Dealing with challenges

11069746_1571623653117877_1127146453_o.jpg

Male victims of domestic violence

Most people don’t realise this, but the number of men who suffer from domestic violence almost matches the number of women who do.  It’s a fact that is hidden in clear view.  Statistically, the figures for men are one in six, compared to the figure for women being one in four.  However, that’s just the statistic.  What this means is, that’s the number of known male victims.  My experience in treatment of victims causes me to believe firmly that the actual number for men is at least one in four, just the same as for women.  Why the disparity?  Equally, why don’t more people know about this?

Men are far less likely to disclose that they’re victims.  There are cultural and societal reasons for that, of course.  Few men are willing to admit to their friends and family, or even to themselves, that a woman is beating them up or terrorising them.  If women would feel embarrassed to admit that they were in a controlling and abusive relationship, one can only imagine how embarrassing it would be for a man.  Men are supposed to be the strong protectors, not the victims.  Being a victim is seen as a weakness.  Men are not allowed to be weak.  Men are not allowed to be victims.  Culturally, men are supposed to be the dominant gender, the ones who are in control.  They’re the ones who go to war.  Only recently have women been allowed to take on combat roles, because that’s always been seen as the man’s duty.  Women have been declared by the military to be unfit for combat because they aren’t strong enough, hard enough.  Of course that isn’t true; but if we think it took ages for the world to catch up to that, imagine how long it’s going to take for the world to recognise that women are strong enough, hard enough, and cruel enough to be perpetrators of serious abuse against their biological male partners.  Men are murdered by their abusive partners in this country every month.  It rarely makes the news.

I treat victims of domestic violence as a counselling therapist who specialises in that field.  Some of them are women, and some of them are men.  There are things that they have in common.  In all but two cases, the victims have claimed that the abuse was their fault because they wound their partners up.  If they hadn’t wound their partner up, he/she would not have abused them.  In all but one case, there were excuses for the abusive behaviour, including the excuse that the partner had mental health issues; so the abuser shouldn’t be seen as being at fault for the behaviour, even if the victim wasn’t at fault, either.  It’s easy enough to trace where that comes from.  Perpetrators always blame their victims.  They do not take responsibility for their own behaviour, and even try to claim that the victims inflicted the injuries on themselves just to cause trouble.  I’ve heard it all, just as many of us have.  Victims of both genders will face victim-blaming from the perpetrators just as part of the course.  Perpetrators will even say that the victim is the one who is being abusive and that they themselves are actually the victims….the smoke and mirrors game.  This does tend to make investigating domestic violence cases more complicated, and the waters can be very muddy.  However, the result of the victim-blaming will be vastly different for male victims.  This is where the similarities end.

When a man tries to blame his victim for the abuse, or tries to say that she threw herself across the room and split her scalp open just to make him look bad, he isn’t believed.  He gets arrested and she gets taken to a refuge.  When a woman blames her victim, she is successful far too often.  In fact, she’s successful almost 99% of the time.  Her victim will get arrested even if he’s the only one with injuries.  During the police interview, a woman will be sympathised with more often now than was once the case.  Clearly, there are still times when this doesn’t happen, but the situation is improving for women.  There are education and training modules and courses available to the police from AVA and VAWG which are very informative and helpful, and many police are taking those things up.  A man being interviewed, however, will not be asked questions about what happened, nor is he allowed to disclose.  It will automatically be assumed that he is the perpetrator, and that he’s just doing the standard victim-blaming.  Questions asked will not be based on trying to find out what happened, but will be put forward as accusations and attempts to find out the motive for his bad behaviour.  If he tries to insist that he’s the victim, he’ll get harsher treatment because he will be accused of failing to take responsibility for his bad behaviour.  Unfortunately, this is the way it will go for him in court more often that makes for comfortable reading.  I’ve seen men be found guilty on no other evidence than the woman’s crocodile tears.  If a woman gets treated this way, and it does still sometimes happen, there is outrage in the streets.  Parliament issue statements, and MPs get involved.  When it happens to a man, it never even makes the news.  He’s guilty, and that’s the end of the matter.  If he tries to appeal the verdict, he runs the chance of a harsher sentence.  If the appeal isn’t successful because the next panel of magistrates is equally convinced that only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims, he faces an almost certain jail sentence, never having committed a crime.

