Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Victim Blaming

You don’t own me
Don’t change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down 'cause I’d never stay

I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you

Victim blaming is a devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.

Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. Secondary victimisation is the re-traumatization of the sexual assault, abuse, or rape victim through the responses of individuals and institutions.

I was told by a therapist that my behaviour during my abuse assisted my abuser to continue to abuse me. It’s taken years for me to get that phrase out of my head and also to analyse and understand what she meant. Today I understand but do not wholly agree with her analysis. You see I knew no different; I mirrored my parents’ marriage which obviously I thought was normal but today I realise my parents’ marriage was a circumstance of the era and culture (1953) that had also been normalised for them because they mirrored their parents and grandparents. We learn from the people around us, our prime carers, those that are with us day to day and therefore I cannot take all the blame for the abuse I suffered. Consequently, if we grow up with prime carers and extended family that are abusers over time this becomes normalised, you see we do not know what goes on in others family homes, so what we see and know in our own homes is how our brain patterns our own "normal". Victims of abuse then spend years undoing and un-patterning beliefs and behaviours that actually are not normal. I found that the emotional and psychological trauma of "finding out" that my "normal" was a lie was worse than any physical abuse. The betrayal of loved ones who should have cared for me loved me unconditionally and kept me safe was almost too much to bear. The epiphany of waking up to this betrayal and knowledge, and understanding that because of a lie, I went on to marry my abuser and didn't recognise or see the red flags right in front of me because my "normal" was all I knew.

My abuser also learnt from his parents, grandparents and family around him too and due to a certain amount of dysfunction and lack of parenting he grew up with a warped view of life, marriage, parenting and fatherhood. His brain had also been patterned to think his upbringing and home life was "normal". The way he treated me is the way he had been treated all his life from a small boy but this has taken me the best part of twenty years to unpick all this. The brains of victims of acute trauma wire differently; it can be a lifetime of unpicking and unravelling what happened to us and some of us are never able to unpick all the levels of trauma inflicted on us.

Friends also victim blame; I lost serval close and important lifelong friends due to my abuse. They didn’t believe me, they believed him. He was able to continue to bluff some friends with his "charm" and they were gaslit and groomed to believe that I had made up my abuse because I "wanted the attention" before he went on to tell others "I had been sectioned". Disbelieving the victim’s story and minimising the severity of the abuse is secondary victimisation and causes many forms of mental health issues, e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, bipolar disorder and in many cases leads to substance abuse, self-harm, eating disorders and in some cases, suicide.

Victims of abuse do not need you or the community to blame them, they already feel guilt, shame, betrayal, anger – victims of abuse of any description do not need any of you to rub it in because they already feel bad enough. Our perpetrators have spent years grooming and gaslighting us to believe we are to blame and worthless; that our behaviour and responses to their behaviour make us somehow the guilty party. I was raised to believe you worked on a marriage, that you forgave and forgot, that tomorrow is a new day – so what did I do – I did just that and I got up the following morning after being subjected to his vile words and forgave, forgot and just got on with it. But I never told my abuser until just before I fled, that I hated the way he spoke to me and hated the way he treated me.

By this time it was too late, I did not love him anymore and certainly did not like him, I was done and nothing in his power or on this earth was going to change my mind. Once I saw the light and made up my mind, it was interesting how I took back my power and he became weak and clutching at straws he tried to bad mouth me and discredit me. He continued for three plus years to try to make me out to be something I am not. He was scrabbling around in the gutter for anything that would make him feel good about himself, you see once I had left he had lost one hell of a chunk of power.

The community victim blames all the time; the stigma and contamination we have to live with as a victim of sexual assault or abuse. There is the stigma of being a single mum; the stigma of being divorced and the stigma of being poor; the stigma of being a victim of rape and child sexual abuse. We are looked upon differently and treated differently but blaming us the victims, releases the perpetrator and abuser, who has committed the violence, from the responsibility of what he or she has done. Blaming the victim plays into the hands of the abuser, they continue to have the power. Society needs to wake up to the fact that it is the abuser who is to blame and society needs to put the blame in the rightful place, with the perpetrator.

