Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blindsided by the Betrayal Bandit? Understanding why it hurts so badly!

Over the past several weeks, we have been talking about a very debilitating injury - betrayal. To gain a better understanding of betrayal and the recovering information we've covered, I encourage you to read the previous blogs before moving ahead: Blindsided by the Betrayal Bandit? (1) Hold is on the way!! ; (2) What is behind the mask?(3) Feeling "Confused, Worthless and Powerless"? ; and (4) Free yourself from four painful traps!  Today, we will tackle our last blog in this series, but it is perhaps the most important one - understanding why injury from betrayal hurts so badly. 

When we can make sense of why we are feeling incredible pain, 
or when we come to learn that there are sound explanations for the debilitating
 states we find ourselves in, an inner level of comfort takes hold and our healing begins.

Let's examine two features of betrayal which explain why we hurt so badly. 

#1 Underlying principle of betrayal 

Each and every encounter with betrayal has its own unique and distinctive characteristics as well as damaging effects. Every person has his individual threshold for and tolerance of pain. Everyone has his inner strength as well as support systems. However, given those and other differing features and factors, I have observed a common indicator of the duration and severity of symptoms. 

The degree to which we invest, believe, or trust in someone or something
is directly proportional to our degree of injury from betrayal. 

It is important to mention that "degree" has several important connotations which also help us to understand why we feel so much pain:
  • Degree as to length of time
  • Degree as  to what we gave of ourselves or what was taken from us
  • Degree as to what was lost: personal, relational, material, inter-personal qualities, of characteristics, beliefs, or  even our identities or personas
Although we have discussed many different kinds of betrayal in previous blogs which connect to these three examples of degree, I have found that individuals who invest tremendously in their relationships with friends, family, spouses or partners and/or other meaningful and purposeful connections experience devastating injury from betrayal.

Many years ago, my husband and I were attending a large church where the pastor was quite revered and respected. After allegations of misconduct by the pastor surfaced, the elder board asked him to step down. The pastor refused to do so and eventually was forced out of his position. The church body became extremely divided over the incident. Longstanding members expressed "feeling betrayed" either by the pastor or the board. Their feelings of betrayal were deeply rooted in their levels of investment, trust, and belief in the pastor and in the church. Hundreds of parishioners, who had been attending for years and years, invested into the unwavering vision of its leader and the ever-expanding mission of the church; many had served in numerous programs and ministries giving generously of themselves and their financial resources; and countless others recounted how they had trusted in their faith only to find themselves questioning their beliefs and their foundational principles. For so many faithful supporters, their degree of time, their degree to which they gave of themselves, and their degree of inter-personal loss resulted in deep feelings of deception, distrust, and disillusionment.

Therefore, regardless of the kind or type of betrayal, with great investment comes enormous loss; with strong belief comes shattered truths; and with profound trust comes unspeakable violation. Being aware of the degree to which we gave of ourselves helps us come to terms with of our degree of pain.

#2 Underlying principle of betrayal

As I think about my  many clients and their respective injuries with betrayal, as well as my own, I believe their severity and duration pain were directly related to the occurrence(s) of betrayal and to ensuring exposure to one's betrayal experience. In other words: 

The number of  betrayal occurrences and the degree of exposure 
to the betrayer and/or to the betrayal environment is a predictor to the degree of injury or re-injury.

As with other features of betrayal, each person has his unique experiences and thus, there can and will be exceptions to the explanations. And, it is critical to remember that the degree of investment, trust, or belief in someone or something should always remain paramount in our assessment of injury. However, drawing attention to the types of occurrences can serve us well in understanding our level and span of pain.

Because each of these is very important to understanding its impact on your levels of injury and ensuing discomfort, I encourage you to read Chapter Three Breaking Through Betrayal 2nd Edition : "To What Degree and How Long Will I Feel This Way."  There are longer explanations with examples for each one.  For now, it is important to know them:
  • Acute or short term - The betrayal happens once and/or does not last long. However, short term betrayal can involve horrific trauma and require long-term recovery. It can also be of a lower level, yet still painful.
  • Chronic or on-going - The betrayal (s)takes place over time; the betrayal environment is conducive to perpetual injury, abuse, or trauma.
  • Recurrent or episodic - The betrayal takes place; then subsides. Usually because of environmental factors, betrayal injury resurfaces.
  • Multiple betrayals - Betrayal is perpetrated  repeatedly by the same person, thing, or environment over a short span or longer periods of time; or betrayal is perpetrated or exacerbated by one or more individuals, things, or environments.  
  • Re-injury from self - Turning to destructive behaviors or self-soothing behaviors as a result of the betrayal resulting in additional injury to self. 
Although any of the above examples of occurrence can and will evoke debilitating symptoms and manifestations from betrayal injury, it has been my experience that on-going and multiple betrayals can be the most damaging. Working in the areas of abuse and trauma, I was witness to many survivors who not only endured months and years of horrific violations by perpetrators, but who were also betrayed and re-betrayed by friends and family members who did not believe the abuse and/or who came to the defense of their abusers. In addition, often the legal system did not bring adequate restoration or justice to the survivors, again adding to the layers of betrayal. Still today, I can recall the faces of my clients who never gave up and who reclaimed themselves. their lives, and their truths. 

