WRITING STRONG WOMEN

Thoughts and commentary on being a strong woman—what it takes, and how we get there

Womb Twin Survivor

Are you a womb twin survivor? Many more people that one might think are. What is a womb twin survivor? It is a person directly affected by the loss of a twin before or around birth. This loss includes a pregnancy that results in the birth of twins, or more, but one or more of the babies die.

I have serious reason to believe that I am a womb twin survivor. I believe my mother miscarried my twin during her pregnancy. Because of that, the protagonist in my historical fiction, A War Of Her Own, suffers the after effects of being a womb twin survivor, and still does, many years later.

The other day, I received this letter from a woman named Carole Hignite. I asked her if I could share her letter with the hopes that it might help other women who have experienced something similar in their lives.

Dear Sylvia,

I read A War of Her Own and found it just fabulous.

You see, I had twin girls in 1976. One passed at birth. The other, my daughter Tracie was born with a lot of medical problems. She was in the hospital for three months after her birth.

When I brought her home, from the very first day she cried and cried and cried—every day and every night. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

I had a 3 year old at the same time. This crying was non-stop day and night.

I took her to three different doctors. All three laughed and said the baby was female, so her crying was normal. (Oh, boy, this burns me up!)

After six months without sleep, I felt like I was going crazy. No doctor could or would help me. Instead, they thought I was being a bad mother. In time, I began to believe them.

In time, I lost I patience with my daughter. Things were not good.

That is when I contacted a counseling clinic at Children’s Hospital here in Cincinnati because I did not trust myself with her anymore. It was a Godsend.

The crying stopped some but not completely—ever.

When she started grade school things improved but it wasn’t normal.

Then one day I was thinking about the birth and about Molly the little angel in heaven. That is when I thought maybe that was why Tracie cried…. she was missing something—she was missing the bond that twins create at conception.

I was so amazed at reading your book and the way you described it was just like our situation. I have always felt guilty about not understanding, but it was a new situation for me and I had no one to help me.

Tracie is grown now, and now has a set of twins, a boy and girl…they are inseparable.

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART FOR YOUR BOOK. I WILL CHERISH IT ALWAYS. ~Carole Hignite

Thank you, Carole, for your bravery in writing. You indeed are a strong woman who survived extremely difficult days with little to no help–and felt to blame. Bless you, and bless your daughter. We must share this information with others who may be similarly wounded. Your letter does just that. By writing, you have helped many others.

If you think you might be a womb twin survivor, check out the international website Womb Twin.

 

Posted in Strong Woman, Writing Strong Women | 5 Comments

Wounds

Most all of us have suffered our share of wounds. So many times we try to ignore them, act like they are woundnon-existent. Pesha Gertler offers a fresh approach to wounds and to their sacredness. Instead of trying to ignore the wounds, get over them or get depressed because of them, this poem suggests we honor them as sacred. Read her poetry below and spend time thinking about your wounds from a new perspective.

The Healing Time
By Pesha Gertler

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
holy.

Posted in Quotes by Strong Women, Strong Woman, Writing Strong Women | 4 Comments

Dance

of the Rubber Band

DanceRelationships function much like what I call the Dance of the Rubber Band.  A healthy tension must be kept on the relationship for it to be effective. Much like tension must be kept on a rubber band for it to be effective and to fulfill its purpose.

Think about it. A rubber band is of benefit only when it holds tension around two or more things.

When I conducted private practice couples counseling, often I used a rubber band to demonstrate.

Put one end of the band around your left hand and the other end around your right.

If it is loose, pull both hands back and see what happens. Yes, the tension on the band grows more uncomfortable the further you pull.

Because of this discomfort, you move your left hand closer to the right. The tension eases. The band becomes slack and useless, so the right hand moves back further to regain the tension. And the left hand, uncomfortable, moves in on the right again.

So begins the Dance of the Rubber Band.

For the rubber band to be of any use, tension must be placed on both ends of it. But if it is pulled too Dancetightly, the tension becomes uncomfortable and with increasing pressure, will break. To keep that from happening, often one hand moves forward to ease the tension and the other hand moves away–hence the dance.

But if both hands continue to pull back, what will happen? Yes, the band will eventually break.

