Racism and Domestic Violence

Racism and Domestic Violence

Tabitha: Today I’m here with my friend, Kristie Williams. She is a professor at Walden university and an affiliate at Northwest Family life. Kristie runs Candid Conversations, book club discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion. What else do you want people to know about you?

Kristie: I’m an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a licensed professional counselor, but I teach clinical mental health counseling and multicultural counseling at Walden University. I’ve been the assistant Dean and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion. I’ve also served as a director of accessibility. So, when I think of this topic, I’m looking at it from a number of different ways.

Tabitha: You’ve shared in the past about the connections and overlap you’ve seen between racism and domestic violence. Can you say more about that?

Kristie: My connection to Northwest family life started over 20 years ago. I’m a graduate of what is now the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. During my time there, the domestic violence certification program started. I was a child witness of domestic violence, so I felt like I needed to be a part of that. I started learning about power and control, and how perpetrators attempt to hold their victims down. I realized, “Oh my gosh, this is the same thing that happens regarding racism!”
When you’re talking about racism, sometimes people just shut down because they think, “I’m going to say the wrong thing,” or “I’m going to offend somebody.” And so, I’ve started facilitating trainings, workshops, and discussions around dating violence, domestic violence, and racism. During these training sessions, I use the Power and Control Wheel to show participants how abusers can manipulate and control others.

Tabitha: There are now many versions of the power and control wheel, with some that illustrate the overlap of gender/race/citizenship privilege. For example, a survivor of domestic violence who is from another country might face even more stigma or have their immigration status held against them.

Kristie: Yes. These “wheels” really illustrate what’s going on in a way that people, especially the students I work with, can understand without making them feel like they are going to say the wrong thing. It helps them to be able to ask questions and learn. I try to teach in a way that people who are new to these topics don’t feel like they are being shamed for what they didn’t know, or didn’t see, or didn’t understand.

Tabitha: It must sometimes be difficult for you sometimes to walk into a space, knowing that people are already afraid they’re going to mess up before you've even presented anything. How does that work with Candid Conversations?

Kristie: Everyone’s already afraid, even if they really want to do the right thing. I have to help them recognize what some people may be coming in with, because when you’re entering these spaces, you’re not coming in alone. You’re bringing all the generational stuff that’s behind you. Someone may say something triggering. It might be the first time they have had the opportunity to discuss these issues. We’re providing a safe space, a brave space, I’d even say a sacred space, for people to hear, “This didn’t start with you.” Something I say so frequently my students roll their eyes is this: The best way to change hearts and minds is in relationships and over time. That’s what’s so good about doing these book discussions. People come together for weeks and get to know each other. It’s not like you have these hard conversations about racism and never see that person again. Just like with support groups, there’s something special about being with people over time that actually impacts and affects change.

Tabitha: Yes. In some of the groups I’ve participated in with you, we’ve had people from really, really different places, levels of understanding, and educational backgrounds. But we meet with the goal of connecting. Even if we don't necessarily end at the same spot, there’s this strong desire to understand the other that I think is really sacred.

Kristie: Absolutely. In some cases, people are coming from different states or even countries. It’s possible they’ve never met somebody that looks or thinks like somebody else on that screen. It knocks down biases they didn’t know they had. It creates a space where people can realize they have mindsets they need to dismantle. Or they meet people or read something in the book where they think, “Me too!” Things I often hear are, “Oh, I had never thought of it that way,” or, “I hadn’t realized that people are actually still experiencing this kind of discrimination and bias.” If you’re a white person who lives in a predominantly white city like Seattle, it can be really easy to think, “That’s only happening over there in that place where they’re kind of backward.” Nope, it’s actually still happening today here.

Tabitha: And when you are face-to-face with someone else who is experiencing it, it suddenly becomes a lot more personal.

Kristie: Yes, absolutely.

Tabitha: Can you tell us a bit more about what books you covered in Candid Conversations? Which book is your favorite?

Kristie: Ooh, that’s going to be a hard question. We started out at the beginning of the pandemic. People were struggling, feeling isolated, and had more time on their hands. Simultaneously, we had George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, all of these things were happening at the same time. I started book clubs to help my students stay connected, and initially the first Candid Conversations book club was just to help therapists connect during the pandemic. Our first book was Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. What I didn’t realize at first is that his story doesn’t just have racism, but also domestic violence. We also read My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn. Each of the books really contributed to the ongoing conversation of how we got to where we are in this country. We’ve talked a lot about inherited trauma. Right now we’re reading The Choice by Edith Eger. It feels really applicable to what’s happening in Ukraine right now. It’s the story of a Holocaust survivor and talks about how we have a choice in how we respond to evil. We don’t have to let evil control us. It’s like everything we’ve read so far culminates in this particular book.

Tabitha: It’s interesting how with all the book studies you’ve done, there’s this spirit led aspect to it because they all fold into one another. With Trevor Noah’s book, you touched on really serious topics but in an accessible way, because he’s so funny. It’s like a side door into tough subjects–one minute you are laughing and the next you are crying. My Grandmother’s Hands was such a good backdrop that helped explain where our culture is at right now. Many people don’t realize that slavery didn’t just come out of nowhere, and neither did the genocide of indigenous peoples. And it’s not an excuse, but it gives us a framework to show us how far we have to go to dismantle oppressive systems–and how much we have to repent of.

Kristie: Absolutely. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” But as we read our current book, The Choice, we get to hear all these stories of people who have experienced violence and trauma and choose not to pass that on. We have a choice in how we respond.

