Thoughts on Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Within the last year or so, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) seems to have been mentioned in various places, including the ongoing saga with Tony Jones (mentioned here).  I’ve also seen it referenced quite a lot in relation to perpetrators of abuse.  I tweeted the wonderful psychologist, Dr Kate Middleton to ask her thoughts on NPD.  She kindly emailed me some thoughts, which I then asked if I could turn into a blog.  So here is it…!

Personality disorders are quite controversial, both in their diagnosis and treatment. How and why is easiest tackled by thinking about their theoretical basis. Your personality is about how you respond to the world – the patterns of responses you have (traits) – feelings, behaviours etc. Certain traits are common patterns and thus various theories describe personality along sets of traits – some of which are well known e.g. extraversion/introversion. There are lots of theories of personality with many different traits although some (e.g. introversion/extraversion) come up in lots of theories and are more widely accepted – as well as having relatively strong biological theories supporting them.

Personality ‘disorders’ stem from an acceptance that there is a ‘normal’ – i.e. the more common, central patterns along certain traits. Beyond a point therefore we start to call some personality patterns (patterns of behaviour, feelings or emotions) ‘abnormal;’. Personality disorders in a clinical sense describe patterns which are problematic – generally because they either trigger difficult and painful emotions for the individual, or because they lead to people acting towards others in very unpleasant or upsetting ways. However the concept hangs on the acceptance of ‘normal’ verses ‘abnormal’, and of course where exactly you draw the line. For example, there have been various recent books and articles about the ‘psychopaths’ you might meet in everyday contexts like business etc – just one example where people are looking at personality characteristics in individuals who otherwise function relatively ‘normally’. There is always going to be a range across all these measures and the question is when it becomes ‘abnormal’ or something that we should view as ‘illness’ and therefore treat. And of course whether you can say someone is ‘ill’ when it doesn’t affect them – they are perfectly happy, it is just others who they hurt.

In theory personality (certainly once you reach adulthood) has a degree of ‘stability’ – although some personality disorders can worsen as people age, and some tend to improve slightly. Treatment of personality disorders aims to challenge and develop difficult patterns of behaviour, teach alternative strategies and improve awareness/insight and understanding of what these patterns are with the hope of introducing change. Sometimes drug treatment is also used, often with great effect – especially where the problem is related to emotionality (as we have some drug treatments which can reduce or moderate emotions like anxiety, depression etc). However the treatment of personality disorders is notoriously difficult and it is difficult to define ‘success’. The reality is that people with personality disorders tend to have some degree of long term difficulty, although many learn to manage their condition very well. The degree of insight – how much an individual is aware that they have this ‘problem’ and whether they view it as a problem or not – also varies a lot.

So – on to considering Narcissistic personality disorder specifically. In a nutshell this describes someone who has not moved on from the very ego-centric way of viewing the world that children have – and in fact that this has developed in a a rather unhealthy way. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder generally sees themselves as the centre of everything, and views everything from that perspective. They wish others to view them in the same way and often hold unrealistic beliefs or expectations about themselves which can even be described as illusions of grandeur. They can be very controlling and particularly emotionally manipulative as they try to make sure that everyone else maintains this illusion (for it is usually an illusion) that they are all wonderful and all powerful. Their self-belief is immense (which perhaps explains why people with elements of this personality type do extremely well in careers which require a lot of self confidence).

Thinking specifically about whether there is a link between narcissistic personality disorder and abusive behaviour, this varies a lot. In fact narcissistic personality disorder isn’t always associated with abusive behaviour – but it can be present, generally because people with narcissistic personality disorder can be so controlling and require those around them to look up to them them. This can lead them to resent anyone having other interests and sometimes be very jealous etc. One feature often linked with abusive patterns is a lack of empathy – when the individual is so persistent in only viewing things from their perspective that their awareness of the feelings of others becomes almost zero. This feature varies amongst sufferers.

A key question where personality disorders are concerned is how much we can or should ‘excuse’ bad behaviour or abusive treatment of others because of a personality disorder? It’s very hard to perceive how much insight an individual has and whether therefore these actions are a choice or something they are not able to control. A key distinction would also fall around just how marked key traits were in an individual – how far up the scale into ‘disorder’ they might be. Remember that you can see traits related to the same things we call ‘disorder’ in individuals functioning perfectly ‘normally’ in society.

Another interesting thing to consider where narcissistic personality disorder is concerned is how much it might benefit someone to show some features of this disorder at a lower level. Specifically, if you consider personality type you might need in order to be naturally drawn to be a very charismatic leader – the utter self belief and self promotion that narcissists demonstrate would certainly aid them in gaining ‘a following’. Leadership can be learned and taught – but there are clear examples of people who have naturally and instinctively been ‘drawn’ to leadership – with mixed results. Might some of those be people who would score highly on traits associated with narcissism?

In fact, on this topic it becomes really interesting to ponder how often God selected for leadership people who really didn’t want to be leaders and in that sense weren’t ‘natural’ leaders at all. Time and again God’s selected leaders disagreed and even argued with Him about their suitability for that kind of role. Might it be that some of these people were in fact such good leaders precisely because of the absence of some of these characteristics? It is my belief that when looking for leadership potential we should be careful not to only consider those who are the ‘obvious’ choices – many a successful and charismatic leader can grow out of a less clear candidate.

This subject is also interesting from a cultural perspective, when you consider how much we are encouraged to build and feed our ego and self-esteem from the modern ‘instant fix’ of social media. We’re offered such tangible and immediate ‘evidence’ of our popularity (how many likes do we get to a comment etc) – and we know that the more tangible and explicit the reward the more likely we are to pursue it. And yet God calls us to the opposite, says that if we want to be something, we should be nothing and be willing to serve. Something to pray for for our leaders who have to fight this constant tension between platform and humility.

In fact, one feature of our current culture has led some experts to question whether we might be at risk of developing a generation of people more at risk of narcissistic personality problems. As the explosion in ‘selfies’ encourages us to consider every event we experience with us at the centre, might we be learning to become more egocentric instead of less? Here’s just one example of a discussion of this question.

Ultimately in ministry (and in life in general) we must remember that there are no ‘perfect’ personalities. I am always heard saying that no personality is perfect – they all have good sides and flip sides. The key is knowing yourself well enough to know what your weak points are likely to be – the achilles heel of your own personality. It’s about understanding the push and pull of your personality – these narcissistic people will be really good at putting themselves forward, but their risk is that they will be too ego-centric, not good enough at thinking about things from other people’s perspectives etc..

