Category: Relationships

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Using Art to Heal from Sexual Assault

00Anger, Creativity, Featured news, Relationships, Self-Control, Therapy, Trauma September, 18

Source: Safi, Frizz kid,used with permission

Frizz Kid (Hana Shafi), a writer and visual artist based in Toronto, Canada, deals with themes of feminism, sexual violence, and self-care. Shafi first came to prominence through social media after the high-profile Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto. Prominent radio personality Ghomeshi was charged with, but subsequently acquitted of, multiple counts of sexual violence.

Ghomeshi’s victims were essentially blamed for the assaults, and their stories were discounted as inconsistent or false. Following the trial, numerous artists and activists joined together under the hashtag #WeBelieveSurvivors—Shafi among them. And her craft was deeply affected and altered by the outcome of the trial.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Shafi discussed the impact on her art:

“The period after the trial was really difficult. The constant media coverage of what happened to these women and the ultimate lack of justice was hurtful, particularly to survivors of sexual assault. A compassionate perspective was missing. The trial turned into an attack on their characters instead of focusing on the wrong that was done to them.”

In reaction, Shafi began her most well-known work: her Positive Affirmation Series. Shafi combined drawn images with words to assert comforting phrases, such as “healing is not linear,” “it’s natural to have emotional baggage,” and “you are worthy of love.”

According to Shafi:

“The series has been a way for me to express solidarity with victims of sexual assault. I never expected the art to get as big a reception as it has.”

Her art serves several purposes. She creates it to cope, as well as to help others:

“All my pieces have a purpose for me as much as for others. I find it personally healing to create, but I also want to help others and create a community of people around art where we can heal together, be angry together, be sad together, and create together.”

To engage more closely with her audience, Shafi recently collaborated with Ryerson University as their artist-in-residence. There, she conducted free workshops on making zines, which are short, self-published magazines made by photocopying and binding artwork, poetry, or other writing.

Participants were invited to answer the following:

“Have you ever thought about what you would say to the person who sexually assaulted you? What would you want your peers to know? What would you like to remind yourself?”

These works were compiled for an art installation, titled “Lost Words.” In an Instagram post, Shafi explained:

“Through these questions, we can communicate the lost words; all the things that have been left unsaid but need to be heard.”

When speaking with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she added:

“I really wanted there to be a platform for people impacted by sexual violence to speak about their experiences. To say the things they never had an opportunity to say, or felt they couldn’t say. I wanted people to get the sense that they could say whatever they wanted in that space and that they would be safe doing so. This is them talking back. I think having an outlet like this is critical for the healing process.”

Shafi also stressed the important role that participant anonymity played in “Lost Words:”

“There’s safety in anonymity. People are not super understanding about this subject matter; there needs to be anonymity.”

Some may be familiar with the therapeutic practice of writing a letter to a person who has hurt them, then destroying the letter. These so-called “hot letters” are used as a form of emotional catharsis.

Similar ideas were explored by Shafi in this exhibit. “Lost Words,” however, dealt with having private and painful thoughts read by the public. These works were exhibited in conjunction with the Sexual Assault Roadshow, a travelling art gallery that aims to change the public’s perception of survivors of sexual assault. This decision to exhibit to the general public was tactical. Shafi explained:

“I think through viewing the works, they begin to understand; they get a small glimpse into the reality of a survivor; they see the injustice, trauma, and frustration.”

Survivors of sexual assault benefit from the exhibit too, Shafi argued:

“They express what they’ve always wanted to say but never had the platform for. It may have been unsafe for them to say things before, but they are now excited that their work will be seen—that they can speak in a public setting while remaining anonymous.”

The reception to the exhibit was overwhelmingly positive, with many reaching out to Shafi to express their gratitude. Others, Shafi said, were genuinely surprised by the exhibit, which she suspected was a reality check for them.

Shafi stressed that she is not giving survivors a voice because they have their own voice.

“I think what I’m doing is giving them a space to feel heard and validated. Giving them art that emphasizes their experience, highlights their issues, and provides a compassionate space.”

– “Fernanda de la Mora, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

-Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report”

“Copyright Robert T. Muller.”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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What if Your Father Were a Pedophile?

00Embarrassment, Family Dynamics, Featured news, Psychiatry, Punishment, Relationships, Trauma August, 18

Source: Feature: enki22 at flickr, Creative Commons

“Between You and Me,” a documentary by director Chase Joynt, examines what it feels like to discover a family member has done a terrible thing. In this short film, Chase accompanies his friend Rebekah Skoor as they travel to visit Rebekah’s father, Michael, a convicted pedophile.

