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Re-Learning to Love Yourself After Abuse

re-learning to love yourself

How do you find your way back to yourself when another person has stripped you of your confidence, made you question your intuition, and jaded your sense of “good” in the world? How do you re-learn to love yourself when there is a haunting voice that says you are unworthy of love?

You were made to believe you are crazy. You were taught to put their needs before yours. You learned to keep the peace at any cost.  And that cost was usually your own well-being.

Domestic violence isn’t merely bruises and broken bones. It isn’t only fabricated stories created to ease the humiliation of being in a relationship we never thought we’d find ourselves in. Often the web of violence is interwoven in the psyche of the victim. It is methodically and relentlessly chipping away at the very structures that each of us relies on to maintain a sense of identity. Intimate partner abuse is a tricky beast, wrought with nasty side effects that can linger for a lifetime.

So, how does one find safety, love, and trust again after abuse?

Journey to Self- Love

The answer is found in the journey back to Self. The journey applies to those of you who once knew who you were and fell prey to the dark side of human control. It applies to those of you who have never felt a strong connection with yourself. After living in a mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically violent environment with an abuser, the path to internal peace will include the same stepping stones. 

These healing stones are not always linear, meaning there is no order or even progression. Each stone will come along differently for each of us, and they will continually invite us to heal more deeply, understand ourselves more fully, and reconcile all the missing pieces of our souls over time. Don’t be surprised if some stones seem to be on repeat at times while others aren’t as prevalent–this is how the soul heals itself–in its own time. The important thing is to look for opportunities in each of these areas. 

The Stones of Healing

Self-Study

Self-study is the commitment not to distract yourself with shame-spirals, fixing other people’s problems, or pretending you’re doing better than you are. Learning yourself includes identifying your emotions, needs, triggers, desires, old patterns, and boundaries. The more you know about yourself, the less you’ll allow other people to tell you who you are.

May I remind you: Know yourself the best. Love yourself the most.

Self-Love

Here is where you build the connection to your truth, bond with yourself, and learn how to show up and nurture yourself. Most of us have been told this is selfish, and we should sacrifice and give to others first.

May I remind you: You are worthy of taking the time to learn and to love yourself well.

Self-Compassion

In this stone where you learn and remember how to be kind to yourself, forgiving the times you sacrificed your own well-being for another, and practicing speaking kindly to yourself when you struggle to feel you are doing it “right.”

May I remind you: You are enough, just as you are in this moment.

Self-Awareness

This is understanding that no matter how the path unfolds, I alone am responsible for paying attention to myself and making sure I am following through with my commitments to myself, speaking what is true for me, and doing whatever it takes to create safety for myself. 

May I remind you: This “work” is ongoing, deeply rewarding, and completely empowering.

Being Self-Focused

Notice the path to loving yourself is entirely self-focused. You have the power to recreate, rebuild, reestablish whatever kind of life you dream of. No matter what anyone else has done to tear you apart, break you open, and leave you for dead, you still hold the key to your soul journey. You can honor your loss with your tears as you weep over what has been stolen from you. You can embrace the sacred privilege of being the only one who will ever be able to collect the scattered pieces of your soul that were always meant to be an enchanted mosaic. You were made to be a self-healer.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Sometimes people and life can be unnecessarily dark and inhumane. But as humans, we each carry an unprecedented ability to reconcile loss, recover from pain, and recreate our dreams. For every piece of you that feels broken today, there is an entire toolbox of skills and tools ready to be learned and used to help you rebuild a life you love and feel safe in. Life will never be what you imagined it would be before you became acquainted with domestic violence. Still, if you can give yourself time and patience as you begin to walk through these healing stones, you’ll find there is more than you ever thought imaginable right within your reach. 

Loving yourself after abuse means allowing yourself to dance across–to and fro, weaving in and out of–the four Stones of Healing (self-study, self-love, self-compassion, self-awareness)… for the rest of your life.

Navigating the COVID Holiday Season as a DV Survivor

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” or is it? The holidays are often thought of as a magical time, filled with family get-togethers, time off work, and the joy of giving and receiving gifts.

Despite the jolly perks, this time of the year can also be very tense  due to the financial strain of gifts, the pressure to entertain, conversations with relatives you may not get along with, and an increased level of alcohol consumption. 

