Sexual Harassment & Abuse

I have doing a series of blogs about relationships. I am now going to address the role of sexual harassment & abuse in our culture and relationships. Initially, I had not planned on writing on this topic, but after seeing what is happening in the media, I decided to share my insights on this topic and will be doing several blogs on the following subjects:

  1. What is sexual harassment & abuse?
  2. What causes men to treat women this way?
  3. What causes women to silently put up with it?
  4. Why is everyone coming forward now about being sexually harassed & abused?
  5. How do people heal from this as both the victim and the perpetrator?
  6. How do we create a culture without sexual harassment & abuse?

The dictionary defines these terms as:
Sexual harassment is an uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)
Sexual abuse is the infliction of sexual contact upon a person by forcible compulsion or the engaging in sexual contact with a person who is below a specified age or who is incapable of giving consent because of age or mental or physical incapacity.

I would define these two terms as a selfish act of control, power, intimidation or manipulation toward another person to get what you want. Sex is not the primary purpose for this behavior, sex is just the vehicle used to express it through. It has been going on for so long that this behavior is considered acceptable by those who engage in it. While both men and women can sexually harass and abuse one another, in this series of blogs I am going to refer to the perpetrator as male since this is what is most prevalent in our society. What does sexual harassment or abuse look like?

  • Unwelcome verbal or physical sexual advances
  • Unwanted physical contact of any kind
  • Request for sexual favors
  • Making conditions of employment/school/relationship dependent on sexual favors
  • Threatening you that if you do not comply or if you tell, something bad will happen to you
  • Inappropriate conversations, jokes, emails or other communication with sexual innuendos/verbiage.
  • Showing inappropriate sexual cartoons, images, pictures or objects
  • Being forced into sexual acts you did not consent to or being forced to watch unwanted sexual acts

Many of you who are reading this may relate to at least one of the above as either a victim or a perpetrator. If so, please continue to read all the blogs I will be writing in this series. Next week I will address what causes men to sexually harass or abuse women.

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Leaving a Relationship

I don’t think leaving a relationship is ever easy. We were all created by God to be love, receive love and share love. We were not meant to do life alone. When we begin a relationship, we feel those wonderful loving feelings. We all want to believe the fairy tale that this relationship will be different from all the others and this relationship will feel this way till death do us part. But not all relationships were meant to last a lifetime. So how do you know when to consider leaving a relationship?

Abuse: If you are consistently being physically, emotionally, verbally or sexually abused or manipulated, you are not in a safe relationship. You are living in a state of high anxiety, never knowing when the next attack will come. It is so easy to justify this, make excuses, tell yourself it is your fault this is happening. These are the most difficult relationships to leave because the abuser will threaten to kill or harm you or themselves if you talk about leaving.

Little in Common: As humans, we are designed to grow, expand, learn and experience as much of life as we can. Because of this we are always in a state of change, either for the better or for the worse. In a healthy relationship you support and encourage each other, seek to understand and respect your differences. However, in some relationships people are threatened by change, and their security comes from a person remaining the same through the years. If you no longer feel supported in who you have become, and the direction life is taking you, it is best to leave rather than remain with someone who is always pulling you down, holding you back, or criticizing you.

Loss of Love: Many people remain in relationships because they fear being alone, fear they will not be able to financially support themselves, fear what people will say if they leave, etc. Fear is not a reason to remain in a relationship. It is not fair to the other person that you remain with them because of fear rather than because you love them and enjoy sharing life with them.

Unbalanced: The relationship is out of balance. One person is doing all the giving, all the initiating, all the effort to try and make the relationship work. You feel exhausted and drained at the end of the day. The other person may be saying they are going to do this or that, but fail to follow through on anything with action, making lots of empty promises.

