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My first blogpost around here. Hi, I’m Alianne.

Hi, I’m Alianne.

I love to meet new people whether online or just around the corner.  Can’t live without music, traveling and chocolate.  I love psychology, learning, nature, reading&writing. Four cats, a boyfriend and kids keep me busy (and crazy). Like everyone else on this planet I have a past. I am an international speaker and talk about empowerment, activism and my experiences as an survivor of severe abuse, assault and rebuilding your life after trauma on events and on the PAVE podcast. Because I believe we can have it all no matter our past. I am stubborn, brave, love to laugh hard and often. And I believe people complicate life too much.

“LAUGH WHEN YOU CAN, APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU SHOULD, AND LET GO OF WHAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE. KISS SLOWLY, PLAY HARD, FORGIVE QUICKLY, TAKE CHANCES, GIVE EVERYTHING AND HAVE NO REGRETS. LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO BE ANYTHING BUT HAPPY.”

— UNKNOWN AUTHOR

P.S. At first I had a blog at lifesurfer.net, lifesurfer.nl and professionalsagainstviolence.com. But because managing 4 blogs is a little bit time intrusive I decided to put all my websites together as one.

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Personal

About toxic and (un)healthy relationships

toxic relationships

Abuse exists in several forms. Most known is physical abuse because it’s easy to recognize.

But emotional abuse is more insidious and can sometimes be harder to recognize. And sometimes, after you spend a lot of time with a toxic person, you can’t really see what’s happening anymore.

People who have followed me for a while know that I don’t like to share anything that doesn’t contain a direct solution to a problem. But I do think we have to go back to basics for this blog and to look at some of the traits of a toxic or abusive person.

But a relationship is meant to be a place where both can blossom. A safe cocoon where the two people involved can develop, support, and acknowledge each other in whatever direction they want to go. A relationship is a place where you strengthen each other, not tear each other apart.

The traits of a toxic person

In an unhealthy relationship, you will notice that the toxic person is inclined to inflict damage on the other person rather than find a solution to a problem. But one of the basics of a healthy relationship is to find solutions together. Not to argue with each other.

A toxic person feels insecure and threatened -a lot-. Whenever you have something fun to look forward to, you want to go out with a friend, or you are successful at something, Mr. or Mrs. Toxic feels weak. But instead of working on these insecurities and weakness they’ll try to find a way to do you harm, make you smaller. Because they feel uncomfortable with your success they will diminish it and leave you with a bad feeling. Or there is something wrong with whatever you are happy with or look out for. Example: you are invited somewhere (in my case to visit a tower) and the other person is suddenly sick, took the car, or needs you to do something.

You get the most love from a toxic person when you are most vulnerable. Favorably when you are on your knees, isolated, and when the toxic person is the center of your universe. It can be that you don’t feel strong or have a strong base of reference because of the way you were brought up or some of your life experiences. However, it could also be that you were strong and the toxic person found a way to break you, to accuse you, to make you feel bad and when you are on your knees, feeling so small and you need someone to lean on… the toxic person changes suddenly and shows you their love. They give you that hug you needed, show you the rainbow, tell you it’s going to be all right and it wasn’t that bad, won’t happen again as long as you don’t… *fill in whatever*

It comes down to this.

When you are small, they feel strong. If you are strong, they feel threatened and weak.

I have an example: my ex and I were rebuilding the house and I was putting the spack on the walls. I really knew what I was doing because I paid very close attention to the carpenter. I saw that my ex-partner struggled with it and that’s why I did it the spacking. When my ex-partner noticed my success he took away the spack (or is it called stucco?) and forbade me from ever spackling in HIS house ever again.

He always mentioned that the house was HIS when he disagreed with something to remind me he could throw me out on the street in an instant. When he had hurt me, he would say: you can leave if you don’t like it, but when I would leave he would search friends’ and family’s homes to bring me back to his house again.

It is easier for them when you are weak. When you are vulnerable, when you are fired, when you get out of a nasty relationship or when you have difficult family members, a difficult past, they feel strong and in control. But where a healthy relationship tries to lift you out of those difficult times, the toxic person tries to keep you there. Because when you are not dependent of them they feel like they are not the center of your world anymore. And that’s what they need to feel good. Because sadly, they are incapable of knowing what true love is or how to accomplish it.

A toxic person sees almost every argument as a personal attack and if you have been in a relationship like this you probably recognize this: before you tell the other person that something is bothering you (if you tell them that is) you put your words on a scale first. You think and rethink your words to see if there could be any triggers amongst your words.

Your experience is that during conversations the roles are reversed before you know it! Before you are finished talking, you are suddenly the person with the problem. It’s all about what you are doing wrong and what you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how careful you are in choosing and expressing your words because everything you say (and don’t say) can and will be used against you.