Unfortunately, for many survivors of domestic violence (DV), the holidays can be more than just stressful– they can be dangerous. And when social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic is added to the mix, they can even be deadly.

Does Domestic Violence Increase During the Holidays?

When conducting a quick google search about whether or not DV increases during the holiday season, I was surprised to find many sources stating that it did not. After all, holidays are a stressful time of the year– according to one Harvard study, 62% of respondents reported their level of stress as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holiday season [3]. And, not surprisingly, stress, or trauma, is a significant risk factor for increasing instances of DV [1]

So, if the holidays are strained, and stress contributes to an increase in violence, why are calls to hotlines and DV related police reports down during this season [4]? The answer: statistics do not always tell the whole story.

There are many possibilities for why there is a mismatch between what we expect (an increase in violence) and what the numbers show (no increase/possible decrease). 

Call numbers are low. But why?

Because the holidays are supposed to be a happy time, full of hope, some victims may feel they need to “act the part.” Or, abusers could similarly use that sense of hope, believing they may be able to change their behavior. As Michelle Kaminsky, chief of a Domestic Violence Bureau, puts it, “I don’t know what the numbers mean. It could be that people aren’t reporting, and in fact, violence is going on. It could be that people are on their best behavior during the holidays. It’s really hard to say [5].”

Another possibility is that victims may have a difficult time contacting help via the police or a DV hotline when their partner is off work and home for the holidays. 

At least for some impacted by DV, the holidays are a dangerous, anxiety-inducing time. One survivor of DV, Charlotte Kneer, stated her experiences with the holiday season, “It’s the hardest time of year. The violence is so much more poignant. Everyone ran around to make sure [her abuser] didn’t get upset. They were hyper-vigilant to whether he was going to lose it [6].”

Jessica, another survivor of DV, remembers how her abuser manipulated her into avoiding her family around the holidays, keeping her isolated. Since escaping abuse, she is appreciative of being free to see her loved ones, “I will never let someone dictate when I can and can’t see [my family] again.”

In the end, it’s very hard to know, for sure, whether or not violence increases during the holidays. However, there is one thing we can recognize: no matter what statistics show, the holidays (with added tension, more time at home, and increased use of alcohol) definitely creates a strong recipe for abuse triggers. 

COVID-19 and DV

As discussed, the holidays themselves produce ample amounts of anxiety. However, 2020 has taken things to a whole new level. 

We are facing a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19. Talk about stress! A study found that 53% of adults in the US reported the pandemic as causing them to worry, which has been linked to an increase in DV [7]

Here, the statistics align a little more closely to what we expect than what we saw with the holidays. Globally, DV rates have soared since the start of the pandemic. Women in Lebanon reported a 54% increase in violence and DV rose 30% in France [2]. This upward trend is consistent across most of the world. 

Yet, there are still untold stories within the statistics. Similar to DV calls decreasing during the holidays, the US hasn’t seen a verifiable increase in rates during the pandemic, and some areas have actually seen a decrease  [2].

But, advocates urge us not to fall for any illusions, explaining that the decrease in rates is likely due to the difficult access to resources and reporting opportunities caused by shutdowns. To add, the rate of murder-suicides (defined as a male partner killing a female and then himself) has increased. Referred to by some as a “pandemic within a pandemic,” DV is certainly increasing due to COVID-19 [2].

A Dangerous Mix

The combination of stress and social isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic and the holidays is a dangerous mix for DV survivors. 

This year, there will be thousands of DV victims who are unable to find comfort in visiting their family members as an escape from their violent partner. There will be abused mothers who refuse to call for help because they want their children to have a merry Christmas. There will be parents grieving the loss of their child to an abusive relationship. And for many families affected by DV, it will be the hardest time of their year. 

If this resonates with you, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or one of the BTSADV advocates. This season is difficult enough to navigate for those without battle scars, so we hope that you reach out and let us help you carry that additional suffering. 

For assistance setting up a DV safety plan for the holidays, or anytime, visit KSAT.com.

