I know I’m behind the times, but I just saw the movie Foxcatcher, the one that was up for all those Academy Awards.

It was great to see two men playing out just what an abusive relationship is like. They weren’t romantically involved, but the same dynamics were at play. Steve Carell plays the wealthy John du Pont. In the film, John invites the Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz to move to his estate so that he can help him prepare for the Olympics.

John has all the power and all the money. He appears to be an incredibly generous guy who just wants to help Mark achieve his goals. That’s exactly how an abusive relationship starts, with the abusive person posing as  selfless and supportive. I wasn’t surprised when, eventually, John introduced Mark to cocaine, isolated Mark from his brother, encouraged Mark not to work out, then  slapped him and humiliated him in front of the rest of the team, telling him that he never should have supported him in the first place.

That’s how it goes. Once you are depending entirely on the abusive person as your whole support, once you are isolated from your family and friends, the abuser undermines you and then humiliates you, blaming you the whole time for being a disappointment.

In the movie, John talks about Mark as having “psychological problems,” right in front of him, as though he were not even there. Abusive partners smear the psychological credibility of the survivor. What’s most acutely painful is that Mark’s self concept had begun to erode–it was this erosion that John exploited, even as he was the catalyst for John’s deterioration.

John wanted to own Mark—he wanted to own a trophy Olympic athlete that would make him look good. Abusive people feel a sense of ownership over their partners; it’s the underlying theme that enables them to do anything they feel is justified to act out that ownership.

When John couldn’t use the same manipulations successfully on Mark’s brother, Dave, also an Olympic gold medal wrestler, John shot Dave.

I wasn’t surprised. That’s exactly how domestic violence works. The abuser only uses the amount of force necessary to control the survivor. And often, physical abuse isn’t needed to get the job done; manipulation, isolation and psychological abuse work just fine. But when those tools fail, the abuser doesn’t hesitate to use force. And, he doesn’t hesitate to use deadly force over the object he’s lost control of. That’s when it’s most dangerous for a survivor—when the abusive person figures out they don’t control you, they don’t own you, after all. ”

It isn’t unusual for me to hear women I work with describe how it is that their partner used verbal abuse, intimidation and lesser acts of violence to get what they want. This is often followed by sexual assault or a near deadly escalation once the women move to separate for good.

The film noted that John du Pont made legal claim to being mentally ill. Whatever else he struggled with, it isn’t an illness to plan to use force when you don’t get what you want. It’s abuse.

 

 

Leave A Comment, Written on August 31st, 2015 , domestic violence, relationship Tags:

I used to work primarily with women who were trying to decide if they should leave their relationship. They’d read my book, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” come to my women’s weekend retreats, and somewhere in there, for a minute or two, each woman would really, really want me to tell her whether she should get a divorce or not. I would strive to be open and fair, but always respect that the final decision belonged to her. “You might not be finished and that’s okay. I’m not the Divorce Lady!” I’d say. And then a couple of ago, The Omega Institute asked me to help put on divorce conferences.

Now I’m the Divorce Lady.

The Relationship Just Didn’t Work Out or It Was Destructive

If you are seriously contemplating getting a divorce, you need to know what is coming. For your own sanity, safety and your future planning, you need to know who you are divorcing. The options for repairing a relationship and for divorcing from one are very different depending upon who your partner is.

There are two main categories of relationship demise: 1) Didn’t Work Out and 2) Destructive. Where does your relationship fall?

In the Didn’t Work Out category, you have relationships where skills and values become your primary concern. Were you skilled communicators? Were you self aware? Did you have compatible values? Do you wound one another repeatedly? Is the relationship painful most of the time or loving most of the time? When it doesn’t work out, you will experience pain and grief. You will also have significant options for the divorce process. You can explore a range of mediation options and custody options if you have kids. It’s not easy, but you will have less to navigate than your divorce comrades working through the aftermath Destructive Relationship.

In the Destructive Relationship,

ü  Your partner might be addicted to a substance or to a behavior, like gambling. This isn’t necessarily abusive behavior, but, unchecked, it can destroy a relationship no matter how hard the not- addicted partner tries.

ü  Your partner might be Chronically Immature. This also is not necessarily abusive, but being the “parent” to your partner who can never quite care for him or herself will erode the relationship.