Instead of really listening to you, letting you talk, and acknowledge their part in how you feel, the roles are reversed, and that person makes you the problem (twisted). Situations from years ago are thrown in the battle, words are used against you, and often the other person won’t let you finish speaking, and talks in an aggressive or emotionally manipulative tone and doesn’t let you think. Or they speak in an aggressive/emotionally manipulative manner and seem to disappear, whether that is emotionally and/or physically. Often people who have experienced domestic violence stop explaining their point of view to prevent escalation.

A famous quote of Jim Rohn is:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Don’t underestimate the influence of the people closest to you! It doesn’t matter how strong you are, your frame of reference is or how your self-esteem is built up… the way other people talk to you or treat you can build or demolish your self-worth, self-esteem, and self-image. It is so important to choose the people closest to you carefully. Because when someone is depreciating you, it will influence how you see yourself and become part of your thought patterns. Sometimes you won’t even know that a conviction you have really comes from another source.

A quote of Bruce Lee is:

As you think so shall you become.

I am convinced that you should choose your inner circle carefully. A good inner circle will build you up, inspire you, and challenge you to be the best you who you can be.

In a healthy relationship, two imperfect people come together with an imperfect life and with an imperfect past. Together they create a safe haven where they can heal and give each other the circumstances where they can thrive and work on themselves to be the best, strongest persons they can and once that safe haven is created, they can work on their life goals together.

Abuse, Personal

Transforming traumatic memories

(This blog was originally written by me for LifeSurfer)

“We terrorize ourselves with fears of reliving childhood traumas, but if we survived our childhoods – a time of fewer options and resources- we are surely likely to prevail as adults”

Alan Robert Neal

On November 7th, 2006, my ex-partner abused me so much that due to the abuse and stress it caused, my children were born 7 weeks prematurely.

For a few years after that, each year I would feel the same mix of emotions I felt on November 7th , 2006: sad because I realized that the idea of a happy family without violence with this man was just a fairy tale all along, disappointment because I felt like less of a woman because I didn’t carry the children full-term, disappointment because I had a C-section instead of birth in a natural way, anxiety about the well-being of the boys , fear for my abusive ex-partner, fear for what the future held, and, of course, the fears woman regularly experience when they become a mom (of twins). I felt so much shame towards my sons because I had brought them into a situation with an abusive father.

I felt also relieved because I knew that despite some setbacks and things I have to think about regarding the health of my children, they are mostly fine. And the emotional trauma they got due to the court order that they had to see their biological father whereafter he abused them, will pass in time I am sure. Sadly the physical trauma of one of my children will never go away.

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Mindset, Personal

Infringing the rules despite the consequences

infringing

(This blog was originally written by me for LifeSurfer in 2015/2016)

My story

In every interview done on this planet (for example, in every interview I have done so far) are some mistakes (or some facts are removed), or there is some shuffling with the timeline to make the story flow better.

Usually that’s not a problem, but in a situation where our family is still (or can still be) under a magnifying glass, I have to represent my side correctly ever since I started doing interviews, to prevent misunderstandings.In order to tell my whole story once and shine a proper light on what actually happened in our life, I have written this blog.

First of all, I would like to clarify something. In this article I am very critical towards the Dutch youth care, the Council, family law and the legal system. Because I have talked to many youth care workers and aspiring youth care workers for LifeSurfer, I know that there are loads of good staff members who work in a ‘rotten’ system. But the unmotivated, uninterested, uninformed staff and the devastating impact they have on the lives of the families who have to deal with them, with all its consequences, while the staff member in question continues to another ‘case’, are put in the spotlight in this article, because they are the staff members that I unfortunately had to deal with the most.

fashionista-5

Entering an abusive relationship

I was 14, he was 21, when my ex and I started a relationship. In the very beginning of our relationship he was very nice to me on the one hand, giving me compliments and telling me he couldn’t live without me. On the other hand, he took my virginity by raping me and manipulated me from the beginning. For a while he kept up appearances with nice behaviour and presents, but underneath was the violent behaviour that I considered as incidents at the time. From the beginning I became more and more isolated because he was jealous and suspicious. However, I also considered this as some kind of compliment.  I didn’t realise that my world was becoming very small.

My pregnancy didn’t just feel like a miracle; it was a medical miracle. Since my thyroid functioned very badly, my internist told me I couldn’t get pregnant. When I was 33 weeks pregnant, my ex abused me during a tantrum, squeezed my throat, shouted, pulled me by the hair, pushed my face straight against the wall and ultimately threw me flat out on the ground, which caused the children to be born way too early.

