Know Yourself: Don’t Let Other People Define You

mirror-istockMany times I talk about the importance of self-awareness, defining who you are, knowing who you are and just as importantly, knowing who you are not. People will always try to define you and put you in a box based on their own perceptions of reality, even when those perceptions are false or misconstrued.

People will try to define you based on obvious things such as race, gender, nationality, weight, the way you dress, the way you talk, how much money you make, education, etc. People will also try to define you based on their prejudices and past experiences.

For example, a man who grew up watching his mother bring men in and out of the house may not only define his mother as a whore, but may go on to infer that all women are whores and therefore treat every woman he comes in contact with as if she were a whore, even when she is not.

That means that this guy will never trust a woman, even if he is in the best relationship possible, he will always be looking for evidence that supports his theory that she is a whore, while almost always ignoring evidence that proves otherwise. He will always accuse her of cheating, of wanting to cheat, and will always be suspicious to the point that he will never allow himself to be happy in the relationship and will either leave after convincing himself that she is a whore or will push her away when she can’t take it any more. The sad part is, he’ll probably even then rationalize to himself that the reason she left was because she was a whore.

**On a side note: Numerous serial killers had “loose” mothers and ended up killing women that they perceived as sluts and whores (prostitutes and women they could pick up in bars) because they reminded them of their mother.***

People do this all the time and it’s largely unconcious and that is how stereotypes not only develop, but get maintained. They will assume that a particular group is lazy, or a particular sex is weak and even when they are faced with evidence that disproves this, they will still only see what they want to see.

Richard Sherman

I wasn’t going to get into the whole Richard Sherman conversation that has been going on around the country and in the media, simply because I thought it was pretty well covered. For those of you who don’t know, Richard Sherman is a professional football player for the Seattle Seahawks who in an interview two weeks ago after a big win, made some colorful statements that didn’t include any profanity, but left many in the national media and across the country, labeling him as a “thug”. Why? Because apparently after just one interview people felt like they knew Richard Sherman enough to define him as a thug. Besides, he kind of “fit the description” being that he is Black, has dreadlocks is full of testosterone and embodies everything mainstream America has defined as dangerous and “thuggish”.

This despite the fact that Richard Sherman has no criminal record, graduated from high school 2nd in his class with a 4.2 GPA and graduated from Stanford with a high GPA. The people who were calling him a thug don’t know all of this. All they know is the quick glimpse they got and felt like it was enough to define him. Even more sad is, that some of those who called him a thug who have since learned that he doesn’t qualify to be called a thug, will still consider him to be a thug because they want to place him in a box that matches their perceived reality of what and who a thug is.

Why all of this is important is because everyday we are being defined by people as broad as the media and society to as small as our coworkers and neighbors, right down to as intimate as our family and romantic partners. When you aren’t anchored in knowing who we are and who we are not, it’s easy to get confused and to even start playing into other peoples definitions and perceptions of who we are and from there, we can get lost and find it difficult to get back to “the real us”.

As adults this may seem unlikely, but it happens more often then you realize and usually without us knowing it right away. It’s even more dangerous when we talk about children who are still very early in the process of not only trying to definte themselves, but also trying to understand themselves.

For example, as a kid in elementary school I was told that boys weren’t as smart as girls. I was told that boys weren’t supposed to do good in school. So guess what? I didn’t do good in school, I did the bare minimum. I let that definition stick with me all the way until I was halfway through high school when I learned that it was “cool” for guys to be smart and then I had to unlearn that definition of myself. However, many boys get this same message passed on to them, especially boys of color in the inner-city and they never learn to redefine themselves and unlearn that message. The damage may be so detrimental that they may never learn to redefinte themselves.

I used to tell the inner-city teenagers I worked with that it was absolutely paramount that they define themselves and know themselves because if they didn’t, society would come up with a definition for them and if they didn’t know better, they would unwittingly settle into the role that was laid out for them. Society would see them as thugs, as whores, as future leeches of society and would treat them that way if they didn’t define themselves and stand strong in knowing who they are despite the pressures around them to be what other people want them to be.

Some teenage girls I worked with wanted to go to college, or graduate from high school, but no one else in their family did so they often weren’t supported, sometimes even encouraged to drop out so they could work or baby sit their mothers (or sisters, or cousins) kids. They were even told that they wouldn’t be anything because no one else in their family was. These girls had to remain strong and learn to define themselves and their reality, despite the pressures to succumb to everyone elses definition of who they were and who they were going to be.