Supporting a male victim through that system is gut-wrenching.  Watching police laugh at the idea of your client being a victim, mocking him and being rather abusive themselves in their level of disrespect, isn’t easy when you are helpless to make them stop.  Supporting a victim who has actually been convicted of the crimes committed against him, while he’s being mocked by the magistrates who are clearly wanting to send him to prison, is difficult.  Watching probation officers treating him like a criminal who isn’t willing to make progress in being reintegrated into civil society by admitting his crimes so that he can take part in courses that teach him not to be abusive is difficult.  He’s being victimised all over again, and this time, by the very people who are charged by law to protect him, and all because he’s the wrong gender.  In addition to these things, he has little support.  There are some organisations, such as the Mankind Initiative, who can offer phone support.  However, face to face support groups such as women have easy access to are non-existent.  I’m trying to start one for my area.  Refuges or safe houses for men are non-existent.  The ignorance of MPs on the matter of men as victims is appalling.  One told me that 90% of victims are women.  Since roughly 46% are known to be men, his ignorance on the subject was inexcusable.  What was worse was his dismissal of any offer to have any information on the matter that would help him to understand the male.

read more
adminMale victims of domestic violence
010312debs-027colouredit.jpg

Domestic Violence Against Men

Many people don’t realise this, but men are quite frequently the victims of domestic violence.  Whenever there is an awareness drive for domestic violence, no one addresses the issue of what happens to men who are victims.

Even though one in six men will be victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives, it’s more difficult for men to report domestic violence; but it isn’t just because they’re ashamed to admit that they’re afraid of a woman.  It’s also because people are far less likely to believe them when they try to get help.  There are very few safe places where men who are in danger from domestic violence can go, and yet when organisations do drives to raise funds for shelters, they never address the lack of shelters for men.  They say that the reason for this is that fewer men find themselves in this situation.  I would disagree.  Far fewer men who are in danger report it because they know that no one will listen, and they know that even if someone did listen, there are no refuges available for them to hide in.  That doesn’t mean that these men don’t exist.  It means that no one has heard about them, and this isn’t the victims’ fault.

It is actually extremely common for abusers to frame the victims for the violence, as well as blaming the victims.  I’ve heard men say that the woman broke her own arm so that she could frame him. She slammed her own head into the wall so hard that she needed stitches because she was upset at him.  She injected herself with drugs, and bruised her arms up to make it look like he had grabbed her and forced her to take drugs.  I have heard them all.  In each of those cases, no one believed the abuser.  It didn’t stop the men from trying it on, but no one believed them.  The police were supportive, the shelters were ready.  Try putting the man in the victim’s chair and see what happens.  If the woman beats him up and says he did it to himself whilst beating her, or that she only did it in self-defence, the police are more likely to automatically believe her….even if she doesn’t have a mark on her.  They are more likely to ignore the man when he tries to report his injuries, and are more likely to treat him as guilty from the moment he’s met up with.  He’s arrested, ignored, imprisoned, and victimised further by the abuser who wants to make sure that he knows how much power she has over him.  She has the upper hand, and she knows it.  Now, there are still many women who are failed by the police when they try to report stalkers and abusers, and we all know this.  However, I want to draw attention to the lack of help men who are victims receive.  When a man is accused of violence, he is likely to be arrested on the word of his accuser.  If he’s the victim, he’s far less likely to be listened to.  In fact, of the cases that I’ve been familiar with or involved in, two thirds of the men were victims of gross miscarriages of justice in addition to being the victims of domestic violence, because the women made a huge cry out about being abused and the police and magistrates automatically believed them.  One might think that the man was at least safe from her in the jail, but that isn’t necessarily the case any more than it’s the case for women who are victims after their abusers have been jailed.  In addition, once in jail, he’s subjected to contemptuous treatment by officers who have already judged him to be guilty, who refuse to listen to him trying to report his injuries or tell his side of events, who refuse him any help or support…in short, who treat him the way women who tried to report abuse were commonly treated 40 years ago.  On the one hand, I’m glad that women are more readily listened to now when they report abuse than they were in previous decades.  On the other hand, we’ve swung dangerously in the other direction so that men are automatically accused and arrested.  Unlike men who try to frame their victims but don’t get away with it, women who frame their victims hold all the power.  I’ve known too many cases where no one believed the man until he was found murdered by the woman he tried to tell people was abusing him.  If a woman reports injuries, police are now more likely than not to take pictures of every little bruise that will show up.  If a man reports injuries, he’s still most likely going to be completely ignored and told to pull himself together.  I find it appalling that police can still believe that women are not capable of this kind of thing.  They are.  In fact, women are capable of inflicting serious injuries, and then crumbling into delicate flowers with crocodile tears flowing down their cheeks as they tell the police that they are the victims, and his injuries are only from them trying to defend themselves.  The police fly to the rescue, and the real victim finds himself being further abused by the willing

read more
adminDomestic Violence Against Men
11106059_1571624169784492_1848616570_o.jpgedit.jpg

What Does Marriage Mean, part 1

Many people would say that marriage has changed over the centuries.  In fact, marriage hasn’t changed at all.  Peoples’ perceptions of it and attitudes toward it have changed.  Due to these factors, there is an appearance of marriage itself having changed.  Increasingly, people are asking the question, “what does marriage mean?”.