Fleeing and fearing for our life

I could only leave my ex once the children were one year old. Agencies didn’t help me, or I didn’t get referrals. Without an alimony I didn’t get a house and without a house I didn’t get an alimony, so that was a big puzzle at first, because I lived alone in his house with the children, without an income or financial support. I can still see myself with two prematurely born children, sitting at the dole office and the housing office. When I got a house, I fled with the children. People came to help us move and we put my children’s and my stuff in the cars in one go and left.
One day he was suddenly standing in the middle of the living room, when he had “accidentally” taken my keys, which I discovered when he was suddenly standing in front of me. Afterwards, he would sometimes come in. I once found him under the shower. While I was looking at him with astonishment, he was masturbating. Despite all this, I still gave him the kids a few times when he wanted it, because I still wanted to try to stimulate a parent-child relationship.

Consequently, he would arrive at my mother’s house within half an hour because he said he didn’t know what to do with the kids. When my ex noticed that he couldn’t force me or push me to have sex with him anymore, it happened less and less that he would arrive unannounced at my house to demand sex or the children from me.

At the point when he had once again put the children, who were then almost three years old, under an ice-cold shower as a punishment, I told him I wouldn’t give them to him anymore. He would not understand that a shower with ice-cold water is pure abuse and that, apart from the pain the cold shower causes, such young children don’t understand why they are being punished that way. For years, they were terrified of the shower as a consequence.

After I told him he wouldn’t get the children anymore, he threatened that he would “take the children away from me” (literally his words) through Youth Care and started a lawsuit to request shared parental authority and visitation rights. After all, he wanted to get “his money’s worth” because in the meantime he had to pay child alimentation to Social Affairs. I had previously explained the situation to Social Affairs and begged them to never contact him or my old address. Here I found out that professionals often care more about rules and protocol, and don’t really understand how serious a situation is and what the result of their actions can be.

Visitation rights are easily granted. A woman from the Council visited my ex twice for an hour to see if he could control himself. Even though I had asked her not to leave me and the children alone with him, she did when I came to get the kids and walked to the car. Outside the car, my ex severely threatened me, but she consequently wrote in the final report that dad had had a friendly chat with me next to the car. She couldn’t hear what he said, because she didn’t accompany us to the car and stayed inside. Based on her behaviour during the Council’s “investigation” and her later report, she thought my fear was pure nonsense.

For such staff the easiest reasoning is the most pleasant one, so a situation in which there is domestic violence and child abuse is quickly discarded as a divorce battle in which two parties are equally guilty of every conflict or difference in insight that occurs. They don’t try to find out the truth and have no interest in it, because that makes the determination of visitation rights much more complex. A researcher chooses the explanation that suits her best and that she can emotionally and psychologically cope with, so she sees what she wants to see, hears what she wants to hear, and is literally and figuratively deaf and blind for what happens in front of her eyes in terms of intimidation and manipulative behaviour of an abuser.

I think the helplessness is the worst. You know your children are in danger.

You know they are not safe with your ex because of his tantrums and what he considers normal in terms of his way of “upbringing and punishing”, but those who are supposed to protect your children do the very opposite.

Judges and CPS

You expect that people of the Council and Youth Care have insight in recognising child abuse, but the moment you find out that they are working towards a conclusion, when they look at you with glassy eyes when you know more about different types of violence and different types of abusers than they do, that a reply is considered unwillingness in the context of a divorce battle… Oh, it caused so much pain and trauma at the time.

I would love to open their eyes, but experience teaches that many staff members of the Council and Youth Care are blind and deaf, (and literally copy each other’s reports, even when a year or more has passed and the situation has changed), so there you are. With empty hands, you are being accused of everything that isn’t true. The father can tell lies about you, and nobody, not even a judge, questions that.

Nobody wonders what father means with certain statements, such as that he is in favour of a strict and severe upbringing, what that implies to him, how that looks according to him. Nobody questions the father’s lack of interest in the children, nobody asks anything about that, while you have told them that he considers abuse a normal type of punishment. Thank God I knew that I wasn’t on my own and had people around me who helped me stay hopeful, because otherwise I would have gone insane from the helplessness, fear and loneliness this brings with it.

At one point the visitation rights were determined for 1 x a weekend every two weeks and half of all school holidays. At that point the children were already almost four. He cancelled the first two times, because the first time he wanted to go on a holiday and the second time something else was more important, even though he swore to the judge during the trial that he missed the children terribly. That ‘missing’ is something he still claims now, even though he has rarely shown any commitment in the past 9.5 years, and has never asked me or others for information about how they’re doing.

The blind eye of the judges and CPS

But in front of the judge or the agencies he pretended to be the victim, the nice, well-meaning father whose vengeful ex wouldn’t let him see his children whom he loves so much. His behaviour shows the contrary of what he claimed, but no judge wants to open their eyes or see it. It’s easier and more comfortable to go along with his story about being the victim. In that respect, judges don’t differ from staff members of the Youth Care and the Council.

