Women´s Topics

  • Healing Faith
  • Competition Among Women
  • Healthy Divorcing
  • The Basics of Domestic Violence

Healing Faith

“God bless us, everyone.”  -- Tiny Tim

”In God we trust.”  -- The money in your wallet

I dare take on one of two subjects our mothers told us not to discuss in polite company, unless you want an argument. Religion.  Can a religious faith help a person heal physically, mentally, or socially?  And if so, might health-care professionals be responsible for including this facet into treatment of physical, mental, and emotional illness?

Healthcare professionals are charged with educating clients on tools we may not even utilize ourselves, if we know they will help.  (Ask any physician who smokes, and he or she will advise you against it.) We are also called to speak the uncomfortable, challenging harmful ideas and beliefs. I find it interesting that therapists will “preach” a right way of thinking through cognitive-behavioral interventions, physicians advocate a positive self-care through sleep, diet, exercise, and medication options, but many helping professionals run from addressing possible benefits of faith with our clients as a taboo subject.

Post-Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution served to distance science from the Church that, as the keeper of dogma and orthodoxy, was invested in restraining new knowledge.  This led to a splitting of the human being into soul, cared for by religion, and the body/mind cared for by science.

Recently scientists have started reclaiming access to the spiritual world, by studying the connection between faith and physical, mental, emotional, and social health.  Some of their findings are summarized below.

A strong faith has been associated with:

  • increased life expectancy
  • lower rates of cardiac disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, pulmonary emphysema, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer (especially lung, bladder, and colon)
  • greater marital and overall life satisfaction
  • increased self-esteem and social support, and lower suicide rates
  • reduced drug use, including nicotine, in adults and adolescents
  • improved adjustment and coping skills
  • reduced overall psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, death anxiety, depression, isolation, and hostility
  • reduced blood pressure
  • less vaginal infections/diseases, and cervical cancer

There are several studies indicating that intercessory prayer actually affects physical health, such as surgery complications, life-threatening events, and recovery rates. A few experiments indicate prayer even stimulates plant growth.  There are also some interesting, but small-subject studies, suggesting that prayer affects life expectancy of leukemic children. Much more study is required in the area of prayer’s ability to create positive changes in our lives.

Most Americans are religious:  a 35 year look at Gallop polls shows a consistent 95% of Americans believe in God, and 76% pray on a regular basis.

Given the positive psychological, physical, and social effects of religious faith, healthcare professionals may find this as much a valid intervention as a healthier diet or a stress-reduction program. And given the prevalence of people professing a faith a well-rounded treatment program needs to include this powerful tool. Being a psychotherapist, I’ve been in a privileged position to assist clients in changing their very lives. And I’ve seen more long-lasting healing take place when clients strengthen their relationship with God. Now I just need to write an article on Politics and mental health, and I’ll stir up everyone.


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Competition Among Women

Yes, I was eavesdropping:

            "You know that blonde with the skirts? I don't wear shorts that short."

            "You know they don't start out that way. She probably takes them to the tailor and says, 'I want them up to my navel'."

            The two women at the restaurant table next to me went on to discuss how, even though they had never talked to the "short skirt bimbo," they disliked her, and felt she was somehow a threat. Why did they feel such strong competition and jealousy feelings toward this woman?

            Or consider a recent episode of Maurey Povich, focusing on severely obese women who had dropped 100, 150, 185 pounds, and wanted to surprise friends from the past. Old best friends saw these ladies in their new, slender appearances, and jokingly made comments like,  "I hate her," "I'm so jealous," and "I'm never standing next to you again."  The curious factor was the gender difference: men surprised with their old friends' new weight did not make competitive, jealous remarks -- just the women did.

            Ask men to describe a woman, and they usually make global statements. She's tall. Pretty. A little plump. Funny-looking. Women, however, dissect their subject into tiny fragments: "She's got beautifully long eyelashes, but she wears way too much mascara, and her left nostril is bigger than her right, but it's not as bad as mine, with mine you can see that..."

