Truth Joy Beauty

Just my thoughts and reflections about living and loving in the post-post modern age.

So where ARE the counselling jobs for counselling graduates?

In May of 2015, I finally completed my post graduate diploma in counselling.  After three and a half long years of sacrifice, studying part-time while working full-time (whilst getting paid the equivalent of two thirds of my former salary as a brand manager), I started looking for work as a counsellor only to find that many advertised roles which have the word “counsellor” in the title, don’t actually ask for specific counselling qualifications. Many seem to ask for social work or psychology qualifications. To be honest I was kind of confused. If you are advertising for a counsellor, why ask for a social work qualification? Asking for a psychology degree seems to make more sense, however, even the post graduate psychology course (which I was considering at one stage) does not have counselling specific subjects.

Below is an example from the Sydney Universisty Post Graduate Diploma course outline:

GRADUATE DIPLOMA IN PSYCHOLOGY – POSSIBLE STUDY PLAN A
Semester 1 Year 1 PSYC2011 Brain and Behaviour *
PSYC2012 Statistics and Research Methods for Psychology *
Semester 2 Year 1 PSYC2013 Cognitive and Social Psychology *
PSYC2014 Personality and Intelligence I *
Semester 1 Year 2 PSYC3018 Abnormal Psychology *
Plus one of the following:
HPSC3023 History and Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry **
PSYC3011 Learning and Behaviour
PSYC3012 Cognition, Language and Thought
PSYC3015 Personality and Intelligence II
PSYC3017 Social Psychology
Semester 2 Year 2 Any 2 of the following:
PSYC3010 Advanced Statistics for Psychology ***
PSYC3013 Perceptual Systems
PSYC3014 Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience
PSYC3016 Developmental Psychology
PSYC3020 Applications of Psychological Science

As you can see, there are no counselling specific subjects or counselling placement requirements.

I’d like to contrast that with the course I did, the Graduate Diploma in Counselling at ACAP (Australian College of Applied Psychology):

Graduate Diploma of Counselling (GradDipCouns)(Re-accredited)

Year 1

1.  COUN5131 Counselling Practice

2.  COUN5141 Counselling Theories

3.  COUN5151 Cross Cultural Counselling

4.  COUN5161 Counselling Over the Lifespan

5.  COUN5171 Ethical Decision Making

6.  Elective

Year 2

7.  COUN5201 Counselling Skills and Models

8.  COUN5211 Grief Counselling

9.  COUN5221 Mental Health Practice

10. COUN5231 Field Placement and Supervision 1

11. COUN5241 Field Placement and Supervision 2
12. Elective

Electives – choose two

COUN5801 Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselling
COUN5811 Narrative Therapy
COUN5821 Creative Therapies
COUN5831 Groupwork Theory and Practice
COUN5841 Family Counselling
COUN5851 Trauma Counselling

As you can see, most of the subjects are counselling related and counselling specific. A counselling degree trains people to be counsellors and therapists. A psychology degree, on its own, does not.

If I was recruiting for a counselling position, then it would make the sense to ask for a counselling specific qualification, however this is not happening often enough, as far as I can tell.  In 2015 when I called up the advertisers of some of these roles and asked, would they consider someone with a counselling specific qualification for the position, I was been met with somewhat defensive or ignorant responses. Clearly the question made them uncomfortable. To be fair, some said, yes a post graduate diploma in counselling would also be considered and encouraged me to apply …but my next question was then, (as it is now), why not state that in the ad? At the very least, from what I have gleaned so far, there seems to be little knowledge in the community services sector about the difference between counselling, psychology and social work. The way some advertisements are written you would think these disciplines are inter-changeable. I can tell you, they most certainly are not.

My suspicions regarding jobs for counselling graduates were depressingly confirmed when I came across this article written by a counselling educator at UWS,  Where are the jobs for our graduates? (This blog post is kind of in response to this article). I say depressingly because the Google search phrase I used which delivered this article, (third result from the top) was, “graduate jobs counselling”!

After spending three years studying to be a counsellor I can honestly say this article was a low point. As someone who also has a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism, I can tell you the ACAP Grad Dip Counselling is not an easy course, not academically nor practically. Don’t get me wrong, if I had my time again, I probably would have started with a psychology degree and continued with the post-grad in counselling. I think psychology degrees are useful for many career paths including counselling, research, business etc.  If I was interested in social justice or community work then a social work degree would be the right qualification to have. But I see myself, quite specifically, as a counsellor or psychotherapist. Someone that wants to work one on one, or in small groups, with people who need the sort of help only a therapeutic counselling relationship can offer. I strongly feel that what we know of as counselling can be the most effective agent of change for many people.