Now, take this same example and use it as a metaphor in your relationships. This is where the Dance of the Rubber Band takes life. What happens when, say, a wife has control issues and tries to order the husband to her bidding. He jumps every time she gives an order, and the tension holds. But after a while, say the husband grows and learns

Then, say the husband  one partner moves in too close to the other? Yep, the other becomes uncomfortable and takes a step back.

If, as a result, the first person steps forward again and the second person moves even further back.

On the other side of this metaphor, what happens when a person invades our space? Yep, again. We step back. If both people step back too far, the band (bond) is likely to break. And if they both step in too close to each other, the band–the comfortable, useful tension (purpose) of the band exists no longer.

When I did couples therapy several years ago, I often had each spouse wear a rubber band around their wrists as a reminder of the dance. Keep enough tension on the band to make it useful, but when one person steps away, don’t go forward. Instead, take a step back, and often the other will take a step forward.

The Dance of the Rubber Band.

What about you? Have you noticed how, if you step forward, your partner steps back? Have you been tempted to step in even closer? Keep the tension on your relationships

. Practice the dance and see if it improves your relationship.

Posted in Steel Magnolia, Strong Woman, Uncategorized, Writing Strong Women | 23 Comments

Trust

TrustWow. 2012 is gone. My one word goal for 2013 is TRUST. We look forward to a new year, and then, when it’s gone, we’re ready to let it go and move on. 2012 has been a tough year for many of us. However, some really neat things have happened that gives us hope and excitement for the year ahead.

Dolly Parton is quoted to have said: Find out who you are and do it on purpose.

This year, several in my family have found out who they are, what they stand for, and what they don’t stand for. As a result, they are diligently working to BE who they are on purpose.

I wonder how many actions women take, or beliefs we advocate simply because someone else thinks we should, or tells us we ‘ought to’ or ‘ought not to.’

Many years ago I realized how hard I worked to ‘make what I wanted to happen, happen.’ Created stress galore. Reminds me of the C & W song, “If love don’t come easy, you gotta let it go.” But I wasn’t very good at letting it go. I wanted CONTROL.

So I made the decision to trust the process, and trust perfect timing. Sounds good, huh? Well, that works Trustpretty good when things are going the way I want them to go. But not so well when they don’t.

Lately, I find myself struggling with it all. I know what I want, and what I think should happen and by golly, I’m going to make it happen, or know the reason why! I agonize, I worry, I get anxious–maybe even a little controlling (?)

Okay, so here goes my New Year’s Resolution. TRUST PERFECT TIMING. Trust that what happens is what is best for me and those I love–and then rest in that knowledge.

How about you? Is it difficult for you to trust perfect timing and let go of trying to control everything? If so, how do you handle it? How do you learn to trust that life events?

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STOP

Stop

Here are a few things you and I need to STOP doing if we want to create a safe place:

1. Stop assuming that your truth is THE truth. What is true for you is not necessarily true for another.

2. Stop insisting that other people must agree with you. Disagreement is okay. Don’t ‘cross-examine’ people.

3. Stop unconsciously assuming that anyone else will see it the way you see it. Always check it out.

4. Stop invalidating other people’s experience just because it doesn’t agree with your experience.

5. Stop blaming anyone else for how you feel or what happens to you. Take full responsibility for yourself.

~Danaan Parry, Warriors of the Heart

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BIG

I may be a great grandmother, but I’m still a child at heart! I have my own collection of children’s books–those with strong, uplifting messages for children–especially girls, and adults–especially women.

I just added a new book to that collection. Coleen Paratore’s BIG.
Big

Children can’t wait to grow BIG and Women can’t wait to grow SMALL, that is, to lose weight, to get into the next smaller size bluejeans. With all the media focus on women and size, i.e. small equals good and big equals bad, not good enough, inferior, etc.

BIG by Coleen Paratore and illustrated by Clare Fennell goes beyond the basics to show both children and adults that size is more than a matter of height (and I might add–weight!). Touching on ideas such as health, citizenship, and imagination, this book can be the key to heartfelt dialogue between children and caregivers about the importance of values over valuables.

