Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Can't Make it on My Own

 One of the biggest false beliefs that held me in my relationship for far too long was: 
On my own, I can’t make it in the outside world.
When we leave the relationship, we are thrown into a world we are not prepared to handle. We’ve lived under our partner’s rules, expectations, and boundaries. Thinking for ourselves or making decisions wasn't allowed. Also, he’s painted the outside world as his co-conspirator. Due to the Stockholm syndrome and brainwashing we believe that no one will listen to us or believe our word over his.   
It’s hard for us to trust that there are people who will listen to and believe us. Many of us had to hit bottom and feel we had no place else to go. Empty and numb we had no choice but to tell our story to someone. Thank God, there are people who are eager to help,,, our family, shelter personnel, therapists and others.
The affirmation and support we receive from others can help us to not only trust others, but to trust ourselves again. With renewed awareness, we learn to listen and act on our inner authentic voice, instead of the voice in our head that’s driven by fear. As we trust our own wisdom, our self-esteem starts to grow. We don’t beat ourselves up over decisions that don’t turn out the way we’d hoped, but learn from them. We develop tools to determine who fits as a friend and who must go, and walk away from people who are negative or non-supportive. (No more people pleasing or substituting their beliefs for our own.) We make clear statements to the offender, saying we choose to end all contact. If he persists, we consider him a stalker and take legal action (get a protection order, communicate with the police, document contact attempts, save threatening voice mail messages, and letters and if need, prosecute him.) 
If we can’t walk away from the offenders (i.e. they’re family or the father of our children), we take care of ourselves by (obtaining protection orders if needed) limiting our time with them. Often it’s easier to drop off/pick up children through a third party. We set clear rules -- conversations are limited to child related issues only, any disparaging remarks end the conversation, immediately. Soon we can identify the games our ex or others play, allowing us to stand apart and watch without being caught up in it or taking it personally.  What they do or say is not about us, but about who they are.
Many of us left everything behind, grateful to get out with our life and our kids. Rebuilding our life is no small feat. It’s overwhelming. I found that if I concentrated on what I can do today to take one more step forward, I could control the anxiety. Writing in a journal about my pain, anger and frustration helped, too. (Later I could look back and see how far I’d grown.) Joining a support group and therapy was crucial to my recovery. Prayer has always been a part of my life, it strengthened and comforted me.
I hated doing the work, but did it anyway. One step at a time. When I caught myself looking for an easy solution, I’d stop. There is no easy solution. We hadn’t had control over our lives for so long that it feels uncomfortable and frightening to take command. Finding someone to take control and responsibility again can be appealing. The fear and loneliness can also be so overwhelming that we might consider returning to our abusers. To quell these urges, I wrote a list of what I liked about my partner and what I’d change. That was enough to remind me why returning to him was not a good idea. 
It’s also not a good idea to jump into a new relationship before we’ve cleaned up the crime scene on our spirits. Those relationships usually blow up in our faces and only add to our bruised and bloodied souls. Not to mention, wreck havoc on another person’s life, or the lives of our children should they become attached to this person.
It’s hard work, but worth it. One of the most important lessons I learned was that I could take care of myself and my kids. I didn’t need anyone, but I wanted someone to share my life with. When I believed that I could trust myself to deal with whatever came my way (and not crumble up, die and blow away in the wind if it didn’t work out), I was able to risk opening my heart to love. And love came.
The bottom line is that we have to trust ourselves before we can trust others. We’ll talk more about this.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slogging Through the Healing Process

If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. I hate that saying. But, it’s true. People who love us can help, but it’s our job to change our lives for the better. 
When we leave a violent relationship, the terror of how our partner will react shrouds our life and colors our future. Safety for ourselves and children takes center stage. Meanwhile, we struggle with where to live, finding a job (one that will pay enough to support ourselves and children) and explaining to the kids why we left. These are just a few of the many issues that leaves us feel confused and unsettled. 
We may also wrestle with the Stockholm syndrome. Like kidnapped victims, a woman living with domestic abuse over a period of time often begins to side with her captor. It’s a survival mechanism. She quickly learns what triggers his violence and how to avoid those triggers to remain safe. If she can just behave “right,” everything will be okay. Small acts of kindness on his part, are a welcome oasis in her terrifying world.  As a result, her reasoning becomes skewed and she feels he, in a sense, is her protector as well as the object of her fear.  He holds the power over her life and death. 
During that time, our partners have imprinted false beliefs, rules and demands designed to keep us off balance and vigilant to their every need. Through constant brainwashing, we come to believe we are as incompetent and stupid as our partners say. How can we survive without them? They’ve also set themselves up to be the center of our worlds. Our job has been to care for their every need. It’s not surprising that when we leave, many of us still feel responsible to care for them. I felt guilty every time I cooked dinner, believing that I should send a meal to my ex. I didn’t do it. I knew that doing so would say to him that there was a chance I’d return. The relationship was over, it seemed more compassionate to hold the line than to give him false hope.
 One of the biggest struggles for victims, is to replace the distorted thinking with healthy, “normal” thinking. In support groups, seminars, and one on one, women said -- “I don’t know what normal thinking is anymore.” That’s why I wrote But He’ll Change. I, too, had wondered that same thing.
In the next few entries of my blog, let’s talk about those thoughts that jerk us around and how we can change them.