Being a Child Witness of Domestic Violence

Being a Child Witness of Domestic Violence

As I wrote this I struggled to find adequate words to thank, encourage and inform supporters of Northwest Family Life and then I thought about those we are really here to support and my thoughts went to my 84-year-old mother. At the age of 23, on January 26,1963 she and my Dad (also 23 at the time) were married. Both of them, having migrated from the South a couple years earlier, were hoping for a better life. The following year on March 1, 1964, my older sister Regina would be born. I wouldn’t show up until 5 years later in January 1969.

My mother often talks about those early years when she felt that she and my Father were working together to build a home, family and a business. Although I do not know the exact details of when or what took place, my mother recently shared that the abuse began around 1972 when I was 3 years old and my sister would have been 8. I do recall the abuse and how scared both Gina and I were. I also recall running at different times to the neighbor’s home or homes of family members, like the home of my Mom’s brother, my Uncle Willie. I also recall an extended stay when we traveled throughout the night and moved to Pensacola Florida where we could flee the abuse sometime in 1976. Here we would temporarily stay with my Mom’s sister, my Aunt Bobbie until my Mom secured a job and a home for us. This I recall being a big deal, because Gina and I had to transfer to a new Catholic school. It was quite a culture shock as a child, having to learn to navigate a new environment.

The one thing that stands out for me during these times of upheaval are the looks we received from family, or neighbors every time we had to be relocated from one place to another. These looks and stares I believe taught me early to not be disruptive or rock the boat so to speak, because having a home or place to live meant stability. My Dad would come down during Christmas of that year and we would return back to Cleveland early the next year in 1977. This of course meant transferring once again back to our school. Of course, the abuse would soon pick back up and would eventually end in 1979 when my Mom resolved to leave my Dad for good and divorce him.

Flash forward to now, I think of all of the things my mom endured at such a young age and how she had to start over on her own with two daughters, me at the age of 10 and my sister 15. I know it wasn’t easy, but she always found a way and would eventually not only survive, but thrive. What assisted her were these things:

  • Her faith in God which shaped her identity. She knew she was not created to be abused.
  • Her desire for both Gina and I to know we were worth more, so we would not think the abuse was normal.
  • Establishing a safe community of friends that she could talk to who would not judge but embrace her.
  • Utilizing her creative gifts and talents including but not limited to sewing and baking as an outlet and sharing these gifts and talents with others to help where needed.
  • Journaling her feelings and writing stories and poems.

 

To this day, these areas continue to shape and strengthen my mom, who I dedicate this to. I write this to women who may be in the midst of DV situations to date. Please know that your children value you and see you even in times that you don’t see yourselves. They see and know your worth and value and they need you. The decisions you make impact them in more ways than you know. As a child witness of domestic violence, I know what it is like to carry fear and I am grateful that my mother chose to leave and remove my sister and I from a violent household. In leaving, she modeled what it is like to live in faith and not fear, and to believe and hope for better.

I never imaged that I would be an Affiliate of Northwest Family Life. How I got to this place was in attending what once was Mars Hill Graduate School and is now The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Having attended the college, they established a DVA program which I will be forever grateful for. Although I applied for the counseling program, I never realized that I’d not processed the grief and trauma of my childhood until I met Dr. Nancy Murphy and attended one of her classes. Once I’d sat in her class, I was hooked and would be fortunate to be an intern there at NWFL working with the women and children.

While at the Seattle School, I not only completed a degree in counseling, but I also obtained a certificate in domestic violence advocacy. During my time at the Seattle School, two individuals that I was most inspired by were Dr. Nancy Murphy who taught the DV course and Dr. Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting who taught the Multicultural Counseling course. I continue to be inspired by them both to this day and will forever consider them to be mentors. They both genuinely cared and helped guide and encourage me while in the program at Mars Hill and beyond. I also feel in some way that God placed them in my path to not only guide me toward my career, but to help heal some of my brokenness as they modeled genuine love and compassion even in difficult times and spaces.

I believe it is for this reason that I ultimately came to a place where I now teach about the issues of power and control which is the root of both domestic violence and racism. I feel blessed to be able to engage individuals in teaching and learning opportunities that support diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. I have been able to continue to do this within my full-time role as faculty at Walden College in the Clinical Mental Health Department as well as in an affiliate role at Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center.

