When Home No Longer Feels Safe

What comes to mind when you think of safety? Comfort, freedom from danger, feeling secure, being unharmed, feeling protected, having a sense of trust, peace houseand sanctuary may be some words associated with safety.

Maybe there has been a time when you’ve felt unsafe. Perhaps there was a sense that your life was somehow in danger or you felt distrustful toward someone because of the way they were behaving. Maybe it was something that seemed minor but a “red flag” went up in your mind that something didn’t feel “right.”

Unfortunately, for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, the sense of safety becomes diminished through the violating behaviors of the abusers. Violating, abusive behavior might be physical, emotional/verbal, or sexual in nature and is typically used to exert control over another person. Whether a violation happens once or multiple times, a victim’s sense of safety changes.

The often traumatic violations affect how you view yourself, the people around you, and the world in general. It becomes difficult to feel comfortable and safe in your own home. Many victims are also often isolated by the abusers so social supports are unavailable as safe connections to reach out to.

Survivors become masterful at observing other people in an effort to stay safe. You remain in a heightened state of alertness as you try to meet your partner’s (often confusing) demands. You become acutely aware of your partner’s behaviors and moods. You may find yourself asking How did they seem when they got home or woke up in the morning? Are they slamming the door? Do they seem calm? Do they seem too calm? Did they have a good day? Have they been out drinking? Was dinner okay? Did they get home late again? Are the kids being too loud? All of the questions running through your mind seem to be related to one larger concern: Am I safe? The thinking tends to be that if you can identify or predict your partner’s behaviors, moods, or mannerisms, you can stay safe by knowing how to respond accordingly and attempt to prevent a blow-up. The intention of this skill of observation is to keep you safe but can lead to feeling anxious and exhausted.

Anxiety arises as you attempt to please a partner who never seems to be satisfied. You come to believe that you are not enough for your partner. You often second-guess yourself and your decisions because your partner tells you whatever you did wasn’t enough, was done wrong, wasn’t what they wanted, or call you a degrading name for trying to do anything at all.

It’s hard to feel safe if you feel anxious, concerned, worried, or scared most of the time. Even if the abusive relationship has ended, you may find you still remain in that constant state of readiness; ready to meet someone else’s needs; ready to be the peace-keeper; ready to do whatever it takes to keep another person from harming you, your children, or your pets.

If you have been violated in some way by an abuser, it’s important to know that it’s not your fault and that you deserve to live a life in comfort, free from danger, with a sense of security, and without fear of being harmed. You can click here to download my free booklet on abuse and safety planning or call the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you want to learn some ways to identify abuse or take action you can read my blog here. What does safety mean to you? When do you feel most safe? What does safety look and feel like to you?

 

Inspired by a prompt from~ Safety First~

The Guest House

The following is a great poem on emotions. It encourages acceptance of all your feelings, the good and bad, positive and negative and reminds us that, like house guests, all feelings come and go. Some linger longer than others but, eventually, they move on. It ends with the idea that our feelings are there to tell us something, which is why it’s important to be in touch with them and listen to what they’re trying to say.

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This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 ~ Rumi ~

(13th Century Persian Philosopher and Poet)

Express Yourself

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I know very little about art, except for maybe a few general things. I know that I like some art, dislike other art, and feel neutral about the rest of it. I know there are various mediums people use to create art, like sculptures, painting, photography, poetry, writing, dance, theater, music, and drawing. In another post, I wrote about how I find counseling to be a form of creativity. I also know I appreciate the work that goes into creating a piece of art, whether it’s something I like, or not. I am frequently filled with admiration for peoples’ creative abilities.

Another thing I know about art is that it can be a great way for you to Irises2express yourself. It can be a way to take what’s “inside” and share it with the outside world. It can feel rewarding to see a finished product or to turn an idea into a reality.

Artistic expression can also play a role in your mental health. One of the signs of depression, for example, is a loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy. If you notice a sense of sadness and lack of energy and just can’t seem to motivate yourself to do the activity you usually enjoy, pay attention to your mood and notice whether it lingers longer than you think it should, especially if it worsens or doesn’t go away after a couple weeks. Sometimes picking your hobby up again can be a step toward a better mood. Art can also help you manage anxiety by channeling that restless energy into something constructive, it can be a healthy skill to use for self-care and to cope with distressing feelings.

Some of my favorite art is from Vincent van Gogh who I learned suffered from a combination of physical and mental illness, both of which were made worse by his abuse of alcohol. In addition to his paintings, van Gogh also expressed himself through handwritten letters in which he described his struggle with his illnesses. Although van Gogh’s story ends tragically with his death at the age of 37, it is also a story that shows hope as he sought meaning and explored his mental and physical problems through his painting, spirituality, and writings. I think that artistic expression not only allows us to gain a greater understanding of the artist but gives us a greater understanding of ourselves as well. Maybe in this way, art acts as a way to connect us with ourselves and with others.