So, why is it so difficult to find a counselling role that asks for counselling qualifications? In the first instance, more work needs to be done by our governing body, PACFA (The Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia) and educational institutions, such as ACAP,  – to educate the sector and government about the differences between these three different occupations.

The fact that Medicare does not cover counselling does not help. Similarly, most private health care funds will cover psychology, but not counselling. Interestingly, most will also cover alternative therapies (such as aromatherapy, massage etc) as well, but only Medibank Private offers a rebate for counselling. PACFA, have been campaigning to get counselling and psychotherapy covered by all Private Health Insurance companies. You can read more about their campaign here. This is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go. Even though the evidence base for the effectiveness of counselling and psychotherapy continues to grow, I sometimes fear that we are preaching to the converted.

Considering I originally wrote this piece in 2015, the situation is still very disheartening and frustrating for counselling graduates. I am lucky to have found a full-time position in a counselling related role however I know that many counselling graduates struggle to find full-time, counselling related employment. In one sense, this is the plight of all new graduates – companies ask for on the job experience which is impossible to get without, well, experience. At least with a counselling qualification I exited the course with actual counselling experience already under my belt, something employers may be interested to know.

In my case, putting in extra work and volunteering helped me get the job I wanted. However, I believe there is more than one set path to achieving any goal.  As long as you are following your heart and living your values there is hope. Let me leave you with this inspirational quote which I have always liked:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

William Hutchison Murray

Porn addiction – it’s not just you. Truth, reality and hope for addicts and partners.

In 2014 I wrote a serious article with a slightly tongue in cheek heading called  Is internet porn the beginning of the end for the human race?  Now while I admit, I may have been exaggerating slightly, the premise of the article was clearly not entirely without justification. It may seem a little far fetched but if, as I saw tonight while out at dinner, parents are using screens to placate/regulate a child’s behaviour out in public then what does that really mean for that child and their ability to engage with other humans later in life? What happens when, as a society, we are more comfortable relating to a screen or to another human being through the medium of a screen, than we are when faced with a flesh and blood human. One that you can’t simply swipe away when convenient?

How does this relate to porn addiction? Well for many years the debate on porn was centered around the notion that succumbing to the temptation of porn signified some kind of moral failing. From a religious/Christian point of view, it was a question of sinfulness.  A sign that one has allowed oneself to become infected with one or more of the seven supposed deadliest of sins, lust and/or gluttony. Or, from a feminist point of view, porn is seen as the vile exploitation of women as sexual, one dimensional objects with no humanity other than form. Exposure to pornography was seen as something that was detrimental to our morality and incremental to men’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for all things sexual. Yet as Naomi Wolf ironically points out in her article, The Porn Myth in actuality, the end result of too much exposure to pornography has had the effect, not of turning men into sexually ravenous beasts, but the complete opposite; sexual and emotional anorexics who can no longer relate authentically to a real life woman or get aroused by one. As it turns out, excessive viewing of pornography in this digital age turns men off, not on.

As numerous studies now show, repetitive and compulsive viewing of internet porn by men, (and a growing number of women) induces the opposite effect than one might expect, and just like a person who is addicted to a substance grows increasingly desensitized to the drug whilst continuing to crave it more and more, a person who is addicted to pornography finds he/she ends up on pretty much the same, well trodden treadmill. Intensely wanting something that can no longer provide the temporary relief and stimulation it once did.

Recent research implies that internet pornography is as addictive as certain drugs and affects the brain the same way. But, porn’s special hook is that it taps into that human need for attachment by adding into the mix hormones that are normally associated with bonding, love and connection. In effect, a porn addict becomes more attached to porn than anything or anyone else in their life. As a consequence, relationships, marriages, work and soon enough, the relationship with the self begins to suffer.

Porn addiction, like any addiction goes through stages – however, unlike most other addictions, the physical effects of porn addiction are virtually invisible, and the psychological and emotional effects are quite subtle, at first. In-fact, many porn addicts may seek treatment of a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD, as well as physical ailments, stress, other addictions and finally sexual performance before anyone “thinks to ask about their porn viewing habits”.

But more and more studies clearly link issues related to sexual performance, including as I mention in my previous post, erectile dysfunction in men in their late teens and early twenties, (something that was almost unheard of 10 – 15 years ago) back to extensive viewing of internet porn. It is only when they can no longer get an erection, or ejaculate even with porn that some men start to make the connection between their excessive viewing of porn and other issues in their life. Often this is the only thing that eventually get’s their attention. (Their partners, if they have partners, may have known for some time that something was happening, or rather…not happening!)

