He Mistook Kindness For Weakness

Jennifer and I have an ongoing discussion about this saying. “He mistook kindness for weakness.” It is one of those experiences we have both had, but thought was unique to us. We both thought people in our lives had taken advantage of us and we both thought it didn’t happen to other people.

We have both learned that we are not alone in this. We are not alone in this even as survivors of abuse. Abuse conditions us to make ourselves small. We were taught that our wants and needs don’t matter. The needs of the abuser are all that matter and we are disposable.

One survivor who shared her story with me said that her brother had no memory of abusing her. To say the least, that was troublesome and hurtful to the woman. Her therapist told her that her brother saw her like a Kleenex – something he used and then threw away. I think she found some comfort in that.

I thought it was a horrible explanation. I was angry at her therapist for even suggesting that a human being could be viewed as disposable. I still do not like that explanation, but I have learned many people see others as disposable. It clears their conscience and allows them to hurt people. I do not know of many other explanations as to why someone could hurt and abuse others.

People around the world are seen as disposable. When I was living in California, there had been a recent incident of homeless people were being poisoned. Whoever was poisoning them (I do believe the person was caught), did not see the people as people. He or she saw them as a problem; an eyesore that needed to be disposed.

With all the bad things that happen, I believe people are generally good. I think people chose not to be good and mistake the kindness of others for weakness. Whatever part of someone that allows them to victimize another sees the kindness as an opportunity. It is something they can exploit and use to their own devices.

I do not know why they do it, but they do. Some people do not realize they are doing it. Others know exactly what they are doing and do it time and again because they can.

People, not only those who abused me, have seen my kindness as weakness. I try to be kind to people. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it is a good idea, but many times it is absolutely the worst idea I could have.

I have had friends who acted cute and coy and helpless to get me to help them. I do not like to see others struggle and I like to help people, but I have a limit. If someone keeps asking me to help them but they are unwilling, or unable, to help themselves, I cannot help them anymore. It is hard and it temporarily makes me feel like a bad person or that I’m doing something wrong, but if anyone, a survivor, an acquaintance, a family member, anyone, is unwilling to help themselves, I cannot help them. I do not have the appropriate training to help them if they are unable, and if they are unwilling, there are not many people who can help them.

That sounds harsh, but I have learned that I am not a doormat. I am not disposable.

If someone is working through their pain and doing the hard work of healing, or just trying to learn a different, healthier way to be, I will back them up in any way I can. If they are just expecting me to fix their problems, or handle things for them because they don’t want to or don’t think the work is important enough for them to do, I will eventually realize that this is not a healthy relationship. The person is treating me like a Kleenex, something to use and then toss away.

I matter more than that.

You do too!

We would love for you to join Jennifer and me in the discussion of someone mistaking your kindness for weakness. We have learned we are not alone. We want you to know that you aren’t alone either.

What warning signs have you seen that someone is mistaking your kindness for weakness? What tactics have you learned to extricate yourself from these kind of situations?

Don’t Chase People

(I usually try to put in a picture or song that fits the post. This time, I just really like this song. Please listen to it if you need a cool song as background for your reading.)

Next weekend, Jennifer and I are attending a conference through The Voices and Faces Project. We are excited to go and bring back all the useful information we can. We are also excited because we get to spend time together, as friends and as business partners and work on next steps and planning for the year.

In order to go to the conference and not come home immediately after, I had to do some juggling. I also had to ask for help from a friend. That was not easy for me. At all. I’m not used to having to ask for help. My friend, being the amazing person she is, did not bat an eye. She said, “Yes, of course.” I started to cry. Then she told me not to cry so she didn’t start crying.

It is was in part that I’m not used to asking for help, but a large part of it was that I don’t like to bother people. I don’t like my need to infringe on plans they had, or that they might just not want to help me with what I need.

This, I know, is not a healthy attitude. I have learned that friends, true friends are the ones willing to reciprocate. If they need help, they ask. If I need help, it’s okay to ask for that too. It is also okay for the other person to say no. It is also okay for me to say no.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and as a born-people pleaser, I’m not used to enforcing the boundary to say no. I have gotten better at it, but it is still hard. What if the person is mad that I said no? What if they have no other options? What if. What if. What if.

