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Chinese Whispers and Chinese Walls: The Language and Landscape of Parental Alienation

Wow. This is spot on.

Karen Woodall

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 09.23.16I am often asked by parents of older children, how come their child has not returned to them when they are clearly old enough to look back and understand what has happened.

Answering this questions is not difficult when one considers the way in which the alienating parent colonises the mind of the child, dividing it repeatedly into good and bad, black and white, right and wrong through repeated whispers of distortion, until the internalised landscape looks like a wall has been built into it.

The issue is that the child, repeatedly exposed to the Chinese whispers of the parent, does not know that the wall is there and believes that their mind is wholly their own and independent of any of the whispering which has been going on in their lives, sometimes for many years.  Add to that the upholding of the whispers of distortion through the trips and…

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GTFO

Most people know what GTFO stands for, so there’s no need to state the obvious. It seemed to be a very fitting name for this site because it’s blunt and suggests a sense of urgency. I also thought it would lend itself to some clever alternative meanings (i.e., Get the Facts Out).

Grammatically speaking, GTFO is a command, an imperative statement. As in, it is imperative for you to leave an abusive partner. However, I recognize that it’s not that simple. As of 2013, the National Domestic Violence estimates that an abuse victim will try to leave an average of 7 times before leaving for good.

There are lots of reasons that people stay in abusive relationships. You can read about some of those here and here, but some of the main reasons are fear (for self, children, or even the abuser), lack of resources (money, family, friends, etc.), guilt (for “failing” the relationship), religious/cultural reasons, and the worst of all: love. When it comes to abusers, what you “love” about them can blind you from the truth about them. That’s a very difficult bond to break.

If you are the victim, you probably understand this already. You may have tried leaving  once or twice, maybe more. If so, don’t worry–it’s absolutely normal. If not, good. Don’t try to leave until you are ready (except in cases of emergency).

If you are an ally, you may have no idea what would make someone stay with an abusive partner. That’s okay; you don’t have to understand why. You do need to understand your role in this. You are there for support when the victim needs it. If you try to offer helpful advice such as, “Just leave,” you will be disappointed. If you try to intervene by threatening, intimidating, bribing, or pleading with the abuser, you may actually be jeopardizing the victim. Just be there. Be ready to help when the time comes. Your love, encouragement, and support will go a long way.

So, while I have chosen a potentially insensitive name for this website, it is entirely out of compassion. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be free. You deserve to be yourself. To accomplish those things, you will have to GTFO.

The next few posts will be dedicated to some specific steps to take in planning and executing your escape. Stay tuned.

You’re (probably) not crazy

One of the most awful weapons of abusers is known by a term that I learned way too late. It’s called gaslighting, and the entire purpose is to make you think that you are the crazy one.

If you want to know more about the term itself, click on the link above or do a quick search. There are lots of places to find information about it. The purpose of this post isn’t to define the word or give examples; it’s to assure you that you aren’t crazy.**

Let me say that again: YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.

Remember that scene in Good Will Huntinwhen Robin Williams’ character finally breaks through to Matt Damon’s character? He repeats this line over and over again: “It’s not your fault.” I remember watching that movie many years ago and being genuinely touched by this tough-as-nails kid weeping in the arms of his court-appointed psychiatrist.

Yes, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but there’s something about that scene when he lets go of all the self-doubt and self-loathing that has always stuck with me. I didn’t quite have that breakthrough moment, but I felt something like it when someone close to me said, “I think you’re in an abusive relationship. I’m worried about you.”

I was on the phone with this person, someone I had not spoken to in a very long time, someone who very well could have written me off, someone who had long recognized the signs. I don’t remember everything about that conversation, but I remember breaking down. I sobbed. For the first time in years, I felt the odd embrace of being understood. Though I had never really been able to articulate what I felt, someone else knew what I was going through.

I wasn’t crazy. Through hot tears and an impossibly tangled knot of emotions, I found myself admitting that I was unhappy, that I had been physically and emotionally abused. My wife had cursed me, insulted me, belittled me, mocked me, threatened me, slapped me, scratched me, punched me. My wife had abused me.

It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t my deluded mind trying to rationalize my own transgressions. I didn’t make it up. The abuse was real. It was embarrassing to admit at first. It was humiliating, but it was necessary. I had to be honest about what had been happening.