This sorry state of affairs is bad news for both porn addicts and partners of porn/sex addicts, many who spend night after night lying in bed next to a partner that never seems to be ‘in the mood’ for sex. The result can be devastating to marriages, relationships and the self-esteem to both parties. The secretive nature of most men’s porn addiction may also mean that some partners may not know that they are in a relationship with a porn addict or even if they are aware of their partner’s porn habit, they may not make the connection at first either. Or they may not know the extent of their partner’s porn viewing. The damage this causes relationships is thus far unmeasurable.  One site states that 56% of divorces in the U.S. involve one party having an obsessive interest in pornography among other staggering statistics.

So, is the news all bad? Well, no. Latest brain research shows that the brain is actually very flexible, and  malleable, kind of like plasticine. In-fact the term for the way the brain can change itself, based on what is experienced is called neuroplasticity. This is good news. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the same way you get yourself into a sticky situation is largely the same way to get yourself out of it. While the allure of internet porn may have lost its charm many clicks ago, the habit that it has created will be hard to break. Hard, but not impossible. For men who have lost the ability to relate to women, emotionally and physically, and for partners of addicts there seems little alternative, other than to dissolve the relationship, which let’s face it, is fairly likely. It can’t be much fun to be in a relationship with a porn addict. However, chances are that if you leave a relationship with one porn addict, you are more than likely to run into another just as addicted, or on his way to being so, seeing as in America at least, sex addiction (which porn addiction is a form of) has reached epidemic status, according to this 2011 News Week article.

So, how do you beat a porn addiction and reverse its affects on the brain? Well the answer is simple, if not easy and this is simply to stop it. Stop all contact with porn and masturbating to porn and give your brain a chance to rewire itself and re-learn, or rediscover what comes naturally.

That is the only solution. I did say it was simple, but not easy. Recovering from porn addiction (for addicts and/or partners) takes time, courage and commitment and it is not easy to do without support. There are some very good websites now that can assist, (which I shall list below in the resources) but the assistance of a therapist who is aware of the nature of porn and sex addiction, one who will take it seriously can be fundamental to long lasting recovery. At least, having a close friend or understanding partner (if that is possible) that you know and trust is also important. The reason being that porn and sex addiction most likely mask other issues. Issues such as fear of intimacy, abandonment fears, attachment disorders, and perhaps even trauma. Once the defence of porn has left the building, then there is nothing to protect your unconscious and chances are some deeply buried emotional wounds may re-open.

It’s important to be aware of this possibility as many who try to ‘re-boot’ as it is called on websites such as Your Brain on Porn and Fight the New Drug often try many times and fail because they are inadequately prepared or lack support.

If you are experiencing porn addiction or are the partner of a porn addict, seek help from a qualified therapist and/or see some of the websites listed below for more information.

SOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/2013/02/19/pornography-statistics/
http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#sthash.ubb4Ty3m.dpbs
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/
http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2013/05/the-prevalence-of-porn/
http://yourbrainonporn.com/cambridge-university-brain-scans-find-porn-addiction
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125382361
http://newsok.com/the-five-stages-of-pornography-addiction/article/5407775/?page=2
http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/index1.html
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/13/a-letter-to-my-ex-husband-who-preferred-pornography-to-me
http://www.newsweek.com/sex-addiction-epidemic-66289
http://globalchristiancenter.com/mens/overcoming-temptations/16765-pornography-in-the-church-a-new-epidemic
https://www.lds.org/tools/print/article/narrow/?lang=eng&url=/topics/pornography/audiences/youth/teenagers-and-pornography-addiction-treating-the-silent-epidemic
RESOURCES
http://www.covenanteyes.com/ (Internet filtering service)
http://yourbrainonporn.com/
http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/
http://www.posarc.com/ (Partners of sex addicts resource center)

Yoga for stress reduction & anxiety

Yoga is one of those things I’ve dabbled in on and off since I can remember. It is something I do for a while, and while I’m doing it I love and really enjoy the benefits of, but then for some reason or another I just stop. And then, after a while I start to feel crap again, disconnected with myself, tense etc and then I remember…oh yeah! Maybe I should do a yoga class.

Since I’ve discovered the benefits of mindfulness practice, this has bought a whole new dimension to my understanding and appreciation of yoga. There is really no better way to connect the mind with the body than to connect the breath with movement. Yoga really is mindfulness in action.

So, having said that, I was pleasantly surprised to find this infographic appear in my inbox this morning from the wonderful people at Happify.  It’s an infographic of 7 yoga inspired breathing exercises and poses to instantly destress any time of the day. And you don’t have to be a yogi to do any of the poses, as they are very simple. This is something I am definitely going to be sharing with my anxiety clients so I just wanted to share it here with you’all.

Here you are:

7 yoga poses for stress reductionOh.. and if you want to get into yoga again in the comfort of your own home none the less, I really recommend Yoga with Adrienne’s YouTube channel. She has heaps of yoga videos for whatever mood you happen to be in, and if you really want kick start your yoga journey, I highly recommend taking her 30 days of yoga challenge.

