An Update on My Forthcoming Book!

About a month-and-a-half ago, I posted that my new book would be coming soon. However, due to the ever-changing (and serious) nature of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the recent and many stops and starts in my part of the world, it has taken me a little longer to package the book (and particularly since I am publishing it independently). However, I am getting there, and I am confident that I will finish it very soon.

In the meantime, more about the book: the first part of it will be about my personal recovery from relationships, co-dependence, and partner abuse. The second part of the book will feature my (very womanist) writings about relationship over the years. Several friends (and enemies) have urged me to write about my experiences with loss and love. I have never been married, and I have no children, so for my entire adult life, I have perfected my capacity for dating. Sometimes, I call myself a “professional” when it comes to dating (this does not mean that I have mastered it, but I have developed my dating skills and a language for it because I have practiced dating for a couple of decades or more). Indeed, when I look back, some of my experiences with dating and intimate relationships make me laugh, but that is not always the case. For example, the end of my most recent intimate relationship was very painful, to say the least. However, I have learned to acknowledge and accept that pain is an opportunity to learn more about myself and about the loved ones in my life. And, although ending that relationship was very difficult, I am proud to say that I have used my pain to heal and to learn.

That said, I cannot talk about my recovery from intimate relationships without also talking about the ever present issue of addiction, which has been a factor in every significant intimate relationship that I have had with a man (i.e., even in college, my first “real” boyfriend was troubled with drinking alcohol excessively). By addiction (which I understand from Dr. Gabor Maté), I mean any behavior that a person uses to soothe their pain and run away from themselves and their feelings; and to the point that it has negative consequences upon their lives and others; and, to the extent that it is something that they cannot control or stop, despite the consequences or the harm that it causes them and others. One of my former relationships ended, for example, when my partner refused to talk about his compulsion to masturbate along with his frequent use of pornography, which he often lied about. For the record, I do not condemn masturbating (in fact, I encourage it as a healthy form of self-awareness and fulfillment), and I am not necessarily against pornography or the use of it; however, I do think that these are subjects that are very important to intimate partners.

When two people are together in a committed relationship, yet one refuses to talk about the important subjects that are affecting their being together, it has the potential to shut down the communication, and maybe even end the relationship. Likewise, I walked away from that relationship because, at the time, my partner refused to acknowledge how important it was for me to be in conversation about a behavior that he was repeatedly lying about and hiding from me. Finally, when it came down to whether we would try again, he refused, again, to discuss the matter. And, as badly as I wanted to reconcile with him, everything in my body was telling me to let it go, because he wanted me to maintain his silence and what I believed to be a lie, e.g., that there was nothing to worry about. On the contrary, my gut was repeatedly telling me that there was something to worry about.

Thankfully, with the help of friends, I listened to myself and I honored my own feelings. However, it was an excruciatingly hard decision to make, because I wanted our relationship to last. It hurt me deeply when I had to lose him and let go of future plans that included him. But, if I did not let him go, I knew that my own health and sanity would be at risk. And, when a partner requires me to keep silent about important matters, or matters that are significant to me, it is, frankly, a deal-breaker. I was not willing to suppress my feelings or my voice so that he could feel more comfortable with himself and his compulsive behaviors, so I had to make a very, very difficult decision, and one that I did not want to make at that. Letting go was painful, but I had to choose to honor myself and my feelings, and that remains true to this day. I have two feet, and I used them to walk away from what I believed to be an emotionally disturbing situation. Daily, I must choose to honor and respect myself, and if that means walking away from someone that I care deeply about, then so be it. As an adult, I am ultimately responsible for myself, and I made a decision, a long time ago, to live a happy and healthy life. The same is true today: I refuse to let anyone take away my voice and my happiness because they are unwilling, or perhaps unable, to name and address their own issues.

That being said, I think it is very, very important for black women to talk and write about what we have encountered in our relationships, be they heterosexual relationships or not. There are a few black women writers, in the world of feminists and womanists, who have used their prominence, positions, and platforms to talk about what they have learned, personally, from intimate relationships, but, generally, academics do not write about themselves or their personal lives (although, this is ironic since many feminists and womanists proudly say that “the personal is political”). I cannot tell you how important it was for me to read what black feminist, bell hooks, had to say about her own struggle with an abusive man in Wounds of Passion. Why are so many black women academics quiet on the subject of their own personal encounters with relationship? Especially when it comes to partner abuse? Well, in some cases I do not blame womanists for not wanting to write about the subject of relationship; and no black woman should feel obligated to share anything about her personal life. There is always a risk to talking about one’s self in public (especially when we might be perceived as victims or victimized). But, someone will always find something to criticize or to use against us when we write: always! I had to get past the fear of allowing someone’s criticism stop me from writing. Black women are quite capable of speaking up for ourselves; no one should speak for us, and, we deserve to be heard.

