A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
Given the statistics, it’s incredible that any woman leaves a man to whom she is married. In fact, it’s actually incredible that we GET married in the first place. But he, that’s patriarchy. Back to divorce… That women continue to do so, despite for instance the figures showing we are likely to experience a drop of nearly a third in our income, speaks of our incredible resilience and strength. It also makes me wonder just how bad it is in many of the relationships that do stay together… Anyway, national family law specialist and former chair of mediation, Nigel Shepherd said ‘There’s this perception than men feel they get taken to the cleaners. It’s trite. Women do worse out of divorce’… ‘the ability to recover financially after divorce reflects the wider inequality in society’ (www.familylaw.co.uk). A man is saying it, folks, so it must be true.
Look, I know I get snarky about ‘women’s issues’, but SHIT NEEDS TO CHANGE. Pronto. It’s at this point I’m always tempted to say something about how if women suffer, children suffer. I’ve always had a problem with women’s wellbeing being viewed merely as a portal to children’s wellbeing. Yes, children are important, but guess what they grow up to be?! Adults! SO why can’t we just accept that women’s wellbeing (as well as being important for the children they are often primarily in charge of raising), is innately, separately, completely and necessarily important.
Which is why I want to talk about coercive control, and relationship dynamics after divorce. I remember the day I read an article citing the ’18 ways you know you’re being gaslit’, and I remember my shock at being able to tick off at least 12). More about gaslighting here. The problem is, that even after separation and divorce, I hear far too many stories of situations that are toxic and controlling, where the ex-partner still coercively controls many aspects of their ex-partners life. This can happen to either women or men, but statistically speaking, it’s more likely to happen to women. Why? Because the unpaid care often falls to the woman to do, because the woman will more typically have been the one who gave up work to perform childcare duties, because we are still seen as the providers of the care in our families. Whether money was withheld during the marriage or controlled through manipulative means, these behaviours often multiply when the woman is no longer carrying out her ‘role’ as wife. It’s internalised patriarchy at it’s very best.. Intangible, difficult to verbalise, unjust and ingrained in the very fabric of our lives.
When this happens to women, some might say they should just do their best and get over it. However, the reality is that many women are still dealing with this many years later, even into retirement. The fact that we get left with the majority of childcare duties after divorce can impact in a variety of subtle and frustrating ways. Not least is the physical inability to be both caring for our children and working, at the same time. Some people I know achieve this, but it takes radical shifts in their lifestyle and in my opinion can still leave them burdened with this, but in a different way. Yes, these women are incredibly adaptable and resilient, but where is the father and why isn’t he stepping up? Not only this, but we’re told that children from divorced families do worse in school, and have worse mental health when they grow up. My aim, throughout my separation from my children’s dad, has been to ensure to the best of my ability, that this is not a given in our situation.
SO women are doing most of the childcare, often. What else, though? They’re also unable to plan for their future financial stability, or hindered from doing so by the immediate and rising costs of rearing kids. The inequality is stark. This is why I consider men withholding financial support from their spouses to be financial abuse, and that’s a hill I’d die on. I think that if men really dug down into what makes them do this, they would find a toxic mix of views that belong long ago (and didn’t even belong then, really).
What I do know is, that when I disentangled myself from financial dealings with my ex-husband, it changed our relationship entirely, not least because it then catalysed my insistence that we split the caring of our children 50/50 between us. This has meant that some of the issues that had, for four years, only affected me (sickness days, out of hours childcare arranging and costs, school dinners, purchasing school uniform, keeping up with parties, special days at school, sports days etc etc) now for the first time also fell to my ex-husband to arrange. It was an uncomfortable transition, and one which I had to stand firm about several times in the face of his incredulous surprise, but one that has changed literally everything since. I would say that this equality has paved the way for a much more respectful and cooperative relationship.
So, if you feel that you may be being financially controlled by your ex, what to do? My decision came after a lot of inner work around trusting myself to provide financially for myself and the kids (to be clear, I stopped taking any child maintenance from my ex-husband for more than a year before we went 50/50 on childcare, but it was the middle of the pandemic and we were all just getting by as best we could). I think that there are energetic tendrils attached to money, especially that which is grudgingly given. You can ask yourself whether you’re prepared to accept this, and what might be possible for you if you said no. It’s a tough subject, because I have for a while believed in finding the outer edges of what is possible, and exploring these. It takes a lot of working on what I fear (with a lot of this being ‘destitution, debt, homelessness!’). However, whenever I have made a bold decision (and telling him to stop giving me any money in a global pandemic where I was home-schooling and unable to earn on a regular basis could certainly be called ‘bold’, amongst other things…), I have found that my options open up and new possibilities become available. I suppose what I’m asking is: what if you really believed in yourself? What would you do then?