            Many female clients I've worked with echo the same theme: "Every time I see these busty, leggy, flat-stomached supermodels, I become irritated and frustrated - how can I compete with that!"

            Is it really a competition? Consider a laboratory experiment where men were asked to rate their own wives and girlfriends on appearance. One group of men were shown pictures of exceptionally beautiful women before the rating of their own partners. Those men rated their wives and girlfriends as significantly less attractive and appealing than men in the control group who had not viewed the exceptionally beautiful women beforehand.

            Another client years ago stated she "became who her husband wanted her to be" after he had an affair, so she could "keep him around, happy, and out of the other woman's arms." This precious woman lost herself, changed her very personality, because she felt she wasn't good enough to win the competition.


            Evolutionary biologists would say competition between women is a survival instinct. If another woman comes into your cave enticing your mate, jealous feelings encourage you to protect what's yours. The competition therefore ensures that your mate stays around to help raise the offspring, and provide meat for the family. The theory also says competition may have developed through natural selection. Cavewoman Sarah and cavewoman Pam know caveman Tom is genetically the cream of the crop, and his children will have a better chance in life. If Sarah feels competition and works hard at mating with Tom, while Pam doesn't even know the race started, Tom chooses Sarah, and Pam's DNA never get out of the gate. Or Pam mates with genetically inferior caveman Bill, and her DNA die at the hand of a saber-toothed tiger. So feeling jealous of the "short skirt bimbo" may be your way of trying to catch the best male, and then keep him, so that your genes live on.

            A potential problem with the theory is that jealous behavior often turns men off -- counter productive to the whole mating dance. The other hitch is that by this time, you'd expect all women to have developed extreme, pathological levels of jealousy, because the non-competitive females would have died out. So let's consider some other reasons for female jealousy.



            The media usually sits in the hot seat in discussions like this, but do an experiment: take any fashion magazine and find someone who looks like you. I did this recently while conducting a women's retreat, and none of the 45 women found an self-reflective image in the pages. I heard a lot of, "I'd love to look like that," and "I'd kill for that stomach!"

From very early ages, little girls are taught the importance of looking good, and socialized into competing on a visual level. Little girls are told more often than little boys, that their misbehavior is 'ugly'.

            Little girls then grow up into women who rate their own physical appearances with a harsh and critical eye. Conversely, even if the beer belly now protrudes over the belt, men will stand before a mirror, suck in their stomachs and say, "Still lookin' good."

            One consistent element of eating disorders, which still predominately effect young women, relates to wanting to live up to the perfect female image as portrayed in movies, on television, and in print advertisements. Many women with eating disorders report routinely going through a hypercritical survey process as they compare their own body size, muscle tone, skin quality, etc. with every other woman in the room. If she doesn't win the competition, self-esteem suffers, and it's back to the treadmill or into the bathroom to purge up dinner.



            As we look to form healthy business connections, friendships, and mother/daughter relationships, jealous competition works against some of our natural disposition of relationship building. Women have a natural ability to form intimate relationships, oftentimes over and above the male's ability. We have built-in relationship manuals. Men work typically in hierarchies -- women in circles. This innate female ability forms the glue in many families, churches and synagogues, communities, and companies. When we stay in the jealousy, we disconnect from the vital ties that glue us together. Competition and jealousy, sabotaging and backstabbing, keep women from forming the relationship structure characteristic of a healthy family, business, and community. I see families and couples all day long ruined by the pitting of two females against each other, instead of using their wonderfully female quality of connecting to enhance relationships.

            When women compete instead of cooperate, each loses the celebration of the other person and that person's success. In business, women are now learning to use the naturally female qualities of watching out for the other person's needs. This works to everyone's advantage. One of my favorite female colleagues lives and preaches this philosophy. She believes that if she can hear and fill your needs and wants, even if it does not benefit her, everyone wins. Nurturing relationships in business, referring work to other women, and seeking the other's best interest, personify the feminine circle mentality, and I know I would much rather do business with someone invested in mutual cooperation, than someone judging me by the length of my hem.  

