Love That Child

Love That Child

While cleaning the clutter around my house one day, I stumbled onto this photo that was tucked in the back of a bookcase. I’m around 20 months old here. I never thought much about this photo, because I didn’t think it was the cutest one—the black dress looked a little, well not like me. At the time of this photo we lived in New York City, so perhaps it was just the NYC black thing. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.

However, this time I pulled it out. I found myself drawn into the photo. I thought about what she was thinking. She was doing such a good job sitting still, while the photographer had her sit on a chair. I considered that this little one started walking when she was only 9 months old and was already potty-trained. She was about to meet her new brother, too. I looked at her little eyes, and wondered what she saw in those days. How she loved going to the park and being on her duck in the Karl Schurz Park nestled on Manhattan’s East Side.

I decided to take this picture up to my bedroom and placed it on my nightstand. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, initially.

I have been told by my body (via adrenal fatigue), good friends, the needs of my children, and my loving husband to have grace on myself, to treat myself, to take care of myself. While this concept was nothing so fresh and new that it led to any epiphanies, looking at this picture of my 20-month self one night, a rush of surprising feelings came. I thought about the life that lay ahead of her. Her presence on this earth. A rush of tears streamed down my face. All I could do at first was apologize to her. I told her that I should have taken better care of her. I should have listened to her, and dignified her with respect, honor and time. I should have been gentle and sweet to her and not exposed her to certain compromises and mistreatment. Oh my, it’s a long list. I felt her looking at me, saying, “It’s about time. I’ve needed you.”

What happened next was simple. I just kissed her. I kissed the photo and held it close to my chest. I felt her sweetness, her energy, her pure heart. And I heard God say, “Tell her you’ll take care of her from now on.” I pulled the little photo back and looking at her and kissing her again said, “I’m going to look out for you. I’m going to listen to you. I’m going to make room for you to live and be loved. I see your pure, devoted heart. I’m so proud of you. I’m so grateful for you. I enjoy you, and I’m so fortunate to be the one that loves you.” It was a while before something sad and heavy lifted from me. I was sort of sweaty from crying. Eventually, what washed over me was some sort of deeper confidence and resolution, an empowerment that I didn’t know was missing.

I was first her, before I was anything else—a therapist, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend. Jesus’ statement to love God and then to love others as I love myself was no longer some vast web of mystery and confusion. It was streamlined, simple and freeing.
How has this affected my everyday life? Instead of saying, I have to _____, I evaluate: is that necessary for today? Is that true for me? Recently, I was running on the treadmill and spoke to her, “I will run until you don’t want me to run anymore. I’m listening.” In fact, this month’s blog was going to be about another topic, but this is the one my little girl told me to write.

Challenge:

Grab a picture of your younger self. And look at him or her with no agenda. Just notice the details of the photo. What is that little one, God’s precious lamb, saying to you? We cannot rescue the adult without rescuing the child. See what ways you can rescue your little one today. Please feel free to post your little girl and boy pictures and let us hear from you what that child is saying to you.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

Here’s Why Trust is Conditional

Here’s Why Trust is Conditional

There’s a quote I found recently that said, “My love is unconditional, my trust and my respect are not.” Intimate partner and family relationships suffer the most confusion with the concept of love, trust and respect. It’s a mistaken belief to assume that someone we love is also someone we trust and respect. I can love and bless someone, but that does not mean that I rely on that person nor that I will want to emulate them.

For now, I’m going to zero in on trust. Our character may be on the line with many people, who believe that loving, while not trusting, is unfaithful, judgmental and grudge-holding. I want you to ask yourself, “Would I want a child I love to trust someone who’s offended them without their offender proving that they care about what they’ve done?” If your answer is no, well done. Now, it’s time to apply it to you.

Specifically, I want you challenge yourself to see that in intimate and familial relationships, we are not designed to be oppressed by the tenuous anxiety that love equals trust. Trust by definition as a noun is firm belief, reliability; and is synonymous with conviction, assurance, confidence. Trust is also a verb, which means to rely on, bank on, be sure of. Reputations are built on a person’s ability to prove their trustworthiness.

Trust is a dynamic condition that is either being strengthened or broken. And if we’ve had our trust broken, it is a fact that it only grows in certain conditions. Thus, trust is conditional.

TWEETABLE Tweet: Trust is a dynamic condition that is either being strengthened or broken. And if we’ve had our trust broken, it is a fact that it only grows in certain conditions. Thus, trust is conditional.