In 2009 my dad had a series of strokes. Having been a very fit and healthy man, it was a surprise to us all. It shouldn’t have been, though. It was a reminder that as much as you may regulate your diet and exercise, if you don’t deal with stress effectively, your body will eventually show the toll. It was a turning point for me. Having watched my dad work hard, and I mean really hard, his entire adult life, this was the ultimate shocker. That much talked about retirement? Nope. Days of leisure? No.
I’ll be honest though, he wouldn’t have known how to spend his days at leisure. It wasn’t a skill-set he’d developed. Even our family holidays were spent renovating a dilapidated French farmhouse from the age of 11 onwards. A different kind of work to his academic career, granted. But still. After his strokes, he languished for many years in a care home. He died in 2020, with Covid.
Most of all, he gave his time and energy to his work. That’s not to say he wasn’t an excellent, involved and devoted dad. He was. However, he went to work in the morning and when he came home, his work continued until late into the night. Grant proposals, marking exams, writing papers… He tapped away in his tiny office until sometimes 10 or 11 at night. And guess who went to his funeral? Well… almost no one, as it turned out. Since it happened in early 2020, I didn’t even go. I could transgress here about hypocritical politicians and inhumane loses of human rights, but I’ll stay the course.
The point is. None of those fuckers came to his funeral. He had some great friends at work, and was well respected, so maybe some of them would have, if they’d had the chance. The problem is- you’re dead by then. My dad, in my opinion, gave way too many of his fucks to his work. He gave almost none to his own wellbeing. Part of why I do what I do, is because growing up I didn’t learn from those around me how to do self-care. Much less self-compassion. The less said about self-love, the better. Or at least, that seemed to be the mantra in my family’s house. I’m not blaming anyone here, that’s just how it was. But when I look at my life, I want to be able to say I gave my time, energy, money and effort where it made a difference. I want to learn how to be self-compassionate without sacrificing myself at the alter of ‘hard work’. Perhaps given the chance again, my dad would still choose to make such huge gains in the field of physiology. But I like to think he might have made a little more time for relaxing.
It’s not just relaxing though… that doesn’t quite do it justice. The work I’ve been doing for the last four years could hardly be called ‘relaxing’. It’s a re-imagining of what life is actually about. It can take a lot of witnessing, effort and consciously turning the tide. It’s about choosing what really serves you, friends. Knowing people who die ‘too soon’ seems to really focus the mind on this issue. It seems to me that if you continue to just do what comes naturally, there are many pitfalls that you may encounter. I’d love everyone to ask themselves: who am I actually living for? I bet for many, there are tendrils of the expectations of others, which weave their way into the very fabric of how you live, what you do with your time, who you spend time with… everything. It is up to us, once we reach adulthood and autonomy, to ensure that what we do is aligned with who we really are.
So here’s a reminder to make sure your energy is flowing to things, situations and people who are worthy of it. That includes but is not limited to toxic family members, ex partners, frenemies, colleagues or bosses. Nobody gets a free ticket to your energy, just because of who they are. Let’s take good care of ourselves, in every way we know how. If you don’t know many ways how, this is your nudge to discover some new ones. Mine include wild swimming, hugs, joining a book club, bike rides, dog walks, camping trips and snuggling.
Where to start…
I’m grateful for some of the conversations I’ve had in the last few weeks with men about men’s violence against women. Though mostly, those conversations have deviated somewhat from that specific topic.
And I want to preface this by saying: my heart is full of love. After all the learning and self development I’ve done, it would be frankly pretty disappointing if I was just really angry all the time… yet there’s a lot about how we’re interacting as men and women that feels ‘off’ to me. And I want to speak about that without fear. So I will. I speak from love. Please understand that some of the difficulty you may have in reading this stems from internalised patriarchal views about how women ‘should’ speak.
Firstly: why is this called ‘men’s violence against women’ and not just ‘violence against women’. Because, it is predominantly men who are harming women. It is also predominantly men who are harming men. The statistics on this are stark. On balance, men are doing the harming. You and I know that there are situations where women harm men, but they’re in the minority. While that doesn’t make them unimportant, it does mean that they’re not the societal problem I’m addressing here.
