Like many people, I wondered for years why a person would stay in an abusive relationship. I am not talking about the occasional loud family argument, but a knockdown, drag out, somebody gets hurt relationship. I realized that people make a commitment for better or worse, and that can be good, but does that include being hit, bruised and belittled? As a healer, one of the hardest things for me was to work with abused women and men. It was hard, because sometimes I would hear a story and see bruises so bad, I didn’t know if the person would be alive the next month. I didn’t understand why they didn’t just move out. Years ago I gave a talk at a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and during the presentation I told the audience that there was one thing I didn’t understand: why a woman would stay in a relationship in which she got beat up. “If anybody knows this answer, please tell me after the talk,” I said. Immediately after, a woman came up to me with an explanation: the abusive partner treats her better than she treats herself.” I was still baffled. “He beats her up; how could this be?” I asked. “He gives her love in between the abuse, where as she only beats herself up and never gives herself love,” she explained. In psychology, we have a term called the “aha moment” when all of a sudden “we get it.” Sometimes a person is harder on herself than the abuser is. They mentally beat themselves up. Since this woman told me this, I have looked for signs of self-inflicted abuse in my clients. And she has it right, they mentally beat themselves up. It works this way: Trickster Thoughts are misleading, because they trick us into believing things that seem true. Here is what beating-yourself-up thoughts sound like: “I am stupid” (Name Calling Trickster); “If he doesn’t love me nobody will love me” (the Disaster Trickster); “I can’t do anything right” (Black and White Trickster); “I don’t deserve better” (Emotional Trickster—I feel it, so it must be true.); and then the Tells Fortune Trickster chimes in saying: “It will always be miserable.” For some people, no matter how many things they do right, the Name Calling Trickster will remind them of what they did wrong, and then tell them that they are stupid and they are always doing dumb things. These thoughts are misleading and damaging. I rarely meet people who are stupid. People don’t always do the wrong thing, and nobody knows what the future holds, like the Tells Fortune Trickster leads them to believe. These types of tricksters will keep doing their dirty little tricks as long as you believe them. Just telling somebody to get out of their abusive relationship doesn’t work very well, because they think they deserve it. Unfortunately their partner may actually say things like, “you are stupid”, “you are such a looser” and “nobody else will love you”, thus reinforcing the victim’s Trickster Thoughts. The abusive partner may also bring up the past and use it to support their claims. Because similar Trickster Thoughts are already running through the victim’s mind, they easily assume these thoughts must be true. Wrong! These are mean-ass Trickster Thoughts and they give Emotional Trickster the power to cause damage. A single Trickster Thought has no power if you think it once or twice. But if a person thinks about them a lot, the Tricksters cause a battle within that can take a strong person down. A person can’t run away from emotional pain, but they can fight it by stopping the Trickster Thoughts from wrecking havoc. Here is the good news: paying attention to your thoughts and catching the Tricksters will start to change things. Knowledge is power, and learning and recognizing the Trickster Thoughts is the key to and stopping and preventing them before they do their damage. Knowing their names is the start of taking their power away; questioning their accuracy and truthfulness kills them. Remember, everybody who thinks has Trickster Thoughts; the problem comes when we believe them. How many stupid things did you do this week—hundreds? Probably not. Like the average person, you may have made one or two mistakes, if that, which means that you did hundreds of smart things this week. Thus, calling yourself stupid is wrong. I don’t know anybody who wants to be wrong. Stop beating yourself up, and things will change for the better. Dr. Beau Washington received his doctorate from the University of Northern Colorado. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Beau grew up at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where his Father was a teacher. While researching depression, he also discovered the wide range of problems that rumination (dwelling) on problems creates in other mental problems as well. His active understanding of ruminative thought lead to developing a technique for effectively stopping the painful thoughts that plague distressed individuals. In addition, Beau developed cognitive models of depression and addiction. His therapy is being piloted in the Primary Care Clinic setting at the University of New Mexico Hospitals. Clinical trials are in the development phase to add Beau’s therapy to the short list of evidenced based therapies now used in therapy. Dr. John Gray at UNM calls his therapeutic approach innovative. Beau understands that part of the key to successful intervention is making psychology consumer friendly, for example, changing the term “cognitive distortion” to “Coyote Thoughts.” He has also developed a Native suicide prevention program called “Coyote Thoughts” ©2011. Beau has trained Native mental health clinics and presented at reservations as well as regional and national conferences. Visit his website coyotethoughts.com.
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