Friday, September 30, 2016

What Not to Say to Abuse Victims

I asked my Facebook friends what were the dumbest and most thoughtless comments they received when they disclosed they had left their abusers. I was stunned at the level of cruelty. Some intentional, some just from lack of understanding.

Most all of us encountered surprise from family and friends. Abuse is typically done in the privacy of the home, not out in public. To the general population, abusers are often charming and charismatic, the very persona that drew their victims to them. However, behind closed doors their cruel and controlling personalities come out.

Understanding our friend's and family’s lack of knowledge regarding our situation doesn’t mean the comments hurt any less. Victims reported many knee-jerk responses: “I can’t believe it. He’s such a nice guy.” “Are you sure?” “You have such a great life, why screw it up?”

Then there was the shaming and blaming statements: “Why did you stay so long.” “It couldn’t have been that bad, you stayed.” “Other women have had it worse.” “Don’t say anything that could ruin his career.”

When you toss religion into the mix, the comments were more along this line: “God can heal  anything. You need to pray harder about this.” “Divorce is a sin.” “The church frowns on divorce.”

While we expected angry and cruel reactions from our former partners, the most hurtful comments often came from family members: “You’re making a big mistake.” “You didn’t try hard enough.” “What did you do to make him so angry that he hit you?” “You’ve always been a loser.” “There’s never been a divorce in our family.”

Every story is different, all are painful. It’s humiliating to admit you were taken in by a controlling person. Telling someone takes great courage. Victims need the people around them to believe them and listen more then giving opinions. They especially need others to know that domestic abuse is complicated and it’s difficult to leave an abuser. (See blog post: Why Victims Stay or Return to Their Abusers, January 12, 2012)

Should someone share this personal information with you, the best response is, “I’m sorry that happened to you. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment.” Then let her/him talk. 

If she is not sure what to do next, offer to help your friend connect with a shelter in the area. If there is no shelter, give her the number of the Domestic Violence Hotline (800 799-7233). An advocate can talk with her about available options. Encourage your friend to join a support group or connect with a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse. 

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. Through Facebook I’ve met some remarkable women. Some of them have offered their thoughts on this topic. I will be posting them throughout October.

Meanwhile, you can share your thoughts by clicking on the comment button below.

Monday, August 29, 2016

3 Issues That Keep Victims From Moving On

The false-belief that we cannot live without our controlling partners is one reason many victims struggle when trying to move forward. Amid those horrible times, there were good times and we still love them—or who we though they were—or could be. The life we lived was familiar. The unfamiliar scares us—after all, things could be worse.

Think back to when you were a child. Did you have a blanket or stuffed toy that meant the world to you? You carried it everywhere, and slept with it tucked under your arm. When it was lost, you were hysterical. Frantic and in tears, you searched everywhere, terrified that you beloved companion was gone forever. When it was found you were elated.

Where is that toy today? Most likely it is packed away in a keepsake box or was tossed out years ago. While at that time it represented comfort. As you grew older, you learned to comfort yourself. You stopped carrying your precious toy or blanket because you matured beyond that stage of your life.

The same thing will happen when you cut ties to your ex. As you rebuild your life you will move beyond this relationship and create a stronger and healthier self-confidence. The time will come when you see your ex at some family function and not believe you were ever with that person.

Another reason some victims have trouble moving on is that they desperately want to be validated by their former partners. Survivors want their exs to admit they were monsters and be sorry. The truth is—narcissists will never, under any circumstances, face up to their wretched behavior or feel sorry for anything they did or anyone they hurt

Empathy and compassion are not a part of their psychological makeup. Even if their victims becomes ill or homeless, narcissists will never take responsibility for their contribution to the problem. They feel no or shame. They are more likely to see the occurrences as validation of their low opinions of their victims.

If you find yourself thinking that your partner will come around and feel sorry for what they’ve done to you, see a therapist trained in helping victims of abuse and talk through this issue. Being stuck in this mindset can cause you to unintentionally sabotage your own success. 