Every woman has a catalogue of events where they felt uncomfortable in the presence of a man or men. The first time for me, was when I was 11 and turned around to see an old man exposing himself to me. At 14, a man walked past me and it was only after I’d taken a couple more steps and computed what he’d said, that I realised he’d been guessing my bra size. Aged 18 I was in the car with my driving instructor who was in his 60s and he was talking about clitoral piercings. Aged 20 I went on a wilderness course as a solo woman and a man in his 40s told me ‘we’re all men, we could do anything to you out here and no one could do anything about it’. These experiences happen to women and girls everywhere, all the time. I was actually quite an unusual woman in my thirties who hadn’t experienced any physical harm from a man.
Then, as some people already know, in 2020, a male massage therapist sexually assaulted me during a professional massage. And there’s a sliding scale of other events- including hearing every office of administrative women no matter what age called ‘the girls’. Whether it’s actual bodily harm or belittlememt of our skills and abilities or innate worth, it’s absolutely rife. I’m not speaking from the sidelines. I’m in the arena. Not, you understand, by choice. If you take a moment to reflect… do you (if you’re a man) have any similar stories about women objectifying, threatening or actually physically harming you? If you’re a woman, I know you do. I want to Segway here to say I apologise for the binary gender segregation. I know there are people identifying in different ways and I’m educating myself on your experiences as we speak, but this article is written as a woman, intended mainly for men who’ve lived in male bodies to understand our experiences.
And yet… I believe in restorative justice. I learnt today even that there’s even something called ‘transformative justice’, which sparked my curiosity further. I don’t believe punitive justice works (the figures speak for themselves), and I don’t believe that shame, guilt and hatred will move us any further forward. There are other women out there doing this work too, if taking the personal responsibility for our own healing so that we can approach the world from only more love.
But I am angry.
And I am commited to using my voice.
So many times when I have done so, I’ve been told to temper my angry tone, lest my message be distorted or too difficult to hear.
Yet I hear from every man I’ve spoken directly to that you DO care, you just don’t know what to do or say. As well as having a sense that anything that you might do or say, will be wrong.
And this is not just an issue for me, it’s a feminist issue. One of the things I want to speak to is the patriarchal structure (and if you don’t believe it impacts your world, than you’re a beneficiary of the system), which impresses upon girls and women the need to adjust our voices to be palatable. Our voices are valid, whether we speak calmly and clearly, or whether we scream and rant. We’re angry. And men have been used to women shrinking themselves for their comfort for too long. I realise that some of the things I’m saying are probably confronting, and here’s my secret hope- that I’m saying things that the women in your life may have been saying for some time. I’m hoping that reading this might spark a conversation. I’m actually really just hoping that you WILL read this. Stick with me if you are.
The thing is, you see, I’m a very solution focussed person. So when I was assaulted, I set about healing. But it cost me. A lot. It cost me time, energy, money, wellbeing. It costs me things that many women don’t have to spend. For four days I couldn’t pick up my own son because my whole body tensed up so badly I was wracked with physical pain.
It also gave me clarity, motivation and the knowledge that I’m an absolute badass. But it did feel a bit like cleaning dog shit off my shoe. Who let their dog shit? Why do I have the responsibility of cleaning it?! This is an unpleasant and time consuming job! Why couldn’t they just have accepted responsibility for cleaning up their own dog’s shite?! Why does anyone, ever, think that this is ok?!
And maybe you’re thinking- ‘well, I would always pick up my dog’s shit’ or ‘I only have cats, so this isn’t relevant to me’ or ‘why is she even talking about dog shit, I haven’t stepped in any recently’.
Well. Because the streets are covered in dog shit and we (women) are stepping in it on the daily. So there’s definitely a problem. Even if you have the use of a car, and you can’t see it. (For clarity: your male body is a car. No ones blaming you for having the car, or saying you shouldn’t have the car of that your car is abhorrent or part of the dog poo problem). Also- and this is where I truly commit to speaking truth to power- can you HONESTLY hand on heart say there aren’t times and places when you’d consider it ok to leave a little dog poo. You know, on the verge… in the woods…
Why should you care, as you sit in your car? Well- you could just care because you’d like us to have nice clean shoes and not have the burden of cleaning it up. But also- there’s the small issue of the fact we walk it all over the carpet.
Anyway, I’ve really flogged that metaphor, so I’m going to leave it for now.
Maybe this feels like a tangent.
