Sunshine and Rain

In each life, there will be sunshine and rain. In Texas, sometimes these two weather events happen at the exact same moment. I have taken my fair share of pictures with sunshine in the distance and dark thunderstorm clouds overhead. Life is often like Texas weather; we can be experiencing happiness and pain all at the same moment.

In each of our lives, there are bound to be areas of sunshine and rain. The rain, or painful situations, can make showing up emotionally and/or physically for the holidays difficult. The sunshine, or reasons to be grateful, will put a pep in our step. Often people will have two parallel tracks going in life. No life is all good or all bad. It is a mixture of both in the same picture.

Regardless of where our lives fall on the spectrum of joyful or difficult, we can enjoy the holiday in our own ways. If it involves a quiet day by yourself or a small group of folks, take in the calm that can be present. Pause and enjoy that you are in control of all your own decisions for the day. Learn to see solitude as a gift and a time to enjoy your own companionship or that of a few other people. As the day goes on, collect five (5) things that happened (or didn’t happen) that you can be grateful for.

If you will be spending the day in a large group, I suggest pausing to take in the five (5) senses. What are you seeing, what are hearing, what are you tasting, what are you smelling and what are you touching? In the blur of a busy holiday crowd, tensions can sometimes come up or we find ourselves drawn in different directions that can be overwhelming. Choosing to be purposeful in staying present in the moment can help us enjoy our surroundings more.

As for me, my day will be on the quieter side spent with my immediate family. It will include our favorite food, football (come on Cowboys, don’t disappoint!) and maybe a mimosa or two. Having a day to relax in my pajamas is a real treat for me and even though life is never “perfect” for anyone, there is so much to be celebrated. The holidays are when we can choose to focus on the things in our lives that bring us comfort and small joys.

Thank you so much for being a part of the blessings in my life. It has been an incredible season and I am thrilled to get to share the journey with you.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon 

Why Women Don’t Speak Up About Abuse

We are afraid to tell anyone.

We are afraid to talk about the details.

We are afraid of being blamed.

We are afraid.

Women have had horrendous things implied about them, said to them and done to them. Many of these actions were abusive and illegal. Yet, millions of women around the globe have been afraid to speak. Too afraid to tell the truth. Worried that their words would not be taken seriously. Silenced by the power their abuser could wield in, and against, their lives.

In 2016, the discussion of sexual conduct as it relates to power was wildly debated. How far was too far? What words should be taken seriously and which should be swept under the “it was a joke” rug? In 2017, the dialogue had taken a dramatic shift and women found their voices. They also found support from one another. In 2018, we saw victims of abuse speaking up but then being the targets of horrendous personal attacks and even death threats. Have we taken steps backwards in women feeling safe to speak up?

With the radical explosion of the abuse disclosure hashtag #MeToo and its honor of being named Person of the Year 2017, women were speaking up in masses. It was an incredible shift in our culture to witness.

The powerful message of the #MeToo movement centers around women telling the truth about their experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.

Why is it not the norm for women to feel safe enough to tell their stories? Why have so many of us been silenced? Why are we so afraid?

As a trauma therapist and advocate for survivors of abuse, I believe we get pushed back into the darkness and are silenced by a few key concerns.

Only “Crazy Girls” Speak Up

We’ve all witnessed a famous woman speak up about her negative life experiences and do it in a manner that makes us uncomfortable. We can’t see ourselves following in her footsteps, thus making many women subconsciously believe that only fiery, aggressive, and foul-mouthed women publicly share their stories of abuse. We might see these boisterous advocates and feel their message is too messy and raw to relate to. They make us uneasy in their brash approach to speaking up, so we stay silent to avoid becoming one of “them”.

The “Nice Girl” Mindset

Nice girls don’t create chaos. We make lemonade out of lemons. We take our life circumstances as they come and faithfully believe that they are somehow helping us become better. Nice girls don’t turn in their boss for sexual harassment, or go to the local police when their pastor has sexually assaulted them. Nice girls clean themselves up and go on with their lives as if nothing terrible happened. Nice girls don’t make anyone else uncomfortable with their story of being raped and instead, hide the pain. Speaking up about abuse requires nice girls to go against what we’ve been taught since childhood – be nice to everyone and don’t complain about the way others are treating you. Nice girls don’t speak up.

