Archive for the ‘ abuse ’ Category

It Hurts So Bad I Can’t Feel It

I’m going to talk a little bit about dissociation today, or more importantly I’m going to talk about dissociation when it gets out of control and becomes a problem in everyday life. I say this because we all dissociate, everyday, all the time and it’s important to remeber that it’s not always a problem.

What is dissociation?

In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

At the milder end of things we have the everyday dissociation;

  • drifting off while reading or listening
  • feeling numb when dealing with difficult news
  • going through rote motions with no thought
  • creating sub-personalities (this is work Bob, this is party Bob and so on)

At the more extreme end of things then it can take on more distressing forms;

  • finding yourself in a strange place, unaware of how you got there
  • amnesia
  • depersonalisation – feeling like you aren’t in, or fully in your body and you are watching it act
  • derealisation – feeling like the world around you has changed, be it in appearance or in deeply held feeling
  • identity disturbance – this can vary from not being sure who you are or what your feelings are (usually because of a mix of the above) through to fragmenting into multiple alternate personalities.

Why does it become so extreme in some people?

Continue reading

Leaving Abuse

[content note: this post covers my personal experiences with domestic abuse in some detail]

“Why don’t they just leave?”

“If someone did that to me I’d be out of there straight away!”

“If they were really being abused they’d run at the first chance!”

I’ve had all of these statements thrown at me and I’ve heard them applied to others living with domestic abuse. Aside from being generally unhelpful and blaming the victim for the abuse they are receiving, they are also based on a central faulty premise; that leaving domestic abuse is easy. For many of us that live(d) with it, it is exactly the opposite. It’s that difficulty that I’m going to discuss today.

To start with we have to remember a few things about domestic abuse; Continue reading

Disabled Women & Domestic Abuse Posters

I stumbled upon two extremely poignant posters created by Women’s Aid to highlight some of the issues surrounding domestic abuse and disabled people. You can click the links to download .pdf versions.
They are fantastic resources and free to anyone wishing to use them. You can find the originals here.

Disability & DV Poster 1


Disability & DV Poster 2


Language Check: Gaslighting

Trigger Warning; talk of mental abuse.

I’m writing this in a rush so please excuse the huge lack of polish. I’m doing it because I’m a bit upset about the way some people appear to be throwing around the phrase “gaslighting” inappropriately. When words like rape are used inappropriately (i.e. to describe things that are not in fact rape, but some other kind of violation) many in the feminist community call people out on it and I’m glad they do. I’d like to see the same with other terms associated with abuse. We all know (I hope) that it’s hurtful to suggest being raped is equivalent to someone posting something rude on some ones facebook page. I don’t think it’s too big a step to suggest that it’s also hurtful to suggest the experience of being acutely mentally tortured is equivalent to someone having gotten the wrong end of the stick and run with it.

