Dealing with PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Domestic Abuse
Thursday, July 26 2012 Kellie Jo Holly
Yesterday, Andi commented on Victims Think They May Be The Abuser. Andi said:
. . . I reached the point where I feared that the emotional / verbal abuse was going to move towards physical abuse. It has been a long time since this happened. I've moved far away and started over, but I'm still scared, feeling PTSD symptoms, and can't seem to move on. I want so desperately to be whole again. Any thoughts and help would be greatly appreciated.
First of all, Andi and anyone else who feels this way, you are whole! You may have an extra voice in your head - a remnant of your abuser's lies, but that adds to you, it didn't take any part of you away! Granted, it doesn't add to you in a positive way and that voice needs to take a hike. But without that voice, you are still whole. Your abuser didn't dismantle you.
Secondly, honor your fear. You developed your fears for good reason, and they won't become manageable until you take some steps to counteract them. Here are some ideas to deal with PTSD symptoms and fully heal from abuse.
How to Reduce PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Domestic Abuse
As a previous abuse victim, you're probably now re-learning to trust your intuition. If you think of a way to help yourself, then try it. Perhaps one of the following suggestions will help you, or maybe they'll spark your intuition in a different direction.
Address Your Fears
Some Fears Are Not PTSD Symptoms
You've left an abuser, and honestly, it's impossible to forecast what he or she will do. Fear serves you well when you use it to prepare safety plans and think through your options to protect yourself. The key is to pick an action that empowers you and do it. Any healthy action that will help you to feel safer is a good choice. When you feel afraid, remind yourself of what you did to protect yourself.
The ideas presented at Safety Planning for Domestic Violence and Abuse Victims can help you thoroughly plan for your safety (click that link then scroll to the bottom of the page to download the safety plan for free). The safety plan will help you think through stranger danger protective strategies although it's intended to help you develop strategies to protect you from your ex.
Self-defense classes or even simple fitness program can make you feel better about your ability to protect yourself.
Educating yourself further about PTSD, domestic violence and the abusive personality will help you make sense of what fears are real and should be guarded against and what fears are products of the abuse (or unlikely to affect you at all).
Fear Triggers or Startle Responses
Does the phone ringing fill you with dread? If so, make a commitment to yourself to never answer your phone. Let all calls go to voicemail (don't screen them), then check your voicemail whenever you like. This will remind you that you're not on your abuser's leash anymore. You choose who to talk to and when.
If you realize you're easily startled, you can talk about it with those who live with you. Ask them to make noise moving around corners or when entering a room you're in. Tell them that sneaking up on you isn't funny (You may have to clue your kids in on that one -- they think it's funny to scare people. Well, so do a lot of people!)
If you have nightmares that wake you from a sound sleep, try to have something to do when you're jerked awake from fear. Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down the dream. You could drink a from a glass of water kept on your night stand. You could get up, make your bed, and then crawl back into it. Interacting with something you can taste, touch, or smell will pull you out of the dream, calm you down, and let you go back to sleep.
Audial or Visual Hallucinations
Hearing and seeing things that aren't there is another symptom of PTSD. If you're experiencing audial or visual hallucinations regularly, see a doctor. Until you can get into the doctor, treat the hallucinations like you would a nightmare: write them down, eat a raw veggie or drink some water, smell some menthol . . . remember, taste, touch, or smell brings you back to now instead of where your mind took you.
Home Alone or Nighttime Sounds
Do loud (or soft) noises when you're home alone scare you into irrational thinking? Although you can't be sure no one might enter your home, you can take steps to protect yourself if they do. Make sure your doors and windows are locked. Buy some pepper spray or a weapon you're comfortable using and place it under your pillow at night. Tell your neighbors you're concerned about prowlers (or if you like, tell them you're concerned your ex will come around). Knowing they're keeping a lookout will ease your mind.
Use Self-Help to Deal With PTSD Symptoms
Relax on Purpose
Try deep-breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga, or taking a walk. Do something that brings you down to earth on a daily basis, not only when your symptoms flare. Visualize yourself as safe and calm (even if you aren't) every chance you get so if you hit a panicky place, you can easily envision yourself in control. (I know everyone says this, but that's because relaxing works!)
Join a Support Group
There are support groups online and off that relate to abuse or PTSD. Talking about your experience instead of holding it inside relieves fear.
Journal In Any Way
Likewise, a journal or blog gives you an outlet to express your fears, feelings and memories. If you don't like to write, you could speak your journal entries into a digital voice recorder or voice journal (soundcloud gives some free space for recordings). You could also record videos (youtube has a private option if you prefer it).
Try the Emotional Freedom Technique
Look into the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) too. In theory, EFT works similarly to EMDR therapy (see below), but you can do it yourself. EFT is also called "tapping" and there are plenty of free videos and information articles online.
Therapies That Help PTSD Symptoms
Mental symptoms of PTSD, like intrusive memories and flashbacks, can be difficult, but not impossible, to deal with on your own. Please find a counselor If you feel you can't afford one, go through your social services department to see if they offer assistance for domestic violence survivors. Interview therapists about what type of therapy they use and how it works for PTSD before deciding who to see (Anxiety Treatments Are Effective).
If there's a therapist that practices Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy near you, then give them a call. EMDR therapy can be a miracle cure for some people with PTSD symptoms and it would be worth it to find out if you're a person it will help.
I just interviewed Jodi Aman about narrative therapy (changing the stories we tell ourselves). Reworking your memories to empower yourself isn't denying the memory or stuffing it down - it's giving you a new and more useful way to look at it.
CBT and Psychoanalysis
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis are other types of therapy commonly offered. Between the two, the quicker road to recovery would be CBT, which helps you deconstruct your memories and find errors in thinking; then, when you recognize these thinking errors, you enact a new behavioral response to them.
Psychoanalysis analyzes dreams and other symbols of the unconscious mind to get to the root problem. A psychoanalyst would probably ask the question, "Where in your childhood did you first experience abuse?" and work from base level up. As you can imagine, psychoanalysis isn't the best type of therapy for quickly relieving PTSD symptoms.
You're Going To Be Okay
I know you wonder if the effects of abuse will ever go away. They can if you use conscious effort to address them. Think about it like this: Was there a time that you were silent about your abuse because you were ashamed of it? But you stopped being silent, and you ended the abuse. The same thing goes for abuse side effects. The more you talk about them, the quicker you'll find relief.
You did it before. You can do it again.