No matter what the varying degree or types of betrayal, we can rest in the knowledge that hope and healing remain within our grasp. With hard work and specific tools, we can lessen our pain and shorten our stay in the bondage of betrayal.

There is so much more to share with you. However, it is up to each of us to grab hold of healing resources available to us and decide when we will begin our healing journey. If you are struggling to move past your betrayal experience, I want you to  know you are not alone. I hope you will take this journey with me. I hope you will be brave enough to do so.

Betrayal has know us far too long.  It is time to change that.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Power of a Promise: One Mother's Message

The month of May brings with it "Mother's Day". For many it is a day of loving remembrance and celebration of mothers who created, nurtured, and protected their children. In preparing to write my blog for this special occasion, I found myself wondering what to write. What could I offer readers that I had not written about or that they had not read already? How could I encourage or inspire mothers, fathers, and their children? And then, I thought about my daughter, my role as a mother, and The Power of a Promise.

The Power of a Promise
Growing up in a chaotic and unhealthy environment, I did not understand what was going on around me. Issues of addiction and anger plagued our family and escalated over time. As our family grew, my mother became more emotionally absent, physically negligent, and psychologically unwell. Most of the time, I felt afraid and alone. By the time I was eleven, I no longer felt safe. By the time I was eleven, I made myself a promise -

 If I ever had the privilege of being a mom, I would do it differently. I would be a good mom.

~ I would do it differently ~
That promise, made so many years ago, has brought me to where I am today - rejoicing in the fact that I kept my word - not just to myself but for my daughter. Reflecting upon my journey as a mother, I share with you how The Power of a Promise changed my life and that of a child.

Power One: A promise served as my compass towards motherhood.

When I made my promise to myself at age eleven, I continued -as I had for some time - to observe and take note of my surroundings. I also kept a pulse on how I was feeling, depending on the levels of emotional upheaval or random periods of calm, and I made connections about their impact upon me. I also studied the home environments of my friends' families, especially when there were loving mothers in the home. One of my closest friends, throughout middle and high school, had an extraordinarily loving mother. I watched and I learned what a healthy role model was for a mother. I carried those lessons with me and called upon them when I became a mom.

As I moved through high school and into young adulthood, my promise continued to guide me in my long-term thinking and planning for motherhood. Recalling the incessant conflict in my home growing up, especially over money, and the horrifically anger-filled manner in which everyday struggles were dealt with, I knew I wanted to obtain my education and start a career first before having a child. I wanted to feel ready and be ready - personally and professionally. Although I understood one can never reduce all stresses which enter into a family, financial or otherwise, I wanted to give my child the best start possible to a stable life.

And lastly, my promise served as a compass in a very personal way. Early on, I felt it would be best for me, if I was going to have a child, to have only one. Of course, my husband would have a voice in this decision as well, and he agreed. After giving birth to my daughter in 1979, well-meaning friends and a few family members questioned my decision. Often times, I was criticized and warned of the harm I would do by having "one" child. I stood my decision and honored my promise.  For me, it wasn't about the "number of children" I had, but about maintaining my well-being in order to give my my daughter the best of me and the highest level of care possible. 

Age - 8 months
Full-filling my promise of being a good mom meant purposeful planning and preparation 
to become one.

Power Two: A promise sparked my healing and sustained my wellness journey.

When I made my promise, I did not have the vocabulary for what was going on in my environment. I just knew I didn't want to repeat it.  After I married and had my child, I knew I did not want to subject her to anything like what I had experienced. I knew I had wounds which needed tending to. I knew if I didn't, I would "mother" her from a place of filling my voids and serving my needs rather than taking care of hers.

The first time I entered therapy, my daughter was five. Although I had always felt moody and experienced bouts of depression around my monthly cycle, after her birth the symptoms worsened. I remember feeling frightened that my daughter would see me feeling sad or sense I was not available for her. I was frantic to find help, and with the assistance of a dear older female friend, I found a doctor who diagnosed and treated my condition (PMS or PMDD). At the same time, I also began my work with a therapist, recognizing unhealthy coping behaviors and replacing them with healthy tools. Keeping my promise meant taking care of  myself - physically, emotionally, and psychologically - in order to be fully present and available for my child.

As I continued my recovering journey, one aspect of healing which caught me off guard was the sudden re-occurrence of unhealthy feelings or emotions. For example, when my daughter turned eleven, I experienced horrible flashbacks and ugly nightmares. I didn't wait to get help. I trusted in my promise and turned to a trained professional to guide me through my turmoil. I learned about "triggers" and about "trigger points" in one's journey. I learned that my daughter turning "eleven" was one of those times. Whenever I felt vulnerable or that my healing  needed support, I re-embraced my process. By strengthening my wellness, it fortified my ability to care for my daughter's needs and nurture her growth along the way. And as the wounds from my past healed, I navigated motherhood - not from a place of brokenness - but from a place of wholeness.

