Too Far Down The Rabbit Hole?

Alice in Wonderland said things were getting “curious-er and curious-er after she headed Down the Rabbit Hole. Why do I refer to that story and what does it mean here? Alice found herself grappling with the problems associated with “an entry into the unknown, the disorientating or the mentally deranging.” (Thank you, Wikipedia!) You might agree that diving into feelings seems quite the same as Alice’s Rabbit Hole.

down the rabbit holeMany people who find themselves in a therapist’s office will discover that therapists often hold the belief that exploring emotions related to events that occurred in the past is the doorway to growth, healing and well-being. Unfortunately, some therapists don’t also understand the concept of balancing the exploration of feelings with education/support in the direction of knowing what to do about or with those feelings. As a supervisor of new therapists, I often have the opportunity to assist new clinicians in understanding this concept of balance.

A rookie therapist, for example, might ask a traumatized child: “When is the last time you felt [fill in the blank with the therapist’s “pet” feeling]. This approach isn’t necessarily helpful without the correct therapeutic context for that particular child. Does a child need to be able to identify when he or she last felt sad, angry, afraid in order to understand and get through trauma? Not necessarily. When a child is active, enjoys sports and is competitive, maybe it is enough for the child to pay attention to how they feel  before kicking a soccer ball around with his or her therapist and notice if after kicking the ball around they feel better. Is it easier to refrain from talking back afterward? Is it easier to sit still afterward? Maybe, it’s not the emotive, but the pragmatic that works for a particular child.

The same is true for grown-ups. Try asking someone you know who is a self-proclaimed “gym rat” what they do to alleviate stress and deal with difficult emotions.

Often, victims of trauma are guided to the edge of the rabbit hole with the promise of “healing” after the “release of feelings.” Sometimes, this works. Often, it doesn’t. Knowing when to release feelings for the sake of release and when to do something with the feelings is a learning process. It is individual and must be tailored to individual needs and differences.

When I’ve worked with people who are looking for relief from daily reminders of the trauma they have survived, I tell them that I don’t care about the details of the trauma. I don’t want to listen to them tell the trauma story again – just for the sake of the telling. For most people, knowing this brings a great deal of relief.

Here’s what we do instead of digging deep into feelings that are old, traumatic and capable of re-creating the trauma experience over and over again.

  • We focus on feelings that lead to unwanted behaviors in the here-and-now.
  • When those problematic behaviors keep coming up, we look deeper to see where they started. (E.g. Do you go to any cost to keep others from getting mad at you? Does that cause you to say “yes” when it would be better for you to say “no”? This is when a deeper exploration is warranted.)
  • When an unwanted behavior is not the direct target of attention, we focus instead on creating a set of behaviors that brings joy, empowerment, pleasure, personal fulfillment and happiness.
  • Sometimes those behaviors “push” against unresolved feelings that can then be the focus of therapeutic attention. Once the underlying/motivating feelings are understood and addressed, the new behaviors are easier to maintain.

Where does that leave digging deep  just to do it? We leave it out. If you are an artist and use your emotions to create, creation from a place of trauma should be cathartic, healing and lead to growth. If digging deep only leads to more sensations of being traumatized, feelings of overwhelm, less insight, more anger and more exhaustion, you are likely spinning your wheels in an activity that spends too much energy without sufficient returns.

Let me share an example of how this works. About a week before I went into my cardiac ablation surgery, I intended to live as balanced, relaxed and calm as possible. I believed that this would support a successful outcome for my procedure. However, as I intentionally slowed myself down I experienced an intense internal pressure not to slow down. The pressure directed me toward what has been a life-long pattern for me: not allowing myself to rest until I had exhausted myself and run into the proverbial wall. Then, exhausted, permission to slow down would be granted. But the permission was granted only long enough to muster enough energy to run myself ragged again.

