Learning to be Independent

By Jenn Rockefeller

An abusive partner’s main objective is to create a totally dependent victim. They want us to lose all of our spunk, our spirit, and our freedom. They want total control over us. To do this, they use their myriad of tactics to isolate, dominate, and manipulate us in a way that molds us into their submissive robots.

When abusive partners do this, they strip us of our autonomy. I was a fun-loving, independent, successful, and smart person before he walked into my life. Over time, I became something I did not recognize. I became a robotic shell of a human being. I became completely dependent on him.

How do we, as survivors of domestic violence, regain our independence post-abuse? How do we find ourselves again? How do we adjust to life after them?

Learning to be independent after our abusive relationships is something we may have great difficulty in doing. We are so accustomed to living by their rules and their way of life that we don’t know anything else. We don’t know how to step, speak, and live. We need to relearn everything all over again.

Reclaim

One of the biggest hurdles for me to overcome was reclaiming parts of my life that were lost. Our abusers are hell-bent on taking away every last bit of what makes us individuals. I was so timid and afraid to take a step post-abuse that it took me a long time to reclaim lost parts of myself.

Things to consider when reclaiming yourself:

  • There’s no timetable for this. Go as slowly as you need to.
  • Take small steps. Baby steps can equal large accomplishments.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give in reclaiming yourself is to accept the satisfaction and freedom it gives you when you accomplish something. I remember that after my situation when I began to do things that he didn’t want me to do, I reclaimed part of myself again and began to feel freedom with every new step that I took.

Reconnect

Abusers often isolate us from our support system. Subsequently, it’s also a tactic they hate to lose when we begin to break away from them. They despise it when we reconnect with our support system. Their goal is to drive wedges between us and those closest to us so that the only one we rely on is the abuser.

Reconnecting with family, friends and other support is vital to our healing and recovery. When I was first out of my situation, I found it easy to reconnect with my main support system – my parents and a few close friends. My mother knew what I had gone through because she, too, is a domestic violence survivor and knew what it took to come back to those who love her.

Things to consider when reconnecting with others:

  • How quickly you reconnect is up to you.
  • Don’t let others pressure you into connecting too quickly.
  • Create boundaries if you need to.

You are putting yourself back together, like fitting puzzle pieces together. Each time you reconnect with those around you, it will fit a piece back into that puzzle. The more you do that, the more of yourself you will get back, and the more independent you will become.

Regain 

To regain is to get possession of something once again. The thing I needed to regain the most was my voice. My voice was taken away from me. Much of who we are is made up of our voice, thoughts, opinions, and feelings. When we are in our situations, abusers strip us of the ability to speak our minds. They tell us we are stupid, that we don’t know what we’re talking about and that we should listen to them because they know better. We begin to defer to their supposed better judgment. Little by little, our voice is taken away.

Regaining our voices will help us learn to be more independent in our healing journeys. But it will take time. It took me a considerable amount of time to find my voice again. I was so afraid to speak my mind that I agreed to everything to keep the peace. Finding your voice again will be a big, but necessary, step to becoming independent again.

Things to consider when regaining your voice:

  • Share with those you feel most comfortable.
  • Share at your own pace.
  • Speak up about your needs as often as you feel.

The more you speak up, the easier it will become. I know it will be a scary thing to do. I was petrified of others’ reactions to my thoughts and feelings. I thought I’d be told no, that my thoughts were stupid, and that I didn’t matter. But with the right support system behind you, you will find your voice again because they will give you the space and time you need to do so.

Re-express 

To freely express ourselves again after an abusive relationship is a petrifying thought. It is human nature to be expressive in thought, word, and action. Abusers slowly destroy that expressive part of us. It’s only natural to be fearful of learning to be expressive once again. What did you love to do before your abuser? Did you love to paint, draw, sing, or write?

We are coerced into shutting ourselves off creatively when we are with our abusers. We stop doing the things that bring us joy. We stop our lives because of them. We turn into people we don’t recognize. Part of learning to be independent again is learning to re-express ourselves.

When you begin to reclaim and reconnect again with loved ones and begin to find yourself again, your independence will shine once more.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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Photo Credit: Thought Catalog, via Unsplash

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