Lessons for an Advocate

Show me a woman who uses her voice to speak for others, and I’ll show you a woman who gets attacked by misguided bullies and internet trolls.

When you decide to take a path in advocacy, you’ve got to have thick skin. You have to know who you are, and be sure in your purpose.

My purpose is to reach women who are experiencing or have survived domestic abuse, then offer an ear, peer education, and guidance to self-empowerment. My purpose is to speak the truth about patterns of abuse, be a relatable support person, and encourage healing.

Sometimes my public efforts — whether on social media or through other published platforms — garner criticism. Sometimes people blow way past criticism into uglier territory with insults, name calling, and personal attack, which is wild, because they seriously have zero idea who I am in all my parts.

Check out my Medium essay about being an ally and advocate.

https://womandetermined.medium.com/how-to-be-an-ally-and-advocate-d8b07a1b70cc

But, to be an advocate, you also have to know what your purpose is not.

My purpose is not to engage in internet toxicity. It’s not to fuel the fire of anyone’s hostility. My purpose is NOT to teach the unteachable people of the world, nor allow myself to feel that kind of obligation.

Do you need context? Because I have some.

The majority of reactions and replies, and there are many, still growing in numbers, are caustic. They’re baseless and ignorant. But they’re caustic.

HOO BOY, imagine if my sense of self-worth was fed by mean people on Facebook.

[I’ve actually done a lot of work on my self-esteem and sense of worth. If you’re an abuse survivor who needs help in this area, please reach out. I’m here.]

But caustic doesn’t bother me any. Neither do the bullies, because I’ve got them figured out. They thrive by blowing around on social media, where they can say whatever they want, and leave an impression without real consequence. They pick a target, skew context and argue semantics to their benefit, and start some drama. It’s the drama they want. They want to hurt feelings and piss people off, because that makes them feel smart and powerful. The hollow validation they seek is lots of “likes,” lots of “laughs,” and lots of pats on the back from the other bullies.

And the other predators.

If you choose a path in advocacy, you’ve also got to watch for the predators, because they lurk in the shadows. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, or the intent of your message, they will find a way to tear it to shreds. They’ll also find their way to your inbox, because they’ve assumed you’re vulnerable even when your message supports that you’re not, and will try to draw you into a private conversation. For more drama.

There’s a giant parallel here. The online bullies and inbox predators, they use the same tactics as your average domestic abuser. Name calling. Yelling (on social media, this is done with cuss words and capitalization). Condescension. Criticism. Character assassination. Gaslighting. Circular talk. Invasion of privacy [as when they scour years of public profile images to screenshot one, so they can share it with a new, often contrived insult, and their attack becomes personal—this happened to me today]. All to disarm you, sow chaos, and “win” the fight they provoked.

The truth is, you cannot reason with these people—online troll or in-home abuser. You cannot get them to hear you. Your reactions and comments — no matter how smart, fact-based, and well thought-out — will never gain their validation. You’ll never put them in their place, or one-up them—even when you ARE smart and you ARE right. They will simply be further motivated by the fact that you’re willing to TRY talking to them, and twist further, manipulate harder, yell louder. They will do whatever it takes to get a rise out of you, and their endurance is seemingly never-ending.

Coincidentally, these people on the internet—and domestic abuse perpetrators—actually choose the intelligent, articulate people to chew up and spit out, because it caters to their ego to go up against someone of high quality. It’s sport for them.

So why even bother?

As a survivor and/or advocate, you must choose peace. Your own peace and clear separation from toxicity is more important to your survival — and your ability to thrive — than overextending yourself to talk to someone who isn’t worth it.

Just let them shout into the void.

That’s what gives you the power.

Image Credit to Kat Jayne from Pexels.

Summer Anniversary

Ten years ago I moved out, filed for divorce, and started over.