As far as women go, this book opens up opportunity for heartfelt dialogue on the same topic. I encourage women’s book clubs to take a look at BIG and open up dialogue about how self-image affects our self-esteem, the value we place on ourselves, and others, and how we can discover our value outside what we look like, physically. So much more important is how we see ourselves and others. How we treat people. How we can take a closer look at the rules we live by such as, to show up, to pay attention, to tell the truth, and to stay unattached to the outcome.I challenge women, myself included, to spend our energy on being BIG in the ways that really matter. Ways that make our world a better place.

More about the author and the illustrator:

Colleen Paratore is a native of Troy, New York, and the eldest of six children. Her lifelong love of reading can be traced back to weekly trips with her mother to the Troy Public Library. Coleen’s fascination with words has taken her from first place in a grammar-school poetry contest to a Master’s Degree in English from Trinity College.

After leaving the workforce in 1994 to become a full-time mother of three, Coleen spent her days introducing her children to the world around them. “I didn’t know that I would one day write children’s books, yet everything in my life was leading me that way.” When her oldest son turned ten, the spark of writing burst into full flame.

With more than 17 books to her name, Coleen knows the importance of believing in one’s self. “Find what it is you love to do – because that is your gift – and then find a way to share it.” A fan of travel, theater, and movies, Coleen recently moved back to Troy, where she intends to continue writing.

Clare Fennell, the illustrator, spent fifteen years in the UK greeting card industry, designing products, managing a studio, and “running up and down a lot of stairs”. Holding fast to her illustration degree, Clare left her ordinary job to take on the extraordinary challenge of becoming a children’s book illustrator.

An admittedly messy studio keeper, Clare is very clear on what she likes. “I love children’s books, colour, pattern … and I love what I do.” Working in the mediums of collage, paint, and Photoshop, she focuses her artistic energy on children’s books
.
When the paint pots are shut at three p.m., Clare shifts into Mum mode. She lives in Leicestershire in the United Kingdom with her husband and two daughters.

Posted in Writing Strong Women | 21 Comments

Strong Women

“Writing Strong Women” exists to encourage and support positive social change for women by creating mutual empowerment. I hope you find something here to help you on your journey. I encourage you to forward it to other women. ~~Sylvia Dickey Smith

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Our guest today is Radine Nehring, one of my favorite people. If you haven’t met her, you’ve missed out. She combines gentleness with strength and wisdom.

Radine Trees grew up in a household where women were second-class citizens. When her father told her she could attend secretarial school, not college, she found a job selling drapery fabric in a furniture/decorating store (where only men were allowed to write up sales of furniture or other high ticket items). When she had earned enough for a half-year of college, her father relented, and said he’d pay for one additional year. After finishing the year and a half, she married John Nehring–a man strong enough within himself to love and respect a strong woman. Radine then finished college while working full time, and, later, was able to attend advanced writing classes at the University of Tulsa and the University of Iowa Summer Writing School.

Her writing career took off in 1985 with the international publication of her first essay about the Ozarks, “Where Hummingbirds Matter.” She has eight published books, a large number of published essays, short stories, and feature articles, and, for ten years, was a broadcast journalist with her own weekly program of Ozarks news. She and John live in Northwest Arkansas. A true strong woman!

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Women

For some of us, singing the praises of strong women reflects both a yearning and a shout of triumph. Stories of women seeking to display and use their strengths in any way that worked call out to us through the centuries. Think of (in the Old Testament), Queen Esther and Jael, for example. In Roman history, what about Cleopatra? And what about our history in the USA? We read about females who fought disguised as men, or acted as spies and nurses during the Civil War. What about Carrie Nation? Agree with her cause or not, you gotta admit she was strong!

Nearer our own time, there are hundreds of “sheroes” we can look to, and movements on behalf of freedom and justice that women can cherish. The fight to gain the right to vote is uppermost in my thoughts now, followed closely by the fight for passage of the ERA. (One win, after years of trying. One loss, after years of trying.)

It currently seems as if the right for women to display appropriate strengths, control their lives and destinies–even their own bodies–is fragmented, varying from place-to-place, organization-to-organization, and sometimes appearing only in spurts. Yes, we’ve come a long way, but . . . .