Even with God, there is no such thing as knowing God and being intimate with him without pursuit and faithfulness. We can knock on the door and God will open it, but that’s not the same as searching for him with all our heart. When God says, “When you look for me with all your heart, you will find me,” (Jeremiah 29:13) is in fact a whole-hearted process, a singular focus that does not make excuses, blame others, feel sorry for oneself, begrudge the process, self-indulge, and so on.

God loves us and we are inherently worthy, but the degree to which we are trusted by him is conditional to the level we are faithful to uphold his reputation and his purpose. If this is true for God—and he’s not considered a grudge-holder or unfaithful—how is it not appropriate for us?

Those who minimize us often minimize themselves. That’s their problem, not yours. Stay focused on what is real for you. More specifically, ask what broke your trust and what do you need to see happen to restore it?

TWEETABLE Tweet: Those who minimize us often minimize themselves. That’s their problem, not yours. Stay focused on what is real for you. More specifically, ask what broke your trust and what do you need to see happen to restore it?

Acknowledgement and restitution from the offender are ongoing and communicated in tandem or together. Written below are some ideas written by Leslie Vernick, LCSW, in her book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage that identify what trust building involves:

  • Full admission to the wrongdoing—no justifications, wrongdoings are not excused as a loss of control due to life history, illness, fatigue, your behavior, et al.
  • Detailed recognition of how the wrongdoing impacts you and your children.
  • Devotion of effort for the long-term growth of trust without complaint or resentment. This needs to be seen as a life-long pursuit.
  • Effort will be spontaneous and creative without expectation that they are off the hook.
  • No demands for forgiveness of wrongdoing.
  • Detailed identification of patterns of controlling behaviors and entitled attitudes.
  • Life-long accountability, accepting feedback and criticism; does not wait to be in trouble and caught but honestly confesses that they regressed into behavior that harms your trust.

(I have condensed Vernick’s ideas in the above list.)

When we don’t hold trust-breakers to this conditional dynamic, they get sicker, we get sicker and the generations of children who witness no accountability for mistreatment remain confused about safety in intimacy and family. We can end that confusion as we remain wise to hold trust-breakers to the same standards God has for us.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

Do the Wealthy Suffer Domestic Violence?

Do the Wealthy Suffer Domestic Violence?

The short answer is most definitely.

In fact, a short distance from where I live sits one of the wealthiest counties in the US. After traffic violations, the county’s number one crime is domestic violence.

I’m moved to highlight this, because I am in a front row seat witnessing the explosion of people feeling terrified in their own homes. Last Battle is dedicated to giving voice to all forms of abuse to men, women and children. Sexual violence occurs in 1 out of every 7 intimate partnerships, and domestic violence (which includes but is not limited to sexual violence) occurs in 1 in 4 intimate partnerships.

Since exposure is the always the beginning of the solution, it should go without saying that domestic violence needs to be discussed online, in doctor’s appointments, on TV, on the radio, in schools, from the pulpit and so on. Diligent believers and warriors, our language and mindset need to advocate that neither gender experiences abuse of power.

Diligent believers and warriors, our language and mindset need to advocate that neither gender experiences abuse of power.

TWEETABLE Tweet: Diligent believers and warriors, our language and mindset need to advocate that neither gender experiences abuse of power.

However, even as I sat in church this morning and listened to the array of great advice about submission and respecting authority, I heard only one sentence blithely mention that power can be misused. But not a word was said to define the importance of getting out of a dynamic where the authority and power are corrupt. There was nothing said about the reality of abuse being continued by children who were not removed from homes where domestic violence occurred. No statistics given, therefore, no awareness increased. No encouragement to grasp the deepening spiritual and characterological scarring that occurs, and the vital importance of reaching out for help.

Now, what I don’t know, as I hustle into my week, is just how many of the women and children in these environments will face corrupt power based upon a well-intended sermon—embedded with popular verses in the Bible about keeping God’s commands. Commands which, in their essence, are about freedom and life. But in the logic of a controller, can be grossly misused as an entitlement to harm and break the spirit of the other.