As for me, writing is something that I am compelled to do, and writing from my lived experience is a part of that (in personal and cultural terms). There are times when I hear whole phrases or paragraphs in my head; they come to me out of no where (and often when I am busy doing something else). I take this as a gift, and I do not take it for granted. I also know that when we are able to talk about our painful experiences, we heal. I once heard Dr. Joy DeGruy say, “It is our secrets that make us sick.” This too is a fact, as we now are learning more about the impact of childhood abuse and trauma upon our lives and the lives of our loved ones. All of us experience difficulty and pain in our intimate relationships; it is a part of loving another human being besides ourselves. Being in an abusive relationship is another story. No one is required to accept abuse, and, I refuse to knowingly be involved with an abusive man. I regret to say that many of the adult men that I have known intimately have been emotionally abusive. Of course, they would not say that about themselves, and I do not expect them to admit it just as I do not expect a racist to admit that he is, in fact, a racist. Yet, whether they admit it or not, we live ideologically, and in fact, in an overwhelmingly patriarchal (and racist) world that enables (and rewards) men, of every hue, color, and economic class to be abusive (and racist, and sexist, and heterosexist…you get my drift). OF COURSE, THEY WILL DENY IT!!! Our world is full of dishonest people, and, unfortunately, we know some of them, personally. But their denial will not stop those of us who are willing to be honest and courageous enough to tell the truth about ourselves and the emotional abuse we have endured. When I say emotional abuse, I am referring to those (usually men) who consciously and subconsciously hurt others (usually women and children) with actions and behaviors that negate and discard their emotions with psychological (lying, withholding, ghosting, etc.) and physically violent behaviors. We can label it narcissism, borderline, bipolar, antisocial, or whatever: abusive behavior is abusive behavior!

It is important to understand that almost always, emotional or psychological abuse is the precursor to physical abuse. In other words, emotional abuse is not to be taken lightly or to be played with. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at some of the comments on certain YouTube “channels” where black men, who claim to “love” black people and black culture openly spew hate for black women (a/k/a “misogyny”) in particular; and, their followers (predominantly black men) proudly post and brag about their sexual exploits and conquests. There, in plain view, you can see how the emotional abuse of women is repeatedly and aggressively articulated, re-enforced and supported by men who often simultaneously confess that they have been troubled by abusive pasts and traumas (you will also find this behavior articulated online by women who admit to having similar histories of abuse and childhood trauma). In addition, many who are doing this claim to be believers or followers of some religious or spiritual sect, yet they deliberately set out to cause harm to others and to themselves, which makes them such hypocrites of the beliefs they claim to hold. It is our actions that affirm our beliefs, not our words. It is sad to me that the same people who say they believe in a loving, forgiving god, commit acts of hate and greed dang near every day. That is truly a shame, and one of the reasons why I am an atheist: I do not follow or respect hypocrites, especially when they are deliberately harming others with their speech or their actions.

While it is true that those who do this were not responsible for the abuse that they endured from others, I believe they have a responsibility to address their issues and heal, because, if not, they are bound to harm and hurt others with painfully toxic behaviors that are associated with their previous abuse. And, the toxicity of their behaviors rarely have anything to do with the present moment. Whether on social media, or in person, if you are willing to stand back and listen mindfully to abusive people in your life, which is not an easy thing to do, you will see that their words and actions are full of suffering, and they will cause you to suffer…if you let them. Abuse is a cyclical and generational phenomenon (not a curse!). Thus, the cycle of abuse will be repeated, passed down from fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, and on to grandchildren and more, until it is broken by those who courageously and consciously refuse to continue in the abusive cycle.

I have also learned that many adult men (and women) who abuse others do it subconsciously. In other words, it is often something that they cannot help, and, more than likely, because they too were the victims of abuse. On the other hand, many men are abusive due to the passing down of malignant patriarchal thinking (although adult women can and will exercise malignant patriarchal thinking and behavior that they have learned from others in their lives – yet, statistically, men are most often the abusers in domestic partnerships). Unfortunately, everyone has felt the sting of malignant patriarchy, which is frequently accompanied by abusive actions (verbal, emotional, and physical); it affects us all in disastrous ways.

