a victim of abuse by women. Be alert if he says that his previous wife or girlfriend falsely accused him of being abusive; the great majority of reports of abuse are accurate...

He is disrespectful toward you.
If a man puts you down or sneers at your opinions, if he is rude to you in front of other people, if he is cutting or sarcastic, he is communicating a lack of respect. Disrespect also can take the form of idealizing you and putting you on a pedestal as a perfect woman or goddess. The man who worships you in this way is not seeing you; he is seeing his fantasy, and when you fail to live up to that image he may turn nasty. So there may not be much difference between the man who talks down to you and the one who elevates you; both are displaying a failure to respect you as a real human being...

He does favors for you that you don’t want or puts on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable.
These can be signs of a man who is attempting to create a sense of indebtedness…

He is controlling.
...Control usually begins in subtle ways, far from anything you would call abuse. He drops comments about your clothes or your looks (too sexy or not sexy enough); is a little negative about your family or one of your good friends; starts to pressure you to spend more time with him; starts to give too much advice about how you should manage your own life and shows a hint of impatience when you resist his recommendations; or begins to act bothered that you don't share all of his opinions about politics, personal relationships, music, or other tastes.

He is possessive.
...Jealous feelings are not the same as behaviors. A man with some insecurities may naturally feel anxious about your associations with other men, especially ex-partners, and might want some reassurance. But if he indicates that he expects you to give up your freedom to accommodate his jealousy, control is creeping up. Your social life shouldn't have to change because of his insecurities...

Nothing is ever his fault...

He is self-centered...

He abuses drugs or alcohol...

He pressures you for sex.
...Not respecting your wishes or feelings regarding sex speaks of exploitativeness, which in turn goes with abuse. It also is a sign of seeing women as sex objects rather than human beings...

He gets serious too quickly about the relationship.
Because so many men are commitment-phobic, a woman can feel relieved to find a partner who isn't afraid to talk about marriage and family. But watch out if he jumps too soon into planning your future together without talking enough time to get to know you and grow close, because it can mean that he's trying to wrap you up tightly into a package that he can own...

He intimidates you when he's angry.
...The more deeply involved you become with an intimidating man, the more difficult it will be to get out of the relationship...getting away from someone who has become frightening is much more complicated than most people realize, and it gets harder with each day that passes. Don't wait around to see.

He has double standards.
Beware of the man who has a different set of rules for his behavior than for yours...

He has negative attitudes towards women...

He treats you differently around other people...

He appears to be attracted to vulnerability.
I have had quite a number of clients over the years who are attracted to women who are vulnerable because of recent traumatic experiences in their lives, including many who have started relationships by helping a women break away from an abusive partner and then start to control or abuse her themselves. Some abusive men seek out a woman who comes from a troubled or abusive childhood, who has health problems, or who has suffered a recent severe loss, and present themselves as rescuers...At the same time, I have observed that there are plenty of abusive men who are not particularly attracted to vulnerability or neediness in women and who are more drawn to tougher or more successful women. This style of abuser appears to feel that he has caught a bigger fish if he can reel in an accomplished, self-confident women to dominate." (pages 114-121)

"Since abuse can sneak up on a woman, beginning with subtle control or disrespect that gains intensity over time, some burning questions emerge: How do I know when my partner is being abusive? Is there a distinct line that I can keep my eye on, so that I know when he has crossed it? How much is too much? Since nobody's perfect, how do I know the difference between a bad day when he's just being a jerk and a pattern that adds up to something more serious?

...The term abuse is about power; it means that a person is taking advantage of a power imbalance to exploit or control someone else. Wherever power imbalances exist, such as between men and women, or adults and children, or between rich and poor, some people will take advantage of those circumstances for their own purposes...Thus the defining point of abuse is when the man starts to exercise power over the woman in a way that causes harm to her and creates a privileged status for him.

The lines where subtler kinds of mistreatment end and abuse begins include the following actions:

He retaliates against you for complaining about his behavior...

He tells you that your objections to his mistreatment are your own problem...