Michael Skoor, a pastor and family man, was convicted of repeatedly molesting an 11-year old boy. After contemplating suicide, he confessed the abuse to a psychiatrist, who reported him. Michael turned himself in, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 29 years in prison. For many, the story ends there, but for Rebekah and her family, the story just begins.

After her father’s revelations, Rebekah and her family faced social ostracism and stigmatization from their community. And, they felt their own feelings of shame. These repercussions often fall on families of sex offenders. “It was a really scary time,” Rebekah recounts to Chase in the film, as they prepare to travel to see her dad in prison.

A study by Professors Jill Levenson and Richard Tewksbury reported on data from family members of sex offenders. These families experienced financial hardship, housing displacement, and psychological distress. They also met with social repercussions, such as ridicule and teasing, as a result of their loved one’s actions.

In addition to feeling humiliation and shame, family members feared for their personal safety. Of all participants studied, 44% reported they had been threatened or harassed by a neighbor. Children of offenders suffered from depression and anxiety due to being bullied at school by both teachers and fellow students.

The public’s animosity toward these families may have its roots in the belief that family members know about the relative’s crimes, and could have intervened to stop them. It’s not uncommon for some members of law enforcement, the media, and the helping professions, to voice such assumptions, which may influence public opinion.

In an opinion piece by psychologist Seth Myers, he portrays the wife of disgraced football coach Jerry Sandusky as a guilty party to her husband’s crimes, even though she was never charged for any part in the assaults. And, Myers had never clinically assessed Sandusky’s wife. The assumption of guilt-by-association is a dubious claim to make, and may be at the heart of stigma faced by family members of sex offenders.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, psychiatrist Paul Fedoroff refers to the family members of sex offenders as “secondary victims.” These people are often abandoned and left reeling in the aftermath of the crime.

Families must also deal with their own personal feelings and internal conflicts. In the Toronto Star article, Scott Woodside, of the Sexual Behaviours Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, explained that children of sexually abusive fathers “don’t like that their father did this to them but they love their father… and do not want their father to be taken away because no one will replace him.” The same can apply when parents abuse outsiders.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the crimes committed by these sexual predators, their families are confronted with the difficult task of trying to reconcile their good memories with the knowledge of the terrible act the relative committed. They are caught in the middle.

And to them, the offense is hard to integrate. In a deleted scene from “Between You And Me,” Rebekah explains her difficulty in trying to convey this dichotomy to others when speaking about her father:

“I feel called to give the back story of the 21 years of awesomeness that was in my life. Not perfection, but good intentional fathering. Before I land this heinous offense on people… I want them to be able to hold with me my dichotomy, that he is in some part hero and in some part this fallen man.”

Rebekah wants to illustrate both sides of her father, the man she knew, and the crimes he committed. Recognizing these two seemingly incompatible aspects leaves Rebekah feeling she is caught between loving her father and condemning his actions. Rebekah’s recollection of his sentencing illustrates the issue well.

“It felt very divided… the people with the ribbons who were there for the [victim] and the people without ribbons who were there for my dad. I really felt this profound sense of, ‘I also want a ribbon. I’m not pro sexual violence. I’m not endorsing my father’s actions.’”

She does not approve of what he did. And yet, “The terrible things don’t undo the love.”

– Stefano Costa, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

-Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report”

“Copyright Robert T. Muller”

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Domestic Abuse Linked to Financial Crisis

00Domestic Violence, Featured news, Health, Marriage, Psychopathy, Relationships, Stress June, 18

Source: isabellaquintana at pixabay, Creative Commons

Self-reported spousal violence has declined in most Canadian provinces over the past ten years, according to Statistics Canada. But an increase in domestic violence calls to the police in the province of Alberta was reported for 2016 by The Globe and Mail. The increase occurred concurrently with the loss of thousands of jobs in the mining and oil industries.

This connection has also been established in other countries. During the financial collapse in Greece, the Greek police reported a 53.9% increase in family violence in 2011 from before the crisis in 2008. Additionally, when sociologist Claire Renzetti and colleague reviewed research in the United States, they found evidence of a relationship between economic stresses and domestic abuse.

Another study of American households indicates that intimate partner violence occurs at disproportionate rates among impoverished groups of women. The World Health Organization states that 13-61% of women worldwide recount experiencing physical violence from a partner at some point in their lifetime, and that poverty is a risk factor.

In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, Barbara MacQuarrie, the community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, described the link:

“At the heart of domestic violence is a dynamic of power and control, where one person feels they have the right to control another. When one loses control over their finances, they may attempt to regain that control by controlling their spouse through physical violence and other abusive tactics.”

Awareness of how financial stressors affect violent behaviour becomes important during times of financial hardship, such as economic recessions. Although macro research on the influence of economic crises on domestic violence is limited, the findings in Alberta, Greece, and the United States are telling. There are also personal accounts of spousal aggression surrounding financial problems.