None of that does me any good. It does not do my friend any good either. It isn’t healthy for our friendship. It might seem like it is healthy to them, but in the long run, it isn’t.

I have learned that I do not need to chase people. If they never call me back or only text me when they need something, that is not a very equal relationship. It is not life-giving or nurturing.

Quite frankly, it’s really, really draining.

If I give all my energy to someone else, there isn’t any left for me and my family. There isn’t enough left to go do things I enjoy or that Jeff and I enjoy doing together.

My friend, in his or her need, may feel better. He or she may feel great. She just got everything she needed and got to dump all her concern on someone else. I end up feeling terrible and drained.

My friend reminded me of a very important lesson I sometimes try to forget. I have helped her. She has helped me. Most of the time, though, we are just friends. We have lunch or coffee, or go to a flower show. We enjoy each other’s company and the relationship is based on friendship and trust. It isn’t needy or draining for either of us.

The same is true with an intimate relationship. If one person is doing everything and the other person is taking everything, it isn’t very stable or mutually respectful. Mostly, it’s just draining. I have been in those relationships before. I did not find them any fun at all.

So thank you to my friend for being genuine and kind. I needed the help; and the reminder.

How have your relationships evolved to be more mutual?

What ways do you still need to work on boundaries and not be drained?

 

Feeling Drained?

Over the weekend, I learned an important lesson. It is probably more accurate to say I relearned the lesson since I forgot it so completely it took me a while to remember that I knew it.

Have you ever spent time with someone and very shortly after meeting them, you begin to feel tired? I don’t mean tired like you didn’t get enough sleep, but totally mentally drained tired.

wilted-flowers

On Saturday, I went out with some friends and while we were in the car, I began to feel tired, so tired I could barely function. The one friend is someone I see often, but the other was someone I don’t spend as much time with, or at least I do not spend time with in close quarters, like the car. We got out of the car and I felt less tired. We got back in the car, and again, I was totally sapped. We stopped to eat, and I was better, but still drained.

When my brain finally cleared, I was able to remember a similar experience in seminary. Another student in my class would sit next to me every day. He would sit down and within a very short time, I felt that same drained feeling. He sat next to me every day. There were several occasions on which I had to leave class to get a soda and some M&Ms to make it through class. I had absolutely no idea why I felt so tired.

In another class, we had a rabbi as a guest speaker. She talked about feeling drained in certain situations and talked about raising our energy shields before we entered potentially draining situations. She showed us the most awesome exercise to raise our shields and not allow someone else not to just feed off our energy.

The man in my class enjoyed siting next to me, I believe, because my energy was open and available. He fed off of it. He may not have even known he was doing it. I think the same thing happened with my friend this weekend. My energy was available and open and the other person needed a recharge.

I do not think it was the intention of either person to feed on my energy. I do not blame either of them for their actions.

As a survivor of abuse, my self-defense mechanisms were practically destroyed. I was not supposed to defend myself. I was supposed to be at my father’s mercy.

My boundaries were non-existent and my sense of self was completely depleted. I now know it is ok for me to protect myself. My energy is not a feeding source for others. I am not at their mercy.

Before I interact with my friend again, especially in a small area, I will use the exercise I learned from the rabbi. I will also remember the lesson I learned and not be the victim of an energy vampire.

How does one raise his or her energy shield? This is what I do. I place my left hand in front of my abdomen, my core, where energy is stored. Then I move my hand in a clockwise motion slowly up my torso until I reach the back of my head. Then I straighten my arm and while putting my arm back at rest, I keep my hand at arm’s length away from my body. I don’t want to lower the energy I just raised. I usually do this in a mirror and try to think about raising my energy to protect me.

Have you ever experienced something like this? I would love to hear about your experience and hear what methods you have learned to keep yourself from being drained of all energy.

 

 

The Right to Remain Silent

Recently, Jackie and I spent some time together and had a great chat.  Our conversations always lead me to discover or re-discover powerful insights.  I know our talks are good for her too.  If we lived closer, I would choose to spend time with her much more often.