Tabitha: It’s a powerful truth. In some of the support groups I lead, that’s been a question we’ve been asking. There are women in really difficult circumstances. Sometimes they have to co-parent with their abuser, sometimes they lose their community because their story isn’t believed. But even in these situations they are learning to ask, “Where do I have agency here? I may be forced to encounter someone who’s hurt me, but how do I choose to enter that space? How can I keep myself calm? How can I be a shelter for my children in spite of what we are going through?” I find that question, “Where do I have agency right now?” to be really powerful in my own life.

Kristie: It’s empowering for people to realize that they have the choice to speak up, or to not respond (which is sometimes a valid choice.)

Tabitha: Shifting topics a bit, I’d like to go back to talking about the intersection of domestic violence and racism. What do you think are some of the additional struggles faced by survivors who are also women of color?

Kristie: That’s a great question. Oftentimes, there aren’t any people of color at the organizations who are supposed to help them. Maybe they are in an abusive situation, so they reach out to their church. The church recommends a domestic violence shelter but when they show up, there isn’t a single person who looks like them. Not only are they dealing with the trauma of their particular situation, but they might wonder if there is bias against them from the people who are supposed to help. Or, if their abuser is a person of color, they might worry about perpetuating stereotypes. I am speaking as an African American woman who was a child witness of domestic violence. If I am telling my story to a white person, I am wondering if they can recognize that I still love my father. He was the father God gave me, even though I can see that there were things he did that were horrific. I’m not excusing that–but that wasn’t all he was. So, if someone comes to a DV support group, and their abuser is a person of color, they might not feel safe to share that. They might wonder if others in the group will use their story as a reason to distrust other men of color. They might project your story onto every Black, Latino, Asian, etc. man they meet, and that’s a risk when you share. I think more therapists and facilitators need training on this. It’s also important to note that this is an issue in batterer’s treatment as well. How do men of color who have been abusive trust that their group leaders or counselors think they can actually change? We have to ask ourselves if the people coming to us for help can relate to the helpers. Because they are going to be asking, “Is
this a safe place for me to bring my whole self?”

Tabitha: So, as a white facilitator, what’s the first thing I can do to make women of color feel safer in my group?

Kristie: Start with directly acknowledging that we are all different, and that everyone is bringing different things into the group. Being a survivor can be isolating enough, we don’t want people to feel alone and unacknowledged because of their ethnicity too.

Tabitha: How would you define the term “intersectionality” for someone who’s never heard it before?

Kristie: Intersectionality is the point at which different parts of our identity meet, specifically marginalized identities. I am African American, but I’m also a woman. A survivor might be an immigrant and also be part of the LGBTQ+ community. These identities are connecting and overlapping and we can’t pull them apart. For example, at a college I used to work at, there was a group for LGBTQ+ students, but the students of color within the group felt like there was something missing. They went on to start an additional group that addressed the areas they felt weren’t being heard or seen in the other. These two groups worked together, but the second group was essential to meet those needs that weren’t being met. Intersectionality creates awareness of all of the different components people bring to the table, whether that’s gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or religion.

Tabitha: This is really important for white people to understand. It’s easy for most of us to walk through the world, at least in the West, because everything is catered to us. We tend to think that our way of viewing the world is the baseline for “normal.” We have to learn to walk with the awareness that what might feel “normal” or “average” to us is not necessarily the case for everyone else.
I am trying to have the awareness that I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to miss things, or make
assumptions that aren’t helpful. And there will be times when I’m called out for that, but it doesn’t have to be a source of shame, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.

Kristie: A great resource on intersectionality is Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw. I use some of her materials in my courses.

Tabitha: Futures Without Violence is another great resource. They have a phrase in one of their videos on intersectionality that I like: “We can’t end one form of violence without ending all forms of violence.”

Kristie: Sometimes when people are suffering, it can be hard for them to connect or relate to a different form of oppression. But we can’t act like these other forms of violence don’t exist just because they aren’t happening to us. I think we all have purpose. It’s true that we can’t do everything, but that’s why we need to connect with others so we can be, at the very least, a resource. I’m a lifelong learner, and I often point people to the work of someone else more knowledgeable. But we can’t just cover our eyes and pretend like violence against other communities doesn’t exist.

Tabitha: What’s the phrase? “A rising tide lifts all boats?” To me, this means that we’re all connected, and none of us are really free until all of us are free, to paraphrase Fanny Lou Hamer. So I want to see full equality and flourishing for women, and that means I want to see full equality and flourishing for people of all races. As we wrap up, can you tell us what you are reading right now?

Kristie: Well, like I said, I can’t recommend the book The Choice enough. I also just ordered How to Do the Work, which I’ve heard is good. And Dr. Caprice Hollins has been a big influence on me.

Tabitha: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Kristie! You are a gift to Northwest Family Life and to everyone you come into contact with.

 

Andrew Bauman on Working with Abusers

Andrew Bauman on Working with Abusers

Freedom Corner

Join us for an interview with Andrew Bauman. Andrew is the Founder & Director of the Christian Counseling Center: For Sexual Health & Trauma (CCC). Andrew J. Bauman is a licensed mental health counselor with a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Andrew is the author of How Not to Be an *SS, The Sexually Healthy Man, Floating Away, Stumbling Toward Wholeness, The Psychology of Porn, and (with his wife Dr. Christy Bauman) A Brave Lament book and award-winning film.

To see the full conversation, watch the video above or read the transcript below which has been edited for length and clarity.

Tabitha: I’m joined today by author and therapist Andrew Bauman to talk about his new book, How Not to Be an *SS

Andrew: Thank you so much for having me. I’m a big fan of Northwest Family Life’s work, so glad to be here.  

Tabitha: So tell me, how did you first get involved with working with victims of abuse? 