In those ten years I have:

cried
fought for myself
celebrated
been challenged
failed
rallied
found my real self
been consumed by doubt
helped other women
set boundaries
loved
done a lot of things by myself for the first time ever
held onto hope
networked with other survivors
changed career paths (more than once)
hated others
been hated by others
been lied about in court and all around
dated and learned
stressed about my finances
gone into debt
(mostly) figured out my finances
thrown countless pity parties
forgiven myself
learned how good it feels to cuss
used sleep as therapy
tried new things
remained single
made enemies
healed
raised two strong kids
moved three times
dissected abuse and its parts
shared because I will not be silenced
or pretend nothing happened
or that it was my fault
or put the comfort level of someone who doesn’t deserve it before my own

Ten years ago I didn’t know much, other than that I deserved better than what I’d experienced in my marriage. I didn’t know how to define what I’d been through, or what I was capable of. And if you’d told me I’d find myself here, healthy and happy a full decade later, the confusion and despair and heart pain and anxiety would have made me believe otherwise. But in those ten years I have survived and thrived.

You will, too. You’re already doing it!

Photo Credit to Janna Leadbetter

When Power Becomes Hers | flash fiction

The living room is bare but for her secondhand couch, a lone end table, and the anxiety she just can’t shake.

He isn’t supposed to visit where she lives now, but that doesn’t still the race in her heart. Will he show up at her door anyway, and threaten to ram himself through it?

Will he text again today, explosion after explosion?

She knows she should do some more unpacking, get the bookshelf placed, haul the TV in from the single-stall garage. A movie might be okay. But she doesn’t have the energy. How is she supposed to settle in and start over when she can’t outpace his hold on her? Or the painful, humiliating memories? Or the weight of wondering whether it’s all her fault, like he always said?

A sudden rustle outside nearly lays her flat. He’s here. She knows it.

Moments stretch as she watches the door, flinching at the expectation of his too-big presence on the other side.

More moments stretch into a silence so loud her ears ring.

She tiptoes over, dares to peep through the hole. No movement. She waits one breath, then another. She carefully unlatches the deadbolt and, as far as the secure chain allows, opens the door. Still nothing.

Wait, what’s that? A mailer? Right there on the stoop. Her own name is written on the small package in a handwriting she doesn’t recognize. It takes no breath at all—because she holds every bit of it in tight—to undo the chain, swoop out to grab the item, and swoop back inside.

The return address isn’t an address at all. “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER,” the handwriting declares. She rips open the package. Inside is a nonfiction book about the kinds of men who abuse others and what propels their behavior.*

“Knowledge is power,” she says. Then, adding some heft to her voice, like she means it, she says it again.

Book in hand, she sinks into the middle cushion of her secondhand couch, her hungry eyes already flying across the text.

Flash Fiction | © 2021, Janna Leadbetter. All rights reserved.


Would you help me send more books to domestic abuse survivors? The last one went to Texas, and I want to send the next one to Virginia. Beyond that, there are countless survivors, local and afar, who are desperate for the power (and healing) that comes from knowledge. (There are many titles I choose from, to get the right fit for each survivor and her story.)

*Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft

Image Credit to Rahul Shah from Pexels.

Why is Money So Important to My Abuser?

THE TRUTH BEHIND FINANCIAL ABUSE | Samantha has started seeing the patterns when it comes to money.

“He spends freely on himself, like on his toys and fun stuff and trips with the guys, but if I spend money — even on household needs — I get chastised like I’m a child. Like I have a limited allowance. And somehow it’s my fault when we can’t pay a bill on time. How are we supposed to take care of our expenses when he doesn’t leave enough to pay toward utilities or the car loan?” she asks. Then she goes on to say, “But that’s not all. I know of at least three personal loans he’s taken from generous people, and he doesn’t care a thing about paying them back. He took advantage and stole from them, there’s no other way to look at it. Why does he act like he’s entitled to all the money? His, mine, and everyone else’s?”

Financial abuse occurs in nearly 99% of abusive relationships, and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships. (Statistic provided by PCADV.)

Not only does money make the world go round in an operational sense, it lends a broad sense of power and control to those with an abusive nature.