Before you choose to leave a relationship, seek counseling. Some relationships can be made stronger and healthier through counseling. For those relationships counseling is unable to help, whether a dating, living together or marital relationship, the breakup can be a painful process. It is a loss and you will go through a grieving process and feel the intensity of an assortment of emotions such as anger, denial, depression, sadness, joy, gratitude and eventually acceptance. Have a support system of family, friends and counseling to help you process the loss and create a new life for yourself. Do not immediately get into another relationship. Take the time to process what happened, learn from the relationship and get yourself into a healthy place before you begin your next relationship.

If you know someone going through a relationship break up, do not judge or shame them. No one makes these decisions lightly and only the two who were in the relationship understand what was really going on between them. Give them grace, pray for them and support them in whatever way you can.

Relationship Expectations

We all come to relationships with our expectations of what we believe will happen when we date, live with another person, or commit to marriage. One of the things that I noticed when working with couples is how they failed to discuss these expectations with each other ahead of time. Perhaps you have experienced some of these:

  • The Bible Says: Partners accuse each other of not doing what they are supposed to do according to the Bible. They use Bible verses as weapons to beat each other up with.
  • Comparison game: People compare their relationship to others or what some book said and then try to force their relationship to meet these expectations.
  • Obligation & Duty: You do things for your partner out of fear, obligation, or guilt because it is what is expected of you to do, leading to feelings of defensiveness, resentment or bitterness.
  • Meet my needs: This is too much pressure to put on another person. Only God can meet your needs. God may work through your partner to make this happen, or he may use other people in addition to your partner.
  • Be like me: Why can’t my partner just do things my way, think like me, feel like me, or believe what I believe. You then judge, accuse, criticize, manipulate, or become offended or defensive instead of seeking to understand your partner.
  • We have to agree: The point is not to decide whose values and beliefs are right or wrong but to understand the reasons each of you has for your values and beliefs. Acceptance does not always mean you like or agree with your partner, but it does mean you will not judge your partner as being wrong.
  • Read my mind: If you really loved me, you would know what I want, need, am thinking/feeling, I should not have to tell you. This is what I call lazy communication. Rather than take the time to learn how to communicate well your partner, you link this unrealistic expectation to love and pour on some guilt.
  • The Vow: I can do whatever I want in the marriage because you said you would be with me till death do us part. Hence, a spouse will sometimes become selfish, lazy, abusive, inconsiderate or take their partner for granted
  • You can’t Change!
    • People should not be the same at forty as they were at twenty-five. Therefore, they will sometimes grow apart and have little in common anymore.
    • People feel threatened and insecure when a partner goes through changes.
    • If a partner changes for the worse, divorce may be necessary for the safety of the family.

Relationships work best when two individuals create the relationship to look and feel however they want. While it may be easier to form your relationship based on what marital or spiritual books suggest, this can add conflict because you are trying to force someone else’s ideas on who the two of you are and want to be. While it takes more time and effort to communicate deeply and openly with each other and talk about your relationship expectations, what you create will be more satisfying and long lasting because it is uniquely yours, unlike any other relationship out there.  Then, be willing to revisit the relationship expectations and adjust along the way as you both grow and mature through life. Not all relationships were meant to last a lifetime. Some will come and then go when their purpose has expired, and it is usually best to release your partner rather than forcing them to remain in a loveless relationship.

 

 

Cant We All Just Get Along?

While people often ask this question, our society has been set up to insure this idea of everyone getting along does not consistently happen. From a young age we are trained to see those different from ourselves as our enemy. We are trained to compete against each other.  We are trained not to trust each other. We are trained to blame others rather than taking personal responsibility. We see this in politics, religion, education, sports, economics and in many other areas. One of the things that fuels this “us versus them” mindset is competition. Competition has been around for a long time because it does have some positive aspects such as:

  • Encourages us to strive to be better than we thought we could be
  • Teaches us to set goals and to keep after them
  • Not to give up when things get difficult
  • Keeps us from becoming lazy and mediocre.

