Monday, November 28, 2011

What is Closure of a Relationship

Closure seems like a **buzz word** but it's something that I feel and I know others would like to feel closure as well. Whether the closure relates to an estrangement with a family member, end of a romantic relationship, or any other relationship that has come to an end, closure is a goal for peace of mind and being able to live in the here-and-now.

Sometimes a relationship ends with no loose ends and no unanswered questions-- you simply move on and the relationship is final. Other relationships are not so cleanly ended. For example, in the situation with my mother and Dad, they are my parents and ending a relationship with a parent is not so simple or clean. Add in the manipulations, confusion, guilt-trips, brain-washing, and abuse that comes along with a mentally ill parent (ie: personality disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with my mother or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) with my Dad) and finding closure is even more convoluted.

So, do you need to have closure? Not in order to move on, no. You can move on with life in a positive, healthy, productive, and happy manner without closure-- meaning, questions may still be left unanswered but you remove yourself from the abuse, negativity, unhappiness, and more in order to improve your life, find happiness, and have peace.

However, without closure, you may still have that little voice in the back of your head wondering what the person is up to, why did the person treat you this way / that way, when (if ever) will they change so that a mutually beneficial / healthy relationship is possible, or you may play out what happened in the past over and over in your head. In other words, although you may not have found closure, proceeding through life in a direction away from the relationship that ended occurs but you still think of that person and have questions floating around in your mind about them, the past with them, or 'what ifs'. 

During the first part of the estrangement / no contact / break-up, you may be angry, sad, pensive, or empty. As time goes on, you will find strength in being able to see the whole picture. When you are in a relationship, you are too closely entwined in what is happening to see the entire perspective. I like to explain 'relationship perspective' this way: when you are in a relationship, it's like your nose is pressed up against a huge painting so all you see is what is directly in front of your eyes. The dynamics of the relationship are so much more but all you can see is what your nose is pressed up against. As you take a step away from the relationship (aka: the painting on the wall), you will see more and more of the painting. The further you step away and as more time passes, the more you can see the entire picture surrounding the relationship. You will suddenly start to see things the way others from the outside see. The perspective changes: you see details you didn't see before, insignificant things become less and less important, and significant things become more pronounced.

As time passes and your perspective changes, you start to see more and more clearly what happened to you:
  • In one respect, this clarity could cause greater pain initially as how you were treated and what transpired in the past becomes more evident. But this is necessary in order to move on-- if you were operating under false assumptions about the relationship, these truths that become apparent will help to guide you to strength and conviction of how you are going to conduct your life. Therapy will help during this time, as well as talking to a close confidant who can provide validation, support, and a listening ear. 
  • In another respect, the clearer perspective can immediately give you the boost you need to find closure in the relationship. Truth is power. Being truthful with yourself and your past will give you the power to move forward through life and away from your painful past.
Once I was away from my parents and was able to reflect on what happened, writing certainly helped to bring everything out into the forefront. Starting from as early as I could remember, I wrote everything down from my perspective and memory. Additionally, talking with those who were involved in my life during the abuse by my parents was validating and freeing. Lastly, I researched and read and researched and read some more. The more I wrote, talked, researched, and read, the more I understood. The more I understood, the more I accepted what happened to me. The more I accepted what happened to me, the more closure I gained. At this point, I am not looking back, and I am at peace with where I am in my life relative to the estrangements with my parents.

Don't get me wrong. I went through 5 year cycles of estrangement with my BDP mother from when I was a child up until the last estrangement in 2004. I gave her second and third and fourth chances-- so closure of the relationship didn't happen until this last estrangement which had a great deal of experiences as the foundation. And in regard to my Dad, we had a precarious relationship since his 2nd marriage 30 years ago. So with both relationships, the end wasn't a quick and immediate occurrence-- and closure didn't happen quickly.

During each estrangement with my mother, I analyzed, soul searched, and dissected how we got to that point. So with each estrangement, more and more knowledge of my mother was acquired which ultimately gave me the strength to find closure with the last and final estrangement. With my Dad, I also analyzed, soul searched, and dissected our relationship and his narcissistic behavior-- and the final straw was how he was treating my newborn baby, my husband, and me. Closure with him was easier as his behavior was increasingly intense rather than Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde like my mother. My Dad was consistently self absorbed and malignantly narcissistic.

