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.
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.
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.
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.
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