Abuse makes you feel crazy. Abuse literally causes your brain to use survival tactics in an attempt to stay sane and alive. When the body faces high stress or threat it activates what’s commonly known as the “fight or flight” syndrome – amped up levels of cortisol and other stress hormones to allow your body to either get to safety or fight whatever threat is posed. When the brain sees no way of escape it will take another neural pathway to survival. It will shut down. This process is a primal survival tactic that all creatures have (think of “playing possum”). It’s not quite as visible or detectible in humans, so let me give you an example.
One day your abuser does something that you just can’t keep quiet about. Let’s say he jumped down the neighbor’s throat for defending one of his friends that your abuser has had an argument with. You fearfully speak up about it, knowing what follows is sure to destroy you inside but you’ve got to say something. Your heart races and your breathing increases.. you think of a million different ways to approach him that won’t make him angry but you know that no matter what you say it’s not going to end well. You take a deep breath and ask.. “You know.. the neighbor was right.. he was just coming to the defense of his friend… He’s been nothing but nice to you. What you said was a little over the top don’t you think?” Your heart is now pounding in your neck, your nerves are shot, and you brace yourself.. aannnnd here it comes. “Really?! Are you really taking his side? What’s wrong with you?” You try to speak but all of a sudden you can’t think – you utter a few throaty sounds but nothing comes out – He continues his tirade… “I’ve been nothing but good to you and you turn on me like this? I swear I don’t know why I include you on anything – you always make me out to look like the bad guy! You never just support me and respect me! I’m your husband, you’re supposed to come under me and support me and stand up for me no matter what! Why do you always have to turn everything around on me like I’m somebody I’m not?! You have no idea what it does to me when you treat me like this!” Your jaw refuses to close and you stand wide-eyed, shocked, and horrified. You knew he’d be upset but you thought what you said was fair and objective – you can’t understand why he took it so far off of one comment. You’ve been in the relationship for a while and you’ve learned to “give in” because it’s easier by this point. By now you know that if you try to fight, you’re going to lose anyway and you’ll waist time and energy and emotion. You quickly shift to feel complete shame and guilt. If there was anything left of your heart, it’s now shattered. You don’t fight him. You know it will only get worse if you do. You regret saying anything, but you wonder how your small comment made him so mad – you try to figure out how it escalated off of one small question that was meant to hold him morally accountable..?? You can’t figure out what just happened. You have nothing to say, you can’t think, and you can’t sort it out.. there’s no where to run.. nothing to say, and no way to fix this except for “submit” and shut down. You have to fix it or you’ll be emotionally battered for the rest of the day.. “I’m sorry.. I didn’t mean it like that – I’m sorry.. you’re right.. ” You hang your head and regret opening your mouth.. “What have I done?” runs through your head and you dread the rest of the day unless he accepts your apology. You’re now speechless.. you prepare for whatever consequence comes.. You try not to feel.. you turn off..
What just happened is emotional abuse. Your rational and moral reasoning has just been squashed and turned around to be invalid and offensive. You’ve been trained this way now by your abuser and you start to question your ability to judge proper and appropriate responses. Your brain becomes accustomed to bypass logical reasoning and adjusts to succumb to your abuser’s way of thinking. You have to abandon yourself to keep yourself safe.
When you finally harness that last little ember burning in you and are able to get out, you now are faced with the real world again. You have been in an unstable, unbalanced, and unhealthy relationship and it may be hard to relate to people any other way now.
So now what? What do you do?? How do you move forward??
First of all, I STRONGLY suggest finding a very good licensed therapist to assist with any PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, and Stockholm Syndrome recovery.
Now you’ve got to deal with every day life. It can be difficult to trust again, as well as think for yourself. It’s important to realize that abusers do not use the same logical reasoning that everyone else uses, so now that you are out from under them, you can start listening to your intuition again. It can be difficult to recognize, depending on how long you were with your abuser, but it’s in there.
First thing you may notice is when you are out on your own, you may be afraid to trust yourself. Survivors will often question their ability to judge and make decisions safely. You may realize consciously that your abuser isn’t there to challenge, belittle, or block you in reality, but subconsciously he is still there. We’ve got to work on building up your confidence to firmly make a decision and trust that you will be okay when you do. How do we do that? Steps. Small, baby steps. One at a time.
Step 1: Faith. You’ve got to have faith that you have been protected. You are a child of God and He did not create you to be owned and controlled and beaten down by your spouse or partner. NO ONE has the right to treat you the way you’ve been treated, and God gave no one that authority. Have faith that he created you for a purpose and that he will reveal that purpose to you. Following the Lord in His purpose for your life is guaranteed to not only draw you closer to Him, but will restore you, protect you, and establish you. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
Step 2: One foot in front of the other. You don’t have to jump feet first into the world. No one has the right to rush you, push you, or force you to do anything. You get to call the shots, but you’ve got to make the efforts even if they are small. When it’s time to make a decision, consider the outcomes and decide firmly one way or the other and ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have to know what’s going to happen from your decision. What’s important is that you get to make this decision without anyone telling you that you’re wrong. Start small – decide firmly what to eat for a meal that you’re undecided on. It may seem silly – but if you’ve been there you know. That can be torture. Lay out some options, and then point to one and do it. The more often you make small decisions with no ramifications, you’ll begin to build confidence in yourself and your ability to make decisions safely. When you feel ready, move to larger decisions.
Step 3: Share your opinions. This one can be terrifying. For so long you’ve been completely destroyed by having your own opinions. It’s been dangerous to speak up. Your support system (friends, siblings, parents, church family, neighbors, — anyone who knows what you’ve been through) is there for you. Let them know that you’re afraid to voice your opinion, and then find small opportunities to speak up. Depending on the severity of the abuse you endured, you may have to start very small and work your way up. For some, even voicing how beautiful a throw pillow is can be scary. Start with small statements and when you’re ready, speak more directly to things that are larger issues. In time, sharing your opinion and receiving positive feedback will build that trust and confidence.
Step 4: Positive self talk. It’s highly likely that your internal dialogue was very negative during your abuse. The voice in your head was likely very abusive to you as well. Insults and offenses were likely heard when you looked in the mirror or made the tiniest mistake. It’s probably that you scrutinized everything you did to try and be perfect so that your abuser wouldn’t have anything to lash out about. All that stops now. There was only one perfect person that ever walked this earth and His name is not yours. Having said that – we all make mistakes and God made us perfectly us. He made you beautiful and loved. You were fearfully and wonderfully made in His image and He loves you because you are His beloved child. Find some sticky notes and write positive self-talk phrases on them and place them all over your house, your car, and work to remind yourself of who you are and who you were made to be. Even if you don’t believe it!! Every time you see these words, say them out loud to yourself. Then own it. Repeat it.
A negative mind cannot produce a positive life. A positive mind will always produce a positive life.
You have a long road ahead of you, but you can do this. You are *not* alone!
If you would like to dig in deeper and work together on these things, complete the contact form to learn more. I am here to support you!