Archive for October, 2011

Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt


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PhotobucketOn Tuesday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Yesterday, I built on that topic by talking about needs and compromise in marriage. Today, I will finally get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As I have already shared, I entered into marriage not knowing that I had needs, much less what they were, so hub and I built a marriage modeled after his own parents’ marriage with some tweaking to meet hub’s needs. I am not blaming hub for this – I was the one who had no idea that I had needs and just went along with whatever hub proposed.

That being said, were a few areas over the years where I did identify needs and did what I had to do to meet them. A big one was adopting a child. Hub and I had agreed we wanted children, but after we learned we were infertile and spent thousands of dollars on infertility treatments to no avail, hub would have been OK staying childfree. That wasn’t an option for me, so hub agreed to adopt a baby with me.

Another area was my need to work. Both my mother and hub’s mother modeled that moms don’t work outside the home, but that arrangement did not work for me. I needed the validation of hearing I was doing a good job, which I get from bosses but not from family. I also needed to have “my” money that I did not have argue with hub about. Hub wants to save every dime, and I want to travel with my son (hub doesn’t like to travel). I found a flexible part-time job working as an online college instructor, which provided me with the validation and money I needed that did not affect hub’s savings account.

Both of those areas were huge deals to me, so I was willing to fight the status quo to make them happen. Throughout most of our marriage, I was passive and didn’t assert my needs. However, as I have grown and healed, I am becoming more aware of my unmet needs, and I need to meet them. That’s where my current marital situation comes in, and, as I have previously shared, hub is making an effort.

I can understand why child abuse survivors are averse to the thought of “trying to change” a spouse because they had abusers trying to “change” them as children. I don’t see asserting my own needs as trying to “change” hub. I am saying, “This isn’t working for me,” and we need to figure out a way to meet those needs as a couple. As Shen shared and I built upon here, there are four ways to do this.

I think it helps to address one unmet need at a time versus the entire marriage, and you have to look at the marriage as a whole rather than at only one area. Is the marriage working more than it’s not? It’s easy to lose sight of what is going well when you are fixated on a particularly difficult unmet need. The goal is not to “change” your spouse – the goal is to work together as a couple to figure out how to meet the needs of both spouses.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketYesterday, I wrote about the four different options couples have when a spouse’s needs are not being met: Four Options for Unmet Needs in Marriage. Today I am going to focus on needs and compromise in marriage. Finally, in tomorrow’s blog entry, I’ll get to the difference between asserting your needs and trying to change your spouse.

As abused children, we were taught that our needs didn’t matter. If you were like me and did not go through the healing process before marriage, you likely brought this dynamic into your marriage. At age 23, it never even occurred to me to think about what needs I had, much less express them to my spouse. Fast-forward roughly 20 years and post-therapy … I now know that I have needs and am in the process of learning how to identify what they are. It shouldn’t come as a complete shock that, in a marriage where I never expressed any needs, many of those needs are not currently being met.

From what I have observed with couples who grew up in healthy homes (believe it or not, a few of those actually do exist!), couples begin a marriage asserting their needs and reaching compromises. For example, a friend was working full-time when she married her husband, who was also working full-time. She was clear from the beginning that she was not going to be responsible for cleaning the house, so he could either do it himself, or they could pay a maid to do it. As a couple, they decided to hire a maid.

This couple also agreed from the beginning that they were each in charge of cleaning their own cars. He wanted to save money, so he would wash his own car. She did not want to spend her time washing a car, so she would drive to the car wash while her husband was washing his car and return with a clean car before he was finished. It was a joke between them – he saved the money, and she saved the time. Neither tried to change the other – they were clear about their needs and compromised on ways to meet those needs as best they could.

This process did not happen in my marriage because, quite frankly, I did not know it was supposed to, nor did I have an inkling of what my needs were. At the time I married, I needed hub to keep me safe physically and financially from my abusive mother, and I needed him to want me. (I had a hard time believing that anyone would.) That was pretty much it.