 

Marriage is certainly less popular these days.  In fact, based on their questions around what marriage means, fewer people are even finding a reason why marriage is necessary to formalise their relationship.  There is an argument that this change in attitude around the meaning of marriage, resulting in fewer people actually getting married, has brought about an increase in broken homes.  However, broken homes were becoming more common before people stopped bothering to get married.  Instead of marriage becoming less common, divorce rates grew at an alarming pace.  Some governments have actually created and enforced legislation around marriage and divorce in an effort to encourage marriage and make divorce almost impossible in the attempt to alleviate the social burden of broken homes.  Those laws really didn’t change anything.  They didn’t answer any of the questions new generations were asking regarding the meaning of marriage, and they gave no reason why marriage should be part of the equation other than penalties imposed.  Laws don’t tend to have much of an impact on attitudes.  Where the laws are accused of not keeping up with the times lies in the problems that couples who aren’t formally married have.  Partners who aren’t formally married find that they have difficulty accessing medical insurance coverage for their significant other.  Pensions are denied to a surviving partner, regardless of how long-term the partnership was.  If partners become homeless, only the vulnerable mother and children are housed….the father of the children is on his own, and the family is separated.  The real impact of not getting married isn’t felt until some tragic event takes place which shows the disparity between formally married couples and those who have entered into a long-term, co-habitating relationship.  In spite of any attempt at forcing marriage through legislation, people are going to court in ever increasing numbers to demand the same rights for themselves and their long-term partners as married couples have, and the questions around what marriage even means play a significant role in those cases.  Their position is that they’re every bit as committed to their relationship as a formally married couple are.  The government’s position is that if that were so, they would go through the process of being legally married.  The partners argue that weddings are expensive.  The government argues that a simple trip to town hall gets it done.  It’s a piece of paper, they say, not a huge event.  Some people may argue that it’s down to divorce laws being too difficult, with the process of formal separation recognised by a court as taking too long.  However, people still move out of the marital home and take up residence with the next partner whilst awaiting the finalisation of the divorce process.  That partnership simply isn’t recognised legally as long as they’re married to someone else.  So, it’s as if both sides of the argument have dug their heels in, with each side actively ignoring the will of the other, and neither side is really addressing the elephant in the room:  What does marriage even mean?  Many people say in defence of not getting married that marriage actually changes the paradigm of a long-term relationship, destroying the arrangements and expectations that had worked so well for the couple prior to the formalisation of their relationship.  They use as the excuse for leaving a marriage the change in their partner’s attitudes toward them regarding their respective roles in the relationship as defined by marriage.  They are also known to bring to the court as their reason for divorce the fact that they’re no longer happy or fulfilled in the relationship.  Summing up, all any of this means is that homes will either stay stable or break up whether formal marriage takes place or not.  This gives evidential support to the conclusion that marriage legislation will not change attitudes, and that attitudes are what have changed.  It also gives weight to the questions surrounding the meaning and importance of marriage itself.

 

Some changes are good and necessary.  For instance, men are no longer seen as absolute ruler in the home.  Decades ago, I heard police officers telling a battered wife that her husband probably would be less inclined to hit her if she cooked better or tidied up more often.  I’ve actually heard people say to the wife that she wouldn’t have problems in her marriage if she would be more accommodating to her husband.  No one ever said any of those things to the husband.  I remember a particular episode of the old, black-and-white television series, “I Love Lucy”, in which the husband, Ricky, took the wife, Lucy, over his knee and gave her a spanking because she had “misbehaved”.  At that time, this was considered a man’s right and his duty in order to maintain order in the home.  Thankfully, the law has stepped in to a large degree to alleviate abuse, as this kind of behaviour is now recognised to be.  These days, even though the bulk of the work around the home and the care of family still falls too often to the woman, many young couples are recognising that this isn’t actually fair or tenable.  Both partners have to work outside of the home in order to make ends meet in most cases.  That being the case, for the woman to then come home from work and be responsible for all of the housework, the cooking, the shopping, and the care of the children whilst her husband lounges over the paper is not a fair or tenable situation.  Young men these days are finding that they’re expected to do more around the house, and that the children are just as much their responsibility as the mother’s.  Their own attitudes determine how well they’re able to adapt to the new expectations,which in turn has a dramatic impact on the sustainability of the long-term relationship.  These attitudes are more often shaped by parents and school activities than by peer groups in general, where the ideas of power and masculinity are still greatly intertwined, so progress has been slow.  The questions around whether the life-cycle paradigm have changed the attitudes around marriage or the attitudes around marriage have impacted the life-cycle paradigm are intriguingly similar to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.  In that sense, the two questions are linked together inseparably; and those two questions are also impacted by the answers to the question, “what does marriage mean?”.  I’ll go a little deeper into that in my next blog.

read more
adminWhat Does Marriage Mean, part 1
DSCF1286-1-e1496247009622.jpg

The Marriage Effect

I’ve always been intrigued by the way relationships morph from the joy of the wedding to the screams of anger and hatred of divorce.  What causes a couple who once couldn’t keep their hands off each other to realise one day that they can easily go for days ignoring each other?

