Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awareness. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Moving Toward a Respectful New Year (Part Two)

Continuing the list of respectful and healthy relationship behavior, this article highlights specific attitudes, behavior, and approaches to a relationship that can work on improving an intimate partner relationship. As in the previous article, a copy of the full list is at the end.

11. Give the Benefit Of the Doubt: Occasionally, an intimate partner does something that might initially seem designed to hurt you, or at the very least be a decision that violates an agreement or personal request. While it is possible this could be true, contempt is built up by having negative assumptions about other's motives and behavior. To maintain respect and health, it can be important to have an initial impulse to consider that your partner's behavior may not be about you, or may not be what it seems. You are in this way providing a sense of doubt about an attack on you, and allowing space for that person to provide their perspective, motive, or information before deciding how to respond. If your partner truly intended to hurt you, then you can respond by setting limits or potentially recognizing that this behavior is unacceptable and ending the relationship. In essence, a partnership is about defending the other person by being supportive and not assuming the worst until it is clear the worst is the reality. When choosing battering behavior, motives often dwell in the realm of negative assumptions and attacks, as well as a pattern of building contempt. To work toward repair, someone who has been abusive needs to begin choosing to walk back contempt and instead find ways to defend their partner, if the relationship has not been too broken to continue. In a healthy and respectful relationship, benefit of the doubt is often a default based on value for an intimate partner and a desire to defend them and support their decisions, even if they are different from ones you might have chosen.

12. Discuss Your Values and Meaning in Life: We all have long held and developed beliefs about both the rules we have in how to live life, but also what we value and care about. While it can be challenging to identify, we also have a certain understanding of what makes life meaningful which can include goals to accomplish, patterns of behavior to maintain, and connections that are most important. These are important conversations to have with a partner, and helps to develop emotional intimacy - a knowledge of another person that develops closeness. It can also help in building commitment, as we tend to grow closer to people who have similar values and goals in life. It can be a trap to only identify things we do not like, what we dislike about other's behavior. Values are about what you want - and how you want things to progress. Within a relationship, what shared goals to you have together, and do you have the same plans on how to achieve them? There can be trepidation about sharing such deep information, as it creates vulnerability - and often when someone avoids being vulnerable they also avoid becoming closer to others, which can make it easier to hurt and choose destructive behavior. It is much more difficult to hurt people who have similar values and goals, and having such overlaps in life also create unity and a sense of togetherness that foster health and mutual respect.

13. Be Okay With Not Having Complete Agreement: Building intimacy, particularly emotional intimacy, often means sharing your opinions, thoughts, and emotions - and in turn listening and caring about your partner's. As two separate people, there are going to be differences, and sometimes it's less about a difference and more about a different flavor or shape of the same thing. There are definitely differences that a deal breakers (see non-negotiables with #6 on the previous list), but there are also differences that enrich a relationship by creating strategies and approaches to situations that vary, and offer variable solutions. Knowing the differences between you is important, so you can listen and respect those boundaries (#2, on previous list), but also so you do not find incompatibilities with every potential partner. Some people get stuck in wanting a "perfect mate" and miss out on the reality that no such thing exists. When I do relationship histories as an activity with individuals in my classes, I find that the things that are listed as initial attractions to a partner can also in the end become specific reasons for disliking or finding problems with the other person. I think in part this happens because people learn more authentically about each other as they grow together, and initial traits end up either being a smaller part of themselves than portrayed, but sometimes people anchor these experiences and think they will never change and miss honoring differences and evolution within and outside of a relationship. You have to be able to appreciate differences, and be okay with disagreements that may never have a specific or satisfying resolution, but can help you understand your partner and acknowledge how such differences contribute to, instead of taking away from your relationship.

14. Make Time to Be With Your Partner: Life happens, at times in ways that create overwhelming schedules and difficult to manage recreational time. While it is important to have "alone time" (see #16 to follow), regardless of schedules it is important to make your time with your partner a priority in some fashion. For people in long distance relationships, this may mean phone calls or video chats, even online gaming. For those living together it may mean planning a "date night" or scheduling specific relationship time. Some may call on breaks or lunches at work, others may bond over social media. At the start of the relationship, there is usually a certain degree of physical passion that drives individuals to strive for time to be together. Over time, that needs to remain even if the specific methods need to change. If you work to find excuses to avoid your partner, that begins a slippery slope to not wanting to be together at all - so knowing what you wish to foster and build becomes important to the health of your relationship.