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Healthy Divorcing

The following basic information on divorce seems full of negatives. But there are some positives -- it depends on what you do with it.

  •      Divorced men and women have higher incidences of psychological difficulties, accidental death, and death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, pneumonia, and cirrhosis of the liver.
  •      The suicide rate for divorced or separated women is almost three and a half times greater.
  •      Divorced adults' households are considerably more disorganized.
  •      Divorced parents don't communicate as well with the children, show less affection, and discipline inconsistently.
  •      Divorce trauma is greatest for older women, who have been married longer, have two or more children, whose husband initiated the divorce, and who still have positive feelings toward their husbands or want to punish them.
  •      Fathers usually see their children as much right after the divorce, but quickly drop off.
  •      Women tend to see that the marriage is not working about ten years prior to its actual breakup, whereas men become aware of the marital distress on average three years before the divorce.
  •      Women report a greater awareness of the problems within a marriage, which may explain why most divorces today are instigated by the female.
  •      Young divorced people, especially females, report a greater sense of independence and self-esteem once they adjust to the divorce.

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The Basics of Domestic Violence

(The Grand Jury in Dallas, Texas became concerned with domestic violence issues, and asked Megan Johntz for some information regarding the subject. The following is Ms. Johntz’ brief on Domestic Violence. If you would like more information, all requests will be kept strictly confidential, and information can be emailed, sent to a secure location, or given over the phone. Megan can be reached at 314.378.3384 or email Megan@PsychToolBox.com, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-SAFE   1-800-787-3224 (TTY)



Approximately two percent of the US population classifies as habitual batterers. The following cycle typically occurs in approximately two-thirds of domestic violence incidents:

Stage One:

Tension-Building Phase

Minor battering occurs. Verbal abuse and psychological warfare increases. She tries to soothe or stay away. She allows minor abuse often to prevent major abuse, but this is a double-edged sword because her docile behavior legitimizes his belief that he has the right to batter her. She covers up for his bad behavior which increases her isolation. Tension in the home increases. Sometimes she even provokes the fight to get it over, because the verbal and psychological abuse coupled with "waiting for the other shoe to fall" is too much tension.  She often reports in this waiting stage, "I'll go crazy if this goes on much longer".

Stage Two:

Acute Battering Stage

Unpredictable violence in its nature, time, or reasons for stopping. She knows she can't reason with him and develops psychological distance from him and the abuse. It's often wise for her to just give up at this stage because:  he is stronger, the rage is random and could hurt bystanders/children, this is a very lethal time as corroborated by police statistics of domestic violence calls being one of the most dangerous. Often she won't seek medical attention for days after the incident, if at all. She suffers symptoms similar to victims of other trauma: depression, anxiety, emotional collapse days or weeks after the event.

Stage Three:

Honeymoon Stage

Relief and tranquility. He's warm and nurturing, loving, tries to atone, promises, begs forgiveness. She may join him in this illusion, "This is the real man". She is often his only link to the outside world or sanity, and sensing his isolation and despair she feels responsible for his well-being. Paradoxically his chances of seeking help are much better after she leaves. But 10% of batterers do kill themselves after she leaves, which indicates her hunch about his needing her for his sanity, well-being, etc. may be fairly on target. Most abusers will reinforce this bond with statements such as, "I can't live without you," "You're the only one who understands/can help me," or "I'd kill myself if you left".  This phase locks them together because in many ways they need each other, and often they are the only adults who know about the violence problem. Many women who kill their abuser actually start out trying to commit suicide as she believe it's the only way out of this locked-in relationship. The Honeymoon Stage ends, and the cycle begins again.

Lenore Walker's opinion is that the female should leave, because the physical and psychological abuse will never improve. Murray Straus says that approximately one-third of abusive men stop spontaneously, without police intervention. The research shows that if she does leave, it's better for her and worse for him psychologically, mentally, and socially. She obviously stays for social, economic, religious, and family reasons, but let's take a look at some of the stronger, and less well known, reasons behind why she stays.