Fear of a Smear Campaign

Another reason we are so afraid to tell the truth is the chance that our abuser will orchestrate a calculated smear campaign against us and our allegations. What is a smear campaign? It’s when the abuser and supporters go after the “silence breaker”, as TIME magazine referred to the women of the #MeToo hashtag. Victims worry that becoming a silence breaker will open the door to people attempting to discrediting their character, blaming them for the abuse, and causing enough embarrassment that she retreats from her disclosure to the safety of not discussing the abuse again. A smear campaign can even go so far as to cause unstable strangers to threaten the life of public women who come forward and tell their stories of abuse. When we live in the twisted world of conspiracy theories, smear campaigns can have a devastating impact on victims of abuse who choose to publicly come forward.

The Risks Outweigh the Benefits

Victims of abuse must weigh the risks and benefits when considering disclosure of abuse and too often, the risks seem to far outweigh the benefits. I believe all victims of abuse want to share their stories with at least one other person. Many want to scream what was done to them from the rooftops so the whole world will know exactly who the abuser is behind his public façade. What makes women stay silent and go about their daily lives as if nothing has happened? They feel they have lost enough already and can’t risk losing more at the hands of the abuser or the abuser’s followers.

Culture of Bystander Apathy

For more survivors of abuse to step out of the shadows and speak up, we must culturally address the phenomenon known as “The Bystander Effect”. This occurs when bystanders or witnesses to harm being done, do nothing. It is a well-researched concept that first came to light with the violent and public death of Kitty Genovese in 1964.  In a nutshell, people saw a young woman being attacked and did nothing to help her. This effect or apathy happens in families, among peers, in the workplace and in places of worship. The Bystander Effect and looking the other way has caused women to be too afraid to speak up.

How much support will she receive if she comes forward?

When we can fully identify why we are afraid to speak up about our experiences of abuse, we are better prepared to make backup plans for possible negative outcomes. For example, we can speak up in a way that maintains our sense of personal dignity and doesn’t make us feel like we have become too brash in our approach. We can learn that nice girls have a right to set boundaries and have the abuser held accountable for their actions. We can surround ourselves with supportive people so any smear campaign that does occur doesn’t reach our ears. We can put key aspects of our lives out of reach of the abuser to limit the risks of our disclosure. We can build a network of supportive people who will not fall into apathy but will walk with us through the process of disclosure and healing.

Speaking up about abuse is never going to be easy. Many internal fears must be faced. The power of disclosure is that the more women who speak up, the better chances we have to take back power that was stolen by an abuser. We are stronger together.

Keep dreaming big!

Shannon

Why Should Anyone Care About Financial Abuse?

With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.

Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?

After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.

We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover.  It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.

I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.

Financial abuse leads to poverty

Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.

One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.

Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation

Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.

Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors

Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.

A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.

Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it. 

Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.

I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon

New Book Release!

Exposing Financial Abuse - Shannon Thomas, LCSW

I am very excited to share the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series has been released!

Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon is now available on Amazon (paperback, Kindle, and Audio Book).

Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, you will be given the opportunity to pull the curtain back and see into the lives of those who have been financially harmed by someone close to them. Being able to take a closer look at this hidden world is a unique gift that cannot be taken lightly or without honor for those who have chosen to allow us to peek into the most personal aspects of their lives.

Test yourself. How would you describe financial abuse? It is quietly happening all around us and is hidden within our neighborhoods and communities. You probably know someone who lives within a financially abusive household and you don’t even know it.

What is financial abuse?

Has your spouse or parent taken out lines of credit in your name without your consent?

Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life?

Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent?

Do your parents use financial gifts as an open door to demand future compliance on your part?

Are you blamed for creating financial stress, but are not the one who overspends?

Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support?

Have your religious leaders said that you must give to the church first, even if that means you cannot provide for your household’s basic needs?

Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment?

To order: Amazon

Adult Bullies: The Calculating Bully

In this series on adult bullies, we have looked at the Accusing Bully who has a need to make you their scapegoat so they don’t have to look at their own shortcomings. We have also examined the Bitter Bully who may have started out as someone close to you, but when your life took off in some great way, the Bitter Bully became threatened. Both of these adult bullies are driven by their insecurities. Not so for the next bully. Calculating Bullies are driven by rage. They want your life full of misery and are willing to be the vessel to make that happen. Wonderful, right?  Even though we may not want to acknowledge that terrible people exist in the world, they do. We are naïve to think we will never cross paths with someone who would love to see us fail.