Namaste y’all for now!

5 things I’ve learned about anxiety from a bunch of anxious peeps

I’ve recently finished co-facilitating two rounds of a 12 week therapy group aimed at helping anxiety sufferers conquer their fears. The ‘self help’ group, as it is called, is basically an exposure based 12 week program which encourages members to face their fears by gradually ‘exposing’ themselves to the source of their anxiety bit by bit. It’s called the stepladder approach and is based on basic behaviour therapy.

The aim of the group is to guide members, after explaining what exposure is and how to construct a stepladder, towards conquering specific fears or phobias. It’s not really structured for those who are diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), PSTD or depression for example. There is only so much you can do in a group context. That was the theory behind the group, however, the reality proved quite different. We had a few members that had a specific phobia or fear such as public speaking, or a specific social phobia such as fear of eating in public, but most of the members’ anxiety was not that specific. Most seemed to be suffering from a general malaise and in some cases extreme uneasiness in public, social phobia in general or just a case of debilitating shyness. Some had depression as well.

It soon became clear that the prescribed ‘stepladder’ technique was not going to work with these people. One could still go over the basic idea of the stepladder, that is, expose yourself to your fears, little by little. Take baby steps. But a definitely rigid approach was not going to do. So, I did some research and also, concurrently, I started an online course on ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) but mostly, I learned from the group members themselves. Hearing their stories week by week, their awkward to embarrassing moments, their small and seemingly tiny triumphs and major breakthroughs…they taught me more about how to manage this thing called anxiety, which we are all faced with to some degree, than any text book or peer reviewed article I have read.

So here’s what I learned about how best to deal with anxiety from my research and from those that know best:

1. Accept anxiety as part of life.

Most people who come to a group such as the one I have just described have been struggling with anxiety for a long time before seeking help. Some for years. What they want most when they first come to the group or seek help is for a ‘cure’ that will somehow make their anxiety ‘go away’. But what is most freeing or a revelation for some is when we explain that anxiety is a normal part of being human, and that it will always be present to some degree. Struggling with it only makes it seem stronger and bigger than it really is, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away either… However, acceptance of anxiety is something altogether different. Acceptance allows for dialogue, it allows for a two-way exchange between the person suffering from anxiety and the message that anxiety is trying to convey. It is the first step towards healing, it signifies a willing to listen, to engage.

2. Face and then embrace your fears.

Whatever it is that makes you most anxious, that is where you need to start.  Jumping in head first is not a good idea, however a measured, stepladder if you will, approach really does work if done consciously, with self-awareness and with self-compassion. A step is still a step, no matter how small….however, there is a qualifier and the qualifier is as follows:

2a. Face your fears, only if they serve your greater good. That is, face and accept anxiety only if it serves your values. There is no point putting yourself through all that pain and anxiety for no good reason, if it serves you however, and helps you to achieve your goals or be the person you really want to be, then there is a very good reason.

3. Know your values.

One session, after learning about the importance of values in ACT I asked the group members to share with me their reasons for coming to group in the first place. They looked at me blankly at first, as if it was a silly question but then I explained… Yes, I know it’s because you wanted to get help with managing your anxiety but WHY? Why does that matter to you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay home, live with your anxiety to a degree and not push yourself to come here, or go on working through your stepladders each week? There is a reason why you do that, come to group each week, something you want to achieve or a way you’d like to live, and that reason should give you a big hint as to what your values are. Values guided action makes anxiety meaningful. It adds another, very powerful dimension to the how of exposure based therapy. The why.

4. Listen to what your anxiety is trying to tell you.

Anxiety is not always blind fear and anxiety is not a one size fits all broadcast. There are different types of anxiety. There is helpful anxiety and not so helpful anxiety. Sometimes, it is steering you towards something, sometimes it is telling you your off track. There is the anxiety that comes with moving forward, and the anxiety that comes with staying stuck. Only the individual can know what their anxiety means to them, or what it is trying to say. Mindfulness is one way of getting tuned in to what your anxiety is trying to tell you by displacing some of the static that most of us walk around with every day, without realizing it most of the time.

5. You are what you do most.

All the skills and techniques broached in the 12 week course (and in most CBT based therapies including ACT) are all pretty sound, yet none of them will work if we only pay lip-service to them. There is no magic pill or cure for anxiety or any other mental illness. Medication helps to a degree but it really only treats the symptoms, or helps with balancing out chemicals that have become imbalanced in the first place because of what the individual has experienced, reacted to and consequently how they have been behaving for many years. It takes dedication, practice and conscious choice to over-ride what have become automatic behaviours or ways of responding for many anxiety sufferers. The more you practice these new behaviours, thoughts, techniques and ways of being, the more they will seem natural.

