Survival Strategies for the Emotionally Abused

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. 

xxJ

Just look at you bloom. Just look at you, surviving. 

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.”


Too Much Too Much-ness

The strongest message I’ve received in my life is that I am far too much. 

Too sensitive. Too emotional. Too reactive. Too perfectionist. Too excitable. Too shy. Too passive. Too bossy. Too careful. Too paranoid. Too anxious. Too sad. Too hard to love.

I’ve received these messages my entire life, but the abusive relationships I ended up in compounded my sense of being “too much” to the point where I’ve now internalized this narrative so deeply that it’s become a key part of how I define my identity. 

My too much-ness has become so much of who I am now, but honestly, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. 

Being too much means feeling too much. And feeling too much means being overwhelmed a lot of the time. It also means (I’ve been told) that I’m moody and needy, two things you most definitely DON’T want to be, according to the men I’ve been with, the dating apps I’ve used, the self-help books and articles I’ve read, and the people I’ve interacted with in general. You can’t be too much in this world—being “extra” isn’t actually a good thing.

And I’m SO extra… 

I’m so extra that I live feeling overwhelmed almost all the time. 

I’m so extra that my life is now a game of reigning in my extra-ness, my “too much-ness”, all day every day. My full-time job is holding myself back from being more than I should be.

(Ugh. I just cringed when I wrote that. Because “shoulds” are things you’re told to avoid by counsellors and therapists. “Shoulds” are unfair expectations that you put on yourself. “Shoulds” dictate your sense of self-worth in unhealthy ways. “Shoulds” keep you depressed and anxious. “Shoulds” are not good.)

I have flat-out been told that I’m hard to love. 

First of all, who says that to someone? Who is so fucking selfish and hurtful that they would say to another person that they are less worthy of love because they feel things in big ways? 

Narcissists say things like that. Abusive partners say things like that. Whiny, self-important, indulgent little pricks say things like that. 

And sadly, I still believe them. I just can’t shake this feeling of being more than I should be. 

Here’s a great example: I’ve been dating again in the last year. Dating for me involves a lot of editing and restraining myself from overdoing it. I don’t want to “scare someone off” by being too much for them, so I try to hold back. I try not to text back too quickly, be too needy, give up my time or my body too soon, share about my past and my struggles too openly…I hold all that shit in because I’m afraid that if I put it all out there right away, I’ll lose any chance at finding a partner. 

But it doesn’t feel fair, having to put all this effort in to change myself. And the saddest part is that my needs really do seem to alienate people from me, so whether I edit myself or not, I end up feeling alone and that, of course, solidifies the message I received for so many years from my partners and friends and even family, at times, that I’m always too much and that makes me hard to be with. 

I’m scared even writing that, because it feels like a risk to be honest about this feeling, but my anxiety tells me that I will always be alone because of the big feelings I have. That I will always feel lonely because no one can handle me at my fullest. That I am vitally flawed and therefore unworthy or incapable of being loved fully. 

Being a Highly Sensitive Person (LINK) means that I get to experience the world in high-definition; it’s like everything is in bold. It’s soaring and deep and meaningful and gorgeous and terrifying and sometimes this feels like a gift. I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t notice the immense beauty and intense rawness of the world. A lot of the time though, my propensity for perceiving things and experiencing things in full-on technicolour means that I’m on a different level than other people. 

The key thing to this is that feeling more doesn’t mean that I need less; it seems like the opposite, in fact. Feeling more means that I actually need more from the people around me, but I’ve learned that it’s not easy to find people who can meet the needs of someone like me. And thus we return to the belief that I am too much and too hard to love.

So what do I do? Do I give up? Well, that’s virtually impossible for me. Striving is a key component of my life and I try as hard as I can to alleviate this pressure from myself, but I also recognize that it will always be there. 

What else can I do? Keep trying, I guess. It’s harder to resign myself to the idea that I should stop trying than it is to continue seeking the love and fulfilment I crave and need. My greatest wish is to find someone who can handle my “muchness.” A person who understands and accepts my ebb and flow; who may not see the world in super high-definition technicolour, but who can marvel at my ability to do so. Someone who cherishes my superpower of super-awareness; a person who appreciates the fact that I can love them more deeply and with more devotion than they could ever imagine. 

Do you ever feel like you’re too much? Maybe even just from time to time? 