 

There is an old proverb that states: Familiarity breeds contempt.  What this means is that people start taking each other for granted and then behave towards each other with a disrespect that can begin to border on contempt.  After a time, they can go so far as to actively hate each other.  It would seem from all that I’ve seen and heard that it all boils down to forgetting to do or say the little things that can make a big difference.  Forgetting to say please and thank you, forgetting to apologise for spats, forgetting to treat your partner with respect, can lead gradually to hating each other.  Conversely, remembering these simple things can keep a marriage going happily for decades.  The interesting thing is that for familiarity to breed contempt is actually more of a choice than a foregone conclusion.  There can be a certain amount of intimacy that comes from being close to someone.  One doesn’t treat one’s best friend with contempt, or they wouldn’t be one’s best friend for long.  We all seem to recognise this fact.  Perhaps you might point out that best friends don’t live together, and families do.  This is true, but families don’t begin despising each other until the core of the family, the couple in the centre, do.  Caring and loving attitudes radiate from that core, as do hatred and disrespect.  So, why do couples go sour when best friends can go happily on for decades, forging an ever stronger bond around shared experiences, stories about the kids, and gossip about the people we knew in school?  What causes couples, who used to describe themselves as best friends, to become mortal enemies?

 

I’ve often heard it said that sex ruins a perfectly good friendship.  I’ve actually known best friends who decided to get married, and then decided that they’d better get divorced so that they could remain best friends.  However, I can’t give much credence to the statement that sex ruined their friendship.  Or can I?  Best friends from school who remain best friends for life don’t have sex.  They have certain unspoken and untouched boundaries between them.  They rarely if ever see each other naked, they don’t share a bed, and they don’t live together day in and day out, year after year.  Even room-mates, who do live together day in and day out, have certain boundaries.  They rarely if ever see each other naked and they don’t share the same bed.  They may occasionally break wind, but they don’t do so without asking pardon for the infraction.  I think that’s where the crux of the matter lies.  Married couples, or those who consider themselves to be in a permanent partnership, sleep together, share the bathroom in the morning, and more importantly, consider themselves to be more than room-mates.  However, if each of them went home to visit the parents they grew up with, they wouldn’t proceed to come out to the kitchen to pour a cup of morning brew in their underpants, farting and belching for England.  Without it needing to be spoken, they would realise that this wouldn’t be courteous or respectful.  Most of us were taught manners as children, and we were taught that manners were important in the home as well as out in the world.  These family members aren’t seeing each other naked, and sex with them is forbidden.  We don’t do it in normal society.  It would almost seem, then, that there is a connection between the familiarity that exists between an intimate couple and the possibility of losing their respect and fondness for each other.  There’s something different about the long-term sexual relationship and how it affects our view of each other.

 

What is it about living with someone as a couple that is different from living with our families?  What is it that causes us to remember from our upbringing that we don’t fart in front of mum, but to forget such courtesy and respect when it comes to our wife? There might be a clue in the idea that the individuals seem in the collective mind of community and society to cease to exist and they become part of a couple, a whole.  Two in one, or one split in half.  Perhaps that idea can subconsciously translate into the idea that you’re not really in the presence of a family member….that’s just your wife.  Without realising it, perhaps we begin to feel on some basic level that we and our partner are one and the same.  We might then translate that into the concept of being two parts of one person living in the same house, which means that we don’t have to have manners.  If you were the only person in the room, you wouldn’t be likely to apologise to the empty room for some discourtesy.  It would seem to make some sense to move from there to the idea that perhaps as we consider our partner to be part of us (part-ner), then we don’t have to be courteous.  Once the boundaries of courtesy and respectful behaviour and speech are done away with, we’re off.  We feel without actually thinking about it that we can say whatever we like because it’s like talking to ourselves.  Mind you, I think most of us wouldn’t talk to ourselves the way we’ve all heard some long-term couples talk to each other.  So, we must dig a little deeper.