In this new book, I define patriarchy (similar to bell hooks) and I talk at length about its connection to co-dependence, which is also a learned and compulsive behavior. I also have a section on how I managed to end an abusive relationship. This section was the hardest for me to write, because like many, it was hard for me to admit that I had been the victim of emotional abuse. Maybe you can relate? Please know, that if you are being abused IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Your abuser is at fault. Those who survive abuse and who are willing to start talking about it, aloud, disempower their abuse. I now realize that if we do not give voice to it, naming it for what it is, we are going to be just as sick as those who attempt to silence and abuse us. If you want your relationship to get better, or if you want (or need) to end an intimate relationship, or if you want there to be a change in any kind of way, somebody will have to start speaking up; somebody will have to be willing to break through the silences, the falsehoods, and, yes, the denial. Why not let that somebody be you? Yes, it will be hard; it will be painful, but you will begin to heal if you talk about it, even if just to a trusted friend. Yes, it will take time (a lot of time!); it will require discipline and saying capital N-O to previous patterns that enabled the abuse and your abuser; you will have to work on yourself so that you can break out of the patterns that held you in the cycle of abuse. You may have to call upon the help of a therapist or engage in some kind of specialized treatment, but this is healthy (your abuser is not healthy if he is not seeking or willing to seek the help that he desperately needs to stop abusing you and himself). Furthermore, staying in an abusive relationship is definitely not healthy: the stress (alone) can kill you. If you are in an abusive relationship, save yourself, but, please know that liberating yourself from your abuser will not be easy, and it probably will not happen overnight. Educate yourself on abuse and how to safely and strategically walk away from it. It does not mean you have to end communication or the relationship with your partner, but it is important that you create the boundaries and the distance you need to be safe, healthy, and happy. I can tell you from experience that if you are courageous, and if you value yourself by taking good care of yourself, you will succeed. Be patient with the process. You can do it, and you are worth the work!

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Emotional Abuse: Some Characteristics

What is emotional abuse? Over the years, I have witnessed abuse first-hand, and I have listened carefully to the accounts of others who have been victimized by abusive partners or family members. Here is a working list of some the characteristics that I have experienced or heard about in conversation:

Is emotionally withdrawn, as in makes the frequent use of “the silent treatment” to willfully negate and hurt your feelings; does not ask about your day or your thoughts at all; uses unnecessary scowling and pouting to scare or shame you; displays grandiose or exaggerated anger over minor subjects, conversations, or disagreements; blows things constantly out of proportion; intentionally fails to be present when help or concern is needed; questions your every move, but freaks out if you question them about dang near anything; has an unreasonable and perhaps hateful disposition towards your feelings or thoughts; distorts or negates reality; falsely blames you for the awful things they do to you; consistently hides behind material possessions and uses those things to give themselves a sense of self-worth; uses material possessions to gain attention, praise, or companionship; intentionally ignores your calls to the extent that it produces anxiety and worry (uses the phone as a weapon); gloats easily; is overly selfish, narcissistic, or has to always be right or the center of attention; dominates conversations (especially with uninformed opinions or facts); shows excessive criticism or rages when you’ve made a genuine, unintentional mistake; refuses to grow up emotionally; expects life to be mostly fun and games, e.g., does not handle normal stress or life’s challenges very well; maintains rigid allegiance to social norms or personal beliefs that reinforce inequality or power imbalances; demands unrealistic expectations of you or your role without previous agreement or arrangement (maybe “in return” for something that they allegedly “gave” you without requesting repayment); has the expectation that you will do for them what they could or should be able to do for themselves; refuses to forgive you when they expect forgiveness or understanding from you always; contacts you by text when they know they have done something to hurt you, but primarily to see if they still have access to you; creates an environment for physical or sexual encounters, but rarely makes the time or space for the development of emotional intelligence or intimacy; dismisses or discourages your innermost thoughts and feelings (and they may actually mock the way you feel); habitually and blatantly denies reality; maliciously or intentionally refuses to be there for you when you are genuinely in need (not just when it is convenient); hurls hateful and hurtful putdowns on you for no apparent reason; bashes your hopes and dreams; accuses you of doing the abusive and awful things that they do; breaks promises and expectations regularly, and as a means to control or punish you; tells many and unnecessary lies; throws temper tantrums when things don’t go their way (i.e., walking out on you or literally throwing you out); makes it seem like you are not worthy of their love, when really it is the other way around; they yell, a lot; they often wake up or come home from work noticeably pissed off making you feel as if whatever is wrong is your fault; blames you for everything that is going wrong; repeatedly makes you fearful or walk on eggshells just to be around them.