15. Learn and Talk About Your Partner's Hobbies: Everyone has things they really enjoy doing. It's not uncommon for intimate partners to develop a relationship around shared likes, including activities and hobbies. However, there will always be things your partner enjoys that you do not. What do you know about your partner's hobbies, how do you support them in that hobby, and how do you become involved with that hobby when your partner wants you to? I've heard several men in my groups complain about their partners, and things they enjoy that they mock openly. Often there is a nature of the mocking that involves a focus on financial expenditures - but very little appreciation for their partner's enjoyment or understanding why their partner may enjoy a certain activity. Learning about your partner's hobby also allows you to learn more about your partner. Showing interest in something you are not particularly interested in demonstrates caring and appreciation, and such attitudes and behavior foster health and respect. Being open to influence and learning to share time and space over activities you do not choose personally can be a window into negotiating and compromising over more challenging topics.

16. Encourage Space: While appreciating differences and learning about aspects of your partner's hobbies that are different from your own, it's also important to have a part of your life separate from your partner. Doing everything together, and always being in each other's business can become stifling. Making time for yourself is an important part of healthy self-care (#5 on previous part of list), and gives you something to later share about your life with your partner. Encouraging your partner to spend time with friends separately from you also fosters a sense of trust and care that are important to maintain.

17. Be Aware of Your Irritating and Alienating Behavior: As human beings, we are all irritating in our own ways. Often these irritating behavior are unconscious patterns and habits we have developed over time and have little or nothing to do with our partner. Easy ones to consider are biting nails, yawning loudly, physical tics, but there are several others that might be linked to attitudes or responses to certain situations. Often these things don't irritate us, personally, so we don't even think about them - but our partner might notice and dislike them fully. There's no way to completely eliminate all irritating behavior, particularly because in relationships over time each partner learns to accept such irritations either by considering them as part of who you are, or giving up when trying to stop those behavior. Sometimes in relationships, attempts to stop irritating behavior are like a grain of sand in a oyster, slowly building over time - but the result isn't a pearl but rather dissatisfaction, anger, and even in some cases the end of a relationship. It is important to know how you irritate your partner - what are small things that you recognize in yourself that you can work to minimize or stop, or at the very least choose to not do them around your partner? Related to this are various alienating behavior, and sometimes they are one in the same. We all do things that subtly (and sometimes obviously) push others away. A very common alienating behavior is avoidance, and avoiding conversations, situations, or others quickly builds into controlling or other hurtful behavior. In my classes, when I more broadly address hurtful behavior beyond violence, I talk about the "pyramid of harm" (an alternative to the Power and Control Wheels, this is an aspect of the Emerge Curriculum). When doing so I speak about the category of sexually harmful behavior in a relationship and how it builds. One of the irritating and alienating sexual behaviors I discuss is choosing not to talk about sex, or avoiding such discussions altogether. When you take something like the sexual aspect of your relationship, and do not talk about what is working and what is not, ways of improving it, what your desires are, what you do not like, then over time it creates a minefield in your relationship that must be navigated carefully - or ignored altogether and just build into other sexually hurtful behavior toward yourself and your partner. People who avoid conflict can do the same to emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of their relationship, and taking personal responsibility for your irritating and alienating behavior can help to keep things like this from building up over time.