Andrew: I think most callings tap into our own story. For me, growing up, my father was a pastor yet also a secret addict, and had a certain type of theology that was very oppressive and harmful to women, including my mom. That was the world I grew up in. As I grew older and had my own 13-year addiction to pornography, I not only realized I put women as “less than,” but also saw that my theology had become oppressive. About 15 years ago, in Nancy Murphy’s class at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, I realized: “Wow, there’s a name for this. It’s called domestic violence”. And I began the process of owning my own abusive behavior, my own history of misogyny. Now I want to help men become safe, to become good, and to understand how to stop being abusive.

Tabitha: So in the beginning of your book, you mention there’s a stigma around the word abuse. Nobody wants to be called an abuser. However, you’re one of the few men I’ve ever heard that says, “I used to be abusive.” You talk about the “unaware fool” and the “narcissistic coward,” opposite ends of the abusive spectrum. Can you elaborate.

Andrew: Not all abuse is created equal, right? In a sense, we put the label of abuse only on the worst diabolical behavior you could think of, the classic example is punching your wife or physical abuse.

But the normal abuse that I see daily is in the evangelical church. [They say,] “Oh, I would never hit my wife. I’m not abusive.” But yet they are. They’re on the spectrum of abuse because of what they do to gain power and control over their partner. And they haven’t done the internal work to undo these systems of entitlement that have served them and degraded their own spouse. So, we have to create some type of framework that helps people understand that while many of them are not that kind of classical narcissistic abuser, they are, in their unawareness and carelessness, behaving abusively.

You have to dive deep to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. You have to begin to do that so you’re not a foolish man. Our unprocessed traumas are always reenacted. So if I don’t deal with my traumas, I’m going to reenact them most likely in my most intimate relationships, most likely in my marriage. I truly believe in men. I truly love men and believe we can do and be much better than this. 

Tabitha: There’s a lot of infantilizing of men, especially in the evangelical church. Sometimes, we act as if men are physically incapable of understanding anything emotional.

Andrew: Exactly. We’re talking about grown ass men here. They can read a book or they can actually reach out to me. Their partner doesn’t have to set up sessions for them. They are capable. They are grown ass men and we have to begin to require that of them because they’re not 12 year old boys.

Tabitha:  It must be really difficult for some men to say, “My behavior was abusive,” rather than minimizing it by saying, “I regret the way I treated people.” How do men respond if you say, “That behavior is actually abusive.” Are they out the door? 

Andrew: I can use an example from this morning. One [guy] says, “I am not abusive! I’m going to go to other therapists who do not say that!” And his wife is freaking out. “Now my husband’s so unsafe. When he was meeting with you, he was finally starting to get safe. And now he’s back to, “I’m good, I’m good. I’m good.” And I’m not saying that they’re bad. I’m just saying we have to integrate both our goodness, and our depravity. We are image bearers of God and we’re capable of great violence and harm. The sooner we can name that, the sooner we can move beyond it.

We have to be able to say,  “Wow. I have fallen short. I have failed and here’s how I have failed. My unprocessed trauma of my unavailable mother or violent father has been projected onto my wife.” We have got to take ownership so we can break the cycle.

Tabitha: Many Christians claim to believe in “total depravity.” But when you talk about abusive situations or racism, their first reaction is, “I would never do that!” And I’m like, “Well, your theology says that you’re perfectly capable of it.” I think sometimes we get stuck feeling ashamed of things that aren’t our fault at all and not acknowledging the things that we actually do need to repent of. 

Andrew: Yes. Well said. And I think that humility—one of the guidelines of a safe and good man—is beginning to say, “Yes, I’m a broken man and I’m willing to engage that brokenness rather than blaming, gaslighting, or saying, “It’s your fault!” or “It’s because you have childhood trauma!” or  “You’re triggering me!” Instead, we must ask, “What does it actually mean to take ownership of ourselves and our privilege?”

Tabitha: You say there’s a difference between shame and guilt. Do you have a different language for either? 

Andrew: I like to call it healthy shame versus toxic shame, and I found those categories helpful. Is this a kind of repentance? Did I mess up and feel a healthy amount of shame that I did wrong? 

Now, toxic shame is, “I am bad. I am awful. I’m a piece of crap.” That’s not helpful. That does not lead to genuine repentance. It actually leads to more acting out. It actually leads to more entitlement, and then we want to soothe our shame, so we either head towards more addiction or more abuse, or whatever makes it make us feel powerful again. Whereas healthy shame and guilt can humble us, toxic shame is humiliating. 

Tabitha: Often women who are in abusive relationships know that something’s wrong, but they don’t necessarily have the language to call it abuse. Their first thought is, “Well, he didn’t hit me, therefore it’s not abuse.” Pastors are often the first person survivors in their congregation will turn to when something’s not right in their marriage. What kind of advice would you want to give pastors who encounter this? How can they tell the difference between an unhealthy marriage and an abusive one? Who should they call?

Andrew: There is so much info out there. Online courses, Patrick Weaver, Dr. Nancy Murphy even contributed to my book, writing the essay “What church would I look for if I was an abuser?” You’ve got to get your hands on everything you can to be educated. You don’t have to be a master of all of these different things. It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing, but you need to reach out for help. You need to get help elsewhere because this is a real issue and it’s really dangerous. 

Because if one out of four women coming to your congregation have some sort of history of violence, (one out of three sexual violence,) then we have to be talking about this. We have to be addressing this. So pastors, even if it’s not your story, it is twenty-five percent of your congregation’s story! And that’s why I have such a passion for this. We’ve got to raise awareness. We’ve got to begin to address this in our churches because silently, so many men and women are suffering.

The church can be an incredibly dangerous place for victims of domestic violence. Especially when seminaries often only require one (or no) counseling classes for their Divinity students. And I hope to be a part of the change. 

