Sep 19

Intimate Partner Violence: “No Visible Bruises”

Intimate partner violence is the subject of No Visible Bruises:What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by journalist Rachel Louise Snyder. It’s not just a domestic issue, she argues, but a public health problem. Parul Sehgal, New York Times, reviewing No Visible Bruises: “A United Nations report in 2018 put it starkly: The most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.”

Other salient statistics from the book, per Sehgal: “In America alone, more than half of all murdered women are killed by a current or former partner — 50 women every month. Domestic violence cuts across lines of class, race and religion; it is the leading cause of maternal mortality in cities including New York and Chicago, and the second leading cause of death for black women nationwide.”

An important distinction about intimate partner violence is contained in the book review by Kate Tuttle, LA Times: “‘Love is what makes domestic violence different from any other crime,’ Snyder writes. ‘That the people involved have said to each other and the world, you are the most important person to me.’ For that love to end in injury and even death, she adds, ‘requires us to mentally, intellectually, and emotionally hurdle beyond what we can imagine.'”

Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness, describes how the author organizes her material, starting with the fact that it’s unusual, going from “The End” to “The Beginning” to “The Middle.”

Further explanation: “That is, she first studies what intimate partner violence looks like at its conclusion: homicide and regrets that various systems (judicial, law enforcement, advocacy, etc.) couldn’t do more. Next, she investigates the beginning of such violence. Abusers often come from abusive home environments and, along with their victims, grow up in a society that values stoicism, control and violence in men, submissiveness and emotional labor in women. ‘The Middle’ examines how services are provided to victims of domestic violence, and what changes should be considered.”

Regarding the profile of abusers, Snyder tells NPR the following:

Narcissism is one of the key components of an abuser… [Most] abusers, in fact, are not people with anger problems. Generally speaking, they are about power and control over one person or the people in their family. They’re often very gregarious. Only about a quarter of the abusers fit that stereotypical definition of someone who is, you know, generally angry. And so the narcissism plays out in the idea that they are owed something, in the idea that they are entitled to their authority, that their partners have to be subservient to them. There’s very often traditional gender dynamics in abusive relationships.

Some of Snyder’s proposals for safety (New York Times):

Prosecute cases without the victim’s help, as we do murder trials. Treat restraining orders like D.U.I.s and keep them on file, even after they have expired. Train clergy members and doctors to recognize and respond to domestic violence. Promote battering intervention programs. Choking nearly always precedes a homicide attempt; teach police to recognize the signs, and instruct doctors to assess women for traumatic brain injury. And, of course, there is the near-unanimous recommendation from law enforcement and domestic violence advocates: ‘You want to get rid of homicide?’ a retired forensic nurse asks. ‘Get rid of guns.’

Jul 13

“Maid”: Emotional Abuse At Core of Series

While the highly acclaimed Netflix series Maid, based on Stephanie Land‘s memoir (Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive) has no shortage of important themes, e.g., single motherhood, poverty, childhood trauma, and mental health, what I want to single out in this post is the emotional abuse that lands 20-something Alex (brilliantly played by Margaret Qualley) into her multi-episode life-changing predicament.

Kristen Lopez, Indiewire, sets up Maid:

The audience meets Alex as she’s embarking on a transition far too many have to make: fleeing in the middle of the night, trying not to wake her boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson), in order to protect her daughter (and herself) from the emotionally abusive alcoholic. Alex and her child make it out, but that’s only the beginning of where series creator Molly Smith Metzler takes us throughout the series.

At first, though, even Alex herself seems unaware, or unwilling to admit, that Sean has actually been abusive. She doesn’t understand why a domestic violence shelter is recommended to her by a caseworker.

Amy Polacko, Ms: “…Alex is brainwashed by society to believe abuse is purely physical—so the young mom doesn’t even realize she’s a victim.”