 

So that’s pretty much it. (Well not really it, but a sizeable chunk, and besides, I’m getting sleepy!)

All good things take a little time, but like all good things, they are truly worth it in the end. As has been my journey towards becoming a qualified counsellor…it’s been a long 3 and a half years and in a few weeks I will be done with this first long stretch of road. Yes, in just a few weeks I will be qualified! However, while I feel I have learned so much, it gives me a certain amount of anxiety to realize that I have still sooo much more to learn. But, I’m pretty sure it’s the good sort of anxiety…

You Know You’re Getting Old When….

  1. You give people wayyy more information than they asked for. Case in point: My real estate agent rang today to inform me about some painting and building maintenance going on and asked if I needed any interior painting done. I proceeded to tell him how the bathroom window doesn’t shut properly, how the tiles are coming up in certain areas and that the kitchen doors never close properly….
  2. You get disproportionately upset by trivial things. Case in point: The guy at the sandwich shop does not cut your sandwich in half, and if he did cut it in half you’d be complaining that he didn’t cut it properly, or at the wrong angle, or too much butter, not enough butter, no butter….the list goes on.
  3. Ten thirty PM is way too late to be heading out anywhere. Case in point: You have an unusually free Saturday night. You feel like heading out, going to catch some live music perhaps, socializing but all your friends are busy or otherwise unavailable. You run into an acquaintance who mentions she is going to see some band you like and you say, “Great! I’d like to come. Text me when you get there, I’m only around the corner…” The message comes at 10.15pm. You are already in your pj’s, in bed and catching up on Hemlock Grove. There is NO WAY you are getting dressed now! (Unless there’s a fire and you have to evacuate the building, in which case it’s grab your dog and a jumper, and that’s it.)
  4. You can’t handle your alcohol anymore. There was a time you could out drink anyone, anytime, anywhere. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, I never was a big drinker, but there was a time when I could at least handle 5 drinks in an evening without feeling like my head was going to explode and issue forth a geyser of vomit if I so much as moved it an inch too far to the left. Nowadays, two wines and I’m fine but anymore and I’m straight through to hungover!
  5. Heels are a thing of the past. You can just about manage wedges for up to 4 hours but that’s it. Stilettos are a distant memory. As are G-strings and super-tight jeans that you can’t breathe in. Life is way too short. (And getting shorter!)
  6. You refer to people in their 30s as young. When did thirty-something become young? Remember that show, Thirty-something? You don’t? Well, you probably are thirty-something then!
  7. You remember what it was like to not have the internet. And, you start to say things like…before the internet, (BI) we had to actually find a pay phone to call someone and you can’t even manage to reply to a lousy text message!

If you can relate, then yep. You guessed it.  You’re getting old!

A Brief Reflection on Religious Radicalisation and Young People

Eloquent and best explanation of the malaise that is the experience of many of today’s youth that I have read to date. Thanks for the clarity and fresh viewpoint on a poignant subject Ryan.

Intellectual Misfit

Over the past four years I have had countless conversations with people about the issue of young people and religious radicalisation. It has been an area of intense interest for me, and I thought it might be timely to offer some reflections on my own experience of the issue.

My work included being youth worker and manager of a youth service in Western Sydney’s Auburn- an area known for its cultural diversity and strong Islamic presence. In fact, the location of my work was just around the corner from the infamous Bukhari House Mosque and bookstore. If you have not heard of Bukhari House, a simple Google search will tell you everything you need to know.

Throughout my time in Auburn I spoke with colleagues and other interested individuals from across Sydney and listened to a range of views about the problem of youth radicalisation. As one who takes monotheist religion seriously…

View original post 709 more words

Impermanence

I used to write a lot of poetry. Especially in my angsty late teens and early 20s. (Those that know me won’t be surprised to hear this.) Somewhere, there is a folder containing all those old poems, some on loose bits of paper, napkins, wrappers etc. Some torn out of the pages of whatever notebook I carried around with me at the time. I always had a notebook and pen with me wherever I went. Most were typed on an actual typewriter. (Yep, I’m that old). How I sometimes miss that clack, clack sound. (I don’t miss making a mistake and ripping the page out in frustration to start all over again though!)

Sometimes, at random times, some lines come back to me from poems I’d written so long ago. Lines that have stuck with me for some reason, for example this one:

Where are you my love that will understand me, not just for my hair, my skin and my teeth?

You don’t fucking exist. It’s me, all alone. I don’t need anyone. I couldn’t care less. 

I wrote that when I was 19. Teenage angst much? Yeah, well. I also wore a lot of black at the time… I remember that line because for me it was triumph of independence and powerful rage. And so, so transparent in its ache for just the opposite. Of course I cared. I cared a lot. Of course I needed love and connection, we all do.

