FREE Relationship Rights Checklist to Help You Claim The Healthy Love You Deserve

If you’ve been hurt in your relationship, it’s natural and normal for you to want to “harm proof” yourself.

The most common request in survivor groups is for information about how to avoid attracting the same kind of hurtful partner in the future.

“How do I avoid ending up in relationship with another abusive person?”

How to avoid abuse brightened.png

To Claim Healthy Love You Must Recognize Your Own Patterns

It’s a good question and survivors are smart to ask. What we know is that if you are in a relationship that hurts, there are some aspects of your patterns of interacting with potential partners that “alert” them to the fact that you are someone who might easily be taken advantage of. Those are the hooks that a potential abusive partner use to “lure you” into relationship. The problem is that we can’t usually see our vulnerable points until after someone has used them to take advantage. I’ve heard many women speak of their disappointment because they were able to get out of a harmful relationship and then found themselves being hurt again by a different partner! The other person didn’t look the same as the first hurtful partner. But, here they are again, being hurt like before.

It’s a common problem. You leave your abusive relationship, only to find that your next relationship is the same.

After doing this work for myself and so many women I’ve helped, I understand how to break that pattern.

It’s not in being able to spot an abusive person “a mile away.” Although recognizing potentially abusive behaviors in other people is helpful, that is not the way you will “abuse proof” your future.

As I’ve continued to work in the field of Domestic Violence recovery, I have noticed that MOST of the focus is on identifying abusers or identifying abusive patterns.

I think that approach to providing answers just a little too little and a little too late.

Domestic Violence Awareness movement in our country is doing a great job of raising awareness to the problem on a social level. It’s also doing a great job of helping vulnerable people recognize that they can get out of their situations.

All of that is fantastic.

But, what’s next?

How do we stop vulnerable people from being harmed in the first place?

What are the real answers to Breaking the Cycle of violence once the Silence is broken?

There are lots of potential responses related to education in the schools and changes in public policy.

What I’m focusing on here is breaking your cycle.

You need a way to see what is invisible to you but obvious to someone who would take advantage of you.

You need to be able to use this information to abuse-proof yourself in the future.

Seeing this need and recognizing that the information “out there” is filled with answers that ask you to look at other people in hopes of recognizing threat, I want to offer you something different.

I want to offer you something that will help you reclaim yourself. I want to show you the areas where vulnerable people typically get hurt, tell you what you have the right to expect in a relationship and give you permission to ask for what is healthy. It’s called the Relationship Rights Checklist.

This is your first step toward getting what you want in relationship while building a deep connection at the same time.

Lead Magnet

It’s based on the personal work I’ve done to get myself out of 2 abusive marriage and an oppressive religious upbringing. It’s also based on tried-an-true realities I’ve seen while working as a therapist for the last 2 decades.

It’s my gift to you.


I’d love to hear your feedback. I’m always here to help.

All my love,


© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


How To Develop Your Self-Empowerment Mindset


People who are self-empowered hold thoughts and attitudes that allow them to assume they have the ability to overcome obstacles. A self-empowered person develops goals for her or his life and sees anything that gets in the way of a particular goal as temporary. Instead of giving up when faced with difficulty, a self-empowered person falls back on an internal process that includes inspecting the difficulty, understanding it well, developing strategies for moving the difficulty out of their way and refusing to give in until they discover how to eradicate the difficulty and continue on the path to victory! Self-empowerment means you stay focused on your prize. Bumps in the road have no power to dissuade you from winning. Even if the winning takes more time than you thought it would.

Self-empowerment will drive you toward your best life

Self-empowerment will drive you toward your best life


The strategies involved in self-empowerment don’t change. Whether you are thinking of completing an advanced degree, losing weight or overcoming trauma, the process is the same. This means that once you understand the tools, you can apply them to success after success, over and over again.


The only thing self-empowerment does not apply to is changing other people or getting other people to do what you want them to do. (Focusing on getting another person to do what you want them to do in spite of any difficulties is manipulative and can be abusive. Although it may be a familiar pattern to some, feeling empowered by getting others to bend to your will is the opposite of healthy self-empowerment.)


