If you’ve recently got out of an abusive relationship, first of all, well done! It’s such a hard thing to do and no matter how you feel inside, try and take a minute to recognize the amazing, brave act you did for yourself by getting out of it.
Unfortunately, the hard work doesn’t stop here. It can feel like you got your life back but it’s been smashed up into a million pieces and retrieved from a dirty toilet.
Here’s 5 things you may experience as you move forward with your life and some tips that might help:
1. Feeling worse instead of better
As you move through life without abuse it can sometimes appear like you feel worse instead of better. Before you got away from your situation you lived under extreme pressures and life became about survival. Now that you don’t have to live that way anymore, those maladaptive coping mechanisms can’t sustain themselves.
This can mean that no matter how much you want to carry on the day to day things that you used to manage to do – sometimes you suddenly get flooded with overwhelming feelings that you haven’t had for a long time.
It can make you feel like you therefore deserved or needed to live under the abusive situation from the past because seemingly you can’t cope with real life – but this not true.
Recovering from abuse takes a lot of time and is a difficult transition. Not coping sometimes might be a part of that transition.
Try, as best you can, to keep going. Staying in a routine is really helpful – it stops you from being swallowed up into the pit of memories, feelings and despair about the past.
But if you fall sometimes, try to reassure yourself that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you deserved any of the past and it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. It just means you are learning to live life again.
2. Numbness and Confusion
Part of living with abuse can entail having your feelings totally invalidated on a repeated basis, as well as being convinced by the person that the anger and acts done to you were in fact caused by you.
This means that you might have had to learn to switch off your feelings. Most of the time you might feel like you don’t have any feelings at all, other times it might feel like you have a great big ball of something inside you and you want to cry about it – but you don’t know how.
Another aspect can be that you are really not sure what to make of everything that has happened to you. Part of you, by virtue of the fact that you got away, thinks that what happened was not acceptable anymore. But another part of you, could be influenced by the abuse you received and can make you wonder if you are as bad and wrong as you were made to feel.
If you struggle with these, it might be a good idea to some professional help. Try to fight against the part of you that feels ashamed and bad, try to rise above the fear of being judged. Part of you might be scared to feel again because it would mean feeling all of the reasons why you had to switch them off in the first place.
Even if you feel that you don’t deserve it, or it wasn’t bad enough to warrant that level of help, try to reach out to a professional body for some help.
3. Nightmares and Flashbacks
Nightmares and flashbacks can be intensely difficult to cope with. They take you back to those moments that you don’t want to go back too. They can stop you from wanting to go to sleep, cause you to be exhausted and make you avoid certain situations for fear of having a flashback.
You can try to think of a moment in your life that was good. A time where you felt safe and warm. See if you can get a picture of that moment in your mind – remember the smells, the sounds, the feelings.
When you wake up from a nightmare or have a flashback – try to remember that good moment and take yourself back there. Also try to remind yourself that the memories are not happening anymore – they are vivid and seem real – but they are not. Now you are safe – you survived.
As you start to process the past and feel more secure they can decrease in frequency. Getting professional help as described above can also help.
4. Disconnection and Trust
Probably by the time you have got out, your relationships with friends and family have been affected. It wasn’t possible for you to see them, talk to them and maybe not any kind of relationship at all.
This can mean that sometimes you feel like you are an observer of life but not a part of it. Sometimes it can even feel like you are an observer of your own life too and it may even feel sometimes like it’s a real effort to stay in the world – like if you don’t try really hard you will float away into that dreamy place you had to take your mind and never return again.
Depending on the extent of the past, you might also feel totally disconnected from your body, not even able to recognize when you are sick or in pain – because you had to be that way to survive.
It can also mean that you feel deeply alone yet despite yearning for human connection you have lost all trust in people. Worse still, is that you might not have any trust in yourself. You don’t trust yourself to connect with the right people, you are wary of everyone and especially the people who are nice to you because that is something you are not sure of anymore – what is their real motive?
At this point, it can be easy to get drawn into another abusive relationship – because at least it is something you are comfortable with. But, if you can manage to resist this tendency and be with the discomfort of being around people that are nice to you – it might save you another lifetime of pain and suffering.
Focusing on rebuilding your connection with yourself and learning to trust yourself again will help you to become more empowered. Connection and trust begins on the inside.
No one deserves to be treated without care and respect. Everyone is worthy of love and belonging – including you.
5. Well Meaning People
Not everyone is going to understand what you’ve been through. You might come across people sometimes that make you think you “just need to forget about it and get on with your life.” But you don’t need to feel bad or guilty for struggling to do that – it takes time.
Sometimes it’s because if they were to recognize your pain they would also have to recognize their own pain. Sometimes it’s born from ignorance but whatever the reason – try not to let them get to you.
Healing takes time and whilst you do have to rebuild your life, you can’t just flick a switch and pretend the past didn’t happen. Sometimes the only way out is through – you can’t go around the outside, underneath or jump over it – you’ve got to walk through it – through the pain, shame and misery to be able to come out the other side and make a life for yourself.
Never Give Up!
Above all else – no matter how you feel – you are strong because you got free in the end. Hold onto that notion. No matter how hard it gets…keep going….you are precious.