Unfortunately, my experience and that of many other people is that (family) judges don’t make their own judgement in any case, but blindly follow the “professionals’” advice. That comes down to laziness and idleness of the legal system, which is shocking and almost unbelievable if it hasn’t happened to you that a judge says, even before the court session has started, that they will follow the Council’s advice either way.

If a criminalcourt tells you before a trial has even started that a verdict has been made he or she will be fired and rightly so. But in familycourt within the Netherlands this is allowed and even normal behaviour.

After their first curiosity, the children quickly became increasingly upset when they had to go to him. I have loads of voice tapes in which you hear me trying to convince the children to look at the visit positively. Apart from that, I had received 15.000 euros in penalties in the meantime, when I didn’t want to give him the children for the whole weekend. I didn’t, because after the first two times that they had been with him on Saturday and Sunday, they wouldn’t calm down anymore.

Three to four days before a visitation day, the children were upset, and three to four days after. When they had been with him for two consecutive days, that became two weeks. That made me refuse to let them stay with him for a whole weekend and made me change the visitation back to one Sunday every two weeks, so there was one week of relative peace in between.

The result was, thanks to the legal system, the refusal of all agencies (and even the judge) to believe me and recognise that the children couldn’t mentally and psychologically handle more than one day every two weeks (and even that with a lot of trouble and behavioural problems), that he can demand 15,000 euros at any point. This has been hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles for five years now. Considering his vengefulness and power play, it will remain there until he can cash in.

When he abused my children

During the visitations, my ex cut the children’s nails until they bled. He cut in the pink part, which they call ‘the life’ in the Netherlands. This is strange behaviour, which he also applied to me during our relationship. Even then he had some kind of tic with how long nails are allowed to be, which in his opinion, is very very short.
He used to sit on top of me so I couldn’t get away and, despite my begging, he then used to cut my toenails deep into the life, which caused me to walk around with painful feet for days. In other words, I have an idea of how my children felt and what kind of fear this inflicted on them.

Before going to him, they begged me to cut their nails, and according to them, it was never short enough.

When the children even stood puking in the corridor, because they had been forced to eat all kinds of food they aren’t allowed because of their early birth and reflux, because those irritate the stomach; when the children told me he mentally abused them by, for example, telling them they smelt bad so that out of fear for smelling they rubbed their whole bodies with deodorant; when they told me that Sem was punished very often and always had to sit on the stairs; that he was told not to cry when he was crying because he didn’t know what he had done wrong (he had replied honestly to the question if he thought his dad was nice – the answer was no, so he was punished), because crying isn’t “cool” (he was a four-year-old who didn’t even know the word “cool”); that he had gone for a ride with Tycho in the front seat, even though they had to be in a child car seat for their safety; and that Sem would maybe be allowed to go next time because Tycho had been so cool; etc.; etc.; this made our family go through hell, and nobody wanted to listen to us, nobody wanted to believe me and the children, or take us seriously.

But the final straw was when both children told me how their father had beaten Sem on his whole body, and Sem showed me how he had beaten him on both ears simultaneously, which caused him to be permanently hearing impaired in one ear. It was abuse my ex had also applied to me. It is probably superfluous to say that such abuse is extremely painful and makes your ears whiz for hours. It was and is indeed a method which, as he had mentioned in the police interview, doesn’t leave bruises (“if I had beaten the child like she says, he would have had bruises,” he claimed). He is smart enough to abuse without leaving bruises and broken bones.

Dogmatics

Of course I am angry at my ex for what he has done to the kids. However, I am even angrier at the agencies and all the so-called professionals who have been poorly trained and are so stuck in the dogmatics of youth care and the Council that they have become blind and deaf to a difficult and complex reality. You ring the alarm bell, with a cry for help, but nobody listens, helps or even recognises your worries. That may be the largest trauma. Every child deserves to be safe. Nobody believed me; whatever I tried to draw attention to in the interest of my children was dismissed as insignificant and unimportant.

After all, in the eyes of some of the staff of youth care and the Council, I was and still am the evil mother who only blames her ex so she could take revenge by taking his children away from him. Due to the limitations and the inability of these “professionals” to see the truth and not reason, based on the assumptions that suit them best, their blindness and the tunnel vision they suffer from, that won’t change. That hurt so much and made me feel so helpless.

You can’t defend yourself against what people think of you and what they determine are your intentions and your motivation. Again and again (to this very day), I have had to fight against enormous prejudice. It is a fight against windmills: completely useless, but you can’t escape it.

As long as children and mothers are the victim of this and have to go through the same things, I will continue to help women stand in their power. I won’t let them be belittled and insulted by a completely unjust and indifferent system that doesn’t respect their rights.