ü  Your partner might be a bully who uses fear, intimidation, sexual coercion and other violence to get what he or she wants.

ü  Your partner might have unresolved mental health needs, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, one of the Personality Disorders or Major Depression.

And, most challenging, your partner might have a toxic mix of the Destructive options outlined above. This makes for a Perfect Storm of a relationship and it means you have to proceed with caution while navigating a divorce!

Learn more about Destructive Relationships before you weigh out your divorce options. Your wisest options are planned knowing exactly who you are divorcing.

JAC Patrissi

 

 

These were the only the people Darcy could really talk to. She knew that when she told them how she moved back in with Tomas after he’d been released from prison for the assault on her, that they’d ‘get it.’ They would know how she felt. The other members of the domestic violence support group understood how she was feeling.

The court had put Tomas on a ‘bracelet’ that tracked his movements. If he hurt Darcy, he would definitely go back to prison, where he did not want to go. It was the first time Darcy had felt this kind of protection.

When Darcy had called the police on him two years ago, she was the one that ended up in trouble. Tomas had convinced the cops that she’d pushed him and they arrested her, instead. She did not call for a long time after that. The second time she’d called, Tomas did get arrested, but the Assistant District Attorney told her that they wouldn’t go forward without her testimony. It was all up to her alone. Tomas’ mother and brother and friends came over every day to plead with her not to ruin his life. She could not do that to him. She did not want to hurt him. She just wanted him to stop hurting her, so told the ADA she did not want to go forward. Tomas was furious with her for ‘getting him in trouble’ anyway.

The next time the police came, it was because the neighbors had seen him attacking her. There was the hospital record of her broken ribs and the marks from the strangulation. The evidence was stronger, but still, the ADA told her it was all up to her.  Darcy did not visit him in jail, but he called her. It sounded terrible in there.

Darcy thought about this: if she had told any of her friends that, for example, her brother had hit her, but that she still loved her brother, her friends would understand this. But when she told her friends that her boyfriend had hit her, but she still loved her boyfriend, her friends thought she was ‘sick.’

It was when he was in jail that Darcy started going to the domestic violence support group. The group was the only really emotionally safe place for her. The group members understood. They wanted her to be safe. They wanted her to understand that she could not change him, and that it was not her fault that he hurt her, but they also understood that of course, she loved him, too.

The group members also knew what it felt like for Darcy to move back in with Tomas when he came out on his tracking bracelet. The first time he started talking at her with that menacing tone, Darcy did not cower. She did not shrink into the corner. She stood up and told him she wasn’t afraid anymore. She had to stand on the tongue in the mouth of the lion and tell him that he couldn’t bit her anymore.

Maybe no one outside the group would understand what it felt like to take your power back in that way, but she felt she had to do it. The group members told her that she didn’t need to stand up to him in person. She could have stood up to him inside her head. She didn’t need to live with him. But they didn’t judge her when she did choose to live with him.

Darcy called the police when he shoved her around two weeks later and he went right back to jail, just as they’d promised. She was glad she’d tried this one last time. She was glad she’d stood up. And she was glad her  group had stood by her.

by JAC Patrissi

 

 

Leave A Comment, Written on April 27th, 2015 , Grieving and Leaving Tags:

For many years, part of my work has been listening to people’s stories. As I listen and respond, I have grown. Over time, my training has expanded so that I’ve heard more and different kinds of stories, and the way I hear them has changed.

Some years ago, a boy had a glorious week of safety and loving predictability in a volunteer foster home, but then his aunt took him out for a burger and never came back.

It was legal for her to do so, but I felt the small building blocks of hope crumble inside of him. He was eight; he’d had a chance. But instead, his guardian took him back to her home, a place just marginal enough to keep protective eyes out, just steel guarded enough to keep them both from getting the things that might have helped.

Now set the new trajectory—we’d see him in detention in a few years. We’d see him enraged and unreached, and I couldn’t stop it. I put my head on my desk and I all-the-way cried that day. I could only send after him a blessing that I could feel he could not accept. He didn’t want blessings—he wanted a secure, sane year or two to shore him up and set things right.