Anne (name changed for anonymity), a survivor of domestic violence, recounted her experience to the Trauma and Mental Health Report. She recalled financial struggles preceding violent episodes from her previously non-violent husband.

In 1991, Anne moved from Russia to Canada to join her husband Jonathan (name changed). This move coincided with a severe recession beginning in the early ’90s. Johnathan’s wages were cut in half, to the detriment of the family. A once promising future was now out of reach. In Anne’s words:

“I needed to work to help ends meet. Because I took care of our children and household during the day, I had to work at night. I cleaned at a corporate office for minimum wage, so money was tight. “

Months after the move to Canada, arguments became heated, and he became more aggressive, at one point, pushing her hard enough that she hit her head against concrete, and fell unconscious. Anne believes that their financial stresses brought out another side of Jonathan that led him to become both physically and emotionally abusive. She decided to leave, but was afraid for her life and the safety of her children if she did.

“He was supposed to be my partner, but instead of my being able to go to him for help or support, I feared him. “

Women who are survivors of domestic violence are right to feel afraid. The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 26% of women killed by their spouse are killed after they leave the relationship, and women are six times more likely to be murdered by an ex-partner than a current partner. Nonetheless, with proper planning and support, women can safely leave a violent situation. Anne said:

“When Jonathan left on a work-related trip, I took the children with me to a women’s shelter. It was highly secure, padlocks on every door, and a security guard at the main entrance. Eventually we moved into an apartment.”

Anne and her children now live safely. She encourages those who are facing potential domestic violence to seek help immediately, especially as warning signs increase. Barbara MacQuarrie explains that more than one risk factor in the perpetrator increases the chances of violence:

“Unemployment is a very significant risk factor, especially if it’s present with other factors, such as the perpetrator having experienced abuse as a child or witnessed domestic violence.”

–Anika Rak, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Wearing Cancer Survival Like a Badge of Honor

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Positive Psychology, Relationships, Resilience October, 17

Source: eKBS at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

“I have stage 3 cancer; my friend has stage 1—which is like a pimple.”

On her personal blog, Debbie Woodbury, a woman diagnosed with Stage 0 cancer, references this comment by a fellow cancer patient. While she considers the comment hurtful, she is not particularly surprised.

Cancer prognoses vary, and there is large variation in survival between types and degrees of illness. Some are fortunate to survive without the sickening effects of chemotherapy, the fear of losing hair, or surgeries that leave patients bedridden for weeks. But people may also minimize their cancer journey, or be made to view their experiences as ‘lesser’.

Woodbury explains:

“Without a tumor and with a Stage 0 cancer diagnosis, I started this journey not even sure I was qualified to call myself a cancer patient.”

Similarly, Lesley Miller writes of her husband:

“I bought him a bold yellow shirt that said ‘survivor’ across the front. ‘Survivor,’ in his mind, is nothing to tell the world about. He didn’t do anything to claim survivor status; his body just had a treatable cancer that happened to respond to drugs.”

Just like that, degrees of illness become a competition, belittle personal struggles, and create segregation among patients and those in remission.

In January 2015, cancer survivor Cindy Finch posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The 6 Injustices of Cancer.” The article received a great deal of backlash for suggesting that certain cancer patients “get off really easy”. She claimed:

“I’ve heard it a hundred times, ‘I’m a cancer survivor, too.’ ‘Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?’ ‘Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days. Then I was all better.’”

Finch talks about individuals with ‘worse’ diagnoses:

“These folks represent the worst among us. If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down, and let someone else tell their war story.”

As if some cancer patients just aren’t macho enough. Attitudes like these have negative consequences on patient mental health.

Cancer patients often report feelings of guilt for surviving the illness. Survivor guilt is common among people who have gone through traumatic experiences, such as war, accidents, natural disasters, and interpersonal abuse. For Woodbury, not suffering enough throughout her cancer experience elicited guilt feelings.

Some individuals also consider themselves less deserving. Ann Silberman, a breast cancer survivor, writes in her personal blog:

“It was my belief that others deserved to live more than I did. Better people than me are now gone; people who were funnier, who were kinder, who had more to give.”

And then, of course, there are expectations people have of cancer patients: The image of the strong, inspirational individual, filled with gratitude for a second chance at life.

Silberman continues:

“I am still trudging along, bitching about how cold I am and slamming pain meds for my aches and pains.”

According to Crystal Park and colleagues at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, living through cancer results in the development of new identities that can define people for the rest of their lives. For those still in active treatment, the identity of patient or victim can develop, carrying the connotation of severe suffering inflicted on them. But for those who have survived such adversity, the most common identity was survivor, which carries the connotation of cure.

