Can We Know If Our Children Will Become Addicts?

Wouldn’t it be great to know who will become an addict? If so, we could provide prevention services to thwart the development of this disease. The disease of addiction is complex and is affected by genetics, environmental causes and other factors. It needs to be treated before it becomes a life-threatening problem.

A person’s DNA holds clues to whether they are predisposed to addiction. It has an inherited component, which means it can run in the family, and a young person needs to be careful. There is no easy diagnostic test but there are certain genes that are more prevalent in people who have an addiction. They are not predetermined to addiction, but they are more vulnerable. One study showed that children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. (Merikangas, Stolar, Stevens, Goulet, 1998).

I talked with five members of a recovery support group. Although they were aware that addiction has a genetic component, no one in their family had warned them of their personal susceptibility. Why? It’s not the things that people talk about. They were given the message that it was shameful to air their dirty laundry.

But your genes are not your destiny. There’s more to addiction than just genes. Environment, social norms, lifestyle, and history of trauma all impact addiction.

Monkey see, monkey do. Some families use recreational substances together. They approve its use and enable addiction. I’ve seen two generations of family members enter drug treatment together. We’ve all heard of the parent who supplies beer at the graduation party. I’ve been told that drinking and driving on country roads is an acceptable form of entertainment because after all “that’s what my father did when he was a kid.” Sometimes communities turn a blind eye by letting under-aged kids purchase alcohol, or let them drink at bars. Perhaps children learn that alcohol and drugs are an acceptable means of coping with stress. Or, they turn to substances in response to trauma, violence and abuse.

What should you look for if you are a parent? Members of the recovery support group recommend that you look for signs of vulnerability in your child.
● Know your child’s friends, friend’s families and associates for negative influences.
● Also, look for protective influences. It is said that it takes three healthy adults to produce a healthy young man or woman. Do they have a close relationship with another adult that you trust?
● Examine how your child deals with stress. Are they using healthy coping skills?
● Examine how they think. Are they using sound reasoning skills or are they impulsive risk takers? The rational part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25.
● Examine why they may use a substance. Are they seeking fun, companionship, or are they trying to escape? Find an alternative to achieve these ends without turning to substances.
● Have they experienced some kind of trauma? Parental monitoring decreases the likelihood of trauma. They may need counseling.
● Foster your child’s dreams, achievements and aspirations to keep them engaged in healthy activities.

If you have a history of addictions in your family, and you see vulnerability in your child, I recommend that your child has periodic checkups. Have their doctor explain genetic predispositions to them in a way that they can understand. Also, see a counselor periodically
to assess vulnerability to drug and alcohol misuse. Addiction is treatable. Don’t wait until it is out of control.

Why Do So Many Women Drop Domestic Assault Charges?

Far more domestic assault charges are dropped than are prosecuted. Sometimes at the hand of the victims themselves. Victims may make a 911 call for help, but then fail to pursue the charge. They may refuse to cooperate with the prosecutor and may even state that they will lie, and deny the assault, if they are forced to appear in court. The frequency of women dropping charges may cause a reasonable judge to believe that the charge was frivolous. Perhaps they just called police when angry, acted impulsively and later regretted the choice. But was it really frivolous, or is something else going on here?

In my corner of Illinois, I had a conversation with our States Attorney and a judge last week. I asked why our domestic violence program for perpetrators is underutilized. I found that on that day, there were three charges of domestic assault that were dismissed. Why? The victims chose to drop the case.

No doubt that some cases are dropped by the alleged victim because they thought better of it and were not truly fearful for their safety. Perhaps there are a number of other plausible explanations for dropping the charge.

Maybe the victim just wanted to send a warning to their partner and feel they can handle it from there. Or, the love/hate nature of some relationships may cause one to seek help when in danger, but the honeymoon phase gives them a false sense of safety. Or, perhaps the perpetrator has intimidated the victim into silence by threat of an ugly divorce or custody battle.

There were examples of intimidation in the news recently. They shed light on reasons why some women would drop a charge.

In 1995 Bannon was engaged in a domestic dispute culminating in an arrest for domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. Dissuading a witness is the act of preventing or discouraging a victim from making a report. According to the police report, he did this by grabbing his wife’s phone and throwing it and causing damage to it so that she could not make the call. There were photographs of her injuries. However, she later stated that she dropped the charge because he intimidated her so that he wouldn’t testify against her at a divorce trial. She is quoted as saying that he “told me I had to leave town. That if I wasn’t in town they couldn’t serve me and I wouldn’t have to go to court. He also told me that if I went to court, he and his attorney would make sure that I would be the one who was guilty.” She in fact took their twins and left town. She didn’t return until the attorney phoned her and told her she could come back. When he went to court the report read that the victim was unable to be located and the case was dismissed.

Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, went on the Oprah Winfrey Show and claimed that she was threatened to withdraw a 1990 charge of domestic assault or he would make her pay for this. He vowed revenge. “I will see you in the gutter.” She made a charge that he battered her by striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders and neck, without provocation or cause. He left bruises and contusions and two ruptured discs and two bulging discs. He also unplugged the phone after she tried to call police for help during a 1986 assault. Calls to the police about domestic violence happened over a ten-year period. After the Oprah Winfrey Show, she later rescinded the charge as part of a divorce and child custody agreement. She continues to deny the allegations and reports that she made it up.

Domestic violence is one of the most serious crimes around, but often has less consequence than assault from a stranger. We don’t know why cases are not filed, or are dismissed, or how many result in a plea agreement, or how many result in diversions. But these are not frivolous cases. They may be evidence of ongoing power and control.

Admittedly, the legal system has their hand’s tied when faced with a victim who recants their charge. But holding batterers accountable and sentencing them to incarceration and treatment is a multifaceted problem that needs addressing. I recommend that we hold a town hall meeting to better understand this issue.

Stop the Mental Illness Stigma

A Seattle, Washington resident climbed a tree last March outside Macy’s and refused to come down. When police tried to intervene, they were pelted with pine cones. A hashtag was started and jokes were made that traveled around the world. People thought of him as a harmless oddball. But his mother wasn’t laughing. She informed the public that her son has a mental illness. He has paranoid schizophrenia and she had asked repeatedly for help. She felt hopeless because she had exhausted all avenues of help for him. “They just put these people back on the streets” his mother said. “People are scared of him. He’s paranoid and violent. I’ve pretty much prepared myself for his death.”

In some undeveloped countries the mentally ill lack access to psychiatric care. I’ve read about people being chained to trees rather than hospitalized. In America, our prisons house 10 times the number of mentally ill residents than state psychiatric hospitals. According to a 2012 study, nearly 15% of all prison inmates have signs of psychoses. Some would say that in Illinois, Cook County Jail has become the largest mental health provider. Of the 76,400 people who were admitted in 2012, 45,840 were people with a mental illness.

The tree climber was jailed and held on a $50,000 bond after being charged with malicious mischief, third degree assault, and was ordered to stay away from the tree. The tree had $8,000 worth of damage. The jokes turned to compassion and then to calls for reform. Rather than incarceration, the mentally ill need improved access to care. Incarceration doesn’t cure people with mental illness and they don’t deserve to be mocked.

In Illinois, our state budget crisis has caused the closing of psychiatric facilities. Thus, making it difficult to find appropriate treatment for people in need. As we face a revamp of the Affordable Care Act under our new presidential administration, my fear is that there will be even fewer resources available for our nation’s most vulnerable people.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, states “You put your resources where you think they’re important, and right now, the states’ actions suggest that people with mental health conditions, or people with mental illness, are not really important.” Without adequate care, people who suffer from mentally illness utilize emergency room services, may be homeless or reside in shelters or are jailed. Providing community based mental health care is cheaper.

Mental illness is treatable. One psychiatric hospital has a sign that reads This Is a Hospital Dedicated by the State of Illinois to its People for Their Relief and Restoration – a Place of Hope for the Healing of Mind Body and Spirit Where Many Find Health and Happiness Again.

So here’s the call to action. Stop the stigma, start being compassionate toward people with mental illness, and advocate for improved health care.

The Women’s March Was Cool, But Is It Sustainable?

It is estimated that there were between 3.3 million and 4.6 million people who participated in the Women’s March in the US, and an additional 260,000+ around the world. It was an amazing display of people standing up to make their voices heard for political change and for the protection of the rights, safety and health of women and their families. It was designed to send a bold message to the new government. This peaceful protest created hope and excitement. The air was electrified and adrenalin was pumping as the crowds grew and marched as one. However, the March was a first step toward change, not the last step. Can they keep this momentum going?

