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Healing from an abusive relationship
by TeenHelp February 3rd 2018, 12:33 PM

Healing from an abusive relationship
By Sammi (Orenda.)

Leaving an abusive relationship is, without a doubt, a cathartic experience. Immediately following the end of the relationship, many people will experience feelings of relief brought about by the end of the situation, as well as a feeling of empowerment that comes with the realization that your life is once again your own. As the separation begins to sink in and feel more permanent, however, fears and hesitations may begin to set in. Among these, perhaps the most common is trying to figure out what comes next. When the world becomes your oyster after months or years of control, it can be daunting to figure out what to do with your new-found freedom. While some of these tips can be applied to survivors of any abusive relationship, this article will focus on best practices that I learned during the healing process from a psychologically abusive relationship.

Process what you have been through
While this is the foremost step that you need to take following the end of an abusive relationship, it is easily the most difficult and the one that will continue on throughout the entirety of the healing process. When all is said and done, you will more than likely want to leave everything from your relationship in the past and move on to having a normal life again. You may not want to relive what you experienced, but not taking the time to work through the traumas that you endured will be detrimental to your ability to move past it in the long run.

This is absolutely not something that should be undertaken on your own. Lean on people throughout this season of life and talk through things with them. If it's an option for you, seeking professional help can be extremely advantageous. A therapist will be able to help you walk through your own emotions about what happened and understand why your abuser may have taken the actions that they did in a safe, non-judgmental environment. However, talking to a close friend or family member can also be beneficial, as they know you at a more personal level. You may also want to consider seeking out a support group for survivors of abuse in your area. Finding others who have been through similar circumstances in their own lives will provide you with a safe place to talk about your experiences with people who will have a better understanding than anyone else about what you went through. If possible, finding a way to combine some or all of these is an ideal way to approach this process.

That being said, there will be things that you will want or need to work through on your own. When thinking through these things, take steps to ensure that you are in a place where you feel safe and in a stable headspace. Getting your feelings out in a creative way, such as writing about it or drawing pictures to express your emotions, can be a great way to take this on. You can also talk to your therapist to get ideas for healthy ways to focus on your emotions without negatively affecting your mental health.

Get to know yourself again
Depending on the nature of the abuse you endured during the relationship, you may find yourself feeling a sense of disconnection from yourself. While it is possible for victims of any form of abuse to experience these feelings, it is more common in those who have faced emotional/mental abuse. Often, these types of abusers will break down the person that you were with a goal of building you back up into the person that they want you to be. When all is said and done, it can be difficult to get back to the person that you were. It's just not as simple as flipping a switch and going back to your old life.

As scary as this feeling is, it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Take some time to really get to know yourself again, starting at your core and working your way back up. Think about your favorite things about who you are as well as the goals you have for the person you want to become and focus on building up those qualities in yourself. While it's also important to focus on eliminating the negative qualities that your abuser may have instilled in you, allow yourself to put the majority of your efforts into the positive aspects of change. Not only will doing so keep you from dwelling on the impact of your abuse, it may help minimize the work for ridding yourself of negativity, as the positive changes will begin to overtake the things you don't like naturally.

Learn to break the molds
In any relationship, it's typical for patterns to develop that impact you as an individual, as well as your interactions with your partner and others as a whole. While healthy relationships tend to generate positive changes, abusive relationships can often lead to the creation of unhealthy habits under the pretense that it's what is best for you.

Take a minute to examine some of the patterns you see in your life today. Have you noticed yourself walking on eggshells, even around your friends and family, because of a learned fear of the consequences of saying the wrong thing? Have you stopped doing things that you enjoy because they weren't acceptable in your relationship? Often, individuals who are in an abusive relationship will adopt some of these habits as a method of self-preservation. If you learn to say and do everything according to your partner's rules, it serves as a preventative measure against the abuse. Although this is a completely understandable defense mechanism, it is vital that you learn to break the molds that you have been pushed into following the end of the relationship.

At the beginning of this process, this may seem like a nearly impossible task. While it isn't something that can be accomplished overnight, you can start breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. To start out, try to pinpoint the three most important molds that you want to break. Perhaps you want to stop being afraid to disagree with someone. Maybe you want to feel comfortable going out with your friends without feeling like you're doing something wrong. Whatever those goals are, push yourself every day to do one thing that challenges the routines you've been forced into. If it helps, you can even ask a friend or family member to help keep you accountable and help you track your progress.

Acknowledge the times that you're not okay
Those who have not suffered from abuse have a tendency to assume that things automatically become brighter following separation from the abuser. While this is true to an extent, there will be times where you find yourself struggling. Instinct may tell you to shove these feelings to the side and carry on with the mentality that there is no reason not to be okay. But, allowing yourself to feel whatever emotions come up is essential to the overall healing process.

Finding positive outlets for your emotions and giving yourself permission to feel whatever you need to can be incredibly therapeutic. If you feel angry, find an activity that allows you to let out some of your aggression, such as going to batting cages or screaming into a pillow. If you're sad, allow yourself to cry or call someone in your support system to talk with. The most important thing is getting your feelings out in a healthy way, as it is the only way you can truly move on and heal.

Remember the truth
At the end of the day, a breakup is a breakup. While your relationship may have been toxic, you may still find yourself missing your ex. This may seem questionable at first, but it's actually a fairly normal response. You did fall for them for a reason, after all. When this happens, you will likely find yourself focusing on the positive aspects of their character and reminiscing about the good memories that you have of your relationship. Although these thoughts are normal, the danger lies in exaggerating the positive to the point that it overshadows the negative. Following this thought process can lead to a temptation to get back with your ex, convincing yourself that things might be different this time around.

When these feelings occur, it is important to begin combating them instantly. Depending on how far along you are in the healing process, it may be beneficial to think about specific things that your abuser did. While this is the quickest way to shut down any temptations, this tactic should only be used if you have worked through enough of the trauma that you can think about it without triggering any negative moods or behaviors. If you're not quite there yet, that's totally okay! If thinking about specifics isn't something that can work for you, try focusing on how your ex made you feel (scared, helpless, etc.) and compare that to what a healthy relationship looks like. Perhaps you could even use a positive relationship you see modeled through people in your life to examine the contrasts between those and the toxic behaviors of your ex. Continue to do this until the temptation to go back begins to fade. You may find yourself having to do this often in the early days, but the need will lessen as time goes on.

While healing from an abusive relationship can seem impossible, you are capable of moving past it. You and your life are not defined by what happened to you. As someone two years out of an abusive relationship, I can say with confidence that things will get better and you will be able to use your experiences, as negative as they were, to positively impact your life in the future. Remember this: you are not a victim; you are a survivor.

Other helpful reads
Recognizing signs of an abusive relationship
Leaving an abusive relationship

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