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    Lockdown – an invitation to re-ignite old trauma responses

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    Lockdown – an invitation to re-ignite old trauma responses


    As NCDV’s CEO said in his blog here, lockdown can bring pressure to usually functionally healthy relationships and can add a heightening factor to ones already operating as abusive too.

    Abusive responses, like shame, grow in the dark of secrecy, behind closed doors, behind pretense, behind what looks good and ordinary.

    Abusive thinking, feeling and behaviour are usually a response to earlier trauma which is held and stored in us. This is not an excuse. It is however an explanation and one which tells us why abusive ways of being are more likely to raise their ugly heads in a lockdown situation than at any other time.

    Our ways of feeling safe, even from old stuff that is no longer happening, include fight and flight.

    In lockdown, we do not have the option of flight so readily available to us so our instinct to fight grows in strength and viability. It can seem, because it may be, the only option.

    And the pressure on our close and intimate relationships intensifies during lockdown.

    In our usual life, we see friends, we let off steam, we seek support, we get advice and love from other sources, we bleed our relational radiators in our other places so that the pressure inside the system of our home or most significant relationships stays regulated and safe.

    Lockdown dysregulates us internally and inside our relationships.

    A concept which I think might help you to understand what may be happening within your usually healthy and functioning relationship is an old one made by Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis psychotherapy. It’s called ‘stamp collecting’. Before supermarkets had ‘points cards’, we had stamp books into which we would stick stamps given to us when we bought groceries. The more stamps we could collect and save, the higher the value of the prize we could cash them in for. We could, if we were impatient or desperate, cash in just a few for a low value prize or, if we were patient or ambitious, save up books and books of stamps and cash them in for something wonderful.

    What we see in relationships usually is minor stamp collecting. The stamps are made of small wrong-doings which we collect until we have got enough to cash them in for something of importance to us in our relationship. We might see a statement like, ‘well, you have to come to my cousin’s wedding with me, after all I do for you!’, or ‘after all the meals I cook for you, I deserve to be taken out.’. These are normal, unremarkable and although we could ask more clearly for what we want and need, we’re functioning well in these ways.

    But we are discussing domestic abuse here aren’t we so let’s imagine that your partner hits, pushes, laughs at or neglects you in some way and this is new for you, or that you do these things to them. I invite you to consider that they or you may have been intensively squirrelling away stamps in order to believe they or you deserve to do this, that they or you have somehow earned it.

    This of course doesn’t make abusive behaviour tolerable or manageable in any way, but it explains it doesn’t it?

    What I am hoping for you in sharing this is that you’ll be able to have a conversation with a new language that may go some way to help you both to understand and communicate well about this.

    And, of course, to stop it.

    You see, in pressure, we collect more stamps than usual. We perceive what usually doesn’t even look and feel like a stamp to be a stamp and we perceive each stamp as having more value than usual. I have worked with people who have cashed in years of unmade cups of tea for a divorce, or persistent dependency for a suicide attempt. I’ve seen violence come after the collecting of a certain number of observed furtive glances at other potential sexual partners and I’ve seen public humiliation follow a number of incidences of received private neglect.

    Think about it. I know you have your own examples too.

    So how do we stop the collecting of stamps under this almost intolerable pressure we are all living with?

    We name the process, we talk about it, we support each other not to ‘collect stamps’ and instead we name our needs and wants and we invite collaboration with our partners in getting them met.

    Of course, NCDV is here for and with you whenever you need more help than this. I hope this article has given you what you need to understand what is happening for and to you and that this understanding goes some way to stopping your relationship getting to the point where you need the help they offer.

    Lucy Power, Therapeutic Coach

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    I am an ex Social Worker, a qualified and professionally credentialed personal and business Coach and I am extensively trained and experienced in Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy. I am successful, happy, grounded and I choose my life with intention and autonomy.
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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”