In Honor of my Mom, Minnie Lee Williams. Thank you for being you!

Kristie Williams, PhD, LPC

 

 

 

 

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.

Davia Monet on Processing Feelings

Davia Monet on Processing Feelings

Davia was a NWFL Affiliate who specialized in working with children and adolescents from a psychoanalytic perspective and was based in Bellingham. Davia tended to use a Jungian approach often utilizing art and image-based methods including dream work with her clients, young and old. We chatted with her here about different ways to process feelings.

How do you work with kids when they don’t have language for what they are feeling?

I find in the case of working with kids who have limited language for what they are feeling, taking things to an imaginal realm helps. If you ask a kid to tell or draw you a story, their feelings will be in there, with more space for complexity (the feeling has a specific face, perhaps character, in a specific context that wouldn’t be able to surface if we stuck to the literal). If I do have to ask about things directly, I’ll have more body-based inquiries. “How did your tummy feel when mom said….” etc.

Talk to us about the importance of letting kids feel the breadth of their emotions.

When kids (and adults!) can experience the full breadth of emotions, they are less likely to narrow in on one emotion or thought in repetition. An example would be lumping entire experiences into only sadness or anger, or distraction from feelings that can’t be related to at all which can look like hyperactivity, forgetfulness, compulsion and fear. If one can learn to value that full range of feeling, the default assessments won’t rule the roost!

Talk to us about this idea of trauma ‘hiding’ when the brain isn’t able to compute what is happening.

I think of trauma as another word for an experience we don’t have capacity to fully feel. Often trauma is worked with by a person in ways that aren’t exactly recognized as thoughts or feelings. It falls outside of a thinkable or recognizable realm by definition, but it isn’t lost. It goes somewhere.

Does trauma always look like one huge event? Could you give us an example of a ‘smaller’ trauma?

In this way, smaller traumas happen all the time. Any time your mind has to attempt to put something off in order to continue because it doesn’t know how to experience it, that’s trauma.
So, everyone experiences trauma. Trauma is built into human development. Our mind grows to a point where it doesn’t recognize itself and gets organized using the tools available – largely other people’s example.

Talk about validating emotions like anger, especially in the context of domestic violence.

We learn what certain emotions feel like by seeing them on another’s face, and learn what to do about them through others’ actions too. So, if someone has only seen violent anger, connecting with their genuine feeling and affect could be difficult, but necessary work. It would be really important for such a person to find a safe place to experience strong emotion and get familiar with how it feels to them particularly.

In my work with children especially, though certainly with adults as well, I will meet folks who deny experiencing anger if they’ve seen it predominately violently, or will recognize it as something else (sadness, depression, anxiety). Another might only feel/express anger paired with violence towards themself or others. Or perhaps the anger will be severed and pop up in some psychosomatic way. Because anger is an important part of the emotional spectrum, it’s important to learn to experience it with all of its colors, not only the stunted expression.

Can you talk about your work around images, dreams and sensory experiences?

I work with folk’s dreams and images and sensory experiences because those images and sensory feelings seem to hold units of psychic content, made by the particular mind. It’s like I could talk about anger with a client all day, where they’ve seen it before in their family and all that. But if we’re not getting to the particular mind’s images and specific containers of anger, it’s still gonna be pretty superficial work. In this way, my clinical mind is pretty Jungian. I use other methods and borrow modalities but I can’t un-see the archetypal stuff.

Tell us about how you as a counselor experience someone’s “felt” presence.

A “felt sense” of folks is important here too. How they sit, how they present, what it feels like to be with them gives me a referential point to start that work. The images and feelings that get transferred to me can have enormous psychic content for my client, and we are learning together what it means to tend to them.

Do you have a theory of change?

Change looks like learning to be a companion to oneself. That contains all the buzzword-concepts like containment, self-soothing, self care, mindfulness and all that but I see those things as for the sake of the psychic content having a place to live and be welcomed in order to work itself out. Like, complexes can’t be eradicated…but they can be given some space to breathe, and to open/loosen some of those associations, so a person has some creativity, they aren’t at the mercy of the associated compulsions any longer.