Take your standard narcissist. Life is all about him. Nothing matters more than his wants and needs, that others revere him, and that his ego is served. His wants and “needs” are easier to attain with an ever-flowing cash supply. But money also lends a sense of success, and to a narcissist, respect from others and self-importance follow affluence — real or perceived — before and more than anything else.

[“Needs” is placed in quotes because, for a narcissist, priorities are always skewed.]

But a love for money also goes back to the narcissist’s stunted development.

Narcissists behave and abuse the way they do because something (or multiple things) happened in their formative years which prevented the cultivation of empathy, humility, and selflessness. They never developed past those immature years of self-absorption and instant gratification, which means they thrive only on what is materialistic and superficial. It’s how they define success, and how they measure their worth against that of others.

Then, to bring it back home, if he controls the money, he’s ensuring his victim can’t outperform him, won’t attain independence, and will internalize that he controls her freedom (or lack thereof).

Money is what makes his world go round. That’s why it’s among the things most important to him.

Dear Samantha and other readers: If financial abuse is present, other types are, too. It may be time to take inventory and decide if what you’re living with is acceptable. Please reach out to me if you need help.

To learn more about financial abuse, visit :

https://nnedv.org/content/about-financial-abuse/
https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/quick-guide-economic-and-financial-abuse
https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/financial-abuse

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to pasja1000–6355831 from Pixabay.

What to Do When Your Friend or Loved One Confides About Abuse

MY FRIEND NEEDS TO LEAVE HER ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP | Landen G. recently reached out to ask how to support a good friend who admits that her partner is abusive.

[Statements edited slightly for flow.] “How do I encourage her to seek help?” LG asks. “I really want to find the bastard who’s hurting her, but I know that’s not right. I’m willing to do whatever you think would be best for her.”

***Please note: This situation does not include physical violence, but emotional and psychological abuses. Other tactics may be necessary where bodily harm and threat to life by violence are present.***

LG is correct. He can’t run in vigilante style and have a what-for with this abuser, no matter how strong the urge to protect his friend. An abusive situation is a volatile situation—yes, even where there is no physical violence, because one cannot predict escalation to an extreme—so it’s dangerous to provoke the antagonist of our story.

It would also be the wrong move to swoop in, even with the best intentions, and try to remove the victim from her situation, or push her to leave. She is the protagonist of this narrative, and LG has to give her the lead.

Quiet support is the immediate need. A listening ear. A willingness to take action—if and when called upon.

As a victim begins to understand she’s living with abuse, she has a lot to process and reconcile. Thoughts and feelings about her experience are difficult and confusing, and can be made all the more uncomfortable, even impossible to navigate, if we contribute before she’s ready. Too much too soon can backfire.

Our protagonist needs—more than anything—to find her footing and realize that control can belong to her, followed by room to figure out what that looks like. What she needs it to look like. She may share with trusted friends or family through this process, but it’s more about needing someone to listen and validate her truths (which she doesn’t get at home), not think for her or try to problem solve (which she likely gets far too much of, courtesy of her emotionally and psychologically abusive partner).

Over time, as she gains more strength and clarity, you may intuit opportunities for gentle, passive encouragement. Has she considered counseling? Is there a plan she could make? What help might be useful? How does she want to be supported? Which steps can we contribute to that might make her goals easier?

She’ll either answer your questions when she’s ready, or give you permission to help her determine the answers.

Study or be ready with relevant articles from online, or topical books from the local library. (You can email me for suggestions.) Have ready a list of other friends and family who can be enlisted for the eventual task of moving out or covering her trail or starting over. Look up women’s shelters, trauma groups, Legal Aid, community assistance. Keep listening to her. Remind her that you are ready and able for anything she needs to ask for. Watch for ways to help that will not feel overbearing or controlling to her. And be patient. Her difficult thoughts and confused feelings aren’t going to dry up immediately, because she has a lengthy and layered journey ahead of her.

Meanwhile, what she may benefit from most is your unconditional love.