It isn’t. Whenever I talk to men about men’s violence against women or read their comments online, there are tangents aplenty. Some of the less considerate ones include:
move aside and let’s read some real news
‘Slow news day is it’
‘Probably another distraction’
‘This is just clickbait’
But then there’s also the more considered responses, such as:
‘Violence is hard for everyone’
‘I would never do this to anyone’
‘Women also hurt men’
But then there’s also the actively misogynistic views about women who speak up about sexual violence against them from powerful men such as:
-‘she didn’t complain when she took the money’
-‘poor little rich girl’
-‘wow, what a coincidence this coincides with her book coming out’.
-‘so she talks about it now when he’s not here to defend himself’
-why didn’t she say something at the time, not decades later
And never just, ‘shit. I didn’t know that this was happening on this scale, so severely or so flagrantly. I’m so fucking sorry to hear of your experience’.
Well, not never. But not often.
As if it’s easy for women to talk about being intimately violated. As if that often works out well for women. As if women are routinely believed. As if it doesn’t usually take a multitude of women accusing a man in order to bring him to justice. As if speaking up doesn’t re-traumatise women who’ve been living with the consequences of someone else’s actions for their whole goddamn life.
Did I mention I’m angry?
The commonly agreed truth, based on analyses of the actual data, are that it is overwhelmingly men who are harming women. Read here for more information if that’s something you feel the need to dispute. 81 women have been killed in 28 weeks since Sarah Everard’s death. And this is tied in to the issues around sexual violence because it all stems from the fundamental idea that men own, or at least control, women. And maybe you don’t believe that, which is good- but we’re often not very good witnesses to our own processes. So it could be that there are signs that you maybe do believe it a little bit… like, believing in marriage as an institution, or having ever felt jealousy. And honestly I think there’s more than that, because when men have got honest with me, I hear them say they’re not sure where they stand if women are equal. What is their role? And I think this speaks to a relationship dynamic which I have spoken about many times, called the drama triangle. You can read more here about the ins and outs. Essentially, men are saying- but if I’m not the saviour, what am I? My argument is this: we do not need saving, we need supporting in loving lives as the creator. Empowered women take radical personal responsibility for themselves. When I do that, I think I’m the most attractive a prospect as a partner for a grounded man that I’ve ever been. Men should find women’s empowerment exciting, as an invitation to shake up what it means to be a man. An opportunity to rid the shackles of toxic masculinity and redefine yourself. Women are doing it, and it’s really a call to action. We are not prepared to masaage egos, reassure you that you’re still needed or diminish our gifts in the world to make men feel more comfortable.
In conclusion, both men and women seem scared to talk openly and honestly about the issues around men’s violence against women. I think it’s time we got comfortable being uncomfortable. One thing I think men can do is to be commited to having these hard conversations, listening to understand the experience of women and girls and to learning more about the issues involved.
Another is to educate yourselves on the issues involved. Attend a reclaim the night rally this weekend. Engage with the many conversations being facilitated. Seek them out. Get comfortable being uncomfortable sitting in those spaces. Listen to the podcasts I’ve pointed to below. Listen to your partners. Hear their experiences without seeking to save, undermine or match them. Call out people who send you sexist shit. Make complaints alongside your fellow woman about misogynistic views expressed by politicians, media outlets, influencial people. Sign petitions to support funding to end gender based violence.
But MOST importantly, crucially, address internalised patriarchal beliefs in your own mind. I have them, so do you.
Men’s violence against women with Jackson Katz. Jameela Jamil ‘iWeigh’
Reevaluate justice and eradicate gender based violence. Marlee Liss ‘The Sensual Revolution feat. Nneka Macgregor
While not many of us like to think of ourselves as victims, there are often situations in which we feel victimised, hurt or vulnerable. It is a necessary part of relating to others to encounter difficulties, and my personal feeling is that we can get huge personal growth through these points where we are forced to look at our ‘stuff’. I have often presented the victim triangle to clients, in order to help them understand the dynamics at play in less than healthy relationships. In the victim triangle, the victim is subjected to the unpleasant behaviour of a perpetrator, and sometimes saved by the kind actions of a saviour. Whether the perpetrator is being unkind, or the saviour kind, the victim remains the victim. This is the problem with the victim triangle. There’s nowhere ‘empowered’ to go. You either move to become a perpetrator (for example, if you don’t ‘appreciate’ the saviour’s kindness, you may become their perpetrator), or you become a saviour (otherwise known as focusing on other people’s lives and relationships, and ignoring the issues in your own). Maybe I sound harsh, but I’m just a really big fan of exiting the victim triangle, you see. It seems to me, that anything between a victim and a perpetrator is a dynamic I would rather not be involved in, and the saviour role is the epitomy of being all up in someone else’s business.