18. Own Up To Your Mistakes and Harmful Behavior: We all do hurtful and harmful things toward others. Humanizing this is an important dynamic to include during battering intervention classes, because if you instead shame, punish, and dehumanize there is almost no benefit in admitting to harm other than getting a facilitator to leave you alone. I believe it is an important aspect of battering intervention classes to, as a facilitator, openly admit to my mistakes and harm I might inadvertently choose during the classes themselves. For example, once in my class I had a participant who left the group to go to the bathroom. I have had various policies about bathroom use in my classes, and it often has to do with access - if the building has a setup where there is a bathroom right by the room we conduct class, I have no problem with participants using it if they go in and do their thing and come right back. I mention that I don't want them to spend 20 minutes in there doing their morning or evening "constitutional," but I haven't found that to be an issue. So, this man was gone for over twenty minutes - it was long enough to both be noticeable, but also I became concerned he had just left the class entirely. When he came back, I interrupted the topic I was on in the class and took time to directly address him and the group about the bathroom policy and asked him not to spend that long in the bathroom. He balked, taking insult at me calling him out, and I caught my mistake at about the same time. In the moment, I said it was not a huge deal I just needed to make sure everyone understood the policy - which did not decrease his anger, but he did stop talking. After class, I took a moment to ask to speak to him when everyone had left. I told him I recognized that calling him out like that was shaming, was inappropriate, and was not okay for me to do. I told him it would have been better to speak to him after the class, and that in the future I would make sure I did that. Just saying those things led to him changing his demeanor entirely. I asked him if he would mind if I apologized to the entire group the following week, and when he said that was okay - I did so. I think the ability to own up to mistakes allows others to see your humanity, it models behavior you want to see, and in a relationship it is important as a first step to working toward repairs. If you do not identify the problem, how can you possibly work to solve it? I think there are methods in battering intervention classes to have participants authentically describe and discuss their hurtful behavior - but a big part of that has to do with how I elicit that information. Developing emotional and mental intimacy with a partner makes it easier and more real to do such admissions, and acknowledging harms and being able to describe why they were not okay start to create goals on how to change behavior as well.

19. Know What Kind of Support Your Partner Appreciates and Do It as Often as Possible: There are methods of counseling and therapy, particularly those focused on marriage and family, that identify the concept of a "love language." In essence, this idea postulates that we all have specific kinds of ways we express our love of others, and often it is also how we personally want to feel loved. Part of the challenge is that in an intimate partner relationship, there are bound to be differences in how each person feels and expresses love, and by extension, support. If I am a person who feels happy with loving touch (pats on the back, holding hands, running my fingers through my partner's hair), then chances are that I do those things to my partner in my attempt to show appreciation, support, and love. However, perhaps my partner is in a different place in her preference for expressing and feeling loved - maybe she does so through service, such as by making a delicious meal, buying me a present, staying up late to spend time with me if I work late. In such a situation, I might appreciate her gestures, but I might not think of those as being things I should reciprocate if I am focused on physical loving touch to demonstrate love. She, in turn, may feel I do not love or appreciate her if I do not do service behavior for her. This can lead to all kinds of negative and hurtful self-talk, and a growing list of assumptions and hurt feelings. In a relationship it is important to put yourself outside of your own experience and focus on your partner's experience. Many of these categories of health and respect talk about different ways of doing this. In this example, that means you have to know more about how you feel loved - it doesn't mean you stop doing things with your partner that are things you personally like - it means you know you are doing those things as an extension of what you like. In turn you have to listen and be aware of the differences in how your partner feels loved, and then directly do them. Often. This is something you can continue to learn and develop as your relationship evolves.

20. Understand the Difference Between Negotiation and Compromise; Use When Your Plans and Ideas are Different: I ask participants in my class to describe the difference between negotiation and compromise and they often give the same definition. Conflict tactics are important to both be able to practice, but also be able to understand, and in many ways negotiating and compromising are the bread and butter of healthy conflict management. Both need to be used at different times, though, so knowing the difference is good for knowing when one is better than the other. Negotiation is about trading - I think of it like a pendulum that swings my way, then my partner's way. There are situations that come up where there is no way to come to a middle ground, and in such cases you can either agree to disagree, which is unsatisfying and often untenable if a decision has to be made, or you can railroad your partner into your solution or passively give in to your partner and build up resentment as a result. Neither is a good choice, so negotiation is the practice of being open to influence. You directly and authentically choose your partner's decision, with an understanding that in that category of conflict next time you both will try your decision instead. Where this can become messy is if someone negotiates incomparable categories - after all saying you will do a specific chore more often if your partner gives you more sex both starts to consider sex as a chore to be completed, but also means if you do such a trade then the person doing the chore might feel entitled to doing a different chore less often. So negotiation needs to be in the same topic, and needs to be discussed more thoroughly. Parenting decisions are often a category for negotiation if you have different parental instincts or idea on how to deal with your children's mistakes. Compromise, however, is about either coming to a middle ground (where you both do not get 100% of what you want, but you get some), or choosing a third viable option that neither of you had considered during that conflict.