Question: How do we define strength? Rosie the Riveter or a woman in the background, holding family and home together? CEO of a large corporation, or the single mom who works two jobs? I think, if we have learned anything, we must admit that feminine strength can be defined many ways, and each of us has a definition that possibly will not fit any other woman, and, most probably, no man. I do believe we have, as a gender, special strengths to trumpet. Yes, as humans, we can make it in a “man’s world.” But we can triumph as women being women as well.

I work as a writer of novels and, today, there is–among female writers and those who read their work–a celebration of stories featuring women being strong in many ways. Is this type of writing a sign of newly awakened feminine striving for personal and societal strength? Why is this surge happening? Maybe because, in 2012, we’re “liberated” enough to at least be willing, in print and speech, to realize what we lack, to fight oppression where it exists, and to shout about being or becoming strong. Advances everywhere make us more aware of what we still lack in the court of public opinion. (Why, when women move into fields formerly dominated by men, is it necessary to state what they wear, whether or not they are married, and how many children of what ages they have? Do we see that information about their male co-workers?)

So, maybe we have at least an inkling of what attitudes toward women, in the twenty-first century, are still held in the minds of many men and even some women. Hooray if we sit down and write about it.

I enjoy reading fiction about women who display realistic ways of using their strengths as humans, and especially as females. I most certainly enjoy writing about them. In my novels, most often the starring women call on personal and/or prayed-for strength during trials, and use it in a way particularly suited to a female. In A RIVER TO DIE FOR, Catherine King, threatened with violent rape and eventual death, throws that I might call a temper tantrum to erase panic and keep up her courage. It works, and she is then able to reason about ways she might save herself.

In my most recent release, A FAIR TO DIE FOR, Carrie is faced with more danger than she has experienced in the six previous stories of her adventures, and her reaction to the situation is totally unique to a woman. Could Henry, her husband, (a retired police major), have reacted in the same way? No, and it’s doubtful he would have survived.

Perhaps not all of us think we achieve a satisfying demonstration of strength in our personal lives, but maybe it’s time for each of us to define what strength means to us. Can’t each of us claim our own kind of strength and our victories over weaknesses that, at one time or another, have held us back?

Think about it. And, if you are a writer, for goodness’ sake, write about it, as has Sylvia Dickey Smith, the host of this blog!
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Strong Women make our world a better place.

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Angel

Sometimes

“Writing Strong Women” exists to encourage and support positive social change for women by creating mutual empowerment. I hope you find something helpful on your journey. I encourage you to forward it to other women. ~~Sylvia Dickey Smith

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Helen Ginger and I have been friends for several years, although we don’t seem to find the time to get together nearly as much as we’d both like. Time gets away from all of us. Helen is a strong woman. I admire and respect anything she touches. She has been a tremendous support through my writing efforts and gives of her time most freely. I knew she had been writing the novel, Angel Sometimes. I am thrilled the book is now complete and available for purchase.

Since she is such a strong woman, I had no doubt her female lead would be strong–or would get there before the story ended. I am delighted to welcome her as our guest blogger today. At the bottom of the post there are links to her website, and how to purchase her book should you so desire.

Here’s Helen

Angel Angel started talking to me years ago. I dreamed about her, couldn’t get her to leave me alone. So I began to write the story of this 12-year-old girl. Around that same time, the Brown Foundation awarded me a fellowship to spend four weeks at the Vermont Studio Center. By the time those weeks were up, I’d written almost a full book … of her as a twelve year old. I knew her. I knew what happened to change her life. I knew why she’d been abandoned on the streets 800 miles from her home. I also knew it wasn’t her full story.

So I began to write her as a 22-year-old. Because of all that I had already written, I knew Angel. She was strong. She cared and looked out for others. Angel was a survivor. Even when she was very close to dying, she didn’t give up.

People have asked if her life is mine. This is her story, her truth, although there are bits and pieces of me in her. Angel’s childhood home was mine when I was a child, including the drive-in theater and a mother who worked as the projectionist. The woods where Angel played as a child are from my childhood. She swims as a mermaid as did I for three years in college. While the setting of her childhood is similar to mine, her life is very different.