One of the things we talked about last week was how sometimes we have to choose not to spend time with family members, even when we struggle with the societal expectations around family interaction.  This can be a special struggle during the holiday season.  Many of us wrestle with feeling this time of year that we are obligated to set aside our own needs for the benefit of family.  This not a simple dilemma and there are no perfect answers.  If you are facing decisions on who to interact (or not) with, which family gatherings to attend, or how best to protect yourself and/or your children at the holidays, remember to breathe deeply, take one step at a time and forgive yourself extravagantly.

Here are some common myths that trip me up in this category and some truths I need to keep reminding myself:

Myth: Family traditions deserve to be followed. Relatives have a right to see all of their family together.

Truth: There’s nothing sacred about traditions.  They were created to serve the family, not the other way around.  And relatives earn the privilege of family connection.

Myth: I’ve always ________ before.  If I choose not to this year I will have to explain myself.

Truth: We all choose who we spend time with (even who we speak to) from minute to minute, based on lots of factors.

Myth: If I agree to participate, I am obligated to agree to the whole package.

Truth: We all pick and choose what parts of holiday gatherings work for us.

Myth: I owe everyone an answer if I don’t want to attend or participate.

Truth: I have the right to remain silent.

Survivors of abuse were at some point put in the position of their own needs and feelings and dignity being set aside for someone else’s desires.  It’s common for many of us to keep putting our own needs aside.  This year, as the holidays approach, try to take each moment as an opportunity to choose what is good for you.   Pick and choose what nourishes and comforts you and say no thanks to things and people that subtract from, rather than add to your life.  And if you choose incorrectly, forgive yourself extravagantly and go on.

Boundaries

boundaries  In my “day-job,” I visit by phone with people in different areas of the country.  I supervise the sale of investment products for a national company.  In the course of my work, I have formed professional relationships with dozens of people.  I have gotten to know somewhat personal things about many of the investment advisors I supervise and have shared some of my own personal information with several of them.  None of this felt unsafe, until recently.  The whole thing just felt icky.

It wasn’t the first time my boundary radar has gone off with this guy (I’ll call him Ron).  A few months ago, I was working on a case with him where I needed to call his client, but the client was only available in the evening.  I gave him my cell phone number and told him he could give it to the client to call me in order to accommodate the client’s schedule.  For a few weeks after that, Ron started using my cell number to call me during the day for business calls.  I finally had to tell him that my cell number was not to be used for his convenience.  He apologized, and said that he had written it down somewhere and confused it with my office number.  I didn’t believe him.  It felt like he just “liked” having access.  But, he stopped calling my cell number, so I let it go.

He also calls me “Miss Jennifer.”  This really bothers me.  It seems way too personal and very demeaning.   He’s from rural Florida, so I used to dismiss this as a “cultural difference.”  After what happened a few weeks ago, I no longer think that.  I think he’s using a stereotype from his region to talk to me in a too-familiar and non-professional way.  I think he probably talks to a lot of women that way.

The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I visited with several work colleagues.  Most of us shared what our plans were for the long weekend.  I learned that one person was going fishing with buddies, another was going to a wedding and I shared that I was going to be running in a 5k Color Run.  I talked to Ron that day too.  He asked me, like others had, what I was doing in the next few days.  When I told him about the Color Run, he said, “I’d like to see a picture of that! Are you on Facebook?  I might have to request you as a friend.”  This immediately gave me that icky lump in my gut.  I didn’t want him as a friend on Facebook, but I didn’t say anything.

After I got off the phone, I went through a series of thoughts and feelings.  I noticed that I felt unsafe.  Then, I chastised myself for this feeling.  “He lives over 1,000 miles from here.  Unsafe is a silly thing to feel.” But unsafe was not a silly feeling.  It was spot on.  Letting someone into a private/personal part of my life just because he had requested it would have been a violation of my own boundaries.

It was not surprising when I found a request for a Facebook friend from Ron that same evening.  By then, I had had some time to think about my response, which was, “because of the supervisory work relationship we have, I cannot be your friend on Facebook.”