Tabitha: In our survivor groups, one of the phrases that I return to a lot is, “Accountability is loving.” Many of the women that are in our groups and are working towards healing, still love the person who abused them. Could you say more about when it’s more loving to leave a relationship than to stay?

Andrew: Yeah. Sadly, a lot of times we’ve been conditioned to think the institution of marriage is somehow more important than your own individual safety. But actually, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stop enabling this toxic behavior and to say, “No.” Say no more and actually walk away because you love yourself and you love God so much. And God’s image is in you, so you will not be treated that way anymore. 

I can’t tell you the amount of men who have come to me, finally broken only after their wife finally said no and walked out. I don’t think true love is enabling that type of thing. Because if you truly love someone, you’ll help set them free. And that includes calling out abusive behavior. Because that’s not hopefully the type of man that they truly want to be or that God wants them to be. 

Tabitha: As a kid, I remember hearing that the only biblical reason for divorce was adultery. Abuse was a gray area. It’s interesting that we would hold up adultery as worse than abuse. Why? Why is that a more valid reason to end a marriage than abuse?

Andrew: So many women suffer in silence because they know their partner will not hear them. And yet what I’m seeing over the last decade of being in this work, it’s the resources and the online presence is growing. Women are saying “No more.” We’re not going to enable or be a part of this evangelical machine that enables male violence to continue.

Tabitha: You wrote in your book, “He broke the covenant of your marriage when he chose to be emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, or psychologically violent.” I think that is really important. There’s more than one way to abandon your spouse.

Talk to me a bit about survivors and anger. I know women are often punished for being angry, whereas men are looked at as more powerful when they are angry. 

Andrew: Right. I think anger is a beautiful, healthy thing for men and women to have and to embody. And it can be clean anger that actually increases intimacy and connection between the partners when anger is done without aggression. It can actually bring two people closer. Sadly, what has modeled to us and what most men demonstrate is aggression, belittling, or cutting the other person down. Whereas clean anger is just an emotion, like, “Oh, that was wrong. That really hurt my feelings.”

Tabitha: What is one thing you wish the church understood about abusive relationships? 

Andrew: That’s a big one. I want the church to understand that women are not second-class.

Much of our interpretation of the Bible, especially of Paul’s words, has been so misinterpreted. And yet our interpretation of scripture has often created this fundamental sexism against women. But we somehow say, it’s God ordained. To silence part of God’s image does not make sense. Men listening, what does it mean for us to lay down our lives? What does it mean for us to create mutuality and equality in our churches and our theology that helps us understand God much more fully, because God is in all of our faces regardless of gender.

To see more from Andrew, check out christiancc.org and andrewjbauman.com

 

Unwanted Sexual Behaviors

Unwanted Sexual Behaviors

People often think unwanted sexual behaviors happen with strangers. But the reality is there are many marriages and committed relationships where unwanted sexual behaviors occur despite the insistence by the other party for them to stop.

Unwanted sexual behaviors can include the following (but not limited to):

  • Criticism of partner’s sexuality
  • Unwanted touching
  • Demanding frequent sex
  • Name-calling (i.e., whore, frigid)
  • Sexual humiliation
  • Promiscuity
  • Forced viewing of pornographic materials
  • Forced sex with others or with an audience
  • Sex after or together with violence
  • Sex with weapons
  • Unwanted sex with sex toys
  • Rape

What’s challenging for the victims in these relationships is they may feel powerless to do anything because of their relationship status. In other words, women may think because they’re married or in a committed relationship, being sexually subservient is permissible. It’s unfortunate how many partners buy into this lie.

How does this happen? Part of it is due to their partner’s over-reliance on sex as a means of love. They may have misinterpreted sexual intimacy as the strongest means to emotional closeness thus are wedded to the notion that sex is an absolute in healthy, functioning relationships. It may start off as a joke or indirect jab at “not feeling loved” and escalate to more forceful groping or requests for sexual behaviors the other party is not comfortable with. But because the victim doesn’t feel comfortable verbalizing their experience and enforcing the boundaries, the abuser thinks their behaviors are acceptable or at the very least tolerable.

It may take years, but once the realization occurs that the victim has been sexually violated, they begin the journey of recovery and empowerment. Some relationships will reconcile when the abusers acknowledge the violations that have occurred but others will end due to the abuser’s denial, minimization, and blaming of the impacted partner.

In the end, unwanted sexual behaviors are sometimes difficult to acknowledge (on either side) but they are essentially a form of power and control that falls under the definition of domestic abuse, as they’re a violation of a person’s sexual boundaries.

 

Sam Louie is a NWFL affiliate therapist specializing in multicultural issues, sexual compulsivity, trauma, addictions, and domestic violence.

Ryan Chambers on therapy as a place to be seen

Ryan Chambers on therapy as a place to be seen

Ryan Chambers is a NWFL affiliate therapist. His clients often include people struggling with stress, depression, traumatic experiences and anxiety. He speaks to us here about therapy as a place to be seen in order to find options for change.

You’ve said that how we make sense of the world influences how we experience it; that our stories inform our patterns. Can you tell us more?

 

Oh, this is such a great topic. I developed my clinical mind at a graduate school that bridges psychology and theology. I made that choice because I think how we make meaning is hugely important to the patterns we develop and the limitations we face. As a therapist, I’m not in the business of shaping people’s beliefs but I think it’s hugely important to connect with threads of meaning woven through their lives. For example, the process of being seen is important to me. It shaped my previous work. And if I look back across my life I can see how that need that I faced outward speaks about an internal need I was trying to work with.

How does your work as a photographer dovetail with therapy?

