Part 2 of a 2-part series
By Barbara Pierce
In last month’s issue, we talked about coming to terms with a crappy childhood or an abusive marriage and how to overcome what you survived.
“Changing isn’t like changing clothes,” said one woman who survived an abusive childhood, then married an abusive man. She left him to begin the journey to reclaim herself. “It’s not easy, not easy at all.”
“You’re in a world of pain, but that pain will lessen,” she was quoted in Ellen Bass’s book, “The Courage to Heal.” “At the beginning, you can’t see that. You can only see your pain and you think it will never go away. But the nature of pain is that it changes. It changes as you work through it. One day, you wake up and realize that life isn’t just about working through your abuse; it’s about living, too.”
Often, the skills that helped us survive as an abused or neglected child or an abused woman don’t work so well when we’re adults.
From my own experiences and from working as a counselor with people that were hurting, here are a few things others found helpful.
Look it in the face and accept that things happened to you that weren’t OK. You don’t have to forgive anybody, just accept it. These things aren’t forgivable.
“Accept that you were a victim, that the abuse really did take place,” said Bass. “This is often difficult for survivors. When you’ve spent your life denying the reality of your abuse, when you don’t want it to be true, or when your family repeatedly calls you crazy or a liar; it can be hard to remain firm in the knowledge that you were abused.”
Acknowledge your pain, your anger and your grief. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. Some days this won’t be easy. All your feelings are valid.
It can help to jot down your feelings; this can provide some sense of release. It can help to get your emotions out on paper.
Recognize how your pain, your anger, and your grief have affected you, affected your behavior and your relationships.
Then change your identity from being a victim to a survivor — one who overcame bad stuff and is now in charge of her life. This can make a huge difference in how you see yourself. See the many ways being a survivor has given you many good qualities.
Begin caring about yourself. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Remind yourself that what happened to you is not your fault. Treat yourself like you would treat a good friend. Be gentle with yourself. Talk to yourself like you would talk with a good friend.
Stand up against any more abuse from anyone. Learn to be OK saying no.
I like this fable:
Once upon a time a woman who been a victim all her life moved to a cave to study with a guru. She wanted to learn how not to be a victim. The guru gave her stacks of books and left her alone to study them. Every morning, he came to monitor her progress, carrying a big wooden stick. He’d ask her: “Have you learned what you need to learn yet?” Every morning she answered “No, not yet,” and he struck her over the head with the big wooden stick.
This scenario repeated itself for several weeks. One morning the guru came into the cave and asked her the same question as he raised his stick, ready to strike her. This time, she grabbed the stick from him, stopping his assault in midair.
Relieved to end the daily beatings but fearing retaliation, she looked at him. To her surprise, the guru smiled.
“Congratulations!” he said. “You now know everything you need to know.”
“How is that?” she asked.
“You’ve learned how to stop the pain,” he replied.
Stop the abuse; stop the pain.
Learning to trust others is another thing that’s hard for many victims. We build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves; we armor ourselves. But then we feel alone, trapped behind these walls. That can be more painful than taking small risks to trust others.
Seek support from others. Find a support group, activity or hobby. A big part of the healing process is connecting to other people, so make the effort to develop relationships.
It can help to talk to a trusted family member, friend or counselor.
Replace bad habits with good ones. Bad habits can take many forms, like negativity and mistrusting others, or turning to alcohol or drugs when feelings become too hard to bear. A support group or a therapist can help you learn the right tools. Consider joining a support group for survivors.
Celebrate your progress, no matter how small it may seem. It’s the little victories in your recovery that will eventually help you win the battle of healing your trauma.
Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at email@example.com.