 

Becoming part of a long-term couple, sharing a bed and each other’s bodies, causes the couple to feel like a unit.  This is natural.  The people around them see them as a unit, as well.  They’re no longer considered to be single individuals.  They even refer to their mate as their other half or their better half.  However, in reality, they are still two individuals.  They are unique, and they each bring a certain amount of baggage into the mix.  They also have little ways and habits that don’t really show up until they live together.  If in their subconscious minds, they’re thinking of themselves as one unit, with each one being the “other half” of the other, it stands to reason that they would feel, on a very subconscious level, that the other half should be the same as they are.  Hence, the little ways and habits that are different become annoying.  Over the years, couples that have come to me have confirmed that the reason that first year is the hardest is because they’re two individuals learning to live together as one unit.  Room-mates accept that they’re going to be different, and even though they might occasionally have a row over something, they don’t usually have a problem accepting that they’re two different people.  As Prince once said, marriage changes expectations.  He was spot on. Somehow, after a couple become a genuine, committed couple, they stop being two people and become one, which means that they’re both supposed to do everything in exactly the same way, and there shouldn’t be any courtesy or formality because we’re a unit, two parts of the whole.  It’s a feeling, not a thought.  It’s not recognised as a

read more
adminThe Marriage Effect
11069746_1571623653117877_1127146453_o.jpg

PTSD: What not to say and why

Things not to say:
1. It’s ok now, move on.
2. I know someone else who went through the same thing, and they didn’t act this way.
3. Aren’t you just over-reacting?
4. Why don’t you just stop thinking about it?

Let’s address these one at a time. The first one is, it’s ok now. Move on. The reason that we shouldn’t say that is because it isn’t ok now, and the person would clearly move on if they could. When someone has suffered an event which brings on PTSD, it isn’t ok and they can’t move on. They are physically stuck at the point in time when the event took place. They are usually completely oblivious to the amount of time going by since the event, and are unable to ignore the impact that the event is having on their lives. If someone was in a serious accident and had to have their lower arm amputated, no one would even think of telling them that it’s ok now, move on. People would clearly understand that damage has been done and healing needs to take place. They would recognise that counselling therapy as well as physiotherapy would be needed before the person could even begin to “move on”.

With PTSD, the injury isn’t that visible, so people can be fairly callous to the impact that it actually has on the sufferer. It has in recent studies been recognised as a physical brain injury due to the way it changes the brain’s processing of events in life. The brain is unable to process the information of the event, and gets “stuck”. Imagine telling your brain not to recognise the colour blue. I think it safe to say that we all realise that not wanting to see the colour blue any more will not change the fact that the colour exists, and we will see it. We might try to avoid seeing the colour blue by refusing to look up at the sky, but that won’t change the peripheral view of the sky that we will see regardless of our desire not to. Everywhere we look, the colour blue will be noticeable, and any efforts to stop seeing the colour blue will only make that colour that much more noticeable. You can not force your eyes to stop registering the colour blue. In a similar way, the person suffering PTSD can not force their brains to stop remunerating about the event, having nightmares about the event, or having flashbacks when triggered by something that reminds their brain of the event. The brain is in complete control. They are not.

The second one is, “ I know someone else who went through the same thing, and they didn’t act this way”. Just as every person is unique, every experience for every person is unique. It’s also true that we don’t really know what a person is feeling or experiencing if they don’t choose to tell us, and some people might choose to keep it hidden as much as they can so that they can avoid having to talk about it. Some people are numb to an experience until a similar experience happens. In any case, we should never judge anyone for the way they react to any traumatic experience. One thing to remember is that we never truly know how we ourselves would react to the same experience until it happens to us.

The third one is, “aren’t you just over-reacting?”. This question not only diminishes the experience of the person they are asking it of, it also judges. The implication is that the person has chosen this course of behaviour; perhaps as a way to get attention, but certainly for not any legitimate reason. No one who has suffered from PTSD would choose to live like that. Unless you’ve experienced PTSD, you really can not imagine how painful, terrifying, and embarrassing it actually is to live with. It’s an enemy that takes you over, and it can make life so difficult that death can be preferable. This is why so many soldiers commit suicide. There truly are some things worse than death. There are some traumatic events that we can all agree are traumatic, such as a terrorist attack. However, any event that causes a significant impression of being in fear of one’s life will have the same result.

It’s true that you might not consider that the car crash you only just survived was a traumatic event, but it’s just as true that someone else would. I’ve treated people who survived a crash that they shouldn’t have, and the crash itself wasn’t the problem. They could remember every detail of it years later, but it had no impact on them. I knew another person who just had a prang and was so affected that they couldn’t drive again, even years later. They were able to ride in a car reasonably well, but could not drive. Every person, every event, is unique, and no one would choose to have PTSD as an over-reaction. Each person’s experience deserves respect and dignity, not judgement.

Finally, “why don’t you just stop thinking about it?”. This question is based on a lack of information about what PTSD actually is and does. When we ask questions to diagnose the condition, the question addresses intrusive thoughts, or thoughts that are unwanted but persistent. Have you ever had a song in your head that you just could not get rid of, and it drove you potty until it decided to go away? Well, PTSD is similar, but much worse. Just as you couldn’t make that song get out of your head, the person suffering from PTSD can’t just stop thinking about the event. The thoughts are there, unwanted and determined. The person suffering from PTSD can not control their dreams, either, so will wake up with a start thinking they heard the brakes screeching and glass shattering. People can wake up in a cold sweat, or screaming….at no time is “just stop thinking about it” an option.

