Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sowing Seeds to Start a Conversation about Relationship Abuse

I planted my garden about 10 days ago. While everyone else is complaining miserably about the rain, I’m a little excited (especially when it rains during the week not on the weekend) as I’m sure that with the moisture all my seeds have germinated and probably new shoots are pushing up through the soil right now.  Gardening from seeds takes patience and trust to give the sun time to warm the soil, the seedling time to take root and simply time to grow.  While I don’t like the wait, over the years I’ve come to appreciate the process and accept that I can’t always control the outcome. Like last year’s abundant squash patch that seemingly overnight was decimated by powdery mildew.

Sometimes these small scale dramas in the garden, remind me of the much more significant struggles people face when someone they love is experiencing domestic violence. Often the victim of abuse doesn’t recognize the behaviors his/her partner’s actions as abusive… especially we when the abuse isn’t physical.  Sometimes just talking to your loved one and letting them know you’re concerned is like planting that seed. They may seem to totally ignore your words, but like the week of straight rain we just endured that helps my seeds germinate, under the right conditions your words may begin to root.

The decision to seek support is rarely immediate. Here are some of the reasons people give for not seeking help:

·         “It’s not that bad.” Often this is followed by words like, “It’s rarely physical” or “It’s nothing like I’ve seen in the movies” or “He/she always apologizes and says it won’t happen again.”

·         “It’s not a crisis, I don’t need to call a hotline.”

·         “I wouldn’t feel right calling a place like Wellspring. Other people need their help so much more than I do.”

·         “I really don’t see any way out.” Or “I’m not ready to make a change yet. I’ll call them when that time comes.”

·         It’s not that I’m afraid of my partner; I just have to do a better job not aggravating him/her.”

·         “They help domestic violence victims… I’m not a victim.” Often the person will explain, that they’re occasionally abusive too, e.g., “Sometimes I yell or call him/her awful names… and I’ve hit back so I’m just as guilty of abuse.”  

If you’ve heard any of these statements, here’s what I’d like you to know, so you have the words to help your friend:

You don’t need to be in a crisis. You don’t need to be in danger or living in fear. You don’t need to wait in until a crisis where you don’t have anywhere else to turn before you call us… in fact, at Wellspring, we hope that calling us sooner may mean you never experience that crisis. We so often hear survivors saying, “I used to always feel like I was walking on eggshells at home.” Yes, they kept the abuse from escalating… by continually living in a state of hyper-vigilance. Our agency is a place where you can talk about these feelings. We can help you create a safety plan, but we can also be a safe place where you give voice to those feelings you don’t speak out loud… maybe not even to yourself. Our services are free and confidential… and they’re for everyone. There’s no income eligibly guidelines for our services.

You don’t need to be preparing to leave to seek our services. In fact, we have many survivors who remain in the relationship. They come to us to understand how to increase their safety, to know what their legal rights/ options/resources are if needed, or to build their economic stability or support systems so even if they’re remaining in the relationship they’re not doing so because they feel trapped. Many people understand that we offer a hotline and shelter, but they’re unaware of the other services we offer: financial literacy training to support economic stability, rent subsidized housing, legal advocacy, 911 phones, and assistance with accessing employment, childcare, housing, transportation, or other basic needs. Because it takes time to be on solid ground financially after leaving abuse, supports like our food pantry, personal care items, Backpacks of Hope (school supplies to start the new year) and New Beginnings Baskets (filled with necessary household items) can help survivors make a fresh start or support them until they finally feel stable and secure.

Survivors may judge their own reactions, verbal or physical as indicators that they too are abusive. Some relationships are indeed mutually abusive. But in domestic violence there is an underlying power and control dynamic. Does that mean the victim is always cowering, helplessly… no. Survivors may, in defense, frustration or anger, lash out sometimes. To determine if domestic violence exists one needs to ask is there an ongoing pattern of control, either through emotional, psychological, physical, or financial abuse, or social isolation. It’s the pattern of power and control… not necessarily an isolated behavior.

 So if the examples above sound like behaviors you recognize in the relationship, call us. If you weren’t sure how to talk to someone you love about domestic violence, hopefully this information will help you start the conversation.  Sometimes hearing someone say, “I care and I’m worried” plants a seed that in time leads to a future without fear. If you’re not sure how to talk to someone about relationship abuse, call us --we can help you understand, know about resources and start the conversation.
If you or someone you know has experienced relationship or sexual abuse, call us.
Office 518.583.0280
24/7 hotline 518.584.8188