 

Great question… I spent about a decade really focused on visual language and the power of bearing witness. The medium of photography relies on this process of taking the time to see: people, space, light, etc. And as I spent more time working with portraiture, the process of bearing witness started taking on an almost spiritual dimension. I think the process of being seen is, itself, healing. I realized therapy could be a way of moving more directly into that space. At the core of our work is a hope that if we sit with our clients, they’ll teach us who they’re becoming. It’s a process of unfolding.

 

You’ve said that you can’t really intervene or change something before someone feels seen. Can you talk about this, in the context of therapy and with children?

 

Ha! This is a great lesson my toddler’s been working with me on! The work of connecting with people is really one of being with them where they are even if it doesn’t make logical or emotional sense. And my son’s been driving home the point in a multitude of creative ways, mostly dealing with food or how I put his clothes on. He’s teaching me to find language for his experience first, wait for the connection, and then look for options. Dan Siegel talks about it with the shorthand of “connect and redirect.” This has been the same process my clients have been teaching me too, I need to see them first. When they feel felt options for change open up.

Talk to us about health as an integration between the mind and body of an individual and of other people.

 

With integration, I’m thinking within the context of Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB). IPNB offers me a really grounding framework of the mind being a relationship between body, brain and others. And it looks at health as a flexible exchange of energy and information between the parts. The really amazing thing is that who we connect with and how we connect with others is actually part of our mind, not just our mind connecting to another mind. It’s an actual neurological patterning. With this framework depression isn’t just a psychological problem and trauma isn’t necessarily an individual problem. So my work is about looking for areas where the flow of energy or information gets rigid or chaotic, understanding how that process is meeting an important need for the people I work with, and then looking for ways to honor that need better.

You mentioned that the WA state dept of health came out with a study on the mental health impact of Covid and that the risk right now is depression from loneliness and disconnection.

 

Yeah. The Washington Department of Health came out with predictions of the impact of COVID on the general population. And while trauma was my first thought they actually think depression is the most likely result. The level of psychic and bodily isolation that we’re experiencing is pretty amazing. We’re pack animals and connecting to others involves all of our senses along with our big fancy brains. Technology allows me to reach across space to connect with my family and clients. But the creature of me doesn’t feel the same sense of belonging. So it can be helpful to think about what that creature needs: maybe participating in an old hobby, eat food that smells like home, maybe looking at family pictures or listening to music from a time when life was full of expectation.

One of the “stabilization tools” I use in EMDR is peaceful place or safe space imagery. And we go through the senses in the environment the person is creating. While working with a client in my general practice we realized we could use the same technique with remembering people… creating space to go through what it feels like to be with them and connecting to each of the senses. It allowed my client to enhance their feeling of connection with others through drawing on the latent memories of connecting. I imagine there’s some potential there for developing a more secure attachment as well.

You incorporate EMDR into your work. Would you explain briefly what this is, in lay terms if possible please?

 

Yeah, I remember first hearing EMDR and thinking there’s no way I can guess what that means. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Helpful right :D?!? Basically, we learned that when there’s quick eye movement back and forth it seems to initiate a process that’s akin to REM sleep. And that process has the effect of reducing the intensity of feelings, desensitizing. So it’s used a lot with PTSD and severe anxiety. But it can also be used with addiction and problematic arousal. The goal is to reduce the severity of emotions when a certain part of us gets activated and then link that part of us with a better-resourced part of ourselves, reprocessing. My favorite description I’ve heard is that like a zipper we want to zip this more scared part of ourselves with a more capable, integrate part of ourselves. So when the scared part gets activated again we can access these other faculties. It’s kind of magical. But certainly doesn’t replace therapy because often there’s little internal structure in the areas of our lives that were filled with intense fear.

 

How can parenting be a chance to re-parent oneself?

 

Oh man. So when we interact with the brain of another, especially in distress, our brain fires as if it were in the same situation. And then, if we can’t reshape our experience, we recreate it. So through each of my kids’ ages, I’m coming into contact with these young parts of myself. And my default is to recreate the experience I had for my kids. My work as a parent is to slow down this process and make choices at those critical junctions so that I can both shape my child’s experience differently and, because memories change when we recall them, I also change my own.

It sounds pretty tidy when I type it out but it’s actually a pretty painful experience. I lost my dad when I was pretty young so there’s this kind of voidy abyss that I’ve been working with. And parenting my kids is bring me ever closer to the edges of those experiences. Moving towards change and healing can sure involve a lot of pain.

 

Talk to us about stress response systems overdeveloping, as in the case of trauma.

 

There’s a lot of different ways we can speak about trauma. I’ve liked hearing it talked about as an overdevelopment of the stress response system. Some life circumstances required us to be stronger than we should be and these muscles overdeveloped. The effects can be debilitating but it’s actually our body’s best effort to keep us safe. And my goal working with my clients is to help develop the other internal muscles to match the strengths they already have: the ability to acutely monitor their internal state, the ability to shift their mood, the ability to grieve, the ability to reliably connect with others…

How do we calm our distress systems when they are activated?

 

What an important question. Polyvagal Theory has been really helpful in shaping how I work with the symptoms of distress system activation and how I conceptualize healing since it really focuses on the body response. In really general terms, our system is telling us it feels unsafe. First, we honor that and look for immediate danger. Assuming there isn’t immediate danger, we want to communicate to our body that it’s safe. The urge is normally to solve problems with our minds. But the issue is that the alarm is too sensitive or going off too intensely. Trying to use thoughts to solve the problem can often enhance the distress. Instead, we want to focus on turning off the signal. There are different routes for that and everyone will have their preferences: getting a hug, exerting physical energy, taking a bath, crying. But ideally the actions we take communicate to the creature of us that we’re safe. There’s a lot more to it but hopefully this offers a frame.