Self-empowerment directly applies to the self-healing process. There are several differences between someone who can enact a self-healing process using self-empowerment strategies and some who does not. Let me outline just a few of them here to help you understand what you need to remember as you embark on your self-healing journey:


    • Self-empowerment thinking requires that you maintain a “can do” attitude rather than believing that what happens to you is entirely outside of your control. While it is true that sometimes awful things happen, a self-empowered person knows that there is always a way to respond to unexpected situations that will result in a positive outcome.


Self-empowerment learns

Self-empowerment: “I can. Even if I don’t know how yet.”


    • Self-empowerment thinking expects challenges and set-backs and allows for them. When I believe I can do something or I am undeterred from achieving a goal, challenges call for a re-assessment of my approach, not the forfeit of the race. Re-assessment for the self-empowered person makes no excuses and does not place blame on others. A truly self-empowered person asks the following question when confronted with a challenge: “What do I need to do to overcome this? How can I positively affect this situation and continue to move forward?”



Self-Empowered People Live By This Motto


      • Self-empowered people seek information. They know that every predicament has many possible solutions. When a self-empowered person can only see one or two possibilities, they ask for help, read, research and get more information until one or more good solutions reveal themselves. This requires patience and trust in the process and in yourself.


willing to learn

Self-empowerment involves constant learning


      • Self-empowered people make good use of their physical abilities. You only get one body. How you treat it determines your ability to approach situations with a self-empowered attitude. When you are unhealthy, sleep deprived or otherwise compromised physically, your body cannot support a self-empowered approach. Some obstacles to your goals will require you to stop, take a break, maybe take a nap and re-evaluate. Make sure your body is well-nourished and well-rested so that your health can support your process. “I can’t” and “I give up” are statements easily made by an overly-tired or ill person who would otherwise have a strong self-empowered mindset. Mindset is greatly influenced by your physical state. Do everything you can to be well physically.


healthy body healthy mind

Self-Empowerment requires effort at maintaining your health


    • The final point I will make in this post also leads to an introduction to my free tool for improving your Self-empowerment mindset. Among the things I’ve been describing here is an attitude of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment with calmness and acceptance of what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing in your body. It is the beginning of being able to perform a “self-diagnostic” when everything isn’t going the way you want it to. Look for my “Thoughtful Thursday” posts which will introduce you to a new exercise each week focused on helping you improve your mindfulness skills as you move closer to your own self-empowerment mindset.


For more of Tamara’s work, please visit where you can sign up for Tamara’s newsletter and get weekly support on your self-empowerment journey. Tamara’s podcast can also be found on  iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.


Turning A Corner & Walking a Fine Line

Although my last post published just a few days ago, it has been a year since that post was written. At the time of this writing, it has been a year since I left my blog and podcast in search of deeper healing for myself. By the time this publishes, it will have been a year and a half.

I have learned a lot in that time. It is in the act of re-building this blog and podcast that my former self held up a mirror for me today. Now I can see what happened. This vision comes into focus even clearer because a physical cause for many of my symptoms has been discovered and corrected.

I can see that in search of my own healing and in an effort to authenticate my victim experience through creative expression, my victim/helpless emotions amplified themselves to the point that I could no longer see how I could continue this work. I had gone so far down the rabbit hole that I couldn’t see light.

I was wrong. I needed time and space to get correct perspective.

self reflection

With a new perspective (based on the relief of physical symptoms that have troubled me for a lifetime) I understand a few things differently.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned after a year’s hiatus and a heart procedure:

– The appropriate time for digging deeply into difficult feelings is when those feelings lead to behaviors that don’t serve you well in your life. Many therapists dig into old trauma with clients thinking that telling the story and getting the emotions out will lead to relief. While that can offer the temporary solution of “unloading a burden,” dwelling on those emotions can swallow a person whole. Why not just wait for the body to tell you when it is time to uncover the mystery of the feelings behind actions or words that aren’t what you wish they would be?

– Just because uncomfortable feelings reveal themselves, there is no injunction to do anything with or about them. Know they’re there. Don’t ignore. But a feeling isn’t a commandment. Not everything we feel has to be expressed. Again. Expression for the mere sake of expression can lead to overwhelm: like a sea of ocean waves that are exhausting and serve little purpose besides sucking life out of the person who chooses to swim in water that is too deep.