I wasn’t crazy, and neither are you. How do I know this? Because you found this page, and you have read this far. Who else would be interested in reading about a grown man’s tearful confession that he had been victimized by a little bitty woman? Unless you really are a sociopath who finds some morbid enjoyment in my story, you are not crazy.

She wants you to think you are. She wants you to take the blame for everything. She wants you to apologize, to beg forgiveness, to promise loyalty, to feel dependent. She is controlling you by making you believe that you are the monster, that she is the victim. You’ve tried to reason with her, haven’t you? You’ve tried explaining yourself, right? It doesn’t work because her reality is different from the one you inhabit with everyone else.

Think of it this way: let’s say two people are having a discussion about physics. One believes that the law of gravity is pretty consistent; it applies to everyone equally. The other argues that Harry Potter isn’t affected because he can fly. In his mind, that is a reasonable claim. After all, Harry Potter is a wizard who is able to fly using magic, defying gravity at will. It would be perfectly rational to make that argument, except Harry Potter doesn’t actually exist.

This is what it’s like to argue with a gaslighter; if you don’t accept the insane reality she claims to experience, then you’re the one who’s crazy. It makes sense to her, so that means it must be real.

I’ll say it one more time for good measure: YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. The best way to be certain of this is to talk to other people. Family and friends are great resources. Find a counselor if you haven’t already. Look for blogs like this one and others by people who have experienced this before. When your sense of reality is confirmed over and over again, you will begin to see just how sane you are.

 

 


**Well, you might very well be able to diagnose yourself with one of the many disorders listed in the DSM-5. Most of us are bound to have at least one at some point.

Courage

The French call it le cœur. To the Italians, it’s il cuoreIn Spanish, el corazon. All of these derive from the Latin word cor, which means “heart.” Though the English word for this left-of-center muscular organ has Germanic origins, the Latin root cor appears in a number of familiar words like “accord” and “cordial.” Somehow, I was surprised to learn that it is also the source of the word “courage.”

Why the etymology lesson? When I began this post about courage, I wanted to explore what the word means beyond its obvious connotations of strength and bravery. Too often, we bandy our words about with little concern for precision. Why worry about the subtle distinctions between words like “abhor” and “despise” when they basically mean “hate,” right?

So what does “courage” actually mean? It’s not just the ability to do something dangerous or the willingness to risk harm. Courage is a property, a quality. It exists within us, arising from our core, our heart. It is not the absence of fear; it is the antidote to fear. It is the source of strength that allows us to act in spite of our fears, our doubts, our insecurities.

Whenever we find ourselves facing a threat (whether real or imagined), we have a choice. We can allow the coward in us to run for the nearest hiding place, or we can choose to face the threat. That is courage–having faith in yourself.

However, there is another kind of courage, which is less about faith and more about wisdom. It takes courage to ask for help. One of the hardest things I have ever done is admit that I cannot handle everything on my own. It took a long time to recognize that asking for help is not about weakness; it’s about the strength to understand my own limitations and allow others to support me. I’m sure dozens of self-help gurus have written exhaustively about this already, but I recently learned the lesson for myself.

Any 7th-grader can tell you that the heart is a muscle. It’s a sophisticated piece of biological machinery–an organic pump. That’s it. There is no reason to believe it holds any supernatural or metaphysical properties. However, it continues to serve as one of the most recognizable symbols of love, passion, and bravery. It makes sense. After all, it resides in the literal core of our bodies, so why not treat it as the figurative core of our lives? No matter where courage actually resides, it is a fundamental part of who we are and is instrumental in defining us. I, for one, take heart in believing that.

via Daily Prompt: Courage

Why I stayed (and why I left)

When I first realized that I was a victim, I did not feel relief. I felt shame. I thought that I had failed as a man and as a husband. The very idea that a man my size could be abused by a woman seemed ridiculous. I was humiliated by the prospect of telling anyone else. In addition to shame, I felt guilt. She made me believe that I was responsible for her cruelty. I turned her into a monster, I caused her violent tantrums, I made her crazy. Though she actually verbalized such claims on a few occasions, the unspoken refrain echoed around us after every outburst: Look what you made me do.