Angel was on the streets of South Padre when she was 12. At 16, she hitchhiked to Austin. After months on the streets there, she found a Help Wanted sign in the window of a bar/restaurant. She asked the owner to hire her. He told her she was too young. Every morning she waited for him to open. Every day he said no. On her 17th birthday, he said yes. He had no idea how close she was to dying.

Angel may have told her story to me, but she speaks to everyone. You can survive when bad or even horrific things happen to you. You can help yourself by helping others. The old saying is true. Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

Angel has taken a break in talking to me. But I’m leaving the door open and lights on, hoping she’ll come by to tell me what happens next.
Angel

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Helen Ginger was born in Georgia, but at age ten, her mother moved the family to Texas. Helen’s been there ever since, laying down roots and picking up stories. “My mother moved around a lot, from Austin to Luling to Lockhart to places in-between. One time while in college, I drove home to see her and my younger sister. They were gone. No forwarding address. People are aghast when I tell that story, but it wasn’t a big deal. I eventually found her.” As far back as Helen can remember, she’s always written: angst-filled stories in high school; short stories and poetry in college; mysteries, mainstream fiction, even technical books, three of which have been published by TSTC Publishing. Helen lives in a small town just outside of Austin, Texas. From her office window, she sees birds, deer, squirrels, road runners, foxes, cats, and rabbits.

Posted in Steel Magnolia, Strong Woman, Writing Strong Women | 15 Comments

A Writer Remembers the Journey

Our guest author today is Pamela Cable, author of Televenge. See below for her bio.

A Writer Remembers the Journeywriter

Swarms of finches, wrens, and other tiny birds peck and hunt for food at feeders that hang outside my kitchen window. Even when I forget to fill the feeders, the birds arrive each morning, hoping to discover their next meal. These tiny birds never give up. They are constant, vigilant, driven. Despite the odds and possible dangers, the birds return every day.

Writers are like tiny birds. We beat our heads against one roadblock after another, writing against enormous odds, hoping and believing our next book will land in the laps of readers and on bestseller lists across the country. But even after decades into our career, we discover we must sometimes recall what made us write in the first place and the courage it took.

My granddaddy was a coal miner, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies. I spent every weekend as a child, traveling back to the West Virginia Mountains. My memories of my childhood run as deep as the Appalachian creeks and swimming holes I swam in as a child. My career as a writer was born in the dust laden coal towns of the early 60s.

For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar, places of clapboard and revival tents transcending time and space, that characters hang ripe and ready for picking.

From the primitive church services of mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments of robed priests in great cathedrals and monasteries. From hardworking men and women who testify in the run-down churches of coal camps to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals in televised megachurches of today. Therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.

As a writer, it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my deepest passion is to pierce a reader’s heart. The topic of faith, for me, has a way of doing that like nothing else.

My mother says I cut my teeth on the back of a church pew. I grew up in revival tents, tabernacles, and eventually in grand cathedrals with TV cameras rolling. In the early days, revivals were as exciting as the carnival coming to town and evangelists were royalty. I experienced a world from the sublime to the bizarre. It caused me to weave religion, spirituality, and the mysterious into my stories. Stories that hint to an ancient bridge where the real and the supernatural meet.

Many of my stories are based on truth, shreds of truth, people I’ve known, places I’ve been, and of course writerhistory plays a great part in some stories, like Coal Dust On My Feet; a love story set amidst the longest and most violent coal strike in the history of our country. It is truth and fiction.

Mother was a skilled storyteller without knowing it. All I wanted to do when I grew up was duplicate her life. I loved her southern accent and heritage and I felt neither imprisoned nor put off by it. She was a strong woman. But the most precious gift she gave me was a love for the written world, be it the word of God or of Mother Goose. Mom was my inspiration, and one day I picked up a pencil in the sixth grade and wrote my first story. I haven’t stopped since. The next forty years played into my storytelling, and after surviving life’s heartaches and hardships, it gave me plenty to write about.

A writer’s life is a solitary life. We hope we possess raw talent, unique originality, and gut emotional appeal. We raise the stakes on each and every page and hope, and pray, and believe that some day we’re blessed a bit of luck.

Is it worth the struggle? You bet it is. All you need is the courage of a tiny bird.

