Behind The Scenes: Is it okay for me to say "no" to family who want to hug and kiss my kid?

Twitter DM from an anonymous follower:

"Hi! I read your _Kids and Safety_ post* and it made me think about family members who try to hug and kiss kids. Is it ever okay to say "no" to them?"

Great question! You are NOT wrong for wanting to enforce a "no" you set...with anyone.

It's really important to make a big deal about listening to a "no". When we teach kids that "no" is an acceptable response, we are teaching them to listen to their bodies, gut and heart. That's a crucial life skill. "No" is also a boundary, right? Setting and maintaining good boundaries with people, especially family, is another life skill. These life skills are ones that perpetrators and abusers look for in kids and adults. When they are missing, kids and adults alike are more likely to be exploited and hurt.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Putting kids on the receiving end of an adult's desired way of showing affection deprives a child of their ability (and right) to listen to and learn from their own body. That's across the board: from listening to their body when they need to pee in the middle of the night to listening to their body when it's hungry and listening to their body when they feel nervous about someone. Remember, sexual predators are usually folks kids know. So it's especially important to help kids listen to their bodies, especially around familiar people.

Before you start, it may be helpful to practice. Saying something out loud always makes us more confident, especially when it comes to setting boundaries. You might say, "Actually we/I have decided to let the kids decide when and who they give hugs and kisses. Thanks for helping us allow them to make those choices." You never need to explain a boundary. But if you want, you could say, "we want little Bridgett to learn to listen to own body instead of what other people tell her she should do with your body."

Last thing! Boundaries only work when they are clear, consistent and you stick to them. Repetition is your friend.

Thanks for being a good mom.

PS.* That post is here.

Posted on September 8, 2017 and filed under parenting, Children, Community.

Three Steps That Will Make You More Trustworthy

I talk a lot about trauma-informed care, support or resources. Trauma-informed means understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of trauma to avoid further harm. It means accepting that everyone is a trauma survivor. It means those of us who work with the general public need to respond better to the signs we are given (because survivors do give signs if we're paying attention) and consciously avoid re-traumatizing people. Put more simply, it means making your service, system or approach sensitive and inclusive to the needs of sexual abuse survivors. Here are three simple steps to do this:

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  1. Ask only what you need to know. Endless paperwork is overwhelming...for everyone! While "all the facts" can be helpful to you for your reporting requirements for grants or other funding, it's emotionally exhausting for clients who are already traumatized, scared, tired, stressed and may be dealing with a mental health issue that impedes their ability to concentrate and think clearly.
  2. Offer choice. Here are two ways to do this: A. If clients must do intake paperwork, provide all of it as downloadable forms on your website. This gives folks the chance to read it in advance so they are emotionally prepared for the question that they will be asked. Which is helpful even if they cannot print the documents at home. At least they know what's in store for them. B. Let clients know that they don't have to respond to every question. State that clearly at the top of each form ("if you are uncomfortable answering any of the following questions for any reason, you can skip them"). Giving people the power to make choices that feel good or safe to them helps them trust you.

3. Staff must look like your clients/patients. Therapists, social workers, doctors, nurses of color are not automatically better able to serve clients of color but they are more likely to be able to identify with the reality of living as a person of color and all of the challenges that go along with that. More on that idea and how some white therapists unintentionally re-traumatize their clients of color is here.

What would you add to this list? What's missing? Leave a comment below.

Posted on August 30, 2017 and filed under Trauma-informed.

Why You Should Ditch The People Who Say "get over it"

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Abuse isn't something to "get over".

You were hurt. It was painful and horrible, not fair. You didn't deserve it. It wasn't your fault. You have the right to be angry, mournful, actively sad or any emotion at all about what happened.

Don't let anyone try to rob you of your feelings about the abuse. People who say "get over it" or ask when you will be over it, are attempting to control you to make themselves more comfortable. They have no right to do that.

Don't let them control you.

You are fine, just as you are. And if you are not fine, you should consider getting making changes so you aren't feel healthier. You deserve that. People people minimizing your experiences or your feelings are not worthy of you.

Remember The First Best Thing and go from there when you're building (or dismantling) relationships.

