Posted in Weekly Blog

How we perceive domestic violence

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This weeks group fell at the beginning of the United Nations ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’.  As a mixed group we wanted to open up a conversation about domestic abuse, acknowledging that the majority of cases occurs towards women from men but recognising that domestic violence or abuse can also occur woman to man, woman to woman, man to man, and be witnessed and experienced by children.  We wanted to be open to whatever people wanted to say about the issue, especially in the current climate of many sexual harassment cases being exposed in government, Hollywood and other high profile institutions.  Behaviours and attitudes previously and quietly accepted, even expected in society are being shaken and exposed and culture seems to be shifting its boundaries as to what it will and won’t accept.

Women’s Aid say:

“Every case of domestic abuse should be taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need. Any form of violence is unacceptable.

Both women and men can experience domestic abuse. However, there are typically significant differences (in terms of the frequency and the nature of the abuse) between domestic abuse experienced by women and domestic abuse experienced by men.” (For full page click here)

Group participants were extremely brave today in sharing their experiences of either first hand, witnessed or heard about abuse.  Classically, perpetrators are ultra charming for the first few months which is part of establishing control.  Abuse is pretty much always about power and control.  People ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” but these relationships are so complex, people love their partners, and fear them. They may have children together. The group discussed how abusive partners often end up controlling all access to finances thereby trapping the other with no means to escape, and they may literally have nowhere else to go.  Others talked about how abusive partners would make threats of harm to others so they felt too fearful to leave because others may get hurt or even be killed.  This is not an irrational fear; the ultimate punishment for trying to leave an abusive relationship is sometimes murder:

In 2015/16, 44% of female homicide victims were killed by a partner or ex-partner, and 7% of male victims. [1]

People spoke about how the mental abuse was worse than the physical abuse; it erodes all self confidence and belief in self and causes doubt, is isolating, controlling and makes you believe there is something wrong with you and that the abuse is your fault and what you deserve. These are such lies and are formed over time and are so damaging to loving and valuing self and the reason why we often do work on how people think about themselves, which is long, slow work to build up again the person which got lost and instill again that sense of inherent value and worth.

These lies then cause the shame that stops people from reporting abuse, because they feel it’s their fault.  Women feel a great deal of shame and men more so due to cultural stereotypes.  Anecdotally I recently heard that a domestic abuse helpline used to use a double screening of male callers before they could receive support.  This has recently been reviewed and the screening lifted, but it is easy to see how feeling shamed already, if a man encounters barriers to support he is less likely to report abuse. (Male victims of domestic violence are being failed by the system-The Independent)

It was also anecdotally discussed that often when men phone the police to report domestic abuse towards them, they end up being arrested!

We spoke about ‘what has become your norm?’  When people grow up in an environment where they witness or receive abuse, messages about what is loving behaviour or acceptable ways of communicating become very skewed.  For example if a child is often ignored or neglected and achievements are not acknowledged or celebrated they can grow up to believe that they aren’t very important, that their feelings don’t matter and that they have nothing to contribute and are therefore, essentially of no value. Such messages continue into adulthood and in a relationship this person believes that being ignored and their needs and feelings not being addressed is normal and so leaves them open to abuse but not necessarily able to recognise it.  When a person does receive value, love and care and attention to their needs this can feel very alien and so strange sometimes that they are likely to push away this person who wants to properly love them or even try to provoke them into abusing behaviours. So we spoke about the time and process needed to heal such wounds so that love can be received.

We spoke about the very current situation of much media coverage and unfortunately in some cases ‘trial by media’.  Some people felt that the almost over emphasis of behaviours e.g. a hand on the knee (this still needs addressed if it is uninvited, uncomfortable and inappropriate-but is not necessarily the same as other experiences) meant that all the focus on these cases fails to address the real issues, and that as the pendulum swings to an extreme where anything tactile ends up in court people will become fearful of any appropriate physical contact.  The group also agreed that swinging the power from one group to another also doesn’t solve anything, but that power balance and a mutual respect for each other is what is required for a better society to live in.

[1]Office for National Statistics, Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, Year ending March 2016, Chapter 2: Homicide (Published online: Office for National Statistics, quoted in Woman’s Aid website.

 

Posted in Weekly Blog

Dealing With Unhelpful Beliefs Part II

JSLHR-S-15-0167Onslow_featimageSometimes we can get stuck in a belief about something which may not actually be true or accurate and can become quite unhelpful.  For example we might think; ‘I’m no good at anything I always mess everything up’.  If we really believe this it may be when opportunities come along we might not even give it a try because this belief holds us back.  Sometimes if we can find the root fear behind the belief that can help us to reality test it and start believing more helpful thoughts instead.

We worked with a couple of beliefs brought by the group.  A recurring stressful and anxiety creating scenario that many people encounter is the Government Work capability assessment.  This assesses people currently receiving benefits to see if they are able to start work again and so stop receiving benefits.  People often find that the assessment takes account mostly of physical ability, so for people struggling with mental health issues, these complex difficulties are not picked up by the assessment leaving people who are currently unable to manage being at work without benefits and therefore forced into finding work where they may become quite unwell and not manage a job, further increasing the very low regard with which they may already view themselves.