As cancer becomes an engrained aspect of an individual’s identity, it may be natural for those who suffered greatly to take pride in how much they overcame, indeed to try to silence others who have not experienced the same level of adversity.

But Woodbury takes umbrage at this view, noting:

“The truth is that cancer is not a competition and, just as I am enough, so is my cancer. I certainly did go through less than someone else might have gone through. Thank God for that. For that I should be grateful, not made to feel, by myself or anyone else, that I am guilty of not suffering enough to qualify in the cancer games.”

– Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.
 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Wearing Cancer Survival Like a Badge of Honor

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Positive Psychology, Relationships, Resilience October, 17

Source: eKBS at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

“I have stage 3 cancer; my friend has stage 1—which is like a pimple.”

On her personal blog, Debbie Woodbury, a woman diagnosed with stage 0 cancer, references this comment by a fellow cancer patient. While she considers the comment hurtful, she is not particularly surprised.

Cancer prognoses vary, and there is a large variation in survival between types and degrees of illness. Some are fortunate to survive without the sickening effects of chemotherapy, the fear of losing hair, or surgeries that leave patients bedridden for weeks. But people may also minimize their cancer journey, or are made to view their experiences as ‘lesser’.

Woodbury explains:

“Without a tumor and with a stage 0 cancer diagnosis, I started this journey not even sure I was qualified to call myself a cancer patient.”

Similarly, Lesley Miller writes of her husband:

“I bought him a bold yellow shirt that said ‘survivor’ across the front. ‘Survivor,’ in his mind, is nothing to tell the world about. He didn’t do anything to claim survivor status; his body just had a treatable cancer that happened to respond to drugs.”

Just like that, degrees of illness become a competition, belittle personal struggles, and create segregation among patients and those in remission.

In January 2015, cancer survivor Cindy Finch posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The 6 Injustices of Cancer.” The article received a great deal of backlash for suggesting that certain cancer patients “get off really easy.” She claimed:

“I’ve heard it a hundred times, ‘I’m a cancer survivor, too.’ ‘Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?’ ‘Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days. Then I was all better.’”

Finch talks about individuals with ‘worse’ diagnoses:

“These folks represent the worst among us. If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down, and let someone else tell their war story.”

As if some cancer patients just aren’t macho enough. Attitudes like these have negative consequences on patient mental health.

Cancer patients often report feelings of guilt for surviving the illness. Survivor guilt is common among people who have gone through traumatic experiences, such as war, accidents, natural disasters, and interpersonal abuse. For Woodbury, not suffering enough throughout her cancer experience elicited guilt feelings.

Some individuals also consider themselves less deserving. Ann Silberman, a breast cancer survivor, writes on her personal blog:

“It was my belief that others deserved to live more than I did. Better people than me are now gone; people who were funnier, who were kinder, who had more to give.”

And then, of course, there are expectations people have of cancer patients: The image of the strong, inspirational individual, filled with gratitude for a second chance at life.

Silberman continues:

“I am still trudging along, bitching about how cold I am and slamming pain meds for my aches and pains.”

According to Crystal Park and colleagues at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, living through cancer results in the development of new identities that can define people for the rest of their lives. For those still in active treatment, the identity of patient or victim can develop, carrying the connotation of severe suffering inflicted on them. But for those who have survived such adversity, the most common identity was survivor, which carries the connotation of cure.

As cancer becomes an ingrained aspect of an individual’s identity, it may be natural for those who suffered greatly to take pride in how much they overcame, indeed to try to silence others who have not experienced the same level of adversity.

But Woodbury takes umbrage at this view, noting:

“The truth is that cancer is not a competition and, just as I am enough, so is my cancer. I certainly did go through less than someone else might have gone through. Thank God for that. For that, I should be grateful, not made to feel, by myself or anyone else, that I am guilty of not suffering enough to qualify in the cancer games.”

–Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Slam Poetry Facilitates Sharing Stories of Mental Illness

20Anxiety, Creativity, Depression, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Self-Esteem, Social Life, Trauma May, 17

Source: MatthewtheBryan on Deviant Art

Andrea Gibson is a spoken word artist and activist who writes with intense passion about mental illness, bullying, and social tragedy.

In her award-winning poem, The Madness Vase, Gibson speaks firsthand about the shame many feel from disclosing experiences of mental illness and suicide. In an interview with the Trauma and Mental Health Report, she explained, “The trauma said don’t write this poem; no one wants to hear you cry about the grief inside your bones.”

When asked why people use spoken word to share these sensitive and personal experiences, Gibson told the Report:

“I can say things within the context of a poem that I could never speak outside of a poem. There is a way in which a poem cares for its writer. Allows no interruption. It’s a sweetness, a generous sweetness. I think of a poem almost as a good parent who might say, ‘I’m going to hold you and have your back while you say this, and you have every right to say this.’ There is a safety in it. A holding we may not have had elsewhere in life.”