So, I present to you, the alternative. Within exactly the same relationship, with the very same people, it is possible to remove the metaphorical acetate sheet with the victim triangle written on it, and to re-apply one with the empowerment triangle. Here we have the creator (who takes over from the victim), the challenger (who was once a perpetrator) and the coach (who may or may not be fulfilled by the person who was acting as a saviour). As a side note, more than one role can also be fulfilled by one person (for example, someone my caste you as a saviour one minute, and a perpetrator the next, regardless of your actions being the same in each circumstance. They would be operating in the victim triangle).
Within the empowerment triangle, the creator takes agency over how they are seeing the situation, first and foremost. I could write a whole post, or book, about becoming the creator in your own life. Primarily, this is about moving away from the illusion that you are seeing things as they truly are. It is about divorcing ‘reality’ (hence the blog name), and looking for fresh, more empowering ways to view your situations, relationships and the people around you. This is the groundwork for creating mental freedom, and emotional flexibility, in my view. Without this step, we are always falling prey to the old stories we have, which were often created when we had very little agency in our lives (when we were much younger, for example). As the creator, you start to have choice around the meaning you are making of any given situation. You get to stay curious, and to increase your capacity to relate to others from a more ‘adult’ place. This is not always easy, and having this conversation with clients can also be tricky. Who really wants to think they’ve been a victim, a perpetrator or a saviour? I know I’ve tried my hand at all three, on numerous occasions.
The coach can be an actual person, a book, a podcast, a TED talk or a friend, colleague or professional. It can even be a moment of clarity from within you. Self coaching is an excellent skill, and one that gets more intuitive and easier over time. Meanwhile, life will, of course, continue to bring you challenges. In the form of people, situations or scenarios you’d rather just avoid. They are not, however, uniquely out to ‘get you’, and believing so will land you firmly in the victim triangle.
Which brings me to my final point, which is about awareness. If there’s one thing I’d love for you to take from this blog post, it’s that you can always bring more awareness to your processes. You don’t have to be faultless, you need not strive for perfection, but if in any given moment you are able to bring even 10% more awareness to the processes at play, and to your own ‘stuff’, it will serve you in becoming the creator in your own life, and in relation to others.
90 % of single parents in the UK are women. That’s quite a shocking statistic, and it got me thinking about how that could possibly be. I feel passionate about the rights of women and girls, and it seems to me that we might have a long way to go if this is really the case. Where do the men go, I wonder? Where are the dads? They can’t all be so terrible that they’re incapable of parenting.
I remember listening to an American divorce coach (The Kickass Single Mom) who talked about 50:50 parenting, and who said the number one reason women gave not to was that they didn’t trust their ex-partner. Her response was: he’ll figure it out! This seems to me to me a very reasonable idea. After all, over the last four years, I’ve figured out a plethora of issues. It’s been on me to sort childcare, school uniform, snacks, lunches, sports kits, tired school mornings, play dates and even, during the pandemic, home schooling… For four years (seven if you count the years I was married), I did all the drop offs and all the pick-ups, the sick days, everything. I took the financial hit. Y
It’s a natural consequence, I think, of all the work that I’ve done on my ‘stuff’ that things change across time, or rather that I will make changes to my external circumstances as I find what needs to be addressed. It seemed to me that rather than struggle on, trying to find solutions to the endless sticky situations that being a single parent with the majority responsibility for the kids left me facing day in, day out, I could make a change that supports me in moving forward. Rather like that lovely saying ‘nothing changes, if nothing changes’. The difference between addressing stress and addressing the causes of stress is covered in Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book ‘Burnout’, which gives excellent tips and strategies for doing both, even in the context of patriarchy.
The way I see it (and another insight from the Kickass Single Mom) is that if issues like childcare and sickness don’t affect men in the workplace, nothing will change. I believe women have been taking the responsibility (and costs) of raising children almost single handedly, for too long. Nowhere is it more stark than in single parent households. Instigating a 50:50 parenting setup is one small act of everyday feminist activism for me, and I’ll advocate for it while I
A) Have an uninterrupted shower/ sex-for-days/ hot cup of tea…
B) Write this blog and other creative pursuits
C) Envision a life that goes beyond hamster-wheelesque levels of ‘doing’.