Are there any resources you would like to share with our audience?

Audre Lorde – she’s rooted in identifying cultural containers of psychic content (particularly in regard to racism and sexism) and teasing out those complex-hubs. I’m so grateful for her work. Check out “Sister Outsider.”

I also return to Bell Hooks a lot. I like memoir as a genre because it’s like I’m watching someone working poetically with their experience, using that inner companion. It’s helpful to me clinically. Check out “Teaching to Transgress.”

 

 

 

 

Julie DeBoer on Food and Body Issues

Julie DeBoer on Food and Body Issues

Julie DeBoer is a NWFL affiliate therapist who specializes in trauma, abuse, and food and body issues.  She has a background in eating disorder treatment, and she is passionate about helping clients develop new ways of relating to themselves and their bodies.

 

Tell us about the work you do with clients around food and body issues. 

            Most of my clients have strained relationships with their bodies and struggle to varying degrees to accept, love, and nourish their bodies. They experience their bodies as places of pain and shame rather than safety and comfort, and many have learned to fight against their bodies rather than allying with them. For the population I work with, this often involves disordered eating and exercise patterns.  Many of my clients have become both fixated on their bodies and simultaneously highly estranged from them. They have learned to resist or override their physical needs and cues rather than listening and attending to them. My desire is to help my clients restore a sense of belonging in their own bodies. In that way, I really see my work as a therapist as the slow and gentle process of bringing people back home to themselves.    

 

Can you speak to the idea of the body as home?

            From the time we are born until we die, our bodies carry us through the world, and they are really our only constant. Our other physical houses are temporary and transient, but we never leave our bodies. Our bodies contain us–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–and are meant to be places of safety and comfort. If “home” is a place where we are known and loved and cared for and free to be ourselves, I believe that our own bodies are meant to be the place we experience that most fully. 

 

So what happens when that home (the body) is unsafe?

            All too often, our bodies endure harm and violence, and for survivors of these experiences, the body can feel extremely unsafe. For a survivor of trauma, the body is a place of immense vulnerability and betrayal, and many have the experience of feeling trapped in their bodies rather than being at home there. To live in the body is terrifying, and yet, there is no way to escape. So people who have suffered harm often develop ways of psychologically leaving their bodies by disconnecting and dissociating, because staying feels unbearable.I believe that so often, patterns of addiction and disordered eating and self-harm are ways that people struggle with the reality of living in a body that feels unsafe.  

 

Talk about helping people identify and understand patterns that have been informed by trauma

            In my experience, helping people identify the links between trauma and current behavioral patterns is often so essential to the healing process. When people can begin to understand why their body has responded in the ways that it has and how it has been wired to protect them, they can begin to develop a sense of empathy, gratitude, and ultimately trust for their bodies.

           

How might trauma affect a person’s experience with their own body

            Trauma is, by definition, an experience that overwhelms our system and exceeds our capacity to process it in the moment. Our bodies have an ingenious way of helping us survive these experiences by creating a split between our mind and body and essentially allow our minds to leave while our bodies endure the traumatic experience. For many, this split continues long after the traumatic event is over and leads survivors to fundamentally distrust their bodies. They experienced their body as powerless during the traumatic event and may feel that their body has betrayed them. Many trauma survivors hold conscious or unconscious resentment toward their body for responding as it did. It’s also important to recognize that when we feel powerless, we often respond by doubling down on controlling behaviors to try to increase a sense of power, and this frequently plays out in body-based processes such as eating disorders. 

When you combine all of these factors, the unfortunate reality is that trauma sets survivors up in an almost uncanny way to have highly contentious relationships with their bodies. 

 

How might feeling anger be terrifying for a trauma survivor?

          To be connected with anger is to be connected with a sense of power. I believe that most trauma survivors experience immense ambivalence regarding their own power. For some, anger can become a means of trying to protect themselves and compensate for the experience of powerlessness. For others, feeling anger may increase their experience of feeling out of control, and they put their anger on lockdown. Particularly for survivors of abuse or domestic violence, anger can feel quite dangerous and actually expose them to greater harm, so they learn to bury it at all costs. Even long after the threat has passed, anger can feel terrifying and difficult to access. I think learning to engage anger and connect with power can be an immensely important component of the healing process for survivors of trauma, but it is often a long and very difficult process.

