As a psychologist for 27 years, I have provided support to, and worked alongside people from all walks of life experiencing a wide variety of psychological pain and suffering. I have borne witness to many life stories, and it has been a privilege to be able to assist individuals, couples and families seeking to heal from their trauma. I am also a workplace trainer and facilitator working in organisational psychology.
As a proud feminist and advocate for equality and justice for voices who can’t be heard I work hard to elevate issues such as women’s safety at home and at work.
When Tammy asked me to support her to write this book it was a no-brainer. Everyone should know about Family Violence Red Flags and how to be an upstander. My contribution to this book has been to add a psychological lens to concepts and issues raised and ground them in theory.
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$250 Womens Groups: Safe Spaces
Please invite us into your womens groups (bookclub, boardrooms, office, morning tea, mothers group) to discuss becoming allies. We will talk about recognising red and green flags and supporting women and children dealing with domestic violence. What is coercive control? How do we recognise signs? Building awareness and understanding. Building a community of allies. Building hope. This can be done online.
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$1800 Workplace Conversations
Please invite us into your office to discuss becoming allies. We will talk about recognising red flags and supporting women and children dealing with domestic violence. What is coercive control? How do we recognise signs? Building awareness and understanding. Building a community of allies. Building hope. This can be done online.
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Family Violence Red Flag lessons for victim-survivors and allies.
In this book the author uses her lived experience voice to expose family violence red flags and guides victim-survivors and allies toward healing and safety. The author legitimises Family Violence survivors by underpinning real life lessons with clinical knowledge and experience. This book gives hope to survivors and allies and provides useful support and resources.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/oCfeo 0 views
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In Australia, men murder women at the rate of 1 per week. This level of domestic terrorism is a national disgrace. Alongside this, intimate partner violence is perpetrated, predominantly by men, at such rates that support and justice services can’t keep up with the demand. For a long time Family Violence has been seen as ‘private, family business’, hidden away so well that bystanders could not understand or believe women when they sought help from family, friends or the police. Through the courageous voices of victim survivors and comprehensive research into Family Violence https://www.anrows.org.au/ we have slowly become aware of the complicated web of deception and terror that is perpetrated on too many victims each year. One of the important areas of research and education is on Red Flags, common abusive behaviours that are used by perpetrators to enable them to control and abuse their victims in private.
Her story validates and shows compassion for victim survivors and at the same time:
The author combines her lived experience with professional experience to offer insights, resources and alternatives for support and healing.
For over 30 years the author has combined teaching in the Higher Ed and the VET sector and working in business as a coach/ trainer building resilience and wellbeing. She is an educator in mindful living, communication, stress management and self care. She has also volunteered, coached and counselled people who have experienced various forms of trauma and PTSD since working at the 702 Crisis Centre in South Africa in 1993.
The author wants to share the lessons that she has, and is still learning, with others who may be curious about or questioning their situation but are too scared to reach out for help yet. She is using her story to help others gather awareness, knowledge and strength to make decisions filled with agency, compassion and hope.
This book is for everyone, especially those affected by or wanting to learn more about Family Violence.
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Chapter 4 Rapunzel
Isolated for her own good- Gaslight 101
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world Ludwig Wittgenstein
I was unaware of coercive control for many years. I had no voice. Most of our friends were blinded by the charismatic charm of my narcissistic ex. He played the victim and spun stories. If I had known about coercive control or if it was a criminal offence I would have been more aware, educated, possibly behaved differently. Perhaps those friends who had enabled his abusive behaviour may have known better, may have behaved differently too. I may have spoken up to more people. I may have shared my concerns with more people, I may have escaped earlier.
Coercive control includes a repeated pattern of dominating behaviour in a domestic relationship (some form of long term companion relationship). This dominating behaviour is controlling and restricts the other person's freedom and independence. Coercive Control can include verbal, financial, psychological, emotional, sexual and physical abuse. Coercive Control most frequently continues (often escalating in danger) as post separation abuse including systems abuse when the victim survivor attempts to leave the relationship. (Dr Marilyn McMahon)
Dr Emma Katz defines coercive control as involving “situations where somebody subjects another person/s to persistent, wide-ranging controlling behaviour over a long period of time, behaviour that goes beyond the reasonable expectations that people have of each other in families and relationships, and makes it clear that standing up for themselves will be punished ie. ‘do what I say, or else…’”
‘Why don’t they leave?’ ‘Why didn’t you leave earlier?’
For so many reasons this is the wrong question. Why didn’t he let her leave? Why did he abuse her? Why couldn’t she escape?
There are so many reasons. For me the first was naivety. Years of deception and ignorance of the complexity and seriousness of my situation. Lack of awareness and obliviousness of types of abuse including coercive control and financial abuse.