However, competition also has some negative aspects that prevent us from getting along with each other. It sets us up to have winners and losers and our value and worth as a person is determined by if we win or lose. Rather than seeing you as an equal, I put you down, instill fear in you, see you as an enemy, verbally attack/taunt/bully you, so I can win rather than you. It is hard to feel love toward another person when you are treating them this way. While competition will most likely always be apart of our culture, I would like to encourage you to consider the benefits of cooperation.

  • You are valued, wanted, loved, and accepted for who you are, not for what you do.
  • You work together to help each other meet your needs or wants.
  • You feel loved whether you win or lose.
  • You can celebrate who you are without having to prove yourself against anyone else.
  • You value other people and do what you can to help others, not just yourself.
  • Because you feel love toward others, you seek to understand them rather than fear your differences.
  • You live with less anxiety when you are not competing against each other.
  • It is easier to trust people when you are working with them rather than opposing them.
  • You see yourselves connected to each other.

As you interact with people this week, whether is it co-workers, friends or family members, start noticing the times you find yourself competing versus cooperating with them. When you find yourself competing, ask yourself why, who is it benefiting, how does it make you feel, how does it affect the one you are competing against, it is helping you get along with others? And when you are can, choose cooperation over competition. Let us celebrate and seek to understand and respect the differences between us rather than trying to prove we are better than someone else. We are all part of the human family, all from the same Creator God Source. We can all get along when we choose to.

 

 

 

 

Who are the Others?

Jesus taught that we could not love our neighbor until we first loved ourselves (Mark 12:31). The past few blogs were about loving ourselves so today I am going to start blogging on relationships, how to love those “others, our neighbors.”

So, who are these “others?’ Those you like and those you don’t. Those who believe like you and those who don’t. Those who think, feel and act like you and those who don’t. We are trained in our culture to put everyone into categories and then associate with the ones most like us and avoid anyone we deem different. But that is not what Jesus did. He associated with the rich and the poor, those in the temple and those outside of it, those who were healthy and those who were sick, those in the city, those in the country. Jesus understood the concept that we all came from the same source, Creator God, so we are all connected to each other. Everyone is our brother or sister. And when we mistreat one, we are mistreating ourselves. For everything we do, say, believe, think, feel has a ripple effect on everyone else. So, while we think “this is my life” and “I can do whatever I want” the reality is, while we have the freedom to make our own choices, our choices do affect people beyond ourselves.

Following are some things I have noticed about our relationships with others:

  1. We like to focus on fixing the other person rather than focusing on our own stuff.
  2. We project our own stuff onto other’s, so we don’t have to face it.
  3. We look to others to make us happy when true happiness can only come from within.
  4. We love to pass judgement on others.
  5. We think we know what is best for others and attempt to convince them of this.
  6. We fear those who are not like us instead of seeking to understand them.

Every day as we interact with others we can choose to bless, love and serve them or we can choose to harm, manipulate or control them. We can accept people for who they are and seek to understand them or we can judge them and attempt to change them. We can hold things against them or we can forgive them. The Bible teaches that people will know us by our love, it is genuine love for each other that will draw people to the God of Love.

Remember, when you meet anyone, it is a holy encounter, you are both God’s children.

Free to be You

Once you can love yourself, you have the freedom to be yourself, something few people are able to do. Why is it so hard to be you? Could it be that most people have no idea of who they really are? So many people live their lives trying to please others to earn love or approval. They believe the lie that if they can look and act like everyone else, wear the right label, live in the right neighborhood, make enough money, or hang out with the right people, they will be happy, loved, and at peace. They look to celebrities, sports figures, or the popular person at school or work to define who they are, what they drive, and what music they listen to. They look to the media and allow what they see and hear on television, the Internet, movies, or books influence how they feel about themselves. They play the comparison game and can always find someone better looking, with a better job, making more money, or with a better-looking man or woman.