Another line of poetry that sometimes floats back at me, is this:

Constant flux. Constant. Flux.

Is all we can rely on. 

That was the last two lines of a longer poem which I can’t recall right now. But, I marvel at my insight. I think I was 17 when I wrote that. And it came back to me the other day when I was having a conversation with someone who said, and I am paraphrasing here but it went something like this:

“At the heart of it all I think is a desire for permanence, for certainty. Everything changes, and can change in an instant. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t really rely on someone to be there for you because from one day to another, everything can change. I find it hard to go all in because….well, what’s the point? At one point or another, you’re gonna get hurt.”

There-in lies one of the great existential challenges that we all face as humans on this small, blue planet that we call Earth. Nothing lasts, everything changes. Impermanence is built into the nature of existence. Yet, we try and resist this essential quality of being with all our might. We resist loving completely because, we will – not may, WILL lose that love one day. It’s inevitable.

Buddhism has a name for this. It is called Annica, and is considered one of the three basic facts of existence. The other two are suffering (Dukkha) and non-self (Anatta). The last one is kind of hard to define and calls for a whole other post, and more so let’s just leave it alone for now.

But, and perhaps the one thing that I wish I had said to my friend, because at the time I didn’t say much. Or what I did say didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, and it’s been playing on my mind. What I wish I had said was this,

What’s the point?
What’s the point of loving or giving yourself completely to another human being, a cause, a passion or an animal even? When there is no guarantee that those things will last? Well, that is the point. That is precisely the point.

How to spot a potential abuser

This post first appeared in The Truth Joy Beauty Manifesto. I have updated it and made some corrections here. 

In response to Rosie Batty’s recent article, These are the “red flags” that signal an abusive relationship –  I’d like to point out that sometimes there are warning signs that point to a potentially abusive mindset or predisposition, before a relationship develops. If as women, we can get better at spotting some of these behaviours in potential partners then it could very well save a lot of women a lot of pain and trouble, not to mention lives. So while the “red flags” mentioned in the Mamamia article are worth noting, they are aimed at spotting the signs displayed by the women involved in an abusive relationship.

Wouldn’t be better if we could avoid getting involved with abuse altogether?

At the end of the day, these behaviours escalate not because as partners we are at fault in some way, the problem behaviour lies squarely with the abuser, however because we are far too giving and understanding in the first instance, and because being understanding and tolerant does not change their behaviour for the better, quite the contrary as evidence shows, it sometimes seems to make things worse.

The reality is most abusers don’t start off that way on the first date. If that were the case, most of us would run a mile! No, they are very often charming, attentive, affectionate at first. However, there are warning signs, red flags if you will, that signal if not abusive tendencies but certainly cause for concern.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of potential ‘red flags’ to watch out for when sizing up any potential new partner:

  1. Low tolerance for stress or stressful situations. They get easily and visibly stressed at things which you or most people for that matter would just brush off as a part of life. Annoying, yet nothing to get overly bothered about. If you find yourself having to talk them down just because they missed the early train or raging at other drivers ‘cutting them off’  who are clearly not, that’s early warning no. 1
  2. Quick to anger or unreasonable anger. If small things trigger big responses, especially angry responses, then take a mental note and be on high alert with this person, even if at first their rage is not directed at you.
  3. Quick to criticize. You’ve only been seeing this person for a month or two and already they are making personal, sideways comments such as, “That dress is a bit short isn’t it?” or “Do you have to jump to attention every time your mother calls?” If they start criticizing your friends or family whom they barely know, don’t be fooled. They have an agenda and that agenda is to control and contain. These sort of person is really very insecure and the only way they can feel bigger is to make you feel small.
  4. Unable to take criticism. You may be surprised, (or not) to find that this same person who is so critical and acts so superior to you and your friends in so many ways, may act like the biggest baby at the slightest criticism. Leaving you feeling guilty and eager to make it up to them. Even if your critique is justified, i.e. they show up 2 hours late for a date or they “forget” to call you when they said they would and you are understandably put out, they will somehow find a way to make you feel like your mild reproach was the most cutting blow they have ever been dealt. Once again, don’t be fooled, be en guard.
  5. Jealous and possessive. Once again, don’t be flattered or fooled by this game playing master manipulator. If he is jealous for no good reason, then don’t think it’s because he ‘loves you so much’ or that he is ‘so into you’. He doesn’t want any man to be involved too closely with your relationship because the one thing these abusive men are underneath all their bravado and aggression is cowardly. If he ‘disapproves’ of you being friends with exes or any long term male friend then take that as a serious warning. He doesn’t want the competition. Not in a romantic sense, but in terms of influence.
  6. Excessive futurizing. Even though you’ve only been dating a few weeks this man has already declared his ‘undying love’ for you. He has cultivated an us against them vibe and you are feeling the pull of a whirlwind romance and almost delirious with excitement and passion. He has told you how beautiful, special and wonderful you are and how “different” you are from anyone else he has ever met. He may already be acting like you have been dating for years. Calling every day, planning your weekend on the Monday or talking about going on holidays at Christmas and it’s only February. DANGER. DANGER. Tread very carefully and don’t let your vagina do the thinking for you. Real relationships take time to develop, and it takes more than a few weeks or months even to truly know a person.
  7. Childish and sullen when things don’t go his way. Once again, you barely know this guy, really, so you had a life before he came along of course. He plans something for the weekend, but you already had a plan and so have to let him down. No matter how gently you put it, or how much you explain the situation, he leaves you feeling guilty and like you have somehow done something terribly wrong. He sulks and accuses you of not being sincere or serious about him or his intentions and basically throws a tantrum.
  8. Generally aggressive. Here’s one that may seem obvious to those of us that have experienced abuse in relationships, but no so obvious to those who haven’t. A lot of abusive men are aggressive in other ways, so why are we surprised when their aggression turns on us? Aggression is a form of survival and it is a basic human instinct, especially in men, but it has no place in romantic relationships. Aggressive behaviour, or any behaviour which leaves you feeling threatened or unsafe is definitely a red flag. It’s unfortunately only a matter of time before you become a victim of his aggressive, controlling ways. This may have been a useful characteristic in prehistoric days but it has no place in modern society.