Sometimes I feel like I’m a bull in a china shop. Crashing around, hurting people… smashing things…
It’s felt like that sometimes, especially on the path to change. But you know bulls aren’t really supposed to hang around in china shops, and as much as the owner might give me disapproving looks, or try to get stuff out of the way in time, it’s not really going to change the fact that I’m a bull, and a china shop might not be the best place for me.
Then here comes the personal development world on the horizon, singing out the powerful message that if you want to do things differently, you can! It’s just a matter of discipline, hard work and consistency. Repetition, affirmations, resolve. ‘I am a beautiful butterfly’. ‘I am a beautiful and charming, delicate butterfly’. Well… maybe, somewhere deep inside of me is something that identifies with being a beautiful butterfly. I’m open to that. After all, we are never only one thing (we are all way more complex and nuanced than that), but what if I stopped fighting the bullish part? What if I removed myself from the china shop, for a start? Acknowledging, of course, that there may be other breakable things along the way- that the skills I learnt there amongst the fragile racks of fine china may be useful at times in the future. But I don’t have to dwell there, where I’m not welcome, where my skills and abilities are not noticed, certainly not celebrated. Perhaps I could remain open enough to keep looking for the place that a bull is a welcome addition. Seeing myself, grazing peacefully in a wide open meadow, for example.
This leads me on to other humans, and why I cannot and will not believe the idea so commonly bandied about that ‘some people are just evil’, because I think that as a species we do ourselves a huge disservice by holding up this dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Even as a victim of sexual assault, I believe that there would be more to gain from seeking understanding and focussing on healing than on the rhetoric that ‘bad people’ should be ‘locked up and the key thrown away’. It’s a VERY big topic, but what I know intuitively is that I don’t want punitive justice for the person who harmed me. I want to seek understanding, and to pursue healing, not punishment. This has been unexpectedly contentious. It seems that once you are the person harmed, the World wants to decide for you what will happen, what is just and what is ‘right’. It’s been a long time since I operated with such a model of the world as ‘right and wrong’ or even ‘true and false’, though, and that seems to be an important piece to have had in place before this happened to me. It’s almost as if I get a chance to road-test a principle I felt I had- that punishment is not the way to best deal with transgressions from our best selves.
When an idea, principle, belief or value comes from us as people, it infiltrates every part of our life. For example, as a ‘victim’ of crime, I feel no more convinced by punishment as a solution as I do as a parent of two children or as a former Veterinary Nurse. If I will not rub a dog’s nose in its own urine to ‘teach it a lesson’, nor shut my child in their room to ‘think about their behaviour’, why would I believe that similar actions are an appropriate, just and fair way to treat someone who committed a crime against me. Some might (and have) say ‘but in doing that, the criminal took away their right to be treated fairly- they didn’t treat you well, so you shouldn’t feel compassion for them’.
To which I would reply with the story of Thecla. Thecla makes my heart sing the loudest of all the courageous women in Megan Watterson’s Divine Feminine pack that I hold so dear. She is sent to trial and sentenced to death in a stadium, where she is supposed to be attacked by a lioness, who instead protects here. She eventually baptises herself, and the women in the crowd start to see that she has been misjudged, and will not let her be harmed. Further to this, I would love to draw attention to a story I heard about an African tribe (I can’t find the original source, but if nothing else it demonstrates a principle beautifully), in which a woman hears a song before conceiving a child, teaches it to their partner and then sings it throughout the child’s pregnancy and childhood. If, at any time in a person’s life, they break the societal rules of the community, they are bought back to the centre of the community in circle, and their song is sung to them, to bring them back to themselves. One of my mentors, Marlee Liss (the first person to take a sexual crime through restorative justice in the US) talks about the questions which occurred to her after she was raped, which was ‘what happens between when a baby is born and someone becomes a perpetrator of a crime’? For me, there is so much within that question that holds so much hope. If we really want a safer, kinder more just World, we need to look at questions like these, first and foremost. It seems to me that for too long, our attention has been diverted towards the punishment and retribution rather than healing and moving forwards. Especially since, in my own and many other cases, the justice we are told we should seek is out of reach. The statistics in the UK for bringing perpetrators of sexual crime are horrific. Truly unacceptable, to me anyway. But that’s not the same as saying I want everyone thrown in jail. It doesn’t work. The same way putting your toddler on a bottom step to stew in the horrible feelings of having done wrong, doesn’t work. We need to re-think everything, from the bottom up. From our education system’s ‘traffic-light’ behaviour management systems, to employer’s ways of disciplining their staff, to the police and everything in between. The way we do this is to dig in. To not turn away in distaste from the parts of society that trouble us or don’t work. To see the struggle for other people is not so different from the one we face. To understand that the same system that makes a victim a victim makes the perpetrator a perpetrator. To look for the ways in which we can effect change, within us and within the structure and systems in which we operate.