In intentionally slowing myself down, my body clearly showed me that slowing down was breaking the rules. What’s more . . . when I stopped and listened, my body reminded me of exactly why it was important to keep running and when that pattern began in my life.

This information freed me to make the choice that was best for me. I didn’t need to dig. I didn’t need to tell anyone about the trauma. All I needed to do was “bump into it” while I was making choices that were healthy for me, listen to the message my body was giving me and make a healthy choice based on my current situation rather than on past realities. That’s how it works when we allow our incredible bodies, minds and souls to lead our healing process.

So, are you obsessed with going down the rabbit hole? Is your therapist obsessed with taking you there? Are you on a search for the mysterious secret that will allow you to release your pain? I would say this: only go down the rabbit hole if it benefits you. Don’t dive deep. Give yourself permission to let go. To find things that feel good to you. To say “no” to going down the rabbit hole when the rabbit hole doesn’t offer you any obvious promise.

Finding the right balance is necessary for what I believe is essential for the body to be able to guide you toward health. Click here to listen to Tamara discuss how you can use your body and your feelings purposefully to heal your soul.


Even if the rabbit hole does bring you promise, it’s useful, beneficial and even healthy to take a break when your body tells you that enough is enough.

What kind of therapist can effectively assist you with overcoming trauma in a meaningful way? That’s a great question. The short answer is that there are effective, research-based methods of doing therapy which are proven to be effective in healing trauma. For the longer answer, watch for my upcoming post on Effective Therapies for Treating PTSD.

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


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:

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

The Power of “Not Yet”

Do you know what tasty tid bit is perfect for an abusive person to exploit? The perfectionist.

If an abusive person can get their manipulative minds a wrapped ’round a perfectionist, they don’t have to be a genius to keep a hold on them. All that is really required is to hold the fear of failure dangling precariously over their solid heads and they will hold themselves in place. Simply imply, let alone boldly state, that a perfectionist is not “enough”, and they will be the Little Engine That Could until they permanently derail.

Do you feel like judgement of failure looms over your shoulder?

Do you feel like judgement of failure looms over your shoulder?

There is an assumption that this abusive dynamic exists only in romantic relationships but the reality is that it can exist in any relationship. It can be with a boss that says their employee doesn’t work hard enough. The parent that tells the child they don’t try hard enough. The needy friend that says to their BFF they aren’t loyal enough. A worker that says to their co-worker they aren’t supportive enough. A person that tells themselves they aren’t good enough. If there is a relationship, failure to produce enough of anything can be exploited.

The fear of failure can be as debilitating as much as it can be destructive. It can also be a looming specter in the process of healing after the trauma of abuse.

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University spoke quite comprehensively on the stunting mindset of failure. For someone who is in the process of changing their thinking or mindset after Domestic Violence or Abuse, changing the thought of failure is one of the biggest hurdles. It is also one of the most limiting mind sets for personal growth. Anyone who has worked with survivors or been a survivor knows that the key to a successful future lies in personal growth.

Dweck’s solution to the failure mind set is the power of “not yet”. “Not yet” leaves a to a path of possibilities that failure does not. Failure is absolute and finite. One has failed at a task. For those of us who define ourselves by finite accomplishments instead of by our ability to cope with change and the courage to work through a process, failure can mean a serious blow to self-esteem and personal growth.

b5a167235994fd64e9d1cb8180d6b899After having listened to Dweck’s talk, something else that can be concluded, is that “not yet” can give a person permission to take their time. Too often we can feel pressured to make decisions and take action prematurely, ignoring our intuition, in an effort not to fail. What if we adopted the “not yet” mindset instead? I am “not yet” ready to answer your question. I am “not yet” ready to take action. Then, after we have checked in with ourselves, take action. If it doesn’t yield the desired results it okay, it is just information. Perhaps we need a little more practice, a little more self-evaluation. Try again.

