It has almost been a year since I left an abusive relationship and each day I continue to grow. My eyes and mind are now open to many new realities post the abusive relationship. I knew that it would be hard work to heal and I knew I had to have patience. I did not completely understand that a whole new set of challenges pop up in life after abuse.
Because my abuse was psychological, I was misled to believe that it wasn’t as serious as physical abuse. I was not fully ready for life afterward, part of me didn’t know what to do with myself, I didn’t even know myself outside of the relationship. I hope to be a guiding light to anyone who is undergoing their own healing journey after an abusive relationship.
Understanding toxic traits
Survival tactics can vary from person to person, it is to keep yourself safe in a time when you fear for your well-being and one is constantly in fight-or-flight mode. I will speak from my own experience: In my past relationship, I felt that I was always felt as if I was walking on eggshells. If I couldn’t predict that my partner was having a bad day, I was neglectful. If I did notice and predict it, I was triggering the bad day. I just could not win. To keep myself mentally and emotionally safe, I began more than ever, mind-reading.
The term mind reading is used in psychology to describe trying to know what a person is thinking or feeling without asking. Often times it can be projections of our own fears onto another person. Now that I am out of that relationship, I catch myself whenever I begin mind reading. I remind myself that it is not my job to know what a person is feeling or thinking. I also frequently remind myself that usually, another person is not expecting you to magically guess what they are thinking.
Often, I felt afraid to share my opinion on almost anything because it would turn into a fight if we didn’t agree. Later in the relationship I would just freeze up or get quiet in fear of again, saying the incorrect thing. I would see it reflect in jobs in other relationships. I am sometimes not able to be my authentic self because I begin to overthink how I will be perceived, and if I may offend someone. The reality is, even if you disagree with someone or stand up for yourself – someone who is mentally and emotionally healthy will not get angry at you and hurt you.
In the relationship, I was also financially abused. I would feel guilty any time I did anything for myself. I would also feel guilty if I did something good for myself that did not involve the person I was dating. Fast-forward to after the relationship and I still sometimes feel those ways. Though I am in a much better place financially, I realize that I feel guilty and have to justifying spending money on basic needs. When I feel happy and treat myself, I beat myself up over not thinking of anyone else.
Those three examples were just some of the big survival tactics that still echo in my life. Again, this looks different for everyone.
Release what no longer serves you
I know that I no longer have to live in survival mode. I know that I am making it my goal to surround myself with caring and compassionate individuals. The mind-reading, inauthenticity, and feeling always without do not serve me moving forward. In fact, it holds me back and keeps me from my blessings.
Experiencing and healing from domestic violence is a long series of steps, I think. The first is acknowledgment, then leaving – but it does not end there. Forgiveness is also important. Forgiving your abuser does not come easy, and I am finding that before that day comes (if it ever does – let’s be real), the great importance of forgiving yourself. Being a survivor of abuse, you can often feel as though you deserved it. That you did something for it to happen. Reflecting back on ways you reacted and the constant gaslighting can cause you to be angry and disappointed in yourself. This way of thinking serves you no longer. The unfavorable ways you acted was for your own survival. It is time to forgive yourself so you can continue to grow and move on. Check out my blog post on forgiveness for some extra insight!
You are not alone!
The great thing is, you are not alone and do not have to do it all on your own! From support groups to therapy, there are people out there to honestly help you every step of the way when you are truly ready. I had the support of my best friend before ending the abusive relationship, I had therapy, went on domestic violence hotlines, attended a domestic violence support group (which I highly recommend), and did a lot of reading. Support groups and reading up on domestic violence and hearing other’s experiences are validating. After being invalidated by your abuser, it is refreshing to relate to other women who are experiencing/have experienced similar things. Here are some sources for you if you don’t know what to do next or feel you have no one.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- To help with your healing I recommend reading: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
- Therapy for Black Girls
- In the Bay Area? SAVE is a great resource!
- Reach out to someone you trust
Redefining who you are outside of the abusive past
Lastly, one of the most challenging aspects of my healing process is rediscovering who I am without that relationship. I lived for three years completely for someone else. Everything I did and did not do used to revolve around one person. Now that things have quieted down and fewer distractions, thanks shelter-in-place, I have time with the deep soul searching questions. Who am I?
So ask yourself, who are you and who do you want to be? Now is the time to get new hobbies, learn something you always put off. Spend time with family and friends, even if virtually for the time being. Make your own life. I know that can be a bit overwhelming and a big task. However, you can take your time and enjoy each moment as it passes. There is no other shoe that is going to drop, no walking on eggshells. You are safe, you are free to be authentically you again! You deserve happiness.