  • Who makes up these rules?
  • Why is it that those who buck the system and choose to be different get bullied and made fun of?
  • Why do we as parent’s stress conformity over uniqueness with ourselves and with our children?

Your identity and value cannot be based solely on what others think of you, because their thoughts and feelings toward you can change by the hour, day, or week. If you judge yourself by what others think, your self-worth goes up and down like a yo-yo, and you struggle to consistently feel stable or peaceful. You are kept on this emotional roller coaster by fear of what others will say or think about you. If you are different, if you do not conform, if you do not agree, if you choose to look, act, think, or believe differently, you could be rejected rather than loved. You become a people pleaser. You focus on what you think you will lose rather than on what you will gain my being yourself. Loving self is learning how to stand up for you and confidently be the person God created you to be even when others may not like or love you.

Fall in love with who you are and embrace your authentic self. Start with something small such as wearing a style of clothes or a hairstyle that expresses who you are. Listen to music, read books, or eat food that you really enjoy rather than live out the expectations of others. You may not win a popularity contest, make the most money, or die with the most toys left behind. However, you will enjoy your life, get to do what you love, and spend time with those you love and who love you in return. And you will be free—free to be you.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you somebody else is the greatest accomplishment” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why is it so Hard to Love Me?

Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Mark 12:31). So if we  do not love ourselves, we will have a difficult time loving others. In last week’s blog I wrote about how some of you were taught that loving yourself was selfish. Today I am going to give you a few more reasons why you may struggle to love yourself.

  1. You have been taught to focus on everything that is wrong with you. You especially see this in the media messages that show “perfect” looking people. You are taught to compare yourself to others and can always find something that does not measure up and needs to be fixed. Then the sales pitches come in about all the things you need to buy to make yourself feel better, so you can feel happy. The subliminal message is that you cannot love yourself unless you are perfect or happy. The truth is God loves you just as you are with all your imperfections, so you can choose to love yourself just as you are!
  2. Some of you may have had negative words spoken over you. You were told you were too fat/skinny/tall/short/boring/stupid/the words are endless. As children growing up you interpreted these lies as truths about you and they continue to control your life today. It is time to start speaking positive words of love over yourself.
  3. Religions often teach that because you are a sinner, you are not worth loving. However, when you receive the truth Jesus taught, you are free, and sin becomes a choice rather than your identity. You can now see yourself as God sees you—through the image of love rather than the image of sin.
  4. You all have parts of yourselves that you deem “bad” which you believe disqualify you from loving yourself. You may try to cover up and pretend the “bad” parts of you do not exist and fear you could be shunned by others if these parts were revealed. However, we are all made up of good and bad. We all do things we later regret. When you can freely admit your imperfections and not judge yourself harshly for them, they will lose their power over you. God’s love can then come in and heal these parts of you.
  5. You were taught that thinking highly of yourself was being prideful. It is only prideful when you are boasting about yourself because inside you feel insecure so are trying to find a way to build yourself up in the eyes of others. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in something you have accomplished or done well.
  6. You do not see yourself as God perceives you. You were created in the image of Creator God. Therefore, you are an amazing, creative, powerful, loving human being. You are worthy of loving.

When you choose not to love yourself, you are essentially telling God that he made a mistake because you are not worth loving. Have you ever created an artwork, a recipe, a song, or a solution to a problem that you loved but others did not like it? How did you feel? Hurt, angry, frustrated, sad? Perhaps this is how God feels when you do not love the unique person he created you to be. As you go through this list, make note of any that you resonate with and then pray and ask God to help you work through the reasons why you do not love yourself. If you need to, seek counseling so you can learn how to love yourself. Remember the words of Jesus, you cannot love others until you first love yourself. This is why it is so important that we learn what healthy self-love looks and feels like. Since God created you, the very presence of God resides within you and wants to express itself through you. You are worth celebrating! You are worth loving!

“When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small.  My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”      Kim McMillen

Self-Love or Selfishness?