Saying this, I had written two “performance pieces” that I’ll post in written form here. They expressed deep, poignant emotions that moved the audience. And brought the observation that I was “still a victim.” I thought the woman who told me “when you stop being a victim” had missed the point. But, maybe not. Shortly after that observation I shut down my blog. And quit the work. I believed it was too Spiritually draining. Even though I felt a soul calling that has nagged at me – even over the past year – while I tried to make sense of things.

While allowing myself to “delve deeply” for the sake of connecting with my blog followers and other survivors of trauma I also created an emotional tidal wave that I believed I could only escape through quitting.

The problem wasn’t the work. The problem was that I lost sight of the delicate balance between experiencing feelings and moderating them so that they don’t take over my life. Honest mistake. Makes me ever more empathetic for anyone who sits with a therapist that believes that expression of feelings is a panacea.  Interestingly, the others I’m working with (at the 2bsisters blog) shared the same experience: burn-out from too much focus on describing the victim experience.

self reflection human

It has its place. But, after D.V. there is a time when it is appropriate to turn the corner. Once you are safe and know you are capable of staying safe and healthy, the focus on feelings should be more casual – a background process informing your decisions in the here-and-now. Staying in the feelings too long empowers the victim experience to direct your life as a silent puppeteer.

The healing process requires balance between paying attention to and dealing with the feelings and healthy distraction using activities that move your toward a stronger healthier you.

In this episode Tamara Bess LMFT discusses when delving into feelings is a useful practice and when it isn’t. She describes becoming overwhelmed by feelings leading up to the close of the podcast a year ago and the new direction toward self-empowerment for this and future episodes.

For more of Tamara’s work, please visit For a listing of podcast episodes, please visit Tamara’s podcast can also be found on  iTunes.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2016 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Self-Care, Long-Term PTSD and Empowered Thinking

*Note: Shortly after writing this post, I took a year off from my blog and podcast to focus on improving my emotional, spiritual and physical health. During that time, I had a health-related breakthrough that allows me to return to this work. It is my spiritual journey and my life path and I’m glad to be back. This post remains, without an associated podcast episode, because the process is as important as the end result.


What is victim mentality and how is that different from empowered thinking?

Since the beginning of my participation with the Sisters as a featured guest blogger, they have shared with me that they would like the blog to focus on empowered thinking and how to shift from the “victim mentality.”

A few weeks ago, I participated in a gathering of women and shared some of my writings. They were writings that gave voice to my inner child who had suffered abuse and offered witness to valuable survival strategies that I celebrated as I recognized my own strength and empowerment. At the end of the evening, a woman who offers “healing services” said something to me about when I am “no longer a victim.”

history of victory

“I am not a victim. No matter what I have been through, I’m still here. I have a history of victory.” Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!

Now, let me digress a bit.

For me, having a history of victory involves rooting out deeper and deeper patterns of trauma out of my body. When I discover that something affects me in a negative way, I bring a determination to understand what is happening to me so that I can heal it. My goal is ever unfolding, deeper, longer lasting experiences of joyful living.

For me and for others who experienced abuse from childhood into adulthood and up to the point where escape and healing could begin, tracks get laid deeply in the brain that undermine the search for joy. For me, those tracks in the brain were established and reinforced for 43 years!

For the last 5, I have been on a quest to untangle them and to relieve myself of:

  • Ongoing anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Worrying about what others will think of me
  • Pleasing others to the extent that I hurt myself in the process
  • Not saying what I need
  • Not taking care of myself on the “little things”
  • Aches and pains that I feared were related to chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Fear

Typically, to be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, there has to be a discrete event or series of events that lead to flashbacks, avoidance, etc. related to that event. But what if there were so many events over a lifetime that life becomes the trigger?

pensiveThis is when empowered mentality is about digging in. In order to heal it is essential to understand what is causing the symptoms of fear, worry, panic or self-doubt. Positive self-statements aren’t enough. What is required is a correct understanding of the cause and specifically applied corrective, self-supportive beliefs as replacements. This is hard work. And the more trauma a person has experienced, the longer the process of unraveling the trauma beliefs and self-limiting behaviors. Sometimes, that isn’t enough.