He gives apologies that sound insincere or angry, and he demands that you accept them...

He blames you for the impact of his behavior.
...If your partner criticizes or puts you down for being badly affected by his mistreatment, that's abuse. Similarly, it's abuse when he uses the effects of his cruelty as an excuse, like a client I had who drove his partner away with his verbal assaults and then told her that her emotional distancing was causing his abuse, thus reversing cause and effect. He is kicking you when you're already down, and he knows it. Seek help for yourself quickly, as this kind of psychological assault can cause your emotional state to rapidly decline.

It's never the right time, or the right way, to bring things up...

He undermines your progress in life.
Interference with your freedom or independence is abuse...

He denies what he did...

He justifies his hurtful or frightening acts or says that you "made him do it"...

He touches you in anger or puts you in fear in other ways.
Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that's physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you. Call a hot line as soon as possible if any of these things happens to you...

I am often asked whether physical aggression by women toward men, such as a slap in the face, is abuse. The answer is: "It depends." Men typically experience women's shoves or slaps as annoying and infuriating rather than intimidating, so the long-term emotional effects are less damaging. It is rare to find a man who has gradually lost his freedom or self-esteem because of a woman's aggressiveness. I object to any form of physical aggression in relationships except for what is truly essential for self-defense, but I reserve the word abuse for situations of control or intimidation...

He coerces you into having sex or sexually assaults you.
...Studies indicate that women who are raped by intimate partners suffer even deeper and longer-lasting effects than those who are raped by strangers or nonintimate acquaintances. If you have experienced sexual assault or chronic sexual pressure in your relationship, call an abuse hotline or a rape hotline, even if you don't feel that the term rape applies to what your partner did.

His controlling, disrespectful, or degrading behavior is a pattern...

You show signs of being abused...
Are you afraid of him?
Are you getting distant from friends or family because he makes those relationships difficult?
Is your level of energy and motivation declining, or do you feel depressed?
Is your self-opinion declining, so that you are always fighting to be good enough and to prove yourself?
Do you find yourself constantly preoccupied with the relationship and how to fix it?
Do you feel like you can't do anything right?
Do you feel like the problems in your relationship are all your fault?
Do you repeatedly leave arguments feeling like you've been messed with but can't figure out exactly why?" (pages 123-130)

Why Does He Do That? has advice on how to get away from an abuser; information I wish I would have had 4 years ago.

I'll write a more personal blog post as soon as I have a chance. I have been making progress in treatment, and reading a lot. I have a lot to write about.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm just not that into him.

Let me just say that my dating track record is a disaster. It's like my romantic life lives in a small coastal village regularly hit by tsunamis, occupied by pyromaniacs and bad drivers, with a poorly marked airstrip. I'm trying to hitch a ride to a city further inland with better technology and safety measures.

I, like many women, hold two unfortunate misconceptions about relationships:
1. Being in a relationship reflects highly on me, being single means there's something wrong with me.
2. If the other person in the relationship is treating me badly, I can fix the relationship by being a better girlfriend.

Of course, I would never think those apply to my friends. My friends are smart, funny, beautiful, and wonderful, and a boyfriend has nothing to do with it. If they are in a relationship with someone who treats them badly, makes them miserable, or disrespects them in any way, I am outraged and want them to break up immediately. I'm a wealth of information on bad relationships- books to read, warning signs, bad case scenarios, how to get a restraining order...

If only I could take my own advice.
In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft has a list of warning signs for abusive relationships. (It starts on page 114.) It's one of my favorite parts of the book, since I need lots of help in trying to avoid those types of relationships. When I look back at all my icky relationships, you better believe I've gone over everything, trying to figure out the signs that I should have hit the road earlier rather than later. So, as a companion piece to Bancroft's list, here's my own list of early warning signs for bad relationships:

1. Possessiveness
A guy with "jealousy problems" will often try to appeal to your sympathy, usually with some heartbreaking story of how he was cheated on or used by a woman, and now he has "trust issues". He may constantly try to illicit declarations of loyalty from you, and seems to be genuinely suffering from his fears of abandonment and betrayal. Or he may just act insecure and hyper-sensitive, and try to convince you that he is so in love with you that he's terrified you'll hurt him and can't stand the thought of you leaving him. Don't buy it. There's a big difference between jealousy and possessiveness. Jealousy is an emotion that most of us can understand and sympathize with. Possessiveness is a belief that your partner belongs to you; that she exists to satisfy your needs.