I think this “not yet” mindset being experimented with in our education system could be a fantastic tool when employed in other areas in our life. It does more to build the self-esteem and self-empowerment through personal permission while acknowledging temporary limitations than the restricting thoughts of failure. There is a saying about failing forward to success. Or, in other words, working through the process until we reach our goal. Which reminds me of another saying, life is about the journey…not the destination.

Live your life…don’t just survive it.


For Better Or For Worse, ‘Til Death Do Us Part

Click here to listen and be redirected to corresponding podcast

Click here to listen and be redirected to corresponding podcast

Most of us would like to believe “‘Til death do us part…” means love everlasting into old age.

For some of us, that means until an unhealthy relationship ends in the worst case scenario. For a great deal of us, it means an incredibly slow spiritual death with no parting in any near future.

I am NOT against marriage. Let me be very clear about that. I do however, have great reservation about traditional wedding vows. I scoured several wedding sites for wedding vows with an emphasis on traditional. Being raised with traditional notions of the white picket fence and dressing for church each Sunday, these were the vows I took to bind my marriage(s).

No matter how unconventional and forward thinking others may find me or I may think of myself, the vows I took for marriage were not only traditional, but a very serious matter for me. Words like “for better or for worse”, “… so I too happily give you my life, and in confidence submit myself to your headship as to the Lord…”, “ have and to hold, ’til death do us part…” would play in my mind as I went about my business of being married.

It will be my turn once their needs are met

It will be my turn once their needs are met

In both of my marriages I loved as best I knew how. After a while, I felt like my partners were enjoying more patience, love, compassion, support, understanding, and being cherished more than they were willing to give. In short, I would do my level best to meet their needs, thinking, that once their needs were satisfied, I would have mine met. Except, I never could seem to satisfy them for long before they were upset, unhappy, emotionally wanting, or simply in a place where they couldn’t give.

In the first couple of years this was only confusing for me. I concluded that if my partner was not going to meet my needs they way I met his, then I would just meet my own needs. I have never been one to sit around and wait for long. Yet, as time went on, between the constant need for care and attention, as well as having children who rightfully also needed time and attention, I was left with no time to attend to my self. Slowly, what started out as a fulfilled woman brimming with optimism, love, and dreams became a slow draining vessel. This love thing was turning out to be a one way street and I was growing deficient in what was being demanded of me.

I can not give what I do not have.


But I hung in there longer still. I was dying that slow personal spiritual death and no one seemed to notice because withdraws were being made with no sense of consequence to the source from which they were drawing. It was mine to suffer, “for better or for worse…’til death do us part”. Does spiritual death count? Or, must my I be deader than that with no hope of recouping the soul?

Is adultery the only breach of contract that allows us to leave an unhealthy relationship?

Is adultery the only breach of contract that allows us to leave an unhealthy relationship?

There is not just one thing that keeps us in unhealthy relationships. Often times, some of the ties that bind are not just unhealthy habits, which are often at the core of a poor choice in partner. Those ties that bind us can be particularly strong because they are socially acceptable and well intended beliefs and values. It is up to each of us to determine when these values and beliefs are being exploited at our expense for the benefit of someone else. At what point do we use our values and beliefs as justification to maintain an addiction to an unhealthy relationship? At what point should the words “But you promised! For better or for worse! ‘Til death do us part! You can’t leave me, you’re obligated!”, have no effect on survival.

At what point is spiritual survival just as important as physical survival? What do we have to offer anyone; children, family, friends, or your spouse…if there is nothing left to give?

Live Your Life…Don’t Just Survive It

(click here to listen to Part III of the four part Addictive Love series by Tamara Bess LMFT)

Don’t Be Fooled – The Movies Can’t Teach You About Healthy Love

In the movies, we learn a lot about love. We learn that it should feel like this . . . .

In the movies, quirky imperfect people meet, fight, fall in love, pretend they aren’t in love and then kiss. And we assume that the story ends with some kind of happily ever after.

The conflict is resolved and true love grows within a 90 minute period.