Next article will finish up the remaining ten on the pamphlet and will include one additional so anyone wanting to practice these for the 31 days of January will have their days filled with practicing a different kind of respectful and healthy behavior each day!


Monday, January 9, 2017

Stalking Behavior: Building Hurtful Patterns

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and a time for highlighting a pattern of behavior that often gets portrayed in extremes with little detail on where it might originate, and how it builds over time. In general, when asking people to think about stalking, these extreme examples portrayed by entertainment media and focused on by news sources are the commonly discussed and explored aspects.

Sadly, such a focus leaves little room or opportunity for intervention - it leaves us picking up the pieces and wondering what went wrong rather than actively seeking methods of noticing and stopping patterns of behavior as they build and develop. In this article, I'm going to be breaking down some different categories of hurtful behavior and addressing ways irritating and alienating behavior in relationships might build to stalking behavior. So I hope you take some time this month to use this to reflect on opportunities for intervention, both to honor the purpose of the awareness month, but also for your own ability to adequately and appropriately respond to danger signs.

Emotional Harms:
Broadly defined, emotional harms entail patterns of behavior which create distress in others. This is a huge category of ways abusers might commit acts we commonly define as domestic violence, and as such, it is useful to be as specific as possible when considering emotional harms. I find in my BIP/DVIP groups, a part of the classes involve creating clarity for terms and concepts that are often poorly understood or identified. Emotions are some of the most common terms and concepts that people may feel instinctively, but can be unable to adequately express or discuss due to lack of concrete definitions.

A big part of this confusion is due to the fact that as children, some of the first words we learn are emotions. Parents identify behavior patterns and name them as emotions, such as "Johnny, you're angry right now" or "aren't you happy your friend is visiting?" So we associate those sensations with words, rather than being able to break down why we feel them, or what to do about them.

Stalking is a heavily emotional-based pattern of behavior. Abusers stalk their victims/partners/survivors due to justifications of jealousy, anger, desire for revenge, suspicion, or even projecting their own lack of fidelity onto others.

I enjoy doing an exercise of attempting to define emotions using two criteria - do not use another emotional word within the definition, and do not use an example of the emotion itself. When people go to define emotions, that is the default method of describing what something feels like rather than identifying what it actually is.

An example of this in action is considering the emotion of jealousy. When I define it, I talk about jealousy being an emotion that gives you signals that someone is doing something you would like to be a part of, and gives you energy to do something about it. When defined like this, it is simple to understand that jealousy is not a "negative" emotion, but the actions that come out of it might be.

Abusers who choose to stalk their partners find various things they want to know about or be involved with in that person's life. Over time, this desire grows and an abuser may want to know all details and be present at all times. Emotionally, abusers can create distress in their partners/victims by increasingly pushing boundaries and denying personal space. It starts small, however, and often for many it can seem endearing.

After all, "he wants to spend all his time with her! Isn't that sweet? I wish MY partner wanted to spend more time with me! Honey, you should just appreciate him for the attention he gives to you because it won't last forever!" This is an example of how we readily place our sense of safety onto someone who may not have safety in their life or relationship. It is also an example of how common these warning signs present themselves to family, friends, coworkers, and others - and how often they are ignored or pushed away because considering the danger, or the unhealthy display of control is frightening to others who want to believe the patterns fit into healthy pro-social patterns.

While it is not practical to associate all desires to be together in a relationship as a warning sign for stalking, considering an overall pattern, and listening/noticing discomfort or distress in the person who is the object of these "affections" is critical to prevention and providing support and opportunities for reflection - both for victims/survivors, but also for perpetrators who may be clueless for how their patterns violate boundaries and are problematic due to their justifications and thinking they are just attempting to be loving.

Spiritual Harms:
It behooves BIP/DVIP to discuss spirituality and culture directly during groups. That is, what provides value and meaning to each participant's life, how do they understand their cultural background and conflicts in culture between them and their partners, and how any religious beliefs fit into both areas in their relationship with themselves and others.