The signs of possessiveness can be obvious, or more subtle- things such as: wanting to know where you are at all times (usually without thinking that you should know where he is at all times), accusing you of cheating on him or flirting with other men, not wanting you to have any male friends, trying to prevent you from going out without him, showing up unannounced at your work, home, or other places he knows you'll be at trying to "catch" you at something, making demands on your time or demanding sympathy and care whenever he wants it, wanting to make a big show of physical affection in public, or physical domination (like putting his hand around your neck, holding you in a way that feels restraining).

The affects of this kind of treatment can vary as well, from feeling that you're being disrespected and your needs are being ignored, to being afraid. If you break up with someone who is possessive, there's a chance he could stalk you. I spent 5 years with a guy who was constantly accusing me of cheating on him, in the future. He made my life hell- monitoring my activities, trying to prevent me from going out with friends, putting me down, because he "knew" I would cheat on him someday. I got wrapped up in trying to convince him that I wouldn't cheat on him or leave him, thinking he would stop with the out-of-control jealousy as soon as he realized I was loyal and trustworthy. His possessiveness only got worse the more control he got over my life. I finally broke up with him after I started grad school. He made it impossible for me to study at home because he wanted me to spend my evenings with him, and he was constantly enraged with me because of the time I spent at school. I had also started to realize that his threats, yelling, and manipulations were abuse, and it became totally clear that he was abusive after we broke up and it became physical. He stalked me for 3 years after we broke up, and it only stopped because I moved several times, changed my phone number, and blocked him from my email.

So, what were the signs that I glossed over in the beginning of our relationship? 1. I was waiting tables at the time, and one evening I noticed he was at the bar watching me. He gave me a glare that made me feel guilty, even though all I had done was talk to customers and my co-workers. 2. He gave me the silent treatment all the time and refused to tell me what I had done wrong, telling me that "I should know." I felt like I was always doing something wrong, and I didn't know what it was or how to avoid pissing him off. 3. He and his friend stole my Christmas bonus, a bottle of Knob Creek, and drank it all. They didn't leave me a drop. Apparently, he thought he owned my booze as well as me. They even mixed it with Diet Coke. Knob Creek with Diet Coke! That was sufficient grounds to dump him on the spot, and I wish I had!

2. "Constructive" criticisms
I had a boyfriend who would accuse me of having the arguing skills of lawyer (i.e. I was argumentative), and taking advantage of his sensitive nature with my verbal aggressiveness when I would try to talk to him about how he was treating me. He was playing a little trick on me. We never talked about my concerns about our relationship because it quickly became an argument about my communication style. He always diverted the attention to what I was doing wrong. I stayed in the relationship for another couple months, thinking if I just approached him the right way, and was humble and dispassionate, we could have a mutually beneficial discussion about how to improve our relationship so that we'd both be happy and satisfied (re: I was neither happy nor satisfied, and he was acting like he hated me).

Needless to say, it was impossible to talk to him in a way he found acceptable. I broke up with him after spending a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde weekend with him where he alternated between wanting to make out with me in public and pushing me away when I tried to be affectionate with him. He admitted he was "punishing" me for getting upset with him the week before.

You wouldn't know it from some of the guys I've gone out with, but your boyfriend is not your boss, parent, or anyone who should be critiquing your performance and suggesting all the ways you should improve yourself. (Your boss and parents should probably keep the criticisms to a minimum as well.) It's not his job to tell you what's wrong with you, and it certainly doesn't make sense for him to refuse to listen to you or take you seriously unless you live up to his expectations of you. He's supposed to appreciate you for who you are, even like you. To quote Why Does He Do That?- "You can't be in a fair and healthy relationship if you can't raise grievances." (page 125) And you can't raise grievances if all he wants to talk about is what you're doing wrong.