Meanwhile, hub assumed that all marriages aligned duties in the way that his parents’ marriage did, so that’s what we did. His mother cooked, so I cooked (even though I had to learn how). His father worked full-time while his mother was a stay-at-home mom, so that’s what we did. Hub did appear to change a few things around from what his parents did to meet his own needs, but that’s pretty much how our marriage came to divvy up the family responsibilities.

I have gone on too long again. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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PhotobucketBased on some of the comments I have received, it appears that some readers are equating asserting your own needs in a marriage with trying to change your spouse. I see these are two different things, which is why I would like to blog about it.

On my blog entry entitled Marriage after Child Abuse: How Much Do We Owe Our Spouses?, Shen posted a great comment about how there are four directions a couple can go when he and she aren’t in the same place. It’s a long comment, so I won’t repost it here, but be sure to read it if you have not already done so. I would like to build upon Shen’s comment in this blog entry and then move onto the difference between trying to change a spouse and meeting your own needs.

Shen’s comment focused on the big picture, but I am going to focus on specific needs within a marriage. In a nutshell, Shen said that when a spouse’s needs are not being met, the couple can go in one of four ways, which are summarized below. I have purposely chosen four neutral examples from my marriage so we can keep the focus on how unmet needs can play out within a marriage without getting into one being “right” and one being “wrong.”

  1. He adapts to meet her need: Hub needs to save money, and I need soft toilet paper for my sensitive skin. Hub let go of his need to save money buying cheaper toilet paper to meet my need for more expensive, softer toilet paper.
  2. She adapts to meet his need: Hub is a night owl and has trouble getting moving in the morning. As a result, he goes into work late (he is the boss) and stays late, resulting in a later dinner. I am an early bird and eat breakfast and lunch early, so I need dinner earlier than hub gets home. I adapted by building in an afternoon snack so I can wait to eat dinner with hub.
  3. Neither adapt – they proceed with the situation not working for either of them: Hub and I have a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who has a difficult time sitting through a church service. My compromise with our son is that he doesn’t have to go to worship service as long as he goes to Sunday School (until he is older). Hub needs to sleep in on Sundays and does not join us for Sunday School. Hub and I both need us to worship together as a family, but, while I need to be going to worship service (I do miss it!), I also need not to be spending an hour telling child to “sit down and shut up.” So, child and I go to Sunday School only, hub goes to worship service alone, and neither hub’s needs nor mine are really being met.
  4. They go their separate ways to meet their needs: Hub loves to watch sports, which bores me to tears. I like to watch dramas, which bores hub to tears. We have two TV’s and DVR’s so we can each watch our own preferred programming and have chosen not to make TV viewing a couple activity.

This blog entry has gotten too long. More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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School children (c) Lynda BernhardtToday I would like to talk about a dynamic that exists in both my families of birth and marriage that I am sure is not unique to my family. In my family of birth, people were divided into two categories, the “strong” and the “weak.” Although nobody ever said, “Faith is the strong one,” or “X is the weak one,” everyone knew which column he or she fit into. The expectation was that family takes care of family, so it was the “strong” ones’ job to take care of the “weak” ones.

Not surprisingly, I married into a family just like this. I didn’t know that this was dysfunctional since that is all I had ever known in my family of birth. Hub’s family quickly determined that I fell into the “strong” category, so I was given the responsibilities of a “strong” one.

The strong/weak dynamic in families is destructive for those in both groups. The challenge for the strong is obvious – it is exhausting having to tow your own line plus the lines of other family members. Feeling responsible for others indefinitely is overwhelming because there never seems to be an end. The “weak” will always be “weak,” so those extra responsibilities will never go away. This breeds resentment.