It’s always been easy for me to find a sense of ‘we’ with other people. When one of my best friends went to law school years ago, we spent so much time working through the struggles together, that even though I would never go to law school, we talk about ‘when we went to law school.’ I get happy when other people succeed, even when I have nothing to do with supporting it. I feel kind of part of it all, even just as a witness, from a distance.

I’ve noticed this year that when I am witness to a story, or helping someone weaving their pieces into a story, that I have a much more profound sense of ‘we.’

I’d never say it in words out loud, but I feel something like this, “Oh, yes, when we lost our kids to DCF, when we killed that man, when we broke into that house, when we drove our sister drunk and smashed into the tractor trailer—we lived and she didn’t…”

I want to convey this right—I am not disturbed by this experience, and I don’t imagine that I actually had those experiences- -I just don’t feel separate from them at all. I feel as though I am becoming part of the array of everything people do, good and bad, and I am part of finding our way back from them.

Because no matter how much we imagine we are alone and singular, we come back to ourselves together, as a ‘we.’

 

Leave A Comment, Written on March 20th, 2015 , children and violence, relationship

I’m going to totally ruin my kids in some of the ways I was ruined and I’m doing it on purpose.
I actually said aloud in the theatre so many years ago, “She’s a PROSTITUTE? This movie is about sexual enslavement gets a bubble bath?” I was hissed at. I left in a kerfluffle, and Julia Roberts became famous anyway in her break out hit as a Pretty Woman.

I had already groaned my way through that little culminating rapey scene at the end of Revenge of the Nerds where he disguises himself as someone else while she has sex with him and then takes off his costume but it is all okay because he was good at sex.

I just kind of gave up on popular film after awhile. I was ruined for it, by a mom who’d stand in front of those precious tv minutes and exhort us to think about what kind of deal I Dream of Genie really had in that bottle.

So I didn’t even think of watching 50 Shades of Lacking Consent and I’m not going to participate.

But I’m going to participate in other ways–like noticing how the “freedom” to show your mons pubis has outstripped the right to public breastfeeding. I’m going to be that constant critique running in the back of their heads about respect and power and humanity. 50 times 5,000 shades of that ought to ruin my kids just fine.

Leave A Comment, Written on February 17th, 2015 , 50 Shades of Grey, Sexual violence

For about seventeen years, I’ve been telling my husband that I won’t go out with him, retrospectively. He grew up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and I grew up in a Long Island suburb. I spent my twenties in different countries as he ended each day running up and down the spines of the hills, even in the pitch of a new moon. We met after I’d been in Vermont for three years. I was thirty-one and he was twenty-nine.

Every year, near Valentine’s Day, he brings up the idea that he wishes we’d grown up together, dated in high school, and stayed together. These are usually very short conversations, where I say, “I never would have even talked to you; I was too busy reading hermeneutics and striving to see the meaning of life as reflected in the Book of Job.” I’m not a look-back, what-if kind of person. Everything fits in its own secret way.

Naturally athletic and ridiculously strong, he’d run at my old high school’s track during holiday visits home. He’d see the kids practicing and come back to Dad’s house, marveling at how much he would have loved to have gone to a high school with so many sports teams. Fewer sprints up the side of the barn avoiding an angry bull, fewer cow births and more tackles would have suited him just fine.

Over the years, and especially with Facebook, he’s come to know my hometown people. Jane, who made me laugh myself sick in third grade, Liz and Susan, how I cried for weeks when I lost Liz as my best friend. Gina and Jackie. Matt, Michael and Artie.

He brought up the topic again this year, but this time, when I said, “I would never have gone out with you,” he hopped up the barn wall and kept talking.

“But why do you always say that? Sure you would have.”

“I was so intense, not happy like I am now.”

“I bet you were happy, too. I was intense,” he said.

“We wouldn’t have been in any of the same classes. I was all ‘XX’ and you didn’t like school.”

“I loved to read,” he said.

“We’d have broken up!”

“I would have got you back.”

“I got fat back then!”

“I saw your pictures!” He smiles and raises his eyebrows approvingly. I made a mental note.

“I was so…needy.”

“It would have been good for me to learn to give more. And I was needy, too.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I faltered, “but when I was in relationship, I…knocked people off their balance…”

“Have you ever seen me knocked off my balance?” This was his signature gift. I didn’t say anything and he hopped lightly off the wall and back into our routine.