For more information about COVID-19 and DV, see guidelines and advice set forth from the CDC

References

  1. Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. http://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse
  2. Cagle, T. (2020). Domestic violence statistics are surging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nautilus. https://coronavirus.nautil.us/domestic-violence-statistics/
  3. Edwards, S. (2020). Holiday stress and the brain. Harvard Medical School. https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain/holiday-stress-and-brain
  4. Violence Free Colorado. (2020). Does domestic violence increase during the holidays? https://www.violencefreecolorado.org/2014/12/faq-dv-during-the-holidays/
  5. Gwynne, K. (2015, January 2). Does domestic violence actually rise during the holidays? Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/kwpjwv/does-domestic-violence-actually-rise-during-the-holidays-1201
  6. Oppenheim, M. (2015, December 22). “It’s the hardest time of the year”: why domestic violence spikes over Christmas. Newstatesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/welfare/2015/12/it-s-hardest-time-year-why-domestic-violence-spikes-over-christmas
  7. Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Cox, C., Garfield, R., Hamel, L., Munana, C., Chidambaram, P.(2020). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

The Art of Healing After Domestic Violence

art of healing after abuse

The physical markers of abuse may have faded, but the spiritual and psychological scarring from domestic violence may last a long time after a victim leaves her abuser. Even though the road to healing from past trauma can be long, it is possible to regain what you had lost someday. Some days will be harder than others, it’s true. But acknowledging that healing is a journey that requires self-compassion, a support network, some setbacks and a lot of time can help you set realistic goals for yourself toward becoming whole again.

Healing in Therapy

Therapy can sometimes be difficult, even exhausting at times–but it is highly recommended in helping survivors move past their abuse and avoid dangerous relationships in the future. Try to find a mental health professional that is the right fit for you, if possible. For example, some counselors have a religious framework that they use in their therapy; others do not. It’s imperative that you can feel comfortable talking openly with your practitioner so that you can explore your trauma and begin healing.

Adopt a Mindset of Self-Compassion

Healing from domestic violence is rarely a linear path. It is important to keep in mind that like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief a survivor may find herself moving forward in her healing process, and then may plateau or even regress for a time. This is all normal. Survivors must keep this in mind and seek to adopt a mindset of self-compassion as they move through their journey of healing. Being judgmental to oneself is unhelpful. Avoid thoughts about what the healing journey “should” look like. Instead, survivors need to focus on allowing themselves whatever space and time necessary in order to feel whole again.

Small wins

Didn’t cry today? Were you able to expose yourself to something that might have been a trigger before? Whatever and whenever possible, celebrate your new life and the strength and courage it has taken for you to get where you are. Whether you are just starting on your healing journey, or you are years down the road, remember that you are your own hero of your story. Consider treating yourself with something special–a favorite dessert, a new book, or maybe even a pedicure. Studies show that rewarding yourself when trying to build new habits help you to stay the course. 

Friendships/Family

Trust can be a difficult thing for survivors. After all, you were hurt by someone you trusted deeply–how can you ever trust anyone again? The truth is, there are people in your life who genuinely care about you and have your best interests at heart. Find those people, and bring them in as much as you can. It is okay to allow others to help you, especially when you’re struggling. Accept the offers to cook you dinner, help you clean your house, or look for a new job. And when a friend lends a shoulder to cry on, go ahead and take it if it helps you feel better.

Meditation/Mindfulness

One of the most difficult parts of healing after domestic violence is confronting and acknowledging the difficult emotions that come up. Sometimes we may feel totally swept up in our emotions, and don’t know how to react in a way that is helpful to our journey, instead of harmful. 

One way to learn to do this is by regular meditation or mindfulness practice. By being present in the moment, survivors can avoid relieving the traumatizing experiences of their past and lessen the anxious thoughts about the future. Meditation seeks to cultivate this skill–by practicing meditation or mindfulness for a minimum of 15 minutes a day can help us to identify and name our pain, become more present; and think about what we truly value and what we want our futures to look like.

Alternatives to Meditation

Not into meditation? Try an activity that requires much of your attention to reap the same benefits. Many people find healing in sewing, jogging, yoga, etc. Find an activity that you enjoy and requires concentration and make it a regular part of your week. Try to harness the pain energy into things that are healthy and good for you. You deserve all the love and attention you can get.