You cannot punish a narcissist by hurting yourself. The only way to punish a narcissist is to open you wings and soar. Once you accept your worthiness, you won’t need validation from anyone else—especially your ex.

Being kind and empathetic, victims can also be waylaid by exs who become intentionally homeless and impoverished to avoid paying support. They may try to manipulate their victims by asking to move in with them (or not move out) until they can “get back on their feet.” If that doesn't work, they may claim a trumped up illness to finagle their way back into their victims’ lives. Once they get a foot in the door, they will pull every stunt they can to stay and retake control.

Let’s be clear—success depends on one’s own efforts. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Having made the decision to end the relationship, you are no longer responsible to take care of your ex—for any reason. Focus on improving your life and let your ex take responsibility for his or hers. 

I know that if you have children with this person, you are not able to totally cut off communication with your ex. Work on emotionally distancing yourself from him or her and holding your boundaries. A therapist can help you develop a plan to deal with your ex and protect your progress. You deserve a happy life.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Safety Planning for Adults and Teens

Whether you stay with a controlling partner or leave, it’s important that you plan for your safety (as well as your children’s safety).

If you are like I was, you’ve run the gamut of “fixes” and nothing has worked. Feeling helpless, in an effort to cope, we try to ignore, deny or minimize what is happening. The danger of going numb is that we may not be aware that the severity of the abuse continues to escalate. If your partner hasn’t physically attacked you yet, there’s a good change he or she will.

I’ve added a page: “Safety Planning” (see tab above). Adults, or teens will find some detailed advice whether they plan to leave or continue in the controlling relationship.

Below are some general suggestions.

If You Chose to Stay

You know the indicators that your partner is heading toward a violent tirade or battering episode. Some of my warning signals were: the sound of his firm and determined footsteps coming across the wooden porch, the way he postured himself to look large and menacing, his voice became low and measured, and his eyes darkened. 

As victims, we are more adept at reading our partners’ body language than we are at recognizing our own feelings. Yet, our bodies react to the impending verbal or physical attack with a number of signals: a knot in our chests or stomachs, trembling, relentless chatter in our mind and stark terror—throwing us into fight or flight mode.

We may become paralyzed with fear, unable to run away. We didn’t fight back because past history showed us that whenever we tried to our partners met our attempts with harsher, more deadly violence. If you have a safety plan, you are prepared to react. You move into self-protection mode.  

Consider these questions as you develop your plan:
  1. When things begin to escalate, how can you safely remove yourself from the location? 
  2. Do you have a cellphone so you can call 911 if necessary?
  3. Have you downloaded a DV app to notify friends and 911 if you are in danger? (
  4. Do you have a neighbor who is willing to call the police if there is any indication that you are in trouble? 
  5. Where can you go? Do you have family or friends to stay with? 
  6. Do you know the location of your local shelter?
  7. What do you need to take with you—i.e. Clothing, personal items, copies of important documents, money, car keys? Have them packed and stored safely with a friend or family member.
  8. Document all abuse, noting the date and what occurred. Take photos of any injuries, print them and write the date and details on the back. Keep this information in a safety deposit box or at a friend’s house. Your documentation is admissible in court to show ongoing abuse. 
If You Have Children

If you have children, plan for their safety, too. I was privileged to hear Olga Trujillo, a survivor of abuse, speak about growing up in a violent home. Her saving grace was a neighbor lady who welcomed Olga into her home to sit and talk. The neighbor heard the chaos from next door and was aware of Olga’s situation. The woman never trashed Olga’s father, but talked to her about self-protection. She asked Olga where she could hide from her raging father until it was safe. Together they sang songs that Olga could sing softly while she hid. The songs distracted her from listening to the carnage. 