Which brings me to the question of self-care. What is it? Do you answer that question by responding with things like “time to myself” or “exercise” or trying to find life balance? How about a harder list?


Self-Care isn’t always easy

What if, in the process of listening deeply to yourself you discover that taking a bubble bath or getting enough sleep or deep breathing exercises aren’t enough?

I have recently discovered that as wonderful as my tools for healing are, they aren’t enough for me. I have a brain that has responded to trauma by acclimating. My brain would have me look at my entire life through a trauma lens. I have found my answer. With this answer, layered over my tools, I am finding greater enjoyment, relaxation and happiness than I have ever experienced before. For me, this requires empowering myself to do whatever I need to do to heal without judgement. With self-love and acceptance.

Giving myself permission to heal at deeper and deeper levels is empowerment.

After taking a 1-year hiatus from this podcast, Tamara has new perspectives about the work, what led her to stop and where her answers were found that led back to this work. In this episode, Tamara describes the journey. It is a transparent process that will illuminate the growth process and help her listeners see that we all have room to grow. Never give up. Life is a process. Growth is the process we participate in to bring our life more value.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited. Tamara’s current project in her work of raising awareness and advocacy for victims of domestic violence can be found here:

Support: You’re A Single Parent Not A Mutant Failure

“You didn’t fail. The relationship failed.” The group therapist looked earnestly at a room of somewhat bewildered women.

Huffington Post does a 55 photographic essay on what it means to be a single parent

Huffington Post does a 55 photographic essay on what it means to be a single parent

If one has children, one of the greatest fears is a failed relationship. The idea of being a single parent and baring the full responsibility of not only caring for one’s self, which is daunting enough in our current economy, but clothing, feeding, and sheltering dependent children as well…is daunting. The idea of having to do that without the support of a partner in many cases, is paralyzing. Add to that lack of a family or social support system and it can feel terrifyingly paralyzing. Lack of support is often the defining factor between a good experience or a bad experience as a single parent.

slide_397656_4891638_freeI was about to say, “Nobody grows up saying I want to be a single parent…” Then I stopped myself. True, the majority of the time people find themselves a single parent due to being widowed or making the choice to exit an incompatible, therefore unhealthy, relationship. That said, just like there are those who have elected to never have children, there are those who are perfectly happy with the idea of being a single parent from the jump. Here is why…

According to The Better Health Channel, clinical studies reveal some of the positive effects of single parenting are:

  • A child from a single-parent home who is loved and supported has no more problems than a child from a two-parent home.
  • Whether or not the child uses their free time constructively (for example, reading or playing sports) depends on discipline, family routine and quality time between parent and child – not whether the child has one or two parents living in the house.
  • The child is typically mature and responsible.
  • The parent is typically self-reliant and confident.
  • The relationship between parent and child is close.
  • Single fathers are more likely to use positive parenting techniques than married fathers.
  • Single-parent families are less likely to rely on traditional gender-specific roles than two-parent families.
  • Single parents tend to rely on positive problem-solving strategies rather than punishment or discipline when faced with difficult child behaviours.

While I am not one of the brave forward thinking single parents pioneering the option by initial choice, I have found great joy, freedom, and fulfillment in single parenting:

