If Acceptance is the key to serenity, what do you do about unacceptable behavior and domestic violence?
Kathy H joined the Recovery Show to talk about her experience with domestic violence, and the strength and hope she has found in recovery.
We started with some definitions for unacceptable behavior and domestic violence.
Definition of Unacceptable Behavior
- any conduct that is unreasonable, regardless of the level of stress, frustration or anger experienced, because it compromises health, safety or security
- From Law Insider
- Unacceptable – too bad to be accepted, approved of, or allowed to continue
- From Cambridge Dictionary
Definition of Domestic Violence
Does that only start when a spouse physically hurts another spouse? The answer is no – domestic violence starts much sooner than physical violence.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.
It includes behaviors that physically harm, intimidate, manipulate or control a partner, or otherwise force them to behave in ways they don’t want to, including through physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, or financial control.
Multiple forms of abuse are usually present at the same time in abusive situations, and it’s essential to understand how these behaviors interact so you know what to look for (National Domestic Violence Hotline).
Some examples of abuse that are part of domestic violence include:
- Physically hurting you, children or pets
- Reckless driving
- Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
- Trying to isolate you from family and friends
- Financial control
- Humiliating comments
- Damaging belongings, throwing things, punching walls, kicking doors
- Threats of violence
- Gaslighting you by pretending not to understand or refusing to listen to you; questioning your recollection of facts, events, or sources; trivializing your needs or feelings; or denying previous statements or promises.
- Verbal abuse
So many of these items sound and feel small taken just one at a time. They are so easy to trivialize, minimize, and overlook. Taken together they slowly, over time, cause a person to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the abusive partner a lot of power.
Kathy's experience is perhaps too neatly summarized here: “I experienced many types of gaslighting starting very early on in our marriage, attempted control of my friends, financial control, reckless driving, abandoning me and my child in unfamiliar places, and mean comments for 13 years before I finally saw through the denial and confusion. But I will say that in between those low points, there were very good times where my husband was great. Every time I would think “FINALLY! He has realized that what he was doing was wrong for so many reasons. And then at some point it would all pick back up again. It’s all a cycle which makes it all that much more confusing.”
What did living with domestic violence feel like? “Living with domestic violence was like living in a circus fun house of weird mirrors. Things always felt off kilter but I couldn't understand what was wrong or why it felt like that. tried very hard to figure it out. We went to different couples counselors that I tracked down, I read books. I felt like no marriage is perfect, so I tried to be patient. But there was coercion going on to rip my self esteem from me, and over time sadly it worked.”
The wake up call
She finally had a wake up call, which led her to start to plan how to exit her marriage. She said “If you’ve ever seen the Matrix, it was just like I’d been instantly unplugged and was looking around me at reality for the first time.”
One therapist recommended “that I should take my daughter and leave the house every time he got angry. She said in front of him that domestic violence can grow from rage at home, so I needed to leave the house regardless of the time of day. A few times my daughter and I stayed in a hotel. I had small bags packed in my car for us.”
When she decided she needed to leave, she took steps
- Gathering and making copies of important documents, such as financial records and statements, Social Security cards and birth certificates for her and her daughter, and college degrees.
- Getting a job.
- Reading about women's safety issues and hoe to prepare for leaving.
- Getting an apartment, and telling her husband, who was moving out of state for his job, that she was not coming with him, because their daughter needed to stay.
This didn't just affect Kathy, but also her daughter, who started self-harming, and attempted suicide.
Kathy emphasizes that keeping herself safe was a paramount consideration. She writes:
Still to this day, one of the scariest parts of domestic violence is the high risk of murder to the spouse when they attempt to leave, or when the break is becoming official. It is still on my mind today as our divorce is getting closer to being final.
I want to say to anyone listening who is in a similar situation – please make sure that you stay safe. If your intuition is screaming at you, chances are it's right. And you should listen to it. If your spouse is watching your movements and checking your computer activity and phone, you can use the google incognito browser on your phone or computer to look up resources online.