Developing a plan with your children gives them permission to protect themselves and not feel they have to try to stop daddy from hurting mommy. A plan gives them some control over the situation.
  1. Help them find a safe place to hide until the danger has passed. It can be at neighbor’s house or a hidden spot within the house. Have a code word that tells them when it is safe to come out. Let them practice moving to their “safe place” quickly.
  2. Plan something to distract them from the tirade while they hide in the house: songs to sing, earphones, paper and crayons, books— items stashed there.
  3. Teach them how and when to get help. Teach them how to dial 911 and give their address. Have a code word that tells them when to make that call.
If You Plan to Leave

It is especially important for victims to have help when planning to leave. The risk of death increases by 70% at that time. Partners who have never been physical can become physical batterers when their victims attempt to leave. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800- 799-7233) can assist you as you plan your exit. Your local shelter can provide you with an advocate to help you plan, leave safely and prepare to move through the court system for a No-Contact order or other legal issues. If you are in need of a place to live, the women’s shelter can house you or help you find housing. If finances are a concern, the shelter can often help you find needed resources.

Consider what safety measures are needed for protection:
  1. If your partner has been removed from your home change your locks. Install an alarm system.
  2. Download a DV app to notify your friends or 911 should you need help: 
  3. Keep a trusted friend aware of your daily activities, where you are going, when you will return.
  4. Keep a log of any unwanted contact with your ex.
  5. Take photographs of any injuries, print them and write the date and other details on the back. Keep these in a safe place. Your documentation is admissible in court to prove ongoing abuse.
  6. Notify teachers or any activity leader that your children are not to leave with your former partner.
See the Safety Planning tab above for more details.

If You are a Teen or Tween

Know that you deserve a relationship that makes your heart sing. If you are spending time crying over your partner and giving up who you are to please him or her, you are not in a healthy relationship. Someone who loves you will not call you names, embarrass you in front of others and insist on having his or her own way all the time. You can do better. I promise this is not the only person you will ever love, and he or she is definitely not the only one who will ever love you.
  • Tell your parents, a friend, a counselor, a clergyman or someone else whom you trust and who can help. The more isolated you are from friends and family, the more control the abuser has over you.
  • Download a DV app to notify your parents, friends or 911 should you need help: 
  • Alert the school counselor or security. They can watch out for you.
  • Plan and rehearse what you would do if your partner became abusive.
  • Keep a daily log of the abuse. Include date, time, what happened and photos of any injuries.
  • Break up with him or her in the safest way—by text message.
  • Do not meet your partner alone. Do not let him or her into your home or car when you are alone.
  • Avoid being alone at school, your job, or on the way to and from places.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Report stalking to the police.

Never believe that you have to go through this alone because no one cares about you. There is help. It is important to have a community of support. Reach out.

Friday, June 24, 2016

6 Tips For Healing From Abuse

After leaving my violent partner, I stood in a therapist’s office and announced, “You have 2 weeks to heal me.” A twitch of a smile showed at the corners of her lips. With compassion in her eyes, she said, “Then we’d better get started.” She understood my drive to get over the pain, fear and memories so I could begin to live again.

Of course, healing isn’t a 2 week fix, it takes time. There are many knots to untangle, much to unlearn, relearn and newly learn. It requires patience with oneself, determination and, most often, the guidance of a therapist trained to work with victims of abuse. 

Here are a few important tips I learned on my road to recovery.

1) No Dating Until the Larger Part of Healing Has Occurred

I attended a rebuilding group. At the first meeting, the facilitator announced, “You are a bad date.” He urged us to agree to refrain from dating for one year. That felt like a long time to me. I was looking for a White Knight to ride in and make my life perfect. To heal we must become our own White Knights. Survivors need time to focus on themselves and learn that they can make it on their own.

We should not hurry into a new relationship because the highs and lows of the cycle of abuse (see above tab) has reinforced a deep connection called Trauma Bonding—a biological craving for intensity that no normal relationship provides. It is hard for a survivor to relate to others because the lack of fervor feels like a lack of interest. Those who have not laid a healthy foundation often unwittingly seek that intensity and find themselves with another violent partner. The good new is, this biological craving fades with time and a normal relationship will be satisfying. 

