Rebuilding your life after abuse

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If you have been abused, it is very likely that you will feel the effects of that abuse in all your future relationships.  It could be with your spouse, your friends, your family, and your children. Imagine what it would be like if you could be free from the memories of that abuse – if you could see the world the same as someone who had a normal childhood. Perhaps, there’s still at a chance at a normal life.

Many women who have lived with an abuser find the new “freedom” inhibiting. Such a restrictive view comes from feelings of being lost, out of control, and confused. 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 simple. Emotional healing is a process that takes years and sometimes even a lifetime. But here are some steps to assist in personal healing:

  1. You have to stop living in denial. After the past abuse is out in the open, you are forced to acknowledge it instead of pretending that it wasn’t happening. This requires you to integrate the awful things that happened to you into who you are, without letting them define you. It’s more than reinventing yourself by changing careers or adopting a drastic change in your life. It requires completely rewriting your self-concept to include your victimization without allowing yourself to become a victim.
  2. 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. Whatever happened didn’t warrant the extreme events that happened thereafter.
  3. When you walk away, stay away. Otherwise, it’ll just be double trouble in the end. Loss of innocence. Shattered hopes and dreams. And unbearable loneliness. It’s not a healthy habit to pine for someone who hurt you. How can you long to return even though you know it’s the worst possible thing you can do? Because you didn’t want to let go of love, or what you convinced yourself was love, or what some part of you still sees as a chance for love and because your feelings don’t change the second you decide you can’t live with a person. You may flip from love to hate, but the intensity is no different, and in many cases, you may still love that person, even though you know he or she is unhealthy and unsafe. You wanted it to be better, not over.
  4. You have to unlearn your unhealthy accustoms. When you were in your abusive situation, you must have learned every trick to try to keep your abuser happy, or at least to avoid triggering his or her rage. You learned to be submissive and silent, to doubt yourself, to start every sentence with “I’m sorry.” These strategies you’ve had to get accustomed to over time are not only useless but counterproductive and unhealthy in a healthy supportive relationship. Little wonder some will even doubt their ability to love again, or at all.
  5. Don’t jump into another relationship. It is 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. You have to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for abandoning yourself and for the pain that abandonment caused you can be rather different. What was it about your abuser that seemed so incredibly appealing and difficult to leave? You blame yourself, your childhood, your abuser’s childhood and yourself again, until you come to a place of true forgiveness and acceptance.
  7. Spend time with people who build you up. Try to get out and connect with others as much as possible, be it with good friends over lunch or a support group for domestic violence survivors. Try to say “hi” to someone new each week, just to help you find your confidence again. Don’t seclude yourself in your house for too long at any time.
  8. Find an exercise routine you enjoy. Research shows that regular exercise lowers rates of depression and anxiety because it helps to release endorphins, or those “feel good” chemicals in the brain. In time, you’ll notice a difference in your mood as soon as you start moving.

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. The road to recovery is long and treacherous, but doable; just remember that it is possible.

You deserve to be happy and loved. Truly loved!

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