It took me a long time to see the downside for the “weak” members, but I would today argue that this dynamic is actually more destructive for them than for the “strong” ones. When someone is constantly “told” through actions that they cannot take responsibility for their own lives, they live as if their wings are clipped. Even though these family members have many strengths, they become “blind” to those strengths. Because they believe that they cannot take care of themselves, they live as if they cannot.

Here’s something else that no one in my family ever told me – Believing that certain family members are “weak” is arrogant and actually encourages the weak behavior. For example, each time I assume that X cannot solve his own problems (whether they are financial or some other issue), I am saying, “I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you have the ability to figure out a way to take care of yourself without me bailing you out.” I have heard this called “enabling,” but the word “enable” implies that the other person wants to be enabled. I believe that my “enabling” actions are actually encouraging dependence.

It took the encouragement of people who were not from dysfunctional families (or at least not dysfunctional in this way) to help me see that not getting involved (not giving money or advice) is actually saying, “I believe in your ability to solve your own problems.” I felt like such a terrible person for shirking my “duties” the first time I did this because I had been told my whole life that towing other family members’ lines was my duty. However, this advice was correct – When I stopped feeding the insecurity of being the family f@#$ up, the person found a way to fix the problem himself, which actually built his confidence!

Throughout my life, I was told that loving and caring about another person meant fixing his problems. Removing the judgment of the other person’s choices as well as the advice/fixing the problem felt like I was being “unloving” when, in actuality, it is  the most loving thing I can do.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Hi, all.

Just an FYI ~ Please feel free to post comments to any blog entry on this site, not just the current ones. I receive an email of any comment made on this blog, so I will see it. Also, anyone who has subscribed to a particular blog entry will also receive an email of the comment. So, you will be heard, even if the blog entry is old. :0)

– Faith

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I have recently been told that I came across as judgmental when discussing my marital struggles on the blog. I am actually surprised that I am not accused of being judgmental more frequently than I am because I was raised in a very judgmental home and also married into a judgmental family, so the fact that I am not told this with much more frequency is testament to my progress in this area.

I used to define being judgmental as being “mean” or “bad.” I have come to realize that being judgmental really means believing that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to be and then being critical of any deviation from the “right” way. To let you know how mired I once was in judgment, when I first took the Myers-Briggs test in my 20’s, I scored a 26 on Judging and a 0 on Perceiving, which means I had no flexibility in the judgment of how to use my time.

Ironically, it was my father’s side of the family (versus momster’s) that had the greatest influence on my being judgmental. All grandchildren were expected to fit a particular mold – go to college and become a professional in your field. I didn’t see this as being judgmental – I saw it as a family expectation. My sister deviated from the mold by dropping out of high school, and she has been judged for this ever since, despite the fact that she returned to college in her mid-30’s and graduated with honors with a double major and is close to completing a double Master’s degree now. That side of the family will always view her as the family f@#$ up for dropping out of high school regardless of what she has done since.

I was judged for not staying in my profession. I earned a law degree but hated practicing law. I changed careers to being a writer, and nobody on that side of the family cared when I won three prestigious writing awards in my first three years of writing professionally. I no longer fit the mold, so anything I did was judged as inferior. To this day, none of them ever asks about my professional life, only my husband’s (who is still practicing law).

I then married into a family so judgmental that I used to wonder what they talked about before I married into the family because their favorite topic of conversation was judging my family. I think they felt better about their own dysfunction when they compared it to my dysfunctional family since my family was clearly off the charts.

I have made progress over the years in breaking down the deep-seated stronghold of being judgmental, and I have my readers to thank for some of this. I started this blog truly believing there was “one way” to heal until you corrected me. For example, I thought that yoga would work for all survivors because it worked for me, and I was truly shocked to learn that wasn’t the case.

I have also made huge changes through my own life experiences, from recognizing that there is no one “right” way to parent a child (I am a recovering “stay-at-home mom snob”) to building relationships that are diverse in age, race, religion, socioeconomic status, and other factors. Interacting with people who have walked different paths have broken down many judgmental walls that I never even knew were there.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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