So can or should we ‘excuse’ behaviour because people have a personality disorder? This is a very difficult question, but my instinct would always be to say no. Abusive behaviour is abusive behaviour and we always need to pull people up on that. However we must consider carefully the degree of insight that an individual has, and there could be situations (particularly when that person is themselves the victim of abuse etc) where some would argue that they are not – legally or ethically – responsible for their actions. This is why the aspect of treatment of personality disorders which involves improving insight – and hopefully helping people consider and take onboard the impact their behaviour has on others – is so important.

In fact for us all an essential part of growth and emotional maturity involves improved understanding and insight of both aspects – positive and negative – of our personalities, particularly the impact they might have on us or on others. This is a vital step on the journey as we work to improve ourselves, and become more like Jesus, and I applaud recent calls for leaders to work as much on their emotional maturity as they do on their spiritual life (for example, Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). But this can only be done from a foundation of the absolute and unconditional love that we get from God. Only by realising that we are acceptable as ourselves, with all our human weaknesses and frailties, can we take the risk of admitting and accepting that aspects of who we are may not be all that great – and allow ourselves to become vulnerable as we work to change.

To read more, check out:

The Royal College of Psychiatry notes on personality disorders.

This article looking specifically at narcissistic personality disorders.

You can tweet Kate @communik8ion and find out more about her NEW BOOK “Refuel” HERE.

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Keep Going or Stop?

Rob Bell has announced an event.  It’s called “Keep Going” and is…

“for all of you who are growing and learning and changing and evolving and you’re discovering that not everyone around you is seeing what you’re seeing. Friends, family, spouses, coworkers, employers-what do you do when you’re more alive than ever, and yet all this new life is also bringing with it all kinds of disruption and grief and criticism and even loneliness? For some of you who are leaders, your growth has direct implications for your employment. For others, the new life you’re experiencing is deeply unsettling for some of your most significant relationships.”

The speakers are all white and include Vicky Beeching, Carlton Cuse, Kristin Bell and Pete Rollins.  The same Pete Rollins who only last week declared that calling out narcissism and male violence against women was “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Last week I wrote a post about about Woman Hating.  And I’m back writing about it again.  I know, I know.  I keep going on about it. I’m not going to apologise, because while there’s woman hating, it needs to be brought into the light.

A few weeks ago Steve Chalke declared that serial sex offending is a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Recently Pete Rollins stated that narcissism is a form of self-hatred.  It’s not.  That is one of many myths about narcissism.  He said that publicly calling a narcissist to account is “shaming” and that narcissists are basically pariahs. The fact that narcissists are generally extremely well liked and are given platforms and prestige because they fit the “charismatic leader” role seems neither here nor there to him.  His blog is essentially about rebuffing criticism of his ongoing support for Tony Jones.  Julie McMahon, Tony Jones’ ex-wife has shared her story HERE.

There’s also Mark Driscoll’s grand re-emergence at the Thrive Conference in recent weeks claiming he was the victim of injustice, regardless of the evidence he was an abusive and dangerous leader who hurt thousands.  And most people sat at the conference and applauded him at the end of his talk.

The tale of the two Mars Hills is an interesting one, with Mark Driscoll founding a church called Mars Hill which preached reformed (extremely conservative) theology at one end of the spectrum.  And Rob Bell who led a church called Mars Hill at the other end.

In recent years Rob Bell has become part of the emergent church.  He has partnered with the aforementioned Pete Rollins for this event.  Rollins practices a form of Christian atheism suggesting we all need to deconstruct religion to the point where we realise there isn’t a God anyway.  He presents this as a new and radical way to be Christian, a way which involves no god, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  But hey!  He’s called it “pyrotheology” so that’s okay.

The two white, privileged men; Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll.  They have grown followings and created Personal Brands.  They seem to have nothing in common, at least theologically.

Yet here I am writing about the whitewashing of men’s violence and abuse, in favour of the cause, from both ends of the theological spectrum.

Perhaps Rob Bell wasn’t aware of Pete Rollins’ recent abuse apologism when he invited him to speak.  Maybe now I’ve tweeted him and written this blog, he might choose to un-invite him?  Who knows…?

Vicky Beeching is also speaking at the event.  A couple of years ago Vicky created a project dedicated to faith and feminism.  I declined to be involved in the project at the time.  It will be interesting to see how she will respond to speaking at an event with Pete Rollins, now she has been made aware of his abuse apologism…  With her feminist values, I hope the voices of women like Julie McMahon will be more important than the prestige of speaking alongside Rob Bell.  Who knows…?

I came across this quote from Susan B Anthony today:

“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.” 

For me, it is not reform that drives me to be anything or nothing.  It is obedience to Jesus and His teachings that seeks first the Kingdom of God.  The one where the first will be last and the last will be first.  Where we ask, “what good is it to gain the whole world, but lose my soul?”

Publicly and privately I will speak out about woman hating within the body of Christ.  Over the last few years God’s voice has echoed through the hearts and halls of people and churches; to see women and girls liberated.  Yet with all the anti-trafficking fundraising and acceptance that feminism isn’t a sin, there is still woman hating and we’re still not talking about it.

We hear all this talk of a “voice for the voiceless”, but guess what?  They already have a voice, and they’re shouting, but the people with the power, those with the microphones and the sound systems refuse to broadcast their pleadings.

We don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless, we need to be willing to broadcast the voices no one is listening to.  They’re not voiceless.  They’re IGNORED.  Step away from the Personal Brand and make space for the Ignored People.

I want you to use your imagination for a moment.  Imagine you’re standing in front of a tree.  An enormous tree.  It’s not a beautiful tree, it’s ugly.  Planted in a graveyard.  It reaches upwards, blocking out most of the light.  The branches stretch out, gnarled and twisted.  They’ve curled themselves around gravestones, stone squeezed until it’s buckled.  Pieces of gravestone litter the scorched dry earth.  There’s no leaves.  No colour.  It looks dead.  But it’s not.  It’s moving, writhing, squirming in front of you.  Like a colourless hard wooden snake.  Despair and fear grip your insides as you realise it’s growing, inch by inch.  Defiling everything it touches.  As a branch creeps past your face you see images etched into the bark of this undead, ugly tree.  In the dull, greyness you can see the images are women, trafficked and broken.  Beyond that, on the next branch, women and girls photographed naked, the carvings move as the tree grows, women degraded for men’s pleasure.  Peering further into the tree you see other moving images chiselled into the gnarled bark.  Of girl’s genitals being cut, girl babies killed at birth, men beating women.  At the end of one branch the whittled images move, a Bible screams at a woman to STAY SILENT.  Elsewhere women’s bodies are battered by rape in war.  The terror is overwhelming.  You feel your feet being tugged, the roots below you squirm.  Your feet have sunk into the earth.  It drags you down, pulls you in.  You flail around, trying to maintain your balance, falling to the ground, shock numbing the pain.  Immediately you feel your torso dragged into the earth.  A piece of gravestone catches your eye.  The tiny letters are women’s names.  Row upon row of tiny letters, each name a human being.  Before you can read more than a couple of the names, the earth crawls up your face and into your mouth.  Swallowing you whole as it fills your mouth, throat, stomach.