Remember when you tackled that first story, essay, article, poem? That was courage. Courage is not confidence, nor the opposite of meekness. It’s feeling a measure of confidence, and then acting on those feelings. It’s a quality of spirit that enables you to face the moment, whatever comes, and keep going.

Courage allows you to see, hear, smell, and taste things as they really are. Courage makes you face facts, unfiltered by rosy daydreams. Courage frees you to be creative. It pushes you to prepare for the unknown without obsessing over it. To be open to what may come.

A writer can’t be open to new ideas if dazed and confused by fear. Courage enables you to be prepared and wide awake in every situation.

There were times in my youth I didn’t write because I was afraid of failing. I didn’t prepare for success because I was afraid it might happen. I didn’t look, really look, into my past because I was afraid of what I might find. As I grow older, I don’t give myself those options. Not anymore.

Fear is passive-aggressive. It’s the lazy writer’s excuse for not moving forward. It’s a great immobilizer, an avoidance technique. Fear puts the focus on what we might encounter, distracts us from what’s actually there. Courage empowers a writer to pay attention.

In the end, a writer can do without a lot of things. Remembering your journey is not one of them. Courage is the other.

More about Pamela King Cable: Pamela King Cable was born a coal miner’s granddaughter and raised by a tribe of wild Pentecostals and storytellers. She is an award-winning, multi-published author who loves to write about religion and spirituality with paranormal twists she unearths from her family’s history. Married to a megachurch ministry team member as a young adult, she attended years of megachurch services. Pamela studied creative writing at The University of Akron and Kent State University. She has taught at many writing conferences, and speaks to book clubs, women’s groups, national and local civic organizations, and at churches across the country. Nearly a decade in the writing, Televenge is her debut novel. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Michael, and is currently working on her next novel.

Click here to view the book trailer.

Posted in Strong Woman, Writing Strong Women | 5 Comments

Emotional

Abuse

: Beneath Your Radar?

Guest Blogger today is Darlene Lancer, writing about emotional abuse. 

There are three million cases of domestic violence reported each year. Many more go unreported.Emotional abuse precedes violence, but is rarely discussed. Although both men and women may abuse others, an enormous number of women are subjected to emotional abuse. Unfortunately, many don’t even know it.

Why is Emotional Abuse Hard to Recognize?

Emotional abuse may be hard to recognize, because it can be subtle, and abusers will often blame you for their behavior or act like they have no idea why you are upset. Additionally, you may have been treated this way in past relationships, so that it’s familiar and harder to recognize. Over time, the abuser will chip away at your self-esteem, causing you to feel guilty, doubt yourself, and distrust your perceptions.

Other aspects of the relationship may work well. The abuser may be loving between abusive episodes, so that you deny or forget them. You may not have had a healthy relationship for comparison, and when the abuse takes place in private, there are no witnesses to validate your experience.

Personality of an Abuser

Abusers typically want to control and dominate. They use verbal abuse to accomplish this. They are self-centered, impatient, unreasonable, insensitive, unforgiving, lack empathy, and are often jealous, suspicious, and withholding. In order to maintain control, some abusers take hostages, meaning that they may try to isolate you from your friends and family. Their moods can shift from fun-loving and romantic to sullen and angry. Some punish with anger, others with silence – or both. It’s usually “their way or the highway.”

Are You Being Abused?

Emotional abuse may start out innocuously, but grows as the abuser becomes more assured that you won’t leave the relationship. It may not begin until after an engagement, marriage, or pregnancy. If you look back, you may recall tell-tale signs of control or jealousy. Eventually, you and the entire family “walk on eggshells” and adapt so as not to upset the abuser. Being subjected to emotional abuse over time can lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, inhibited sexual desire, chronic pain, or other physical symptoms.

People who respect and honor themselves won’t allow someone to abuse them. Many people allow abuse to continue because they fear confrontations. Usually, they are martyrs, caretakers, or pleasers. They feel guilty and blame themselves. Some aren’t able to access their anger and power in order to stand up for themselves, while others ineffectively argue, blame, and are abusive themselves, but they still don’t know how to set appropriate boundaries.

If you’ve allowed abuse to continue, there’s a good chance that you were abused by someone in your past, although you may not recognize it as such. It could have been a strict or alcoholic dad, an invasive mom, or a teasing sibling. Healing involves understanding how you’ve been abused, forgiving yourself, and rebuilding your self-esteem and confidence.