The most stunning part of this series that’s taking America by storm is not that it expertly depicts the cycle of abuse. It’s Alex’s metamorphosis along the way—because this mirrors the forces at work in our country right now. Ultimately, Maid begs the question: If a few states are following the United Kingdom’s lead by passing coercive control laws, are we as Americans ready to put emotional abuse on par with physical?

Gina Michele Yaniz, Hollywood Reporter: “‘Maid’ challenges the government’s definition of domestic abuse and urges lawmakers to accept that abuse transcends just physicality and violence, it translates to emotional torture that can ruin someone’s life if they don’t have the resources to free themselves from the shackles of an abusive relationship.”

Psychologist Valeria Sabater, Exploring Your Mind, regarding the specifics of Sean’s abusive behavior:

He doesn’t ever physically assault Alex or her daughter. However, violence is exercised through shouting, threats, contempt, and the desire to isolate and emotionally control her.

An important post for abuse survivors by Amanda Kippert, Domesticshelters.org, first warns of the possible triggering viewers may experience while watching Maid. Then Kippert outlines “The 6 Things Maid Got Spot-On” (and one thing they got wrong).

1. Nonphysical abuse is abuse. 

2. Lack of money is a major barrier for single mom survivors to leave an abuser.

3. Nonphysical abuse often goes unreported.

4. Pregnancy can trigger violence.

5. Childhood domestic violence victims are at increased risk for abuse as adults.

6. Survivors are often treated less-than.

And the thing they depicted unfairly? You don’t need to have a police report to call a shelter.

If you or someone you care about needs help, please consider contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or www.thehotline.org.

Nov 09

“She Used to Be Mine”: Seeking a Lost Self in “Waitress”

The powerful “She Used To Be Mine” is the first single from Sara Bareilles‘s new album, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress. Next April “Waitress,” an adaptation of the 2007 non-musical movie of the same name, debuts on Broadway.

Some Important Background: The Movie in Brief

In the dramedy/romance Waitress Keri Russell plays Jenna, a young diner employee who’s unhappily married to an abusive husband. She also happens to be a marvel at making pies and often names them after her bad moods and worries; making them helps raise her spirits. Examples: I Hate My Husband Pie and Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having An Affair Pie.

The screenplay was written by Adrienne Shelly, who never got to know of its success. At the age of 40, before Waitress even made it to the Sundance Film Festival and then to theaters, she was murdered. A construction worker in her building, to whom she’d complained about bothersome noise, was found responsible. He’d hurt her in an altercation, then staged what at first seemed to be a suicide by hanging.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Shelly was not just someone who happened to make a likable little movie. Like the film itself, she was seriously good, and her tragic and almost unthinkably sad murder was an incalculable loss.”

Notably, Shelly plays one of Jenna’s waitress friends in the film. The trailer:

The Musical Adaptation

The newest “Waitress” debuted this past summer at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bareilles performed its songs in the studio for the album released last week.

At the point at which “She Used to Be Mine” is sung by the lead character she still has the abusive spouse and now is pregnant. That “she” is actually her. Basically, How did she (I) get so disconnected from who she (I) used to be? 

The Lyrics of “She Used to Be Mine” (Genius.com)

It’s not simple to say
That most days I don’t recognize me
That these shoes and this apron, that place and its patrons
Have taken more than I gave them
It’s not easy to know
I’m not anything like I used be, although it’s true
I was never attention’s sweet center
I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect, but she tries
She is good, but she lies
She is hard on herself
She is broken and won’t ask for help
She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

It’s not what I asked for
Sometimes life just slips in through a back door
And carves out a person and makes you believe it’s all true
And now I’ve got you
And you’re not what I asked for
If I’m honest, I know I would give it all back
For a chance to start over and rewrite an ending or two
For the girl that I knew

Who’ll be reckless, just enough
Who’ll get hurt, but who learns how to toughen up
When she’s bruised and gets used by a man who can’t love
And then she’ll get stuck
And be scared of the life that’s inside her
Growing stronger each day ’til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little, to bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone, but used to be mine
Used to be mine

She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine

Listen to the Song:

Watch it be performed on Broadway:

Jul 06

“Trauma and Recovery”: Update of Judith Herman Classic

Originally published in 1992, psychiatrist Judith Herman‘s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror has been viewed as a seminal work in the area of trauma and PTSD. The latest edition of Trauma and Recovery has a new afterword in which the author “chronicles the incredible response the book has elicited and explains how the issues surrounding the topic have shifted within the clinical community and the culture at large.