This is the reality of patriarchy.  It is trafficking and female genital mutilation and pornographies.  Women’s lack of representation on the public platform and the Bible being used to silence women.  Toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes.  Everyday sexism and the gender pay gap.

People are appalled by some of the forms patriarchy takes, while they celebrate other aspects.  They donate to anti-trafficking work, completely ignorant to the woman on the pew next to them whose husband makes her stay awake at night, repeating over and over to him that she is a failure and a bad mother.  They talk of changing and evolving while hosting an abuse apologist.

People don’t see the tree even though it’s swallowing them whole.  There’s many good hearted efforts happening taking a chainsaw to one or two branches of the tree, not seeing the writhing, squirming ugliness that those branches are attached to.

There’s all these efforts for progress.  Progressive politics.  Progressive theology.  Yet as the author Arundhati Roy said, “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Men are hurting women.  They are controlling, abusing and hurting women.  And as individuals and institutions we are colluding with that.  So perhaps the sentiment and title of Rob Bell’s upcoming event to “keep going” is wrong.  We need to stop and step back.  Men are hurting women and girls.  The Ignored People have been renamed “the voiceless” so we can avoid having to shut up and listen.

Perhaps God could be saying to us:

“Quit your worship charades.

I can’t stand your trivial religious games:

Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—

meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!

You’ve worn me out!

I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,

while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance,

I’ll be looking the other way.

No matter how long or loud or often you pray,

I’ll not be listening.

And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing

people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up.

Clean up your act.

Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings

so I don’t have to look at them any longer.

Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good.

Work for justice.

Help the down-and-out.

Stand up for the homeless.

Go to bat for the defenceless.”

Isaiah 1:13-17 (The Message)

Woman Hating; I pray this prayer for myself and for you also.

Over the last few years it seems that blogging and wider social media has changed enormously.  I’m not an expert in trends, but the monetising of the digital space (adverts on your Twitter timeline, bloggers gaining book deals, personalised trending lists) all have contributed to the space which was once a place of speaking truth to power, into a power source in its own right.  The radical prophets of truth have been subsumed into the power structure, the emerging church becomes, as David Haywood (@nakedpastor) calls it “submergent”.  The question is, does power corrupt, or was the tendency to desire power there all along?

I’m writing this piece partly in response to the way Julie McMahon’s voice has been silenced and ignored by people in power.  Her husband Tony Jones (a man I had never heard of until Julie, his ex-wife, began sharing her experiences of abuse online) is a well known leader within the Christian progressive movement.  She has shared some of the ways in which he hurt her and their children, alongside the ways their church colluded with him over at David Haywood’s blog.

I’m also partly writing this as a reflection a while after Steve Chalke’s continued choice to ignore criticism of the way he referenced a well documented sex offender as a “well-known pacifist”.

I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the emerging church, where the leaders are almost exclusively white men talking mainly about themselves and their journey deconstructing religion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve benefitted from reading Rob Bell’s books as much as the next person, but still, these two situations have solidified what was a gradual uneasiness.

Mainly men protecting those accused of being abusers.  People like Pete Rollins, a man presenting himself as liberating people from the chains of religiosity spewing nonsense about narcissism as a form of self-hatred to justify his siding with his friend; enabling Tony Jones continually hurting his wife.  Declaring holding an abuser to account for his abuse as “a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy”.

Steve Chalke, a leader of inclusivity, whose theological justification for the inclusion of LGBT people within the church included throwing the weight of Biblical scholarship for female leaders under the bus.  (“all those Christians who accept that women have any role, however minor, in teaching or leading, rather than simply serving in a local congregation or any wider expression of church, the Bible – the closed canon of Scripture – does not provide the final answer to the issue.“)  Steve’s inclusivity excludes justice for the 100 women Yoder abused, denying their voice in favour of the nonsense of a “gap between aspiration and behaviour”.

Mark Driscoll stood on a platform this week and declared himself a victim.  And some of the audience believed him.  And his powerful friends who invited him onto the platform applauded him.  And his many victims continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.  His family continue to suffer the consequences of his choices.

This weekend I had an amazing time with a group of wonderful women.  It was my wonderful friends’ hen night and some of our glorious group of women were lesbians.  After a lovely meal, we went to the gay friendly bar “New York New York” which describes itself as a “safe, friendly and welcoming space”.  A man performing as a drag artist spent the 20 minutes we were in the bar being horrendously misogynistic and lesbo-phobic.  He talked about “muscular dykes”, describing lesbians in many and varied disgusting terms, joked about paedophilia and anal rape and spent most of every song shouting about penises.  Myself and at least four other women complained about his behaviour, yet we were told to “f*ck off” or accused of being aggressive.  Woman hating isn’t a church based problem, it’s everywhere.  Even in so called “progressive” and “safe” places.

Isn’t it interesting that women who want equality are so often called “man hating”.  That when women say men rape, they are called man-hating.  But when men kill, rape or emotionally torture women, it’s not called woman hating?  When high profile (mainly) men defend and stand with other powerful men accused of abuse, sexual violence or emotional torture they are not called woman hating?  Isn’t that interesting?

Since the monetising of the digital space, it seems people are less willing to speak out.  Will it always be the case that when people have something to lose they stop being willing to speak out?  Is maintaining book-deals and friends in positions of power worth it?  When powerful people stand on stages or write from blogging platforms do they ever ask themselves, “And what do I benefit if I gain the whole world but lose my own soul?”

I don’t know what the way forward is. Power and platform are not the enemy, like any currency, it is in the hands of humanity that it becomes good or evil.  Money is not the problem, the love of money is.  Power is not the problem, the love of power is.

We need spaces that call out woman hating for what it is.  We need people (and some do exist!) who will speak out, who care more for the voiceless than having their own voice heard.  Because it is that which is not seen as honourable that has the most honour, and that which is last which will become first.  And the truth is, it was in giving up all power that Jesus saved anyone, and as we all know, it is the truth that sets us free.

I don’t have a plan for how we see things change.  I just know that they must.  I say it often, yet I will say it again, until women are safe, no one is safe.  And while  “progressives” hate women there will be no progress.