My warning signs for the last one were: 1. I was telling him I was upset about something, and he said "Don't you have friends you could talk to about this?” 2. We were going to a wedding, and when I got there to pick him up (yes, I drove him), he got upset because I wasn't wearing a dress and he thought he looked better than I did. He kept ignoring me when I tried to talk to him. At the after-wedding party, he got drunk and tried to grab onto me on the dance floor. It gave me the creeps. Actually, that stuff took about six months to show up. I think the lesson with this one is that I should have gotten to know him better in the beginning. He was all Mr. Sensitive crazy-about-me, but it became clear later that he wasn't in love with me; he was in love with his fantasy of the perfect girlfriend. He tuned out the me who had problems with our relationship, wasn't a porn star, didn't go along with his fundamentalist atheist beliefs, and wasn't the perfect little girlfriend that all his friends would adore. He was pretty nasty when things didn't go the way it did in his fantasy.

3. You should be more agreeable.
Speaking of which, a guy who freaks out when you disagree with him is a big problem. This is an easy one to test. Just start talking about politics, or religion, or something like that, and you're sure to disagree about something. If he attacks you personally rather than your position, and doesn't see the value in anything you have to say that doesn't conform to his beliefs, time to move on! And if he punishes you for disagreeing with him by giving you the silent treatment, withholding affection, or intimidating you, that's not only a warning sign for a bad relationship, it's a warning sign for abuse.

4. Physical affection is my department.
If you're not "allowed" to initiate physical affection, that means he considers affection to be for his benefit, not yours. Not only does it suck to be with someone who makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed for wanting physical attention, but also it's a big sign that he doesn't regard you as an equal. And if a guy pressures you for sex, drive him immediately to the nearest junior high school and get him enrolled. For god's sake, don't sleep with him.

5. He Doth Protest Too Much
I had a boyfriend who was "friends" with his ex-girlfriend. He was always telling me that he was truly a "nice" guy (not like those guys his ex had been sleeping with since they broke up); he would never fuck a woman over; he would always be honest with her. He was a real catch; I should feel lucky to be with him because he was such a great guy. Blah, blah, blah, he would always make a point of telling me how trustworthy he was and how him and his ex were just friends whenever he would go meet her "for coffee". I'm sure all of you figured out what was going on much faster than I did- yes, he was sleeping with her. I found out through the grapevine. I was truly shocked, unlike everyone else.

If a guy self-identifies as "nice" or "sensitive", he's probably a raging asshole. At least that's been my experience. It's not always the case, but don't take his word for it at least.

Where do I begin with the guys who insist on complaining endlessly about their ex's? If he goes on and on about her on the first, second, or any date, it's doomed. He's not exactly focused on you if he can't stop talking about her. He could be bringing her up for more nefarious reasons, too. Like I said above, he could use an ex as an excuse to be jealous and controlling. Alternatively, he could just throw it in your face whenever you get in a fight- “I don’t need this! You're acting like my ex!" Or, as an excuse to not get serious with you, "I have intimacy issues because of my ex. I can't have that kind of relationship with you." You should never be compared to, or made to suffer for something an ex supposedly did. If he doesn't want a relationship with you, he's wasting your time.

This brings up the issue of why it's okay for me to bitch about my ex's. Well, I wouldn't talk about this stuff with someone I was dating. Moreover, I'm not dating right now, so there's no danger of me taking this out on anyone except you, gentle reader. Don't you feel special?

Sometimes it is hard to know how much to tell someone you're dating. I have not figured this out, especially since I have all this stuff in my past. This blog is kind of a catch-22. If, in the future, a guy wants to date me, should I tell him about my blog? If he reads it and still wants to date me, I'll be worried he's one of those savior types, who regards me as a princess in need of rescuing, and not as an equal. Speaking of which...