Kitchen Confidential: Normalizing Peer Support for Abuse Survivors

Everyone knew that Chief of Police William J. Obanhein was "an abusive drunk,". A member of the police force for almost thirty-five years, Obanhein became famous after an appearance in Arlo Guthrie's song, Alice's Restaurant. During his time in the department, two of his sons died and one disappeared. But in the 1960's "no one cared if your father beat you," as my mom told me about Chief Obanhein. Apparently no one also cared that the chief of police was also beating his wife.

Not only did no one care but even if they did, there were no resources to help:

  • Crisis lines and shelters were rare and informal;

  • "Wife beating" became grounds for divorce in New York in 1962 but only after a "sufficient" number of beatings took place.

  • Federal laws related specifically to domestic violence didn't exist until the late 1970's;

  • Not even the people in the medical field were a support for abused women. References to battered women were sexist, victim-blaming with theories like wives "have a masochistic need that their husbands’ aggression fulfills."

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Family violence was far from the public health threat that it is viewed as today. It was not until the early 70's that women began to talk about physical violence in the home. Most gathered in volunteers' homes providing what would become the first "support groups". It was a beginning that not only made sense from an evolutionary perspective but also a safety one. If you're an abused wife, it's easier to cross the street to your neighbor's than to head downtown to an office.

It's been 40+ years since support groups started in homes. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are recognized as public health threats. Some survivors feel safe speaking out. The general public is learning how to respond better. And yet, we have a long road ahead of us.

Most domestic violence (and rape crisis) agencies do good work. But agencies also operate under-staffed and on a shoestring budget, dependent on vanishing grant money. Pay is low, martyrdom is common, burn out is frequent. Agencies also often lack a trauma-informed approach to support and care for survivors. But, one of the biggest challenges are survivor's increasingly complicated needs.

Survivors may be dealing with the trauma of institutionalized racism, poverty, mental health challenges and childhood neglect on top of violence. They may have a different gender identity which can complicate services and access to support. Survivors may also be visiting social services agencies for support and care. If they are a victim of a crime, they are also dealing with law enforcement and the court system...neither of which are set up to support the survivor. Survivors may need housing, help paying for medications and food, in addition to a safety plan. In short, a survivor's  needs today are more complicated than the average woman coming through a shelter door in 1980.

Who better to relate to the multi-dimensional needs of an abuse survivor than another survivor who has dealt with similar layers of oppression? A peer, someone with whom you have a shared common experience, is exactly the person to provide ongoing support to an abuse survivor.  I have been facilitating peer led, abuse survivor support groups for almost 18 months. Before that I offered psycho-educational support groups at a local domestic violence agency. {I did not identify as a survivor when facilitating the latter group.}. In a peer support group, I'm just another person with a similar experience. That's very powerful for everyone. More on peer support here.

My mom was wrong. We do care when someone is hurt. But we don't often know how to help.

Once upon a time, though, we learned to help as peers, as fellow survivors, as neighbors in a community where we live. That's the way forward again. Gathering around kitchen tables in neighbor's homes to offer support, understanding and consistency. At this critical time in our history where informed support is rarer than ever and public resources are threatened, there is no better time to pivot back to our origins. To bring survivor support back into the homes and communities in which it started in.

Join me.

Dumb, brave or vulnerable? You've got a feeling...

How are you doing today? 

What is the emotion that's going on for you right now? For me, it's impatience. I'm wanting resolution about something and it hasn't happened yet. I feel impatient and cranky about that.

Often we answer "fine" when someone asks us how we are doing. Even if we aren't fine. We don't want to be too much for someone else or for our "stuff" to overwhelm them. We tend treat the person asking as if they aren't quite capable of taking care of their own needs. 

We need to do better...by them and us.

When we own how we are feeling, we acknowledge it. We give it the credit it is due. And when we do that, we are better able to accept the feeling and move through it. It is counter-intuitive but acknowledging how we are feeling allows us to control the emotion, instead of feeling like you are being managed by your emotions.

So let's try it again- how are you doing today?

There is a list of 30ish feelings above. Choose one, two or even three and leave me a comment below.

Is yours there? Leave me a comment below and tell me what to add to this list.

Thanks for reading. 

Posted on July 28, 2017 and filed under Personal Identity, Personal Growth.