In summary, people who are emotionally abusive can be very terrifying, and they lack the ability to attract and maintain good, healthy relationships.

Basically, if someone “ghosts” you or shows you that they don’t value you or want you in their life, GET OUT! LEAVE! Distance yourself from them NOW!

They have done you a solid (as in a favor), and you are not obligated to love them any longer or say goodbye.

Begin to realize that they have already walked out on you, and they did not attempt to say goodbye or even worry about how abandoning you would make you feel. They failed to be there for you! They intentionally endeavored to hurt you.

Consequently, it is not wrong or unjustified to get away from them when they have done their darndest to:

Use you;

Deceive you;

Steal from you;

Scare you;

Embarrass you;

Discard you;

Belittle you;

Terrify you;

Disrespect you; or

HURT YOU IN ANY WAY.

These people are NOT your friends. They DO NOT LOVE YOU, and perhaps they do not truly love themselves.

Unfortunately, the one you love is probably full of hate and rage that have nothing to do with you.

It is NOT YOUR FAULT that they are this abusive, destructive, and so apparently broken; thus, “fixing them” or “saving them” is not your responsibility. It is not your job to put them back together. This, they must do for themselves!

Abuse of any kind is totally unacceptable.

So, step back, draw your line in the sand. Do not be afraid to say capital N-O, and set your boundaries. Or, step completely away if you must.

Finally, learn from the experience, and get on with your marvelous, beautiful life!

© 2020 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Life: Gentle or Painful Teacher?

Recently, during a morning meditation, I read something that said that life is a “painful teacher”. On the other hand – and on many occasions – I have heard people say that life is a “gentle teacher”. As I reflected on these two competing assertions, I thought to myself: which one is it? And, is life really a teacher?

In pondering this question, I also remembered what happened just the night before, as I was lying in the bed about to go sleep and thinking over my day. That night, as I lie there, I heard the sound of a bad car accident on the road below and outside my window. After it happened, I also heard the faint cry of a woman. As I got up to look out the window, there were soon many police cars swarming the area. I imagined, for those persons involved in that accident (on both sides of the equation), thought then of life as very painful. And, perhaps, each one was asking herself or himself, “Why me?”

On other occasions, life can be sweet and gentle, especially if you have no fear of running out of money. Money can make life much more pleasant for all of us; so when a person is born into a family with money or prestige or power, he might feel good about life, and most of the time. Or, if somehow you hit the lottery; if you come upon some kind of good fortune and you are in a position where you do not lack money to pay for what you want and need, life can be sweet. Perhaps these monied persons, or the rich, believe that they deserve such things.

Yet, there are many with money, prestige, power, and all the material things they could ever need or want, and still they are very unhappy with life, and they feel very lonely. For example, the well-known comedian Robin Williams seemed to have it all, and he was in the business of making many others laugh and smile. But, deep down, he was a very unhappy man, and to the extent that he eventually decided to end his life by suicide. And, there are many that seem to “have it all”, but they slowly but surely destroy their otherwise comfortable lives, bodies, and relationships with others and with the irresponsible use of drugs, alcohol, and all other kinds of compulsive abuses.

By contrast, what happens when things seem to be going well, but then life changes abruptly, and you get some bad news, like your newborn is soon to die, or you are diagnosed with cancer, or you lose your primary source of income? In 2018, I was involved in an unexpected hit-and-run accident. The person who caused this accident managed to get away and leave three totaled cars behind, including my car and a car belonging to one of my loved ones (who was there to help me). Getting through that situation was very difficult. Similarly, I imagine that those who endured the 2019 General Motors-UAW strike rightly questioned the fairness of life and work. Going weeks with little to no pay is something that most of us would not want to volunteer for, at least not willingly, and definitely not without other concessions in place.