Would you speak to some of the ways that people get prepped for domestic violence?

 

For many of my clients, we often discover that DV relationships echo or link up with other relationships. And we often discover there were ways they were prepped for the DV relationship. I haven’t discovered a tidy way to say exactly how. For some, it seems to be feeling overly responsible for others or finding an external voice to echo an internal negative self-perception, for others it’s the sense that they aren’t allowed to have a mind that’s different from those they love. So working through a DV relationship often involves grieving deeper wounds. Therapy is a place to bring curiosity and care to these parts of our story. And the rewards of the work are greater resiliency, connection with others and belief in yourself. It’s a hugely hopefully process and one I’m often in awe of.

Barbara Tantrum on Foster Care and Adoption

Barbara Tantrum on Foster Care and Adoption

Barbara Trantrum is the NWFL Director of Foster Care and Adoption. She is one of the founders of Northwest Trauma Counseling and has been a NWFL affiliate therapist for the last  6 years. She works with both children and adults, often around issues of foster care, adoption and attachment.

 

You have 7 kids, tell us about the makeup of your family.

 

Our kids range in age from 9 to 23 and include 2 bio kids and 5 non-traditional kids. Of our non-traditional kids, we have one sibling group of three and two non-related kids. We have children from DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. We received one child through a private agreement with her family whom we are friends with. We foster international refugee children through a UN program. Most of our kids have been with us for either 10 or 12 years, but we have one newer one of less than a year. We are about to adopt our 18-year-old.

How can identifying emotions be difficult for kids with trauma?

 

Emotional identification is something that often has to be taught, even for typical kids, but for kids with trauma it is much more difficult. Kids with trauma are more easily triggered – making access to those emotions more difficult. For children with trauma, emotional expression can often feel unsafe – for many kids the only thing they can express is anger. Other emotions feel too vulnerable, so any strong emotion that they feel ends up coming out as anger.

 

How/why do you incorporate art and music into therapy?

 

Music and art access emotions and feelings in ways that talk alone cannot do. I try to use music and art in fun ways in therapy like playing musical chairs, drumming, playing emotions pictionary, and painting together. I have created books with clients with their art, and done countless art and craft projects.

 

Tell us about how attachment is formed through mirroring.

 

We try to help attachment form in many of the ways that attachment forms organically with an infant and child. The attachment cycle of an infant expressing a need and the need being met and that cycle happening a million times over is the basis for healthy attachment.

Mirroring is a normal part of attachment with a baby and a parent during the early stages of development – a mom sticks out her tongue and the baby follows suit. This is the activation of the mirror neurons in the baby’s brain and the beginning of empathy. For children that come from abuse and neglect where there has been an interruption in attachment, it can often really help to activate these mirror neurons. This works best for younger kids, but we encourage parents to do mirroring activities with kids of all ages – things like having kids and parents repeat a pattern on a drum that one person makes, singing songs together, playing games that involve mirroring, etc.

 

Tell us about working with kids and parents as a unit.

 

For kids with attachment challenges, they often get into a pattern of what we call “parent shopping,” which is when they aren’t sure of the security of their placement and are always scouting out the next place to go. A sympathetic therapist can make a very tempting target, and that can cause a lot of very tricky dynamics. I want the child to attach to the parent, not to me.

Also, kids often come into therapy thinking that they’re the problem, and the kids are never just the problem – any solution involves the whole family. So I work almost exclusively with kids and parents together. The model of dropping a child off to talk with a therapist for an hour with little contact with the parents just doesn’t work to solve attachment problems for those in foster care and adoption and reinforces that the kid is the problem.

 

You’ve said that when you parent a kid with trauma, it really brings up your own trauma. Can you expand on why and how to navigate this?

 

A soldier with childhood trauma is far more likely to get PTSD on the battlefield, and the same is true for a parent. If you have childhood trauma, when your child dysregulates and has a PTSD reaction that could very well set off your own PTSD reaction. Often I work with parents who mostly know what they need to do in parenting, but being able to keep control of their own reactions is tough. For parents with childhood trauma, I recommend that they be in therapy to help them. In my own life when I have sought therapy when my secondary trauma reactions were more than I could handle, and it was enormously helpful. In the interest of the whole family, I also talk a lot about self-care and emotional regulation for everyone in the family.

 

Talk to us about interracial and international adoption.

 

International adoption is on a decline currently, as overseas orphan care is shifting to building up foster care and adoption programs in the countries of origin. There still is international adoption happening, especially for special needs children, and for situations like refugees and such.

Interracial adoption is becoming the new norm. In 1996 the federal government legally mandated that race cannot be a factor in adoptive placements, and currently about 40% of adoptions are transracial. Although we often think of transracial adoption as being white parents adopting children of color, I work with parents and children of all combinations.

The most important thing with transracial foster care and adoption is respect and conversation – you never want to adopt from a people group that you don’t respect and enjoy. When you adopt from another ethnic group your family becomes multiethnic, and how your family functions needs to reflect that reality.

The other key is to talk about racial issues, don’t just pretend the child is the same race as the parents and go with that. Studies show that children raised in transracial adoptions do basically the same as same-race adoptions if the parents talk to them about racial issues.

 

Can you talk about the places where domestic violence and foster care intersect?

 

It is rare to have a child adopted from foster care at an older age that hasn’t experienced domestic violence. Domestic violence is one of the main reasons that kids are in foster care and need new families. Many of the dynamics of domestic violence continue in the dynamics of sibling relationships when parents adopt sibling groups, and we have to talk a lot about power dynamics and control issues. For a child, witnessing domestic violence is just as traumatic as experiencing it done to them.