The lessons from movies about love include:

  • Love at first sight happens and is a usual circumstance
    • (500 Days Of Summer, 10 Things I Hate About You, Just Married, Mean Girls, The Notebook, Twilight, Romeo + Juliet)
  • You can hate someone and then fall in love with the same person
    • (You’ve Got A Mail, The Proposal, One Fine Day, 27 Dresses, Kate And Leopold, 2  Weeks Notice, Sweet Home Alabama, 10 I Hate About You, The Ugly Truth, What Happens in Vegas)
  • Attraction can grow where none existed in the first place – and turn into love
    • (Bridget Jone’s Diary, When Harry Met Sally, The Breakfast Club)
  • All you need to do to find true love is get a make-over
    • (Pretty Woman, She’s All That)
  • Breaking up is part of falling in love
    • Almost every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen!
  • It’s okay to fall in love with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable in the beginning
    • (The Proposal, Two Weeks Notice, Never Been Kissed, While You Were Sleeping, Addicted to Love, The Sweetest Thing, All About Steve)

Part of the appeal of a romantic comedy is that it allows us to sit back with our tub of popcorn and escape into a world where all of these things can happen. We want to believe that when a woman continues to accept the advances of someone against her better judgement, everything will turn out beautiful and she’ll find her happily ever after in the end. And because the people in the movies are likeable and we see parts of ourselves in them, we believe that what we see on the big screen can happen to us.

What you almost never see in movies are some of the elements required for healthy, lasting love to develop and grow.

You almost never see two people taking their time to get to know each other and respectfully pausing to provide space when one or the other begins to feel uncomfortable. Movies almost never show the person who is uncomfortable doing the inner work to figure out why the discomfort is coming up when it comes up and taking personal responsibility for evaluating those emotions in a personal, responsible way. This would make movies awfully long and awfully boring.

It could also make the movie very short in the case that the person evaluating the discomfort decides that the relationship isn’t right for them and the other person respects this decision and walks away.

Instead, the protagonist (usually the woman) in the movie is unsure and hesitant. The antagonist (who turns out to be the perfect match and lover) imposes himself on her until she concedes and falls in love.

Life doesn’t happen like this. You can’t learn about true healthy love in the movies.

I invite you to listen to Part 2 of my four part series on Healthy vs Addictive Love and start evaluating for yourself: Do you believe “true love” is the addictive kind?

 © Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

Movie references in this post found here.

The Problem With Blind Sacrifice


Victims allow themselves to be exploited by choice.

Unquestioned trust is exploitable

Unquestioned trust is exploitable

This applies to anyone with victim thinking, not just victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse. It is a jagged little pill of reality but, victims allow their values, beliefs, morals, and ethics to be turned against them and serve as the conduit for abusive behavior to siphon their life away.

I can say this with confidence, certainty, and experience. I am as guilty as anyone else who has allowed themselves to be exploited. The most vulnerable belief a victim can have, the absolutely most exploitable value a victim can posses, is blind faith in sacrifice. For an abusive person who wishes to extort their existence, self-esteem, and love from another their is no other polished diamond than that of a person who has complete blind faith in sacrifice.

A person who is willing to sacrifice themselves for another is essentially agreeing that the life of another is more valuable than their own.

One may argue that there are grey areas to this argument. I  have lived that grey scale from beginning to the end of almost sacrificing my life for nothing of value in return. What I discovered is, sacrificial mindset is a vulnerability. Period.

How many people stay in unhealthy relationships for the good of their children? How many victims have been bound by the words, “If you leave, think of what you will do to the children?” Well, let’s consider that. The “good” of the children. What is the good? Is the good material security in exchange for an exhausted mother with a broken spirit?