6. Teacher Man
I had a high school teacher who had married (and divorced) a former student, and had a son who was older than me. He took an interest in me, and was always giving me advice. After I graduated, he called and wanted to make plans for us to talk about my future. I blew him off. I received a letter from him the next week. In the letter, he said that I was immature for not wanting a relationship with an older man. He said that I was "prejudiced" against older men because I was sexually abused (yes, he knew about that), and that my prejudice prevented me from being a real woman. He could do things for me, and I would not be successful in college without his help because I was unsophisticated and inexperienced.

Later, I found out that another student (who was 17) had moved in with him. Ick. Thankfully, he was forced out of his teaching job.

This man is a sexual predator. He is attracted to power differentials, and looks for someone he sees as weaker than him, someone he can dominate. I am extremely wary of anyone who lectures me, or wants to "teach" me something, "help me" with my issues, or "take care" of me. Anyone who thinks they know what's best for me better than I do doesn't see me as an equal. Daddy, stay away.

7. Poor me
A guy who tries to get sympathy because he’s been “victimized” by women, or acts like you are victimizing him because you won’t sleep with him or put up with his crap, is not to be trusted. Some guys will try to make out like powerful women, women they were powerless to resist, barreled into their life, took advantage of their naiveté and exemplary motives, used and abused them, and then bring up this story as an excuse for disrespecting you. I dated a guy who liked to whine a lot about his ex-wife who cheated on him. He was a jerk, and after months of hearing his hard-luck story he admitted that he had cheated on her first and repeatedly before she ever cheated on him.
The bottom line is that men and women get their hearts broken all the time, and we all have imperfect mothers and fathers, and that is hardly an excuse to mistreat someone you’re dating. The idea that women are aggressors, routinely ruining men's lives and trying to control them, is a gender stereotype used to put women down and deny us equal rights. Moreover, it is ridiculous, considering the astronomical percentages of women who are raped and abused, not to mention the disparity in political power. Men who play the victim are taking advantage of long-standing derogatory ideas about women as temptresses and harlots, who need to be shut up and put down to prevent us from getting too uppity and demanding fair treatment.

They also play on the expectation that women are responsible for relationships, so if a relationship doesn’t work out, it is the woman’s fault. If a man cheats, the woman did not satisfy him. If he was abusive, she was too much of a doormat. If he doesn’t contribute fairly to the household chores, it’s because she’s a nag. If he takes advantage of her financially, she was too trusting, stupid even. When she complains, she’s the one with issues. It is all too easy to hold a woman responsible for all the problems in a relationship.

Of course, I should put in a disclaimer that not all men are like this, I do not hate men, and if you are a man reading this I think you are super. I do believe that society discriminates against women- politically, in the workplace, in relationships, in the media, and in the courts. I think that society largely accepts rape, abuse, and sexual harassment directed at women and girls because it keeps women in their place. Many, many men have joined with women to fight this, though. Men who respect women and do not see us as inferior. Men with daughters, girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, and friends whom they care about and value. Men who realize that discrimination hurts everyone. Men who have written books that have convinced me that I deserve better. Men who have been nothing but supportive, understanding, and compassionate towards me and my struggles. It would be a huge mistake to regard men as “the enemy” when more often they are my allies and friends. I love my brother and my male friends way too much to think that way, and in reality, the world is full of amazing men and women trying to be good and decent, and make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, attitudes of discrimination are still rampant. The thing that disturbs me the most is when you try to talk about the challenges women still face and you get attacked as a man hater and a ball buster. I think the best way that someone like me can improve my standing in relationships is to learn to respect and stand up for myself. That does not mean, however, that I am to blame for the disrespectful ways I have been treated. It does not mean that men that take advantage of women who do not think highly of themselves are off the hook.