People will tell you over and over again who they think you are. Some will say it blatantly, most will do it subjectively, but if you allow it, it will slowly and surely start to move you away from your center, from your core definition of who you are and move you further into someone elses perceived reality of what they think you are instead of your reality of who you really are.

I included a TEDs talk by Tony Porter called A Call To Men because he talks about how men are forced into a box, the same box that society has tried to force me and most men into. It is generally ten times easier to just go along with other peoples definition of who they think you are and should be then to actually go against the grain and stand strong in your self definiton.

On Domestic Violence And Why Women Stay

abuse10Have you been watching the Jodi Arias trial? It’s a fascinating one that’s for sure.

I haven’t so much as watched it as listened to it whenever I am in the car  and while I have my opinions, I’ll save that for after the trial.

The thing that caught my attention today was the domestic violence expert, who testified yesterday, Alyce LaViolette. LaViolette is a psychotherapist who specializes in domestic violence. Although I am not sure if Jodi Arias really was a victim of domestic violence, I do know that what LaViolette said about domestic violence rings true for millions of women.

Both men and women can be victims of domestic violence, but since the majority of domestic violence victims are women, I’ll be referring mostly to women in this post. And I have written about The Cycle of Violence, Power and Control in a previous post if you would like more information.

We Need Never Be Ashamed of Our Tears- Charles Dickens

Women who are abused often don’t tell anyone, even their closes friends and family because they are generally humiliated and ashamed of the abuse. They go through great lengths to hide the fact that they are being abused, even to the point of protecting their abuser and acting out on anyone who says anything bad against him, especially when they don’t want to look like they have made a bad choice in a partner.

On top of that, there is also the halo effect operating. That’s when someone keeps thinking about the one great quality about someone, despite the many bad ones and that keeps them from seeing the total picture. They are living in two different realities and will fight to keep the shame from one reality from entering the other.

Many women are afraid to leave their abuser and rightfully so, as leaving is usually the most dangerous time in the abuse cycle, when the woman is most likely to be severely hurt or killed. Many women also stay in hopes that things will change, despite the evidence that they probably won’t. They will see that their abuser has the potential to be a great mate, only if he wasn’t abusive.

Also, I’ve learned from working with abused women that they actually get brainwashed into believing that no one else will ever love them or want them,  so they stay because they start believing they are so ugly, worthless, fat, stupid, (insert insult here) that they are lucky that their abuser even wants them.

Case Example

I have a teenage client who is dating an older man. She’s over 18 so it’s legal, but this man she is dating has a bad temper problem. He blows up on her unpredictably and has even broken his phone by throwing it against the wall when she didn’t answer one of his phone calls.

He is also extremely controlling. They have only been together for about four months, but already he has isolated her from all of her friends and has her calling him at a particular time everyday or else “he gets really mad”.

He’s even already trying to get her to move away from her family and in with him, another way of isolating her from people who love her and would potentially see her bruises.

He hasn’t hit her, yet, and she doesn’t see anything wrong with their relationship. She loves him and thinks he “just has a temper” and he blames his anger on supplements he is taking which could be true, but I think it’s a cover for his explosive temper. All of her friends are worried about her, but she see’s their concern as unnecessary and even as signs of jealousy.

To me, a professional counselor who has counseled abuse victims and abusers, the writing is all over the walls. She’s already got one foot into a domestic violence relationship without even realizing it. It’s just a short matter of time before he puts his hands on her. He’s even got her thinking about stopping therapy with me because I am a male and he doesn’t like her associating with any males, even if it’s her therapist.

I’ve been working with her on self-esteem issues, but now we are primarily working on this sense she brings it up in therapy all the time, yet doesn’t seem willing or ready to do anything about it. She’s even already thinking of getting pregnant which I am sure he is also pushing on her.

Leslie Morgan Steiner: Why domestic violence victims don’t leave

If you have a few minutes, watch Leslie Morgan Steiner’s personal account of being in an abusive relationship. I’ve inserted the video below. I attempted to show this to the client mentioned above, but after a couple of minutes she refused to listen to any more although everything Steiner was experiencing in the initial stages of her relationship with her abuser, this young lady was experiencing almost exactly.