I was sent this song by someone today, and it spoke so deep into my soul.  I pray this prayer for myself and I pray it for you also.


(The song starts at 1:50 minutes)

Pray by Kendall Payne

I will pray for you now, for you have been my faithful friends

While the road we walk is difficult indeed

I could not ask for more than what you’ve already been

Only that you would say these prayers for me

May your heart break enough that compassion enters in

May your strength all be spent upon the weak

All the castles and crowns you build and place upon your head

May they all fall, come crashing down around your feet

May you find every step to be harder than the last

So your character grows greater every stride

May your company be of human insignificance

May your weakness be your only source of pride

What you do unto others may it all be done to you

May you meet the One who made us

And see Him smile when life is through

May your blessings be many but not what you hoped they’d be

And when you look upon the broken

May mercy show you what you could not see

May you never be sure of any plans you desire

But you’d learn to trust the plan He has for you

May your passions be tried and tested in the holy fire

May you fight with all your life for what is true

I have prayed for you now all my dear and faithful friends

But what I wish is more than I could ever speak

As the way wanders on I’ll long to see you once again

Until then, would you pray these prayers for me?

Oh, that you would pray for me

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

When men commit violence against women it rarely impacts their credibility, status or value in society.  Someone I know who works with men in prison commented that men imprisoned for abusing children are seen as pariahs, whereas men imprisoned for abusing women are sympathised with, “it’s only because they were unlucky enough to get caught”.

John Lennon, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Paul Gascoigne, Christian Slater, Ike Turner, Glen Campbell, Ray Rice.  All men arrested and/or charged with choosing to hurt a woman.  All men for whom their actions and choices towards women and girls have not negatively impacted their careers.

Jean Hatchett’s tireless work to campaign against Ched Evans’ becoming re-employed after being released on license to serve the rest of his sentence for rape is likely the only reason he has not yet begun playing professional football.  Before the dawn of social media sites and online petitions, it’s almost certain Ched Evans would have returned to his old club and life would have continued for him.  As it is, he may not be working as a footballer yet, but the woman he raped is living with the horrific impact of sexual assault alongside being harassed and forced to change her identity.

Over the last week another serial offender who violated and abused what is thought to be over 100 women has been given a new platform.  Theologian John Howard Yoder features in Steve Chalke’s new book “Being Human” released last week, coinciding nicely with the Open Church Conference he was leading about how to more fully include LGBT* people within the church.

Blogger Thomas Creedy made public concerns about Chalke referencing Yoder within the book, especially where he refers to Yoder as a “theologian and ethicist, best known for his pacifism”.  I have Storified some tweets about the situation HERE.

Christian Today have done a piece giving more information about Yoder, including a response from Steve Chalke, who explained that he didn’t know about “Yoder’s personal history before referencing him in the book, but wasn’t inclined to make any changes to the book in light of the information.” 

He said of Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus” that he “think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” and “acknowledged that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.”

He mentioned cases from “history of leading theological figures who had morally questionable personal lives, pointing to the widespread influence of Karl Barth, despite his unconventional domestic arrangements (he lived with both his wife and his theological assistant Charlotte, to whom he declared his love in letters)” and said that “King David was hardly sweetness and light,”  

He explained that “although he appreciated Yoder’s theology, it was not a defence of the allegations against him. “Just as I consider Karl Barth an extraordinary theologian… But it’s his theology I’m reading, and I understand there’ll always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.””

Although Steve Chalke knew nothing of the allegations against Yoder when referencing him, his response since is of great concern and continues that age old tradition of ignoring, minimising and silencing women who have been abused in favour of the men who abused them.  Preferring the gifts the men bring over the reality of the hurt they have caused.

One of Yoder’s victims was Sharon Detweiler.  Her story can be found HERE.  She talks of the impact of Yoder’s abuse on her, of her struggles with intimacy and trust, her inability to stay in a church for more than a few years.  Of the hurt of being ignored, even with taped evidence of Yoder’s behaviour.  What a disturbing irony!  An author who has written a book about “Being Human” not being able to see or consider Yoder’s victims, talking about a pacifist who violated 100 women.

Jimmy Saville is another man whose crimes were not made public until after his death, but my guess is, his charitable work would not be something Steve Chalke would begin applauding.  In fact those who did celebrate Jimmy Saville, before knowledge of his offences were made public, were very quick to distance themselves from him after knowing about the horrendous crimes he had committed.

In a similar way to Saville, Yoder used his position of power and authority to prey on women, using excuses of gender theology to abuse them.  He never denied the allegations against him and only ever offered a politician’s apology, “I’m sorry you misunderstood my intentions.”  Saville has had royal honours removed and all of his good work is tainted by the reality of his crimes.  Yet for Steve Chalke, Yoder’s ethic and pacifism should remain intact because the sexual offending was “personal history”.

Personal history.  It’s a nice idea isn’t it?  As is the world in which serial sex offending is similar to someone having a live-in mistress.  Yet Yoder’s “personal history” isn’t history for Sharon Detweiler is it?  She continues to live with the consequences of Yoder’s choice to abuse her, as do the other women who were hurt by him.  It’s not “personal” either.  It wasn’t something that Yoder did in isolation, on his own.  It affected 100 women directly, then indirectly affected many they know; their parents, children and partners.  Not only that, it will have impacted the churches they were part of, the people they may have influenced if (like Sharon) they left church leadership after Yoder’s offences towards them.  It’s not personal when 100 women have had to live with being hurt by Yoder.

It’s also not personal when it was not just Yoder’s choices.  Leaders across the Mennonite Church supported him, colluded with him, did not challenge him.  They knew what he had done.  And they failed the many women Yoder hurt.  It’s not “personal history” when individuals and communities protected Yoder and did not speak out.

Steve Chalke is the founder of Stop the Traffik which has at it’s core a commitment to challenging abuse of people, the vast majority of whom will be women and girls.  For him to make this statement about Yoder in light of his involvement in this cause is at the very least, deeply problematic.

Yet Steve Chalke is in esteemed company, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas dedicates all of 29 words in a 3300 word article about Yoder to his sexual offences.  He describes them as “sexual misconduct” and suggests Yoder’s integrity remained intact because he “submitted to his church’s discipline”.  That Hauerwas, a man with such insight could not see that the power structures of the church means that Yoder could submit to that authority, without ever being held to account, is staggeringly ignorant.

I’m sure I’m not the only person saddened and frustrated by these men who are so committed to Jesus and who have such valuable thoughts, yet see women’s violation and abuse as so irrelevant and small.