Setbacks & Struggles

Occasionally, survivors find themselves experiencing setbacks in their healing process. Be forgiving and gentle with yourself. As mentioned above, healing after any kind of trauma is very rarely linear. You will have good days and you will have not-so-good days. Lean on your support network when times are tough. Call your family, set up a date with a friend–do whatever you need to do for yourself to feel better on those difficult days.

Time

The ultimate healer, unfortunately, is out of our control. As the mantra goes, “time heals all wounds.” While you cannot alter the passage of time, you can control what you do with your time. Staying busy is one of the most effective ways to keep your mind away from the violence you suffered. Many mental health therapists prescribe occupational therapy as a pathway to healing. 

Someday, you will find yourself on the other side of your pain. You will heal from the trauma you have experienced. You are worthy of love, and you will not always carry this weight with you. Remember you can always reach out to Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence to speak directly with a trained professional. Our advocates are available 7 days a week at 855-BTS-1777 from 8am-5pm (Pacific Standard Time) to confidentially talk with anyone experiencing/overcoming domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.

Photo Credit: Katherine Hanlon, via Unsplash

Stability Created from the Inside Out

stability created

Leaving abusive relationships may not immediately equate to true healing or good mental health. True healing and stability occurs from the inside out.

Lack of Stability After Abuse

According to Ham-Rowbottom et al. (2005), up to 75% of women receiving emergency or transitional living shelter experience depression, trauma, and low life satisfaction after leaving their abuser; they continue to suffer from depression up to 6 months after leaving such shelters (Campbell et al. 1995, 2002; and Houskamp and Foy 1991).

However, domestic violence survivors go on to pursue fulfilling, successful lives. They go on to find stability. Take a look at some of the profiles of our amazing BTSADV volunteers, who are also survivors; they are living proof that healing is within all victims’ reach. In fact, they are not survivors; they are thrivers. 

Growing from Survivor to Thriver 

In her book From Victim to Survivor to Thriver, Barbara Whitfield argues that, after leaving their abusive relationship, individuals go through 3 stages – “victim,” “survivor”, and “thriver” – each being characterized by specific styles of thinking about self, others, and the world (Whitfield 2003). The journey to stability progresses through each stage.

Victim Stage 

Individuals in the “victim” stage may experience:

  •   Low self-esteem/shame/unworthiness
  •   Hypervigilance
  •   Feelings of loneliness, selfishness, of being damaged, being overwhelmed about the past
  •   Confusion and numbness
  •   Hopelessness
  •   Desire to hide their story
  •   The belief that they don’t deserve a better life, that others are better, stronger, and less damaged, that suffering is the human condition
  •   Habit to place one’s own needs last
  •   Living in the past
  •   Anger towards religion
  •   Suspiciousness of therapists and helpers
  •   Dependence on people and chemicals to believe they are ok

 Survivor Stage

Individuals in the “survivor” stage:

  •   See themselves as wounded and healing
  •   Use relaxation tools 
  •   Believe they deserve to seek help, name, and grieve the abuse they went through
  •   Learn to grieve, processing past ungrieved trauma
  •   Are hopeful
  •   Do not feel afraid to tell their story to supportive people
  •   Hear others’ stories, feeling compassion for others and themselves
  •   Learn how to protect themselves from abusive people by sharing, checking whether it’s safe to do so, and sharing some more
  •   Start recognizing they have healthy needs that should be fulfilled
  •   Feel some relief and acknowledge they need to continue recovering
  •   Start noticing patterns in their own and others’ behavior as well as the world
  •   Understand the difference between religion and personal spirituality
  •   See therapists as guides
  •   Have glimpses of self-acceptance and fun without other people

Thriver Stage 

Individuals in the “thriver” stage may:

  •   See themselves as an “overflowing miracle”, as wounded but healing
  •   Can seek help within themselves
  •   Feel proud of healthy self-caring
  •   Grieve current losses
  •   Live in the present
  •   Have faith in themselves and in life
  •   Believe that emotional pain will pass and bring new insights
  •   Do not necessarily tell their story but are aware they are the reason for their own healing
  •   Live with an open heart for self and others but at the same time protect themselves against toxic people
  •   Place themselves first, because they realize that’s the only sustainable way to help others
  •   Find joy in inner peace and have a sense of humor
  •   Create healthy boundaries around toxic others, including friends and family
  •   Enjoy a healthy relationship with their personal religious beliefs
  •   Feel gratitude for various things in life, authentic, connected, whole, and very alive

 Importance of Understanding the Stages

While each of the above stages may look different for everyone, it’s helpful to keep in mind what each usually involves, so you have a guess as to where you are in your personal healing process and a blueprint of where you may (or may want to) go. It’s also good to remind yourself that although you may be or have been a victim, you can permit yourself to be a thriver. We were all born to shine. So, don’t think of yourself as a victim or a survivor; you are a thriver on the making.

