Thursday, October 16, 2014

Domestic Violence: What's Worth Got To Do With It?

October is a busy month. Along with Breast Cancer and  Anti-Bullying Awareness , it is also a time when we turn our attention to Domestic Violence Prevention. Over the past several months, Domestic Violence has been in the spotlight as video evidence has surfaced of well-known individuals allegedly abusing their partners. Domestic Violence is a complex issue with numerous theories regarding causation as well as sound approaches that address intensive treatment for the perpetrators and recovering programs for the victims. I believe there is a missing piece - an underlying psychological component - which is not talked about.

Get ready as we answer the question - What's Worth Got To Do With It?   

Do You Feel Valuable?
As we consider the role of victims, let's take a look at two correlations between Worth and Domestic Violence.

First, many victims have a history of low self-worth.This lack of worth may come from difficult childhoods, dysfunctional relationships, or insecurities and injuries incurred from a myriad of personal, physical, and/or emotional experiences. Although many victims are aware of their feelings of worthlessness, many are not. And most victims, I believe, do not have an understanding into how their lack of worth positions them in a place of extreme vulnerability.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of attending an authors' fundraising event in the Bay Area of California. As I was organizing my table, an extraordinarily striking African American author sitting next to me introduced herself. I will call her Gwen. Decorating our spaces, Gwen and I really connected. We gabbed constantly and shared our writings with one another. Looking over Gwen's book, I saw that it was filled with poems based on her experience as a victim of Domestic Violence. Before the doors opened to the public, Gwen turned to me, her face suddenly quite serious.

"Holli, may I ask you a professional question?"

"Of course, Gwen,"  I responded looking into her anxious eyes.

"Holli, even after all the work I have done on myself around the issue of Domestic Violence, and  I now have been happily remarried to a wonderful man for 12 years, sometimes I wonder how I got into a horrifically abusive first marriage." Gwen hesitated. "What do you think draws someone into an unhealthy relationship?"

Because I am deeply interested in the topics of worth and value, I asked Gwen,  "As a young woman, did you have a strong sense of worth? Did you feel valuable?"

Gwen laughed. "Oh yes! I was the youngest of nine children and I was spoiled rotten!" I smiled as she continued."Well, I was a little over-weight but I knew I was fine! I was popular in high school and had lots of friends."

I reflected back, "So you felt really good about yourself!?"

Gwen paused. Her voice softened and her eyes watered.  "Well, there was one incident." Gwen took in a deep breath. "After it happened, I never felt the same,"

Gwen went on to describe how one day after returning home from high school, she began arguing with her mom about some stupid thing. As she continued back-talking her mom really badly, her dad stepped in and told her to stop.With her rebellious attitude, Gwen kept on smart-mouthing her mom. Then suddenly, Gwen's dad reached over and slapped Gwen's face back and forth several times with his hand. Gwen left the room crying hysterically. Gwen explained to me that her dad had never laid a hand on her before and never did again. However, the incident was never discussed.

As I held Gwen's hands in mine and comforted her, Gwen regained her composure and spoke.

"Holli, up until this day, I have never thought about how that incident impacted me. When my first husband hit me, I excused it. In fact, I felt like I deserved it.... I was so vulnerable then. And, I didn't even know it."
Gwen's story is not uncommon. And when individuals enter into relationships with a weekend sense of worth, they not only are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, but they tend to feel less empowered in their roles. And is often the case, when unhealthy boyfriends, girlfriends and/or spouses sense their partners' lack of worth, they take advantage of their vulnerabilities through abusive and controlling behaviors.  

Secondly, a low sense of worth strongly correlates with what we choose to invite into our lives.

With a lack of self-worth, it is only natural to look outside of ourselves to compensate for feelings of
Filling Our Needs
inadequacy or to fill voids. Sometimes we chose material items to boost our sense of worth: stylish clothes, nice jewelry, fancy cars, or other accessories or adornments that add to our value.Sometimes, we look to relationships to make us feel better. Having someone to love and who loves us back is extremely satisfying and full-filling. However, individuals with low worth tend to over-invest into their partners looking to fill their emotional needs. Already feeling that they do not deserve much or are not worthy of much, when abusive behaviors threaten the relationship, individuals who lack self-worth do not speak up, and they find it almost impossible to leave their primary source of worth.