It would be shocking if it wasn’t the dominant reality across the world.  Even Paulo Freire, liberationary leader extraordinaire recounts a story in his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” about a peasant who beats his wife.  Within the story, the peasant is seen by Freire as one of the oppressed, not as an oppressor of his wife.  The man assault on his wife is blamed (by Freire) on the oppression experienced by the man, not on the man’s choices.

A socialist friend of mine who recently turned 60 has shared with me on numerous occasions the ways in which women were simply expected to accept their oppression sacrificially for the “cause”.  The sexual assaults on women in Occupy camps over the last few years show this is not a historical issue.

A while ago I chatted to someone whose husband had studied the leaders of the great revivals throughout history; Wesley, Wigglesworth and others.  He was hoping to find examples of how to be a good leader and a good spouse.  She explained that he couldn’t find one revival leader who had respected or honoured their wife.  Not one.

Over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”, whether that be Yoder’s theological insights, socialist utopia or Christian revival.  And at that I really weep.

My sisters are thrown in the gutter; raped, violated, dishonoured.  Their lives and stories are trampled on by those who hold the power, their silence requested, nay required, in furthering the liberation of people groups.  Yet while those who birth all the peoples of the nations are trampled on, nobody is really liberated.

It will only be as the power holders choose the voice of the powerless over the Big Thoughts of powerful men that change will happen.  As they address their blindness and the privilege of not knowing what it means to suffer as women suffer.  When as individuals and as a community we hold to account those who erase the suffering of women, no longer will power holders be able to sell books about Being Human while ignoring victims of abuse.  It’s as each of us speaks out and stands up, that change will happen.  Because until women are free, nobody is free.

Craig Gross, Fifty Shades and Understanding Abuse

I received an email, along with the rest of the XXX Church mailing list from Craig Gross this afternoon.  It was his response to having watched the Fifty Shades of Grey film.

Much of the content within the email concerned me and I contacted Craig via Twitter to ask whether I could communicate with him about the email.  He responded in this way:

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I was hoping to dialogue with him directly, but it seems he would rather I publicly respond, hence this blog…

Firstly, many of you will only know me as Mrs GLW or @God_loves_wome on Twitter.  Though I am vaguely pseudonymous, I should probably explain that I am an expert in preventing and responding to domestic abuse.  I have worked with hundreds of women who have suffered abuse from a partner or ex, trained hundreds of people in understanding domestic abuse, trained over 180 practitioners to work with young people to prevent them perpetrating or experiencing abuse, co-facilitated a perpetrator programme, written resources on child sexual exploitation, identity, recovering from the trauma of an abusive partner, parenting after abuse and equipping churches to respond to domestic abuse.  I have contributed to various books on gender and domestic abuse.  I have delivered keynote speeches at national and international events in Canada, Bulgaria and across the UK, including speaking alongside the Under Secretary to the United Nations and three Archbishops.  Two and a half years ago I set up the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign to raise awareness of the abuse within the series and to endeavour to change the shape of the conversation around the social phenomenon that is Fifty Shades.  Within the last 3 weeks that has included organising a protest at the premiere of the film and doing interviews of TV, and across much online and some printed media.

I find that writing as “God Loves Women” means that people can think that I come to the conversation without any expertise.  I choose to not use my Twitter account to advertise what I do because I’m not interested in building a platform or promoting myself, however, in order to effectively respond to Craig Gross’ email I felt it would be worth making it clear that I write this as an expert in the field of domestic abuse.

Okay so, Craig’s piece is written in full below, with my comments added.

I don’t read fiction. Ever. I haven’t since high school, and even in high school, I opted for the Cliff’s Notes. When Fifty Shades of Grey came out, I heard about it (and have even commented on it over the years) but never opened the book. I never even skimmed it. I have friends who have and have filled me in.

I have read all three books.  When I read the books, I folded down every page on which there was abuse.  This is a picture of the books:

IMG_0814

I thought it was a fantasy book about a guy with some crazy desires for some violent sex. I was blown away to learn it sold 100 million copies, and when the movie grossed $260 million worldwide this weekend, I became even more fascinated.

So I went to see the movie. I went with my wife, to the noon showing at the mall by our house. It was packed. I can’t believe how many people were seeing this movie on a Wednesday afternoon.

As part of the “50 Shades is Domestic Abuse” campaign, we have been encouraging people to boycott the film.  Not because we are pro-censorship.  Not for religious reasons.  But because the film and associated branding is making those who created the film a lot of money.  Purchasing a cinema ticket contributes to the money being made, validates that the film is something people should be watching and, in the case of Craig Gross, reinforces that the film is not bad like pornographies (which his entire ministry is based on people not watching) and therefore is the sort of thing couples should be going to see together.  

I set up the campaign, not because Fifty Shades is “pornographic” but because it depicts an abuser an ideal partner, stalking as a charming character quirk, deep power imbalances as sexy, lack of consent and rape as BDSM, and coercion, emotional abuse and minimisation, denial and blame as normal behaviour from a partner.  I’m not even going to begin on the celebration of selfish capitalism, modelling of wealth, power and “sexiness” as a measure of success or the wider issues of gender within the series.

So what’d I think?

I didn’t hate the movie.

I did hate Christian Grey.

I didn’t walk out or picket, but I watched the whole movie because I wanted to better understand why this has resonated with so many. Why is Christian Grey someone that women are cheering on and fantasizing about? Why does my own mother at 66 years old connect with this story and feel like she “missed out” on something in her sex life.

I did picket.  Because I actually already understand why Fifty Shades has resonated with so many.  It’s because it is the story we’ve been told from childhood, of a broken “beast” of a man, rescued by the love of a good woman/girl.  It maintains the comfortable dynamic of men as powerful, and women as passive (you know the main dynamic in almost ALL pornographic material…) yet allows readers to feel they’re being edgy by adding orgasms and spanking.  Within a fantasy setting the books are just that, a “let’s pretend” story.  But within the context of 72% of girls being emotionally abused by a boyfriend within the UK, the Fifty Shades brand is reinforcing to all young people that abuse is not only normal, but also desirable. 

As I write this, the movie finished two hours ago, and I’m still upset over what I just saw. Not some young woman being tied up, but Christian Grey himself. Let me explain.

Christian Grey was born to a prostitute/crack addict and put up for adoption.

Christian Grey was sexually abused by an older lady from the ages of 15 to 21.

Christian Grey was introduced to BDSM and forced to be a “submissive” for a number of years.

Christian Grey is very successful, rich, and powerful in his job.

Christian Grey has everything he needs and more, but deep down inside you can tell is not happy or fulfilled.