2) Develop Ways to Block the Urge to Return

Trauma Bonding triggers an urge to return to the violent partner. To avoid the bungie-bounce back into the relationship, accept the truth of who your partner is. 

Write in your journal:
  • Detail your partner’s every violent and unkind behavior. When feeling vulnerable, let this list remind you why you left and should not return.
  • Detail what you liked about your partner. Look over the list and ask yourself if he truly is that person or if this is his false persona (the one that he used to entice and hold you into the relationship)? Are the traits listed who you hoped he would become instead of who he is? 
Toss out these false beliefs:
  • The devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know.
  • No one else will want me.
  • I can’t make it on my own.
You can have a new partner who is kind and loving. You can also build a wonderful life for yourself with no partner. 

Be aware of the mind games your controller plays. After you leave, your ex partner may put on that fake Mr. or Ms. Wonderful mask to lure you back. Develop healthy ways to respond without being caught up in the drama. Some of these games are:
  • Making promises they never keep—“I’m going into batterers’ treatment”, “I’ll quit drinking and doing drugs.”
  • Professing that they cannot make it without you—“I need your help to heal.”
  • Professing to be a new person—“I got religion.”
  • Blaming others—“They don’t understand our love.” “It’s us against the world.”
Be prepared for these and many others. Step out of the drama as you watch it play out. Alert the police if your ex makes suicidal threats of threats against you. Contact the police if your ex stalks you. Keep a record of any unwanted contact (text messages, email, phone calls).

3) Replace Your Unhealthy Self-Talk with the Truth

Survivors often say, “I don’t know what healthy thinking sounds like anymore.” After years of abuse, we internalized the negative and twisted messages we received. We learned we could not trust our own opinions or feelings.

Writing But He’ll Change, helped me identify my own and other survivors’ false beliefs and replace them with truths. Statements such as: I am a stupid, worthless nothing are countered with, I am intelligent. I have gifts and abilities in a variety of different areas. I am alive for a purpose. I am unique and needed by the world.

Write affirmations on cards and read them often to replace false beliefs with the truth.

4) Take Care of Yourself

If you have an addiction, seek specialized help. Addictions served to numb your ability to feel pain. These coping mechanisms will throw up a wall against healing. You have to walk through the pain to get to the other side. A therapist can guide you and stand with you during this process. Support groups are also a blessing.

Move yourself up on the People Who Deserve Happiness list. Treat yourself to a lavender scented bubble bath. Use your good towels. Nourish your body with healthy foods. Eat off of your best china. Value yourself as you would your dearest friend. Get active. Join a gym or take a yoga class.

Rediscover your gifts and abilities. What makes you heart sing? What activities did you enjoy before this relationship? Get involved in them. Also try new activities.

Set goals. Start with short-term goals to build your confidence. Set one long-term goal.

Make friends with your gut. It will guide you and help you make good decisions. Remember: Mistakes are not bad, they teach you and redirect you.

5) Surround Yourself With Supportive People

While it is important to talk about what happened, share only with those who have earned the right to hear your story. These are people who know how to listen, will believe you and respect your privacy. Anyone who tells you to just get over it does not belong in this group.

6) Breathe and Focus on the Good Stuff

Over time, the remnants of this relationship will loosen and fall away leaving only important life lessons. We no longer label ourselves as victims or survivors, we become people who spent a small portion of their lives in a violent relationship. There is much more to us than this one period of time. We are a collection of life experiences—each equally important. 

Becoming who we are meant to be takes a lifetime. It is up to us to decide who that is and what kind of a life we want. Then go out and make it happen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Yours, Mine and Ours; Healthy Relationships

When two healthy people come together, their worlds over lap into a space where they create a life together built on respect, trust and communication. They share common interests and friends and at the same time, continue their own interests. They have time together, time alone and time with friends and family. Differences of opinions are discussed and respected. One person does not always have to give in to the other. Decisions are made jointly. Each partner’s voice has equal value.    