What not to say is easy enough. What is the right thing to say might be another matter, and many times, people really have no idea what to say or do to help the sufferer. In reality, the reason why soldiers just hold on to each other sometimes is because sometimes, that’s all you can do. Just hold on to each other. I read about one soldier who went into meltdown in public, and his wife went down to the ground with him, just holding onto him tightly the same way another soldier on the field would’ve done. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. Just be there. Get as much information about the condition as you can. Get the advice of a professional, if you want to. One thing to remember is this: If you think you might say the wrong thing, saying nothing at all is a perfectly acceptable option, as long as you just make sure that the person knows you’re there and want to understand.

read more
adminPTSD: What not to say and why
11093759_1571626623117580_896630914_o.jpgedit.jpg

PTSD: Mental health disorder or mental illness?

PTSD is classified as a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders are changes in an individual’s thinking and feeling that have significant impact on the ability to function in everyday life.

These changes can be the result of an external circumstance, such as trauma in the case of PTSD. Mental illness, on the other hand, has a biological basis, such as with schizophrenia. People tend to use the two terms interchangeably, which leads to stigma and confusion.

When people who have been the victims of domestic violence are diagnosed with anxieties, depression or PTSD as a mental health disorder, it can be very difficult for them to accept. When it’s referred to as mental illness, it’s easy to understand why they would be inclined to reject that completely. In the past, I’ve advised well-meaning people working with the NHS to put up information whilst leaving any reference to mental health off of the flyers, posters, etc. that they create in order to reach out to victims. I’ve had many victims protest to me that they are being told that they have mental health problems, and they insist that they don’t because “this was done to me”. The interchangeable use of the terms mental health disorder and mental illness have led to the popular understanding that if it’s damage caused by someone else’s actions, then it can’t be a mental health problem. Until the correct understanding is more universally known, there’s no point in trying to use the term mental health in your outreach programmes. It will continue to get rejected.

So, how do we approach the problem? I would suggest that it would be beneficial to approach it from the victim’s point of view. We can approach it from the perspective of their symptoms being an injury that has been inflicted on them by the behaviour that they’ve been subjected to over the long term. This is easier to accomplish with PTSD. Complex PTSD is recently being argued to be in actual fact a physical injury to the brain. In the cases of very significant PTSD or complex PTSD, there are sometimes “scars”, or residual symptoms that aren’t ever completely cured. With proper treatment by a well-qualified psychologist specialising in PTSD, the remaining symptoms will be very mild and quite easily managed. These occurrences would happen very infrequently, with most symptoms completely cured. This can be compared to a significant scar from major surgery, which even decades later will still sometimes be sensitive if touched. It will occasionally remind you that you once had surgery, but the memory won’t be traumatic anymore. Most people who suffer from PTSD will be completely cured, so the prognosis is usually quite good.

AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) are doing some amazing work in this area, training mental health professionals to be able to recognise and understand what’s happening for the victims. However, victims of very severe domestic violence don’t have places where they can go for support. I’ve found that support groups not affiliated with AVA but which claim to support victims of domestic violence will “silence” the victim whose stories are harrowing, telling him/her not to talk about the experiences because they would be too upsetting for the others in the group. Not being allowed to talk about it not only violates the reason they go to the group, but it also reverberates with echoes of the abuser telling them to be silent because no one would listen anyway, or that people would think they were mad. My domestic violence experiences were extreme, so I was told not to talk about my experiences because it would be too upsetting to the other women. Understandably, I decided to stop going. It didn’t seem to me that the domestic violence workers were able to really support the full range of experiences. I was told repeatedly by different professionals that my complex PTSD was the same as that suffered by soldiers who had been in front-line combat for years, so I asked about going to a soldiers’ support group. I was told by these same professionals that this wouldn’t be appropriate, either, because I hadn’t actually been in a war. That was actually a rather narrow view. The soldiers to whom I’ve spoken are actually very supportive and open to the suffering, regardless of where it came from. I was more welcomed by them to open up than by any area of the domestic violence programming. This leaves a gap that surely must be addressed at some point. Like soldiers, I had to fight for a few years to finally get the specialised help that I needed, and I still to this day know of no group where victims who had similar experiences to mine can go. For someone who is suffering from a mental health disorder to have nowhere to go and no one to turn to is surely not acceptable.

