What story do they tell?
In my early days of talking about domestic abuse, people would always cite bruises as an indicator that abuse had taken place. But what if there are no visual clues?
I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship until a policeman pointed it out to me. This was 5-years after I had left the relationship and was still getting hassle from the perpetrator. Even then, I didn’t believe it was abuse, I just thought it was a ‘normal’ acrimonious separation involving a child. Because to me it was normal, so I accepted it.
Many of my clients tell me about what is going on their relationship and I occasionally have cause to suggest to them that theirs is an abusive relationship. Usually their first response is ‘but he doesn’t hit me’.
We talk about it further and I explain that words and actions can be equally as damaging as physical violence.
Over time, I help them work out what they want to do in the future; some choose to leave the relationship, others choose to stay and develop coping strategies. It is always my clients’ decision and I support her appropriately. If however, I truly believe she is in danger, then I will intervene.
Over time we work together to fix those unseen bruises, the aches and pains that no-one else knows you carry around day after day, hiding them Behind the Mask.
Stepping Behind the Mask is scary, you never know quite what you’ll uncover. But when you know the underlying cause of any symptoms, you can start to fix them.
The bruise in the photo is of my hip. I was recently knocked off my bicycle by a car. That bruise and a bent and twisted bike are the only visible signs of the accident. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have damage and pain in other areas of my body.
Next time you ponder about your relationship, think about more than what you and everyone else can see. Download my e-book that tells my story about what it’s like living Behind the Mask: “Whatever it takes: Living with Leaving and Surviving Psychological Abuse”
I recently celebrated my 50th birthday but I don’t have a single photo of my party to share with anyone.
Why is this?
Upon reflection I realise that it’s because all of us at the party were actually present in the moment rather than worrying about capturing it to share with the rest of the World.
Being present is something many of us forget about in our relationships.
How often are you truly present in your relationship?
Your partner arrives home from work and tells you about their day, but rather than listening properly you’re thinking about what to cook for dinner, what to tell them about your day, what time you have to pick the kids up.
You sit down to watch TV together but one of you is watching whilst the other is scrolling through social media on your phone.
You go out for dinner and rather than talk, you take selfies, photographs of your food, your surroundings and share them on social media.
When was the last time you and your partner really connected and were fully present with each other?
Try it today. Take just 20 minutes, put your phones on silent and out of sight. Spend 10 minutes each talking. Person 1 talks about their day or whatever they want for just 10 minutes without interruption, then person 2 does the same. Truly listen to what is being said. Watch your partner’s physiology. Do you notice when they become excited, angry, reflective, motivated?
Taking time out to be truly present with your partner is the best present you can give each other.
Presence is much better for your relationship, and more valuable than presents.
It’s a bit of a milestone in anyone’s life and I was asked how I ‘really’ feel about turning 50. Well the truth is I’m really happy about it.
The first 3 decades of my adult life weren’t great; 2 abusive marriages, a failed business, personal bankruptcy, a stint working in the sex industry, a ‘Pretty Woman’ moment then led to a third abusive relationship before I hit rock bottom just after my 40th birthday. I was depressed, suffering panic attacks, on anti-depressants and beta blockers and was too scared to leave my home. I was terrified people would discover that I’d been a sex worker and I desperately wanted my life to end. I certainly didn’t want to reach 50.
I wanted my life to be over, the sooner the better. I didn’t love myself and I believed I knew, and had absolute proof, that I was unlovable – I believed I’d discovered the evidence for why people didn’t love me!
So what changed?
I lay on my kitchen floor in the foetus position, feeling sorry for myself and and something inside me snapped. I recognised that the only way my life would change is if I took responsibility for it. No-one else was going to change my life for me.
Within 2 years I had gained my Equity card and Spotlight membership, I was fitter and healthier than I had been for a very long time and I had reconnected with the love of my life whom I’d first met 15 years before.
8 years further on from that at the ripe old age of 50 I’ve used my experiences to create a business that is built around my SIM© Methodology, embracing the lessons I learned from the sex industry, and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a result of studying for a psychology degree with the Open University, and latterly training to become a certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Coach, certified Hypnosis practitioner and certified Time LineTM Therapy practitioner. All of which are tools I employ with my clients where appropriate.
At 50 I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been before, in the past couple of years I’ve run a half marathon and I’m seriously considering running another one next year. I have a healthy relationship with alcohol which used to be my drug of choice and I have a healthy relationship with food.
My relationship and sex life is fulfilling, full of unconditional love, trust, respect and fun and I have an amazing relationship with my 16-year old son.