Who are these Calculating Bullies? They could be a family member, co-worker, someone pretending to be a friend or romantic interest. They can also be people we meet while involved in a ministry or church.  Basically, there are multiple ways a calculating bully can enter your life. My hope is that being able to identify how these folks operate will help you to create solid boundaries around a calculating bully so their poison doesn’t fully engulf your life.

I am often asked why Calculating Bullies set out to pick apart someone’s sense of self-worth and goodness in life. This form of adult bully encompasses both the accusing nature and bitterness of the previous bullies we have already discussed. They take those unpleasant character traits and add gasoline on top.

From my personal experience having run into this type of bully, and as a professional counselor, I believe there are a few key methods the Calculating Bully utilizes and I want to share two with you today.

“You Will Not Have What I Cannot Achieve”

This inner-dialogue is similar to the Bitter Bully but the intensity is different. The Bitter Bully often uses passive-aggressive methods to let you know that your success or joy has stepped on their toes. The Calculating Bully will try to remove those items from your life. They go to great lengths to use flat-out lies about you to smear your reputation. They will call in their troops to further spread the hateful message of the Calculating Bully. They will target you and try to make you look incompetent in whatever way fits the environment. If the Calculating Bully is in a family, they may discredit you as an adult child or parent to your own children. If the bully is within a workplace, the Calculating Bully could sabotage you by going behind you and changing your work to have it include errors that you did not make. If it is in a church environment, the Calculating Bully will spread rumors about you to make leadership question your appropriateness for ministry.

These adult bullies are out for blood. They feel no shame about how they try to reach their goal of destroying you and everything you have achieved, but they have not.

“I Will Make You Think Everyone Hates You”

The Calculating Bully wants you to feel isolated. They desire to know that you feel rejected and left out. It makes them smugly happy. In reality, your rejection is usually just smoke and mirrors. Sometimes they are able to achieve a successful smear campaign and people do actually turn away from you. More often, I have witnessed the Calculating Bully trying to create a false sense of reality. If the adult bully is a former friend, they will encourage people to give you space for a season to let the dust settle on whatever conflict may have happened. The Calculating Bully knows this will land with you as the silent treatment and that’s the goal. In the workplace, this adult bully will purposefully steer other people away from inviting you to go out to lunch or after work together. The Calculating Bully enjoys the moment when you find out that you were excluded. In a family, this bully will flaunt their affection and often times, gifts, intended for other people in the family. You are never honored. Never celebrated. The Calculating Bully in a family with cut you off from the nurturing that all humans desire. This bully likes to see you long for what other family members are receiving right in front of you.

What are you to do if you have a Calculating Bully in your life? Quickly get away from them. Seriously. I know some situations are incredibly difficult to remove yourself from but every effort must be made to put as much distance between yourself and this form of adult bully.

Rarely do these bullies make lasting changes in their behaviors. That would require a tremendous amount of self-reflection and repetitious internal corrections in order to re-wire their internal compass.

A Calculated Bully doesn’t relate to other people in a normal way and that is why they can treat you so poorly. It is truly about them, and not you.

As a therapist, I believe it is therapeutic to engage in the simple of act of acknowledging what we know to be true. As you have read this blog, maybe a particular person has come to mind and you have begun to see that they are not only accusing and bitter, but their ugly actions are actually calculated. If you identified someone as a Calculated Bully, please say out loud the following:

I believe ­­____________________(name of person) is a Calculated Bully.

I believe he/she would like to see my life ruined.

I will stop giving ____________________(name of person) the benefit of the doubt each time I am hurt by her/him.

I will use everything available to me to put healthy distance between myself and ____________________(name of person).

I deserve to have people in my life who treat me with kindness and care.

My hope is that every Calculating Bully will face clear and solid boundaries from the people around them. It won’t change the bully’s toxic behaviors, but fewer people will have their lives negatively impacted. We must stop giving harmful people full access to our lives and hearts.

Keep dreaming big!

Shannon