  

Talk about befriending or reconciling with your body

          Our bodies are created for survival. They are wired in all kinds of intricate and incredible ways to keep us alive, and when we can begin to understand how our bodies have been working our entire lives to keep us safe, we can start to trust them and ally with them rather than fighting against them.

 

Tell us about the mindfulness part of your work

            I use mindfulness and body awareness practices frequently in my work, especially with clients seeking help with food and body issues. Our bodies are constantly giving us data about ourselves and the world around us, and every time we pause and choose to listen to these physical sensations and cues, it is a way of telling our bodies, “I trust you.” When we practice mindfulness, we are returning home to our bodies, even if only for a moment. Mindfulness does not magically take away the fear or anxiety that we hold in our bodies, but through repetition it slowly increases our capacity to feel safe there.

 

For many of your clients, there is also a faith component to trauma work. What does someone do with the question, “If God is good and loves me, how did this happen,” or “Where was God when…?

            Part of the crisis of trauma is meaninglessness. Trauma is suffering with no explanation or purpose, and for many survivors, this raises questions about God. Part of the healing work of trauma is meaning-making and finding ways to integrate the traumatic experience into their belief system. Many of my clients of faith have found meaning in experiencing God as a co-sufferer. Elie Weisel is a Holocaust survivor who writes about the horrific experience of watching the execution of a Jewish child. He writes, “Behind me, I heard a man asking, ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where [God] is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows.’” For many of my clients, this sense of God suffering with them has brought a profound sense of comfort and meaning. 

 

Do you have any resources you would like to share with us?

 

Food Psych podcast by Christy Harrison

I’m Taking My Body Back” TED Talk by Rupi Kaur

Night, by Elie Weisel

The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van der Kolk

 

To get in touch with Julie please call 206-880-3430 or email jdeboer@nwfamilylife.org

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.

Katya Wojcik speaks on domestic violence, PTSD and learning to trust again

Katya Wojcik speaks on domestic violence, PTSD and learning to trust again

Katya Wojcik is a Northwest Family Life affiliate therapist who specializes in issues of trauma, abuse, and PTSD.

 

Katya, you are also a DV survivor. How does your own history impact your advocacy work with others?

 

I feel that it has allowed me an even deeper connection with those affected by domestic violence. I understand first hand the ways that an unhealthy relationship can affect survivors and this helps me to empathize in a genuine manner. My own history makes me want to continue to challenge myself to be vulnerable with others so that they can gain more knowledge and awareness.

 

Talk about the grooming process and some of the distinct patterns in vocabulary that are common to many abusers.  

 

In my experience as well as that of many I’ve worked with, there is often a common theme of abusers wooing an individual from the beginning stages of the relationship. They may talk about you being everything to them, say no one else is worthy of you, and slowly separate you from your close family and friends. Abusive relationships often form quickly, many times resulting in engagement and marriage. Once an abuser has built you up it may seem like literally overnight they begin to become abusive, making you wonder who this new person is. Through the confusion, you may often endure physical, emotional and verbal abuse. Everything will be your fault, right down to the reasons that they physically hurt you. “You made me hit you…” Often it will seem like nothing you do is ever right and you are walking on eggshells, living in constant anxiety and unable to prepare for the next blowout.

 

What kind of advice might you give to those who experience triggers related to DV or PTSD symptoms?

 

Be kind to yourself, honor the strength you have to be able to say you made it through that time in your life. Know that you can use your triggers to increase your awareness of how you feel about certain things and how to navigate yourself in a healthier manner.

 

Talk to us about healing being constant instead of a definite end place.

 

Just like tending to your body physically, healing yourself emotionally and spiritually are equally as important. We are exposed to many things in the world, often those things make a mark on our lives. If we do not practice self-care, checking in with ourselves, and constant healing, life can begin to get overwhelming.

 

Not all answers come when you want them to. What are your thoughts on pushing through discomfort instead of a quick fix.

