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.”


I Can’t Look at the News

I can’t look at the news right now. Not the real, factually-based news, not the “infotainment” news, not the “I have an opinion” news, not even the “cute puppy dogs/cats/penguins/hedgehogs/[insert adorable animal here]” news.

I’ve had this problem for a very long time… I absorb news like a like a sponge absorbs water; it saturates me and weighs me down, changing my shape and viscosity, until it overwhelms me. Even when I try to tune it out, I always ended up taking it on.

I just can’t look at it! And it’s not because I don’t want to know what’s going on…in fact, I want desperately to know what’s going on! I already feel isolated enough being the only adult in my home almost 100% of the time (read: I’m a strong, independent single mom, but some adult conversation would be nice every once in a while, you know?) and I don’t want to shut myself off from my local community or the global one.

—When I look at the news, it makes me hold my breath and not want to let it go.

The world fucking sucks right now. And I say that as I’m personally just beginning to reach a period of “wellness” I haven’t touched in over a decade! I may be doing better overall as an individual, but what I see when I look at the news is monumentally depressing and disparaging. The images and stories of hope are far outweighed by the atrocities of our species’ loss of humanity. Greed and selfishness pervade all areas of society and the wealthy few make the same bold and egotistical decisions again and again to set themselves apart from the everyday people who are the backbone of our community and who simply want a life that falls into the category of manageable.  

I’m afraid that my children are facing a future of war and famine. I’m afraid that countless many will suffer horribly before our privileged selves will begin to crack and crumble. I’m afraid that I won’t see my grandchildren and that too many foolish egomaniacs will take too much and hurt too many.

I see our waters contaminated and our air polluted. I see our forests desecrated and our animals annihilated. I see hate-mongering and gaslighting; victim-blaming and victim-shaming. Women are losing their rights, children are being placated by sugar and screens, and men aren’t being allowed to feel feelings or put their egos aside.

When I look at the news, it makes me hold my breath and not want to let it go.

I try to tell myself that I can keep trying to live the best life I can and that it’s enough to do that, but I think that’s just false optimism at this point.

You know when you get into an argument with someone and you have this feeling—this unshakable awareness that you are unequivocally in the right—but no matter how hard you try to prove it, your opponent simply remains unmoved? That insanely frustrating and perplexing kind of experience? Well, there are so many voices screaming solutions out into the world right now and the solutions seem so incredibly obvious, yet things seem to keep getting worse!

We celebrate Kim and Kanye having another baby, an adorable dog performing perfunctory CPR on his handler, or the [possible] reunification of Brad and Jen *gasp*!

Wow.

Are any of those truly worthy of celebration? Is that where our focus should actually be?

Fuck no! And we know it!

We fucking know better! We do!

I dare someone to tell me that they don’t know what would improve humanity. Tell me about a time when you felt deeply moved or deeply connected—I guarantee that time did not involve celebrity gossip or superficial internet memes. We know that quality time with people we care about is insanely important. We know that eating healthy food grown in healthy ways is the best thing for our bodies. We know that we need to have quality sleep and get outside. We know that we need hobbies that inspire us and communities that support us.

We know that love really is all we need, because that statement, although seemingly trite in its Beatles-mania lyricism, evokes a deep sense of knowing that love means love for all and that love means respect and honesty. Love means empathy and awareness; it’s about giving generously and receiving humbly. It’s about connection and it’s about togetherness. It’s putting ego aside and humbling ourselves to not only hear what needs we can fulfill, but also spurning ourselves into taking action.

I may not seek out news in any form for the foreseeable future, and I’m aware that I may miss out on some details that may be interesting or informative. But somehow, the important stuff always seems to trickle in, so I’m not really worried about missing the big stories that need real attention. I’ll continue to try to live in a way that betters the world. No, I’m not ready to give up my safe home or the beautiful natural space that surrounds it. I’ll admit selfishness on that part… but I will challenge myself to life with a conscious mindfulness of how my life impacts everyone else’s. I’ll move slower and more deliberately, and teach my children to do the same. I’ll challenge myself to stay accountable. I’ll create and I will grow; I’ll enjoy simple pleasures and seek to find a like-minded community. I’ll live like love is what really matters, because it does and it is.

I can’t look at the news, but there is a hell of a lot I can do. It’s about fucking time I did it, and so did you.

xxJ

Look to the skies, look to the trees, listen to your heart. News be damned…we all know what we need to do.

Fearing the End of the Story

It’s starting to feel like I’m hitting the denouement of my story. At least, it feels like I’m hitting it for this part of my story…

I’ve been living in the climax of a stressful, traumatic, gritty, exhausting story for the last four years or so. Unlike the climax in a short story, my life story climax plateaued and stayed climactic for a really long fucking time.

But I can feel myself progressing. I can see it and this week in particular, I’m having an upswing, which is a very welcome change after months and months of being depressed.

But it’s all starting to change and, to be honest, that scares me a little bit.

Okay, it scares me quite a bit. Because I harbour a deep sense of fear that healing means my past doesn’t matter or is no longer true.

I’m often scared that if I stop being an outright champion and reiterating the facts of my past loudly and consistently, then people will think (and I will feel) like they didn’t happen. That me growing and moving forward isn’t a positive thing; that it’s an obliteration of all that came before and as such, leaves no room for relapse, triggers, memories, or scars.

I’m scared of getting better, which sounds ridiculous, but letting go of the fierceness that’s kept me safe and strong is incredibly uncomfortable.

Why do I sabotage myself like this? Why stymie the progress in my life for the sake of holding onto a broken and battered story? Why not celebrate the fact that I’m safe and have moments of joy and can relax sometimes and have goals and achievements that I’ve accomplished as an individual? What the hell is wrong with me??

Well, we all know that the answer to that question—nothing at all, and a whole helluva lot.

I think I’m scared because I learned to not trust good things. I learned that setting expectations guarantees disappointment and that making goals or changes results in failure. These are some of the strongest lessons I carry with me from my past as a codependent and I resent them as much as I recognize them. I hate their potency as I begin to notice all the good shit that’s going on in my life again. I give space to my fear and allow it to bring me back to a state of helplessness, which on an intellectual level I recognize is bullshit, but on an emotional level, feels (strangely) comfortable and normal.

So how to avoid giving up? How to stop the self-sabotage? How to savour the good stuff and build my confidence while recognizing that moving forward absolutely does NOT mean that my past doesn’t matter?

My first instinct is to answer that with a “hell if I know!”, but I DO actually know! The answer lies in the capacity I developed during my trauma to survive…I can’t quit. I just don’t give up. I allow myself to feel my fear and to acknowledge it while also seeing the positive things that are happening at the same time. I get uncomfortable and then push through those feelings and keep trying. I embrace the upswing and the denouement; the falling action in the climactic journey I’ve had these last few years. I remember that every story remains for as long as we exist and that mine is still true even if I’m smiling and even if I move on.

I will always be a person with mental illness. I will always be an abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will always be myself. And being me is a nuanced, changing, shifting, growing, colourful experience; I can’t cling to one version or one time and say that it’s the only truth in my life!

I’m feeling ready to embrace more of who I am and give space to the things that come from this new acknowledgement. Maybe that sounds new-agey and super corny? Fuck it.

Yes, I’m still scared. I still worry (thanks anxiety) that I’ll fail at trying something new or that I’ll push myself too far and have to pull back from the goals I want to achieve. These are very real, very tangible fears that I’m not working at surpassing. I tell myself that being happier is something I deserve and that it’s possible, with love and support around me, to do more than just survive. It’s time to start thriving.

xxJ