Gibson also speaks to the ways in which sharing poetry can build self-esteem and promote self-love in both speakers and audience members, and views her poetry as a form of therapy to treat anxiety and depression:

“Telling your story is healing. Telling your story to a receptive audience of listeners is even more healing. Being witness to people telling their stories is healing. There is so much pain in hiding, and spoken word is the opposite of hiding.”

Gibson’s ability to connect with her audience lies in her willingness to share her adversity battling panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Narrating her journey with mental illness contributes to the authenticity of her poetry and resonates powerfully with viewers.

“I doubt that I would have an artistic life if I had not been pushed into it by my own flailing nervous system. Art is a shelter of sorts. At the same time, I have had shows where I was almost too panicked to speak. I had to keep saying to the audience, “I am feeling so much anxiety, I can barely get through this.” But I’m guessing in the long run even that is of some comfort to many people. To witness a panic attack on stage, and to watch art happen regardless.”

In addition to her work as a spoken word activist, Gibson created STAY HERE WITH ME in 2011, an online platform to share experiences of trauma, mental illness, of wanting to die, and of the different art forms that have prevented individuals from committing suicide. Gibson started this initiative with co-founder Kelsey Gibb, a mental-health professional and tour manager.

“Kelsey and I were on tour together while I was receiving a lot of letters from people who were struggling to want to stay alive and we wanted to create an online community that had larger reach of support. We wanted to create something that helped people want to stay.”

Gibson’s work highlights the healing power of story-telling. As an art-focused space, STAY HERE WITH ME encourages the use of art and poetry to heal, connect, and remind the audience they are not alone. Hundreds of individuals have shared personal stories through her website, finding acceptance and understanding through shared experiences.

Through poetry and mental health advocacy, Gibson is determined to build a community dedicated to helping people who have suicidal feelings.

“I want to remind individuals struggling with suicide to be sweet to the part of them that is in pain. To hold that part with gentleness and not to ask that pained part to go away sooner than it needs to. Sometimes simply letting ourselves hurt is what the hurt needs to move through us.”

–Lauren Goldberg, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Police “Blue Wall of Silence”; Facilitates Domestic Assault

00Anger, Conformity, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Work April, 17

Source: Stefan Guido-Maria Krikl on flickr

In January 1999, Pierre Daviault, a 24-year veteran constable of the Aylmer Police Services in Quebec, was arrested on 10 criminal charges for allegedly assaulting and drugging three ex-girlfriends between 1984 and 1999. Daviault resigned from the police force a few days later, but he was only sentenced to three years’ probation, no jail time.

In their 2015 book Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence authors Susanna Hope (pseudonym) and Alex Roslin describe instances of police spousal abuse within the U.S. and Canada, reporting that at least 40 percent of U.S. police-officer families experience domestic violence, compared to 10 percent of families in the general population.

Some officers are speaking up. Lila C. (name changed), a Canadian corrections officer (CO), was interviewed by the Trauma and Mental Health Report to discuss the growing issue of spousal abuse in Canadian law enforcement. Lila’s former colleague, Stephanie (name changed), was a victim of abuse. Awareness of Stephanie’s predicament, and the inability to do anything about it, affected Lila’s mental health more than anything else on the job.

Lila explained:

“Steph and I bonded very quickly and we were very open with each other, which is normal when two COs work together so often. But she never actually told me about the abuse she was taking at home. I noticed bruises on her neck myself.”

Stephanie’s perpetrator was her husband—a long-time police officer of the Peel Regional Police in Ontario. He was a man Lila knew well, and considered a friend:

“At first I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing and I kept quiet for the first few hours of our shift that day. But eventually, I asked ‘what’s that on your neck, what’s going on?’ And then came the breakdown period and she told me everything.”

Upon opening up to Lila, Stephanie revealed that she was frequently abused by her husband at home, both physically and verbally.

“My first gut response was ‘you need to leave him and tell someone’. I mean, how could he continue to work in law enforcement, deal with these types of cases on the job, and then go home and abuse his wife off the job? But Steph wouldn’t do it—she wouldn’t leave him. She felt that she wouldn’t be able to have him arrested. If she called the police to report him, who would believe her?”

In Police Wife, authors Hope and Roslin argue that one factor perpetuating abuse is that many officers think they can get away with it.

Carleton professor George Rigakos explains in an interview with Hope and Roslin: “A major influence in the use of domestic violence is a lack of deterrence. If there is no sanction, then it’s obvious the offence goes on.”

Referred to as the “blue wall of silence”—an unwritten code to protect fellow officers from investigation—officers learn early on to cover for each other, to extend “professional courtesy.”