Many years ago I worked with a female client who was in a highly abusive relationship. I will call her Valerie. Valerie was an attractive highly successful woman. And, she had no self -worth. Her childhood was heavily marked by abuse and trauma. Her worth was entirely tied up into her high school sweetheart, whom she married right after graduation. For ten years, he was her prince in shining armor. And then, alcoholism took over and the abuse started. Coming into see me after seven years of torment, Valerie painstakingly worked to detach her worth from her alcoholic abuser and began reinvesting into herself and into healthy areas in her life. However, even as we worked together, Valerie frequently returned to her abuser. In her rescuing of him, Valerie felt a false sense of worth resurface temporarily. It took a couple of years before Valerie was able to redefine and reclaim her true worth.

Let's take a look at the role of perpetrators in relationship to Worth and Domestic Violence.

Although there are typically many variables that contribute to perpetrators abusive behaviors, I believe that once again lack of worth is a common contributor. We talk about the cycle of violence characterized by the presence of power and control which manifest with most perpetrators. These are important. However, it is critical that we address what is going on psychologically with individuals who deliberately injure another human being to whom they have professed and promised their love. I believe that whether it is physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse, most perpetrators feel deeply inadequate and insecure in one or more areas of their lives. Because they too lack awareness or understanding into their psychological makeup and how it is impacting their behaviors, perpetrators become blame-filled, angry, controlling, and abusive - all in desperate attempts to assuage the pain of their personal deficits and past emotional damage.

During my years in practice, I vividly remember counseling a vibrant young high school student. I will call her Jasmine. She was a cheer leader, quite popular, and committed to her studies as well as her interests in theater. Jasmine came in to see me at the request of her parents who were concerned about Jasmine's boyfriend (whom I will call Ricardo). After meeting with Jasmine for several sessions, she described how Ricardo was becoming overly possessive, constantly texting and questioning her whereabouts. He became jealous over her friendships with other guys. He had started belittling and berating her, privately as well as in front of others. Ricardo became critical of her appearance, telling Jasmine what to wear and how to fix her hair. Even though Jasmine understood the unhealthiness of her relationship, she wanted to try and make it work. She asked if Ricardo could join our therapy for one to two sessions to see if it would help.With the proper consent forms in place, Ricardo agreed to attend.

The first session went quite well with Ricardo openly sharing about himself. However, it was clear that he had a difficult childhood. Ricardo also explained that school was important to him, but he found it difficult to be social and described himself as a loner. Ricardo said that the best day in his life was when he  and Jasmine met in drama class where they instantly bonded. During our second session, I carefully questioned Ricardo about his possessive and controlling behaviors with Jasmine. Reluctantly, he acknowledged many of them. As I asked him about his self -worth and value, Ricardo became uncomfortable and slightly irritated. Then, as I continued gently probing into his insecurities and feelings of worthlessness, Ricardo became extremely defensive and angry. Before the session ended, Ricardo stormed out of the room. During our remaining sessions together, Jasmine continued to work on herself, building up her own feelings of worth and empowering herself in the process. Before she ended the relationship with Ricardo, he broke it off with her.    

In closing, it is human nature to avoid pain. Through  defense mechanisms such denial, detachment, and disassociation, many individuals are able to keep their feelings of worthlessness at bay, at least for a time. Others resort to unhealthy self-soothing behaviors such as alcohol, drugs, or other addictions and/or obsessions to numb their sense of worthlessness. And still, many individuals carry their wells of worthlessness into their relationships leading to tragic consequences for both victims and perpetrators of Domestic Violence. In our treatment and recovery programs, I believe it is paramount for victims and perpetrators to peal away the layers of pain, root out their sources of worthlessness, and begin rebuilding their lives on healthy foundations. As healing unfolds and self-worth takes hold, we not only make healthier respectful choices for ourselves, but we want the same for others.

Domestic Violence : What's Worth Got To Do With It?


* Note ~  Domestic Violence does not discriminate. It crosses all socioeconomic levels and all populations regardless of  age, gender, race, religion, culture, or ethnicity. And although I have used heterosexual relational examples, the literature strongly supports that Domestic Violence is a serious issue among same sex partners. "Feelings of worthlessness" do not discriminate either.

And lastly, in sharing my insights into Worth and Domestic Violence,  I am not excusing the actions of  perpetrators or holding victims responsible for Domestic Violence. It is my deepest desire to shed a bit of light onto this dark human behavior, bringing hope and healing to all. 

For more healing strategies and restorative tools, please visit  Holli Kenley Website.
~ You are not alone  ~

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