Whilst the group would acknowledge that structure, routine and purpose is a big part of mental health and addiction recovery, and sometimes we see people positively move into work or voluntary positions, we know that there are times when the stress and pressure to work when someone is still unwell or just starting to recover is very detrimental.  So here again we can see that if someone has a back injury their inability to work is very visible and their recovery can clearly be seen as to what they can or cannot manage.  A mental health illness and recovery is not visible and because someone looks physically fit in the assessment means they may be assessed to return to work before they are ready.

We addressed a belief that people hold about going to this assessment which is:

“There is nothing I can do about the outcome of this assessment; I’m going to lose my benefits, the ability to pay rent, and have to do a job I can’t manage and I may as well relapse”.

The group (many of whom have been through this process) offered support and a different way of looking at this belief. For example, the thought to go on a bender anyway would just delay the assessment as it would be rescheduled.  The group also said that Advocard (an advocacy service in Edinburgh) provide really valuable support and preparation for these assessments. We did recognise a conundrum in the system that doing things that keep you well, like support groups etc make you look well and fit for work, but the reality is that going back to work too soon may mean that you can’t do the things that keep you well and then you become ill again.  This again highlights the invisibility of mental illness.

So in response to the original belief, we could now see that although we can’t change the outcome, the individual can behave in a way that may influence the outcome, and therefore has a bit more power.

Another belief that we worked with today was:

‘I don’t believe recovery can happen for me’.

Here we recognised that we all go through very dark times that we cannot see a way out of, what really helps in these times is that others can believe for us and we can be carried by that on our darkest days.  The person who brought this belief was encouraged by the group that just stepping out and receiving support was being in recovery.

 

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Great Expectations

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We live in a world of high expectations; do well at school, get good grades, have a good career, get on the property ladder, have a a romantic marriage, have cute children, hold it all together, even when life is hard.  Sometimes trying to live up to the expectations of others, or even the expectations we put on ourselves can be exhausting and unsatisfying.

The group spoke this week of parental and family expectations and how sometimes, for a long time they made choices according to what they perceived their parents wanted and accordingly chose career paths and marriage partners accordingly until one day waking up and realising; “this isn’t me, this isn’t what I have chosen, this isn’t what I am passionate about.”

For some females in the group, quite strict and traditional values were expected of them from a young age to cook, clean and look after younger siblings, and in the process losing their own childhood , and with such punitive strictness there was no flexibility.

Others spoke about the expectation that families had of them during periods of being unwell and that rather than accepting that recovery would take its own time and not be a linear recovery, there was an expectation that recovery would follow a traceable course over a specified timeline.

All of these expectations cause stress and pressure, and, actually if you are not free to be yourself this causes anger and resentment and therefore strife in relationships.  If you are talented at music but don’t enjoy it, and your parents push you into learning instruments and performing  in orchestras but  your passion is to write books you won’t feel like you are fulfilling your dream or feeling satisfied…until you have the opportunity to try and write a book.

We talked about how expectations feed into struggling with self-worth; trying to please others who are never satisfied, this is exhausting and not fulfilling and if we buy into everything needing approval from someone else then we probably won’t ever feel good enough.  One result that can come from this is rebellion.

Ultimately we have to do what is right for us and remember that people who genuinely care about us will respect the decisions we make.

 

Posted in Weekly Blog

Fun and Games

This week the group had a go at the popular American game, Mad Libs.  You have a story with blanks to fill in, so once we had managed to collectively remember our grammar and figure out our adjectives from our adverbs we placed the words and had some good fun and laughs hearing how they turned out in the story.  A funny example is below demonstrated by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jimmy Fallon.

It was good to have a more relaxed week and do something fun, we can forget that good leisure time is as important for our wellbeing as much as having a routine and finding ways to tackle the difficult things that we face.  In fact if we can find ways to manage stress then this is very good for our health.  Before we played the game today, many in the group were talking about their current experiences of feeling very anxious, and the different ways that people pushed themselves through these feelings to do their day to day activities.  Although its hard to get out sometimes, everyone today said it had been fun, they had laughed, and felt better on leaving than they had on arriving.

Posted in Weekly Blog

Breaking Free From Unhelpful Beliefs

 

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Our group today was an exercise looking at where our beliefs come from and how they affect our day to day lives, and explore whether those beliefs actually limit us from fully living life.  We thought back over our lives and thought about significant people and events which may have formed important beliefs which we may not even be aware we are holding.

We worked on a belief today that was creating a fear; the belief that making any changes may cause a relapse into illness, that by remaining in a comfort zone and not reaching out of it to be stretched or try new things was safer.

If this fear is believed as a fact, this creates a life which feels stuck with frustrated desires to maybe try new things not being realised.

We looked at trying to recognise the problem as actually being the fear rather than the belief, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt helpfully said:

                  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Founder of ‘Consulting Alliance’ a blogger called Jeff Miller comments further on Roosevelt’s words:

“The fear that we experience can be paralyzing and corrosive. It prevents us from reaching our full potential. It immobilizes us. It keeps us in our comfort zone. And it is entirely based on a story track looping inside our heads.”

“…Where do these beliefs come from? How long are we willing to hold onto them? What is the payback we’re getting from holding onto them? How much comfort do we really get from staying in our comfort zone? How can we reframe these thoughts? We need to be committed to asking the right questions. What questions are you asking yourself?”

So we concluded in our group discussion is that the first step is to deconstruct the fear, and move away from holding it as a fact.  Group members had found that talking through the events where the fears were rooted was a very helpful process but acknowledged that this took time and was difficult, however, eventually this process removed all the power from the fear so that it no longer had a limiting hold over their lives.