Feelings of guilt

For a long time, I have walked around with anger towards myself caused by feelings of guilt. It took time before I could forgive myself and understand that I had done the best with the knowledge I had at the time. I blamed myself for having let my children be acknowledged by him before their birth (it is a juridical procedure where he claims to be their father), even though he didn’t want it at all; for dreaming of a miraculous change in him once the children would arrive; for holding on to that dream for a while, even though the reality was the exact opposite; and for the fact that my fear, first of him, and then of the legal system and the power of the Council and Youth Care, had been stronger than my urge to keep my children safe so that he traumatised them with his abuse during visitation throughout a whole year.

The abusive cycle starts once again

After the kids had visitation, from shortly before their fourth life year until shortly before their fifth life year, they recovered well right after I had put an end to it. We had a period of 2.5 years of peace. My ex didn’t bother us and didn’t ask about the children. In the meantime he had a new partner and had a child with her, after which he moved to the other side of the country with them.

Unfortunately, he saw the opportunity to start playing his power games again, when I needed his permission as a parent with parental authority to stay abroad with the children for half a year for my studies. Even though he had no idea how they were, because he hadn’t seen them or asked about them for 2.5 years, he considered it irresponsible to take them abroad for half a year and didn’t give his permission.

On the contrary, he demanded that they would come live with them, because all that time I hadn’t respected the visitation rights, and that he alone would get the authority, as well as an increase of the penalties to 50,000 euros. Of course, the Council and Youth Care mostly went along with this, so I didn’t have the opportunity to finish my studies leaving me in student debt. Moreover, my children had to start going to a visitation centre to start seeing their biological father again, a stranger to them, whom in their eyes they had first got to know when they were almost four, and with whom they had no connection whatsoever and also hadn’t built one during visitation, but because of his behaviour, had developed an aversion to.

Applying heavy psychological pressure

Both children were obstinate in their refusal of renewed contact with the man they refused to call father. The fact that Youth Care can ruin more than you want became clear once more. They put extremely heavy psychological pressure on the children to get in touch with my ex-partner, which they refused more obstinately every time.

Even when three adults applied pressure, by asking them in turn whether “daddy” could play with them, they kept saying they didn’t want Alex (they called him by his first name, or A., and refused to call him daddy) to play with them.

The fact that the three adults started to tell the children they weren’t being nice, that they weren’t good kids, that they weren’t being fun, and making arrangements with the children only to break them from the moment I wasn’t around, etc., didn’t change their mind. I am proud of the fact that apparently I have been able to teach my children that you don’t have to do something against your will when you have good reasons and you really don’t want it. The only person who has the right to demand this from them is me, the parent they have known for their whole life and with whom they form a good and safe family.

They have acquired traumas from the pushiness and coercion of Youth Care and from having to see their father again. They are going to therapy for the aftermath, but at school they immediately made huge progress after the process in the visitation centre had stopped.

Visitation centre

In the visitation centre my ex-partner and I had to sign a contract. My ex-partner couldn’t commit to his part of the contract, because he indicated a new job would get priority over visitation with the children. He took a job that meant he couldn’t follow the contract anymore, and yet the final report states it is my fault the process failed. Even the fact that the children and I got in a bicycle accident while we were on our way to the visitation centre – the result of which was a hospital visit – was interpreted by them as obstructing the process. In the visitation centre our situation was dealt with as a ‘divorce battle’, but you can’t a treat a situation in which serious partner violence took place that way. Neither my ex nor I recognised ourselves in the treatment method as it was executed. That was one thing we had in common.

For the last year we have received a family guardian due to everything that happened before. This person seems to put the children’s interests first. You can tell from the way the children express themselves that it can take a long time before they will be ready for contact (let alone regular visitation) with their biological father. In the meantime the last contact moment was in May 2014. A lot of peace has returned since then, but they now distrust adults because the staff members of Youth Care lied to them during the process of the visitation centre. They don’t feel as safe as before, because their father can suddenly re-appear in their lives, while they are terrified of him and absolutely don’t want to see him.

The helplessness, as well as the dogmas, prejudice and assumptions used by the Council and Youth Care, the gigantic lack of knowledge and insight among these agencies in terms of abusers, both partners and parents, means you spend an enormous amount of time and energy in explaining, declaring, defending yourself, again and again, in front of people who couldn’t care less that their assumptions about you, your children and your situation are completely wrong and based on thin air. Unfortunately, it is not surprising that a child dies at least once a week due to violence – and that the perpetrator and bystanders get away with it.

Infringing the rules

I have chosen to infringe the law and the legal system that fails on every level in this respect (which is unimaginable for the civilised country the Netherlands think they are) because I refused, and will continue to refuse, to see my children reduced to an article in the newspaper as victims of a “family drama” (which I call murder). Not my children, not me! Because if that had happened, Youth Care, the Council and the legal system that causes this type of dramas, would have blamed each other (like they always do) and everyone would have pretended to be innocent, which is unfortunately how it always goes with every incident that is published in the newspapers.

