Women Under Attack – Part 2 – Interview with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant
There are many questions about domestic abuse as a result of the recent increase of incidents among highly visible public figures, entertainers, and athletes. So we wanted to know just how widespread is violence in romantic relationships among our young people, on our college campuses, and even in our high schools? What are the causes? What can be done to curb this tide of violence?
The CWR adds our voice to the collective chorus of those calling for an end to the age of tolerance of domestic violence against women, and we promise to continue to focus attention on this epidemic of domestic violence.
Our first step is the two interviews in our feature story, “Women Under Attack.” In our first interview we talked with Dr. Jeanne King. Dr. King is a psychologist and is the founder of Partners In Prevention, a non-profit organization that works with survivors of domestic violence. Dr. King has also experienced domestic abuse in her family, and works with healthcare providers on recognizing domestic abuse, and interfacing with and clinically managing patients who are victims of abuse. She is a seasoned psychologist, published author and leading expert in identifying the subtle communication patterns of battering relationships. Dr. King helps people recognize, end and heal from domestic violence at home and in court.
In our second interview, we talk with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant, who was abused as a child, and later was in an abusive marriage. Dr. Vanzant is considered by many to be one of the foremost authorities in the world on relationships. In this interview, Dr. Vanzant candidly shares her experiences as a woman under attack. She also provides insightful information that helps one view matters from the victim’s perspective, and offers advice for victims, abusers, and advocates. Our interview with Dr. Vanzant follows.
CWR: Much was written and reported regarding the alleged attack of popular recording artist Rihanna by her then boyfriend and also popular recording artist Chris Brown, and the two continue to be a topic of discussion almost anytime domestic violence is mentioned. This is all so sad, but does it really make any difference who started this, shouldn’t the real issue be that Rihanna was allegedly physically abused, and reports indicate this was not the first time something of this nature has happened in their relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: In my mind, the larger question here is the level of violence that occurs in interpersonal relationships. Rihanna and Chris are simply representative of a larger issue within this age group. We seem to take a special interest because they are celebrities. What about the young women all over the country who are being violated by their partners and no one raises a finger or a fuss. The real issue is what is the common thread running throughout the generation of young men that makes them so violent? And, what is the common thread running through the generation of young women that makes them excuse violence directed toward them? What is sad is that when celebrities are involved, we become concerned but no one seems to care about the issue as it unfolds in high schools and colleges around this country.
CWR: As you just mentioned, because of the high visibility of Rihanna and Chris Brown a lot of attention was given to this issue. Was the Rihanna and Chris Brown situation just an isolated incident in regard to young people within the 18 – 24 year age group, or is this a major problem for young and more mature alike, and is it just something we as a society tolerate and do not discuss?
Dr. Vanzant: This is a major problem in every aspect of society and we act like it does not exist. Violence against women is not only promoted, in some cases it is glorified. Whether it is sexual violence and exploitation or physical violence and exploitation, it is running rampant. Pimps beating the whores, husbands killing their wives, boyfriends stomping their girlfriends is a common, everyday event about which we shake our heads, suck our teeth and expect somebody else to address until it touches us personally. As long as we act like it doesn’t matter and continue to accept the exploitation of women on any level, we will see more Chris’ and Rhianna’s. I believe this event was simply life’s way of telling the world, you better deal with this situation.
CWR: As we alluded to in our introduction, you experienced physical abuse in your marriage. You are quoted in Essence magazine as saying, after ending your abusive marriage of nine years: “I accumulated several black eyes, three fractured ribs, a broken jaw, a displaced uterus, and something far worse: the death of my personhood. In a fit of depression, I attempted suicide.” First of all, why did you remain in this relationship and endure the abuse for so long?
Dr. Vanzant: To ask a woman why she stays in an abusive relationship is like asking a drug addict why they use drugs. At the moment, there is a belief that you cannot do anything differently. At the time of the experience there is a series of conflicting beliefs in operation. I love him. He loves me. I have no where to go. He will find me. The issue of domestic or relationship violence is a cycle of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that cannot be explained in a simple sentence. However, my situation was different from some. I was married and I had three children. I came from a history of domestic violence. I stayed because, like many women in this situation, I had seen it all of my life and had come to know the violence as normal.
CWR: You have described the troubled times in your life as “dark valley experiences.” Can you explain what you mean as it relates to domestic abuse.
Dr. Vanzant: Imagine that you are living in a situation with someone you love, someone who says they love you yet, they hit you. In my case, they beat you. Imagine that you want to protect yourself from the judgment and criticism of others and, at the same time you want to protect the person you love. Imagine that you chose this person to come into your life, you trusted this person, you share intimacy with this person and they beat you. The experience undermines your self-confidence, self-trust and self-value. This is what makes domestic and relationship violence such an vicious crime. It makes you a victim of your own thinking as well as the person who is violating you. Because of this the depth of shame and guilt you experience makes it difficult to seek the help and support you need. When you voluntarily participate in an experience that is causing you harm, you suffer. That suffering is what I call a dark valley experience.
CWR: In your book, In the Meantime, you wrote, “When your life is working, it is not a dramatic production. We have to break our addiction to drama and crisis. And we have to stop competing.” Please explain what you mean, and are those actions symptoms or causes of domestic violence against women?
