I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC and it was published on their site August 9, 2018.
My parents didn’t understand why their quiet, helpful child turned into a withdrawn and angry teen. I didn’t understand either. I became suicidal for years before marrying an abusive man I barely knew shortly after my nineteenth birthday.
The abusive relationship almost destroyed me, but I was able to escape after a year and a half and put my life back together. This time I married an amazing man and eventually uncovered dissociative amnesia covering ritualistic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and every type of rape perpetrated by at least fifteen abusers.
There are three paths a victim might take after being separated from their current abuser- getting into another abusive relationship, becoming an abuser, or breaking the cycle of abuse. I learned firsthand what helped me overcome and found that the same thing helped others as well. Now I am an Abuse Life Coach and help others who have been abused take charge of their lives. These are the things you can do to help someone you know who is being abused.
- Share Truth- Don’t Control
The victim is being controlled by their abuser. When a well-meaning friend or family member uses control to try to help them, such as “I’ll tend your kids if you leave the relationship,” it creates the same feelings within the victim as the abuser gives them. As a victim I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I did what my abusers wanted so they wouldn’t hurt me in far worse ways.
What helped me escape was counseling as a teen and the support of a good friend. My mother and my therapist tried to help, but I wasn’t ready. However, it laid the foundation for my ability to escape. My abuser cut me off from my family, but I was able to maintain minimal contact with one person from my past who listened without judgement and gave little bits of truth. He told me I didn’t have to do whatever my ex-husband told me to do. He told me he would come pick me up immediately if I ever decided to leave. He helped me see that I had choices, rather than trying to control me to do what he knew would be best for me. Even though I got upset at the gentle suggestion to leave, it remained in my head. I held onto it, and I began planning how to get out. It took me six months, but I did it. I was the only one that could get myself out of the situation, no one else. In deciding that I didn’t want to be in an abusive relationship, I made sure not to escape one situation just to jump right back into another one.
- Be Supportive, Don’t Save Them
Leaving an abuser is scary and hard. I had no self-esteem, few skills, and no money of my own. My parents let me move back home with no judgement and no conditions, though I knew there were certain things they would not allow such as alcohol, drugs or men. They gave me space and quietly took care of me in any way I would allow them to. Many people don’t have that type of safety net to allow them to deal with the pain of leaving while still having boundaries that help them stay away from harmful coping mechanisms. There will be sadness in ending a relationship, even one that was abusive. Just like anyone else, they need to grieve the loss.
If someone in an abusive relationship wants to leave but doesn’t see a way out, that is the time to let them know what resources there are to help them. Let them know you are there for support, and what community resources are available. Be clear what you can and can’t do for them. They need an example of someone who has boundaries. They need to know that you will support them, not tell them what to do, but not save them either. To be effective, this must come from a place of love, not judgement.
Listen if they want to talk without telling them how they should feel about it, what they should do about it, or to forget it and move on. Validate their feelings, don’t dismiss them or tell them it couldn’t have been that bad. If someone listened to me, I let myself talk a little more. Those who judged, refused to accept what I had to say, or told me how I should feel or act, got the wall of China. Once I knew they heard what I was saying and accepted it, I was open to suggestions. You can give them options as long as you let them choose for themselves. Sometimes I let the victim talk through the possibilities and give them the truth of the consequences, but I always make it clear that it is their choice.
- Be Patient
The hardest thing is to go on with your own life while you know someone you love is being hurt. Change takes time. Sometimes lots of time. Don’t give up. Keep loving them within your own healthy boundaries. Keep sharing truth, being supportive, and listening. Know that the person being abused sometimes lashes out. Let them know you still love them, but don’t allow them to turn into an abuser by offering up yourself as their punching bag. Be firm, be loving, and be patient.
There is hope and healing. Encourage your loved one to seek out the things that will help them overcome and become strong. It might be more traditional forms of therapy, meditation, hypnotherapy, or spirituality. There is no right way, only the way that works for the individual.
No one saved me. I did that myself. But I couldn’t have done it without help. I needed to lean on the strength and wisdom of others I felt safe with. In making choices myself I became strong, learned who I was, and what I wanted out of life. Now I tell people that I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver.
For me surviving was the first, steep climb. Then I wanted more. I wanted to be happy, live life to the fullest, and heal every part of my body and soul. I kept pushing forward, doing what I needed to achieve the healing I knew I could find with enough time and hard work. Now I wake up every day grateful and excited to participate in my life and help others heal and learn to become thrivers themselves.