It was only on ground zero day, and the following months, that the enormity of what was going on in my house revealed itself. It was only upon finding my ex, near-death, that I began to even question whether he would follow through with some of his threats. On finding him, I checked the bins and toilets for the missing pills as I dialled emergency services. I never believed he would hurt himself. Me, yes. Him, never. It was only when I got home from the hospital hours later, still in shock, disbelief, that I looked next to his bed and found a bag of credit cards that I had never seen, some with my name, some with his. There was a tower of unopened and opened envelopes. Overdue accounts and an eviction notice. We were being told to leave our home immediately, our cars were being repossessed, there were five mailbox addresses he was using simultaneously. Our children’s bank accounts were empty. All their savings paid to creditors.
Financial devastation. Losing all security. And for my children at such a crucial time in their development one of their primary relationships of trust was completely shattered. I worried not only for the financial safety but the psychological safety of my children. Both of my children had been so vigilant in saving all their money for years. My son had been working incredibly hard to save for a car later that year and an overseas trip with his friends as his high school career culminated. For my daughter the breach was incredibly destabilising. Her lack of agency at that time spoke volumes. This passionate, headstrong, independent, goal directed, determined, natural leader who I had always encouraged to speak up was stunned. She was now told all decisions she had made with great financial responsibility were abused and her opinion did not count in the eyes of the law.
School fees for both children were long overdue. Friends, family, banks, loan sharks were owed huge amounts of money. Calls, texts and emails came in for months (and in some cases years later) as more debt was revealed and my ignorance became confusion, disbelief and horror. This had been an ongoing process many, many years in the making. 10 then 15 years of evidence slowly showed itself. This was a well thought out pattern of deceit.
We had been fighting for a few months at this stage. I had picked up a tension. I could feel something was not right. I hadn’t been able to look at him. I had no access to any banking, including any online banking and had just been demanding some form of access to money. We had been together since I was 15. We started saving together since our late teens. I was married at 22. We were equal partners, or so I was led to believe. I looked after the house and the children. He looked after finances and banking. He was organised and systematic and I was people oriented and creative, so I preferred to let him manage all the administrative duties. I had a degree in commerce- imagine how stupid and full of shame I felt as it all came tumbling down. I had never thought to question his word or loyalty or honesty until those few months before. I had signed papers he had asked me to sign. It emerged he had signed my names on others.
Cracks had started to appear (whispers from the universe) but even then I could never have imagined the magnitude of deception or that it had been going on for more than half of the time that we had been together (at the very least).
Another reason I stayed was hope. The person I first met was loving, funny, handsome, helpful and so charming. He was long gone but I held hope that he would return. We had always been together and I believed we would always be together. My parents had modelled that marriage had difficult and good times and you just stuck with it. My parents taught us that you committed to something. I have always seen every job through. Stuck with doctors, therapists, hairdressers, coaches and a husband for much longer than I should have from a sense of responsibility, honour, loyalty, a need to be conscientious. I believed things could get better. This is known as escalation of commitment. Sticking to a decision even when the feedback tells us it’s time to change directions. This is why it is so important to listen to the whispers of our gut instinct.
Four years before leaving I wrote a letter to my abuser;
17 May 2016
X you are unstable and you need to get help. Your daughter is scared of you, your son asked you to get help and I am begging you.
What will it take?
Should I call your brother? Your father? My father?
I can't handle it anymore.
I have to protect my children and myself.
Go to the doctor, change your meds and see a therapist. I understand you are under immense stress. That does not give you the right to scare Y (daughter) or put me down or break us all down.
Get help. I'm begging you. You are destroying all of your relationships.
When you yell at me for something completely out of my control and put me down in front of the children you are making my condition worse and alienating your children. You have to stop. Just leave me alone. Please.
He flew into a rage when he saw this. He said people had access to his work email. He called me disgusting names. He sped off to work to erase it. When he came home he was still furious. Pacing. I was silent. Petrified. The fear settled in. Threats were made. I lay on the bed. Closed my eyes. Stayed very still.
Third, I felt a deep sense of obligation and duty. I was stuck in this very heavy sense of duty- to my abuser. Now understood as trauma bonding. The team at the hospital (psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, doctor) as well as the team at the rehabilitation facility told me to stop visiting my ex every day after his suicide attempt.
He was still abusing me. Carrying out financial transactions. Withholding information and access to financial accounts. From his hospital bed he was saying threatening, hateful things to myself and his children. They made a decision not to visit him. It was completely overwhelming being around him. I would take him to Centrelink, for example, and he would yell abuse at me all the way there, sit there being abusive and yell abuse all the way back. Threatening me. Threatening my children's wellbeing. Fear. So much fear. All consuming fear. Anxiety. My stomach in knots. My head pounding. Frozen. Escaped but still chained by a sense of responsibility.
Coercive control is often difficult to describe or even to identify, often not even seen as abuse because it is such a manipulative, insidious process. The controller uses subtle techniques to groom both the controlled and the people around the controlled to trust and love them. There is second guessing, complete dependence on the abuser, punishment and reward, love/ trauma bonding, violence or the threat of violence.
For me it was a fairytale turned horror story.
How do you fall for The Devil?
You fall for Prince Charming.
'You have to hold out to see how your life unfolds, because it is most likely beyond what you can imagine. It is not a question of if you will survive this, but what beautiful things await you when you do.'