Many people experience something similar to a “sugar high” following events such as this. The sugar high fades with time and people tend to return to the status quo. But if the desired changes are to be made, this March has to turn from a moment to a movement. Turning it into a movement happens through hard work and persistence. It means getting involved politically, having a strategy, becoming an advocate, and investing time and energy to create change. Without a clear path from march to power, the protest would have been an exhilarating, but ineffective event.

Let’s face it. We don’t always stick to our good intentions. How many of us have set a New Year’s resolution and found that we failed to keep it? How many times have we joined a fitness club and stopped going? How many diets have we started and given up? We start with determination and promise. But it fades as life’s tasks and routines take over. Of the 20% of the population that sets goals, roughly 70% of them fail.

Robert Chen, at lifehack.org, lists ten reasons why people don’t reach their goals.
1. Creating Vague Goals: Your goals are unclear. He recommends that you make your goals measurable, achievable, realistic and give yourself a deadline.
2. You Lack a Higher Purpose: Without a higher purpose the excitement and motivation wear off.
3. Procrastination: If you don’t get started, you won’t achieve your goal.
4. Not Taking Responsibility: He recommends that you own up to not reaching your goals. You are in control and have the responsibility for follow-through, or it’s failure.
5. Listening To People Who Discourage You: Keep your eye on the prize and ignore the naysayers.
6. Starting Too Many Projects: You can’t do everything. Finish the projects you started.
7. Being Negative: Negativity will sap your optimism.
8. Being Selfish: Most big projects require the help of others. Join in and connect with others who share your values and pursuits.
9. Surrounding Yourself with People Who Don’t Reach Their Goals: You are the sum of the top five people in your social circle. Choose your circle of influence carefully.
10. Watching Too Much TV (or social media): Pick up a book or tackle one part of your project that gets you closer to your goal.

When millions of people get out of bed and drive, fly or ride to a rally something noteworthy is happening. They want change, are motivated and are poised for action. Their next step is goal setting followed by hard work and persistence. I hope they don’t give up.

Mob Mentality

Last week I wrote about the four young people who tortured a special needs man and created a Facebook Live video of it in Chicago. The article was titled “Are We Raising a Generation of Sociopaths?” The answer for many is yes. Society can contribute to why a person takes on antisocial tendencies. In that article I stated that half of the cause of sociopathy is inherited. The other half is a mix of environmental factors. One such environmental factor is group dynamics. The study of group dynamics helps us understand how people can be influenced to commit acts of terror.

What are the odds that you would find four people who would agree to commit such a heinous crime? Apparently, it is not unusual for groups of people to reinforce each other in a negative direction.

We all have an individual identity and a social identity. Our personal identity is defined by our individual qualities and attributes. Social identity is defined by group membership and satisfies our need to belong. We naturally compare our group to other groups. However, we don’t always make objective comparisons. As a result, we tend to view our group as better and we emphasize the positive qualities of our own group. Individuals tend to show favoritism toward their own group, and make negative reactions toward other groups. This can result in prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. Being in a group, makes some people lose touch with their personal moral beliefs, particularly when there is an “us” versus “them.”

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin coined the term “group dynamics” to describe the positive and negative forces within groups of people. Individual behaviors are influenced by the presence of others. Groups can change individual members by prompting them to change their attitudes and values to the consensus of the group. When individuals are members of a group they sometimes engage in behaviors that they would never engage in if they were acting individually. This type of influence can be useful in the context of work and sports but the influence of groups can also create extremely negative behaviors such as what occurred in the Holocaust and Rwanda.

Dr. Wendy James, PhD, made an interesting analogy. “One dog may bark at you but it’s more likely that a pack will attack you.” Similar to dogs operating in a pack, human society is organized by herd behavior. Our instincts are heightened by group influences. We lose control of our usual inhibitions and take on aspects of a group mind. This can lead to a mob mentality. The larger the group, the greater the amplification of that group behavior. If the group behavior is violent, the larger the group the more magnified the violence. If the group behavior is non-violent, the more magnified is peace and order.

Many people believe they are not responsible for violent behavior when part of a mob because “everyone was doing it.” When in a group, people tend to lose self-awareness and are more willing to engage in dangerous behavior. When they believe that their behavior cannot be traced back to them, they are more likely to break social norms.

So what’s the lesson here? Maintain your best judgment and use reason when involving yourself in groups. Consider whether the group’s behavior aligns with your personal values. A healthy use of group dynamics is to participate in groups to influence people or policies in a pro-social direction such as marathons and political action groups. Be mindful of creating positive change.

Are We Raising a Generation of Sociopaths?