Stalking behavior is in part based in a foundation where the stalker values a sense of omnipresence and omnipotence - seeing/hearing all, and knowing all. This can overlap in values and beliefs on several levels. Men who believe in patriarchy and control of women by men can easily have a value in questioning and finding information and desperately seeking discrepancies to justify those behavior. And part of the charm behind initial buildup of stalking is that victims/survivors often feel a sense of protection and care by the behavior (abusers may think they do it in their partner's "best interests"). The abuser might try to limit contact with friends and family, but says the only reason given is due to the expense of the visits, or that they should spend more time together, or that certain family are mean or abusive or have bad history. All of these justifications sound, on surface level, like caring gestures - but under that surface is the potential to build patterns of isolation, monitoring, and stalking.

This pattern may build up through the use of technology and social media, scouring of mail and records, seemingly innocent questions to friends and family. Asking a partner to use Foursquare/Swarm/Facebook to check-in wherever they go might be a simple way of playing a game together, or might be a way of knowing where a partner is, and questioning when a check-in does not occur. Going through mail and internally keeping track of various correspondence until there is an inconsistency or material that is not mentioned might be an organizational method, or might be a way of pressuring someone to divulge random information that appears unimportant. Inquiring about a partner's childhood or prior relationships with friends and family could be small talk, or could be information to use later.

Some of these examples appear on surface level to be a more "simple" form of control, and not stalking, but that is in part what makes these methods so effective. Stalking is often not obvious at its start, or as it builds, but only makes sense in hindsight. This is a major challenge of intervention, is being open to the idea that side comments and random patterns might be a small piece of a bigger, dangerous attack against a partner's agency. The goal of stalking in these cases is more about creating dependence and removing a partner's ability to think or make decisions. These values and meaning behind the control suffuse a person's life until their values become their abuser's values. Their beliefs mirror their stalker's beliefs because disagreeing is not allowed.

This form of stalking is often not addressed, or is addressed in indirect ways because it can be so hard to put a finger on. As mentioned at the start of this section, including extensive reflection on culture, beliefs, values, and meaning in life can help ferret out patterns and discover patterns that are otherwise easily obscured.

Sexual harms:
BIP/DVIP can easily skirt around discussions of sex outside of rape or other forms of assault. Talking about sexual health and respect can be awkward for facilitators and participants if they are uncomfortable with the topic, or do not fully understand how pervasive human sexuality is as a part of relationships.

The layers of harm in sexual behavior are also often missed. How frequently have BIP/DVIP groups discussed "selfish sex," non-sexual flirting with others, how they talk about their sexual desires or dislikes in their relationships, or discontent with frequency and how to communicate this?

Stalking behavior pushes boundaries. Stalking behavior seeks domination, omnipotence, and omnipresence - and sexual behavior can provide illusions or reality for those things. Extreme behavior that is often mentioned with stalking involve things such as the stalker smelling/investigating a partner's panties or genitals as a method of determining sexual behavior outside of the relationship. This is, of course, a humiliating and horrible experience for victims/survivors, but that extreme does not start at that level.

A stalker who suspects a partner of cheating may do these investigations without that partner knowing. That stalker may ask probing questions about contact with friends, or even discuss his/her own sexual past in attempts to gain info from their partner. If the information does not come up during that discussion - that is fodder for tactical attacks about personal vulnerability and the partner not reciprocating. If the information does come up from the stalker's partner, that sexual past can be used to compare, judge, and save for later control.

Even if a victim/survivor is cheating, how does the abuser/stalker handle this information? Some stalkers are actually seemingly happier with this information, because it is an instant trump card to be used during arguments, and justify any controlling behavior from that point forward. When abusers discuss their partner cheating on them, and their desire to continue their relationship despite this, interventionists need to ask probing questions about reasons for this decision as well as gain more details about their relationship's sexual history.

Sadly, with the proliferation of men's rights groups and their large overlap with the "art of seduction" hawkers, there are several techniques taught in these groups to have sex with women. Often these lend themselves to stalking behavior. The concept of "negging" is one which undermines someone's confidence in theory that they will be easier to seduce. Talking to / flirting with another woman who is friends with the "target" in attempts to create interest. That level of manipulation sounds a lot like the interviewing friends and family technique above, doesn't it? Consider how these tactics fit into an overall strategy to remove agency and create dependence.

Manipulative Use of Children:
Children can be excellent tools for parents to use against each other. Even in the healthiest of relationships, there are going to be arguments about parental decisions and care, but in relationships that are respectful, there will be negotiations, compromises, listening and caring during discussions, and consideration of personal desire vs. what the needs/wants are of the children will all be a part of managing parenting styles and decisions.