It’s so easy to blame the victim but let me give you a few myths around victim blaming:

  • No one wants to be abused, raped or assaulted
  • No one deserves to be abused
  • No one leaves a long marriage or partner on a whim
  • No one wants to put their children through a messy divorce
  • No one wants their children to see them be assaulted
  • Few individuals lie about abuse, rape or assault
So stop focusing on the victim and focus on the abuser; the abuser is the one who must carry the blame. No one asks to be abused, raped or assaulted and no one deserves it either under any circumstances. We need to dispel the myths that we can just get over it or he or she must have done something to deserve the abuse. The abuser is to blame – fact.

“...the study findings suggests that we want to be sympathetic and focus on victims and outpour our sympathy, but that might actually lead us to focus so much on victims and what they could have done differently that we actually neglect to focus on the perpetrators and what they potentially could have done differently”

Laura Niemi, a postdoctoral associate in psychology at Harvard University

We also need to dispel the myth that many victims of abuse disclose their stories with the sole aim of obtaining compensation – untrue – fact. Most victims of abuse just want justice; just want to be believed and see their abuser named and shamed and convicted of the insidious crime that has been committed. Let’s concentrate on the abuser, give our energy to outing abusers, if we do not do this we are complicit, we allow them to hold on to the power. Let’s speak up for victims and break this chain, break the silence, break the cycle. The time is now, so many coming forward, so many speaking up and out, so will you think about all I have said and join me on this International Women’s Day and raise your voices and save at least one victim of abuse.

So never tell me I must have behaved in a way that made my abuser abuse me because I didn’t. Never tell me I am to blame because I didn’t stand up to him or tell him I didn’t like his behaviour because he should have known his behaviour was disgusting and disrespectful. Never tell me I was too sensitive or imagined it or was paranoid because I wasn’t. Never tell me I must have deserved it because I didn’t; never tell me I lied because I didn’t. Never tell me I should have stayed because I couldn’t. Never tell me I betrayed my abuser by leaving because it was he who betrayed me, he who let me down; he abused his power and took advantage of my good nature and personality and abused me in every way possible till he almost broke me. But…

For every last bruise, you gave me
For every time I sat in tears
For the million ways, you hurt me
I just want to tell you this
You broke my world, made me strong
Thank you
Messed up my dreams, made me strong
Thank you



Friday, 3 March 2017

Resilience – and how we cope

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune, adversity or change; strength of character; the ability to bounce back

Resilience is the ability to cope and rise to the day to day challenges, problems and setbacks that we meet in the course of our lives and come back stronger. It is a challenge, isn’t it? Every day it is a challenge. After trauma of any kind, depression, mental health difficulties, substance abuse, bereavement, divorce, domestic abuse and/or violence and child sexual abuse it can feel impossible to “bounce back” – as the definition above suggests.

How do we come back stronger, where do we find the energy and inclination to “bounce” back and why do some of us have the strength, courage and wherewithal to do this and others do not. It is said that individuals of resilience think and do things differently, e.g. they believe there are only mistakes, have a well-balanced outlook and believe there are also rich interesting and beautiful things to enjoy in life. It's a challenge, isn't it? To constantly find interesting and beautiful things to appreciate on our life's journey can be challenging, but it's the trying every day that is important here. If we can, it's important to endeavour to find something to appreciate in our lives each day, e.g. our children, Spring emerging, friends, peace, contentment.

So how did I “bounce” back after three breakdowns, five major surgeries, a very messy divorce and twenty years of domestic abuse? I haven’t thought about this very much till now but recently I have been interested in what makes a survivor as opposed to a thriver or warrior. I consider myself a survivor and a thriver and on occasion a warrior. I still fall backwards sometimes and I realise now that is ok but generally, I have the resilience to thrive and more often these days I am a warrior. I have really had to delve deep to analyse how I have "bounced" back after each trial, tribulation and breakdown, but I have. 

How did I do this?

Most of the time I am positive; most of the time I have a faith and belief that things will be ok and that I will survive whatever is thrown in my path. Most of the time I trust in the universe and the bigger picture and most of the time I believe there is a lesson to be learnt out of every challenge, hardship and difficulty thrown my way. I believe that out of every challenge there is something positive to take from it and learn in order to move forward. I believe I was put on this earth for a mission and to make a difference; I believe I have a calling to give back and leave an incy wincy legacy (if I can). I believe I owe it to my daughter to role model a strong competent intelligent but compassionate and empathetic woman with strong morals and ethics. And quite naturally I am a positive person (most of the time).