 

Quick fixes usually don’t last, it’s only through self-reflection, understanding, and awareness that growth can happen with more consistent results. You can learn a great deal about yourself once you tap into what your discomforts are and the healthiest manner to navigate them.

 

Talk to us about how for an abuser, abuse may be a way of survival.

 

It has always been my experience that abusers are often individuals who have very low self-esteem and are unhappy with life and themselves. Happy people don’t want to harm others. Instead of focusing on their own issues, abusers blame others and it becomes a way of survival. Without this, they would be forced to look at their own flaws and feel the discomfort of it.

 

Speak to us about the possibilities people have to evolve/change/rename themselves.

 

Sadness, difficulty, and failure give us the opportunity to rebuild and come back as stronger more resilient individuals. Channel your pain into power. Connect with yourself and watch how you can navigate with ease something that might be difficult for others.

 

You say that learning to trust again after abuse is a continuum, not just something that happens. Can you elaborate on this?

 

Learning to trust yourself after an abusive relationship is difficult. Often when we look back we can sense that our gut or intuition had warned us but we ignored it. We have to turn up the volume on ourselves and trust what we feel. Check in with yourself often, ask why you feel a certain way in a certain experience. Take a risk on trusting that you know what is best for yourself.

 

You often encourage survivors to exercise their voice. Would you tell us about this?

 

Your voice is one of your biggest assets. It’s this and your experience that can help others to increase their awareness, resiliency, and understanding of what abuse is. Your voice can help others connect with their own experiences.

 

Connect with Katya

Dr. Kristie Williams, Silence, Grief, & A Space for Voice

Dr. Kristie Williams, Silence, Grief, & A Space for Voice

Dr. Kristie Williams is a Northwest Family Life affiliate therapist working from Alabama. She offers in person therapy as well as tele-counseling.

 

Would you tell us about A Space for Voice?

 

A Space for Voice – Healing the Wounds of Domestic Violence, is a series for women who are either survivors of domestic violence or were child witnesses. The purpose of this 6-week series is to provide a safe space and opportunity for individuals to identify any existing behavioral or relational patterns they feel continue to impact their way of being. Utilizing a community model of support to aid individuals in their healing process, specific steps include lessons on the following: 1) Understanding the Dynamics of Domestic Violence; 2) Uprooting the Lies of Domestic Violence; 3) Dismantling the False Foundation of Domestic Violence; 4) Silent No More; 5) Blaming vs. Reclaiming; and; 6) Arise and Grieve No More.

 

You’ve said that silence doesn’t dissolve anything. Talk to us about what silence allows.

 

In instances of domestic violence and abuse, silence can deaden or harden the heart of the survivor. The survivor may no longer trust themselves or allow themselves a space for relationship. They may become hyper-vigilant, fearing the possibility of ever having or maintaining safe connections.  Similar to what takes place when an infected wound is not allowed to heal properly, silence can deaden what was once full of life, or kill the hope of future possibility. Sharing one’s voice within a safe community can restore hope and life as well as provide a model for healthy relationships.

 

Talk to us about cultural competency.

 

Cultural competency is an intentional process of educating oneself regarding knowledge of various cultures.  However, to go beyond just developing knowledge means to seek understanding, which is an ongoing relational process. Therefore, being intentional about actively increasing cultural competence means being willing to recognize that a person’s culture is also influenced by various components of who they are (e.g., gender, religion, education, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and other personal characteristics).  So cultural competence includes engaging own’s own self-awareness and being open to:

  • Multiple perspectives
  • Relationship building
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Cultural understanding
  • Intercultural communication

 

The power and control wheel is often used to talk about issues of domestic violence. You’ve mentioned also applying this wheel to issues of race and diversity. Can you expand on this?

 

If you examine the power and control wheel and think about it in terms of inequity and intolerance regarding issues of diversity and inclusion, you can see how the same spokes on the wheel are used for bullying purposes to shut out individuals based on their ethnicity, gender, religion, education, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disabilities or other personal characteristics.

 

You also do a lot of work around grief and loss. Tell us about this work and the possibility, you believe can be found, even in the midst of grief.

