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 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
- 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:
- Physical restraint or abuse by hitting, kicking or choking the person.
- Abusing, injuring, or threatening to injure children, family members, pets, or property.
- Rape or using sex in an exploitative fashion.
- Name calling, criticism, bullying or insults.
- Isolating the victim from friends and family members.
- Screening phone calls or checking emails, changing social media passwords.
- Stalking in person or on social media.
- 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:
- Direct – You intervene directly; take action yourself
- Distract – You take action to divert attention from the situation
- 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 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