I believe the biggest thing we can commit to doing is to the work of personal change. To live from our values, principles and beliefs even when it is not the easiest thing to do. Even when it means we don’t get to be ‘right’, but instead need to seek understanding in those whose behaviours, thoughts and beliefs do not align with our own.
Unlike some marital breakups, what I’ve always acknowledged is that my kids have an excellent dad. I didn’t enjoy being married to the man, and we fundamentally disagree on some of the basics of life… but he’s a great dad (and who cares what I think anyway!). Moreover, he wants to actively parent, despite having assumed that his role would naturally drop away over the years and months, he wanted active involvement (albeit on his terms). Yet somehow, we fell into a familiar pattern that seems to be the norm in Britain. He became a ‘weekend dad’. You see them in the park, in the queue at McDonalds… counting down the minutes until ‘I’ll be taking you back to your mum’s’. I’m not making this up, either- I’ve heard several dads saying exactly that.
So when did we get so stuck in this loop- where single mums are taking it all on- sometimes to the extent of living in a completely separate location from the other parent? I want to make two side points here. The first is to acknowledge that I’m assuming that one parent is male and one female. As someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I’d like to just flag that I realise these relationship dynamics may be different (or the same!) depending on particular circumstances. Secondly, there is always the unspoken thing where abuse may have influenced the decision to live further away from a co-parent. People who leave abusive relationships are badass and brave and I salute you, and the choices you make to keep your family safe. Frankly, I salute any mother making any decision for her family that feels right at the time. Not just deciding, which ultimately is the easy part, but acting on it.
Here, though, I want to speak of the situations where once free of the relationship (and I recognised elements of emotional and financial abuse in my marriage which I have since worked to heal), the most empowering thing is to release control of how the other parent handles their time with the kids, and to work towards a more equal parenting balance. I have recently completely changed the time ratio with my kids, and now have 50:50 parenting with my kids’ dad. Even through the week, so that school pick ups and drop offs are shared equally. It wasn’t always that way, though. In fact, he had deemed it impossible due to full time and inflexible work patterns. I maintained that full time and inflexible working were a choice he was afforded which impacted my choices in that regard. Whether that’s true or not, I was ready to explore difference, but it didn’t happen instantly, so lets look at how it unfolded.
In the middle of the pandemic, for reasons known only to my deeper intelligence, and with work almost impossible due to home schooling two children, I told my ex-husband to stop giving me maintenance for the kids. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, anyway, and I was uncomfortable with the energetic ties it created between me and my ex. I’d been feeling that way for a while, but then I read a book that influenced my decision heavily, which was ‘Kickass Single Mom’ by Emma Johnston. In it, and in a couple of podcasts I listened to, she argues that taking maintenance money from their ex partners keeps women from fulfilling their full potential in a variety of different ways. I had to admit, I used the money as a cushion, and it didn’t really fit with my feminist values to accept it (though that could really swing both ways!). Anyway. Rather than saying ‘I don’t want your stinking money, you stingy b******rd’, I said ‘I set you free, and I set me free’. And it was done. Of course, the next month I lost my ability to earn any money temporarily, but that’s another story for another day...
You know how the old saying goes 'Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes'... Well. I found myself feeling judged by my ex-husband the other day (how much of this was true and how much was a mirror, I'll never know!). I was thinking to myself that he shouldn't judge me, that he should be more understanding of me and that he should look at things from my point of view. Yet, in all of that, I made no space to look at things from his point of view. I was expecting something of him that I wasn't prepared to do myself. As usual, this new thought bought me some freedom for the emotional pain I had experienced while thinking (and believing) that he 'should' do all of those things. Ultimately, I'm in charge of me and my thoughts and actions. He's in charge of his.
Across the four years since we've been separated, it's always been the case that the times I've had the least influence and suffered the most, have been when I'm hoping, or expecting for him to change. The times I've felt the most empowered, have been when I'm changing how I see things, and gaining more flexibility myself.