For an abuser who is out of the familial home, it can be a simple thing to drop by uninvited to "check on the kids," or to drop off things for them. When doing so, adding in comments about new purchases, suspicions of guests the abuser does not approve of, asking probing questions to the children to monitor behavior, or outright sabotaging the household to try and force a situation where the family needs to be reunited (such as leaving water running or turning up heat to make a higher utility bill, refusing to contribute to finances if not living at home, questioning any contributions and where the money is going when they are made).

In BIP/DVIP, these behavior are often separated out from stalking behavior and labeled as "using children" - however, as a pattern these sorts of manipulations feed into methods of gaining that sense of omnipotence and omnipresence. It is no small thing that abusers often fight for full custody during a separation or divorce - having the children is a huge source of control that can be exploited in many ways. It also makes sense why victims/survivors often make clauses in protective orders that allow for visits with children. There is a lot of guilt put forward both by abusers, and by society, for blocking contact with a parent.

Even if an abuser is required to stay away from his/her partner, if there is a clause allowing contact/visitations with children, there are ways to casually ask questions to children to gain information that can make it seem like a stalker is using technological tracking devices. "Does mommy/daddy have any new friends?" "What do you do after school?" "Is there anything new going on around the house?" "Where do you go grocery shopping now?" In these examples, an abuser might learn potential new dating partners, patterns of activity and places a victim/survivor might go after picking up the children from school, different activities that may lead to more intimate knowledge of changes in routine, and even specific locations the children and the other parent go to.

Child visitation centers have workers who are trained to notice these and other questions asked by a visiting parent mainly due to these manipulations. These traps are smooth and work well because they sound so casual, like small talk, and make it seem caring and interested. And since children can often feel saddened by parental separation, they may choose the abusive parent and want to divulge information that they believe will bring their parents back together.

Financial Harms:
Money and finances are an ongoing stressor for most relationships. Negotiation regarding budgeting, individual spending vs. family/couple spending, ideas about "needed" purchases, and financial mistakes are all contributors to this stress. Finances can also be a concrete and "safer" method of stalking a partner/victim.

If a couple shares finances, there are several methods people use to pay bills and separate out responsibilities. Some relationships create a shared pool and pay everything from that pool. Some create a pool based on the percentage earning of each individual, and have independent spending money separate from the pool. Some relationships have one person who pays bills and monitors budgeting. The most focused on economic strategy used by stalkers is the final example, however all the others also can be places where a stalker can build a pattern of monitoring and domination.

Stalking is separate from economic equality. A couple can seem economically partnered and seem independent while behind the scenes, an abuser can make sidelong comments about spending to make a victim/partner question themselves. A stalker can make a majority of the money and assure a partner that he/she doesn't need to worry about finances and then create various checks and balances on that partner's spending. Someone who chooses to be abusive can even buy gifts that seem nice, but have controls connected to them (of course that might include technology with installed tracking and spyware, but it could even be expensive gifts that once accepted are a leveraging point from then on).

Marriage proposals and pregnancy/reproductive coercion can also fit into economic controls. Does the person being abusive choose to make these proposals of having children or entering into marriage when things seem to be falling apart? Does the partner/victim have the option to decline or to wait when considering the request? Is there pressure to make decisions quickly in other aspects of their relationship?

Stalkers commonly press for immediate answers, and hesitation is grounds for suspicion and justifies patterns of monitoring, following, and tracking. Another pattern that is subtle and potentially non-abusive is long term planning for a relationship. The hidden factor may be if the individual's partner has been informed of this plan, had input into this plan, and has had concerns addressed/incorporated into this plan.

There is a fantasy and comfort for stalkers in a world completely planned out, and with technology granting illusions of divinity (virtual omipotence and omipresence) it is a simple thing for any abuser to develop these methods of dominating their partner. The challenge for interventionists is to find the profound in the subtle, the danger in the seemingly innocent, and the intentional in behavior that seems coincidental. It's not just about finding inconsistencies, however, it has a lot to do about caring enough to get to know each abuser as an individual, complicated human being and in doing so begin to put the pieces together of the puzzle of their pattern of hurtful, controlling, abusive, and violent behavior.