When we discuss authority as it relates to families, marriages, work, ministry, and schools, it is careless not to publicly acknowledge that corrupt and demeaning authority is NEVER a part of God’s plan to teach us something, to mold us into his image. We need to speak plainly that it may be necessary to leave a relationship, a job, a school, a ministry position where the power is corrupt. Give people places to report the abuse and seek confidential help. If abuse is present in marriage, refer them to individual counseling, as marriage counseling may increase risk of further abuse. We kick at the hornet’s nest, if we do not plainly and publicly acknowledge the reality of corrupt power and taking the steps necessary to end the violation.

When insight is given on the prevalence of this problem, and outreaches are listed, we stand up for God’s reputation as a healer, who shares power and arms the helpless with solutions. We help them know that nowhere in scripture is it allowed to break the spirit and hope of another. Nowhere.

As you read the statistics below, please consider donating to hotlines and non-profits serving this population.

Also, please carefully consider whether you know of anyone who might need this advice. Please be advised that this information must be sent to the person of concern in a manner that does not further threaten their safety. If the controller has access to their social media accounts, emails, and texts, this type of information could lead to further violation. Thus, it is top priority that there would be caution used and that this would be done without being tracked by the controller.

STATISTICS:

  • In Douglas County (less than a mile from where I live) domestic violence is the #1 Crime, after traffic violations.
  • Since 1997, 82% of all homicides in Douglas County have been factually proven to be based in domestic violence.
  • In the US, a woman is attacked ranging from bruising to murder, harassed, stalked, isolated from friends and family, deprived of physical and economic resources, witnesses the destruction of personal property, and/or is sexually violated (called sexual names to rape) every 12 seconds.
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, more than mugging, stranger rape and car accidents COMBINED.
  • Based on 2003 dollars, the cost of intimate partner violence annually exceeds $5.8 billion, including $4.1 billion in direct health care expenses, $900 million in lost productivity, and $900 million in life time earnings.
  • One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.
  • The United Way ranks domestic violence as the leading cause of birth defects.
  • Studies have found that child abuse occurs in up to 70% of families that experience domestic violence. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to exhibit behavioral and physical health problems.
  • 95% of boys and 72% of girls witnessing domestic violence will carry abuse into their adult relationships.
  • 57% of women who are physically abused never tell anyone. 50% of all homeless women are fleeing domestic violence.

There is no excuse for abuse. EVER.

WHAT TO DO:

If someone tells you they are being abused, do not tell them what to do. Empower them to make decisions. Remind them that they are smart, strong and have resources through hotlines (and perhaps other support systems) anytime they believe it’s time to use them.
Be appalled at the perpetrator not the victim. Do not be appalled at the victim for staying or leaving, for any reason.

Contact local reporting agencies: social services, sheriff’s office. Use a phone that is not linked to your private line. All inquiries and reports are anonymous, unless otherwise specified.
Contact a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence to understand your rights as a partner, spouse, and parent. Search www.laywers.findlaw.com
Contact school(s) your children attend to convey the issues, and determine the best course of action with school safety.
Contact your physician and the children’s pediatrician to understand what steps they can take to report this.
Contact therapists who are trusted by physicians, lawyers and reporting agencies. If a case file is opened, there are therapists registered with the victim’s compensation boards connected to the law enforcement agency to assist with counseling fees.

HOTLINES will also guide you on next steps, whether you or a loved one is experiencing this:

  • Douglas County: The Women’s and Family Outreach Center 303.688.8484
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 800.839.1852
  • National Resource Center for Domestic Violence: 800.537.2238
  • Safe Horizons: 866.604.5350
  • Go to Last Battle.org, click on Resources for phone hotline information.
  • Go to Last Battle’s Domestic Violence page for a solid characterization of domestic violence.

Please don’t let the fancy watches, big homes, advanced degrees, SUV’s and country club memberships fool you. Pray for all races, classes, and creeds to receive abundance as they take the steps needed to gain freedom from this insidious crime.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

5 Reasons Healing is Weird

5 Reasons Healing is Weird

First, I should introduce myself to you. While there are many ways to describe me, two descriptors emerge as the most consistent. I’m sanguine and I’m a problem solver.

Sanguine folk trend as bubbly, optimistic, exploratory, and fun-loving. While undergoing great loss I have maintained scholarships, completed degrees from challenging institutions, made new friends, hosted dinners, reached out to others in their need, operated a clinical counseling practice, run marathons, had children, gotten married, and given love a ton of chances. I’ve trusted when I’ve wanted to move to Wyoming (mostly because I hear it’s the least populated state).