Over the years, I attended Al-Anon; continued with therapy when needed; read lots and lots of books on issues of addiction and co-dependency; and I entered graduate school to study psychology. My recovery was hard work; however, as I was able to name my pain and understand it, I could move forward healing myself from it. Recalling how my mother's issues impacted my sense of self, image, and worth, I knew that the degree of healthiness in which my daughter was raised contributed greatly to her levels of emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Wellness became a priority in the raising of my child.

Age  7
Full-filling my promise of being a good mom required I do the necessary recovery work in order 
to become one.

Power Three:  A promise steered my parenting.

When I made my promise at age eleven, I knew one thing - how I didn't want to parent. And, that was a good start!  At the same time, I knew that I had a lot to learn along the way. I did several things to prepare myself and to stay true to my promise.

First,I read lots of parenting books. However, just because something was a fad or trend, I just didn't adopt it. For example, when my daughter was born, it was fashionable (and on doctors' orders) not to give infants any "solid" food until at least six months to a year.  This worked for a while. Then, as she grew, it no longer was satisfying. After a few nights of my daughter crying because she was so hungry, at the suggestion of my  mother-in-law, I put a little bit of rice cereal in her formula. It worked! She was so happy!! Regardless of current thinking on parenting, I always assessed what I felt was in the best interest of my daughter, her needs, and her unique personality before implementing any theory or strategy. Doing what was popular didn't steer my parenting - keeping my promise did. 

Secondly, I learned early on in one of my books how parents typically parent in one of two respects: either they repeat the same parenting styles as their parents, or parents (especially those who  have come from highly dysfunctional homes) turn to an extreme opposite style of parenting, often over-compensating for the inadequacies of their own childhood experiences. This was extremely important information for me. As a classic co-dependent from an alcoholic environment, I was a rescuer and an enabler. Although it was paramount for me to provide a trusting, safe, and nurturing environment for my daughter, at the same time, I also wanted to teach her responsibility and accountability. I read about authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative parenting styles. I studied the research and became informed about the consequences - both positive and negative - of all three. I leaned towards an authoritative approach - blending flexibility, compassion, and openness with meaningful expectations and reachable standards. Regardless of her age, situation, or circumstances, I was always mindful of how my actions and words impacted my child. As I revisited my promise time and time again - assessing what was working and what was not - I adjusted my parenting accordingly.

And lastly, in steering my parenting, I thought about my promise and the importance of respecting, validating, and loving my child for the unique human being she was. Whatever her interests, her talents and gifts, her passions and abilities, and her personality traits and characteristics,  I would do what I could to guide, support, and nurture them and her. I would not force her or mold her into the person "I" thought she should be, but rather open doors for her and allow for her exploration of them, if she so desired. I will never forget an important lesson I learned when my daughter was about age five. I thought she might like dance lessons, but I didn't think to ask her first!  After a disastrous semester of tears and frustration, dance was out! Tennis was in! My daughter loved to play all kinds of sports, dig in the dirt, and make all kinds of things out of all kinds of stuff. No tootoos for her!! Revisiting my promise reminded me parenting isn't about placing my dreams on my child - it's about helping hers to come true.

Age 15
Full-filling my promise to be a good mom didn't just happen - it demanded I remain open and receptive about how to become one.

In closing, as "Mother's Day" approaches, I know I have not been a perfect mom. Are there things I wish I had done differently? Of course. At the same time, as I reflect upon my journey as a mother, The Power of a Promise - made and kept - is evidenced in my daughter's own words at age 15:

A Happy Birthday Poem 

My mother's touch is worth the highest price.
Ever so gently, soft, graceful fingers glide over my skin.
Love seems to spread over me ever so perfectly.
Yes, my mother's touch is worth the highest price.

My mother's love is worth the highest price.
Her love and direction has supported me since day one.
Yes, my mother's love is worth the highest price.
Which I shall never sell for as long as I live.

~ A Promise Made and Kept ~

Special note to parents and guardians ~

I believe if we choose to become parents or guardians, it is our most important role in life.  And even under the best of circumstances, it is our most challenging. I have met and known many parents who have been extraordinary, and still by not fault of their own they have experienced incredible heartache and tragedy. Others have sacrificed everything only to have their children fail, falter, and find themselves lost to self-destructive influences, behaviors, and substances. My heart goes out to all who have suffered. In parenting, there are no guarantees, even when we do our very best.

Fortunately, today there are many resources at our fingertips. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you are struggling and even if you are not. We all need a little guidance sometimes.  For more encouragement and support on parenting:

Please visit  Another Way - For For Parents and Guardians on my website Holli Kenley. There are two free downloads: Parenting Styles and Strategies and Conversation Starters.  And, there are some additional sources of support under the Resources Tab.

Also, pick up a copy of   "Another Way" . Although it is a novel for your tweens - teens, a chapter was added especially for parents/guardians entitled - Offering Another Way To Parents. 

~ We all need a little guidance sometimes ~

For more empowering books, tools, and strategies, visit Holli Kenley
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