These are just some of the red flags, which may not necessarily mean that you are in the arms of an abuser, but at the very least they indicate a lack of emotional intelligence and maturity which would make a relationship with this person an uphill battle.

Tread carefully, by all means keep your heart open, but don’t close your eyes as well.

 

Just another domestic violence statistic

It seems every time I go on Facebook, open my email or watch the news these days there’s another domestic violence story. This is triggering for me because, well, any of those stories could have been about me. I survived a violent and abusive relationship and while it is something I have dealt with emotionally, these news stories just keep reminding me of the chilling fact, how close I came to being another statistic.

Before I begin my own story, let me just throw some actual statistics  your way. According to the ABS personal safety survey (2005), one in four women will experience domestic violence of some degree in their lifetime. That’s a quarter of all Australian women. 25%. (According to the latest ABS statistics that figure is now 1 in 3).  Here are some more:

  • Women are more likely to experience violence from someone they know, than from a stranger. For men the reverse is true.
  • For  women who have experienced violence since the age of 15, 36% was by someone they knew vs. 12% by a stranger.
  • For men, the statistics are 35% by a stranger, 26% by someone they know.
  • For men the someone they know is most likely to be an acquaintance or neighbour.  For women, it is most likely to be a partner or ex-partner.
  • Both women and men are more likely to experience violence by a male perpetrator.
  • One woman a week is murdered by an intimate male partner, or ex partner.
  • At the time of writing (March 3rd, 2015) 15 women have already been murdered at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.

I’ll just let those sobering facts sink in for a moment.

Unfortunately, facts alone are not enough to get government to take this terrible state of affairs seriously enough, although just recently there are signs that awareness is finally making some headway. The naming of domestic violence survivor Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year is a step in the right direction and recently Q & A did a special on domestic violence. These are all positive steps. Yet, the current government’s funding cuts to community services have meant that many front line services are struggling with to keep up with demand. This is not positive and counter-intuitive to say the least.

It is a very heartbreaking reality that little girls, such as myself, grow up dreaming of meeting their ‘prince charming’. We are fed a steady diet of fairy-tales, romantic notions, and mainstream TV depictions of perfect family life. The reality for many women however, is so different. No-one expects to end up in a relationship that is abusive and violent. Yet the statistics are such that someone you know, someone you work with or went to school with, someone in your apartment block is probably living a nightmare right now.

There has been a lot of media attention given to terrorism of late, however, this article Domestic violence deserves the same attention as terrorism, links intimate partner violence with terrorism and points out its similarities, of which there are a few.

We need to address the causes of all violence in society as whole and see that they are all linked and instead of asking women why they stay, it’s time to ask, Why do men attack the women that love them?