  • My bed, my choice. I sleep on what seems to be three inches of a king size bed each night. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I would have never guessed that I would enjoy the closeness I share with my kids as I do sleeping with them at night. They feel safe, loved, and nurtured in spite of missing time with me during working hours. I have just as many stories of elbows and knees in my face, a horizontal sleeping five year old, and blanket steeling as my married friends. Also, it’s a fantastic reason to give myself permission to decline asking anyone “back to my place”.
  • My house. My rules. While yes, there are rules that are mutually respected between the two homes, my house, my rules. I do not have to concern myself with going into round 10 of the same argument about the same petty disagreement on parenting style. I don’t have to worry about the “man of the house” being too hard on the kids for any reason let alone when it’s not warranted. Conversely, I don’t have to concern myself on permissiveness that makes it difficult to parent. I do not parent the girls on their dad’s parenting time. Their dad does not parent the girls on my parenting time undermining my authority. The only exception is in light of a major infraction.
  • My mini staycation. I was raised in an extremely family oriented religion. Mothers had their role and fathers had their role. The family unit did not include a clause for single parenting. In my mind, until my children turned 18, I am their mother 24/7. Personal time is for the weak. That was my mythology. Thank goodness that got trashed. Now, every other week I get a break. I am not a scrambling crazy person to make it to their events because I have time to pace myself to get there. I actually have time to decompress, take a long bath, read a book, and feel like a human adult again…dare I say a woman. I actually have time to shave my legs. By the time I start to really miss my girls because enough time has gone by I have forgotten about their bickering…they’re back. Perfect timing.
  • I have a social life. It’s not grand mind you but, again, a perk to “time off” is being able to meet and bond with friends. I have time to pursue personal interests, which makes me a more complete person. My friends and I are able to hold adult conversations, unedited, that don’t always revolve around our children. The rotation actually has an opportunity to orbit around our musings. As a complete person I am able to be a better role model of an independent adult for my children.
  • I don’t need a relationship to be happy. Again, I get to set the example that adult happiness does not revolve around searching out and finding your soul mate. It has more to do with searching out and finding one’s self. If I choose to share that with someone on a committed long-term basis, it is only because I want to. It isn’t because I feel I need someone to make my “fairytale” complete. Relationships are not supposed to be about co-dependence. They are about supporting each others independence through life.
  • Independence. I make the bacon, fry it up, and serve it. If the leg of the table needs tightening, I tighten it. If the light fixture needs to be installed (God forbid the lightbulb be changed), I install it. Better still, I teach my children right along side me. Last time I got a flat, I waited for no one, changed it myself. I am not saying that I wouldn’t let someone help out if they offered but, I am not helpless either. Nor are my children and their strong self-esteem and boundaries reflect it.
  • On good terms. My children do not feel compelled to “choose sides”. Their father and I are not obligated to make an incompatible relationship…compatible. I get to enjoy him for the attributes that attracted me to him to begin with. He is funny, down to earth, good natured, loves dogs, and genuinely loves his kids. Right about the time I start to witness the reasons that I would walk past him in the hallway gritting my teeth…wouldn’t you know the event is over. Everybody wins. My children do not have to live with the silent treatment as we try to get along for their sake. Instead, they get to see two grown adults enjoy each others company, in a mature way, in spite of their differences. The kids get to feel loved from both parents.

slide_397656_4892338_freeOur society is not as supportive of parenting, let alone single parenting, as it should be. Agreed. But, as the needs of society are changing so is the support system. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, trying to make it work out of fear of being a single parent, reconsider your fear. There can be many more rewards than you realize only because you haven’t taken the opportunity to explore the alternative. As difficult and challenging as single parenting can be, I am happier than I have ever been in my history of relationships.


Live your life. Don’t just survive it.











Better Health Channel:

Huffington Post:

Samakow, Jessica. “55 Personal Photos That Capture Both The Challenges And The Joy Of Single Motherhood.” The Huffington Post., 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <;.

Revelations: Find The Beauty In Who You Are!

If you let someone else define your beauty and self worth, they will. Be brave, don’t just stand in your beauty, acknowledge, and proudly own it.

One of the defining characteristics of victim thinking is looking for self-definition and self-worth from the outside in. One would think that this thinking is relegated only to victims of domestic violence and abuse but, that is just a myth. The truth is, anyone who seeks acknowledgement from outside sources in an effort to define and confirm who they are, is guilty of and aspect of victim thinking. This leaves an individual extremely vulnerable to emotional and psychological manipulation and exploitation.

Not defined by society as beautiful

Not defined by society as beautiful

I love Rick Guidotti’s exploration of what has been socially rejected as beautiful. The rejection of being albino is not a trend, it is something that has persisted for centuries and has been cross cultural. What started out as a whim for the photographer, turned into a mission of discovery and an active stance for the beauty of a person.

