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.