Steiner talks about the initial stages of abuse which are:

  1. Seduce and charm the victim
  2. Isolate the victim from friends and family
  3. Introduce the threat of violence to gauge their response to potential violence
  4. Actual violence and the continuation of the abuse/power and control cycle

I try not to push clients too hard too fast, after all it’s their lives and their choices, I just try to help them see the signs that say “detour” before they drive off the cliff. However often times we are too blinded by love, our own mess or even other people’s mess to see the signs right in front of us.

My Day Working At A Women’s Residential (Addictions) Facility: Observations And Thoughts

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Yesterday I was blessed to be able to go and work with a group of women in a women’s residential facility. All of these women varied in age from barely twenty to the elderly, yet they all battle some form of substance abuse.

None of them looked like “typical addicts” and they were all extraordinary women.

Many of them were mothers or wives and of course daughters who had lost nearly everything due to their alcohol, cocaine, crack-cocaine, prescription pills, meth or heroin addiction.

One older lady had battled addiction for most of her life and at one point became homeless before finally making up her mind to try to get sober and clean. She has seven months sobriety.

Another woman who looked like she couldn’t have been a day over twenty, but had a five year old child, had been clean for four years before an old dealer of hers found her on Facebook and seduced her into using again.

And another older female had been pretty much a functioning alcoholic for the past five years and then one night out of the blue had an alcohol related gran mal seizure that landed her in the hospital for five days and she was court-ordered to rehab from there.

A lot of the women had tragic stories, including a very young girl who I don’t think was even twenty and was in rehab for the first time after being court ordered into treatment.

She was adopted, her birth mother was a drug addicted, her birth father was in prison and when her adopted father died two years ago she started using any drug she could get her hands on to numb the pain she felt.

Working with these women yesterday in group and individual settings I took a lot away from not only what it meant to become and remain substance free, but also what it meant to accomplish any major goal.

Having a good support system of course is important.

The women who had a supportive family, a supportive group of people such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, supportive healthy friendships, supportive professionals or a supportive sponsor all seemed to be doing better than those who did not.

Having a belief in and a relationship with a Higher Power also seemed to help.

Not that there weren’t many women there who weren’t religious, but it was obvious that those who had some type of relationship with God, the universe, or whatever, seemed to be doing better in recovery compared to does who didn’t.

Also, those who were honest with themselves and in touch with reality seemed to be doing better than those who seemed to be a bit oblivious to reality.

The one thing that bothered me most about a lot of the women in the facility were that a lot of them were lying to themselves as we all do from time to time, especially when trying to stop a bad habit.

Many of the women still had “addict behaviors” not only in the fact that they were lying to themselves, but they were also lying and being sneaky to others.

For instance, this was a smoke-free facility where these women are prohibited from smoking, yet a number of the women sneak out and smoke.

That may seem relatively harmless in comparison to their bigger addictions, but that type of sneaky, dishonest behavior sets the stage for future relapse.

Relapse is not something that usually just happens, but develops overtime in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts.

A sober, clean person may start feeling agitated, lying, sneaking off to do things they know they shouldn’t, etc., days, weeks or months before actually relapsing.

They start lying to themselves, saying things like, “I can just have one drink” or “I can just take one hit and walk away, I know how to control it now”.

Before you know it, they are back in the thick of their addiction, driving under the influence to get more alcohol or selling whatever they can get their hands on to get more drugs.

Most of these women displayed some of those signs of a future relapse, from sneaking off to smoke, to being angry and irritable, to the woman who had the seizure asking me:

“How much do you think I’ll have to drink for that to happen to me again, because it scared the hell out of me. I don’t want to drink any more, but I just want to know if I have one drink, or two drinks, how many would it take before that happened again?”

Although she’s telling me she doesn’t want to drink again, she is lying to herself. It is obvious that in her conscious or unconscious mind, she is trying to figure out if she can get away with drinking “just a little”, but she is an alcoholic, and knows that there is no drinking “just a little” for her.

The women sneaking off to smoke, will be the same women sneaking off to drink or get high once they are out of rehab. That is “addict behavior” at it’s best.

Just like in trying to quite anything from smoking to losing weight, people generally relapse and it takes a few tries before they get it right. Relapse at some point is usually expected which is why there is often a focus on relapse prevention.

One of the biggest things to know about relapse is that if you mess up, if you have a drink, or a hit, or a donut, it doesn’t mean you just give up and give in. You can still back away at that point and start over before the addiction truly regains a hold of you.

All the women in this facility are at different points in their recovery and no doubt, for many of them, this will not be their last time in treatment, but hopefully one day they will get it right.