SELECTED QUOTES FROM THE ORIGINAL TEXT OF TRAUMA AND RECOVERY

Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life.
The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.

The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.

When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.

The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.”

The guarantee of safety in a battering relationship can never be based upon a promise from the perpetrator, no matter how heartfelt. Rather, it must be based upon the self-protective capability of the victim. Until the victim has developed a detailed and realistic contingency plan and has demonstrated her ability to carry it out, she remains in danger of repeated abuse.

After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.

By developing a contaminated, stigmatized identity, the child victim takes the evil of the abuser into herself and thereby preserves her primary attachments to her parents. Because the inner sense of badness preserves a relationship, it is not readily given up even after the abuse has stopped; rather, it becomes a stable part of the child’s personality structure.

The mental health system is filled with survivors of prolonged, repeated childhood trauma. This is true even though most people who have been abused in childhood never come to psychiatric attention. To the extent that these people recover, they do so on their own. While only a small minority of survivors, usually those with the most severe abuse histories, eventually become psychiatric patients, many or even most psychiatric patients are survivors of childhood abuse. The data on this point are beyond contention. On careful questioning, 50-60 percent of psychiatric inpatients and 40-60 percent of outpatients report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse or both. In one study of psychiatric emergency room patients, 70 percent had abuse histories. Thus abuse in childhood appears to be one of the main factors that lead a person to seek psychiatric treatment as an adult.

Oct 31

“Dolores Claiborne”: A Different Kind of Horror Film

This is a horror story, all right, but not a supernatural one; all of the elements come out of such everyday horrors as alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and the sin of pride. Roger Ebert, reviewing Dolores Claiborne

Generally classified as either a psychological thriller or crime fiction or suspense or mystery, the 1995 film Dolores Claiborne, which was based on the bestselling book by Stephen King, is often considered underrated and undernoticed.

I saw it way back when, liked it, but now don’t have enough recall to be able to describe it adequately. Interestingly, a search for reviews/summaries found that almost all were of the male-written variety. Although many of the critiques were favorable, I have to wonder if this female-powered process-oriented movie with themes of mistreatment by men would have fared better had it gotten more press by women.

Oh well. At least Dolores lives on—not only can it still be seen in the comfort of your home but King’s book has recently been adapted for the opera stage in San Francisco.

Another interesting fact? King wrote the book with Misery maven Kathy Bates in mind as the lead character. And Bates did, in fact, wind up playing her in the movie. Brian Lowry, Variety, summarizes the plot and lead characters/actors:

Accused of murdering the old woman for whom she’s cared the past 22 years, Dolores is forced to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the mysterious death two decades earlier of her abusive husband, deemed an accident at the time despite the suspicions of the detective involved (Christopher Plummer).

Leigh’s Selena is a high-strung magazine writer who still blames her mother for the death of her father (David Strathairn), who, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to be a truly despicable character.

You can watch the trailer here:

Another source, jtonzelli.com, addresses why Dolores Claiborne belongs in the realm of horror: “While Dolores Claiborne is not a traditional horror film per se, horrific themes are definitely at play here. There is an unrelenting darkness, along with several disturbing scenes that lend itself to our genre. While it may not be about horrific creatures that hide in the dark, it is very much about horrific human beings and what they are capable of doing to people they claim to love. It is about the horror of memory, time, betrayal, and so many other weaknesses that make humanity just as flawed as we are intriguing.”

If you prefer your horror to be of the more realistic type, then, Dolores Claiborne just could be your cup of poison tea.