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, www.ndvh.org, www.ncadv.org, 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.