How do we go from “victim” to “thriver”?

The path seems to involve turning new ways of thinking about self and the world into tools that victims can use to independently stabilize their life for the better. Healing means progressively starting to see oneself as a resilient, amazing person and accumulating healthy coping strategies (e.g., relaxation techniques, pushing away toxic people) so that, whenever a crisis hits, thrivers search for that mechanism in their toolbox and use it to get through that crisis. They become tools of stability.

According to Wozniak and Allen (2012), some victims report cultivating relationships in which their sense of self as independent, worthy and unique is restored, in which they feel they can nurture and support themselves is healing. 

Nurture and Support Yourself

Therapy, counseling, and less expensive forms of self-care, like hot showers, pretty clothes, fresh juice, and facial creams can remind you that you have the power to do nice things for yourself, to take good care of yourself. Career counseling may help victims acknowledge their rights and ability to envision a new life and help them take specific steps for positive change.

Learning new things that you never thought you’d manage to do, like self-defense techniques, an extreme sport, a challenging online class can help restore faith in your skills and abilities. A change of hairstyle, accessories, clothes, home decoration, eating habits, and Spotify playlist may signal to you that you are about to embark on a promising journey.

For some, drawing, coloring, or painting unlocks repressed thoughts and feelings, dragging negativity out of the mind and heart and onto the canvas. Avid readers or music listeners find comfort in realizing others have managed to beautifully express emotions they couldn’t put into words themselves. Yet others discover a new mode of expression and emotional processing in writing. Spiritual practices, such as yoga and physical exercise or dancing are not only great relaxation tools but also a way to release endorphins (“feel good” hormones).

Putting together a dream board, i.e., a collection of pictures, motivational quotes, and anything that reminds you of your goals and dreams can keep you focused on how bright your future can be. Taking care of yourself helps to keep you centered and focused on stability.

Owning Your Healing Process 

You have the power to take charge of your healing process, and you will heal. You will find your stability again. It will be difficult; it will take time, but you will feel happy, empowered, independent, and at peace in time. Set out realistic daily, weekly or monthly goals for yourself, nothing grand, just enough to make you feel you’re making progress. Trust the process, no matter how dim the future may look. In the words of Robert Collier, “success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Photo Credit: William Farlow, via Unsplash

 

References

Campbell, R., C.M. Sullivan, and W.S. Davidson 1995 A Longitudinal Analysis of Depression in Women with Abusive Partners. Psychology of Women Quarterly 19(2): 237–255.

Campbell, J.C., A.S. Jones, J. Dienemann, J. Kub, J. Schollenberger, and P. O’Campo 2002 Intimate Partner Violence and Physical Health Consequences. Archives of Internal Medicine 162(10): 1157–1163.

Ham-Rowbottom, Kathleen A., Erin E. Gordon, Kelly L. Jarvis, and Raymond W. Novaco (2005). Life Constraints and Psychological Well-being of Domestic Violence Shelter Graduates. Journal of Family Violence 20(2): 109–121.

Whitfield, Barbara 2003 From Victim to Survivor to Thriver. Retrieved October, 1, 2010 from http://www.cbwhit.com/Victim-to-survivor.htm.

Wozniak, D. F., & Allen, K. N. (2012). Ritual and performance in domestic violence healing: from survivor to thriver through rites of passage. Culture, medicine, and psychiatry, 36(1), 80-101.

 

Sometimes It’s Deeper Than Love: It’s Trauma Bonding

trauma bonding in ocean

 You’ve had enough.

You’ve made plans to leave and have everything ready. 

You know you don’t deserve the maltreatment and abuse that you are subject to day after day at the hands of your intimate partner. 