Victims a promised the ball, given its illusion, but never actually arrive

Victims a promised the ball, given its illusion, but never actually arrive

I refer to this as the Cinderella syndrome. I will get my needs met after I meet the needs of my abuser. I will get to show my children the time and attention they need…after. After I have proven to my abuser that he is loved and cared for, I will be shown love. But, after never comes for more than a moment. As a result, the children do not get to have the parent they wish to have…or the parent a victim wishes to be. Authentic love does not show up to the ball to whisk of us off to a better life. This is the exploitable vulnerability of belief in sacrifice.

Are you a person who is willing to sacrifice their life for love, security, belief in family, the ability to provide, and other such values? If you are, your best defense is to make sure that you are not making a sacrifice for the illusion of these things. This is when the dynamic becomes abusive. This is the dynamic of being exploited.

If a person gives up something they value, materially or spiritually, for value in return, then a healthy exchange has been met. The challenge for a victim is to identify whether they receiving an illusion of value, such as empty promises, or they are actually receiving what they were promised.

flat,550x550,075,fThe difficulty for anyone with victim thinking or a vulnerable belief in sacrifice is, an abusive person is adept at creating the illusion of value. The other skill an abuser possess is recognizing endurance in their victim. How long are you willing to wait for me to fulfill my promise to you? How much can I exploit from your willingness to sacrifice during that time? How much of your life are you willing to let me use without me giving anything but hope in return?

This is the fraud and exploitation of belief in sacrifice. This is the dynamic of handing your life over to someone else to live for you, at your expense. In healthy relationships, their is no sacrifice for an illusion in return. Instead, there is an exchange of mutual respect for the value of each other’s life.

Take the time to identify the nature of your sacrifice for another. Take the time to identify if you are being exploited or receiving healthy value for what you are willing to give up.

Live your life. Don’t just survive it.


Revelations: Dangerously Losing Yourself To Your Dream

“…Do not join his world. First, see what he is willing to do for you…”

We should never allow our personal light be blocked by the shadow of another.

We should never allow our personal light be blocked by the shadow of another.

This was the last bit of sage advice that a dear friend had for me before I fully committed to the relationship I was in. I had learned so much in the last three years. I knew myself so well now. So what did I do? Completely the opposite. I would discover, personal growth isn’t entirely about understanding my motivations. It is also about learning to recognize the motivations of others.

I packed my bags and set off for the other side of the country. I was being brave. We had a plan. I would arrive, get a job, an apartment, then move the rest of my family out. We would then take the time to introduce our families to each other; him, as a single father, me, as a single mother.

Once our two families were comfortable with each other, we would find a beautiful piece of property so that we could design and build a home together that would reflect our values and beliefs. We would teach our children about the cycle of life by planting herb an butterfly gardens. We would contribute to our planet starting with bee keeping. Our children would learn about sustainability through our efforts to be ecologically aware by using solar power, recycled rainwater, recycling in general, composting, and other “Earth friendly” techniques. We talked of introducing them to culture through music, fine arts, TED Talks, and other socially conscious publications. We would raise independent children who would learn to trust themselves, be aware of how to protect their own values and beliefs, and be confident individuals able to withstand social pressures that might otherwise ask them to compromise themselves.

The disillusionment of trying to conform ourselves to a dream.

The disillusionment of trying to conform ourselves to a dream.

Within 72 hours of my arrival in this new land, the tangibility of that dream dissolved into elusive vapors. I had no hope of grasping the delusional wisps of what was left to pull them back into reality. I had left my world to join his. The most important concept is that it was his world, not ours. Suddenly, I found myself confronted by a man who controlled not out of malice, of which I was so accustomed, but out of fear that we could not be happy unless circumstance and environment fit his exact picture of what “happy” looks like. In the spirit of everyone’s best interest, I was to conform a bit at a time, to integrate into his vision.