Life is constantly changing and causing us to reassess what we feel about ourselves, about others, about the places where we live and work, and about life in general. Because of life’s constant changing (e.g., evolution), are we to think that life is purposefully being “a teacher”? As much as we try to deny it, life is very unpredictable and uncontrollable. And, no matter how much we may try, we do not have control over many of the events or the people in our lives. Sometimes, however, things work out in our favor, even when it did not seem like they would at one time or another. What seems like a bad experience can turn out to be something very positive, and even very good. Personally, I have known some people who have endured some very difficult life circumstances, and I stand in awe of them and their ability to take it all in stride (and without becoming super bitter and angry). These kind of people always give me strength and hope, and they have helped me to believe in the goodness of life, and in the goodness of human beings.

Thus far, I don’t think life is either a gentle or a painful teacher. I believe that life is very random, and sometimes things happen with no plausible rhyme or reason. Often, we find out what we’re made of and what we think of ourselves when we are forced to go through difficult times in life. Years ago, I decided to stop imagining life as a teacher or as a being with any human-like attributes. Once I stopped believing in gods and supernatural beings, I also stopped anthropomorphicizing things that I could not explain. I stopped giving false meanings to stuff or events that have happened just so that I could feel better about my own reality (or more in control). My philosophy is that life just is, and, most of the time we have no choice but to accept life on life’s terms. We do NOT control life or its many circumstances, and frankly I do not believe that anything does, and that includes me. Life happens. It is a power bigger and greater than we humans, and the sooner that we accept that, I believe, the better off we will be. As much as we might want to say that life is “all good”, the truth is that we do not know what will happen from one minute to the next, or even from one second to the next. Life can be good, but there are times when it can be or feel bad, and very bad at that. Unfortunately, we are often at the mercy of life, and thus powerless over our circumstances and those of the people around us, including the ones that we know intimately. The choices that we make in life, in response to life, and all that we experience ( the good, bad, and the ugly), will, consequently, have some kind of affect upon the quality of our lives, but that is another blog topic in and of itself.

That being said, my philosophy is also that we have life inside of us, and therefore, we are a powerful part of life as we know it. Furthermore, I believe that we humans – as a species – have what it takes to endure many of life’s challenges, whether we realize that or not. We humans, and all species for that matter, are part of the same life that befalls us all and, if we are lucky, we will have something to do with how it all turns out. At times, we will face life with a courage that we never knew that we had, and we will succeed; but, there are times that we will fail: utterly. There are also times that we may lose faith in life, in ourselves, and in others, and we may choose to give up our power or to succumb to the power that life and others (including addictive substances and behaviors) have over us, whether we realize that or not. I have seen this have devastating consequences for the loved ones in my life. Indeed, those are difficult and sometimes hopeless-feeling times. If we get to that point, or if they get to that point, it is important to be honest and to ask for help if needed, and if help is wanted (because everyone has the right to reject help if they do not want to be helped). On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying to ourselves and to others that “I cannot do this alone or all by myself.” There are times in life that we genuinely need the help of others.

So, is life gentle or full of pain and suffering? Moreover, is life a teacher? Well, only you can answer these questions for yourself. What we each think about life has so very much to do with the social construction of our lives. In other words, we are largely products of our environments and the people around us. Therefore, if from your social world you were taught that you could survive just about anything you put your mind to; or, on the other hand, if you came to believe that life and most of the people in it have been out to get you, then those ideas or beliefs will have some bearing on how you face the inevitable and evolutionary changes of life. So far, my approach to life has been informed by many philosophies (beliefs), people, and experiences (including the ones I rejected, or by the ones who rejected me). And, there are a handful of ideas, philosophies, and even people that I have encountered in life that no longer work for me. Believing that life is mysteriously out there (like a human being) acting on my behalf is one such belief that no longer works for me. On the other hand, the quality of my life has and will have everything to do with how I respond, or not, to what is happening in my life, and in life overall. In writing this blog, I am hopeful that you will embrace the philosophies and even the people in your life that make it worth living (starting with yourself). Because, after all, what is the alternative?

© 2019 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

A Cautionary Note to Self on Surviving Abuse

Careful, that you don’t become just like those who failed you with hate, anger, and abuse.

You deserve a life that is truly free from their madness and confusion.

Just getting away from them is not enough.

Letting them go and surviving the trauma is also refusing to carry your abuser’s self-destructive thoughts and ways around inside of you.

© 2018 annalise fonza, Ph.D.