 

WA State is experiencing a massive shortage of foster parents, with 1,000 less foster homes available now than 10 years ago, and more kids than ever in the system. What are some ways people might help?

 

Treehouse is a great place to donate or help, it’s a local organization that helps foster kids in King County. You can also become a CASA voulunteer, or help at the many churches that support foster care ministry. If you are considering foster care and are not quite ready to take the full plunge, you can do something called respite care, which is having foster kids short term to give their regular foster parents a break.

If you are ready to take the plunge, I recommend working with a private foster care agency rather than just with the state, and there are several great ones. Some organizations in the Seattle area that I recommend are Amara, Bethany Christian Services, Olive Crest, and Antioch. If you are interested in fostering refugee foster children, check out Lutheran Community Services. Before committing to an agency, make sure you talk to some people who have used that agency before and ask them about their experiences.

 

What are some recommendations or resources you have for people who are interested in become foster parents?

 

Talk to some current foster parents and look into what is involved. But don’t get too intimidated, you don’t have to be a superhero to be a foster parent – just be open to learning and growing.

Find a support group – either through your agency or through your church or community. The time to do this is when you are getting licensed – you will need support when kids hit your house.

The Refresh Conference is a fantastic conference put on every year by Overlake Christian Church, and it is a wealth of information. You can go even if you’re just checking it out! There are also a lot of different agencies there so it can be a great way to get a feel for different agencies all at once.

The movie Instant Family is also a pretty accurate representation of what it’s like to become a foster parent.

Barbara has a book called: The Adoptive Parents’ Handbook: A Guide to
Healing Trauma and Thriving with Your Foster or Adopted Child,
coming out in September 2020.  You can connect with her via
email.

Tyler Ziebarth on Trauma and Our Innate Desire for Growth

Tyler Ziebarth on Trauma and Our Innate Desire for Growth

Tyler Ziebarth is a Northwest Family Life affiliate therapist who often works around issues of trauma, addiction, anxiety, and toxic beliefs.

Talk to us about humanity’s innate drive to grow.

 

This is a deep belief that I hold about people: that we all have an innate drive towards growth and development. Our natural movement is towards wholeness and “largeness”, that is, occupying a larger sense of who we are and our worth as individuals. Carl Jung once said, “We all walk around in shoes far too small for us”. By that I think he meant that the roles we play and the scripts we have been given by family and society are not large enough to contain the beauty and potential each of possess at our core.

So many problems arise when that movement towards our largeness is stifled in some way. This can occur either from things that happen to us (trauma, abuse, etc), or things that should have happened but didn’t (empathy, validation and attunement from caregivers). But no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) to us in our lives, it does not negate or destroy that inherent summons to grow and expand.

In fact, sometimes the “stuckness” we feel in our lives is our soul’s way of alerting us to places where growth and largeness are being stifled. If we have ears to hear and a sense of curiosity toward our symptoms, they may actually have much to teach us about what we need in our lives to become more fully who we were intended to be.

 

How might someone’s relationship to food or sex reflect how they relate to the world?

 

Sex and food have much in common. Both have a lot to do with longing and desire, the hunger for connection with self and others, and an appreciation of the body and its capacity for sensual pleasures. Sex and food are both ways we bring our bodies pleasure, a sense of comfort, nurturance, and care. How we relate to sex and food reveals much about how we are in relationships with others as well.

If you think about it, food was also one of the first ways we learned to soothe intolerable internal sensations. We felt the pang of hunger as an infant, and our mothers responded by feeding us. It was also in these moments of feeding that we were simultaneously being relationally satiated, having the experience of our caregiver attuned to our hunger for both food and relationship. No wonder sex (longing for relationship) and food become emotionally charged issues later in our lives.

It makes sense that if we have not developed internal resources for coping with stress, or the unpredictability of life, that we return to these early forms of self-regulation, often with extreme and unhealthy consequences. So though food and sex can offer us ways to bring our bodies pleasure and a sense of comfort, they can also become areas that bring contempt, condemnation and pain when we do not have other means of soothing our hearts.

 

Why might one want to develop the ability to tolerate anxiety?

 

For better or worse, anxiety always goes hand and hand with growth. The ability to tolerate anxiety is a prerequisite to growth. The hard truth is that the extent that we avoid and escape feeling anxiety is the extent that we also sacrifice our growth and development. Anxiety is uncomfortable, especially for those who have experienced any sort of trauma in their lives. But, as is the case with most of our anxiety-avoidance strategies , they hinder us moving forward in our lives. As the old adage goes, “what we resist persists,” and I would add, grows bigger and scarier.

Healing requires tremendous courage to face the monsters of our past and grow in our capacity to tolerate these states of anxiety. We learn how to attend, befriend and regulate our anxiety, rather than letting it rule our lives by constantly avoiding it or becoming overwhelmed by it. This is where working with a therapist can be helpful in offering the support, attunement and containment, often required to step into these places.

 

Talk to us about dysregulation.

 

Dysregulation is a form of losing your emotional balance. This is what happens when we get over the top stressed and our nervous system goes into overdrive. At this point our bodies are flooded with stress hormones and we lose access to the thinking part of our brain. For some this emotional hijacking can feel like you are drowning in your emotions. Or, for some it feels like going into “shut down mode” and they experience an absence of feeling, or numbness.

Either response hinders our ability to think straight and respond to the situation with the necessary flexibility and wisdom required to navigate the complexities of life and relationships. When our nervous system is going haywire, we naturally turn to anything that will help calm us down and rebalance us. This is where potential problems arise. If we have not developed the internal resources necessary to bring our systems back to a state of goodness and calm, we will inevitably outsource this job to a number of external things and/or behaviors (food, sex, tv, over-work) with potential negative consequences.