For those who aren’t too sure I should probably explain that “Gaslighting” is the commonest way of describing a pre-meditated campaign of emotional & psychological abuse designed to cause psychological harm to the target. It’s frequently characterised by the systematic withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim which has the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.
The word gaslighting get’s it’s name from the 1938 play “Gas Light” and it’s later movie adaptations. All the plots follow a simillar thread, the new wife moves into a home with her stern, over bearing husband who is seen to be a flirt. The wife starts to develop anxiety issues. These are used to push her into social isolation. At which point she starts to loose things and she can’t account for how it’s happening and starts to worry she is going mad. These fears are confirmed when she starts complaining of the gas lights in the house randomly dimming/flickering and her husband assures her that it’s all in her head. In the end it’s discovered that the husband is the one behind the dimming gaslights, disappearing items and everything else and that it has been a pre-meditated campaign to psychologically assault and damage the wife.
Gaslighting is something that is premeditated. The abuser doing the gaslighting might not write down a detailed five year plan about it and most probably haven’t heard of term but still they will have made the choice to mentally torture someone, normally to increase the power they hold over them for one reason or another.
There are some things that share elements with gaslighting but on their own are not gaslighting and it’s important not to confuse the two things. The same way violation is a part of rape, but not all violations are rape, minimisation is part of gaslighting but not all minimisation is gaslighting. It’s important for those of us who have lived through the torture of actual gaslighting that the term is used correctly and not devalued/normalised through inappropriate use. I thought I’d make a quick list of things, that when used on their own or by accident, are not gaslighting;
  • Misunderstandings between people – it’s ludicrously common for two people to take part in a conversation and then both leave believing they have gotten two different things out of the talk. Person A thinks they have convinced someone to think about things the way they do, person B thinks they have shown person A how foolish their way of looking at things is. When either party talks about what happened, even though their versions of events aren’t the same, they are not gaslighting the other. It’s not nice to be misunderstood and then misrepresented as a result, but it’s not gaslighting.
  • Minimising – when someone suggests that things weren’t that bad. Minimising is a normal psychological defence mechanism we all employ at some point or another. It’s a form of denial, often tied in with the Just-World Fallacy, where people protect themselves by telling themselves and unhelpfully the victims of events that it “mustn’t have been that bad”. Minimising is horrible to experience and can make traumatic events that much harder to deal with but on it’s own it’s not gaslighting. 
  • Not being believed by someone – it happens all the time. People discount what we say for a multitude of reasons ranging from it seeming highly unlikely to them all the way through to them fearing the consequences of believing it. Again, it’s very unpleasant to not be believed by someone and to be told your experience means nothing to them. On it’s own it is not gaslighting though. 
  • Political Rhetoric – most political ideologies are loathsome to someone. As much as many of us lefties hate the neo-liberal agenda and feel that it is misrepresenting the vulnerable, right wing folk often feel the same persecution (rightly or wrongly) from the left. Phrases like “Birmingham Councils move to giving Asda vouchers instead of crisis loans is just another way they gaslight the city” is not helpful. It’s a poorly thought out, damaging policy designed to secure the votes of people who have never needed a crisis loan before but it’s not gaslighting. 
I can’t tell any of you how you should use language. You can use it anyway you want at the end of the day. I would just like you to think about how you use this word and to ask yourself if it’s appropriate or if you are actually trying to say something else.

The Perils Of Being Emotionally Unstable

It’s 2013, January is steadily disappearing and I haven’t written a new blog post in a little while. I’ve been struggling quite a bit with mental health issues lately and it’s made writing on my blog quite difficult, but I think it’s time to give it ago.

Trigger warning for after the cut; talk of domestic abuse, stalking, harassment, courts and mental health

Taking my abusive ex-partner to court was a really difficult thing to do. He was being charged with harassment because of the following;

  • Kept standing outside of my place of employment and watching whilst I worked in a manner that was very intimidating given our past.
  • Occasionally he’d come in and flip out of control, shouting and making threats – eventually I lost my job because he kept doing that and scaring away customers.
  • After I passed one of his friends on the street or saw them in a bar he’d be there in no time calling me names and making threats.
  • He made a fair few threats to kill me and I believe he would have on a couple of occasions if police sirens (called by witnesses) hadn’t scared him off.
  • He kept sending letters telling me about things he knew I’d brought for my (ground floor) flat which he could have only known about by looking through the windows.

The police were very supportive and arranged for me to give my evidence via a video link because the idea of ever seeing his face again was making me break down completely, I’d been living in fear of it for so long. The court date was pushed back by the defence at the last minute and I spent another 3 months telling myself it would all be better after the hearing.

At the hearing I gave my testimony and spent much of the time in tears as I had to relive what had happened. It was hard as the magistrates frequently had to tell him to “be quiet”, “stop banging the wall” and to “sit down” which really intimidated me at the time. It was all going as well as these things can until I was asked by the prosecutor why I was so scared of him and I tried to explain it was because of the abuse I’d lived through. The magistrates stopped me and told me they couldn’t hear about any events that happened before a certain date (which included our entire relationship, criminal damage to my property, sending the police to my home for no reason simply to scare me and more death threats). How do you explain why you are completely terrified of someone who breached pretty much every basic human right you had until you no longer believed you were a proper human being any more, when you can’t say anything about the way they treated you? I couldn’t find a way. When I left everyone was very nice and explained that because of his behaviour in the dock, the two outright lies he’d told that had been contrary to other statements he’d made, the testimony of the witnesses and the fact they couldn’t find one witness for the defence he was finally going to get what he deserved.

After the hearing  I got a phone call to tell me that he had been found ‘Not Guilty’ and given a serious warning that if he did anything else it would come straight back to court and he’d be charged. The reasons the magistrate gave for this verdict was because I had been “overly emotional” given what he had done (that they had been able to hear about) whilst giving my evidence which threw my testimony into doubt. I was the reason he got off. My emotions were the reason he was able to tell everyone he was innocent of *everything*. I was branded another lying woman by everyone that knew about it and my world fell apart. Things got so bad I had to move to a new city. All because of my emotions.