I took his thought for a ski out back today.

For Valentine’s this year, I will ask him to sit next to me in second grade. I will invite him to the ninth grade dinner dance. I will watch him run over people as I write and dance in high school. I will write him a letter, asking him to visit me in Kathmandu after college, and he will come. We will break up, even, and then he will find me again, on that dirt road where I will notice that there is no place else I want to be.

 

Leave A Comment, Written on February 9th, 2015 , relationship, Valentine's Day

I was in the woods, following a set of bunny tracks, when I saw two giant wing brush marks on either side of the last track, and two drops of blood. That bunny’s last thought: “I’m flying!”

Until of course, that hawk smashed and ate him up.
This is the Seeker’s plight, too, in the talons of the hawkish teacher who promises flights of heaven, love, insight, transcendence, justice.

Though I work primarily with people sorting out their romantic relationships and the aftermath of destruction or violence within them, from time to time, people ask me about struggles they have in their place of work, or within a spiritual group.

It’s usually the same dynamic at heart: a teacher of a path, a leader of some kind, a therapist, or a lover asks you to suspend what you know and trust his judgment over your own for a time.
For those who believe in the deceptions of the ego, or call it the shadow self, or evil, or pathology or the blindness of social, gender and race privilege, this is not an unreasonable request.

We want to grow; we want to see what we don’t see—so we ask someone we respect to show us the things we don’t see about the world or ourselves. In fact, one of the attributes of some of the most painful emotional disturbances is that we don’t see destructive things about ourselves. And so the seeker seeks another point of view.

Which can be the very answer, the doorway, the way forward. Hawk knows about our hopes.

He comes dressed in infallibility. If you question the insight of this kind of boss, teacher, therapist, leader, something predictable happens. He uses the fact that you are questioning his point of view as evidence of your pathology, your shadow self, your evil nature.
This is no easy thing to shrug off. The Seeker risks being cast out by defying the teacher, and often would rather deny her own insight than risk losing so much of the beauty in the path she has come to cherish.

As a parent, I remind myself of this every day when my kids question my authority. Let them struggle, I tell myself—offer paths, offer consequences. Let them choose. When I teach or facilitate, I begin every session saying that I am Praying for Doubt. If the learner challenges me, then I know we are gripped in learning together.
Let’s ask the good questions, seek new information and try on the answers. My ideas might not fit you, and I’m good with that. If yours don’t fit me, will you burn me alive?
True insight offers its own flight—stable and rewarding, demanding bravery and humility and kindness. There are no talons, no tests of loyalty.

 

 

When it comes to relationships, questions  like, “Should I  or should I go?” and “Should I really have left?” are not easy to answer, especially on our own.

Together, in Omega’s beautiful setting, we examine some of the root problems that partners bring into relationships. We will learn  to evaluate the expectations, abusive values, addictive behaviors, trauma and other mental health issues that may be present in our relationships.

The weekend helps us:

  • Tell the difference between a health–yet difficult–relationship and one that is destructive or abusive.
  • Design a clear plan of action for you and your partnership.
  • Navigate the waters of a relationship that is difficult, but improving
  • Prepare for life without your partner, even as you keep trying to make life work with your partner
  • Understand and heal from a destructive relationship that you have already left

June 12-June 14, 2015

http://www.eomega.org/workshops/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go?

source=Fweb.PatrJ.ws

I haven’t written anything about Ray Rice. I’ve been listening instead. My husband does Batterer Intervention work, so we talk shop all the time, but for this one, we’re both sitting back and listening.

My husband’s been listening to these radio sports commentators. He was braced for the worst, but instead, he’s coming home cheering.
“You should hear them! They are saying, ”The guy is an a–hol…e for what he did! The guy is responsible for his actions 100%. She is not responsible!’