 

Isolation from others is often a response to our grief and loss.  Yet finding a safe space to discuss and grieve loss is a vital part of the process.  One’s safe space can be found in the community of a group or with an individual. Either way, healing takes place in the disclosure of story.  Story sharing allows the face and voice of another to join in the recognition of loss and honoring that space. Also, the only way out is through.  To completely get to the other side of the process individuals must allow themselves to feel, experience and go through all their emotions to heal.

 

Tell us about your DV work with college students and young people.

 

As a trained facilitator of the Onelove Foundation, an organization that educates students on dating and domestic violence, I have offered a series of talks to faculty, staff and students on Dating Violence Awareness as a part of a Postdoctoral Fellowship with Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio.  The educational sessions offered included a brief film and guided discussion about issues and warning signs of dating and domestic violence. The film was made available for faculty and staff to view in preparation for students who also viewed the same film at a later date. The programs’ intent was to assist faculty and staff in identifying early warning signs of abuse and provide campuses resources in the event the movie triggers students to share their reactions in the following weeks.

 

You will be speaking at a conference soon on dating and DV warning signs. Can you share with us some of the most common warning signs?

 

The Power and Control Model describes 10 ways a person attempts to maintain power and control of another.  These abusive behaviors include physical, sexual or emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying, blaming, using children, economic abuse, use of male privilege, coercion, threats, or intimidation.  Some specific examples may include, but are not limited to the following:

 

  1. Physical restraint or abuse by hitting, kicking or choking the person.
  2. Abusing, injuring, or threatening to injure children, family members, pets, or property.
  3. Rape or using sex in an exploitative fashion.
  4. Name calling, criticism, bullying or insults.
  5. Isolating the victim from friends and family members.
  6. Screening phone calls or checking emails, changing social media passwords.
  7. Stalking in person or on social media.
  8. Threats of suicide by the perpetrator.

 

Talk to us about bystander intervention when it comes to DV.

Research has shown that the more people who are there to witness a situation where someone needs help, the less likely it is that someone will actually intervene. As a result, a person’s feeling of responsibility is not as strong when that responsibility is shared by others. As a result, when one person intervenes it is more likely that others will step in and assist.  Bystander intervention training includes 3 Ds of intervention:

  1. Direct – You intervene directly; take action yourself
  2. Distract – You take action to divert attention from the situation
  3. Delegate – You enlist or appoint someone else to help in intervening

 

You’ve said you like to challenge people not to live under a rock. Can we hear more about this?

 

Often times when individuals are hurting or struggling with an issue, they isolate and fall back into an old pattern of thinking that tells us that we need to ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’.  Yet the opposite is true, we heal in community. When we are hurting, helping care for another ensures we do not isolate or go to those dark places of depression. Therefore, I often challenge my clients to step out from under the rock.

 

Dr. Williams is working to create an online version of “A Space for Voice,” where people can connect and process together regardless of location. We look forward to sharing this with you when it launches.

 

Dr. Williams also offers tele counseling; you can connect with her here

 

Bent Meyer on Non-Verbal Memory and Bodily Reactivity

Bent Meyer on Non-Verbal Memory and Bodily Reactivity

Bent Meyer is an affiliate therapist at Northwest Family Life.

We spoke to him about non-verbal memory, the reactiveness that comes from that place, and how someone might integrate their non-verbal system with their cognitive one.

Talk to us about the non-verbal cues generated in our brains.

Non-verbal cues are evoked by data that come though our input senses (eyes, ears, touch, smell, etc.). It only takes 30 milliseconds for the data to find a pattern match within structures like the limbic system and hypothalamus. The pattern matching comes from previous life experience that was taken in through our senses and recorded in the non-verbal memory system to be accessed later in life.

Once a pattern match is found messaging is sent to various parts of our body to activate glands, muscles, capillaries and such to prepare for action related to what is being perceived. It takes an additional 300 to 500 milliseconds for words to be formed within our rational mind.

What kind of reactiveness comes out of non-verbal memory?

The consequence is we are already in action mode before rational consideration (executive function) can be made to evaluate whether our perception is valid or not.The limbic system is intrinsically designed and sensitive to keeping one alive and out of unpleasantness. Thus, it is biased to be particularly attuned to the negative.This provides some clarity to why defensiveness is most people’s default response when feeling shame and powerlessness.

