It may seem impossible to heal from emotional abuse (it certainly feels like it some days), but there are ways you can cope when dealing with the aftermath of emotionally abusive trauma. I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I’ve seen and worked with many. I’ve also spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences in abusive relationships and working on some major personal development since leaving them.
While I think that doctors and mental health professionals have an immense amount of skill and knowledge about dealing with emotional trauma, having insight from survivors of abuse often feels precious. Hearing from the people who have experienced emotional abuse firsthand and made it through gives an entirely different perspective than what health professionals can provide because we’ve been there. We’ve made it out. We’ve learned how to be total badasses in the face of what we’ve struggled through.
So here are what I’m calling “survival strategies for the emotionally abused.” Some likely feel like common sense. Some are probably well known. But, hopefully, some resonate with you.
Survival Strategies for the Emotionally Abused
Number 1 – Ask for help
The first step after recognizing that abuse has happened (or is happening) is to reach out and ask for help. A trusted friend. A coworker. A family member. Your doctor or another confidant. This may feel like a monumental task when you are already struggling with so much, but even the toughest of us need love and support to get through hard times.
Number 2 – Go no-contact with the emotionally abusive person (or as close to it as possible)
I don’t have the ability to go no-contact with my abusive ex, but if you do then take the opportunity to cut them out of your life and save yourself additional heartache and trauma. If children are involved (like in my situation) or there are other circumstances that prevent you from fully going no-contact, then work to set up firm boundaries that keep you safe. Create a system for communication that protects you. I highly recommend using a communication method that will time- and date-stamp your conversations (i.e. not text messages) so if you ever end up in court you have undeniable proof to back you up as needed.
Number 3 – Create a sanctuary for yourself, even if it’s tiny
Carve out a space for yourself and make it a place where you feel entirely safe and secure. It can be your bedroom. Your living room. Your whole house! Fill it with things that bring you a sense of peace and calmness. Or fill it with stuff you can punch the shit out of. Whatever gives you the emotional release you need as you heal and whatever provides you with a sense of comfort and security.
Number 4 – Find someone you trust to talk to
Therapy is the bomb if you can access it. Seriously. It has quite literally saved my life. But I know counselling isn’t accessible to a vast majority of people, which is a HUGE problem. In the face of the waiting lists and lack of support available to so many, we can turn to others for help. Talk to a friend or family member. Find a support group. Visit a shelter and get support there. If you’re religious, speak with your church, synagogue, or temple leader. Hell, talk to your yoga instructor or your workout buddy if you feel safe with them. Find a person who makes you feel secure and spill yo guts. Keep them on your speed dial and call or text anytime you need a listening ear.
Number 5 – Attend to your mental health
Emotional abuse is also called mental abuse and it leaves scars in our minds that often lead to legitimate mental health problems. Talking about your experience is important, yes, and counselling can be part of your healing process, but looking specifically at your mental state is an important part of dealing with the aftermath of abuse.
Your family doctor or local clinic/hospital should be able to get you a referral to a psychiatrist. You may consider seeking diagnosis or taking psychiatric medication to help you cope. Try to learn about mindfulness and self-awareness. Find activities and hobbies that enrich your life and create outlets for your feelings. Whatever it takes to put yourself in a good head-space where you feel safe and supported.
Number 6 – Bring your circle closer
Let those key people in so they can be there for you. You may have a bangin’ therapist and a kickass psychiatrist helping you sort through your shit, but you also need some of your everyday people to back you up.
You need to bring your circle closer and work on building a sense of community around yourself. If you’re like me, your abusive partner isolated you from your friends and family, but this is a time when you need people in your corner who can distract, elevate, empower, and listen to you. Invite them in even if you feel scared or embarrassed to do it.
Number 7 – Eat food that satisfies and nourishes you
Your body has been in survival mode for who knows how long. You are probably exhausted. Frustrated. Maybe lonely. Likely hella insecure. Now is the time to nourish yourself the best that you can! I’m not talking about going on a “clean eating” diet or whatever you want to call it. Don’t suddenly turn vegan or eat only raw food if that’s not what makes your body sing. Instead, I want you to follow these steps: 1 – Eat food. Any food. Just make sure you’re eating. 2 – Once you’re eating regularly, start to identify foods that make you feel good in your body, mind, and soul. 3 – Eat those soul-inspiring, body-loving, happy-making foods and feel good about it.
Number 8 – Feel your feelings
You likely have BIG feelings swirling around, so make space for them and embrace them. When I hold back my feelings, they inevitably erupt in ways much worse than if I had just given them space from the get go. Sometimes feeling your feelings mean ugly crying on the kitchen floor because that’s just where you happened to land. Sometimes it means being really fucking angry for a while. Sometimes it’s feeling intensely elated when you remember that you escaped your abusive relationship. Sometimes it’s a deep numbness that sits with you for a bit of time. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to feel it because it’s entirely, 100% valid.
Number 9 – Forgive yourself
I struggle with this one still… Forgiving myself for the choices and behaviours that led me to and kept me in abusive relationships.
I feel like I have to take responsibility for being present in those situations. That I must have had a role to play and therefore must take some of the blame. But the truth is, it’s not my fault that I was abused; I didn’t choose that. And neither did you! Forgive yourself, because it’s NOT your fault.
Number 10 – Adopt the word survivor
I often talk about the power of words, but switching my story from “victim” to “survivor” has been my most powerful act of healing. When you leave an abusive situation, you feel like a victim, but you are also a badass, motherfucking survivor. Remind yourself as often as you need to that you survived and are surviving. That being a victim wasn’t a choice, but surviving and thriving is. Move from the mentality of “this happened to me” to “I overcame this.”