Formal steps for finding closure are as follows, however, remember that each and every one of us comes from unique sets of circumstances (abuse, family situations, personalities, etc) that these are simply a guideline:

  1. Grieve the loss of your relationship and allow yourself to feel the pain of  the estrangement / no contact / break-up. Don’t avoid the hurt by distracting yourself from the reality because you can’t heal and move on until you’ve grieved.
  2. Refrain from contacting the estranged. No contact means just that-- no contact. No contact means no contact on the phone, text, via social networking, spying online, emailing. Contacting the person will not change how you got to where you are in the relationship. Recovering from the grief is a difficult process that takes patience. Contacting your estranged may temporarily alleviate the pain, but contact is simply postponing the inevitable.
  3. Spend time alone to reflect on the relationship's positive and the negative aspects. Be honest with yourself and don’t solely focus on the affirmative components of the relationship because you love / miss the person. 
  4. Alter your perspective to include a positive outcome. Think about all that you’ve learned through the painful process and recognize that the agony will subside as you move on and look forward to what’s ahead in your life.
Former therapist, grief counselor and life coach Susan Elliott suggests: "Don't mistake grief for love. It's normal and natural to grieve any loss...even if the relationship was the worst in the world. Don't let your grief cause you to second guess your feelings. Part of the grief process is ‘review and relinquishment’ where it is necessary to process through the relationship. Unfortunately this review comes in the form of having the (estranged) on your mind constantly. It's a 'working through' and it doesn't mean you're not going to get over it, or that you still love the (estranged). It means your mind is doing the work it needs to do to process through it and get over it."

So as time goes on and you can intellectualize exactly the abuse you went through, how awful the treatment was from your parent(s) / family member / estranged... but you still miss having a mother to celebrate on Mother's Day or you wish for a loving and warm relationship with a parent or you may think you should consider giving the person a second chance since life is so short and you believe in forgiveness. Has closure been achieved? Not in my opinion. The missing and the wishing wouldn't be a part of your thought process if closure has been **officially** achieved. Acceptance has been achieved as you are proceeding through life with the understanding that the estrangement / no contact is in effect-- but closure hasn't occurred as thought patterns are swaying toward wanting to spend time or reconcile with the person.

In many ways, an estrangement of a parent or close family member is essentially like grieving the death of that parent / family member. In order to successfully work through the grief of a parent’s death, individuals need to be open to dealing with their emotions completely, to express them honestly, and discuss them with someone who can provide support. Only through this process will a person be able to resolve his or her grief which also applies to parental estrangement.

Closure happens when you can finally put the past to rest and not look back. Closure happens when you are content with the here-and-now.  Closure happens when you can be at peace with what happened and move on directly into the future confidently. May you find the closure you are seeking.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is Spanking or Whipping Child Abuse?

With the recent flurry of media attention from the video gone viral by the daughter (Hillary Adams) of a Texas court judge (Judge William Adams), a lot of discussion has been taking place about whether the judge went above and beyond simple discipline of his child. For those of you who haven't seen the video, you can watch it here: Texas Judge Whips Daughter 

When I watched this video, I was out of breath with sweating palms and shaking hands. My heart was racing. I cannot believe that these parents treated their precious child with so much anger and venom. With all of the vulgarities and insults, this was not only an example of physical abuse but verbal abuse.

The parents' approach was not in a loving manner but in a controlling, angry, and out of control manner. The abuse seemed to never end. The father kept coming back for more-- and then the mother came into the room saying that the girl should take it like a woman. What a poor statement on the mother's behalf. And then the mother took the belt and whipped the girl one time- otherwise known as 'kicking the dog while its down'.

Anyway, this is FAR from a spanking. The judge was beating her on the front, back, sides, where-ever. And he kept coming back for more, yelling profanities the entire time:
  • "I'll spank your f___ing face" "
  • Get on your f___ing stomach" "
  • Get on your G_d d__n stomach" 
  • "I'll beat you into submission" 
  • "You don't deserve to be in this f___ing house" 
  • "I should just keep beating you and beating you, that's how upset I am" 
  • "If you raise your f___ing voice one little bit to me or your mother ... or  look at me f__ing wrong I will wear your f___ing a__ out with this belt." 
  • "You caused this with your dis-f__ing-obidence" 
My word! This is verbal abuse and so disheartening. Why are these parents (more so her father) talking so vulgarly to their daughter? Would they want her talking to them that way? What type of leadership are they illustrating to her? 

In regard to discipline, I have several points: 
  1. The child should be spoken to in a calm and collect manner. 
  2. The child should be told what he / she did incorrectly and what he / she should have done instead. 
  3. The child should be allowed to express why he / she did what he / she did. 
  4. The discipline that follows should be progressive. For the first incidence, the repercussion is _____  (time out, restriction, removal of item). For the second incidence, the repercussion should be more harsh (longer time out, longer restriction, longer period of removal of item). The third incidence (three strikes you're out) should be long term or permanent loss of privilege.
  5. The discipline should be administered in a controlled and loving manner. If a parent is angry, the parent should walk away, take a breather, and then continue to address the incident. 
  6. The discipline should never be the parent taking their frustrations out on their child. 
  7. The child should know that he / she is loved and thus in a safe and secure environment-- not with a parent that is out-of-control. If the parent is out-of-control, trust is lost between parent and child; therefore, discipline is less effective.
  8. The parent should lead by example. If the parent has a tantrum (like this judge in the video), what is the child learning? 
In this video, the girl apparently: (1) didn't use the computer strictly for school as instructed and (2) downloaded items that should have been downloaded from a pay-site. If the judge wanted to use a controlled spanking after he spoke with her about the two infractions, she should have known ahead of time that the repercussion is ________ number of spankings for each infraction. The discipline would have been calmly executed. After the spankings, the father should have lovingly spoken to her about what to correctly do next time-- reiterating that the computer is just used for school and no downloading of any kind. If this was the 2nd or 3rd infraction, progressive discipline should be administered.