I’m so proud of that 🙂

I have struggled with setting boundaries my entire life.  Poor boundary defenses are a major exploitation point for abusers.  I’m not saying that Ron is an abuser.  But, I do know that he has made multiple attempts to cross boundaries.  And, I know that each time he did, my gut felt the same way it did when my abuser started grooming me.  I was unable to defend myself then, but today I know better how to listen to my feelings.  There was nothing that I did to encourage or request Ron’s advances, just as there was nothing I did to be sexually abused as a child.  No one asks for or deserves abuse.

Know The Risks And Be Realistic About Them

When I was in seminary, one of my field placement assignments was an inner city church.  My primary job was to be a Sunday school teacher for the kids – the only teacher.  There were usually fifteen kids from age five to fifteen.  Many of them were related so they helped take care of the others, but oh my!  That was a lot of responsibility.  The kids, for the most part, were great!  But I was concerned with their safety and the message we were sending them.  There were no where near enough adults in the mix for their safety.

My concern with the lesson we were teaching them was that it was ok to be alone with an adult they didn’t really know.  These kids had never seen me before and they were supposed to trust me because I was Miss Jackie and other adults said they should trust me.  The pastor of the church did not appreciate my concerns and primarily ignored me.

I was reminded of this experience over the weekend.  Two men had come by our house last week, hoping to buy some of the scrap metal we had around the farm.  We had arranged for them to come back over the weekend.  One of the man brought two of his kids.  I didn’t mind that the kids were here, but I was concerned that their father just let them go with me to show them around.  I had asked if I could show them some of our potato plants, and stay close to the van, but the kids then wanted to see the basketball hoop, the pumper machine (to air up the little boy’s basketball), and the cat (who stays in the house).  Our property isn’t huge, but there was no concern on the father’s part that he didn’t know me and I was going to be alone with his kids.  I knew I wouldn’t do anything to the kids, but I was again concerned with the lesson being taught.

The father was busy and didn’t seem too concerned where the kids went, assuming that because I was an adult, I’d keep them safe.   Too many adults assume their kids will be safe because they are with a “responsible” adult.  But how does one really know?  There are no signs people are forced to wear that say, “Your kids aren’t safe around me.”  It would be nice if we could do that, but most people would never be identified because so many victims never tell.

The little boy, who had his fifth birthday last week, wanted to know if he could go in the house and see our cat.  I said I didn’t think that was a good idea, not that I minded if they came in the house, but because it wasn’t a good precedent to set for them.  It really is not ok to go in a stranger’s house to see their cat, dog, get candy, watch television, whatever.  It just really isn’t safe.  The little boy wasn’t doing anything wrong and he was just curious, but it was not something I was going to contribute to.  He may never think twice about it, but I didn’t want to teach him that it was a good idea.

Knowing that abuse exists and is so prevalent is a good thing, but it has certainly opened my eyes to things we do, and allow our kids to do without question.  In a recent conversation with Jennifer, she described a meeting at a church in which the church wanted to implement policies to make kids safer.  She raised the point that everyone should go through training, not just Sunday school teachers and the pastors.  People in the meeting got upset because they did not think they janitor should have to be trained.  It was the rational that the janitor never had direct contact with the kids, so there was no reason why the janitor should be required to participate.  Jennifer raised the point that the janitor never had contact with the children, except when a child went to the bathroom and the janitor was cleaning in there.  Then people started to get the picture that child abuse is often a crime of opportunity, and child molesters will make any opportunity.

This story is not to say that all janitors are waiting to molest children.  It is just an example of people who slip through the visible cracks because we aren’t willing to think broadly enough to include as many people as possible when dealing with child abuse.  Sadly, there is no way to look at anyone and know whether or not children are safe around them.  Parents have to be educated about the risks, be realistic about abuse really happening, educate their kids in age appropriate ways, and always, always, always be vigilant and listen, even to things that are unspoken.

If you have a scenario you’d like to run by Jennifer or I about keeping kids safe, please email either one of us and get the conversation started to keep kids safe.