In terms of problem solving, I call myself “The Scrappy Irish girl. “When there’s a will, there’s way” is sort of my polysyllabic middle name. I’ve been told how strong I am my whole life–that I’m bold, courageous and other stuff Americans hold so valuable. If someone says, drink more water, clean out the closets, wear lipstick, go to church, journal, search within for the missing truth, go to God…the boxes are checked. I will loom endlessly for the missing puzzle piece when working a puzzle. I think you get the picture.

Lately, however, I’m not so “American,” to put it lightly and I realized that this is just as important to communicate as the “let’s go to battle for our sanity, take a stand and choose to pursue the wunderkind you are” message.

I realized that while all of that personal reclaiming and choice is vital so is healing-grieving. I mean the kind of healing-grieving that doesn’t even have words. As I heal, the tears and reflection of my life un-optionally (yep, I just made up that word) just occur. And I’m not able to get around the truth of it with gratitude-based thinking, working out, hugging my children, listening to soothing music, et al. Thus, I thought it might be helpful, maybe even inspiring—if I may be so bold—for me to describe what I mean by letting you know 5 Reasons Healing his Weird.

1. It goes beyond reason.

For those of us who have tried to have life beat, grief is like weather. You can’t beat it or reason it away with what I call objective, positive outlook. Statements I have often told myself, “It could be worse.” Or “The worst is over, it’s time to look at what you can control.” Or “This too shall pass.” Umm, yea, no—that stuff doesn’t work. Like weather, grief decides to descend upon your functioning self and remind you, “Sister, you’ve really been wounded in this area. And no matter what you say, that part of you and your history needs to cry about it.”

2. There’s regression.

It is a hard thing to describe and it can’t be solved with a plan. Little things feel big, like when you see a toddler bawl their eyes out because they really wanted that candy and the parent takes it out of their hand. And, while that sounds humorous as I write it, the feeling of injustice is profound and layered. Also, the things that seem to help could be described as toddler-esque and basic: sleep, America’s Funniest Home videos (please don’t judge me), good food and hugs. I don’t want any pontification, perspective gathering, verses, or songs about redemption any more than a toddler screaming at the injustice of losing her candy would.

3. There is bodily weakness.

I’ve had some surgeries: 2 C-sections, 1 ACL reconstruction and 2 bunionectomies. Not including dental craziness, et al. The deep rest that has been required in the VERY physical experience of healing-greiving is a bit like being in post-op. All of the ambition in the world, won’t inform this fatigue. The fatigue will just be there, like a 500 pound insolent gorilla. It isn’t going anywhere and until you feed it with rest.

4. Friends and family are formed.

It’s no longer optional whether I have reciprocating and/or respectful relationships, which I call the “2R’s.” Those that aren’t those 2R’s just don’t get my energy. And it’s not that I am combing the crowds to determine this, it reveals itself. While interacting with people, I’m observing myself interacting and I’m checking in with my body. My obligation-based thinking melts away. What I mean is that I can’t say, “Well, this is your [insert: family relative/neighbor/old friend] so you have to get along with them.” “No one is perfect and you just have to take the losses.” I literally have not one capacity to be ok with someone who uses me or denies me my truth through some flippant remark, or chastisement. This is very un-sanguine of me, if you get my drift.

5. Your BS meter starts to operate like a seismograph.

It can detect a false person or a person who does not care about you from Colorado to California. In neuroscience, this is called developing the vagus nerve, more commonly known as your gut instinct. The primary loss when one has been defeated and violated in childhood and beyond, is that of disconnection of your vagus nerve to your brain. It stops sending ”gut-instinct” signals because the child—to protect herself—determines that the defeats and violations are her fault, made up in her head, because she’s just being too sensitive, needy, blah-blah. This is called a “vagul break.”

In the child who suffers violation, the vagus nerve can become an impediment to “functioning,” because it’s going to make the child feel things her brain just can’t handle at the time. Hence, relationship and intrapersonal relationship defenses form in the child; defenses like denial, rationalization, spiritualization, intellectualization and other “izations” form one brick onto another.

Good news:

The gut instinct you were born with—the one the makes you cry out in hunger as an infant—gets reattached in this healing-grieving. And BAM! You just can’t do the dance of neglecting yourself or denying that the abandonment or disrespect occurred. Every tear sends battery juice to your BS meter, and now you look at things with your gut. Your body is speaking, like it does to the child. And you can’t ignore it. Just like a baby and toddler can’t ignore it. The vagul nerve goes back online. The BS meter you were born with revs back up again. And the flower grows from the ashes. Yep, life returns. I can’t make this stuff up.