How do you express yourself creatively? In what way does your artistic or creative ability help you manage stressors in your life?

 

Inspired by a prompt from ~The Artist’s Eye ~

Stress & Nutrition

healthyWhat is your favorite thing to eat? Is it sweet, crunchy, or chewy? Does it taste better eaten hot or cold? Do you look forward to eating it once a year during special occasions or do you eat it more often? What is it about that particular food that makes it your favorite? Does it have a special meaning for you? Is it a comfort food?

I often meet with people who refer to themselves as “stress eaters,” someone who eats more often and less healthily when they’re under stress. Other people I meet with identify themselves as the opposite, someone who loses their appetite when under stress. Feeling anxious or stressed can affect our relationship with food and we may eat more or less depending on how our bodies respond to that stress. chocolate-chip-cookies

Some foods and the ingredients in them are associated with increased anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, candy, and soda pop. People frequently also consume alcohol or nicotine which can affect mood. Salt is sometimes related to an increase in blood pressure. Anxiety can be associated with heart disease, especially with frequently increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Being mindful of the food you eat can help manage anxiety. Maintaining a diet with balanced amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, and proteins can help manage anxiety and boost your mood. These foods contain vitamins and are associated with your brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin which can affect levels of energy and alertness.

Here are a few general tips to help improve your mood and manage nutrition and anxiety:

  • Drink plenty of water, dehydration can affect your mood
  • Use caffeine in moderation, it can make you feel jittery or nervous and can act as a diuretic which may lead to dehydration
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, it can interfere with sleep
  • Find enjoyable ways to be active to manage weight, reduce anxiety, and improve your heart health
  • Get plenty of rest, lack of sleep is associated with stimulating areas of the brain that process emotions and can trigger anxiety
  • Learn ways to relax, if you’re someone who loses your appetite when anxiety sets in it can help to know that appetite usually returns once you’re in a more relaxed state

What do you notice about your relationship with food when you feel anxious?

 Inspired by a prompt from ~Pour Some Sugar on Me~


Flawed: Accepting your worst quality

shellsAs I checked the daily blog prompt this morning I thought the question it posed was odd, at least from a counselor’s perspective. The suggested topic was titled “Flawed” and the accompanying prompt suggested writing on the question “What is your worst quality?” My initial response was to think “that’s an awful question!” As a counselor, I don’t think it has ever crossed my mind to ask that question. Asking someone to focus on their worst quality and flaws, in my mind, is equivalent to asking the similarly awful question “what’s wrong with you?”

I think both questions can lead to a feeling of shame. When we believe there is something inherently “wrong” with us or we dwell on that nagging, less than ideal quality, we increase our feelings of anxiety and insecurity and lower our self-esteem. Once shame enters the scene it can begin interfering with our daily lives. We become less likely to interact with others, we begin using negative self-talk more often, and we become full of doubt or even self-hatred. Shame eventually tries to convince us that others must feel the same way about us that we feel about ourselves and we come to feel as though we’re toxic.

I would suggest that we all have imperfections, flaws, and qualities we think about changing or sometimes wish were different. Sometimes we can change them, sometimes we can’t. In instances where we can’t change our least favorite qualities, or when the change is going to take time, it can help to find ways to accept ourselves as we are, in this moment, with all our shortcomings and strengths.

Doing a simple mindfulness exercise, for example, might help:

“Breathing in I recognize this flaw, breathing out I accept myself where I am right now.”

Using affirmations and monitoring your self-talk are additional ways you can manage thoughts and feelings related to flaws and imperfections.

Instead of asking yourself what your worst quality is and emphasizing your flaws, I would encourage you to ask “how can you accept who you are even with that quality or flaw?” What’s your favorite way to deal with the thoughts and feelings associated with your flaws? How are you able to accept your worst qualities when they come to your attention?

 

~Inspired by a prompt from: Flawed~

That Haunting Feeling of Guilt

Maybe you know that feeling, that one that arises when you believe your behavior is inappropriate in some way and goes against a set of values or moral standards. You feel as though you’ve done something that will result in disapproval from the people around you and that haunting feeling of guilt sets in.

We often think of guilt as being a negative and unpleasant emotion. It can feed a feeling of anxiety as we fear disapproval or judgment from others. However, like most negative and unpleasant emotions, that guilt is trying to tell you something needs to change. Guilt can be reframed in a positive light. It can build prosocial behavior by motivating you to take part in your community, encouraging you to help family or neighbors, and it can inspire you to eat healthy and exercise.