This is the trouble with pre-conceived ideas that we build our “happiness” around. We get the idea of what love, family, success, and relationships should look like to meet our definition of happy. This is a vulnerable state of mind to build and make life choices from. It brings to mind the movie ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’. The lead character had a preconceived idea of what happiness looked like but within the first 15mn, the cornerstone of creating that happiness was dissolved. Her ex-husband married another woman, bought the house from the first marriage, and had a baby with his new wife in that home. It took our heroin the entire movie to let go of her original vision of happiness and have gratitude for the unusual way that her dreams and desires were met.

Life can meet our needs in the most unexpected ways if we are open to it.

Life can meet our needs in the most unexpected ways if we are open to it.

One of the biggest challenges for victims, survivors, or anyone with prefabricated ideas of what their life should look like is, to let go of those expectations. Those ideas can be exploitable or even binding to unhealthy relationships. We want so much to have that home to raise our family in. Many of us want so much to have that partner to raise our family with. Those concepts tend to be reinforced by a society that has a general feeling that one’s family is not complete or happy without these components.

The challenge for all of us is discovering that we can have fulfillment in being a single parent. We are capable of acquiring that home to raise our family in. Family doesn’t always mean children. Our “partner” may come in the form of friends and family who support us in our journey as individuals. True, it is more difficult to thrive as a single parent and find balance between nurturing our family and being the sole provider, but it’s worth it.

As proven through life experience, literature, and film, one finds a happier existence, more confidence in one’s self, and deeper meaning in being true to who we are. When we sacrifice ourselves to live in another person’s paradigm of happiness, when we change ourselves to fit a dream instead of changing the dream to fit who we are, the result is often hollow. What is the point of living when you give your life to someone else to live?

mastercard_logo.03Healthy relationships should resemble the symbol of a Master Card. They should represent two healthy individuals who’s values, beliefs, and dreams overlap in mutual respect for each other. Too often, sometimes out of exploiting malice, sometimes out of insecurity, we allow our significant other to slowly enmesh us out of the fear that we cannot realize our dreams any other way. With that concept in mind, I said my goodbyes, and let go.

It would be wonderful if I come across that person who will enjoy sharing their dream of happiness with respect for my dream. I couldn’t be happier to find the mutual overlap of our world. Until then, I will accept happiness, family, and success as it presents itself, not conforming to what I think it should look like. Love yourself first.

Live your life, don’t just survive it.

Revelations: #Victims Being Re-Victimized By Our Judicial System: Part I

familylawI didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to prevent him from being able to work a job in security.

It was one of the few things he felt good at and seemed to be able to find employment in. If I filed a Restraining Order against him, he wouldn’t be able to pass the background check for a guard card. All I wanted was to get out, not destroy my abuser.

That was how I felt even as I sat in a 60 day emergency shelter for battered women. I was still healing from strangulation marks around my neck, PTSD, and a few other post stress manifestations. Even though I was in a desperate situation because of his abuse, I was still concerned about his well being. I was still putting my welfare and that of my children second to him.

I went as long as could without filing against him. I was told that if I didn’t file for a permanent restraining order and have it in place by the time I timed out, I would not qualify for the transitional rehabilitation program. If that happened I would lose custody of my two girls, I would have visitation with them, and I would owe child support while trying to recover from being economically, emotionally, and physically damaged by my abuser. The only child I would have left with any contributing say with would be my youngest son. I didn’t feel like I justified in filing.

Haskellle2It was difficult for me to wrap my head around how bad things were with my abuser. It was also difficult to come to terms with just how afraid of him I was. Filing a restraining order seemed more like an invitation for more trouble. It seemed like a challenge of his authority over authority. A restraining order was an opportunity to for him to demonstrate that the law could not protect me and that it was just a piece of paper to him. But it had to be done. It was him or my children. I refused to live in any more fear of him.

So I filed my temporary restraining order, which was granted, and waited for my hearing date. Each day I waited stories would be passed around the shelter of restraining orders that failed to protect. I watched women come back denied their permanent order. There were others that were granted only a minimum amount of time and there was a minimum of two years needed for the transitional program. Fear was mounting.