Maybe it looks I found it very easy to infringe the rules, but believe me, it is everything but easy.

The consequences of opening up your mouth are severe and there was even a time when I was counting to have to finish my studies in prison (at the time my ex wanted 50,000 euro penalty payments and he wanted me be held hostage if I did not stick to the visitation rights). But I can not put my children at risk through ignorance of insufficient specialized staff, who are firmly convinced in their hearts that they are doing good, but simply lack the knowledge to make right decisions.

Of course there are good youthcare workers. I have met and spoken to them for LifeSurfer. But if you meet an unmotivated and for your case unskilled youthcare worker, things can go wrong, irreversible and very seriously wrong.

Infringing the rules because of the consequences isn’t easy. But it is a necessity. It is my duty. As a mom.

Abuse, Interview, Mindset, Personal, Speaking

Trauma: 4 ways to deal with it

trauma
(This blog was originally written by me for LifeSurfer in 2015/2016)

Many women who have had a relationship with an abusive partner, battle with traumas.

Sometimes the traumas takes “merely” a few moths but sometimes I encounter women who have been struggling with them for years. It can also happen that the traumas reappear suddenly after being away for many years when, for example, something occurs that consciously or subconsciously reminds you of the time when you developed the trauma.

When I had just moved to my current house, I associated the cars passing by with the time when I had lived in my old house and my ex had been coming back home. With every car passing by (in the evening), I froze and held my breath until I was sure that nobody wanted to enter the house.

For awhile I had the same with angry male voices. I remember a moment when I was going to the grocery store and I heard a man shouting angrily. I froze and suddenly felt small and inferior and had the feeling that I just had done something wrong. This despite the fact that the man was not shouting at me, I had not done anything wrong and even if I had, I would not have to let anyone speak to me in that manner, or shout, to be precise.

How do you get a trauma?

Traumas can also arise even when you have not been physically or psychologically abused. An event can lead to an emotional or psychological trauma when for example:

  • It was an unexpected event
  • You felt helpless to prevent it or stop it
  • It happened again and again
  • Someone was intentionally mean
  • It happened during your childhood

As an example; one of the deepest fears I developed was through the experiences with child protection services. I know, right? In contrast, I could deal well with the traumas given to me by my ex-partner. I do not want to say that I could rationalize them and surely I have no understanding for what he has done to me and the kids, but I could place those experiences.

What I could not place at all was the behavior of child protection workers who literally put the lives of me and my children at risk, who literally brought us in danger. From them I learned how dangerous it can be when certain people are put in the position of power. And, in that light, also that very few people take responsibility for their own actions.

As you already know, I am passionate about psychology and two experiments that have absolutely fascinated me from the very beginning and simultaneously frightened me are the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison experiment. You can find two links to the documentaries about these experiments at the end of this post. Anyway, I am drifting away! Back to the topic of traumas.

What is an emotional or psychological trauma?

Traumas are the result of extremely stressful situations that destroy your feeling of safety and give you the feeling that you have no control whatsoever over your life.

The more scared you are and the more hopelessness you experience, the bigger the chance that you will develop trauma or become traumatized. Each situation in which you feel overwhelmed by what is happening can be traumatic; it does not have to include any factual physical threats.

Traumas can arise through single events such as a brutal robbery or a car accident; or for example through continuous stress such as living with an unpredictable abuser.

You are more prone to traumas if you experience a lot of stress or if you have already developed traumas before, for example through growing up in unsafe environment or when you were sexually abused in your childhood, respectively physically and/or mentally abused.

Possible symptoms of trauma;

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Feeling of disconnection from your environment or your body
  • Confusion and difficulties with concentration
  • Rapid heartbeat or hyperventilation
  • Quick startle response
  • Memory loss (or black holes)
  • Nightmares
  • Tense body, stiff muscles for example in your neck and shoulders
  • Difficulty with taking good care of yourself or others
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling nervous and tense with a lot of inner turmoil, restlessness

These symptoms may persist for a few hours or few days but sometimes they stay longer.

Along the way I noticed that I needed healing from one of the traumas which I had developed through the child protection services. I have no problem whatsoever with speaking in front of 180 people and with answering their most intimate questions about me, but when I spoke to a therapist a few years ago who I asked to help my children dealing with some past experiences, I closed off totally, became scared and barely managed to find my words.

Rationally seen, there is nothing wrong and there is no actual threat from this therapist towards me and my children; on the contrary and I even invited her myself. But because there were so many triggers attached to the contact,  my heart started to beat faster, my breath speeded up and I had to talk myself out of the trigger.