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to it’s me neosiam from Pexels.

Facing Triggers from Your Past

SOMETIMES THE ABUSE OF YESTERDAY WANTS TO VISIT TODAY | It’s been years since Mocha Girl ended the relationship that was so hurtful for her. She’s married to a good man now and they’re happy. So what’s with the triggers?

In her own words:

“I had a seven year relationship that wasn’t romantic but was not healthy. I didn’t date him because he wasn’t Christian. But we did things couples do from grocery shopping to taking trips together. He was negative and didn’t believe in me. He said he loved me but his actions didn’t show it, I bent over backwards to make our friendship work for a few years. I finally started drawing boundaries and he lashed out,” says Mocha Girl. “I’ve been married 16 years now to a very different man who is kind and loving and encouraging. We are partners. But I still think about Paul and sometimes get defensive with Bruce. Bruce reminds me he’s not that guy. How do I let go of that and accept Bruce’s love and not get defensive and react to negativity from Paul?”

The answer is there, believe it or not, threaded between the lines of her story.

If MG couldn’t see that Bruce isn’t Paul, that he is kind, loving, and encouraging when Paul was not, her relationship with him wouldn’t have lasted at all, let alone almost two decades. All this time she’s been letting Bruce love her. Acceptance doesn’t have to be bigger or more profound than that.

But the triggers still exist because she’s human. She cannot change her past, or the people who shaped it, and so just like a certain song on the radio may bring a soaring nostalgia from yesteryear, moments with an uncomfortable familiarity will bring negative feelings. The human condition is raw, layered, and complicated. We aren’t perfect creatures. Mocha Girl isn’t doing anything wrong.

I also want to point out that it’s not wrong for MG to have less-than-rosy feelings about Paul. He was abusive. She deserved better, and is by no means obligated to change her memories or correct the way he made her feel.

On the other hand, MG is doing something right, and it’s recognizing that she’s reacting to the same old triggers. That’s big, and illustrates progress already made.

True, she wants to let the residue of Paul go, and that’s harder. But it’s possible. It takes practice and patience. Every abuse survivor CAN get to the bottom of a trigger, dig it up, and throw it out.

How?

Self-awareness.
Self-assessment.
Self-checking.

You start by catching yourself IN THE MOMENT of an emotional reaction. Upon every situational trigger—with your new partner, your boss, a coworker or friend, at the store, after a phone call with customer service—you ask yourself the following questions, and proceed accordingly.

*What do I feel? Name the emotion. (anger, defensiveness, smallness, etc.)
*What was my trigger? Identify it. (he was condescending, no one listened to me, she dismissed me, etc.)
*Why does this bother me so much? (because it’s what my abuser did, because I’m not wrong, etc.)
*Is this a rational or irrational response? Consider if what you feel is truly weighted in this new moment, or borrows from past (even distant) triggers.

Often just finding your awareness in these questions will give you power over your reaction, so that you can deescalate your anxiety, defensiveness, or negativity and move on after barely a blip.

If not, take the next step by determining if there’s something tangible you need to do to work toward repairing this moment that has triggered you.

Schedule a therapy session.
Call your best friend to vent.
Submit a complaint to management.
Confront your coworker about the mishap.
Leave your abuser’s last explosive text or email unanswered and choose silence. Or even delete the message!
Recognize that you overreacted and apologize.

You can train yourself—again, with practice and patience—to take control of your reactions.

Does this mean you’ll never be triggered again? Nope. Remember, we’re human. This is less about eliminating triggers and more about recognizing them for what they are then letting them go. It’s about understanding that we can learn how to address and heal from the history of trauma, and begin to experience our emotions in a healthier way.

Does this mean you’ll handle every trigger perfectly? Also no. Life factors, stressors, that have nothing to do with the abuse we endured can be stacked against us so that we don’t react as well as we want to every given moment. You don’t have to get it right all the time.

Mocha Girl doesn’t have to get it right all the time. Bruce loves her. He knows her triggers, probably as well as she does. And he sticks around, continuing to prove that he is not Paul, because she is worth it.