It’s time to finally flee.

But, he loves you.

And you love him. 

He’s the only person who truly understands and cares for you. 

An indescribable force forbids you from deserting the relationship. 

What is Trauma Bonding?

This “indescribable force” is known as trauma bonding.  Lack of money/resources, nowhere to go, and fear are often brought up when listing reasons why a victim of domestic violence (DV)— aka intimate partner violence (IPV)—refuses to leave or returns to their abuser. Of course, these are all valid reasons why a person may choose to stay in an unhealthy relationship; however, trauma bonding describes a less measurable, less visible reason many victims have a difficult time leaving their abuser. The term trauma bonding is a relatively new concept first used by Patrick Carnes to describe “the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person [1].” 

How does it relate to abuse?

Trauma bonding directly ties into the cycle of abuse that is often discussed with IPV. In this cycle, the abused person learns to associate the violent episode with the showering of love and affection that follows. Because the victim feels intense love and care from the abuser during the crisis and honeymoon phase, they often believe that the abuse that follows is due to something they have done, and therefore, something they can change/control. This is especially true for people who were also victims of abuse in their childhood [2]; for them, every form of “love” they have received, has followed abuse. Ultimately, these intense feelings of love and excitement followed by neglect and abuse create a chemical and hormonal bond between the abused and abuser [3]. The “indescribable force” of this bond is often confused with love by the abused person. You are not alone if you feel love for your abuser; however, it is crucial that you can recognize signs of a trauma bond and learn ways to break free from this force.

Signs of a Trauma Bond

  • You realize your partner is mistreating you, but continue to make excuses for them.

In your eyes, every act of abuse is meant with good intentions. They are keeping you from your friends and family because they want to spend all their time with you. Yes, your partner calls you degrading names, but it’s only because they were bullied as a child. You may even blame the abuse on yourself, deciding that you must not have given your partner enough love. 

  • You have a hard time imagining life without your abuser.

The idea of leaving your partner is hard to fathom. You may even want to leave, but feel a sense of panic every time you think of life without your partner. The abuse that your partner disguises as “love” creates intense feelings inside of you, making it extremely difficult to break the bond and end the relationship. 

  • The belief that things will “go back to normal” one day.

The memory of when your partner and you first started dating is still fresh. They used to give you butterflies in your stomach, shower you with gifts, and make you feel like the most important person in the world. You know your partner is capable of being that person again; you just need to figure out a way to “fix” them. According to Psychology Today, a narcissist (the abuser) will first “love bomb” their intimate partner to gain trust. Next, they condition their partner to depend on them for love and affection. Once they feel they have the victim “under their hold”, they will gradually start the cycle of abuse. The more the victim fights for the abuser’s love, the stronger the trauma bond becomes, and the more control the abuser gains.

Breaking Free of the Bond

  • Education. Good news! If you believe you might be experiencing a trauma bond, you are already taking the first steps of breaking free by reading this article. The more you know about the cycle of abuse, narcissistic behavior, and the signs/processes of trauma bonding, the easier it will be to recognize these behaviors in your own relationship. To add, reading about others’ experiences in similar situations can make you feel less alone and more motivated to succeed in breaking the bond.
  • Separate yourself from your abuser. You need to completely cut your abuser off. This, of course, is easier said than done, but once you are able to maintain no contact with the person you are bonded with, the hormones that made you feel “addicted” to your abuser will die down [3].
  • Keep yourself busy. When you are in the no contact phase, your thoughts will likely be consumed by your abuser. A good way to fight these thoughts is to stay focused on other things—catch up with old friends, start going to counseling, join a club, volunteer. 

The important thing to remember if you think you may be stuck in a trauma bond with an abusive partner is that you are not alone. It is justifiable that you have feelings of love for someone with whom you have shared intimate and emotional moments, especially when the relationship started with a showering of affection. However, if while reading this article you were reminded of your own relationship, it is time to focus on breaking free of the bond. 