That is the moment I know I had work to do. I handle it in the following ways:

First of all;

I go outside and mix with other people. In the example above, where my children were supposed to talk with a new therapist, I went outside, to a local supermarket and then sat down on a bench next to an old man. We talked, and although he was suffering from dementia, he reminded me some of the wisdoms of life..

I know how to calm myself when I am tensed and how to bring myself into a different state of mind by, for example, being more aware of my breath,  walk a few blocks, give myself a peptalk, realise what the differences are between fear, threat and triggers and taking overall good care of myself. Through these actions I am less troubled by the triggers, but there still remains a little piece of healing that I must continue to apply.

Tips I have for you:

Mingle with people. Even though you do not feel like it at all. Even when you are afraid to go outside. You can ask them for help, but of course that is not necessary. Blending with other people is very important for your recovery. It is always good to share your feelings. Undertake activities that have nothing, but really absolutely nothing to do with your trauma. Go to a chess club (;-)) or something. Do something that is healthy for you and fun, just don’t do it alone. Find an empowerment circle. Somewhere you could drop by, even if you are not ready yet to talk about it.

Move!

Find a sport that suits you and for which you need all your limbs, so that you will not end up in a downward spiral. Go swimming, as the water has a calming effect on your body and you must stay aware so your head does not go under water; take surfing lessons (that is soooooo fun!), take self-defense classes….. It helps you get out of the state of increased physiological and mental arousal which can lead to anxiety, fatigue and decreased tolerance for pain. Because that ensures that you freeze in a way. Through movement you help your nervous system relax again, which lets the positive hormones circulate through your body and spread their happy wellness vibes.

Tip number 3!

Take good care of yourself and watch for your health. Food has a great impact on how we feel. Of course it does not matter if you eat unhealthy once, but the food we feed our body impacts our energy levels and, thus, also our emotions.

Get enough sleep. If you have difficulty falling asleep, you can for example choose to leave your telephone, computer or iPad outside of your bedroom. The blue screen light keeps your brain alert, and being busy on your mobile phone causes brain activity and disrupts our natural day and night rhythm.

Avoid drugs. Avoid alcohol. (I refuse to explain this:p)

Become aware of the way you breathe. If your breathing is troubled or rushed, try to get it under control.

And last but certainly not least;

Relax. You can do it, for example, by paying attention on your breathing. A guided meditation such as a body scan meditation can help you become more aware of your own body and, because you focus on your physical sensations, you will not worry about your past or your future. That gives you more control over your stress responses. I have attached one example of such meditation, but there are many more of these types of meditations to be found.

Another way that helps me relax is listening to the music. And then, I do not listen to songs that make me sad but I like to listen to something uplifting, for example to “Something Inside So Strong” by Labi Siffre or “Living In the Moment” by Jason Mraz.

It is important to take time to figure out what you really feel. We often want to push our emotions away so that we do not have to feel them, but in order to heal properly it is important to recognize what you feel without letting those emotions be in charge.

Learn to live in the moment. The past is gone and you cannot change anything about it anymore, apart from learning to look at it in a different way. The future is yet to come and you can only influence it to some extent by choices which you are making today… The now is the only thing you really have. It makes no sense to worry about “what ifs” because the chance is big that what you think will not happen. And if you notice that you have thoughts that do not make you stronger, replace them with a strong thought. Jason Mraz sings about it so nicely in “Living In the Moment”: “I can’t walk through life facing backwards” and this is exactly how it is.

And if you are not managing… look for help. Find a therapist or psychologist who feels right for you. Engage her or him on your own, especially if a child is involved in the situation. Take control of your own life and do not remain stuck needlessly in your trauma. You can find your way out by taking control of your thoughts, your feelings and associations/meanings you give to the happenings.

People react differently to traumatic experiences and there is no right or wrong reaction. But by applying some of the tips above – those which suit you – I hope to have inspired you to take steps to free yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqQiS9GF1JU&feature=youtu.be

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HcMWlnTtFQ&feature=youtu.be

Abuse, Mindset, Personal

Taking a break after an abusive relationship

(This blog was originally written by me for LifeSurfer in 2015/2016)

Have you ever started a relationship with another man soon after the end of your relationship with an abusive ex-partner?

In conversations between women who have been victims of partner abuse I see regularly that they enter or have entered a relationship with another man soon after the end of their relationship with an abusive ex-partner.

The text: “This time I have TRULY found the ONE!” is often accompanied by many exclamation marks and capital letters. Okay, I overreacted but you get the point.

In 2009 I was one of those women, when barely 3 months after I fled the home of my ex-partner, I got to know a much older man via Internet and committed myself fully to that relationship. Because I had no strong sense of ‘self’ and did not take the time to work on myself, the opinions of my second ex became my opinions. And I stood behind his opinions 100%.

And of course this relationship led to nothing. If someone would have predicted it back then, I would have told them that they knew nothing about me. That they knew nothing about our relationship. That it was a healthy relationship. But oh, how right they would have been!