The above question assumes that it will get better if she just walks away. But battered women know something the general population may not:  it is precisely when she leaves that she is most at risk for serious bodily harm and death.  She stays in part because she knows what he would do if she left, and statistically she is correct. He is most lethal when she leaves. This does not mean she should stay – only that she needs to plan her escape, utilizing friends, family, law enforcement, domestic violence shelters, and/or counselors. Her leaving is also statistically the time when most men seek help, because they finally realize the severity of their problem.

She stays in part because the abuse is intermittently reinforced. If I want to teach you to be scared of me very quickly, I will harm you at random intervals. If I only hit you every Tuesday at 11:30, you'd be able to prepare for it, as well as safely let down your guard and relax all the other times.  The random or intermittent nature of the abuse keeps her ever hyper-vigilant and confused. One week he likes her to hold his hand, the next week he slaps her for it. She is never sure when to be scared, or what behavior is triggering the abuse, so she remains confused and perpetually frightened. Behaviors are learned rapidly through intermittent reinforcement, but they also last longer than behaviors learned by predictable reinforcement.  She learns quickly that he is in control, and her brain locks in that "truth" for even years after the end of the relationship.

She also stays because we as animals learn our lessons a little too well.  The phenomenon of "Learned Helplessness" (Martin Seligman) happens when she is having harm forced upon her and cannot escape over and over again.  Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania placed dogs in a cage on a metal grid, and shocked them repeatedly.  At first the dogs tried to escape, but after a while gave up. They didn't try to get out, even when the cage door was wide open.  They learned they were helpless. Researchers then dragged them to the exit, and eventually the dogs re-learned how to escape.

When you look at learned helplessness in domestic violence, you see women who've been told by fathers, mothers, teachers, boyfriends, etc. that they can't do it, that others' problems are their fault, that they are not worth very much, etc. She starts to believe it, and can look very passive in abusive relationships.  But there is a curious pattern when you look beneath the "passive" behavior of the dogs, and also the women.  The dogs looked like they had just given up, but they were actually doing things like lying in their own excrement because it cut the electric shock just the tiniest fraction. Researchers also found the dogs were staying on the portion of the grid that provided the least amount of shock.  They actually were still trying to save themselves even when looking very passive.  With battered women, she huddles up on the kitchen floor, not because she likes it, or she's stupid, but because she knows her compliance will shorten the episode, or prevent her children from being involved, or maybe he won't raise his voice and alarm the neighbors.

            The equivalent in domestic violence of dragging the passive dog to the exit until he learns to save himself, is cognitive-behavioral training. She is trapped by the false belief that she cannot escape, he holds all the power, she has no where to go, she caused the abuse, etc., so it is imperative to change her reality by giving her accurate information about the abuse cycle. When she realizes she can leave, something a lot of people erroneously expect her to do naturally after years of programming, she does. Learned Helplessness is one of the main reasons why she stays.

Another reason she stays is simply because she, like many Vietnam War veterans, is suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing the events, increased arousal/anxiety at thoughts of, or triggers for, the events, and a pattern of trying to avoid the events (which holds her in a passive mode).  Cognitive functioning and decision making are impaired after suffering through a traumatic event. Depression and panic attacks are common.

Childhood factors correlated with adult involvement in an abusive relationship:

  •         witnessing or experiencing battering in the home
  •         sexual abuse or molestation as a child or teen
  •         critical periods during which the child experienced non-contingent control. Non-contingent control is where they really do have some control over the situation, but believe they do not
  •         stereotyped sex role socialization supporting rigid traditions
  •         health problems or chronic illness

    Adult factors correlated with adult involvement in an abusive relationship:

    • pattern of violence
    • sexual abuse of the woman
    • jealousy, over-possessiveness, intrusiveness by the abuser, isolation of the female
    • threats of death or harm
    • psychological torture, which as defined by Amnesty International is:

              verbal degradation

              denial of powers


              monopolizing perceptions

              occasional indulgences (remember intermittent reinforcement)


              threats to kill

              induced debility

              drugs or alcohol

    • she knows about his violence against others including children, pets, or objects
    • alcohol or drug abuse by male or female


    There are three different kinds of men who abuse women. More research on women who batter is needed.