Four young people tortured a special needs man and created a Facebook Live video of it in Chicago this week. They were charged with a hate crime, felony aggravated kidnaping, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. This event, like the majority of all violence, was committed between acquaintances. The victim considered one of the assailants a friend, whom he knew from school. They had plans to spend New Year’s Eve together. The judge denied them bond and asked “I’m wondering – where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had?” The perpetrators were said to lack signs of remorse in court.

We don’t know why they tortured him, but there are clues. They asked for a ransom from the victim’s mother in exchange for getting her son back. The young woman who created the video wants attention. She repeatedly turns the camera back to herself and made a statement that indicates dismay at not getting more online attention. Social media provides opportunities to be “important.” And they made statements that denigrated Trump and white people. This is labeled a hate crime because the victim has impaired mental capacity. The victim suffers from schizophrenia and ADD. The victim is white; the suspects are African-American.

One therapist stated that she was very disturbed by the attack that was videotaped on Facebook. She asked “Are we raising a generation of sociopaths?” Unfortunately, the answer for many is yes. Many believe that American culture has become a breeding ground for sociopaths. Society can contribute to why a personal takes on antisocial tendencies.

Sociopaths don’t necessarily have a malicious intent to harm people. But they do have a shallow capacity to have feelings of warmth and connection with others therefore they can treat others as objects. The outcome may be malicious.

Are sociopaths born that way? Yes, 50% of the cause of sociopathy is inherited. The remaining percentage is a mix of environmental factors. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, states that four percent of ordinary people are a sociopath. That’s one in twenty five people. What are the chances of four sociopaths gathering to commit this act of terror on a disabled man? I would doubt that all four can be clinically diagnosed as a sociopath. Or, perhaps the four of them fall along the spectrum of sociopathy to different degrees. They were influenced by their environment, and influenced each other on the date of the assault.

Here’s the thing about sociopaths and empathy – they don’t always lack empathy. Therefore, they are not easy to spot. Interestingly, they can turn it on and off, like a light switch. Research suggests that sociopaths can feel empathy when directed to put themselves in the shoes of someone else. There is disagreement on whether a sociopath can be trained to be empathic. Can a sociopath summon empathy more often than not, at the right time, and in the right situation so that they don’t harm another person?

Sociopaths have existed in all cultures throughout history but some cultures contain fewer sociopaths than others. It is relatively rare in Asian countries. It seems to be increasing in America because our society allows and encourages individualism and personal control as a central value. Other cultures may value interdependence and connectedness which may serve to keep sociopathic behavior in check. Some say that a North American family cannot by itself redeem a born sociopath. There are too many other cultural influences that support and reinforce sociopathic behavior.

Based upon their words and behavior, these four assailants value power, control and dominance. They have no regard for social rules of decency. Sociopaths thrive within a community that values these attitudes. I recommend that we, as Americans, examine our core values and call out our highest and best behavior and nurture this in our young people.

Drug Impaired Driving

We’re coming out of the highest period of impaired driving. DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Driving under the influence (DUI), or driving while intoxicated (DWI), is the crime of operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs (including recreational drugs and those prescribed by physicians), to a level that renders the driver incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely.

Many people are cognizant of the effects of alcohol on driving safety, but fewer consider the impact of medications or drugs of abuse on driving. It is not unusual for someone to be assigned a designated driver for their friends who are drinking. But rarely does one become a designated driver for friends who take medications or use recreational drugs.

Every day, 28 people in the US die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. Drugs other than alcohol are involved in about 16% of those crashes. The effects of drugs differ for each person. It depends on which substance, the amount of substance in your body, whether there are multiple substances used, and how the brain reacts to the drug. But all of these factors can cause impaired driving, and possible death.

With the legalization of marijuana in some states, the number of people using cannabis is increasing. Marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination. Studies have demonstrated negative effects of marijuana on driving. There is an increase in lane weaving, poor reaction time, and poor attention to the road. Mixing alcohol with marijuana caused even more lane weaving.

People who use stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine can be aggressive and reckless when driving. Sedatives, like benzodiazepines, cause dizziness and drowsiness. Heroin and prescribed painkillers can cause slowed reaction time, poor coordination, poor judgment, blurred vision, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. Examples of hallucinogens include LSD, magic mushrooms, PCP and ketamine and, to a lesser extent, ecstasy and cannabis. They distort your perception of reality which means you could see things that are not there, or not see things that are there, both of which is a recipe for disaster when driving. Inhalants such as glue, paint solvents, and gasoline are sniffed from an open container or “huffed” from a rag soaked in the substance and held to the face. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most inhalants cause a quick high similar to alcohol intoxication.