This concept can feel foreign to a survivor of domestic violence. 

Before we met our controlling partners, we had a life. Some of us had jobs and lived on our own, others were finishing up an education. We had dreams for out futures, were uncovering our talents and figuring out how to use them. Our worlds were filled with activities that we loved, families and friends.

Our controlling partners came into the relationships with their own individual worlds. At the beginning of the relationship, our partners were willing to participate in activities we enjoyed. They encouraged us to follow our passions.

Over time, our partners created reasons why we should not spend time with our friends using lies like: “Your best friend hit on me. She’s not your friend.” “Mike told me they laugh at you behind your back.” Intentionally, isolating us, giving them more influence over our lives.

Our partners made it difficult for us to continue to follow our passions: “Your job is more important to you than I am. Don’t you love me?” “You need to face the fact that you are never going to make it in that career. You’re just not smart enough.” They accused us of being selfish and damaged our self-esteem so they had more control.

Drawn, coerced or forced to stop our life journeys, our worlds dissolved. That left us standing in the abusers’ realms. They positioned themselves at the center of their worlds and our job was to serve their needs and wants. We, as human beings, ceased to exist and were seen as nothing more than property. Narcissists believe that they have the right to use any means—including physical force—to keep their property.

Relationships after domestic violence are scary. While we yearn to share our lives with someone, we no longer trust our judgment to pick a partner. Also, we don’t trust our ability to take care of ourselves, and children. That fear can cause us to jump into a new relationship before we are ready and, worse yet, before we’ve vetted our new partner.

When I joined a rebuilding group, the first thing the facilitator said was, “For the next year, you are not a good date.” He went on to warn us about rushing into a relationship before we healed. When it comes to leaving an abusive relationship, those words are particularly important. Desperately seeking another partner can almost guarantee that it will be another violent one. That’s because we gravitate toward what we know--what feels comfortable. Our understanding of relationships could have been skewed as early as childhood, if we grew up in a violent family. To end abuse, we have to change what feels comfortable. That takes time and introspection.

We must to learn that we can take care of ourselves and children. Good decisions do not come from a place of desperation and fear. That means we reassemble our world. We grieve the loss of time that could have been put to better use, take the lessons that we learned and begin to restore and upgrade our life. It’s hard but satisfying work. With time we will be back on our journey and moving in the direction we were meant to go.

When are we ready for a new partner? When we've achieved the following goals...

We have:
  • Completed a good portion of our healing work (preferably with a therapist or support group).
  • Laid the foundation of our worlds.
  • Gained control over our own lives and don’t expect or allow our new partners to “fix” them.
  • Learned to set steadfast boundaries and are willing to walk away if they are not respected.
  • Learned to speak our minds respectfully and firmly even if it is scary.

A healthy relationship will feel outside of our comfort zones. We are a work in process. Let's not allow our discomfort blow up a good relationship. Instead, let’s face the issues head on.

The first issue to address is the instinct to fall back and let a new partner take the lead. Our past relationships were so exhausting that we would like our new partners to handle everything. This is not a component of a healthy relationship.We must stand as an equal and responsible partner.  

That leads us to being a part of all important decisions. Since our former partners chastised us for any decision we made, we may be reluctant to share our opinions. If our new partners aren't interested or respectful of our opinions, we need to leave the relationship.

We are used to our partners calling us all the time, checking up on us. We may find ourselves doubting our new partners love because they don’t call as often, instead of seeing their behavior as a sign of trust. In a healthy relationship, space is respected and the other’s word is good.

The biggest issue may be asking for what we need. Since our needs and wants were never acknowledged, expressing them will definitely feel strange. This will take some practice. Start with small requests.

The more we challenge our false beliefs and openly express our feelings the sooner we will be able to relax into the new healthy normal. It takes practice and courage.

The right partner will respect your journey, encourage you and walk along side you. You will  do the same for him or her.