 

How might extreme trauma require a witness to stand beside someone as they work through overwhelming states?

 

The overwhelming states that trauma survivors talk about are sometimes called “body memories”. It is well documented that traumatic memories are often held in the body and experienced by survivors as overwhelming physical sensations. When the memory remains unprocessed, the body acts as if the trauma is “happening now” rather than something that “happened then”.

In other words, even though the thinking part of our brain knows the trauma happened a long time ago in the past, when a reminder of the past triggers us in the present, our thinking brain shuts down and our bodies act as if the trauma is happening all over again. At this point the person’s body is completely hijacked by terrifying physical sensations similar to what they experienced in the past. It is as if that young part of them who experienced those terrifying experiences back then is still very much alive in the present. The body, and subsequently those younger parts of us, get tagged as the source of terrifying sensations and are avoided at all costs.

Part of the work for trauma survivors is to reconnect with those young traumatized parts of the self and offer the care, attunement and containment they originally needed back then. Those younger parts need someone older, stronger and wiser to see how bad things were back then, and offer the appropriate care and protection that was missing. I often tell my clients that those panicked, triggered parts of us need to know that “someone gets it”, in order for those parts to move forward and heal. The therapist may be the initial witness to the client’s story, but over time the client becomes empowered to become that witness for their younger selves.

 

Tell us a little bit about different parts of the self, especially the younger parts and how they grow.

 

The writer Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, “I am still every age that I have been”. I love that because I think it speaks to the reality that we are not a single “self”, but all are made up of many parts of self. I think we all intuitively feel this, and it is especially evident when you hear people say things like, “part of me wants to do this, but another part wants that…”. The Pixar movie “Inside Out” is another great example of this theory of multiple selves. How many of us can recall feeling younger than we are at certain times of frustration or disappointment, or when we visit our childhood homes during the holidays? The path of growth and maturity requires that we learn to attend to and work with these younger parts of ourselves when they get activated.

This is especially necessary for those who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. When a traumatic event happens (or repeatedly happens) to a child, the experience is “too much” to process, but the child has no choice but to try and carry on with their lives as best they can. This requires the ability to “forget” what happened. This is accomplished by storing the memories and sensations of the event in a different part of our brain so that we can carry on with the task of daily life. It is as if we offload those memories to one part of the self and then exile them to “the basement”, in order for us to move on. This is a brilliant strategy and we must be grateful that our brains come equipped with this feature because otherwise we would be paralyzed and unable to move forward after a traumatic event. This compartmentalization strategy, however, does have consequences. Those exiled and neglected parts still bear the burdens of the past, and may become easily triggered by present day events.

These confusing symptoms are often what bring trauma survivors into therapy in the first place, and it becomes helpful to start viewing the symptoms as communications from younger parts of us that are not doing well and therefore flooding us with their emotions. The task of therapy is to begin learning how to attend to these young parts of the self and offer them the care and nurturance they need in order to heal.

 

Could you talk a little about post traumatic growth?

 

This is a somewhat newer area of research that is coming about, and it is quite interesting. My understanding at least is that this is the idea that some people claim positive psychological changes due to facing adversity and challenges in their lives. It is the idea that while traumatic events and adversity are never desired or welcomed, these challenging experiences nonetheless hold the opportunity for people to experience new growth, inner strength/resiliency, and aspects of the self previously undiscovered.  Many people report a radical shift in perspective about their lives and the nature of life itself after working through their traumatic past. Rather than seeing themselves as victims in a tragic life story, they begin to see themselves as survivors capable of overcoming the worst that life has thrown at them.

I find this a helpful paradigm shift. In our day and age it is sometimes easy to forget that we humans are incredibly resilient creatures capable of overcoming tremendous hardship. This is especially important to remember for those trauma survivors who hold toxic beliefs about themselves as “weak”, “defective” or “ruined”. My only worry about this idea is that people will use it to cover over or dismiss the reality of their abuse, and may avoid the necessary journey into grief that must accompany trauma treatment.

 

Do you often encounter people holding toxic believes about themselves?

 

This is probably the most common issue that I encounter as a therapist, but especially for those clients who have experienced any sort of trauma. These toxic beliefs about our self as “disgusting”, “defective”, “unlovable”, etc. are the voice of shame. I would describe the experience of shame as like being in a trance. When you are in this trance, your mind, body and soul come under attack and become weighed down by accusations that you are inadequate, broken and beyond repair. It is a terribly painful state to inhabit, and equally difficult to shake yourself out of.

Shame also sets us up for self-contempt, which is like an internal civil war between parts of our self.  This war often goes unnoticed because of how subtle it can be. Freedom requires tuning into the ways we attack our more vulnerable parts, and instead work to offer those parts care rather than contempt.

 

Talk about choosing curiosity over contempt.

 

This may be somewhat of an overstatement, but sometimes I think this is a majority of what I help clients with: choosing curiosity over contempt. So many of us come into therapy looking to “get rid of”, “eliminate” or “control” problematic symptoms. This makes sense, of course. After all, who wants to continue living with depression, panic attacks, or compulsive behaviors of any kind?

However, I believe we have to first become curious about what our symptoms may be trying to tell us. Symptoms are like signposts pointing us to the wound, and subsequently, towards healing. If we listen to our symptoms rather than trying to frantically get rid of them, they will have much to tell us about what those parts of us need in order to heal. Often though, repeated unsuccessful attempts to manage or control un-welcomed symptoms leads to increasing hatred of those parts of us. This contempt further separates and internally divides us.

Rather, the way forward is to learn to increasingly bring curiosity and the intention to nurture those young, exiled parts in us that are crying out for help. This is the only way I’ve found that actually brings a sense of wholeness and healing.

You can connect with Tyler here