I get that this may not be your experience, but it’s been mine for the past six weeks. And while I wish it didn’t make me do the ugly cry—which sort of scares my husband—it’s strangely reattaching parts of myself that have been broken on the floor. I’ll probably get my mojo back and start being creative and laugh more easily again. For now, it’s the healing-grieving stage, which is just as salient to my personal growth as any other victory, enjoyment, or accomplishment I have ever experienced.

Grief has found those pieces for me that I had no idea were still not attached. Thank you, good grief. Thank you.

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

Traumatic Bonding—An Oxymoron Only Your Brain Understands

Traumatic Bonding—An Oxymoron Only Your Brain Understands

Anything intimate, personal or powerful brands itself into our nervous systems. We usually associate this with romantic love, or becoming a parent and feeling the connection to someone we love with our whole heart. We can also have that same intensity—intimate, personal or powerful—with abuse and violation and that’s where trauma comes in.

Trauma simply defined is an experience
where you were rendered utterly powerless
to act on your own behalf.

For some of us, that take-over occurred so early in our lives that we didn’t have a baseline to know we ever had it to begin with. Such foundations make it all the more probable that I would be drawn to people who would throw me off kilter, out of control, and hence, I am engineered from early life experience to get them stable, secure, happy, whole. Enter marriage #1 in my early 20’s and other subsequent boyfriends, who just wanted to use me.

Trauma bonds are a term originated by Patrick Carnes in his book, The Betrayal Bond. In this seminal work, he says, “Fear deepens bonding. Traumatic violence in relationships [especially if positive episodes intermittently present] greatly increases the intensity of the attachment bond” (88).

Neuroscience, as well as countless investigations, show that fear intensifies all human attachment, even in all forms of vertebrate species studied, including birds, dogs and primates. A growing body of evidence indicates a neurochemical scarring can occur throughout the body. This means that severe trauma can leave a mark that can be discerned in every system of the body. That is how pervasive the impact of terror can be. (Robert M. Post, M.D., “Transduction of Psychological Stress into the Neurobiology of Recurrent Affective Disorder,” American Journal of Psychiatry 149, no. 8 (1992): 999-1010, as cited in P. Carnes, The Betrayal Bond, 89).

This is a validation/relationship coaching blog entry. “How so?” you might ask. Because of the following reasons:

1. If you are suffering…

from flashbacks, triggers, nightmares, panic attacks and weird compulsions, it’s just your sweet, hard-working nervous system trying to figure out the difference between then (dangerous bonding that used you) and now (bonding that you determine cares about your long term best interests).

2. You may have to look at relationships differently.

You may need to consider going after intimacy, friendships, and work environments that might be a bit on the predictable side. Maybe a bit boring.

Personal side note:
If your nervous system is anything like mine, I remembered talking myself into marrying my uber safe fiancé. I had to talk myself into bonding with someone who didn’t bring crisis into my life. He never freaked me out, you see. He never questioned my judgement or took power from me so I hardly found him interesting. He was comforting, regular, and had no ulterior motive. He’d be where he said he was, give what he said he was going to give, take care of what he said he’d do and so on. When I was crispy-fried from something that triggered me while in our early stages of marriage, he’d check in and clarify his intent. The man was built for my recovery, and the “me” I still continue to become.

3. Mentally strengthening exercise

Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 1 count, exhale for 8 counts. As you exhale remember, “I am Nervous System Special Forces. I will not let the bastards get me down. I will get the help I need and the reinforcement I need. Even the Special Forces work as a team. I have the right to have a team—bonded by respect, understanding, skills and faithfulness. I made it out of the worst part. I can do this, too.”

Mary Ellen Mann

Mary Ellen Mann
Mary Ellen Mann is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Denver (visit www.manncounselinggroup.com). After attending a Christian college, she did her graduate work at Columbia University. Recently she co-founded Last Battle, LLC and helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual violation, www.lastbattle.org, to help survivors, family and friends of survivors, Christian leaders, and professionals who care about this population. Her book, From Pain to Power will be on the market September 22, 2015. Mary Ellen lives in Denver with her husband and their two sons.

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