Use of any drug always carries some risk. Even prescribed medications can produce unwanted side effects and vary from person to person. How they affect a person depends on many things including size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it and on the amount taken.

It is your responsibility to drive safely. Be aware of the effects of whatever medication or substance you put in your body. You can face DUI charges for any amount of a drug in your system. Be careful out there.

When A Parent Rejects Their Child

Last week I wrote an article about adult children disowning their parents. This week I was encouraged to write about parents who disown their children. My friend had experienced the death of his daughter and would give anything to have contact again, no matter what poor behavior she may have exhibited. How could anyone cut off their child? What could go so terribly wrong that a parent would reject their own offspring?

There is surprisingly little research on this topic. But in my clinical experience, I’ve found that parents will cut off their children based upon two factors; either they have a need for safety, or they may reject their child because of their frustrated need for power and control because they cannot agree with their child’s life choices.

If your safety is compromised, it is best to place distance between you and your child. For example, I’m aware of a case in which a woman embezzled her elderly mother’s funds leaving her little for her future care. And I’m aware of a case in which a mother had to seek a legal order of protection after being physically assaulted by her son for the fourth time. I also hear drug addicts admit their shame at having broken into their parent’s home to steal valuable items to support their drug habit. These are clear examples of a need for boundaries, if not total cut offs.

Sometimes parents resort to power and control when they feel unable to influence their children. Tensions may exist between parents and children due to personality differences, past conflicts, lifestyle and value differences. These tensions may heighten to the point of being unresolvable. At worse, parents may resort to “my way or the highway.” For example, some religious communities demand that the child be cut off if the child leaves their church. Or worse yet, some parents have murdered their own children, in “honor killings.” Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.

Here’s a definition of healthy parenting from The National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families that exemplifies the ideal parent-child relationship. “Healthy parenting involves practices that lead to stable and satisfying parent-child relationships built upon a strong friendship that is safe, secure, loving and nurturing, as well as being characterized by an ability to negotiate differences and resolve conflict, with the absence of abuse, neglect, or violence.”

If you are a parent who has been the victim of abuse, here’s what you should do. Protect yourself. Do not allow yourself to be a victim. If at all possible, continue to be warm and positive with your children. Continue to love them, but at a distance if necessary. Stay connected, even if only in an annual birthday card.

Here’s what not to do: Do not cut off your child to “teach them a lesson.” Don’t reject them until they submit to your will. Don’t disown them because they don’t live up to your expectations. There may be future opportunities to establish a mutually satisfying relationship.

When Your Adult Child Rejects You

You gave birth to them, nurtured and loved them. You look forward to enjoying them as adults and hope that when you need them, they will be there in turn. But somewhere along the way, the relationship can become distant. Some children are even hostile. Then one day, they may reject you altogether. The pain of losing an adult child can be devastating.

It is especially frightening to be cut off from your child when you suspect that they have a substance abuse problem that is spiraling out of control, or they have an untreated mental illness. It is also devastating to have lost a child through a divorce and the other parent has villainized you. Typical reactions of a parent who is cut off are guilt, anger, helplessness, fear, uncertainty, and failure. To believe that your child needs help, but is rejecting your assistance, can cause anxiety and heartbreak. In fact, you have little control over your adult child’s actions.

So, why did they reject you? Many parents are in the dark. One study found that 67% of children said they had concretely informed their parent why they were cut off. Yet, when the parents were asked if they had been told the reason for the cutoff, more than 60% said they had never been told the reason for the estrangement. They don’t understand what they did wrong.

There are no perfect parents and every child can easily list their parent’s faults. There may be serious disagreements about life choices. But not every child will find it necessary to cut off the parent. Cutting off is a way people manage conflict when they don’t know a better way to solve problems. In the fight/flight/freeze continuum, some people are more prone to distancing (flight) when they feel unable to resolve problems in a direct way. They stop communicating when the relationship seems unmanageable.

There are cases in which it is in the best interest of the adult child to cut off a parent. Abuse should not be tolerated. Physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the adult child is cause to seek safety. Conversely, if the child is at risk of harm to themselves or others, the parent should intervene to get them help, if at all possible. Enlist the help of police to perform a safety check. If they are a danger they may need to be hospitalized.