Well, I have room in my life for too much love. I have room in my life for too much appreciation. I can make space for too much-ness because I know how heavy a burden it can be. If I could take a bit of someone else’s “too much” and share some of mine with them, maybe together we would find a better balance and be able to lift each other so that neither of us feels like we can’t be loved as we are.

xxJ

A flower can never be too much, so I want to be like the flowers…

REPOST: Why I Swear So Goddamn Much

I’m on holiday this week (damn right!), so please enjoy a repost of one of my favourite blog posts I’ve written. I’ll get back to being productive next week. xxJ


Hi. I’m Juliana and I like to swear. Like, a lot.

Okay, I’m not exactly Eminem or Lil’ Kim, but I do like to utter expletives on a fairly regular basis.

But why?

I’m a university educated individual who studied classical music and English. I have degrees in music and education, and an early childhood education diploma. I have two young daughters at home and I maintain a professional life as a music teacher and tutor, which involves presenting myself competently to parents and my fellow educators.

But, I still love to swear.

Especially on this blog, let’s be honest.

But whyyyyy, Juliana, why????

Because I fucking can!

Because I fucking didn’t before!

(Because I fucking couldn’t before!)

I grew up in a family that placed politeness at the top of the list when it came to expectations around behaviour. Unfortunately, because of my tendency to be passive, insecure, anxious, and an all-around goody-two-shoes, I deeply internalized this messaging and wouldn’t allow myself to do something so embarrassing or inappropriate as swearing, not to mention anything else that might be considered rude or attention-seeking. Tut tut. This tendency to avoid “inappropriate” language carried forward into all my other relationships. When I got involved with my emotional abusers, I was held to a high standard of behaviour and was both implicitly and explicitly told that I shouldn’t swear, so I kept my mouth shut.

But times have changed…and I’ve changed! And now, I swear whenever the hell I want to!

It’s incredibly liberating and it’s a small act of rebellion against my abusive exes and my polite upbringing.

I spent 30 years of my life swearing only in my head, silently enjoying the sweet sound of a well-timed “fuck” in the lyrics of a song I happened to hear, or quietly typing curse words in the poetry I wrote as an escape from my life. I spent 30 years being repressed in all ways and changing the language I use has been a small, but impactful choice I’ve embraced now that I’m on my own.

I’ve talked about the power of language before (here, here, or here, for example) because it’s an important tool for abuse survivors to use in their healing. Language is also something emotional abusers use to manipulate their victims. In my experience, abusers use their words to repress and reprimand, while elevating themselves by adhering to a completely different standard of communication.

And swear words have power. They hold weight. There’s a reason 10-year-olds whisper and giggle if they hear someone say “ass.” (Side note: I’ve learned that “bad” words completely lose their potency with children if you treat them like any other word and explain the contexts in which you should or should not swear. My daughters both know a bunch of swear words, but basically ignore them. In fact, they usually insist on saying “heck,” “dang,” or “darn” when they need to vent some frustration. Honestly, I don’t even know where they learned those words; Mommy uses the “proper” swears!)

Being liberal with my utterances of “fuck this” and “goddamn shit” has enabled me to feel a sense of power over my words again. And I take every opportunity possible to enjoy moments of feeling like I’ve re-claimed my life.

Swearing has the bonus of being a small act of rebellion within society too. I may look like a soccer mom, but I can sound like a total badass babe when inclined to do so.

I can think of other modest insurrections I practice in order to feel a sense of control in my life again. Like, setting up my home and yard however I like and in spite of my nosy neighbours. I can hang pictures and art that I choose in the way I want. I can make plans without getting permission to do so. I can walk around without shaving my armpits and not worry one damn bit about what someone else thinks! There are all these little, itty, bitty ways that I can subvert the expectations previously placed upon me—it’s like when you break up with someone and you feel sad, but then realize that you can now go to that Thai restaurant your ex hated but you love—and it feels so damn good!

So, fuck not swearing. Some people may not like my potty mouth, but then this blog isn’t for them! I think the people I’m closest to actually appreciate my new ability to be authentic. Especially because I’m not stepping beyond what would be considered appropriate; I’m just using my language intentionally and allowing myself to enjoy the satisfaction of calling someone an asshole when that’s exactly what they’re being.

Will you join me? Have you tried swearing more often and experience the liberating effect of articulating yourself through curse words? I would highly recommend it. And if you’re not convinced, watch this famous video of Sir Billy Connolly describing the power of the words “fuck off” and get a better sense of their potency and maybe a chuckle or two as well.

xxJ

Image credit: falseknees.com