The repercussions of being rejected by a society are so deep and profound that it is life changing. Imagine what it would be like to be poked fun at for having a misunderstood characteristic your entire life. One of our most basic needs is love and acceptance. One would think that we would get plenty of that from birth from our parents but, that is not always the case. One can never know why, but parents, who are supposed to love unconditionally, can reject their young on one level or another. Sometimes it just a poor communication that is interpreted as rejection. Either way, rejection takes its toll.

It leaves a person searching and asking why they are not valued. It leaves a person looking for someone to give them value where they feel they have none. Unfortunately, this is the vulnerability. This is where anyone can step in and tell you what your value is and all of the hoops you must jump through to achieve it. This can be a lifetime cycle and endless search with no attainability. Or…

Walked into the photo shoot insecure...walked out proud

Walked into the photo shoot insecure…walked out proud

Like many of the albinos who sat for the photo shoot, one can look within themselves to find their inner beauty and shine on against all odds. Beauty is subjective. We have a specific name for the study of what is beautiful. Aesthetics. Even a light exploration of this philosophical topic reveals that for centuries, all that can be concluded about beauty is a social definition vs an individual preference. Sometimes they overlap.

With such a broad definition and debate, it would be folly to give the power of self-definition to anyone but ourselves. My challenge to anyone who watches TV, looks at magazines, delves into movies, and looks to others to define whether or not they are beautiful is to stop. Read, look, observe, and have the courage to get introspective about what resonates with your personal definition of beauty. Define what you find beautiful about yourself and give it your voice. Stand for it and protect it from those who would wish to make you feel less than. I guarantee it is a worth while adventure.

~ Shannon

Live your life. Don’t just survive it.

For more information on Rick Guidotti’s project:

Support: Burning Bridges“Don’t burn your bridges.”The footnote is, “Unless it needs to be burned so you don’t return.”


Not many people enjoy going to court…except maybe attorneys. The average person doesn’t even like showing up for jury duty. One of the greatest challenges, is to get a victim to show up for court. It is one of the most uncomfortable and vulnerable venues for a victim because, it is a coin toss as to whether they will be re-victimized by the judicial system, their abuser, or both.

I have been struggling for almost four years trying to get sole custody of my youngest son. His father was my abuser. Initially, when I was granted my five year no contact restraining order, the judge overseeing my case wanted me to pursue something more permanent. This was in response to my quarry as to how to protect my son after the restraining order expired. Unfortunately, the judge who saw me for my permanent custody order did not grant it at the time, deferring to the restraining order that was already in place which gave me complete decision making over my son until expiration.

domestic_violence_shelter_ap_imgAt that time, I was still in a 60 day emergency shelter for battered women preparing to go into their 2 year rehabilitation program. I was exhausted on multiple levels. As much as I didn’t want to have to deal with my case in the future, rehashing old events, I simply didn’t have it in me to argue the judge’s position. I let go of it.

Last September, as I anticipated, life presented an opportunity that would require a major move. I had some loose ends to tie up. Back to court. Our judicial system is not very “pro-per” friendly. It is even less friendly for Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse who are “pro-per”. I spent several days at the courthouse just trying to figure out what papers I needed, how to fill them out, several trips to file, make corrections, and file again.

The first filing process alone was intimidating. Then there was a matter of posting and mailing because the whereabouts of my abuser were unknown. In order to be approved for posting and mailing, one must do their due diligence. For victims who have violent abusers, this can very easily put them in harms way. More fear to overcome. I finished and was approved.

Then came the court date. Another intimidating moment. Will the judicial system be my friend or foe? Will I be scrutinized as whiner trying to take advantage of an “absent” father or will I be viewed as a victim of Domestic Violence trying to protect her child and herself? I wouldn’t know that day…there was not enough time between the filing and the court date to satisfy my abusers rights. Continuance. Proof of service not filed properly. Continuance.

Today I sat in court, thick file in one hand, the other across my stomach. I couldn’t help but think this was almost as bad as having to retell a rape story over and over again. Explain myself and my choices through humiliation, hoping it would just end. Then it did. Quickly. The judge looked over my case, announced the day, time, and situation of the case…then granted me everything I ask for.


I now have sole legal custody, with no visitation, of my son. He legally goes by an entirely different name now. My changes were drastic but, so was the nature of the abuse. This was one bridge that had earned the task of being burned. By firelight or starlight…I am walking into a protected future and not looking back.

