3. You have to unlearn your unhealthy coping strategies.
You learned every trick to try to keep your abuser happy, or at least to avoid triggering his or her rage. You learned to be submissive and silent, to second- or even third-guess yourself, to start every sentence with “I’m sorry.” You learned to walk around minefields and stay out of the line of fire.
To tiptoe around insecurities, walk delicately on eggshells, and act as if parts of your—needs, desires, dreams—didn’t exist. You learned to diminish your own value and to accept utterly unacceptable treatment. The mind-bends you went through to achieve a modicum of harmony and keep yourself—and perhaps your children—safe from harm—are staggering.
And they’re all not only useless but counterproductive and unhealthy in a healthy supportive relationship. So you become a relationship novice again.
Some relationships may never regain the closeness and intimacy they once had.
4. You have to repair broken bonds with family and friends.
This is one of the hardest tasks a survivor faces, particularly if you denied the abuse and defended your abuser while it was happening. These critical relationships are damaged, and even though your family and friends may be tremendously supportive, you may not be aware of the extent of their pain—and they may not want to burden you with it during the early part of your recovery.
Some relationships may never regain the closeness and intimacy they once had, especially if you—or your abuser through you—pushed someone away. Your old life doesn’t just snap back into place immediately. You changed, and others changed along with you.
Restoring broken relationships is hard work, and focusing on finding a new way to enjoy family and old friends will be more productive than trying to go back to the way things were before.
Forgiving yourself for abandoning yourself, and for the pain that abandonment caused for you and other people you love is different.
5. You have to forgive yourself.
This sounds easy because you forgive yourself for stuff all the time. We all do. You forgive yourself for being late or screwing up at work. You rationalize the time you waste on unproductive activities (e.g., Facebook). You find ways to let yourself off the hook, because … because it feels good.
But forgiving yourself for abandoning yourself, and for the pain that abandonment caused for you and other people you love is different. You obsessively try to understand why you got into an abusive relationship—what was it about you that made you vulnerable, what was it about your abuser that seemed so incredibly appealing.
You blame yourself, your childhood, your abuser’s childhood … and yourself again, until you come to a place of true forgiveness and acceptance. “I could have made a healthier choice. But I didn’t. And that’s OK. I lost a lot. But I’m going to be OK. I’m going to be OK, and I’m going to move on.”
The hardest thing is squaring the hatred you were subjected to with the idea that you are worthy of love.
6. You have to start loving yourself again.
When you hate yourself for what you feel you allowed to happen to you, it’s hard to find much self-love. And self-love wasn’t exactly encouraged by your abuser either. You were likely told repeatedly you weren’t lovable—not by anyone except your abuser. So now, who will love you?
The answer has to be—you first. Restoring your healthy esteem for yourself must follow self-forgiveness and will allow you to start drawing boundaries that protect you from further harm.
A self-care regimen, maintained consistently, can create the feeling of self-love even if you’re not generating it inside. Also, if you are a person of faith, remembering that God loves you can help you through the darkest spaces. The hardest thing is squaring the hatred you were subjected to with the idea that you are worthy of love. The trick? It’s both/and.
Bad advice from good people is still bad advice.