Which led to to this blog post, and something that occurred to me yesterday. The harder it is to see from someone's perspective, the more freedom there is to be had from doing so. That is to say, if you can seek to understand something that exists from a way of looking at the World you would never dream of adopting, the more of a 'brain workout' you get. So next time you encounter someone with a map of the World that has you scratching your head, thank the Universe for this opportunity to gain more flexibility. You don't have to agree with what they think, say or do- but if you accept the invitation to attempt to understand (rather than to proved you're right and they're wrong), then you just might find that out the other end of the encounter, you're experiencing more peace.
Many times I have seen women express that they were gaslit by their narcissistic ex. I too once read an article about gaslighting and looked afresh at my relationship dynamics with my then husband. Across the ages, women’s truths have been questioned. This has never been more important to me than now, as I continue my quest for justice after I was sexually assaulted in 2020.
Yet as a coach and a practitioner that is interested in getting the most possible wellbeing for myself and my clients, I have to remain open to what works. It seems to me, that spending eternity thinking about and blaming an ex-partner for the troubles in your life (low self-esteem, self confidence issues etc) is a somewhat disempowering stance, and I started to look for what might serve me better in creating the kind of life I want. So, what is ‘gaslighting’? Well, google tells me it’s when somewhat deliberately denies your version of reality in an attempt to control or undermine you, ultimately leading you to question your sanity. Well! That’s pretty unpleasant, no?
Yet at the same time as someone is ‘doing’ this to you, the opposite must be true. If they don’t believe in your version of reality, then you don’t believe in theirs. How can we be free of this never ending spiral of uncertainty? Where each person disbelieves the other, with varying degrees of malicious intent? I think it’s time to call out ‘the truth’. The truth is, there IS no truth. They believe what they believe, and you believe what you believe. Beyond that, its all smoke and daggers. By which I mean, perception. Because, you see… we do not see the World as it is, we see the World as WE are. So you may actually have perceived different versions of reality, and all the arguing in the World won’t have you see each other’s ‘point of view’. Now. That’s not to say that there isn’t potentially some other stuff going on. Maybe you’re being coercively controlled in other ways. Ugh. Because it happens. And that sucks… AND no-one can actually BE IN your mind, controlling it. So. How do we ‘take back control’? I think it comes down to being more open, not less. TO learn to trust yourself and your version of events. To understand that when respect is not being served, you don’t stay and eat, you leave the table… this is radical responsibility for self. Am I victim balming? I hope not. I am, however, speaking as someone who has been on this journey. Who has felt controlled and restricted, and then taken the journey to understanding that the biggest restrictions I’ll ever face (no matter who I’m married to, who my boss is, or what my mum says) are all in my own mind. Which is actually excellent news, because ‘we are now entering the dimension where we have control… the inside). So if you’ve ever been faced with someone who denies your reality… I want you to stand a little taller, knowing that you matched them all along, without even knowing it, by denying theirs right back!
Now as to the beliefs you have and values you hold that had you create that reality in the first place, perhaps that’s a blog post for another day…
What can I add to the conversation about shame, that Brene Brown (the famous shame researcher) hasn’t already said? Well, I guess my personal take. Shame is such a sneaky human emotion. I don’t want to talk about emotions as if they’re actual ‘things’ yet it seems shame would have us believe we’re really not worth anything, or that we’re failures... or that we’ve screwed up massively and fallen short of expectations. What I want you to know is that shame is not coming from ‘out there’. It’s not inflicted upon you by anyone. And it’s not an actual thing. We can’t extract it in an operation. But we can do some pretty cool stuff to be free from it. To that end, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story of my decision to leave my husband, and that’s a spoiler. What went before was driven by shame. I don’t know how long I ‘knew’, but it’s fair to say I didn’t act straight away. It was only when I realised that one of the principal reasons I hadn’t acted on the knowing was because I was concerned what people might think, that I realised I was jeapordising my happiness and, indeed, my life- as a result of what people might think. Here’s how I reframed it: I get this one wild and precious life, and I deserve to be happy. I will not jeapordise that for the sake of what people might think when they hear the news. After all, they’ll soon be getting on with their lives again and me giving me and my marital status another moments thought. Screw you, shame! And it worked. I left. But did shame leave? Well, kind of. It has layers. The deeper I’m able to explore what really makes me happy, the more I realise shame has been a component of not accessing that happiness over the years. All those shoulds and musts... Which brings me to an important idea, that has bought me great freedom from shame and all its little pals: fear, hurt, sadness, anger... you name it! The idea/ conceit/ thought/ mantra goes like this; ‘There is no rule in the Universe that says.... you have to do anything at all’