 Live your life…don’t just survive it.

“Guilty” is NOT a Life Sentence

guilty not lifeSadistic words spoken to an innocent: “What’s the matter with you?” These are the words that inspire shame and a sense of doubt that I can do anything right. They are the words that taught me: I am guilty.

I feel bad about everything I don’t do perfectly. I feel a sense of responsibility for anyone around my who ever feels upset or scared or wronged. I think I need to fix it for them so that they can feel safe. So that I can feel safe.

Because I am guilty.

It may as well be my name.

hello my name is

And sometimes I think that I’ll never be able to change my name as long as I have to be around people. Because when I am around people, I am guilty. It is my name.

Guilt took root in my soul during a thousand moments of hearing that everything is my fault. That everything that I do is a mistake. That my mistakes are permanent. That the punishment for my mistakes should be taken out on my skin, through my bones and into my soul. Those roots planted themselves so firmly in me that guilt feels like it runs in my veins, rooted like a tree.

roots veinsMy abusers, like all abusers, wanted to make me believe it was all about me. That I was the reason for the problems in the world. That I couldn’t get anything right. And so I would have to get used to never being right. My abusers wanted me to believe that mine was the job of fixing everything so that they could remain comforted that I would always be busy with trying to solve this riddle within myself instead of looking at them and giving them the responsibility for what they do to plant those roots so firmly in me.

I’m tired and angry. I know that a casual gathering with friends should be fun and relaxing instead of an ordeal where I constantly have to tell myself to be calm. To relax. To unclench my jaw. I haven’t done anything wrong. Nobody is mad at me. People have pain. Their pain isn’t my fault.

I’m tired of carrying guilt and fear in my body so strongly that it breaks my teeth.


I won’t do it any more. Guilt requires my cooperation and I refuse to cooperate. I desire to live a life free from guilt and full of love. I want to enjoy life, built on the gifts that I can bring forward because of who I am. I want to remember who I am. I can remember:

I am good.

I am beautiful.

I am capable.

I am loveable.

I am free.

My freedom is what grants me permission to uproot that awful tree and pull the roots from my veins.

Today I will commit to myself to identify and dismember every poisonous root.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

I Became The Walking Dead To Survive Abuse

Healing from abuse is a journey. Everyone who escapes abuse looks back on the road they traveled and, unless they have the support of a compassionate other to help them keep perspective, they often criticize themselves heavily for where they have been. You must remember that what you did to survive abuse was successful. You survived!

Healing comes from identifying choice-points and really understanding the available choices and having a sense of forgiveness for ourselves for the decisions made. Healing begins with deep understanding.

I am in the process of deep exploration of my own abuse history. Along the way, I am discovering truths about what that experience was for me. I am sharing a little piece of what I discovered with you today because when we can see into each others’ journeys and find commonality we feel just a bit less alone with where we have been.

All along the way in my journey to freedom from abuse in my life, I shut myself down the way you do when you decide to swim across a pool on just one breath. You decide to give up oxygen in trade for the accomplishment of being able to say you can do it and you take one big breath and start swimming as hard as you can after a forceful push off the wall. Under water, moments of truth confront you as your lungs scream for air and your initial momentum from pushing off the wall has given way to your power to use your arms and legs to save your life. You feel the pain in your lungs and you have the choice to give up your goal or to move forward with your decision that breath and life are less important than this one goal. You risk in favor of victory over your life and your need for survival and you strain against the growing pressure and pain in your lungs to be able to say that you made it to the other side without breathing. There is an end and, victoriously, you take in a great gasp of air on the other side. Breathing in life, you revel in your victory.

How much are you willing to give up as you struggle to survive abuse?

How much are you willing to give up as you struggle to survive abuse?