So when I saw my psychiatrist and she told me that as well as depression, anxiety and PTSD they were adding a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder I crumbled. Of course, that apparently just made me look more emotionally unstable because “the diagnosis shouldn’t have made [me] cry, most people find it very empowering”. It brought back all the feelings of pain when the abuse I suffered was dismissed because of my emotions. It made me feel like they were saying I was a broken person and therefore brought it upon myself/was over exaggerating things. I became scared that by my activism, blogging and tweeting was me unhealthily engaging in confrontations so I cut it right down.

It gave me time to think and to talk to those close to me about it. I have come to realise the diagnosis is clearly incorrect. I really don’t fit the diagnostic criteria at all. So, I am trying to challenge the diagnosis. It’s been taking up a lot of time and energy and it’s really thrown me back into a similar head space to that which I was in after the court case. In an effort to get past this blip I thought I’d write it down and draw a line under  it all. 

On Disability, Fraud, Distrust & Abuse

This post is going to be about the bits abuse and bullying I have had since becoming disabled. It may be triggering for some.

Edited to add: A version of this post is on the Guardians CiF peoples panel with regards to negative attitudes faced by disabled people.

I think the most humiliating thing to happen to me is when (often drunk) men try to grab at my breasts and face if we go out on an evening. Something that fortunately didn’t happen to me until I became a wheelchair user*. I think it’s because I’m an easy target, if my breaks are on I can’t turn away and, anyway, who would believe someone would grope a wheelchair user? We are often thought of as asexual and almost alien. I don’t often talk about it because I feel ashamed and embarrassed which is made worse by having been treated a couple of times I have complained like I am either making it up or should be grateful. A nice mix of sexist and disablist stereotypes fuels those myths. I’ve never contacted the police, I doubt a drunken boob grab from someone I can’t identify will be acted on. All that would happen is they would ruin whats left of my evening.

Where that is humiliating, the bit that actually hurts the most isn’t sexual harassment. It is that people regularly approach me when we are out (especially when my carer has stepped away for a bit) to ask questions like “Do you really need that wheelchair or are you doing it for the money?” and “I saw you move your leg! Are you just too lazy to walk?”. Every where I go I’m subjected to a grilling from strangers with regards to my disability, my employment prospects and my lifestyle choices. I feel like I have to defend myself to these people because if I don’t they assume I’m a faker, but in defending myself I have to share the painful story of my disability and some very personal details about how it effects my ability to live. I have developed a fear of being left alone in my chair because that’s when people most often come to ‘talk to me’ about my disability – just to make sure it’s real. Last December my city held a big Christmas market and I decided to attend. I was told to “Go home” repeatedly and mocked loudly by various people for both my appearance and for having a wheelchair all the way through. Not all cruelty is direct, the indirect “This isn’t a place for you” when it is clearly a public area is also very damaging. It’s like you are being pushed out and told you don’t belong in public. If it was done online I’d call it concern trolling. I came home and cried and couldn’t go near the city centre again until after it had gone. That kind of thing happens every time I try to go out to somewhere with lots of people and it’s just not good enough.

I associate this rise in abuse with a huge rise in public distrust & vilification of people who are disabled. I think that is fuelled by disproportionate the amount of negative stories in the media (often coming straight from the DWP) which paints the majority of those who claim disability benefit as fraudsters land manipulative scammers. There are a lot of faulty assumptions made by the which are fuelled by poor reporting such as; the assumption DLA is an out of work benefit – it isn’t, the assumption you just get a free car when of course you don’t, and the assumption you don’t need evidence to claim disability benefits which just isn’t true.

In reality £16 billion in disability benefits goes unclaimed in the UK. There is a 0.5% fraud level (ignoring DWP error) yet thanks to the unbalanced reporting in the media the general public assumes the level is much much higher. As a result of this kind of distrust we can see a witch-hunt beginning. Disability hate crime is up 75% according to government statistics, many reporting that those attacking them often use scrounger or similar as a term of abuse. In 2009/10 a massive 96% of calls to the national benefit fraud hotline were found to be malicious or time-wasting though I’m sure most of the people that rang in were sure they were shopping a scrounger. The government needs to take serious steps to address these issues and to raise public awareness of the reality of living as a disabled person in the UK. 

* although I am aware it happens to other non-disabled women a lot too
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