I feel the more effective discipline, however, is restriction from use of computer as well as going online to pay for the downloads legally. Since she is 16 y/o and able to reason and discuss what is acceptable behavior as well as what is legal use of the Internet, talking to her in depth about these issues is valuable not only short-term but long-term. What did she learn about legally downloading items online by getting whipped and hearing profanities screamed at her? Additionally, having her research digital piracy, penalties for digital piracy, and other legal aspects of online usage related to her infraction would be greatly beneficial.

Another point is that the discipline should have a clear beginning and a clear ending. This judge did not have a clear ending with the whipping discipline. Therefore, in the case of a spanking, the beginning should take place after the initial talk about what she did incorrectly. The spanking then should take place with a countdown. Once the spanking is finished, a discussion of what needs to be improved should follow. This would conclude the discipline session. In the case of time outs or restrictions, again, there is a talk prior to the discipline. Thereafter, the time out or restriction follows. Once the time out or restriction ends, a follow-up discussion takes place regarding future expectations. 

The definition of physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm.. This judge is illustrating abusive behavior due as he is clearly intimidating her by cowering over her, whipping her front / back / sides, picking her up off of the floor by the arm and pulling her back onto the bed, getting into her face, and more. He also intended to cause injury as he was using a belt (the biggest one he could find as he stated at the beginning), whipped her all over her front even when she wouldn't turn around for her bottom to be spanked, and kept beating her even after her cries for him to stop. He also caused physical suffering by continually coming back into the room for more as well as continuing to beat her when she refused to flip over onto her stomach.

He does not appear to want to improve her behavior but take out his rage on her, verbally and physically. Whipping her up and down the front of her body-- as well as chasing her around her bed-- is not teaching her anything about what she did wrong or how to correct it. What his behavior is simply doing is teaching her not to respect him. And with parenting, respect is of utmost importance. 

The mother is culpable as well. She did nothing to stop the father from taking out his temper tantrum on the daughter. She actually aided and abetted, adding in commentary to further wound the child mentally. The father shows that he is a control freak, and the mother further solidifies this stance by demanding the girl to be a submissive woman. My heart cried out to see a mother take this position-- and to compound the incident worse by taking the belt and whipping her daughter one time. That whipping was almost like kicking the dog one more time 'just because'... kicking the dog when it's down. Very sad state of affairs. I feel for this adult child of this abusive man (and mother-- who didn't have the courage, care, or insight to stop her raging husband). 

Bottom-line, we should love our children, lead by example, and solve issues with careful and controlled discipline. We are bestowed the greatest responsibility in the world, and we should take that responsibility and treat it with respect. We are the parents, and we should lead the way to a happy, secure, loving world. Flying of the handle uncontrollably and treating your child with such venom is not a way that child learn effectively. In fact, that type of treatment wounds the child, damages their sense of self, and hurts the child to the core. 

So is spanking or whipping a form of child abuse? If the spanking is used in a manner that is loving and respectful, then for SOME children, this MAY be an acceptable and productive way to discipline. Spanking is legal. But is spanking the right thing to do? There is a FINE LINE between spanking and physically abusing. Remember: physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, injury, or other physical suffering or bodily harm. Spanking in any case would be intimidating to a child, cause injury by bruising, and cause physical suffering by the mere act itself.

I have worked with children in all sorts of capacities, and I have always had to use discipline procedures that involve time outs and restrictions. I have never been able to use spankings- nor would I. I cannot imagine spanking, physically striking, or whipping a child.... period. And with all of the decades of dealing with children, I have been successful with children of all types using time outs and restrictions. The main key is consistency and progressive. I have had no problem getting compliance from large groups of kids by communicating expectations, having consistent repercussions for misbehavior, and follow-up with areas to improve. 

We tell our kids to keep their hands to themselves, not to hit, and to be nice. Shouldn't parents do the same? And if the school systems, day-cares, and other child care organizations don't spank, why is spanking alright for the parent to do? I say, let's treat our children with love-- as much love as possible. And let's give them the attention they need-- namely positive attention that let's them know we see what they're doing and care. And I believe you will get the best out of each and every one of them. As far as this judge, I pray he doesn't get re-elected. He presides over child abuse / custody cases and doesn't illustrate clear judgment about these topics as illustrated by this damaging video.