Most people don’t want to be solely motivated by guilt though. Guilt doesn’t feel good! When working with guilt it can help to consider your values and what your intention is for alleviating the feeling. If you ask yourself “why should I help my neighbor?” and your answer is “because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t” then you are being motivated by guilt. However, if you ask yourself “why should I help my neighbor?” and your answer is “because it’s the compassionate thing to do” then you are demonstrating an intention to help based on your value of compassion, not guilt.

Guilt can be worked with in several ways.

  1. Learn from your behavior. If you did do something wrong and had a negative result, learn from what you did so you don’t repeat the same negative outcome in the future.
  2. Be accountable for your actions. Take responsibility by apologizing, acknowledging your mistake or behavior, and be careful to not let the behavior happen again.
  3. Recognize what you can and cannot change. If you can change something about the situation, change it! If you can’t change what happened, find healthy ways to move on.
  4. Share your experience with others. If you’ve learned something from your experience with guilt, share your knowledge with others so they might prevent the same outcome from happening.
  5. If you’ve done nothing wrong and can’t place why you’re feeling guilty, talk with someone about it. Guilt can be a sign that something unhealthy is going on with your thinking and talking about it can help sort out where the feeling might be coming from.

Inspired by a prompt from The Guilt that Haunts Me

When I grow up…

When you think back to when you were 10 years old what did you dream of being when you grew up? Did you achieve that dream or did you take another path? How does what you became connect with what you wanted to be as a 10 year old?forkintheroad

When I was 10 years old I discovered music and knew I was going to grow up to be a great musician. I pursued my dream up into college and, based on the feedback I received from others, was a pretty great musician. I practiced diligently and consistently but found I was losing interest as a music major after a couple of years at the college level. I felt disappointed and reluctant to let go of something I had poured so much time and effort into and part of me felt like I was letting go of a part of my identity when I decided to take a break from college and musical performance.

I eventually decided to pursue an interest in studying psychology and returned to college. I immediately loved the class content and found that I thrived on reading, studying, taking tests, and writing papers! Of course, I needed to do something with a psychology degree and decided that I wanted to pursue a path as a counselor, which meant more school. Grad school was grueling but incredibly rewarding and transformative for me. Leaving behind my musician-identity allowed me to discover new talents I never realized I had. I found that letting go was both scary and rewarding. Now, I enjoy helping others explore their own identities and paths.

I think my two paths are connected with a desire for creativity. Music allowed me to create new compositions and interpret notes in my own way. Counseling allows me to meet hundreds of different people and help create positive changes as we work toward goals together. Counselors can use different theories and dozens of techniques to help people which provides an ideal environment for creativity. Among many other things, counseling can be a helpful way to explore your identity, interests, strengths, and feelings about facing life’s transitions. I’m happy to be a part of so many people’s lives whose personal journeys have crossed paths with the professional path I chose.

Inspired by a prompt from: Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star

Stop! Imposter!

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Imposter syndrome: What is it?

Have you ever accomplished something only to feel immense self-doubt about what you just finished? Do you ever feel like a fraud after doing something successful and fear that others are going to call you out as the charlatan you know yourself to be? Maybe you find that you doubt your abilities and believe someone will eventually unmask the real you and finally show the world that you are talentless and incapable and you feel this way even though people around you give you positive feedback? Perhaps you identify yourself as a perfectionist or high-achiever yet you procrastinate and owe all of your successes to luck instead of personal effort?

If you relate to any of the above questions chances are that you may have what psychologists in the 70s coined as “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis and can be described as a cycle of fear, self-doubt, or a feeling of inadequacy motivated by a pressure to achieve and appear competent and capable.

How does imposter syndrome affect people?

  • It increases stress and anxiety
  • Limits opportunities and potential success due to avoidance of situations where you might be “found out”
  • May lead to feelings of failure and disappointment following an accomplishment
  • Can lead to negative self-talk and depression
  • Perfectionism may lead to feelings of shame or humiliation if a mistake happens
  • General dissatisfaction with life

Where does imposter syndrome come from and who does it affect?

Imposter syndrome is experienced by a wide range of people including different genders, people in various work occupations, and in different cultures. It is thought that imposter syndrome arises through a combination of factors including individual personality traits, family environment, and social factors.

Those with a penchant toward perfectionism are more likely to run into imposter beliefs than those without perfection-seeking behaviors and thoughts. People who grow up believing they lacked parental care or who received confusing messages about achievement and self-worth may be at increased risk of feeling like an imposter later in life. Because Imposters fear being exposed as lacking ability or being thought of as incompetent, they oftentimes hold a false belief that they must be perfect in order to be accepted or approved of by others.

What to do about it

If you believe that perfectionism, self-doubt, or fear of being perceived as incompetent might be leading to feeling like an imposter, here are some activities that might help.