A person who has been subjected to severe experiences of domestic violence has no one to turn to. She doesn’t talk to anyone because she doesn’t believe that they would understand. Many of them wouldn’t. I had people ask me why I didn’t just stop having nightmares. I had a psychiatrist who was untrained in these things ask me, “but it’s over now….why don’t you just get over it?”. This really shows why the work that AVA do in training these professionals is so very vital. Mental health disorders, such as PTSD, have a significant impact on the daily lives of those who suffer from them, which is why they are classified as such. People who suffer from PTSD are unable to concentrate, sleep, read a book or finish a film. They are plagued with flashbacks, and triggers can cause them to melt down. People don’t understand what they’re going through, so when they have to call in sick from work, it can cause problems.

I’m qualified to work with PTSD, depression, and anxieties. I offer help to soldiers who need someone to talk to whilst awaiting any other treatment options that are on offer for them, and I offer help to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I can also work with people who have unresolved childhood traumas, or unexplained anger issues.

read more
adminPTSD: Mental health disorder or mental illness?
DSCF0709-1.jpg

PTSD: Not just for soldiers, part two

In the late 1950s, the American government became curious about the affects of imprisonment and torture on POWs during WWII.

German war camps had exposed the prisoners of war to ruthless and relentless torture and labour, but the men were not broken. They kept fighting back, kept strong. However, those who were captured by the Chinese during the war were left so brainwashed that they could be left unguarded and would still feel that they couldn’t escape. What caused this difference in the behaviours of the prisoners? Biderman investigated and found that whereas the Germans had resorted to simple, brute force in every aspect of their war crimes, be it the concentration camps or the prisoner of war camps, the Chinese had utilised a more focused methodology of torture that wore the prisoners down and made them controllable. Biderman’s research produced what is known today as the Biderman Chart of Coercion.

In German camps, the prisoners were still able to stay together as a group and offer each other support. They strengthened one another, kept one another’s hope burning, and were able to withstand unbelievable torture, hard labour, and malnutrition. They were allowed to sleep, even during brutal marches, because their captors needed sleep. Their captors also didn’t understand something that the Chinese did. Group support and even small amounts of sleep kept the prisoners strong. United we stand, divided they fall. Even in the concentration camps, groups of Jews or groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any other communities being imprisoned would stick together and encourage each other to stay alive and hope for rescue. The Chinese had a different way of dealing with prisoners. Biderman’s research showed that the Chinese had used different tactics to break the prisoners, and the first one was isolation.

Extended periods of isolation weakens a person’s ability to resist, and makes the victim dependent on the interrogator. Sleep deprivation was also used, as well as threats of death, threats of never being allowed to go free, threats that that the interrogation would never end, vague threats that would keep the prisoner guessing, and threats against the prisoner’s family. The interrogators would occasionally give the prisoner some small indulgence which would provide positive motivation for compliance and interrupt the adjustment to deprivation. The interrogators would suggest that they were omnipotent and that resistance was futile. They would use degradation to make resistance appear more damaging than giving in, and they would enforce trivial rules. The prisoners were most often eventually broken by this mental and emotional torture, while the prisoners of the German war camps could not be broken even with the most brutal beatings.

Modern researchers who were studying domestic violence and how it was affecting victims came to realise that these were the methods that perpetrators were very successfully using against their victims. The prison was their home instead of a war camp, but the methods were every bit as cruel….and at least as successful. Just as the soldiers had come back from the war broken, the victims of these coercive behaviours were also broken, and it isn’t hard to understand why. An abuser will use a number of related tactics to keep her focused on him and his demands so that he can have complete control. He can give her detailed instructions for doing impossible tasks while he’s away, telling her that he has a secret way of finding out if she followed the instructions or not, and that she’ll be punished if she doesn’t.

Sometimes, he’ll deliberately set her up to fail so that he has an excuse to punish her. He’ll keep her guessing as to what the punishment will be, but she knows that it will be horrible. He keeps her in a state of terror. If she is allowed to go out, he’ll do little things to make her know that he can be watching her, and she wouldn’t know it. Anything from a random text message to a bunch of flowers sent to the place where she’s supposed to be can show her that she’s under his watch. At night, he can pick an argument to keep her from sleeping, or sometimes wake her up to accuse her and argue with her over some imagined transgression. Eventually, she won’t be able to relax and sleep because she’ll be worried about what he might do next. He will occasionally buy her something nice in order to keep her obligated to him, and then tell her she’s ungrateful and horrid.

He might destroy the gift because he says that she didn’t deserve it after all. He might destroy things that she’s attached to and leave them for her to find later. There is always an unspoken threat in the air. She can come to feel that no matter where she goes, he can see what she’s doing, and she could be punished. He can pop up sometimes during the day just to show her that he knew where she would be and that he’s watching her. She then reaches the point where she’s looking over her shoulder all the time, waiting for him to show up. He gradually takes control of the finances and won’t let her have any access to money, no passport, nothing essential unless she has “earned” it or “deserves” it. He’s the one who decides if she has. He eventually has so much control over her that she has no other life and no other thought. She can’t risk falling asleep because he might do something to her while she’s asleep. She has to keep watching him to know what she might be up against from moment to moment. He could even reach up suddenly and slap her while they’re quietly watching telly, just to keep her on her guard. She can never relax. He isolates her from her family and friends, not letting her visit them or talk to them anymore unless he’s listening in.