Christian Grey is used to getting what he wants and no one tells him no.

Christian Grey has had over 15 sexual partners that we know of.

Christian Grey does not “make love,” he “f*cks… hard.”

Christian Grey does not like to be touched.

Christian Grey gives things to get sex.

Christian Grey is abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive. (I agree with Craig here)

Aside from his looks, money, and power, Christian Grey is the worst boyfriend imaginable.

Anastasia Steele is a virgin.

Anastasia Steele is infatuated with Christian Grey.

Anastasia Steele enjoys being pursued. (It’s not being pursued, it’s actually stalking.  Which is an actual, criminal offence)

Anastasia Steele obviously is uncomfortable with the sexual experiences Christian Grey is wanting.

Anastasia Steele is constantly pushed to give in to the sexual requests of Christian Grey

Anastasia Steele is given more things in order to submit to Christian Grey’s sexual requests.

Anastasia Steele desires a relationship but gives sex hoping to get the relationship.

So, for those who have not read the book or watched the movie, you’re up to speed so far. Christian has a “contract” he tries to get Ana to sign, a contract that explains what she will and won’t do sexually and what she is and is not allowed to do outside the bedroom. In exchange for the signing the contract, she can move into the house and get all the benefits of being with Mr. Grey.

I get from the movie that Anastasia is not interested in sex so much as she is Christian Grey, and I think that is pretty normal for most women I meet that are pursuing men. 

Ana is not interested in sex, because up until this point she has never actually had sex and hasn’t really been interested in having sex.  It has been suggested that if Ana genuinely has no sexuality before meeting Christian Grey, she probably is asexual.  The developing sexual script of human beings doesn’t begin at 21, it starts at birth and grows as we mature.  Ana’s approach to sex is NOT normal.  It is the measure of a character that has been given no depth or other dimensions, whose only purpose is to interact with the main male character.

More generally, women are socialised NOT to accept or embrace their sexuality.  Vagina is a dirty word.  There’s an assumption boys are masturbating as teenagers, there’s an assumption we don’t even need to mention masturbation to girls.  Boys are socialised as subjects within sex, girls are socialised to be objects.  (Again, something depicted across the spectrum of pornographies.)

(The famous saying, after all, is that men give love to get sex and women give sex to get love.) 

I’m not sure this is a famous saying.  And I’m not sure it’s true.

But in this movie, Christian is not willing to negotiate. He is not willing to show love or be attached. In fact, Anastasia is not even allowed to sleep in the same room or bed with him. She really is just his sex slave. She won’t sign the contract and at one point he gets so desperate he offers, “If you sign this, I will give you one night out a week as a couple. We will got out to dinner and go see a movie like boyfriends and girlfriends do.”

Enough about the movie. Here are some takeaways and things I am left not understanding.

  • Marriage only works when both sides give and both sides take, and sex is the same way. Men and women have needs and desires, and marriage and the marriage bed is a place to have those fulfilled. If you are with someone and they don’t take into consideration your needs and only demand things from you, then get the heck out of that relationship if you’re dating. If you’re married, then head to a counselor.

A wiser way of approaching this is that a relationship should be about “give and give”.  Neither person taking, but rather each person giving?  Surely that is the sacrificial love Jesus modelled? 

POINT ONE OF DEEP CONCERN.

THIS FILM DEPICTS ABUSE.   NEVER, EVER IS COUNSELLING A SAFE OR APPROPRIATE INTERVENTION FOR A PERPETRATOR OF ABUSE.  (Neither is anger management.)

The books show Christian visiting a counsellor (Dr Flynn), but the Flynn colludes with his behaviour (just as many counsellors do).

A counselling approach looks at “my feelings and other people’s action”.  What a perpetrator needs to do it look at “my actions and other people’s feelings”.  

If someone is being abused by a partner, whether they are married or not, there is a Biblical principle of leaving the relationship.  The sanctity of marriage should never be upheld in priority over emotional and physical safety.  Craig acknowledges that Christian Grey is “abusive, controlling, dominant, and invasive”.  An academic study found that within the books that Christian Grey is an extremely high risk perpetrator.  

CHURCHES, CHRISTIANS, PASTORS: IF SOMEONE IN YOUR CHURCH IS BEHAVING LIKE CHRISTIAN GREY TOWARDS THEIR PARTNER (AND ANY CHILDREN) YOU NEED TO SUPPORT THE PERSON SUFFERING ABUSE IN ACCESSING A SPECIALIST SERVICE AND BECOMING SAFE.  DO NOT SEEK THE PERPETRATOR’S SIDE OF THE STORY, DO NOT DISBELIEVE THE WOMAN.  DO NOT TALK ABOUT FORGIVENESS, THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE OR PRAYING FOR CHANGE.  DO NOT TAKE AT FACE VALUE ANY CHANGES THE PERPETRATOR CLAIMS TO HAVE MADE.  THIS IS POTENTIALLY A LIFE OR DEATH SITUATION.

JESUS CAME SO THAT WE COULD HAVE LIFE, AND LIVE IT TO THE FULL.  ABUSE IS NEVER A LIFE FULLY LIVED.  

  • Most people who abuse others were abused as children. The best available research suggest that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. Christian Grey was abused as a child, a horrendous act that he never got over or dealt with or talked with anyone about. This has led him to some serious walls that have gone up in his life. and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to abuse someone else. He has done this to over 15 women and will continue. I heard this story was about sex, but this story at its core is about a broken man and his inability to love and be loved. How do people reading this book or watching this movie not see this? This is not a love story. This is not even an erotic story.  This is a story of broken people continuing a cycle of dysfunction in their lives rather than dealing with their issues.

POINT TWO OF DEEP CONCERN

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DANGEROUS MYTHS THE BOOKS PERPETUATE.  ABUSERS DO NOT ABUSE BECAUSE OF THEIR CHILDHOOD.  THEY ABUSE BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY OWN THEIR PARTNER AND THAT THEY ARE ENTITLED OVER THEIR PARTNER.  THE MAJORITY OF THOSE WHO EXPERIENCE ABUSE ARE FEMALE.  THE MAJORITY OF ABUSERS ARE MALE.  THE MATHS SIMPLY DOES NOT ADD UP.  

Lundy Bancroft is an expert in domestic abuse, his work with perpetrators has found that 50% of abusers witnessed a father or step-father abuse their mother (or step-mum).  In these cases it was not about “brokenness” or trauma, but rather role modelling and what is seen as normal.  It was about the beliefs of ownership and entitlement being taken on.  And regardless, this leaves 50% of abusers who have not experienced abuse as children.  Fifty Shades is about domestic abuse, and so any research mentioned needs to be focussed on domestic abuse.