    Cyclical / Emotionally  Volatile  Abuser

    About 30% of men who batter fall into this category. They look like Mr. Perfect on the outside, but become angry and violent only with women they feel emotionally attached to. This Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde batterer is often loved by those in his social or work life, and rarely becomes violent in public. When outsiders comment "What a great guy" she reinforces in her own mind that the abuse must be her fault, because everyone else seems to love him.

    These men have a high fear of abandonment and anything in her life (job, friends, family, pregnancy, school) that he perceives as taking her away from him, he becomes enraged at. He spends a great deal of his verbal abuse on the themes of isolating her away from the world,  and making her believe she can't do life without him. In studies where these men watch couples arguing on videotape, they perceive significantly more abandonment in the scenes than men with no abuse history, and abusive men of the other two types. The Cyclical abuser also became more fearful and angrier at watching the tapes than did the control groups.

    This type of batterer displays Borderline Personality Disorder characteristics, which is characterized by a pattern of instability and impulsivity, and is characterized by violent swings between love and hate in relationships, impulsivity such as self harm episodes, reckless driving, etc., intense mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, and identity disturbances. The higher he scores on scales of Borderline Personality Disorder, the more acute his abuse. There is also a direct correlation between alcohol abuse and  Borderline characteristics.

    This abuser often displays many trauma symptoms such as depression, anxiety attacks, sleep disturbances, and dissociation ("zoning out"). These men usually have formed ambivalent attachments in early childhood and typically have suffered child abuse, shaming parents, and weak attachments to their primary caregivers.

    The  Overcontrolled  Abuser

    The second type of batterer is termed Overcontrolled, and about 30% of batterers fall into this category. They often keep a low profile, and can be heard to say to the few acquaintances they have, "I just want to be left alone to work on my truck." Anger builds up in these men from unexpressed thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In fact they usually report not even knowing what they think or feel. They score high on passive-aggressive and avoidance scales on psychological tests.

    There are two subsets of Overcontrolled batterers, and both score very high on measures of dominance and rigid adherence to sex roles. The first subset is the active type, characterized by a blatant need to control.  They are often very perfectionistic and domineering, even counting every penny she has in her wallet, or demanding full documentation of all her spending. The second subset if the passive type. He remains very emotionally distant from his wife and they often argue about intimacy. Both of these subsets batter from a need to dominate and control their world.

    The  Psychopathic  Abuser

    The third type of abuser is extremely frightening for many reasons. The Psychopathic Abuser accounts for about 40% of all men who abuse others. These men have little or no conscience, show a very shallow emotional response, have unrealistic scenarios of the future, and are literally unwilling to examine past problems. They don't go through any justification for their actions, or try to blame others to reduce the shame they feel for battering, because they don't feel the shame. They have no remorse for their actions, and cannot feel the impact of their abuse on their victims.

    These abusers do not learn from their mistakes, and therefore have a very poor treatment outcome. The MRI's of these men show just a small level of activity in their brains, near the brain stem. When researchers showed these MRI's to a group of physicians, the M.D.'s laughed and said, "Those patients must be nearly dead." This type of abuser is frequently violent outside the home as well as with his family, and is often arrested for non-violent crimes. If they steal, they'll say, "They've got insurance. They didn't get hurt at all. I'm the one who got hurt here."

    There is a subgroup of these Psychopathic Batterers that has been termed the "velociraptors of intimate violence". Neil S. Jacobson found that these "Vagal Reactors" do not become physiologically aroused when in an argument. In fact the opposite occurs: they become very calm physiologically, but they look enraged on the outside. During the abuse these men have heart rates of a 20-year-old marathon runner in deep sleep, when the normal male heart would be pounding through his chest. These Vagal Reactors are much like trained martial artists, focusing all their energy and attention on their victim in order to produce the maximum effect. These are the most belligerent and contemptuous, are most likely to report violence in their family of origin, and have the highest rates of violence outside the home.

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