He reads her emails, monitors her phone. He can even make threats against her family. The most common threat is that he will kill the children if she tries to get away. He will make her feel that anything the children suffer will be her fault, and that if she “makes him” kill the children by leaving him, it will be all her fault and no one will love her anymore. He will convince her that no one will ever have her again, and that he’s doing her a favour just by being with her. She will eventually have the same symptoms of PTSD as soldiers do who have been in frontline combat. She will be hyper-vigilant, will have nightmares, will be highly anxious, and will have

read more
adminPTSD: Not just for soldiers, part two
010312debs-027colouredit.jpg

PTSD: not just for soldiers any more

It took decades for PTSD to be recognised in soldiers, so it really isn’t surprising that it took a few decades for it to be realised that soldiers aren’t the only ones who can suffer from it.

There are many different traumatic situations that can result in PTSD. After soldiers had finally been recognised as suffering from PTSD, it gradually began to be realised that women who had been in severely abusive relationships were suffering the same set of symptoms that soldiers were.

Victims of extreme domestic violence develop the same hyper-vigilance that soldiers on the combat field do, and will have nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, triggers, dread that something awful is going to happen. They will actively avoid any place or activities that remind them of the abuse or that the abuser had forbidden while they were with him. They will be unable to stop their minds from spinning around in

read more
adminPTSD: not just for soldiers any more
11127157_1571623623117880_729430507_o-1.jpgedit.jpg

Causes of Depression in Men

Once upon a time, the world was a simple place in which everyone’s role in life was spelled out.

Gender roles were very specific, and there wasn’t any question about what men were expected to do or be like. A man could feel secure in his role because of that. On a global scale, men were and still are expected to be strong, silent, successful and stable. However, these days, there are many questions. Nothing is spelled out, and nothing is concrete. A man can have difficulty figuring it all out and finding his place in the world. As a result, men are often left trying to grapple with the mixed messages that the world sends them, and can feel lost and adrift. They can be left feeling very insecure about themselves, and about what it means to be a man. Everything about them as men is tied into things that no longer have real relevance in this ever-changing world. The ambiguity of their situation can be a root cause of depression in men.

Big boys don’t cry. Man up. Suck it up, buttercup. From an early age, boys are taught that they aren’t allowed to express feelings like girls do. They’re not allowed to be vulnerable, to have emotions, or to be seen as weak. In spite of all of the changes in our world regarding equality between the sexes, there really hasn’t been any concrete change in these areas of a boy’s life growing up, or in a man’s life. Even in modern sitcoms, a man who shows his feelings and allows himself to be vulnerable is called a “girl”, as if he has somehow compromised his masculinity by expressing these things. Women have made great strides in changing the way the world views them, and that’s as it should be. The problem is that somewhere along the way, men got left behind. Their place in the world no longer being clear-cut leaves them somewhat out on a limb, hanging rather precariously over a lake of muddy water.

What causes depression in men is much more easily understood by taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. Many men still tie their sense of self-worth to their job, their ability to be successful at work. This can be very difficult, especially given the instability of the current employment market. Jobs are hard to get and harder to keep. Toxic work environments, low pay and excessive workloads can bring stress levels to the breaking point, and they aren’t allowed to talk about that. They’re expected to suck it up and get on with it. Being a man in these circumstances can be a very lonely and trying experience. When you can’t win no matter what you do, it can be very tempting to just give up.

Many men don’t actually realise that they’re depressed because men experience depression differently from women. Men will suffer more from irritability, sudden anger, loss of control, greater risk-taking behaviours, and aggression. Their behaviour will often be mistaken for anger issues. The pressures that they face are made worse by the feeling that they’re unable to talk to anyone without appearing weak. Far too often, the end result is suicide. For men, depression often is fatal. It’s a huge step for a man to actually admit that he needs to talk to someone. The person that he chooses to talk to will need to be someone who gets what it means to be a man, what depression is for men, and how to help men to regain their sense of self-worth. This is where men’s groups and counselling for men can be a vital resource for them. It might not be very often that a man would find a female therapist that he could talk to, and many men feel that talking to a woman would inhibit their ability to talk openly. They can also feel that a woman just wouldn’t understand what causes depression for men or how men experience depression, and for the most part, they could be right. The main thing, though, is to find someone to talk to that you’re comfortable with, talk, get help, and take action to get out of the grip of depression.

read more
adminCauses of Depression in Men