My favorite quote comes from Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (How Good Do We Have To Be?):

“One of the basic needs of every human being is the need to be loved, to have our wishes and feeling taken seriously, to be validated as people who matter.”

May this become your new normal.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return or Stay Out?

Should I return or stay out? While it sounds like a simple question with an easy answer, those of us who have been in violent relationships know it to be extremely complicated. In my blog (Why Victims Stay or Return to Their Abusers) I address many of the reasons why victims stay or return. In this post, I want to focus on another component that draws us into that vacillation dance—the honeymoon period.

Part of the reason leaving is such a difficult decision is based on the Cycle of Abuse (See tab above). Abusive relationships are filled with emotional highs and lows. As the tension stage builds toward the battering incident, the victim tries desperately to appease her* habitually disgruntled partner. Knowing that she will not be successful, she slides into numbness to avoid the fear of what is to come—and it does. Her partner explodes and brutally terrorizes her. Afterward, the couple move into the honeymoon period where the abuser apologizes and promises to change. During the honeymoon period, there is relief from the victim’s pain. She experiences a high that he wants and needs her so much. It’s like falling in love all over again. She feels alive and believes battering will never happen again.  

Survivors know that it is not over and it is not a circle—it’s a spiral. It will happen again and again, with the incidents coming more often and the severity of the abuse escalating. 

Most survivors were driven from the relationship by an incident of violence. We were finished. However, our partners moved on to do the dance of the honeymoon period where they attempted to woo us back. They became Mr. Wonderfuls—those guys we first met. They told us they were sorry as they pulled out all the old tricks that hooked us and held us in the relationship. We received letters professing their love, promises that they would do whatever was necessary to get us back. They joined AA or church. They even used our children to intercede on their behalf. It didn’t matter to them what they had to do or say. They weren't going to follow through with their promises anymore than they followed through with them the last time.

Meanwhile, we slid into numbness. That critical voice in our heads attacked us saying we could never survive on our own. We couldn’t support our children. He would find a way to take our children away from us. All his threats spun through our minds. Our lives felt like an endless nightmare. We longed for relief. That heady feeling from the honeymoon period tempted us to return. Maybe this time things would be different.

If victims stop themselves amid the negitive chatter and go to that quiet place in their gut, they would hear the truth—if they return things will not change. The abuse will continue. The victims self-esteem will be decimated. Feeling victorious, abusers will believe they now have the right to hold the reins of control tighter, demanding more and limiting their partners’ freedoms. In addition, victims must understand that the abuse will escalate and spill over onto their children. The end result may be death for the victims and, in may cases, their children, also.

When an ex understands that his victim is not returning, he will do whatever it takes to make her life hell. He will:
  1. Tell lies to others so the victim looks like the bad partner.
  2. Create chaos around her to keep her off-balance and not be able to think clearly, hoping to wear her down so she gives up and returns.
  3. Come up with a sob story to lure her back or get a toe in the door. (He wants to stay in the house with her. It’s just until he is back on his feet then he’ll leave or do whatever she wants.)
  4. Hide their money.
  5. Criticize everything she does to make her afraid she cannot make it without him.
  6. Embarrass her at her workplace—Antagonize her employers, hoping she gets fired.
  7. Stalk her relentlessly, to wear her down so she will return to him.
  8. Drag her to court for minor and made up claims to drain her energy and finances.
  9. Use the children to hurt her.
  10. Murder her and/or her children. (women who leave are 70% more likely to be murdered—often within the first 6 months)

To survive, victims have to face the fact that they cannot change their partners. They have to admit that the heady honeymoon period would never last. Then they must learn how to shore themselves up against their exes stunts. 

What worked for me was to imagine myself standing outside the drama my ex created. I watched for his expected antics and ticked them off my mental list as an item. Thinking of it that way, I didn’t engage or succumb to the emotions. I breathed deeply and didn’t react to his attempts to rile me. It took some practice—unfortunately I had plenty of opportunity to practice.

It helped to develop a set statement to tell myself when the vacillating dance music began playing in my head.