I have a growing business which is something I’d only previously dreamed of and I’m helping women Internationally to change their relationships for the better.
For the first time in my life I have a healthy bank balance and perhaps more importantly, now I’m 50, I have a healthy pension pot. In the past year I’ve taken more responsibility for my finances than ever before. I’ve worked out what I need to do to clear the last vestiges of debt from the 10-year legal battle to become my son’s primary carer.
We have the ability to change our life and our relationships. As soon a we start taking responsibility for ourselves and then taking tiny consistent action, things change.
My social media has been full of memes celebrating Star Wars Day today – May the 4th be with you! It’s a clever play on words from one of the most successful film franchises of all time.
However, for many years, I did all I could to avoid seeing or hearing any media on May 4th simple because it is known as Star Wars Day.
You see, Star Wars was for a very long time one of the triggers that took me back to my psychologically abusive marriage. I write about it in depth in my book ‘Whatever it takes: Living with, Leaving and Surviving Psychological Abuse’.
Much is written about people’s triggers, we learn about triggers for PTSD and so many people today say they are ‘triggered’ by something or another. It is used in so many settings to excuse poor behaviour or a misguided response to something someone has either said or done, that when someone says they are ‘triggered’ it is very often not met with the attention or support it requires.
We don’t always know if someone has been subject to domestic abuse, we’re not always aware if someone has PTSD, such scars and conditions are not always visible. Very often, the first we know of them is when someone has what to many people can only be described as an ‘abnormal reaction’ to something fairly innocuous such as in my case, May the 4th or Star Wars. In fact, there was another occasion when my newly decorated office in an administrative role I had triggered a memory that had lain dormant from my first marriage which was physically and sexually abusive.
It has taken many years of work from me to be able to even tolerate Star Wars on TV, there was a time where I wouldn’t even work with someone who said they were a Star Wars fan because the association to Star Wars created far too strong a response from my nervous system, taking me back to a place where I was forced to watch Star Wars movies, quizzed and tested on my Star Wars knowledge and ridiculed for not knowing various plot twists, intricacies of character relationships or which film came in which order.
Even now, I will choose not to watch Star Wars if I can although I no longer have a problem if someone is a Star Wars fan.
We hear so often about hidden disabilities; hidden abuse needs just as much consideration. We never truly know what is going on behind closed doors or Behind the Mask that people wear in public. Next time someone you know has an extreme response to something fairly innocuous, rather than making a harsh judgement, gently ask them what’s wrong. You might give them the lifeline they need.
There can be nothing nicer than slipping into a hot bubble bath at the end of a hectic day, feeling the silky warmth of the water lapping against your skin as your cares and worries start to drift away as you submerge yourself under the water.
Maybe you’ve lit some candles and poured yourself a glass of wine to enjoy whilst reading a book, listening to a podcast or music.
And as today is Bubble Bath Day, you have the perfect excuse to run yourself a bath and take some time out.
One of the modules in my Behind the Mask programme is called ‘Step Into Selfish’ and it’s the module that all of my clients, without exception struggle with the most.
As the name might suggest it’s about taking time out for themselves and doing things completely for them, no-one else. When they struggle with that I often recommend scheduling in a long, relaxing bubble-bath once a week, just so they get used to having that time to themselves.
It’s always interesting to get their responses. So many of them haven’t allowed themselves the luxury of having a long bath for a very long time and they often comment on how much they enjoyed it, how it allowed them to switch off for a while and have that breathing space to themselves.
I know how difficult it is to allow yourself that time.
In my previous relationships I was told I was selfish if I wanted a long, hot bubble bath. When I met my partner 8-years ago, he was very happy for me to have a long bath, although he couldn’t understand how I could happily spend 2 hours (sometimes longer) in the bath. There was a time when he realised that the bath is where I would go to process stuff; things that had come up during divorce proceedings, child residency proceedings, bankruptcy, a bad day at work. When all that was done and dusted, I stopped having baths as life was good but before long I realised I missed that time solely to myself.
These days, I run a hot bubble bath just because. Maybe I want to completely unwind and relax, I want to ease sore muscles after a run, I want to feel decadent with a glass of wine and a book or I just want some time where I’m not disturbed to think, plan and drift away for a short while.
Whatever the reason for choosing to run a bubble-bath, I always make sure I have a selection of fragrances to choose from too.
Bubble baths are not a luxury, they’re a central feature of my self-care and the best (and easiest) way I know to ‘Step into Selfish’.
Besides, the more relaxed you feel, the more likely you are to be open to advances from your partner, which can only be a good thing for creating a strong, healthy and robust relationship!
Enjoy your bubble bath and whatever may follow!