How to Rebuild Your Life After Abuse
What could there possibly be to be afraid of after leaving an abuser?
The truth is that there is a lot to be afraid of. I am speaking from a woman’s perspective, which will likely vary somewhat from an abused male’s perspective, but the general principle is the same. Many women who have lived with an abuser find the new “freedom” inhibiting. Such a contradictive view comes from feelings of being lost, out of control, and confused.
1. Most abusers function by controlling their victim(s). The abuser will decide what the victim wears, where he/she goes or cannot go, what time certain things will happen, etc. The victim adheres to this schedule in the hope that he/she will placate the abuser and will not suffer additional punishment. This kind of set scheduling and excessive rules become a pattern for the victim, and once alone, the victim will find that he/she is still afraid to act without command.
2. There is often a fear of “return”. New relationships, whether they are intimate relationships, friendships, or reuniting with family, can be intimidating because there is always a lurking fear that there might be a new abuser coming about. The ability to trust will have been totally destroyed.
3. Guilt. Guilt is very common in abuse victims. Victims often feel that they are responsible for the abuse that happened, and some actually feel guilty about leaving the abuser. Sometimes this guilt can be because of manipulative acts on behalf of the abuser, such as saying things like, “I’ll kill myself if you leave me”, or, “I never meant to hurt you. I love you so much and I don’t know what I’ll do without you”. These types of statements really play on a woman’s dominant emotional side, thus producing high levels of guilt.
4. The subject of trust is very similar to point two. There is an incessant fear that new events could lead back into a life of hell, and it strongly affects relationships. However, trust goes beyond relationships. The victim may have a difficult time trusting him/herself in life as well as in relationships. There is always a pending fear that the victim made a mistake somewhere in the past and may make it again. At this point it isn’t so much relapse that the victim fears, but rather, he/she fears him/herself.
So how can a person rebuild life after abuse?
I wish that I could say that it’s as simple as saying positive things every day and simply telling one’s self to be strong, but it’s not that easy (even though it does help). Emotional healing is a process that takes years, often up to a lifetime. The key is to start slow and take one’s time. Rushing leads to more mistakes, which in turn will lead to an additional loss in confidence.
Here are some steps to assist in personal healing:
1. Start slow. Sometimes it helps to write the situation out in a journal. The key is to take life into perspective, but to do it in such a way that you won’t feel encouraged to berate yourself for past decisions. This means avoiding statements like, “I’m such a loser”. Write the truth, but not self-pity. Your goal is to build strength.
2. Share. A victim of abuse who suffers in silence will suffer the most. There are groups for abuse victims, internet sites, communities, et cetera. Take advantage of these avenues. Chances are, you’ll find someone who went through something similar to you. This will help you to identify not only with yourself, but also with other people. It can help you to start rebuilding relationships in your life. Counselling is often another avenue to help you rebuild your life, if you’re comfortable with it.
3. Tell yourself that you didn’t deserve the abuse, and believe it. No one, and I mean no one, deserves to be abused. It doesn’t matter what the abuser told you – he/she was just trying to hurt you and manipulate you. You did not deserve it.
4. Be smart. You know the traits and qualities that your abuser had. Perhaps he/she was overly charismatic, manipulative, had subtle signs of control issues, so on. It’s important to recognize these traits in other people that you meet, but don’t categorize everyone. If you are really not comfortable with someone because he/she portrays too many of the same traits as your abuser, then avoid him/her. You don’t want extra conflict in your life. Remember, though, that most people share similar traits with other people. You can’t just assume that someone else will be an abuser, and you can’t run away from everyone. Trust your instincts, but think logically as well.
5. Don’t jump into another relationship. It’s unbelievable how many people (women especially) will leave an abuser by jumping into a new relationship immediately afterward. At that point, the victim is looking for external supplication, and it doesn’t work. A victim of abuse has to regain personal strength, and that is not going to happen by deciding to rely heavily on someone else for support and confirmation. Having a support foundation is a good thing, but being dependent on that support foundation won’t help you.
6. Take some time to cry it out. The truth of the matter is that you’re human. It’s very easy to say the practical ways of dealing with the aftermath of abuse, but people are not robots. While it is important not to be engrossed in a world of self-pity, everyone is entitled to let out built up emotions. The idea is not to shut down, but instead to recognize life for what it is and make a plan for a road to recovery. This won’t happen overnight, as it is a tremendously large project, but it is possible.
7. Let go of pride. This seems extremely contradictory to previous points, but it’s an important one. Some abuse victims experience a large amount of pride that prevents him/her from seeking help or admitting that there was/is a problem.
The steps above are not in any particular order, because there is no simple formula for recovery. Everyone deals with different experiences in various ways, and while it’s possible to find recovery steps “in order” on the internet, they’re very difficult to follow if you’re not prepared for it.
The road to recovery is long and treacherous, but doable; just remember that it is possible.