Some articles for further reading and sources of statistics to do with domestic violence:

http://www.domesticviolence.com.au/pages/domestic-violence-statistics.php

http://www.adfvc.unsw.edu.au/PDF%20files/Statistics_final.pdf

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/intimate-brutality-the-epidemic-of-domestic-violence/6273516

http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/top-stories/why-are-sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence-on-the-rise/201502255362#.VPTIoPmUfWs

http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/stop-blaming-the-victim-rosie-batty-to-address-mps-20150302-13sx55.html

http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/tara-costigan-murder/

http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/domestic-violence-deaths-vs-terrorism-deaths/#yqAVLOjPiEAtkSol.99

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4906.0Contents2012?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4906.0&issue=2012&num=&view=

 

Revisiting Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on Vulnerability

This morning I felt in necessary for some weird reason to re-visit Brene` Brown’s now infamous talk, The Power of Vulnerability. I first watched it during a week long Counsellor Development Workshop (almost a year ago now) and remember being moved by it then, but I also remember thinking….wow, it took 6 years of research to work out that out? It took 6 years to figure out that you cannot receive the love and connection you want without first allowing yourself to be at risk of losing that love?  But as the talk progresses and Brene` shows her own vulnerability, (which let me tell you is often synonymous with allowing others to see your own faults) you can see why this was the case. Brene` was herself absolutely petrified of being vulnerable. A self confessed control freak that wanted to measure everything, break it down, crack it open and basically, control everything found out, through her own scientific research that basically, you can’t control anything. Not really. Life is not perfect.  To love is to embrace our limitations and imperfections – in ourselves and others. That is what it means to be whole hearted, to live with courage and authenticity. To really connect with others and to be loved as you are in return, imperfect, broken and scared as that may be.

So that being said, I still found myself taking notes because regardless of Brene` personal reaction to the data as she called it, this did not detract from the truth of what she has to say in any way. In-fact it, the hard evidence that her own research uncovered was the cause of her personal breakdown. Revolutions are seldom peaceful.

So, here are my notes from Brene’s “Vunerability Ted” talk – for my own benefit more than anything else, in point form none the less.

  • It starts with connection (or attachment if you like). The ability to connect it’s who we are, and why we are here.
  • Shame thwarts this ability to connect. Shame thwarts intimacy, closeness, love.
  • Shame is the fear of disconnection. “There is something about me that is so terrible that if anyone found this out, it would render me unworthy of love in their eyes.” Or to put it more simply, “I am not worthy of love and affection”.
  • Vulnerability – allowing  yourself to be seen, to be who you are, faults, imperfections, but still and completely lovable.
  • Vulnerability – loving something or someone else with all your heart even when you know there are no guarantees. (How terrifying is that! Pretty terrifying.)
  • The rub – People that have a lot of shame detest the feeling of being vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? Exposure, rejection, exclusion, disconnection. However, in order for connection to happen we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. (Sucks, doesn’t it.)
  • Brene’ really freaked out when she worked out, from all her painstaking hours of gathering qualitative data, that the one thing that separated ‘those’ people, the people who were able to love wholeheartedly and experience true joy, connection and love versus people who wore their shame like armour and therefor where unable to connect boiled down to this: a sense of worthiness.
  • People who have a sense of love, connection and belonging in their lives simply believe they are worthy of love, connection and belonging.
  • People who are able to love this way do so from a place of vulnerability. That is, they love even when they know that their love may not be returned, that love is not perfect, that life can throw you the most horrible curve-balls.
  • Vulnerability involves – Courage, Compassion, Connection.
    • Courage – the courage to be imperfect, to be as you are, to be authentic
    • Compassion – for yourself and then you are able to show kindness and compassion for others.
    • Connection – we arrive at true connection through authenticity. Letting go of who you should be, and embracing who you are.
  • Vulnerability involves risk. It’s saying, “I love you” first, it means possible heartbreak, rejection, loss. It is a form of surrender, allowing your feelings to just exist, to make no apologies for who you are, and for the fact that you feel shit. It involves exposure, being emotionally naked and present with all your glorious faults, mistakes, imperfections and darkness.
  • This next point deserves a block quote:

Our vulnerability lies at the core of our shame, fear and struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love and connection.

  • Why do we struggle so much with being vulnerable? Well the world is full of uncertainty. So we deal with this fear of uncertainty, (existentialism’s void) by numbing ourselves.
  • Rub number 2: You can’t selectively numb emotions. You can’t say, “See this bad stuff, fear, pain, shame, grief, disappointment… well I don’t want to feel that shit so I’m going to damp it down with this (insert numbing device of choice: needle, drink, food, porn, etc) because, when  you numb the bad stuff, you also numb other emotions as well: you numb joy, happiness, gratitude, connection etc.
  • Brene’s final words: We can’t make everything that is uncertain, certain. There are no guarantees, nothing is perfect, we can’t pretend that our feelings don’t exist and that what we do doesn’t affect other people. To love wholeheartedly is the only way to get the love we need. Here are her three suggestions:

Love with all your heart, even though there are no guarantees

Practice gratitude, joy and connection

Believe that  you are worthy of love, just the way you are

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