Abusive relationships are like that because pushing against our lungs is the pressure to continue to hold our breath just a minute longer in hopes that holding our breath will change how another person treats us. For me, living with my first husband (13 years) and the next man (5 years) and in the Mormon Church (40 years) was a marathon of holding my breath long enough to swim to the other side of the pool of being pleasing enough to others. The problem was that the other side of the pool – reaching the goal and filling my lungs with air and then relaxing and being myself – kept being extended. And I continued to make the choice to hold my breath. The wall at the other end of the pool: love and acceptance and self-esteem and confidence and freedom from anxiety. But I never reached the other side while I was still in the pool.Every time a choice point came for me, I chose to strain against the pressure to take a breath and continued moving forward, trying to reach the other side of the pool. I did this for a long, long time.

When you hold your breath long enough, you become the walking dead.

Becoming the walking dead to survive abuse is too high a cost

Becoming the walking dead to survive abuse is too high a cost

I took my first steps out of my Walking Dead status when I realized that trying to please this man or that man or the Church were never going to bring me the relief, acceptance, self-esteem and love that I so desperately needed. No. Those things had to come from me. I had to stop looking outside of me to fix what was broken. I started with me.

I had to stop running away from what was inside of me. Once I began moving toward me, healing began. Healing continues.


© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited. Tamara’s website where she provides podcasts and posts dealing with all aspects of healing from domestic violence can be found at

Understanding Guilt Can Help You Eliminate it

Guilt is a fairly common experience for victims and survivors of domestic violence and persists through all stages of healing. Before you are able to escape from your abusive relationship, your abuser useguilts your anxiety as you try to improve the situation against you by telling you that his out of control behaviors are your fault. You try, but you can’t seem to do the relationship right based on how he continues to treat you. He keeps you there by blaming you for his behavior and finding something wrong with everything you do. When you believe him, you feel guilt. Guilt will keep you in this dangerous situation because if you believe the relationship problems are your fault, you are more likely to remain invested in trying to fix “your problems” by staying.

Within the context of the abusive relationship, guilt is only one of the powerful feelings that a victim experiences. Among them are: fear, terror, anxiety, excitement, sexual passion, intense connection, confusion, hope and doubt. There are probably more feelings, based on individual situations, but my point here is this: with all of the emotions at play within the context of the abusive relationship, guilt often waits in the shadows. Guilt is a secret weapon reinforced in your thoughts by your abuser. Even things you feel bad about that happened before this relationship get tangled up in the current situation as your abuser points his finger toward everything that has hurt you in the past and everything that happens now and says that everything unfortunate you experience today is because of YOU.

Guilt is bedfellows with fear of rejection, anxiety about being “good enough,” the desire to be loved and the belief that the you are responsible for ensuring the well-being of everyone around you. Even if that means you suffer.

For victim and survivor, guilt is often pervasive. Unless focus is directed toward understanding it and uprooting it’s source, it will make itself a lifelong companion whether or not abuse remains an active part of the survivor’s life.

During the phase of healing that takes place just after escaping the abusive relationship, guilt raises it’s head as the raging monster that it is. The problem is, that guilt doesn’t raise it’s head as a known foe. It hides behind messages of blame and misplaced responsibility so that you don’t recognize it. If it were to step out of the shadows, you could see guilt as it is and how to disarm it. Instead, the shadows cause you to continue to look for your own flaws and feel stuck in an unending cycle of trying to correct wrongs that aren’t yours to fix.

Guilt Monster

At his phase, your abuser uses the guilt monster, his established ally, to try to make you feel bad enough about your choice of escape to return. He and the monster have cooperated ahead of time to plant ideas in your head meant to undermine your successful escape. If you return, danger becomes part of you daily existence because you believe lies instead of recognizing the truth of your situation and beginning the process of rooting out the sources of guilt from your heart and mind.

The last phase of healing from abuse occurs after you have successfully extracted yourself from

Guilt-colored glasses

Guilt-colored glasses

abuse. At this time, guilt has often become a lens that filters your perceptions of any  relationship interaction that makes you feel uncomfortable. Specifically, saying “no” or allowing someone to go through something that you perceive as uncomfortable is likely to launch you into co-dependent action to try to alleviate your own discomfort about their discomfort. This action comes from fears for your own safety that continue to linger and . . . . you guessed it . . . . guilt.

It’s time to recognize the guilt monster for what it is and take off those guilt-colored glasses.

To hear Tamara discuss 3 strategies the guilt monster uses to get the best of you, click here.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.