The myth of abusers being abused in dangerous for a number of reasons:

  1. It justifies the behaviour and makes it harder for the perpetrator to take responsibility for their choices.
  2. It allows us to reduce someone’s offence because it isn’t “as bad” if they have a reason we feel makes it understandable.
  3. As has been evidenced in this article, it shifts the focus of the impact and priority onto the abuser and their feelings, and away from the victim and her pain.  Craig has not focussed on the impact of the abuse had on Ana.
  4. The first step to an abuser changing is them taking full responsibility for their choices to hurt others, as such this message disables perpetrators from changing.
  5. Many women who suffer abuse from a partner believe that their partner’s “brokenness” is the problem and stay in the relationship believing that enough love will fix things.  This is not the case and can lead to the woman suffering abuse for a much longer.
  • The Bible says I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I am not against being playful or doing things to spice up things in your bedroom, but the question I always have is why? Why do you think you need that? If both people agree to try different things in the bedroom, I am all for that. Christian Grey, on the other hand, is dealing with his pain by inflicting pain onto someone else who is visibility uncomfortable with it. He has trouble at work one day, so he sends Anastasia to the “play room” to take out his frustrations on her. If your partner is asking you to do something or try something new in the bedroom, my advice to you would be to ask why. The reason behind the ask is the deeper issue than the act itself. In a lot of cases it might just be a fun thing – or it might be a case like Christian Grey where he wants to avoid dealing with his own pain.

This is not about Christian Grey “dealing with his pain”.  This is about Christian Grey punishing women who look like his mother (don’t get me started on the mother blaming message this sends).  The solution does not start with looking at Christian Grey’s pain, but rather in him changing his beliefs of ownership and entitlement.  In him re-humanising the women he is Othering in every possible way and developing empathy for them.

  • “Why don’t you try things my way?” Christian never wants to try things Anastasia’s way. I think that would be a better movie, but he insists she does what he wants. If you are in a relationship and your partner makes demands and pressures you to do things you don’t want to do, then say NO.

POINT THREE OF DEEP CONCERN

If only saying no were this easy.  The film shows that when Ana says no, Christian physically assaults her.  Understanding this must be in the context of the inner workings of coercion, of making someone feel guilty, of the traumatic processing attached to sexual abuse; in which saying yes is the only way someone can either keep themselves safe or psychologically cope with the abuse.  Advising someone to say no (when they are in a relationship with an abuser), rather than to find SAFETY can be very dangerous.

Many people won’t understand this, but because I’ve seen the inner workings of the adult industry, this movie didn’t turn me on – it made me mad.  The sex shown in the movie is violent and not love-making, and I don’t understand how 100 million people can read this book and think there is anything sexy about Mr. Christian Grey. If he was broke, ugly, and had a hard drive of porn instead of a “playroom” in his house, every women reading this would be freaked out enough to stay away from him forever. The books and movie have painted a sick disturbed man as a sex symbol that many, many women have gone crazy over.

Craig, I can tell you why so many people have read the books.  Because as a society we are conditioned to see abuse as romance.  Rarely will anyone identify the abuse perpetrated by their partner, because of the myths (e.g. it’s because of childhood) that are held by almost everyone.  People like these books and the films because abuse is seen as something alien, something “over there” happening to “those people” and therefore is irrelevant.

So I leave even more confused.

Why? Why does my 66-year-old mom feel she missed out? Why is this unhealthy domination held up as an ideal? Why do so many men and women still not realize the greatest sex you can possibly have is by learning how to serve one another, discovering how to give to your partner and receive from them as well?

Because of patriarchy Craig.  Because one of the consequences of the Fall is that men have ruled over women.  And even though Jesus came and gave us a beautiful Kingdom of mutuality; men still abuse women.  And people still make money from depicting men abusing women as romance.  And people give money (like you and your wife did) to go see this film; raising the ticket sales and encouraging film makers to make the next two films.

If you haven’t seen the movie or read the books, don’t.

You’ve just spend a lot of time encouraging people to think about the film.  You’ve told everyone you went to see the film with your wife, so it seems a confusing message to tell other people they shouldn’t…

Instead of wasting that time examining this unhealthy dynamic, spend those hours talking with your spouse about sex. Talk about what you desire, what you think is missing. What your history with sex was. How you missed or messed up or abused sex prior to marriage. Talk about your expectations for sex and whether they’re being met or not. Don’t know how to start those conversations? We have a course called bestsexlifenow.com; watch the first video for free, and I assure you it will lead to so many productive conversations. Maybe even fifty of them.

Perhaps it would be worth telling people how to seek help if they recognise they are being abusive to their partner.  Or maybe directing people to help if they are experiencing abuse from their partner?  Statistically at least 25% of the women who receive your email will experience abuse from a partner at some point in their lifetime, perhaps you could tell people where they can find safety?  Or support?  Perhaps prioritise women’s safety over “better sex”.  Maybe?

This is a great international resource for people who are trying to find their national service: http://www.hotpeachpages.net.  Though, if like Christian Grey, their partner tracks their phone or checks their computer, it might be worth considering accessing this somewhere other than the home computer, or a tracked mobile (cell) phone.

To learn more about abuse the best book out there is “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

And for Christians these books may be useful:

Is It My Fault? by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Veronica

Porn is NOT a thing

I’m not a pro-blogger at all.  I just write things as they occur, but it seems this piece has already become part of a series.  I’ll post Part 2 soon (I know, I know, the suspense may be too much for some…).  So consider this the introduction…

 

It seems in Christian circles that the word PORNOGRAPHY is an agreed upon term that is universally understood.  It is rarely explained in the articles or resources talking about it.  Porn; a single entity that according to Martin Saunders’ recent survey 42% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women “struggle” with on a regular basis.

 

Pornography is not one entity.  Pornography is not a THING.  It is a spectrum of THINGS.

 

For many pornography is the sort of thing this cartoon by @easilytempted jokes about:

Porn Plumbers

At one point in time, pornography was an entity that involved bad acting, scenarios and actual scripts.  That time was about 20 years ago.

 

The problem with those talking about pornography in the church is that they have rarely seen any (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself) or if they have seen any it’s usually because they have personally struggled with the desire to watch and use it.  This means that those who have seen it talk about it from a perspective of an ex-user (well hopefully EX-user), and those who haven’t often don’t actually know much about it.