Is there hope of a reconciliation? 60% of the adult children in one study said that they would like to have a relationship with the person from whom they were estranged under certain conditions. They would like an apology from the parent, want their parents to take responsibility for their poor behavior, and want their parent to have better boundaries. If these conditions are met, they are willing to re-engage.

Here’s my advice. Continue to reach out to your children, letting them know that you love them and want to mend the relationship. Do so periodically, but without giving them cause to feel harassed. Manage your own feelings of betrayal. Anger is a natural feeling, but is not helpful. Step back and look for ways that you might have contributed to this problem. If the door opens, listen without defensiveness. Be willing to accept some responsibility for a solution. Focus your efforts on your own life. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed with this relationship betrayal. You have the right to enjoy your life.

If you are a parent who is estranged from a child, you are not alone. You may benefit from a website http://www.estrangedstories.com where people post personal anecdotes and get support.

Is It Anger or a Sign of Domestic Abuse?

A young woman posed a question on Facebook recently. “What are the signs that a man will be and could be abusive?” She goes on to imply that her (presumed) boyfriend punched walls and broke things during an argument that occurred between them. She received the obvious response “if he punches you in the face.” But other responses showed more insight such as separating you from others, they make decisions that are yours to make, they make you feel that you are not good enough, or they tell you no one can love you like they can. Other insights are that abuse can come in the form of demeaning behavior such as belittling you, shouts down to you, and uses power plays.

The woman who posed the question thinks that punching walls and breaking “sh..t” in the middle of an argument is reason to believe someone could be abusive. She doesn’t think that they necessarily are abusive, but this kind of behavior is a sign that abuse could come.

It is important to distinguish between an anger management problem and domestic abuse. Punching walls and breaking items could be a sign of poorly managed anger. People with anger problems tend to have angry outbursts across the board. For example, they will have outbursts in a number of settings such as work, home and in public. Batterers of domestic violence may not have an anger problem per se, but use emotions like anger to gain power and control in a particular relationship. So one has to ask whether this person is acting in this manner in a number of settings, or just with you.

In the case of the young woman who is posing the question, I suspect that her boyfriend is attempting to manipulate her for power and control. He is purposefully using angry behavior as a tool for his own purpose. I make this assumption because the outburst occurred during an argument that was directed at her, rather than a random act of anger directed at someone other than her.

There are significant differences in the treatment of poorly managed anger and programs designed to treat domestic violence. In anger management programs, anger is viewed as the primary problem. The focus is on managing the emotion. Abusive anger is seen as loss of control and the problem is seen as a personal mental health issue.

In a program for domestic violence batterers, abuse and control are viewed as the primary problem. The focus of the program is to change the beliefs and behavior, not the emotion. Abuse is seen as an attempt to take control, rather than losing control. It is viewed as a social and relational problem, not a mental health issue.

Her friends admonished her to be wary. There are many warning signs most overlook. If a person has a feeling that a person could be abusive, don’t wait until something bad happens. Some feel that if you have to ask the question, then it might be a sign and you should trust your intuition.

One person shared a bit of wisdom on relationships. She believes that time will tell if there may be abuse. Never take a relationship to the next level, a.k.a. move in together, until you’ve been happy together for a minimum of two years. That way, if there is an abusive quality in the relationship, it will likely show itself. This seems like sound advise, but it is not necessarily a protective factor. Some people may become abusive later in a relationship.

As a community, we tend to believe what we see, and as a result we put emphasis on bruises, broken bones, ER visits and other signs of physical abuse. To someone unfamiliar with abuse, it is easy to assume that the abuser lost control of their anger, rather than believe that they used anger as a tool. We don’t look often enough at the soft signs of abuse that are used in order to exert power and control over another. By soft signs, I don’t imply that they are not equally hurtful to the victim. In fact, some people would rather be hurt physically than endure the unrelenting effort of their partner to control their thoughts, feelings and actions with threats, intimidation, isolation or economic coercion. It is always associated with fear and even terror on the part of the battered person.

Abuse and violence can happen to anyone, anytime. For that reason, it is important to have a knowledge of domestic violence and abuse symptoms. Abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and economic. The Duluth Model of Domestic Abuse Intervention Project created Power and Control Wheels to describe abusive beliefs and behaviors. Familiarize yourself with the wheels. It may help you identify signs of abuse, and exit an unhealthy relationship. They can be found at http://www.theduluthmodel.org.