She also says that it's important to find professionals who have experience with domestic violence. “I had reached out to professionals who didn't have the awareness and didn't have the understanding of what I was going through. From that point on, I made sure that every professional I reached out to had experience in domestic violence. That took some research on my part, like I would Google them, Google their background and find, and do a search for domestic violence, or emotional abuse or something like that. If I didn't see it, I wouldn't go any further. In that way, I was able to surround myself with professionals who did understand, who I felt validated from, who could help me remove the layers of craziness and get down to the root.
“That included my daughter's therapist, my lawyer, and my therapist.”
During our conversation, Kathy mentioned some recovery tools that she uses now.
She has a mantra, “I define my own self-worth“. From her childhood, her self-worth was defined by other people: her mother, her husband, and others. She knows now, not to internalize other people's comments, whether they are negative or positive! “I hand over both negative and positive comments to my higher power. I look to myself to define my own value and my own self-worth and I use the steps to figure out, what am I good at? What can I continue to improve that?
She sometimes had the experience of mental static, called dissociation. A therapist told her to ground herself by grabbing onto a table, hold it firmly, close her eyes and take deep breaths. “Dissociation was my brain’s way of trying to stop an extremely stressful event from continuing. It's actually a physical reaction. By taking those steps, I can settle my body.”
Asking for help
She can reach out for help. “It's not shameful and other people's actions are outside of my control and outside of my hula hoop. I need to hand it over and I need to keep myself safe.”
Choices and boundaries
Knowing that everything is a choice, “… that is so important for me to remember. So if someone makes a mean comment to me, or I see an acceptable behavior coming my way, I have choices every single time. I can choose to let other people's words have power over me and define my own self-worth or I can choose to let it go, hand it over to my higher power for however long, and however many times it takes before serenity returns.”
Choosing boundaries, “I can choose to define a boundary, to protect myself and keep myself safe and take care of myself and I can make the conscious choice to accept and embrace it.”
She compares unacceptable behavior to holes in a path. “In the past I was looking inward. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts, I wasn't looking at the path, I wouldn't see the holes, I would trip right into them and get upset about the fact that I tripped into them. But having a boundary is looking outward and looking upward at my higher power. I love that phrase. I can pay attention and see that there's a hole coming up on the road and say look, there's some unacceptable behavior. I'm going to set my boundaries and I'm going to go around it. I'm not going to fall in the hole.”
Recognizing old patterns and replacing them with new behavior. “Al-Anon gives me the tools to recognize those. I see it like a thread that's going on in my head and I can just pick up the Al-Anon scissors and cut. Nope. We're not doing that. Snip. We're going back to the healthy way. I've accepted that I will always need my Al-Anon tools to help with my disease of perception to adjust that focus away from insanity and towards the direction of health and serenity.”
Connecting with herself
Staying connected with herself. “For me at this moment in time, that looks asking myself, what do I want to do with each day, with this day? Not, what do other people want to do, but what do I want to do? Because my time is valuable. … I can ask my higher power to help me stay connected to myself.”
A few closing words from Kathy
I've heard it from professionals in the field that the biggest indicator that abuse is occurring is a person's intuition. So there you go. I knew for a long time, I just didn't know that I knew.
Kathy recommended the author Patricia Evans, who has written several books about verbal abuse and control.
Searching the Internet Safely
Use Google Chrome’s incognito browser to search for things online without leaving a clear history. Just make sure to close your incognito browser window when you are done. https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95464?co=GENIE.Platform%3DAndroid&hl=en
Call / Reach out for help
800.799.SAFE (7233), available 24/7 to answer your call
Recognize the signs of relationship abuse
Signs of Verbal Abuse
About Verbal Abuse
Create a Safety Plan
Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Deborah shared a little bit of her experience with unacceptable behavior. She was my guest on the podcast in the episode titled Hands Off Pays Off (322).
Upcoming topics include the effects of recovery. What effects of recovery have you experienced? How does this differ from the effects of alcoholism or addiction on your life? Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.