If non-verbal memory is activating our body 10 times before we can think about it, how can people make a bridge between reacting and evaluating a situation first?

It starts with open curiosity, a felt posture of leaning into and observing without categorizing something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The task is not to obliterate our defenses but to regulate them so that they are not super aroused in situations that are benign. When we can bring awareness to the sensations in the body, asking questions about what stimulated this reaction, we can look at the patterns of thinking and behavior that are evoked. The next part is to tolerate the feelings without acting. It is holding long enough to do a reality check, slowing down to let executive function come on line.

Why is it important to be able to put words to what one is experiencing?

The benefit of integrating words with non-verbal cues is the ability to get out what is locked up inside the body without having to act it out. It is a way to not be alone. Words provide a means for others to join in our joy, pain and confusion. Words also integrate abstraction with subjective knowing and slow down reactiveness.

Can you explain a transactional way of relating in relationships?

In our culture we have been taught the values of cause and effect evaluation. It is a default in our communication with others. “I feel this way because you did _______!” I call this transactional. It externalizes the reason I feel what I feel. Each of us is responsible for how we each read and manage our internal cue and arousal. When awareness and responsibility are active, blame shifting is greatly reduced. When two people read well the full bandwidth of verbal and non-verbal communication, both from the other and from ones own interpretive cues, there can be openness to collaborate.

Can you elaborate on thinking in categories of mutuality, rather than of power differentials?

Power differential is useful in hierarchical structures, like business or military organizations, were specific purpose and time sensitive goals must be executed. But, in intimate relationships it is rarely useful.

When it exists in intimate relationships, the one with power is often on an intellectual island, relying only on their own wit. The partner is subject in a role that often is functional, but often not prized as a source of importance. For such a partner, silence is often safest. In order for the subject to have influence, manipulation, or their own power bid, must be employed. It this context, the dynamic becomes one of winning or losing. The relationship is transactional. Inter mutual dependence is unknown within these couples.

And in a scenario of mutuality?

Close intimate relationships that employ mutuality have a fluidity about them. There is an admiration and respect for the mind and abilities of the other. There is simultaneously a real knowing of one’s own current ability to contribute. I say current, because there is also an assurance that my capacity to know and be is likely improved tomorrow. It is an interdependence that collaboratively wrestles, debates, researches, and brings forward disparate resources to formulate what each could or would not do alone.

Can you speak to the process of integrating our cognitive system with our non-verbal one and thus gaining more executive / cognitive control?

The process of integrating our subjective known world and our verbal system is through awareness first, then using descriptive language.  At first this might be as simple as a child who says say “Owee” and points to their ear. Obviously, later in life our descriptive language grows to where we can use metaphors to describe inner experience, for example,  “I feel like I can’t breathe” to describe terror felt in social settings.

When language is not integrated with non-verbal knowing we are trapped within our skin. The only choice we have to get it out of us is to action it out. Language conventions provide the way for our inner experience, world and thoughts to be joined by others instead of trapped inside us.

Integration is the function of connecting wiring between disparate parts of the brain with enough redundancy to make the communication fuller and speedier. It is to deepen and widen knowing.

You say for most people, in the same way that “different” is often uncomfortable, so is changing our non-verbal experience system. Can you talk about pushing through this discomfort?

If you have played golf, you will likely remember the first time someone showed you how to correctly grip the handle of a club. It like felt odd, and you might have retreated to a hold that felt more comfortable to you. But the joy felt in the increasing performance from your swing made the transition to a new hold possible.

Change involves the POSIBILITY of something different. It is being curious. There is a playful leaning into possibility. What is under that rock on the beach?

I wonder what will happen if I _______? It is a given, that you will not know unless you try, and in the trying, failure is tolerably measure, yet a little on the risky side.

Change occurs with repetition and with increased complexity. This means deepening tolerance while widening variability of experience. This means the tendencies to demand fixed sequences, recipes, and time allocations must be loosened. One must teach the experience system that there are more experiences that are not dangerous, heavy, exhausting, and unpleasant, but rather surprisingly enjoyable.

 

Connect with Bent here