And when a woman works up the nerve to file a complaint, police and justice systems often continue to victimize her. She must take on a culture of fear and the blue wall of silence, while simultaneously facing allegations of being difficult, manipulative, and deceptive.

Lila explains:

“I mean, I saw her almost every day and it was a huge elephant in the room. We didn’t bring it up again. And though I didn’t see her husband often, when I did see him, it was weird. He had no idea that I knew—I just couldn’t be around him, knowing what he was doing. But there was no getting away from the constant reminder of this unspoken and undealt-with abuse.”

Knowing both the victim and the perpetrator, knowing that the abuse was not being addressed on a systemic level, and feeling powerless to do anything about it herself affected Lila’s mental health and enthusiasm about the work she was doing:

“About two months in, I started having panic attacks on my way to work and even during my shift. I vaguely remember nights where I had bad dreams. It’s weird, I wasn’t even the one being abused, but I felt unsafe. I knew that I couldn’t say anything, because it would probably make things worse. I feared for Steph’s life, but in some strange way, I also feared for my own.”

Many officers face ostracism, harassment, and the frightening prospect of not receiving support when they do not abide by the blue wall of silence. Believing she would not be taken seriously if she decided to come forward (because of her gender) only amplified Lila’s sense of powerlessness and anxiety.

“I know that the system is unjust towards women, and that makes this situation even more hopeless to confront.”

Stephanie eventually left the corrections facility where she and Lila worked, and they gradually lost touch. Lila doesn’t know if Stephanie is still with her husband, and looking back she partly wishes she had said something about it.

Hope and Roslin explain in Police Wife that we are often reluctant and afraid to intervene if we think a friend or family member may be in a violent or abusive relationship. They encourage bystanders to acknowledge the courage it takes to reach out.

–Veerpal Bambrah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Photography Documenting Mental Illness Draws Criticism

00Caregiving, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Relationships, Resilience March, 17

Source: ethermoon on flickr, Creative Commons

For the past six years, Melissa Spitz of St. Louis, Missouri has been using photography to illustrate her mother’s experience with mental illness, referring to it as a form of “documentary photography”.

The photographs taken of Melissa’s mother Deborah are shared on Melissa’s professional website and on her Instagram in a project she calls “You Have Nothing to Worry About.” They artfully depict Deborah’s lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, dissociative identity disorder, and problem drinking.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa explained that the series aims to provide an intimate look into the life of an individual suffering from mental illness. She told Dazed Digital:

“For me, mental illness has a face and a name—and that’s mum.”

Melissa first became aware of her mother’s mental-health problems when she was a child, and Deborah had to be institutionalized for “psychotic paranoia”. After years of anger and blame, Melissa picked up her camera as a way of confronting her mother’s disorder head-on.

The project became an emotional outlet for Melissa to facilitate healing. In an interview with Aint Bad Magazine, she explained:

“By turning the camera toward my mother and my relationship with her, I capture her behavior as an echo of my own emotional response. The images function like an ongoing conversation.”

Research published in the Journal of Public Health has shown that creative media can serve as powerful tools to help people express feelings of grief. Art therapy specifically can provide a means of expression, relieve emotional tension, and offer alternative perspectives.

Through her project, feelings of pain and hurt that Melissa held toward her mother were ameliorated, and she found herself feeling greater empathy, visually acknowledging her mother’s struggle with mental illness.

While the project is not without its merits, the provocative nature of the photographs—ranging from Deborah’s hospitalization to images of her unclothed and bruised—may elicit shock and discomfort in viewers.

Which raises the question: where do we draw the line between exploitation and freedom of expression in art depicting mental illness?

Laura Burke, a drama therapist from Nova Scotia, Canada, sees Melissa’s project as crossing an ethical line. Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005, and has suffered from depression her entire life. She believes that people with mental illness are often spoken for, and this is a common trap in representing their lives through art.

In an interview with The Trauma and Mental Health Report, Laura commented on Melissa’s project:

“It appears sensitively done, but the line between exploitation and reverence is a tough one to walk. If the focus was more explicitly on Spitz’s perspectives of her mother, and not an objective account of how things happened, which is sometimes how a photo can appear, I might feel more comfortable with it.”

Another issue that can arise is the power differential between photographer and subject. Even when consent is provided, subjects who struggle with mental health issues are particularly vulnerable when someone else is formulating the vision and acting as “the voice” of the art piece.

Laura addressed this concern in her interview:

“I feel that focusing more on the family member’s experience, and less on the subject living with the mental illness would be a less exploitative choice.”

Melissa is aware of the criticism her project has garnered from audiences. In an interview with Time Magazine, Melissa said:

“I am fully aware that my mother thrives on being the center of attention and that, at times, our portrait sessions encourage her erratic behavior. My hope for the project is to show that these issues can happen to anyone, from any walk of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed about.”