“I’ve been here before…too many times. He is doing and saying the same things he always has. He’s made no effort to change. I cannot change him, save him, or do the work for him. If he valued our relationship and wanted to change, he would go into treatment and follow the program. He has not, so he will not change.”

When I accepted the fact that the only one I could change was me, I started focusing on my future and discovered the highs of achieving my goals. 

To those struggling with this decision: If you think you cannot do it, consider all the hard work you have put into this relationship. If you turn your focus on yourself, you will see results because you are a willing participant.

It’s a struggle to take back control of our lives after all the years spent being told we were inept and that no one cared about us or will help us. These lies need to be yanked out by the roots. We are not stupid and there is help through local shelters or at the National Domestic Violence Hot Line at 800.799.7233. If you aren’t working with a therapist trained in domestic abuse treatment, find one or a support group. There are also lots of survivors on Facebook, willing to give you emotional support and share what they have learned in public or private groups.

It’s not easy to make the decision to stay out. Don’t beat yourself up if this is the second, forth, or tenth time you’ve left. Just let this time be the last time.

* I use the pronoun “he” as the abuser and “she” as the victim because that was my experience and for ease of clarity in my writing. We know that men can also be victims.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Embracing a Life of Calm and Wellbeing

The hard part of healing is that we have to change the old patterns that feel normal to patterns that don’t. To move forward, we have to live in a new way, embracing new beliefs and behaviors. This is not easy to do. We have internalized trauma memory (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD).
Athletes, musicians and artists depend on muscle memory. Figure skaters practice for hours to perfect a jump. They come to the point where they quit making it happen and let their body do what it has been trained to do. When a female skater goes through puberty, her physical changes require her to re-teach her muscles how to do a jump or spin. This means a lot more practice to replace the former muscle memories with the new ones.
It’s a much bigger job to put internalized trauma to rest and replace it with feelings of wellbeing. Some of us never lived within a relationship that was nurturing and gave us a sense of safety, self-value, and self-respect. We repeatedly pick partners who abuse because the chaotic atmosphere feels “normal”. The change we must make isn’t a minor adjustment, we are replacing a way of life with a whole new set of beliefs and behaviors. 
While we lived with abuse, we became hyper-vigilant. Our bodies responded to our partners’ every tightened muscle, piercing look, and change in demeanor with the fight or flight response. Cortisol, the stress hormone, surged in our bodies. Over the years, the trauma has lodged in our esophagus, squeezed our hearts, and filled our heads with fear-sodden thoughts. So it’s not surprising that when we see or feel something that even slightly resembles one of those danger indicators, our bodies and minds automatically catapult us into our terror response. 
It will take time—a lot of time—and courage to change things. We need to be kind to ourselves when we fall back into those old behaviors or find the disparaging self-talk has taken over our brain again. I assure you, this will happen with less frequency as time goes on and we relax into a sense of calm and wellbeing.
We’ve spent a lot of years hiding our vulnerability, knowing that it would be exploited if uncovered. To have a truly intimate relationship, we have to be willing to face this fear, and share our feelings. This requires speaking openly, asking our partners for clarification of their actions or comments that felt hurtful to us. When we share how it impacted us, we help our partners understand what we are dealing with and that we are doing our best to not react in the old ways. They need to know that our healing requires their help and patience.  
Our partners’ reactions can be a real litmus test of their character. Do they respect that we are taking the lead in our own recovery and their job is to run along side us, cheer us on and follow our lead? Do they use our vulnerability against us? Do they try to take control and to “fix” us? We understand that this process can be frustrating for them. But, if their reaction is, “Just get over it,” we have all the data we need to know about our partners’ intentions.
Most important, we have to trust ourselves. Be strong enough to walk away if we realize that this partner isn’t empathetic, doesn’t see us as an equal and isn’t willing to work with us to build a solid relationship that meets both of our needs. We were brave enough to leave our violent partners, now we need to be brave enough to speak up and create the life we’ve always wanted.