Today I would like to tell you why it is not smart to start a relationship with another person directly after your relationship with an abusive ex-partner.

  • In the period after a relationship, and certainly a relationship that was accompanied by violence, it is important to find out who you are. If you have known a lot of anxiety, humiliation or uncertainty, you will not simply lose these feelings or memories. For example, if you have been (or become) very insecure, you will need to heal this part of yourself first before you can enter a balanced relationship.

You might still get to deal with your ex-partner who is looking for ways to keep in touch with you, be it by threats, or ‘courting.’

For example, my ex-partner did both. He appeared suddenly in my home and told me that he had met another woman. He showed me a ring and said that I could either accept it now, or else he would move on with that other woman.

I wished him sincerely the best of luck in that other relationship.

Little did he know that I already started a relationship with another man, a few months after we fled our previous home. Without having thought about or knowing who I was, what my needs were, what I wanted to achieve in life, the vulnerable ‘me’ entered the next relationship to look for some kind of security and acknowledgement. And looking for a relationship from a feeling of insecurity is never ever going to work.

Had I taken more time to figure out who I was, what my values were and what I wanted to achieve in this life, and had I invested more in my self-confidence and self-love, then I would not have had to look for this strength in someone else.

I would have known that I had this strength all the time and that everything I sought in him, I could have given to myself.

When this relationship ended and I lay in my bed at night crying, I realized that I did not cry because the relationship was over. I realized that I was scared. Afraid to be ‘alone,’ afraid that my first ex could do (yet again) something to my children or me, afraid that his threats would become true, and so forth. I placed the focus and the power with my ex-partner. I overlooked totally my own possibilities and strength.

  • In the initial period after abuse it is important to discover why you have been given a relationship with an abusive partner, which signals you have ignored, and why you have stayed. If you cannot answer these questions and do not dare to face them, the probability is high that you will put on the same blinders you have used before and through that will make the same mistakes again.

The last thing you want (I hope) is to repeat your past. Because you, just like everyone else, have right to an equal, healthy relationship with yourself and with someone who loves you.

The end of a relationship, and certainly the one with an abusive partner, hurts a lot.

It is the blinder which is torn away from your eyes; it is letting go of a vision for the future which will never materialize with that person and which probably has never existed and the awareness and recognition of everything that has taken place.

That hurts and is not easy. But only if you acknowledge the darkest places within yourself, you can find your own strength. You must find the power within yourself and need to build a healthy foundation before you can start an equal and balanced relationship.

Heal yourself first. Make yourself strong, become aware, become the leader of your thoughts and of the direction in which your life is going.

  • The foundation of love is friendship. From friendship you can get to know each other better. Even though it sounds very romantic to fully plunge into being in love, to call him your great love or a soulmate and throw all rationality overboard…. Is it not more beautiful to let the love grow slowly, get to know each other better and bring that to flourishing? Friendship is, after all, the foundation of love.

Before you enter a new relationship:

In a relationship two imperfect people come together, each with an own set of experiences and life wisdom. Have a good look first if the package which your partner brings is the one that fits at this moment of your life and with your future vision.

Does it contain a lot of drama? Does it contain the drama that is not healthy for you? It is always okay to say no or to simply look at it twice. That person could be possibly not the right one for you right now. He is not the only person on this planet with whom you can connect.

Is he not yet single? Let him solve this on his own and live your own life. He has his own piece to deal with, and must choose his own path before he can build a new foundation. Only after that can a relationship be built. For that, you do not need to pause your life.

Be careful that you do not become a sort of dramaholic; someone who gets from one dramatic relationship into another. That is not a way to be happy, or to keep two people together and it is also not a basis for a solid foundation [of a relationship].

  • The most important thing is that you build a solid foundation before you start a relationship. A foundation, in which you know how to take care of yourself when you are unhappy (that is, not with junk food), love yourself, know what your future vision is, and one in which you have processed the past.

Do you seek warmth in another? Attention? Security? A sense of safety? Someone who takes away the loneliness? Give whatever you need to yourself first.

The period after a relationship with an abusive partner can be one of extreme growth. In the past 7 years I was surprised regularly by how many times I have completely transformed.

From someone who was uncertain, with no direction in life or even an own opinion to the woman I am today. If a man fell in love with a person I used to be then, he would not have been able to appreciate the strength I have in me now. Perhaps then my growth could not have been as explosive as it was. Since I have discovered myself, I have chosen to start a balanced relationship with someone who is my friend, who is strong enough and who largely shares my norms and values. And I believe that I will be a better partner by being who I am today.

That period of relative rest (how much rest can you have with growing up twins, court cases, complaints, studies, courses and blogs? ) is a period I treasured.

Abuse, Mindset, Personal