Despite the criticism, art can be transformative for both the artist and the audience by exposing mental illness in its rawest form. Max Houghton, a Senior Lecturer in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication, appreciates what Melissa’s project can do, and how it can help break down stigma surrounding mental illness.

Houghton told BBC News:

“I think photojournalism is criticised when it looks at the miserable side of life and depressing issues. However, in the right hands, photography can be used as a tool to discover and tell important stories differently”.

Projects like Melissa’s You Have Nothing to Worry About often spark much needed discussion around mental illness and are important and necessary to address stigma. And yet, one is left wondering whether such depictions of the vulnerable may do more harm than good.

–Nonna Khakpour, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Learning to Manage Emotions Boosts Children’s Well-being

20Child Development, Education, Emotion Regulation, Emotional Intelligence, Empathy, Featured news, Relationships February, 17

Source: holiveira on DeviantArt

English, Math, History, Geography…classes found in school curricula build foundational knowledge and promote future success.

Schools lay the groundwork for cognitive development, especially in academic areas. But what about emotional development? Proficiency in that is equally important for leading a successful life. Yet, little effort has been made in school to teach children how to manage their feelings.

With the introduction of RULER, this may not be the case for much longer. More and more schools around the U.S. are implementing the program aimed at teaching students—and teachers—to ‘Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate’ emotions.

Supported by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, it incorporates social and emotional skills training into the school curriculum to support child development. Specific curricula are available from kindergarten to grade 12, and ongoing implementation is necessary to solidify these skills as children get older.

“They’ve started to teach students about feelings as explicitly as they teach math and reading,” writes Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins.

The program is based on the work of two psychologists, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who began their scientific study of emotional intelligence over two decades ago. They focus on a direct link between critical-thinking skills and emotions.

According to Meyer and Salovey emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, monitor, and manage the emotions of others and oneself, to guide actions and ways of thinking.

Studies show that those who are reluctant to understand and express their feelings experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, and certain psychiatric disorders. They also report lower levels of well-being and social support.

At school, children experience a wide range of emotions every day. In addition to the stress of managing their studies and homework, they face a number of social struggles, such as conflicts with friends, romantic relationships, and bullying.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and one of the developers of RULER, says that the way students feel at school has a profound effect on how they learn, influencing their chances of success at school, at home, and with friends. And some individuals are generally more successful at handling emotions than others.

Through different tools, RULER provides a common language for expressing emotions, for dealing with conflicts between students, and for addressing conflicts between students and teachers, making for an open and supportive environment necessary for learning. For example, the “mood meter,”—a sheet of paper divided into four coloured quadrants—is designed to help students build a vocabulary around different emotions.

“I have a teacher who checks in with the Mood Meter on Monday mornings and it’s nice to just know that someone’s listening. It gets us in the mood to work, eases us back into school,” explains a grade 11 high-school student in the program.

Other tools, such as the “meta-moment”, train students to use the few seconds following a moment of anger to take a deep breath and imagine how their “best self” would react.

One 7-year-old student talks about her experience with the meta-moment:

“When I’m not in a good mood, RULER can help me solve the problem. Like when my brother pushed sand on my sand castle and wouldn’t fix it. I felt really angry at him, but I took a meta-moment and realized it wasn’t hard to fix what he did and he didn’t do it on purpose. Then I felt a little more forgiving.”

Some are critical of social and emotional learning initiatives within a classroom setting, arguing that schools are not an appropriate venue for emotional education. Others emphasize the price-tag; an online resource and four days total of in-person training costs $10,500 per school (for up to three participants).

However, Brackett’s research shows that implementing RULER can improve a school’s climate while fostering positive development and academic achievement among its students. Some notable improvements include better relationships between students and teachers, more student autonomy and leadership, improved academic success, and fewer reports of bullying.

Students’ mental health profiles greatly improve as well. Kids and adolescents who are involved with this program have experienced reduced levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity, social stress, and alcohol and drug usage. And research shows how children’s ability to handle their emotions and to be mindful of others’ feelings has a significant effect on their mental health.

Not all children come with the tools necessary for academic and social success. Programs like RULER provide a platform for children to learn how to navigate emotional struggles, so they can leave their primary education with methods to succeed in their work and personal lives.

–Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

Trauma Survivors at Risk for Future Abusive Relationships

10Child Development, Domestic Violence, Featured news, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Relationships, Trauma January, 16

Source: David Dávila Vilanova/Flickr

In her 2012 TED talk on domestic violence, Leslie Morgan Steiner discusses what she calls “crazy love,” the irrational and often deadly tendency to be oblivious to the red flags that indicate you are sharing your life with an abusive partner.