Jesus taught that we could not love our neighbor until we first loved ourselves (Mark 12:31). Why is it so hard to love ourselves? For many of us it is because we were taught that loving our self was being selfish and being selfish was wrong. So, I want to define for you the difference between self-love and selfishness.

Self-love is living life from a place of love, abundance, inner strength and peace.

  • You respect and appreciate who you are.
  • You love and accept both the good and the bad parts of you.
  • You have a sense of humor and do not beat yourself up when you cannot do everything perfectly or please everyone around you.
  • You forgive rather than shame yourself.
  • You no longer need to look to others for validation
  • You live your life the way you want to rather than according to other’s expectations of you
  • You are humble; you know who you are, so you have no need to flaunt it before others.
  • You are teachable, able to receive constructive criticism or appropriate discipline, knowing it will make you a better person.
  • You do not let people harm, use, or abuse you.

Selfishness is just the opposite of self-love. It is living life from a place of fear, lack, insecurity and worry.

  • If you do not get it first, someone else will.
  • If you do not protect it, someone will take it.
  • If you do not put yourself out front every time, no one will notice you.
  • If you share, there could be nothing left for you.
  • You put others down to make yourself look good.
  • You allow people to mistreat and abuse you.
  • You do something only if it will benefit you in some way.
  • You see yourself as a victim

If you want to be able to love yourself more, I would encourage you to seek out counseling. It will help find out where the selfishness is coming from and how to transform it into self-love. When you love yourself, you will be happier, and those around you will enjoy being with you.

“You’re always with yourself, so you might as well enjoy the company.”
Diane Von Furstenberg

Loving God

Jesus stated that the greatest commandment was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. I believe this means that we are to love God with everything within us, with everything that we are, nothing held back. So why is it so difficult for us to consistently love God this way?

I believe it has to do with our perception of who God is. Most of us were raised to fear God, that God was just waiting for us to do something “bad” so he could punish us in some way. That God was an angry, punitive, judgmental God. And if this is your view of God, it makes sense that you would struggle to love God for you would always be fearful of doing something that could cause him to pull his love away from you. When you are being “good” you believe he approves of you so you can love God, but when you are being “bad” you believe he disapproves of you so you pull away from God.

Humans have a way of projecting God into their image. Because we are shown conditional love on earth, we assume God is the same way with his love. Then we make the mistake of assuming that God is a person, a man, a human like us, therefore thinks and feels like we do. Reality is God is a spirit, an energy of love and is nothing like a human being/body. God is the highest form of love, the Bible states that there is no fear in God. And if there is no fear in God, God is incapable of doing something to instill fear in you. Fear does not exist in the higher realms, it is a man made feeling relegated to planet earth. God has given us free will, the ability to make whatever choices we want. And while there is no punishment from God for our choices, there are natural consequences that come from our choices. If you choose not to study for a test, there is a good chance you may not pass it. If you choose to be mean to people, you may have a difficult time keeping good friends. If you invest your money wisely, you will receive more money. If you drive drunk, you could cause harm to yourself or others. God’s love for you is the same regardless of whether your choices are good or bad. God’s love is continuously shining on you, it is impossible to turn it off but you can choose to refuse to receive it.

The only fear we are to have toward God is one of reverence, awe and gratitude for who God is and his great love for us. When you have this kind of reverential fear toward God you want to be in his presence because you understand his unconditional love is just that, unconditional. There is nothing you could ever say or do to cause him to love you any less or more than he does right now. Therefore, you feel safe in his presence and can relax and allow a loving relationship to develop and flourish between the two of you every day, regardless of what is going on in your life. And when you have this kind of a loving relationship between the two of you, the desire to do evil, bad, selfish, harmful things to yourself or others, fades away. When you are living from love, these things lose their appeal. Therefore, you choose to do good, not because you fear God’s punishment if you do not, but because you are so filled with God’s love, you have no desire for ‘bad” anymore.