  • Practice ways to celebrate your successes
  • Remind yourself that no one is perfect
  • View mistakes as learning opportunities, not as character flaws
  • Practice using affirmations and positive self-talk when the imposter tries to create self-doubt
  • Seek therapy or find someone to talk to about what you’re going through
  • Reflect on and acknowledge what you’re good at
  • Try a new activity outside your comfort zone where you’re not the expert

~Inspired by a prompt from: The Great Pretender

Reference

Sakulku, J., & Alexander, J. (2011). The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6 (1), 73-92.

 

Leslie Morgan Steiner Describes Her Experience with Domestic Violence in this TEDTalk

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Here is a 2013 TEDTalk by Leslie Morgan Steiner on her experience as a domestic violence victim and survivor. She encourages everyone to “talk about what you heard here, abuse thrives only in silence. You have the power to end domestic violence simply by shining a spotlight on it.” She encourages everyone to recognize the signs of abuse and to talk about it with their children, coworkers, friends and family. She asks her listeners to create a different view of survivors as “wonderful, lovable people with full futures” and not blame them for the abusive situations they’re in.

The Black Dot Campaign: 10 Other Ways to Support Domestic Violence Survivors

I recently noticed a post being shared on Facebook for a campaign involving victims of domestic violence (DV) and a “Black Dot.” The black dot is supposed to be a symbol that victims of DV can draw on the palm of their hand to let professionals and others know they are involved with domestic violence but are unable to ask for help because the abuser is watching their every move. Theblackdot Black Dot Campaign encourages everyone to post a picture of a black dot on his or her palm to show support for domestic violence survivors.

Campaigns to raise awareness about DV can be great. They create conversations, inspire blog posts, and draw attention to important social problems. On the other hand, some of them can also create the illusion that they are official programs, insinuate that professionals are trained and aware of the campaign, or even put survivors at risk for more abuse. While the Black Dot is intended to be a silent way for survivors to communicate their abuse, it may cause more abuse if discovered by the perpetrator. Survivors who try to use the Black Dot may attempt to show everyone their secret dot and then wonder why no one is responding to it or offering help. People who see it, might not have a clue what it is, what it means, or know what to do if they do recognize that the person needs help. As a provider who works with DV survivors, I think the campaign is a great start to creating discussion about domestic violence but I also think it is currently an unreliable method for helping people affected by abuse.

There are often a number of warning signs that can indicate someone is being abused in their relationship. Although a single sign may not indicate abuse, multiple “red flags” may suggest abusive behavior is going on. Here are eight ways to recognize abuse and ten ideas about how to help if you suspect or know that abuse is happening.

8 Signs of an Abusive Relationship:

  1. A person seems withdrawn and misses work or socializes with friends and family less often
  2. A person has a partner who seems unusually jealous or suspicious of the person’s behavior
  3. A person’s partner regularly criticizes, puts them down, or humiliates them around others
  4. A person seems unable to be away from the partner without receiving unending texts or phone calls that seem to be checking on or monitoring the person
  5. Obvious physical injuries including black eyes, bruising (especially around the neck or wrists), or broken bones that don’t seem to fit with the person’s description of how the injury occurred
  6. One partner does most of the talking and the other person seems nervous about saying anything in the presence of the partner
  7. A person expresses fear or says they don’t feel safe going home to their partner
  8. A person makes excuses for the aggressive, suspicious, abusive behavior of the other person

10 Things you can do if you suspect or become aware that someone is being abused:

  1. Offer to help the person get connected with local services, such as a crisis center or a local domestic violence agency which can help them with things from basic needs to protection orders.
  2. Offer to create a safety plan with the person. This might involve offering to keep an emergency bag for the person. Emergency bags contain copies of important documents like birth certificates and protection orders as well as emergency cash and extra clothing. The bags can be useful if the person decides to flee quickly.
  3. Offer to go with the person to appointments such as to court, to meet with police, to the hospital, or to the attorney’s office.
  4. Offer to watch the person’s children while they attend appointments.
  5. Offer to provide transportation to run errands or to attend appointments. Many DV survivors I’ve worked with have been isolated and are left without transportation during the day while a partner or spouse is away.
  6. Share your concern about the person’s safety and let the person know you’re there for support if needed
  7. Be aware that confronting the abuser could make things worse for the survivor; always keep the survivor’s safety in mind when attempting to help.
  8. Don’t provide unwanted help or try to rescue an adult DV survivor. Allow survivors to make their own choices about what they want to do and respect their decisions.
  9. Be aware that leaving a domestic violence situation is the most dangerous time for survivors and that there may be a variety of reasons why survivors stay in the relationship.
  10. Report child abuse. If you suspect or know that a child is being abused, report it by calling local law enforcement, statewide hotlines, or local CPS services.

What are your thoughts on the Black Dot Campaign? If you’re a DV survivor what things were most helpful to you during or after the abusive relationship? How did you tell others about the abuse?