When I first realized that I was a victim, I did not feel relief. I felt shame. I thought that I had failed as a man and as a husband. The very idea that a man my size could be abused by a woman seemed ridiculous. I was humiliated by the prospect of telling anyone else. In addition to shame, I felt guilt. She made me believe that I was responsible for her cruelty. I turned her into a monster, I caused her violent tantrums, I made her crazy. Though she actually verbalized such claims on a few occasions, the unspoken refrain echoed around us after every outburst: Look what you made me do.

However, there was a feeling more insidious than guilt or shame that paralyzed me. It was the reason I stayed for so long. It was the reason I endured her hot/cold, love/hate cycle. It was the reason I used my kids as an excuse not to leave. It was fear. For years, her response to even minor frustrations was to insult, belittle, and emasculate me. As her physical violence grew more frequent and more dangerous, I feared for my safety and the safety of my children. I knew that leaving her would be the first important step in my own recovery, but I couldn’t bear to think of leaving my kids behind. It took several months of counseling and support from friends and family to realize that I could no longer allow my kids to live in such a toxic environment.

The painful reality that lay before me was clear; I had to leave her in order to become healthy enough to help my kids. Again and again I heard the analogy of oxygen masks that pop out in an emergency on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help anyone else. That didn’t do anything to calm my fears. In fact, I grew more afraid than ever, but I knew I had to get out. What helped me was understanding that I was making the decision as a father. I wasn’t abandoning my kids. I was breaking the cycle that had imprisoned all of us. I was setting them (and myself) free.

Don’t get me wrong; it was not a heroic decision. It was a necessary one, but I know that it could have been avoided. Had I recognized the signs or heeded the warnings of family and friends, I would not have spent so many years of my life trying to please a woman who could not be pleased. I would not have subjected my beautiful children to the psychological maelstrom of witnessing an abusive relationship. I would not have suffered the devastating blow of being alienated from those kids for breaking up the family. By “allowing” myself to be victimized, I allowed everyone to share in the suffering.

So, I left. Even with the help of a therapist, I was anxious and depressed. I was sad and angry and remorseful and scared and uncertain. For months I asked myself, What have I done? Did I really make the right choice? Was it worth it? However, I eventually realized that it was not all my fault. Did I make mistakes? Did I cause problems? Did I help create the whole mess to begin with? Absolutely,  but I wasn’t entirely to blame. And now, I am healing. In the midst of pain, sadness, and self-pity, there are glimpses of peace, joy, and courage. Every day, I am getting stronger and better equipped to give my children the love and stability they need to become healthy, happy adults. And that’s exactly why I left.

You are not alone

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone.

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone. Whether the abuse was verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or a combination of these, you are not alone. Whether you were abused by your wife or girlfriend, your husband or boyfriend, your father or mother, you are not alone. Whether you have endured the abuse for a month, a year, or a decade, you are not alone.

If you are here because you think you might be a victim, there’s a good chance you are. Though this may be a first step for you, it is a huge step to take. Understanding the nature of abuse and its effects is crucial to your recovery.

For those of you who are in abusive relationships now, you are probably beginning to face a very difficult truth: you must leave. This is not about if, it’s about when and how. And as you may have already realized, you cannot wait to be liberated; you must free yourself. Frederick Douglass summed up his courageous escape from slavery as an act of will: “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

The goal of this blog is not fully clear to me yet. I know that there are many websites and resources for men who are learning what it means to be a victim of abuse, so I want to add more than just encouragement. My hope is to provide whatever help I can to struggling men. What that looks like in my head right now is a sort of database, a crowd-sourced pool of resources for men to find help at a very local level. This may include phone numbers and addresses of male-friendly shelters, hotlines that offer support for abuse victims, and contact information for local support groups. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or information, please visit the contact page and send me an email. I would love to hear from you.

Every situation is different, and each one requires a unique solution. However, the more information that is available, the more stories that are shared, the more voices that are raised, the more we can establish connections that will allow us to help ourselves and others. By building a substantial network of resources, we can help individuals reclaim their lives and combat the myths about men as victims of abuse.

I am not an expert in psychology, mental health, relationships, or the law. I have no official credentials to offer, nor any professional experience to draw from. I have nothing but my own experience and my own research to offer. Still, for whatever it’s worth, I want to share my story and what I have learned so that I might help others in some way. This seems like as good a place as any to begin: you are not alone.

If you need immediate help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
Toll free, 24/7/365.