Chanel Miller, Know my Name
Long, long ago in a land far away a smiling, happy-go-lucky girl (me) met her Prince Charming. I can’t begin to describe how handsome and intriguing he was. He wore an air force uniform and the cutest, cheekiest smile, he had a playful way and he broke the rules, something I never did. He made everyone swoon with his good looks, magnetic personality and confidence. He was the adored baby of his family that everyone doted on. He had been at a boys school and was the cool kid with a huge group of friends.
I was 15 years old, smitten and my heart melted when he told me I was special. My ‘Prince Charming’ treated me like his Princess, HIS ‘happy-go-lucky’ girl. Gifts, attention, affection, promises.
‘Prince Charming’ was a real Knight in Shining Armour. He seemed to jump to my defence, noticing danger and protecting me from it, he was proud of me and spoke about my achievements as if they were his own, he called me many times a day, flooding me with attention, he sometimes followed me to check I got places safely, if he couldn’t escort me there himself. He very quickly became central in my life and a constant in my family home having used his boy-next-door innocent charm, good looks and wit to woo my family. Making them laugh at his jokes and fall in love with him too.
We started a bank account together. He said we would save together for holidays, a home and a life together. We planned a future. We bought one mobile phone together when they first came out (a brick!). I carried it around and he called me on it often checking in.
When I did things that he wasn’t included in (like university events) he would get really grumpy and miserable, this would escalate to outbursts. Once he told me to get out of the car on the highway. I did. He yelled, “Get back in”. He was super possessive of me, ‘his girl’. Every happy occasion seemed to result in tears; parties, my 21st, my matric dance (formal), my graduation. I tried to make him happy by doing things his way and mostly we lived happily.
When things were good they were super good. We laughed and had fun. We went on adventures. Things certainly looked picture perfect. The sometimes-grumpy-sometimes-charming man made sure we as a couple and later, us as a couple and our two dimpled, well-mannered children were always a ‘happy family’ to anyone watching. ‘Picture-Perfect’.
There were little red flags that kept appearing. Me, a now young woman, ‘mostly-smiling, mostly-making-the-best-of-life’ would make excuses for the red flags. I sometimes perceived them as red roses (completely misunderstanding they were flags) or sometimes I knew they were flags but I thought they would pass. ‘It’s stress’, ‘it’s anxiety’, ‘he is overwhelmed.’ ‘He will eventually get help.’ He went to get medication. Nothing changed. He was erratic. He was manipulative. He made huge gestures, huge promises then huge threats. I was constantly on edge. The fairy tale slowly became a horror story. My knight became my captor. He would fly into a rage because I didn’t answer him quickly enough. I got sick. I had more visits to the hospital. Stress exacerbated my symptoms.
He would tell people of his daily arduous visits to me in the hospital but in reality it was a 10 minute, cold visit where he checked my file and said unkind, mean things to me. He was happy with me being heavily medicated and in hospital, he was furious if the doctor suggested stress as a factor or the need to talk to a therapist, even more angry if a therapist or doctor spoke to me while he was not present. My friend, a social worker, commented that he wasn’t very nice to me. Now only-sometimes-smiling-feeling-mostly-anxious I made more excuses for him.
Prince-not-so-charming became a scary-devil. He looked at me, a sad-terrified-woman, in a way that made me shrivel up. There were threats not to leave. Threats that things would get much worse. There was so much confusing behaviour as a sad-anxious-trying-to survive-woman I didn’t know what was true or real.
Beside all the control and threats and stress there was huge amounts of ongoing, concealed, underhanded behaviour that I, the always-on-edge-trying-to-protect-her-children never even suspected was going on in the background. I would only find all this out years later.
Now, as a not-smiling-at-all-woman, I was not allowed to go out with my friends. If I did I would be punished for doing so. I was repeatedly told I was not enough. Many of my movements and decisions in my day were controlled by my not-so-wonderful-man-become-devil (sometimes small and insignificant, sometimes big and life altering). I was unable to trust anyone, including, most importantly myself. As I felt less able, less capable, less trustworthy I became more dependent on him.
I very slowly began to awaken as I realised the sad-feeling-locked-in-and-very-alone woman I had become, and realised I had to break out. The man-become-devil-monster escalated his threats and harmful behaviour.
Then one day the world crashed down. Many secrets became exposed and while it seemed like this was the biggest threatening disaster, for me, stunned-scared-to-death-gone-into-survivor-mode it may have been something utterly different… this was my chance to escape.
“It was doomsday and a call to prayer” Women Talking
It took me time in therapy and alternative healing to let go of that sense of duty and responsibility. I am responsible for my safety and happiness. I am responsible to keep my children safe. We all need to take responsibility for our own healing. We all need to take responsibility for our own happiness. We can hold space for each other. We can offer compassion and love to each other but we cannot fix each other.
We can also change our minds. We can leave a situation. We can choose to be healthy and not live in a toxic relationship or toxic environment. We have the strength to choose our children and ourselves. We have the strength to choose bravery over fear. We can find the courage to trust ourselves and leave.
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