 

The other problem with the word “porn” is that it hides the reality.  Language is very important.  We must stop reducing this huge thing that is the pornography industry to a four letter word.  It makes it easier to ignore, explain away and assume we understand.  At the very least we need to refer to this issue as a “spectrum of pornographies”.

 

Pornography can be written descriptions (often called erotica), photographs, video footage or animation.  It is either soft-core (“pornographic material that does not show penetration, genitalia, or actual sexual activity”) or hard-core  (“contains graphic sexual activity and visible penetration”).  Since the ‘90s hardcore pornographic material has become the norm.

 

According to Wikipedia (the MOST reliable of sources clearly…) pornography can be separated into different types:

Genre by physical characteristics

  • Age (This includes everything from “mature” women (MILFs) to “barely legal” images of adult women and pseudo child abuse images of adult women made to look like children.)
  • Body Features
  • Race
  • Subculture

 

Fetish

  • Bondage/BDSM (Everything on a spectrum between performers being tied up, blindfolded, enduring pain, to simulated rape.)
  • Bodily Functions (Varying from men ejaculating on women to scenes involving women lactating, urine, vomit and faeces.)
  • Other fetish (Scenes focussed on fetishes around particular acts, clothes or parts of the body.)

 

Sexual Orientation:

  • Men with women, women with men
  • Men with men
  • Women with women
  • Multiple men and women
  • Transexual or transgender people

 

Reality:

This includes amateur footage, “Gonzo” or “POV” footage is where a performer films while “performing” and also hidden camera footage.

 

Specific sex acts:

  • Anal
  • Other sex acts (This includes (usually) women being penetrated by multiple men at one time)

 

Other categories 

  • Computer generated, interactive and animated
  • Miscellaneous (including content created for and by women)
  • Extreme/illegal (this includes bestiality and some would include child sexual abuse images)

 

To view the most popular pornographic internet search terms across these categories in 2014 click here.  The most popular is “teen”.

 

From this brief overview it is clear that the idea of “porn” including plumbers or pizza delivery guys are a thing from a bygone era, almost quaint really.  The vast majority of pornographic content include or end with a man ejaculating on a woman’s face.  Almost all mainstream pornographic videos and images only feature female performers who have no pubic hair.  This has led to a generation of young people and young adults who think girls and women should be hairless (essentially pre-pubescent) and that the pinnacle of sex is not mutual pleasure or intimacy, but rather a man ejaculating on a woman’s face.

 

If we as the church want to engage with the issues we need to start by understanding what they are.  We can’t have conversations about the spectrum of pornographies without acknowledging what we’re dealing with.  And that means no longer being blind to the issues, but instead becoming informed.  Because currently it seems like the blind are leading the blind on this issue.

 

If you want to get a more informed a good (but deeply depressing) place to start would be by reading Gail Dines’ book “Pornland”.

The truth after the storm

On Friday I wrote a piece articulating my struggles with PTSD.  I’ve only recently begun writing about the ongoing consequences of my ex-husband’s choice to abuse me, mainly because I had this fear of people judging me as incompetent to do the work I do.  That somehow the ongoing impact of male violence on me would preclude me from contributing fully to addressing it.  I guess it revealed to me some of my own fears and prejudices.  That even though I work full time on ending violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice and though I would be the first to challenge language and attitudes which blame women for the abuse men have chosen to perpetrate, deep down the truth has been that I believed I needed to be fixed, no longer affected, in order to offer myself to the cause.

 

I regularly stand up and share my story.  A few years ago I spent time working at a few large Christian conferences for men.  More recently I have begun working with perpetrators.  And in all of those spaces, either telling my story, spending time within all-male spaces or working with perpetrators, I feel a responsibility to represent women well.  To not perpetuate the issues which lead to stereotyping of women, to challenge the misrepresentation of women, and when telling my story, to do it in a way that will challenge misconceptions, preventing anyone leaving after hearing me thinking that abuse happens to “those women, out there”.

 

I once spoke at a conference where I had been billed as “THE VICTIM PERSPECTIVE”.  I walked into the building with some other people attending the same event.  As we chatted about the day ahead, one woman said to me, “I’m very interested to hear the victim perspective.”  I responded, “Oh yes, it will be very interesting won’t it?”

 

After the event that same woman came over to talk with me, she told me I had shocked her, she would never have expected me to be a victim, that she would never hold those same views again.

 

Yet perhaps by sharing a story of being okay I have misled those who have heard me speak.  Perhaps those who are currently dealing with the impact of male violence or those with family and friends who have been hurt, I have suggested that there will come a day when everything is sorted, that being fixed is the aim.  Yet there is a sense that no matter how far we come, how good life gets; the pain of male violence doesn’t end.

 

This is why we must prevent it, why addressing the root causes of male violence; ownership, entitlement and inequality are so important.  Because once the damage is done, life will never be the same.

 

I attended an event called “Woman at the well” run by an organisation called Transformation Powerhouse a while ago.  During the evening one of the women leading the event said she had a word from God for me (I know those of you reading this without a faith may be a bit like “okay…” at this point, but bear with me).  She basically said that God had told her I have so so much love to give, but that fear is getting in the way of me offering it.  She (and God) are right.  My fear of being honest, of being judged too broken, of being patronised or disparaged has prevented me from offering my all.  Thinking that by telling of the pain as well as the victory would diminish me.  And yet the story shrinks if it is not told fully.  The ending of being fixed denies the truth of being broken.

 

I attended a session with a Human Givens therapist on Friday. I only needed one session in which she did something called the Rewind Technique.  It is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms and basically resets the brain to factory settings and moves the trauma that has led to a serious episode from the lower brain (which deals with trauma) to the upper and then mid-brain which sees the trauma as a memory rather than an ongoing, current event.

 

I arrived at the session unable to communicate much, numb, exhausted and incapable of making decisions (anyone who knows me will realise that’s basically me losing my entire personality).  After the session I was back, my brain worked, I decided to go for food (both deciding and eating were impossible for me to do ninety minutes earlier) and I was able to think, laugh and generally be myself again.

 

Over the weekend I’ve felt quite fragile.  Although I’m back, social interaction is tiring and I’m vaguely subdued.  But I’m on way back to being normal.

 

So many people have offered their love, prayers and kindnesses over the weekend.  Texts, tweets, emails, direct messages, cake and offers drive miles just to sit with me.  Even when I felt unable to respond, the love and care has been much appreciated, so thank you if you are one of the many who have loved me!

 

I’m still the same person I was before I began sharing the downs as well as the ups, the feelings as well as the doings, but hopefully now I’m over the fear of being so vulnerable, I will bring more of the truth to this battle and as we know, it is the truth that sets us free.