Dr. Vanzant: In the context of the book, this statement refers to a tendency to expect our lives to be challenging and difficult. Many of us come from violent, chaotic and unstable homes. As a result, we have come to expect the drama of struggle, upheavals, disruptions, the list goes on. When we mature and begin our own lives, we may have an expectation that we will do the same – – struggle, suffer, feel unsafe, experience violation, betrayal etc. As such, when our lives are peaceful, moving forward without the “drama” we have come to expect, we have a tendency to believe that something is wrong. We live looking over our shoulders waiting for the next big shoe to fall. In the worst case scenarios, we don’t only expect difficulty and drama, we create it and participate in it because it is familiar.
CWR: Some have suggested that rap music and hip-hop music contributes to violence against women because some of the lyrics in this music genre are very disrespectful to women, some feature violence against women, and some promote masochism and misogyny. Are there any studies or is there evidence that supports this theory?
Dr. Vanzant: Why do we need a study to show us what common sense and our eyes tell us every day. A man standing over a woman with a whip in a music video needs no study. Call a woman a B or a Ho’ to a pumping drum beat needs no study. Allowing a young man who just pummeled a young woman into your home, to ride your jet ski needs no study. At the same time, I cannot say that it is rap music and hip-hop music alone. Daddy slapping mommy needs no study. Mommy covering her wounds and scars in order to go to work needs no study. Domestic violence, the prostitution of women’s pain and degradation for profit is a major issue in this society. What do we need to study about that? What more evidence do we need than what we see and hear everyday?
CWR: Many times guys project the image of being remorseful, they may even say they will stop the hitting, and may agree to counseling or anger management. In most of these situations, especially when a pattern of physical abuse has been established over a period of time, does this usually work, or is it best for the young lady or woman involved to just end the relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: If he hits you once, he will do it again. The only hope is if he goes into serious counseling or therapy to deal with his issues. Without that, he will do it again. When there are children involved I believe that a woman may need to be required to go into counseling as well as the man. When there are children involved you cannot just end the relationship, however, the nature of the relationship may need to change.
CWR: How can men who have a problem of physically abusing women be helped, first to accept the fact that they have a problem and need help, and how should they proceed to get the help they need?
Dr. Vanzant: Professional therapy or counseling is the only means of help. Violence is not a one-time affair. It is a condition of the heart and mind. Any form of violence is a reflection of wounding at the deepest level of the heart and soul. The first thing a man must do is tell the truth about what he feels about himself. Then he needs to find a professional who can help him sort through it.
CWR: You have stated that who you are has nothing to do with “having been raped at age nine, or having been in an abusive marriage for nine years, or having been a welfare recipient, or later being a successful public defender, spiritual counselor, and best-selling author.” Please explain, particularly in the context of being in an abusive marriage for nine years, please explain to our readers how one overcomes all of the pain so that it has nothing to do with who one is, or what one becomes.
Dr. Vanzant: All things are lessons that God would have us learn. Every experience is a divine set up for us to learn and to know the value of who we are as individuals. Every experience is an opportunity for us to identify our patterns of thought and behavior that take us into experiences that do not work. Every experience is a learning device. When we understand and learn not to be victimized by what we experience, those experiences become valuable tools rather than excuses. I learned my lessons very well. I know who I am. I know what I deserve. I have a sense of value and worth beyond my body, my accomplishments and my possessions. The good news is that what is true for me, is true for everyone else. The bad news is, most of us only get the lessons as we mature.
CWR: In reference to your decision to end your marriage and leave your husband, accepting the role of a single-parent, and with no means to support yourself, you stated, “When you make up your mind, things shift.” What was it that finally caused you to make up your mind, and what advice do you have for our readers who may be struggling to find the courage to make up their minds to end an abusive relationship?
Dr. Vanzant: Pain will help you make a new choice. When the pain becomes unbearable you will do something about it. I made a decision to leave the pain. It’s just that simple. When you are just whining and complaining about the pain but not doing anything to eliminate it from your life, it simply means that you don’t hurt bad enough yet.
CWR: You stated “I’m still healing the wounds…I’m still learning to stand up and ask for what I want without fear of losing people’s love.” Do you still feel this way, is the recovery process ongoing, and what advice do you have for our readers who have gotten out of an abusive relationship and are working to recover?
Dr. Vanzant: You don’t get the lesson once and then move on. Every lesson in our life comes back several times in order to see if we will practice what we have learned. We must be vigilant about practicing what we have learned from past experiences. If boyfriend A beat you and you got away, you must be vigilant about making sure that boyfriend B doesn’t yell at you. Hitting, pushing, shoving, yelling are all forms of violence. Sometimes the violence is subtle. As a result of what you have been through you must have clear boundaries and standards. If you experience anything that doesn’t feel right question it, question him. Draw your line in the sand and don’t move the line.
About Dr. Vanzant:
Dr. Iyanla Vanzant is an internationally renowned speaker and critically acclaimed best-selling author with over 8 million books in print, and her book, In the Meantime, was a #1 bestseller and was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 20 weeks. She is the founder of Inner Visions Institute for Spiritual Development. She made her television debut as host of her own daytime television show, Iyanla, and has a new televison program,” Fix My Life”, on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in the U.S. on relationships. She is a graduate of Medgar Evers College in New York and earned her law degree from the City University of New York. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the 1994 National Association of Equal Opportunity in Education Alumni of the Year; in 1999 she was listed among the 100 Most Influential African-Americans by Ebony magazine; she earned the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Non-Fiction, for Yesterday I Cried; and Newsweek included her as one of the “Women of the New Century.”