Every now and then the shelter staff would ask if I needed an advocate to come with me to the hearing. I would continually turn them down sure of my own confidence. Well, that and, he would have to be transported in by the sheriff’s department because he was in custody. What could he do to me anyway? Yet, two days before the hearing I could feel panic start to well in me.

I was more afraid of my abuser than I realized. That advocated that I needed was not available so I had to face a judge and my abuser on my own. I had to explain in front of both parties why I felt I needed a permanent restraining order, my abuser only a few feet from me, with no attorney in between. I was sick to my stomach.

Courtroom detailFortunately, my abuser was not transported in from where he was being held. That was helpful. Instead of being nauseous and dizzy I was predominately just nauseous. Another fortunate outcome for me was that on October 24th, 2011, I was granted my permanent order with the maximum amount of time. Although I was quite happy with the outcome, I had a question.

“Your honor? How can I can protect the best interests and safety of my son in the form of sole custody once the restraining order expires?”

He responded by giving me instruction, acquiring some needed paper work to follow through with, and having the bailiff hand it to me. His instructions were for me to open another case to establish parental rights. It would run concurrent with my restraining order until the order expired, remaining effective until my son turned 18. Seemed simple. As far as I knew this was going to be open and shut. This had come down from a judge.

I was wrong. This was going to be an ongoing struggle.

To be continued….

Support: Landing On My Feet

saddle-up-donna-thomas“You just need to date…find yourself a good man.” This is not what I needed.

I was afraid. I didn’t know if I could trust myself. I didn’t understand this because I was making lack of trust an external issue instead of an internal one. How would I be able to trust a potential suitor? What were his intentions? Why did he want to get to know me? Why was he asking so many questions? Why did he want to know about me? What are his intentions? All of my questions were about him and his actions. I felt broken. I felt tired. I didn’t have the energy to date, and that is okay.

Learning to give myself permission to do what is right for me has taken much practice. Learning to trust myself to know what is best for me has been a lesson of trial, error, and assertiveness. Too often I feel our social culture encourages us to look externally for advice on what is best for us as individuals. Too often I find external belief or advice is not what is needed to properly heal. The notion that it was time for me to “get back in the saddle” did not sit with well with me.

My group therapist advised all of us that had experienced abuse to take time to explore feelings of resistance and unease. It was time to look internally for advice and guidance. One of the biggest problems for victims of abuse is the disconnection from one’s internal warning system that something isn’t right. We can be dangling from our feet about to be dropped and ignore the instinct to “right” ourselves. For individual reasons, we bypass the emotional warning bells and normalize the unhealthy to stay in abuse. We do that for so long that unhealthy is processed as healthy. By default healthy becomes unhealthy. What happens when we remove ourselves from this paradigm? We start to recognize that we are cats with a broken “righting” system. How do we fix that so we can safely land on our feet and scamper off when appropriate?

imagesThis is one of those areas where I have had to defer to the skills and tools of a therapist to help me learn how to reconnect and stay connected to my “righting” system. Undeniably it takes time. This much I understood without being told. How much time? It will be different for everyone. However, whether it is a few weeks, months, or years it is much harder to near impossible if one is distracted by dating. I was advised not to date for a couple of years while rehabilitating. It made sense to me. The advice gave me permission to date myself, bond with myself, get to know me again so that I had someone I could trust. I needed time to practice this so I could instinctively “right” myself without doubt. In this spirit I was finally able to respond to the statement “You need to date” or the question “Why don’t you date”. My answer, “Because I need time to get to know myself before I try to get to know anyone else or let them know me.”

Since then I have jumped into the pool again. I have learned that healthy people are patient people. I have learned that when I feel uneasy, when my “righting system” starts to kick in I can trust it to guide me to good answers that help me determine if a relationship is healthy for me or not. I land on my feet now. I know when it is time for me to stay, or scamper away.

To learn more about how you can connect to your righting reflex, click here.