“They’re saying of course she doesn’t leave–she’s afraid–there’s power, money, fear–that we should all get off her back. They are saying out loud to men who call in and who blame her that they are idiots and hanging up on them! They’re talking power, control, intimidation and accountability. They are saying you know this is the tip of the iceberg. I can’t believe it.”
So, even though there are a million others repeating the same old misogynistic, survivor blaming things, I just want to pause and take in that there are so many of us who aren’t. There are people stirring to an understanding of things they haven’t touched before. And some of these people are men, sports guys, to be specific. And that makes me nod while I’m listening.
Leave A Comment, Written on September 17th, 2014 , Ray Rice

 

Given that I specialize in working with women whose partners are struggling with addiction, chronic immaturity, unresolved mental health issues and abusive attitudes, to me, “Conscious Uncoupling” as it is articulated by Katherine Woodward Thomas can miss its intended mark entirely. There are universally helpful aspects to it and there are trapdoors through which many people could fall.

 

When Freud discovered women were being sexually abused at high rates, his immediate culture pressured him to take that discovery back and reframe it as a new insight: women were imagining this victimization as a result of repression. Later psychodynamic re-enactment theory told us that women seek out abusive partners to resolve unconscious wounds from previous relationships. Our organized spiritual quests have long struggled with blaming the victim–once victimization was seen as a sign of a retributive god acting upon a sullied soul, then as a sign of the victim’s failures of spiritual awareness. It is the prison of goodness.

 

When spiritual awareness calls us to take responsibility for the relationships we create, it is a high calling. Yet by doing this, we can accidentally collude with partners who act abusively in the process when we confuse the levels at which we are speaking.

For we must always keep in mind that partners who are destructive also tell you to take responsibility for the inaccurate perceptions you have projected upon them, thus causing the problem in the relationship. It is a common manipulation tactic.

 

Responsibility for destructiveness is not shared in the common relationship dynamics I work with. There are abusive partners who have caught on to the conscious uncoupling bandwagon. They seek to hide their responsibility in calls for systems theory derivatives like Conscious Uncoupling that tell you everyone plays an equal part. I know of a man, a meditation teacher, who tried to throw his partner out of a moving car while yelling that he was ‘just a projection of her own sick mind.’

 

And so, I am aware of the levels of meaning at play here. Can I tell a woman who has tried so hard to work with her girlfriend who has become addicted to heroine, a girlfriend who also has some abusive values –shall I tell her that really she “baited her partner into acting out her own unconscious patterns so that she could take a victim stance and deny her responsibility for ‘seeking’ someone who had these hidden values or who lapsed into addiction?”

Do we ask Nelson Mandela what unconscious pattern he is working out to have goaded his jailers into imprisoning him?  Do we tell the marital rape survivor that she really was, metaphysically, “asking for it?”

 

No, it is unkind and ineffective to do so. Even if on a metaphysical plane we all “wrote our stories,” or that “we all scripted exactly what we need and we all are recalling how we awakened,” even if we accept these points of view to be profoundly and paradoxically true,  I am still acting unwisely to respond to women in this way. It is the wrong medicine.

 

What helps is still very much a consciousness raising process. We can help that woman with the addicted partner (or abusive or traumatized or mentally ill or chronically immature partner) to see her partner as responsible for their own behavior. We can help that woman appreciate her efforts to strive and help and support and love her partner. We can help her to acknowledge the limitations of that good-hearted, hopeful striving. We can help her to grieve loss–to come back to her center. To see how she has changed in that destructive context–how it may have exacerbated old wounds.

 

We never want to examine her old wounds or place them equally side by side with the wounds of her partner who is actively being destructive. If we do this, equalizing our understanding into a stance that says, “You see, we are all hurting or acting out our patterns,” then people end up staying longer in situations that are causing them more pain.

We want instead to make sure her own anger and grief are understood in her own context of surviving her partner’s destructive patterns.

In situations such as I describe (which are so common), understanding and compassion for the partner who is destructive or abusive is rarely lacking. Taking responsibility is rarely lacking–it can be the very problem.

 

I have long embraced the concept of “completed” relationships—that we can fully mine all of them for the insights that they bring. We must do this without taking on any responsibility for destructive or oppressive behavior. This will make our relationships the deep fountain of our wisdom. And will stop our deep cultural, psychological and spiritual history of blaming a survivor.

 

 

2 Comments, Written on May 7th, 2014 , Conscious Uncoupling

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JAC Patrissi's Blog – Growing A New Heart

JAC Patrissi is a Communications Specialist who uses writing, performance art, training and collaborative facilitation in order to support healing for women who are questioning the health of their relationships or who are healing from destructive relationships. This is her blog.