You’re worth it, too.

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to Min An from Pexels.

Survivor Healing Cannot Begin with the Abuser at the Helm

UNITY FOLLOWING ABUSE IS NOT POSSIBLE | When a woman leaves her abusive partner — that is, truly leaves after however many prior attempts, and has finally made it clear she will not return to the relationship — he will try, with his arsenal of tactics, to shift what was labeled “romantic” into a friendship. This serves at least two purposes if he is successful. One is that it allows him to maintain infiltration in her life so that his power and control will continue, even if it looks different. Two is that if he can create any sense of unity or lasting connection between them, his narrative that he’s a good guy, never did anything wrong, has a platform.

Read my full essay on Medium.

Widow Misses Dead Abuser

WHEN YOUR ABUSER DIES | It was a long marriage that included physical violence, infidelity, and financial abuse — along with the standard psychological tactics, like love bombing, gaslighting, and manipulation. So given everything her husband put her through, and the destructive aftermath he’s responsible for, Wondering Widow has one question.

“Why do I miss him?”

But it was clear by my exchange with her that she already knows the answer.

“I think I miss the illusion he created about himself,” says Wondering Widow. [Statement edited slightly for clarity.] And she’s right. She doesn’t miss who he was as her abuser.

She misses the man he only pretended to be, and who he should have been.

Is it possible there are positive memories an abuse survivor looks back on with nostalgia? Yes. And that’s okay. It’s also possible that what we miss is the hope we used to cling to—that, somehow, he would change and the relationship would become something with more frequent positive experiences.

Over time we come to believe the myth our abuser perpetuates through psychological ambush: That he is good, that what we’re experiencing is normal [and we’re at fault for what is not], that we are happy and receiving legitimate love. Further, we tend to focus on the good or potential in others—a detail abusers exploit—and therefore we subconsciously minimize or excuse away the less attractive parts of the relationship. We view it and our partner, then, through a rosy, superficial lens that pads against the hurt of living with less than we deserve. (This feeds some of the explanation why women can’t or don’t leave their abuser.) Which means survivors miss not just the embellished memory of their partner, but also that rosy, superficial lens as a means of comfort and self-protection.

Additionally, Wondering Widow says, “I miss the illusion of my future.” This makes sense, too.

As unstable as an abusive marriage is, the instability of being thrust into a new life post-abuse creates its own challenges. Financial landscapes change. Homes change. Jobs change. Other relationships change. We’re forced into navigation of an independence we may be new to, and the entire trajectory of our future now relies on decisions that require adjusted thinking, and that will render outcomes we never considered before. While even an abusive relationship offers familiarity, and some semblance — albeit it often false — of security, starting over makes life unfamiliar and feels pretty damn shaky at times.

All this said, it’s completely acceptable if you don’t miss your abuser; if you have no positive memories in the nostalgia vault. Not every survivor does. And you are not obligated to sugar coat your experience.

Wondering Widow’s myriad and contradicting emotions are not unique. Every point discussed applies whether you were widowed like WW, were in some other way abandoned by your abuser, or chose to leave the relationship to start over.

What’s important to remember is that regardless of the details, the road to understanding your abuse and then healing from it is complicated. Hold space with your warring emotions when you need to. Try to make sense of them if you need to. And be patient with yourself.

But most of all, know that you’re not alone as a survivor of domestic abuse.

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to Felipe Cespedes from Pexels.

The Old Me Would Have Been a Trump Supporter

MINDSET THAT LEADS TO TRUMPISM | And why I cannot accept a world where Trump reigns

[As published on Medium… full essay linked below the excerpt.]

As we near the end of Donald Trump’s single-term presidency, only one thing is more clear to me than how much I detest all he represents. It’s the fact that once upon a time I would have voted for him. Me. A fiercely independent and progressive feminist, outspoken social justice ally, and long-single mom who regularly disagrees with Republicans and conservative policy on the whole.