Photo Credit: Marcis Berzins, via Unsplash

References

[1] Samsel, M. (2018). Trauma bonding. Abuse and relationships. https://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Survivors/trauma_bonding.html

[2] Carbone, N. (2019, August 8). How to recognize the signs of trauma bonding. Pysch Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-recognize-the-signs-of-trauma-bonding/

[3] Leigh, H. (2019, Nov 22). Recognizing and breaking a trauma bond. CPTSD Foundation. https://cptsdfoundation.org/2019/11/22/recognizing-and-breaking-a-trauma-bond/

[4] Greenberg, E. (2018, Jan 21). Why is it so hard to leave the narcissist in your life? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-narcissism/201801/why-is-it-so-hard-leave-the-narcissist-in-your-life

Healing Through Art

art is healing

Art doesn’t need to be for show. In fact, oftentimes artists are creating for themselves. Others appreciating their artwork is a bonus. Plus, research reveals that utilizing art therapy for healing can prove to be a helpful tool for trauma survivors.

Several months ago, I had the idea to attack a personal trauma of mine by drawing the way I felt about a particular situation. While drawing, coloring, and labeling my art, I found myself coming to a calm conclusion about various aspects of the situation. The next day, I was faced with a high-intensity situation related to the one I’d drawn about. It was comforting to simply grab the piece of art I’d completed to reflect on the emotions I’d processed.

The Science of Art

As it turns out, artistic expression can scientifically calm the storm in the mind in order to better reflect and process a painful situation by encouraging the brain to access a “flow state,” better known as “getting in the zone,” according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Art therapy can be a fantastic tool for survivors of domestic violence, regardless of whether or not someone considers themselves creative or artistic. 

The American Art Therapy Association says, “Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.” 

Earlier this year, Very Well Mind pointed out that while artistic expression, in general, can be beneficial, art therapy specifically asks clients to focus inward on their experiences. They stated, “in creating art, people are able to focus on their own perceptions, imagination, and feelings. Clients are encouraged to create art that expresses their inner world more than making something that is an expression of the outer world.”

Art and Trauma

The Hotline stated that recent research reveals that traumatic memories are stored on the right side of the brain. These memories are “non-verbal” (storing sights, sounds, and smells) whereas memories stored on the left side of the brain are “verbal.” 

According to The Hotline, “this means that commonly recommended self-care activities like journaling, talking to a friend, or even traditional talk therapy might not be the most effective strategies for working through [traumatic] memories and the emotional and physical reactions attached to them.” The article goes on to further explain how artistic expression can tap into the right side of the brain where traumatic memories are stored, which encourages a person to enter the previously mentioned “flow state” where intrusive thoughts stay at bay.

Interestingly, one way to access dopamine — a chemical in our brain related to reward and pleasure centers in the brain — is through a repetitive action. “Engaging in creative pursuits regularly can help train your brain to produce more of these feel-good chemicals that can improve your mood over time,” said The Hotline. Artistic expressions tend to provide a positive result (some examples include creating a brightly colored, pretty pot you can display in your home, effectively singing a note you have been practicing for a few weeks, or holding a yoga pose for a longer length of time than before). For me, I created a tangible piece of art that gave me the satisfaction of drawing something that turned out better than I expected, as well as something I could reflect back on whenever I needed to.

Art and Survivors

The connections that domestic violence survivors can create with each other is another vital aspect of art therapy. Art, in general, is somehow both an easy yet personal way to connect with others. Expressing past trauma, hardship or painful emotions is sometimes less uncomfortable to do when done through artistic expression. The feeling that music can express emotions better than just stating the way you feel is pretty universal, and applicable here.

Chanel Miller, who was known as the Emily Doe victim during the Brock Turner case, published a memoir in 2019 titled Know My Name. In her memoir, she spoke of attending an art program the summer after her assault, performing in a comedic stand-up production, as well as attending an art workshop for survivors — all various forms of artistic expression. She shared with The New York Times, “Drawing was a way for me to see that I was still there.”

In an article published by VAWnet, the writer said of a domestic violence survivor writing workshop they used to conduct, “As we worked together to find meaning in poetry and shared our vulnerabilities when reading our own writings aloud, we built community.” 

Finding community through art not only can provide survivors of domestic violence with that sense of safety, but it does so through a form of self-care. 

The path of healing can be accessed by getting out your colored pencils, paints, or ballroom Youtube video and seeing how far it takes you.

Photo Credit: Donny Jiang, via Unsplash

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