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I know that when I decide to do something, I jump in with both feet and charge forward. Inevitably, I fall on my face by trying to go faster than I’m able. It gets me every time. I thought by my forties I’d finally remember this and start things a little calmer, but I still have the same patterns. My healing journey was this way, my books are this way, and my hobbies are this way. Now I can add my business to this list as well.
The problem with this is that my family pays the price. First I try to do too many things all at once. The cleaning is the first thing to stop. Then the cooking. I try to stay involved in my kids lives, but I forget to stop and have fun with them. I keep thinking that I can do it all. I feel the rush of success and accomplishment.
Then the stress sets in. I get cranky and start yelling at my kids that I need more help. Eventually, everything falls apart and I’m a sobbing mess telling my husband how I just can’t do everything that is expected of me. My husband listens without telling me that I’m the one that set the impossible expectations in the first place. Then I realize I can’t do it all, and I cut back. Inevitably, I don’t cut back enough so I have another breakdown before I make real changes.
I go through this cycle all the time. I’m always critical of my inability to figure out how to balance things. There is one thing I rarely stop and tell myself though. I got back up every single time. I might feel like a failure for a moment, but I get back up, adjust my priorities, and keep moving forward. I never give up. Today I’m acknowledging that I don’t quit. I might feel afraid, but I keep moving forward. If I don’t know something, I study and learn. I’ve read one business book per week for the past four months.
If you have fallen, get back up and keep moving forward. You can do it. And when you do, stop and take a moment to tell yourself how amazing it was that you got back up and moved forward.
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In Utah, as well as many cold places I’ve lived, the color of summer is orange. Sometimes we joke that we have Winter, Spring, Construction, and Fall. It’s not really true, because construction season gears up in Spring and winds down in Fall so it’s really only Winter and Construction. Both cause problems with traffic.
Maybe that’s why my site has been under construction. It started with some updates I tried to make. Tried being the key word here, since I’m not great with technology. I know just enough to cause big problems for my husband, who has spent his life in various forms of computer technology. Sure enough, I crashed my site. I told people I got the white screen of death on my website. Older people said, you mean on your computer? No, my website. They didn’t know a website could crash like a computer does. Due to not setting up my site with a good hosting company that had a good platform, it took my poor husband hours and then days to restore my website and then build the basics into a new site for me. Meanwhile, I had guest blogs going up and no way to post new blogs, and so I took a mental vacation before getting sick. Now it’s mid-August.
I find life is like construction. I have in mind where I want to go and an idea of how long it will take. Then I get started and hit massive backed up traffic because someone decided to put up giant orange cones. I stare at the cones and see no construction for miles, feeling frustrated that someone is ruining my timetable for no apparent reason. My book has taken longer to complete than I thought, my son was in the hospital far longer than I expected, and my business has taken more time and work than I ever could have imagined, with potholes all along the way. What I have learned is that I just have to keep moving forward, hoping that someday the cones will give way to five lanes of open freeway for me to cruise along. Being frustrated won’t make the road any easier or make the cars blocking my path go any faster. All I can do is crank up the music, and sing at the top of my lungs.
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People told me once my son left for boot camp I’d get a one or two sentence letter if I was lucky. Not from my son. He has been sending letters every day or two, filling the front and back of each page. He has always been better at long distance communication than chatting at home. Now I get a glimpse at a whole different world. Here are some things I’ve learned.
Despite the tough environment, boys act like boys. The ones that goof off at school- shutting their friends in a locker will do the same in the army. The only difference is that everyone gets in trouble if the drill sergeant finds out. This drives my very grown up son nuts.
MRE’s taste better than the food at the cafeteria. My son loves MRE’s. At first I thought he was joking, but he was completely serious! He also eats more, and healthier than he has ever eaten before. While he likes the change for the most part, he craves his favorite candies and foods in a way that I thought only possible in another country. Of course, boot camp might as well be another country.
My independent son wanted nothing more than letters. We didn’t get an address for three weeks, and then it took another week and a half for our letter to get to him. The sadness of not getting any letters for so long almost broke my heart. We have learned that letters only go out once a week so we get a slew of letters at a time. By the time we ask a question, he gets the letter, and responds, a full three weeks has passed despite the fact that he’s only 3 states away. Might be why the post office is struggling. It is agonizingly slow in our fast paced world.
I have learned that my son is an excellent shot with his rifle, loves the runs and tromping in the woods, but struggles with the push-ups. He gets annoyed that men around him act like little boys, needs his quiet time, and enjoys being a leader. He is a charming writer, and his letters are a gift I will cherish always. While the letters are slow, they are rich in information, and tangible so that the experience he is having is captured forever, his own shared journal. I worried about not being involved in this transition from boy to man, I feel now that I’m more involved than if he’d been living at home.
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