What is Emotional Abuse?

If you’re wondering if your relationship is abusive, it probably is. Emotional abuse, distinct from physical violence (including shoving, cornering, breaking, and throwing things), is speech and/or behavior that’s derogating, controlling, punishing, or manipulative. Withholding love, communication, support, or money are indirect methods of control and maintaining power. Behavior that controls where you go, to whom you talk, or what you think is abusive. It’s one thing to say, “If you buy the dining room set, we cannot afford a vacation,” verses cutting up your credit cards. Spying, stalking, invading your person, space, or belongings is also abusive, because it disregards personal boundaries.

Verbal abuse is the most common forms of emotional abuse, but it’s often unrecognized, because it may be subtle and insidious. It may be said in a loving, quiet voice, or may be indirect – even concealed as a joke. Whether disguised as play or jokes, sarcasm or teasing that is hurtful is abusive. Obvious and direct verbal abuse, such as threats, judging, criticizing, lying, blaming, name-calling, ordering, and raging, are easy to recognize. Below are some more subtle types of verbal abuse that are just as damaging as overt forms, particularly because they are harder to detect. When experienced over time, they have an insidious, deleterious effect, because you begin to doubt and distrust yourself.

Opposing: The abuser will argue against anything you say, challenging your perceptions, opinions, and thoughts. The abuser doesn’t listen or volunteer thoughts or feelings, but treats you as an adversary, in effect saying “No” to everything, so a constructive conversation is impossible.

Blocking: This is another tactic used to abort conversation. The abuser may switch topics, accuse you, or use words that in effect say, “Shut Up.”

Discounting & Belittling: This is verbal abuse that minimizes or trivializes your feelings, thoughts, or experiences. It’s a way of saying that your feelings don’t matter or are wrong.

Undermining & Interrupting: These words are meant to undermine your self-esteem and confidence, such as, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” finishing your sentences, or speaking on your behalf without your permission.

Denying: An abuser may deny that agreements or promises were made or that a conversation or events or took place, including prior abuse. The abuser instead may express affection or make declarations of love and caring. This is crazy-making and manipulative behavior, which leads you to gradually doubt your own memory, perceptions, and experience. In the extreme, a persistent pattern is called gas-lighting, named after the classic Ingrid Bergman movie, Gaslight. In it, her husband used denial in a plot to make her believe she was losing her grip on reality.

Confronting Abuse

In order to confront the abuse, it’s important to understand that the intent of the abuser is to control you and avoid meaningful conversation. Abuse is a used as a tactic to manipulate and have power over you. If you focus on the content, you’ll fall into the trap of trying to respond rationally, denying accusations and explaining yourself, and lose your power. The abuser has won at that point and deflected responsibility for the verbal abuse. The verbal abuse must be addressed first and directly, with forceful statements, such as, “Stop, it,” “Don’t talk to me that way,” “That’s demeaning,” “Don’t call me names,” “Don’t raise your voice at me,” “Don’t use that tone with me,” “I don’t respond to orders,” etc. In this way, you set a boundary of how you want to be treated and take back your power. The abuser may respond with, “Or what?”, and you can say, “I will not continue this conversation.” Typically, a verbal abuser may become more abusive, in which case, you continue to address the abuse in the same manner. You might say, “If you continue, I’ll leave the room,” and do so if the abuse continues. If you keep setting boundaries, the abuser will get the message that manipulation and abuse won’t be effective. The relationship may or may not change for the better, or deeper issues may surface. Either way, you’re rebuilding your self-confidence and self-esteem, and are learning important skills about setting boundaries.

It usually takes the support and validation of a group, therapist, or counselor to be able to consistently stand-up to abuse. Without it, you may doubt your reality, feel guilty, and fear loss of the relationship or reprisal. Once you take back your power and regain your self-esteem, you won’t allow someone to abuse you. If the abuse stops, the relationship will improve, but for positive change, both of you must be willing to risk change.

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of:

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Author of Codependency for Dummies and 10 Steps to Self-Esteem

Emotional Abuse does not have to exist in your world.

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