After discussing the typical situations that often lead to an abusive relationship, Steiner states that by asking the  question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” we are blaming the victim for falling in love with someone who would go on to abuse them.

While Steiner was not a victim of childhood abuse, many women and men who find themselves in similar situations are.

Victims are never at fault; no one asks to be victimized by their relationship partner. But for those who do have a prior history of abuse and who might find themselves in repetitive abusive cycles, what ability do they have to become aware of their vulnerability to future abuse?  And more important, could such awareness be helpful to them?

When children witness or experience abuse, it can have a detrimental effect on their well being as an adult.  Their experiences have been linked to the development of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as eating disorders later in life.  Early exposure can also place individuals at a higher risk of experiencing abusive relationships in the future.

Joanna Iwona Potkanska, a Toronto-based social worker and trauma-informed psychotherapist says, “We tend to remain in patterns that are familiar to us.   We often do not realize that the relationships we are in are abusive, especially if we grew up in dysfunctional families.”

Based on British psychiatrist John Bowlby’s original work on attachment, theorists view the attachment style one develops as a child as related to adult relational patterns.  Internal understanding of how relationships work derives from primary caregivers and is the basis of later interactions.

“It would be foolish to say that observing domestic abuse from a young age doesn’t have an impact on a person’s future relationships.  It contributes to the construction of a child’s belief system – on how a relationship should be and what it should look like,” says Whitney Wilson, a counselor for the Partner Assault Response program at the John Howard Society of Toronto.

Wilson considers exposure to early domestic abuse as altering one’s view of romantic relationships in many ways.  “It’s similar to having a parent that smokes; smoking becomes normalized and may influence your decision to smoke.  Or, you may dislike that your parent smokes and swear off it.  It really depends on your lived experience and how it affects the formation of your beliefs.”

According to Potkanska, when we experience interpersonal trauma, whether physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual, we often lose our sense of self.  The abuse becomes part of our story and is deeply internalized.

She says that when offenders are also caregivers, victims most often blame themselves.  “The idea that we are loved as we are being abused, or that we are being abused because we are loved(many perpetrators use this excuse to justify their actions) can become a template for the way we relate to the world and ourselves.”

So, if a woman grows up with a model of relationships that involved abuse, anger, and shame, will she believe that she deserves a different kind of relationship?  Or might she believe that a relationship based on support and love simply does not exist?

It depends…  The way people make sense of their early relationships, and the conclusions they draw from them, depend a good deal on what occurs in other important relationships in their lives.  And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the area of counseling and psychotherapy.

By working with a therapist, individuals can learn to identify how they interpret experiences based on ‘old information’ and can learn to recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

Potkanska says that “without learning how to set healthy boundaries, we allow others to harm us and we re-enact conscious or unconscious situations in an attempt to have either a different outcome, or to reinforce what we already believe about ourselves.”

Healthy attachments to other supportive family members and mentors can buffer the effects of childhood abuse.  For those not fortunate enough to experience positive relationships growing up, there are other ways to break the cycle.

The connection a survivor builds with their therapist is meant to act as a model for secure attachment.  This can then translate to the way the individual perceives themselves and how they interact with others.

Potkanska emphasizes safety and space within the therapeutic relationship, noting that “Simple actions like ensuring that adequate physical space exists between myself and my client shows that I respect their boundaries.”

A large part of the therapy process focuses on building an identity that is separate from the abuse.

“Romantic partners and relationships become a way to soothe and regulate, and so when clients are taught to self-soothe, they are less likely to look to their partner to provide what their perpetrator has failed to do. They eventually rely more on themselves and other resources, including healthy relationships, to meet their needs,” says Potkanska.

Even with therapy, breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult.  Building an identity separate from abuse can take years of self-work, and often people cannot afford therapy or have limited access to resources.

And then there are the socio-political causes that force people to remain in abusive situations.  Potkanska points out, “Without adequate financial support, women and children are reliant on their perpetrators.  Our legal system does a poor job at protecting survivors of violence, even after they leave the abuser.”  Not only that, but it is usually after the victim has left that they are in the most danger.  Simply because, as Leslie Morgan Steiner states, “the abuser has nothing left to lose.”

So what do people who’ve experienced abuse as children, but go on to have normal and healthy relationships do so differently?

According to Wilson, “It’s really an active process for all of us, even those who were not abused.  Because we’ve allowed society to normalize things like verbal or emotional abuse you have to really know what a healthy relationship looks like and know that it’s hard work.”

Being in a healthy relationship is about giving yourself permission not to have to accept abuse.  And for many, that takes practice.  You have to first identify that you’re stuck in a cycle of violence, and then decide you have the right to break it.

– Jana Vigor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today