Twenty years ago, maybe even ten, I would have supported Trump and never thought twice about it.

That was before I became empowered…

READ THE FULL ESSAY HERE

To submit a topic or question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels.

Caseworker Mistreatment

A DV CASEWORKER MISTREATS A CLIENT | Mama M from Kentucky says, “My question is in regard to staying in a domestic violence shelter. What do you do when you’re mistreated by one of the caseworkers? They mocked me and played psychological warfare to just get rid of me. Management was on their employee’s side, so I tried reporting it to my state’s DV coalition but they didn’t seem to care either. Some of us are completely without help, so when the shelter does not work out, we’re completely screwed…” [Question edited some for clarity.]

Mama M was right to report the caseworker to their supervisor, then the coalition at state-level. One of the important initial lessons of survival after abuse is becoming our own advocate. We do this by first identifying any scenario in which we’re not getting what we need and deserve, then by approaching someone who should be able to help.

But yet this didn’t benefit Mama M. Why? Unfortunately, the simple answer is that even at institutions and organizations which are in place for those facing vulnerable life situations, bad people exist. (It’s also true that many organizations of this nature are overwhelmed and, while their hearts are in the right place, they are limited in their ability to help.)

It’s crucial to note here that even as we begin to take back control of our own lives, survivors cannot control who others will be, and what kind of role they’ll play in our journey.

Mama M has a few other options, though, and it’s up to her to determine what — if any — is the best course of action.

She could reach out to a national coalition. (Compare this to how you work upward through the chain for customer service when your billing is wrong, etc.) While it’s true that most national organizations don’t provide direct service at the individual level, they are part of a massive network of resources. They know who helps where, and how to contact the proper people. (Plus, sometimes just being heard alleviates the stress of a negative experience, and it is never wrong to speak up for ourselves.)

She could ask for legal advice. Each of our states here in America has law offices — usually called, simply, “Legal Aid” — and on staff are attorneys who specialize in DV cases. Mama M could call the office in her area for a consultation, wherein she could learn the proper (and locally legal) way to report and/or hold accountable the shelter who treated her wrong.

A different direction for taking action is filing a complaint with the government entity who oversees the shelter, which is a nonprofit whose funding is directly affected by state dollars. Visit your state’s website. Each one navigates differently, but there will be a list of agencies. Find the one most appropriate — my guess is to start with the Department of Health and Human Services — and contact accordingly. If they’re not the right office, they’ll tell you who is.

Will a single voice, a single compliant, make a difference? There is no way to be sure. But not only are we creating (or adding to an existing) record, we’re taking steps to advocate for ourselves. Remember how important that is.

Or go to your county’s website. Check out the officials (both elected and appointed) who are seated for civil service to the county, and what departments exist. Make contact. Share your cause. Tell them what you know. Maybe they will take the reins on your behalf. (This applies to your city’s officials, too.)

Call the local news source. (Remember, it may be important to withhold your identity/ask for anonymity for your own safety and security.) Share your story. Ask them to write or go on air about it so the community is made aware of how the shelter treats those its meant to serve. An alternate to this is to write an editorial for submission to the local newspaper.

Mama M — and any other survivor in this predicament — could also conclude that assistance from the DV shelter, for whatever reason, isn’t meant to be part of her healing journey in the way she expected. Instead she can check into therapy (note: not every therapist is a good fit, and sometimes it takes trying a few different professionals before finding a match), join local or virtual support groups, study the kinds of abuses she endured, journal, ask a local school or church or family division office about what help exists, rely on trusted friends, work on self, etc. The avenues to a better life are many.

The path to healing, not easy to begin with, can be made all the more difficult by people who don’t help like they’re supposed to. Sister survivors, this too offers a takeaway in our journey. That is, sometimes our growth is forced through situations that go the opposite direction of our expectation, because in this we cultivate a new, better system of tools that will empower us in ways of greater impact.

To submit your question for analysis and possible publication, email janna@womandetermined.com.

Image Credit to Polina Zimmerman from Pexels.