8. I make the plans
I dated a guy who never wanted to make definite plans with me. The operative phrase in that sentence is with me. He'd say he wanted to be spontaneous or surprise me, and then show up at my apartment with our time together planned out, doing what he wanted to do. The one time, in the year that we dated, that we did something I wanted to do, he whined so much I got a migraine. He also kept trying to take control of the situation. We were at a music festival, and he said, "Why don't you pick one band you want to see, and then we'll go do something else." When I got upset with him, he suggested we go to a restaurant he wanted to try out to "talk about it". He would even make plans, without allowing me any input, and expect me to pay half the cost. This was unbelievably aggravating.

9. Mixed messages
The thing is, all these warning signs sound really obvious, especially when I'm picking out the bad parts of my past relationships. Of course, I'm not stupid, and the reason I got into and stayed in relationships despite the warning signs is that I thought the guy really did care about me and appreciate me because of other things he said or did. You know that not everything will be perfect in a relationship, and I think women are socialized to almost expect bad behavior from men, to be very forgiving and flexible, and to try, really hard, to fix the relationship no matter what. It can be really hard to walk away from someone who says they love you, you love them, and you're happy with them some of the time, even if you realize that the relationship is fundamentally not working for you, not satisfying your needs, and not fixable.

I was really in love with Mr. Plan-y. When I finally hit my limit and took a stand on the issue of him not giving my wishes equal, or any, weight in the planning process, he broke up with me. Then he called me all the time, wanted to spend time with me, follow me around while I did errands, take me out and pay (something he wouldn't do when we were going out). He even asked me to do things he thought I would enjoy! When I asked why he was acting like my boyfriend after he broke up with me, he cried and said that he still loved me. He wrote me a letter that talked about how beautiful, smart, talented, and generally amazing I was. He said that breaking up with me was the hardest thing he'd ever done, he would regret it because he was walking away from “the best girl he’d ever known.” That was a year and a half ago. Just last December at my company's holiday party, I found out one of my co-workers had met him and when he found out she worked at my company, he went on and on about how wonderful I am. Yet, he has never tried to get back together with me, and just in the three months after we broke up, he dated four other women.

Why the mixed messages? It was so hard for me to get over this guy, even though when we were going out I was irritated with him much of the time. A friend just happened to give me He's Just Not That Into You the same day I got the letter. If you've heard of this book, you probably know it's a very mainstream self-help book, written by two people connected to Sex in the City- Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. The basic message to this book is that a guy who's really into you won't send you mixed messages. He'll be clear about wanting to be with you, and he'll let you know that he values you.

I have read and re-read this book countless times in the last year and a half. It is so hard to let go of the idea that a guy will treat me the way I want if I just figure out how to act and how to “fix” ailing relationships. Whenever I'm tempted to try to analyze a guy’s confusing behavior, or when I'm unhappy with someone and trying to figure out what to do, I re-read the book. It's really very simple- if you're not happy with someone, move on. Live your life. Don't spend all your time obsessing about guys and why they do the things they do. In a way, that seems to contradict Why Does He Do That?, but actually, they have very similar messages. Don't listen to excuses, and don't create excuses for why someone is treating you badly. Listen to your instincts, and if you feel uncomfortable with someone's behavior, take it seriously. Don't waste your time with someone who belittles your feelings and doesn’t respect you. If you feel bad about yourself in a relationship, if you are unhappy, stop focusing on the other person and focus on what you can do to make your life better. Don’t wait around for someone to change. You deserve better.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ghosts that haunt you until their story is told

Just when I was starting to doubt Lundy Bancroft's assertion (in the book Why Does He Do That?), that childhood abuse does not cause men to be abusive as adults (how could it be a myth that abusive men were abused as children? Everyone believes that.) I read this in Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, M.D.-

"Survivors of childhood abuse are far more likely to be victimized or to harm themselves than to victimize other people...Perhaps because of their deeply inculcated self-loathing, survivors seem most disposed to direct their aggression at themselves. While suicide attempts and self-mutilation are strongly correlated with childhood abuse, the link between childhood abuse and adult antisocial behavior is relatively weak...Contrary to the popular notion of a "generational cycle of abuse," however, the great majority of survivors neither abuse nor neglect their children." (pages 113-114)

I have believed for so long, because my mom and dad told me this repeatedly and I had to believe it to sympathize with and care about my dad, that my dad was somehow less responsible for his abuse because he had been abused. Now I realize no one, not his dad, his mom, my mom or, and especially, me, is responsible besides him. He chose, and continues to choose to be abusive, and his refusal to take responsibility for his behavior only vindicates my concern and warnings about how he was treating my step-niece.

If Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men is about my dad (and it is), the chapter on child abuse in Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence-- from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror is about me. I bought Trauma and Recovery because both The Courage to Heal and Lucky refer to the book. I have mentioned The Courage to Heal before- it is "A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse" and I have been working on it for the last 6 weeks. Lucky is a memoir by Alice Sebold about her rape, the trial, and the aftermath. More than 10 years after the rape, Trauma and Recovery quoted Sebold about the difference in how she saw the world. She bought the book (because she was in it) and it made her realize for the first time that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I read Lucky a couple weeks ago, and had a hard time putting it down. The way she describes how some people shunned her and did not know how to treat her or talk to her after the rape, and the discomfort and hostility some expressed towards her anger really resonated with me. There is this idea that you should be meek and mild in order to be sympathetic, so if you are angry and outraged, and you fight back, you lose credibility with some people and they just want you to shut up. Maybe when you act like a human being instead of some caricature of a victim, it makes them realize that you were not asking for it, and we do not always have control over what happens to us. Most people do not want to acknowledge that. You do not want to relate to a victim because no one likes living with the uncertainty and paranoia of feeling like a potential victim. We do not want to think something like that could happen to us, something out of our control.

I also related to how, years after the rape, she felt more comfortable with people who had experienced violence, and living in dangerous neighborhoods. It reminded me of my experience on the streets. The danger was out in the open- I knew whom to avoid, I knew what to worry about and had ways to deal with these possibilities, and I knew the people around me were in the same boat. It felt much more honest and real than pretending the world was safe and supportive. For those of us on the streets, that was not our reality. People who had never experienced violence did not understand us, and we did not understand them. There is a lot of bravado in being a punk, and all these years later I still feel exposed and nervous walking down the street without my shitkicker boots and tough girl act. When you see the world as unpredictable and dangerous, you never feel safe.

Rape is especially good at convincing you that anyone (male) could be a threat, and that is just made all the worse by the implication that women and girls who are raped should have done a better job protecting themselves- shouldn't have walked down that street, gone to that party, dated that man. Apparently, all women should be in a constant state of paranoia, i.e. thinking like someone with PTSD, or they are "asking for it".

Back to Trauma and Recovery, Dr. Herman captured my psychology amazingly well when describing how children experience and cope with abuse. She talks about how children adapt to an environment of unpredictable attacks and constant danger by adopting a constant state of alertness. They are always scanning for warning signs, recognizing seemingly imperceptible changes in body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. They become highly attuned to their abuser(s), but "unable to find any way to avert the abuse, they learn to adopt a position of complete surrender" (pages 98-99), or try to be as inconspicuous as possible. "The arbitrary enforcement of rules, combined with the constant fear of death or serious harm, produces a paradoxical result. On the one hand, it convinces children of their utter helplessness and the futility of resistance...On the other hand, it motivates children to prove their loyalty and compliance. These children double and redouble their efforts to gain control of the situation in the only way that seems possible, by "trying to be good"" (page 100)

"Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in an environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life...As the survivor struggles with the tasks of adult life, the legacy of her childhood becomes increasingly burdensome. Eventually, often in the third or fourth decade of life, the defensive structure may begin to break down." (pages 110, 114)

Yes, the legacy of my childhood has become increasingly burdensome, here in the third decade of my life. I am also reading a lot in the third decade of my life. It is truly helpful to identify and read about what has been happening to me. I do not feel alone and isolated anymore, and now I know about the possibility of recovery. I am breaking out of the feeling of "utter helplessness and the futility of resistance."