In my first post for the first month of this new year, I shared my story by offering readers A look at Domestic Violence. I gave an overview of my personal history and the struggles that my family and I have experienced, which have been clearly identified by others as Domestic Violence. “Others” being my now adult children, friends and acquaintances, and various professions/service providers over the years. Yet, I’ve always struggled with the labels, categorizations, and definitions which are associated with the words: Domestic Violence.
In Changing Perceptions, I asked several questions about what comes to mind for you when you read or hear the words Domestic Violence. If you’re anything like me, you may think of a manipulative, control-freak, who is on a massive power trip, and truly enjoys the systematic destruction and subjugation of the ego and personal identity of the partner in the relationship. You know, the sociopathic stalkers in movies like Sleeping With the Enemy and Enough.
According to the Parenting Support Advocate with the VOA Home Free program I met with, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person who has experienced Domestic Violence to leave the abusive relationship permanently. “Average” meaning that there are those who may have done so successfully the first try and others who had to make many more attempts, combine all of the reported efforts and divide by the number of people who were queried in the research and that’s the average number.
I shared with her how uncomfortable I have been with the DV label and it’s associated titles/roles: Batterer, Abuser, Victim, Surviver, Perpetrator, Willing Participant. I’m not uncomfortable with or opposed to them when they are applied to situations and circumstances with clear-cut physical and verbal abuse where the one party physically harms and/or uses verbal threats, violent language, and uses his or her body and words in a way to diminish and control the other party. It’s the situations and circumstances like the one I have been in where the actions and behaviors of the “abuser” are more likely the result of a combination of neurological/cognitive developmental delays which are less than obvious in combination with some unidentified & untreated mental health issues, which may be a combination of genetics and environmental factors present during the developmental years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Especially when that person has made the effort to grow and change through participation in therapuetic processes.
The outcomes may be similar, if not identical. Which is why it is so often met with the overly simplistic method of categorization, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . ”
I’m a very firm believer in, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The representative from the Home Free program has been very constructive for me to speak to, interact with, and learn from. She has not informed me of her view and take of my situation and circumstances. She hasn’t tried to convince me why I should use or accept these labels or define what I have experienced as Domestic Violence. She has listened with clear intention to understand me and my experiences. She has not given me “knowing” looks or sly glances when I have spoken about the difficulties I have with the labels which are part and parcel of receiving services through the domestic violence resources and systems. She has reassured me that I am the expert on my life and on my relationships and that she is here as an Advocate for me, not as a therapist, counselor, or other service provider.
When we met for the second time, yesterday, it was in my home. She and I met in the living room while the Child Advocate met with my five year old daughter and they played together in her room full of toys. The Child Advocate is not a play therapist, but her role is to be present and engaged with the child, following the child’s lead during play and interaction. If the child brings up emotions or thoughts which are difficult or confusing regarding anything the child has witnessed or experienced, whether it is related to the relationship issues between the partners in the domestic violence relationship or anything else, then the Child Advocate’s task it to help the child talk through and process those thoughts and feelings in healthy and constructive ways, understanding that he/she is not in any way responsible for any of the things which have happened or responsible for the feelings and words of others.
Historically, I have not done a great job at seeing and understanding when my children were experiencing difficulties in how they were perceiving and internalizing those perceptions regarding the things I was dealing with in our lives together. Dealing with the cycles of depression and hypomania, being severely codependent, and not having processed and dealt with my own emotional and psychological trauma from childhood all blinded and deafened me to the things my two oldest children were struggling with. I did the best I could to get them help and services, connect them to others who seemed more knowledgeable or better qualified than myself, to help them. However, I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically present and available to help them as their mother. I’m determined to do better by their youngest sibling.
That is why I’m so grateful to the Home Free program and the people I am working with in it. They are not only able to see and advocate for what my littlest is experiencing, they are here to help me see and advocate for her as well.
Emergency Hotline: (503) 771-5503 (Mon – Fri, 8AM – 6PM)
Business Line: (503) 239-3929
“Home Free’s mission is to assist adults and children surviving domestic violence to move not just toward safety, but toward freedom and all that the word home suggests.
Our programs provide long-term, post-crisis support designed to prevent victims from having to return to an abusive home. Our commitment to reaching survivors means mobile, active advocacy that reduces the barriers to domestic violence support services. All of our services are free, flexible, and individualized, and driven by survivors’ needs and goals.”