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy in any shape or form, that doesn’t mean I have any superior qualities or that I have a magic solution. There have been dark moments and very dark periods of time. Just like you, I have to work on myself every day and believe me there is still much work to do. I have to learn to trust much more but this is a daily exercise; I have to believe I am worthy and continue to increase my self-respect just to name a few of the areas that need more work. No one is perfect, least of all me, but at challenging times I try to stop and reflect, think and assess; recognise the red flags whenever and wherever I can and ask myself what can I learn from this. And I have learned to appreciate the little things in life, e.g. the birth of spring flowers, birds feeding on my bird feed, purple heather covering the moors, a quiet dinner with those I love.

To assist us in, working towards or achieving resilience, we have to draw on different skills and a variety of sources of help including rational thinking, physical and mental health and relationships around us in order to grow and become resilient. Resilience is not necessarily about overcoming challenges in our lives but more about how we tackle and deal with them as they are thrown at us. We all face challenges every day, big and small, that ask us to call on our reserves of resilience and we work it out without too much thinking but it's the big challenges and trauma that take more resilience, skills and mental health to help us survive, thrive and become those warriors.

There are four basic ingredients to resilience:

·         Awareness – noticing what is going on around us and inside our heads

·         Thinking – being able to interpret events that are going on in a rational way

·         Reaching Out – how we call upon others to help us meet the challenges that we face because resilience is also about knowing when to ask for help

·         Fitness – our mental and physical ability to cope with challenge whilst staying healthy

So on reflection, I now understand that many of my challenges thrown at me over my lifetime have been training and preparation for the next chapter of my life book or journey. On learning my father had young onset Multiple Sclerosis and in turn having a breakdown I learned how to be and work with children and adults with multiple learning difficulties and disabilities. After my spinal fusion, I was lifted quite literally because I learnt I cleared the bar in the high jump at school even though I endured a life-threatening accident, funnily enough, I was ecstatic! After my very messy divorce and domestic abuse, I was able to get up, hold down a job and function because I had my beautiful daughter to take care of and be a good role model too. One thing in the last twenty-eight years that keeps me surviving and thriving is being a good mother; without my daughter, there would be little to get up for each day. I also would not be able to do the difficult work I now do, working with victims, survivors and thrivers of all forms of abuse and exploitation if I had not felt what it is like to be abused. 

There are a variety of things that enable us to “bounce” back at challenging and traumatic times. Remembering that we are all different, our beliefs and thought processes play a huge part in increasing our resilience as do the help, support and positive relationships around us. Surrounding ourselves with positivity and positive people who bring the best out in us, finding our corner of peace and seeing the beauty in what we have got and achieved rather than what we have lost are all important areas of life that help create and grow resilience. But it is not easy and we all have the right to grow and create our resilience at our own pace; it is not an easy task and working on it every day is all we can do. Everyone has much work to do and that is ok. When we experience complex and toxic trauma our brains change and they wire and pattern differently. Toxic stress is when there is prolonged stress in the absence of protective relationships and consequently the brain will shut down to protect us and it. During toxic stress obviously, the brain continues to work but its rate of growth slows right down and the younger the brain (for example childhood) the more damaging the effects of continual and/or perpetual toxic stress. The long-term effects of toxic stress will differ according to the age and stage of development.

It is imperative for everyone to understand and accept that we will all become resilient or more resilient in our own time, space and pace and according to the depth of trauma, abuse, anxiety and exposure to toxic stress. Remember this is your journey, not mine, not anyone else’s. No one should be telling us when to heal or how. No one should be expecting high levels of resilience if we are not ready. We all have to find our own way, and healing can take many forms and many pathways. We will travel hills and dales, negotiate crossroads and T-junctions and navigate oceans and streams finding our own sense of peace, belonging and sanctuary and however long it takes you and whichever road you choose, remember it is your way in your own time and that really is ok.