How Abuse Effects Its Victims
One of the hardest things to look at during or after an abusive relationship is the mental and emotional damage the abuse caused in us. We remember who we were before the abuse and may feel like a sad shell of that person after it. It is scary and heart-breaking. You may feel more defenseless, helpless and hopeless than before you knew your partner abused you. After all, now you fight your mind as well as the abuse your (ex) partner inflicts.
You will never change your partner. You are already their target for abuse, and once you are the target it is difficult if not impossible to change back into “you” in their eyes. However, you can change yourself. You can change your thoughts, your feelings, and the way your brain is wired. But remember, although “change” is something that can happen to you, if you want to heal from abuse, change must be something you DO.
Whether you’re still in the abusive relationship or out of it, the idea of “doing” anything may seem overwhelming. You experienced trauma. Your emotions are worn out. Your brain hurts. Fear takes over your thoughts and feelings. You feel as if you’ve used all of your strength and can’t do one more thing. Other people can do a lot to help you, but no one can take away the pain and fear but you.Your support network can stand beside you, encourage you, help you to grow. But they cannot do the hard work of changing you into the person you want to become.
How to Overcome the Effects of Abuse
Convince Your Heart
After realizing you are abused, the first challenge you face is convincing yourself that your abuser will not change. You “know” it from the books you’ve read, but there’s a difference between knowing it in your head and knowing it in your heart. Your brain cannot convince your heart of anything – your heart must get on board with your brain for the process to work. Here are a couple of ways I nurtured my aching heart along:
I translated my abuser’s garbage talk – I heard my husband say, “You are making my sons weak! You’re turning them into lesser men than me!” but I listened to my brain. My brain said, “He wants to manipulate me by using our children. He wants me to believe my parenting hurts our boys. I know these are lies. He wants me to take them out of therapy so he regains control over their thinking.”
I watched what he did instead of taking to heart what he said – Promises to change, promises to remember my birthday next year, promises to spend more time with our boys. All broken. Only words. I wrote down what he promised, leaving space for the date he broke that promise. The only promise he never broke?…“I will not change.”
Take on Your Fear
You will be afraid. You will fear the future, your partner, and that you won’t be able to do what your heart says to do. You must face those fears, erase as many as you can with plans, and step forward believing you are doing the right thing for you.
You can use “trust in yourself” as an antidote to fear. They’re similar emotions – at this point you don’t know for sure if either of them are justified, so it makes sense to pit them against each other. You can trust in yourself to do the best possible thing if the unexpected happens just as easily as you can fear the unexpected.
Write out a safety plan and indulge in the “What-If Game” – Fear feeds on the question “What if…?” Show fear you’ve got what it takes to overcome it. Here’s a sample conversation with myself:
What if he stalks me? … Then you will document when and where you see him, hear him, or run into him. You will collect evidence for a restraining order.
What if the restraining order makes him more dangerous? … You will assume he will be more dangerous after receiving the order. While gathering your evidence, you will notice where you are most vulnerable and make plans for how to decrease your vulnerability.
What if he is hiding in my car? … Girl, you will always check your car (underneath and inside!) before you get into it.
What if I don’t see him and he slits my throat? … Er hem. How would you not see him? Lights off in the garage? Turn them on. He’s hiding under a blanket? Don’t leave blankets in the car. Girl, the only way he’s going to slit your throat in your car is if you don’t do your safety checks! (The “What-If” game ends and you make a checklist for safety before getting into your car.)
Not getting a restraining order because you think your partner might slit your throat is … backwards. Fear makes you do backwards things. Facing fear head on keeps you safer and more in control if the bad things happen.
Convincing your heart and challenging your fears go a long way toward ending the effects of abuse on your mind and heart. These steps help you to detach from your abuser whether you still live with them or not. Detachment, or objectively viewing your relationship with your (ex) abuser, helps you regain control of yourself.
Listen to your abuser’s words with your brain, keep track of their broken promises, and challenge your fear with solid planning. You can do this. There are more tricks you can use to soothe the pain – How did you overcome disbelief and fear?
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