HEALING FROM CHRONIC ABUSE
– recommended healing methodologies having experienced a lifetime of abuse and emotional manipulation
There are a wide variety of incredibly helpful methodologies and practices to assist survivors of abuse to heal from anxiety, C-PTSD, and trauma. Those who are in recovery often find it challenging to include them in their daily routine, especially because they are not very good at making time for themselves. Some methods such as meditation can be very difficult for a person who is traumatised and still ruminating about everything that’s happening in their relationship/s.
I found it almost impossible to “be still” and “in the present moment” when my mind was feeling overwhelmed and utterly confused. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to healing, but the most important thing is for us to do things that get us out of our over-analytical minds and into our bodies. I’d like to share methods that worked well for me on my healing journey. Many ask if one can heal completely having been subjected to chronic abuse. I believe we are all a work in progress, however, from my experience, it is decidedly possible to live a life of joy and purpose instead of misery and shame. Here are the things that helped to facilitate my healing, in no order other than my faith which always takes precedence in my life. I strive to love others as I love myself and to live a life of love…
One of the life areas that need to be in balance with others is spirituality. Unless we have a belief that there is a Higher Power that is bigger and more loving than us, our hope of healing and restoration is diminished in my humble opinion. God, the healer, the one who gave me COURAGE says, “Do not fear for I am with you”. I was incredibly scared to get a divorce as I’d been married for 3 decades and had never wanted to be the one to break up our family. I was financially dependent on my spouse, had no money of my own, and was unemployed at the time. Every morning as I prayed and cried and prayed and cried, I would hear these words which I believe God gave me to hold on to: “Just enough light for the path you are on” which reminded me that He was in control, leading and guiding me and making a way. These words helped me to keep moving forward one step at a time, and to trust him with my future. Change is SO scary and if I didn’t have a relationship with God, I wouldn’t have had the courage I needed to take responsibility for my happiness and make the necessary changes.
As I wake, I begin thanking God for all the ways he has blessed me and remind myself of everything I have that I can be grateful for. You can have a gratitude journal and write down 3 things you are grateful for every morning and evening. I listen to praise and worship music as I get ready for the day. Because I have been a Christian for 35 years, I know most of the words to the songs and singing along makes me grateful for the relationship I have with my creator who IS LOVE. An attitude of gratitude sets you up to have a loving and productive day.
Being aware of how we breathe and having the knowledge as to how to use one’s breath to reduce anxiety and overwhelm is such a useful tool. If you are feeling exhausted and depleted, there are a variety of ways that breathwork can raise your energy levels. At the workshop I attended, we were taught a variety of ways to express feelings such as anger in a healthy way, and some of the exercises ended with a self-love pose (hand on the heart, and the other on your belly) for me was the beginning of learning to love myself. It felt good and it’s a very foreign concept for a codependent people-pleaser!
Yoga is a very good way to practice being in the present moment and to release the trauma lodged in our bodies that shows up in all sorts of tough ways. I practice “Trauma Sensitive Yoga” which is a very gentle form of yoga. It is more about mind/body connection, mindfulness and breathing techniques. Yoga also helps with C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and is a truly wonderful healing methodology. Aqua-aerobics, Pilates, pickle Ball, paddle ball, golf, tennis, and hiking are my exercises of preference. Schedule whatever exercise you enjoy into your week. It does wonders to take your mind off your troubles, improves circulation, raises your heart rate, helps with weight loss, and gives you a sense of achievement and well-being once you have completed the activity.
The key element of mindfulness is being AWARE. It’s an accepting, non-judgmental, and curious focus on one’s emotional, cognitive, and sensory experience in the present moment. Simply put, mindfulness is present-moment self-awareness. Some of the benefits of practising mindfulness include an improvement in psychological and general well-being. Mindfulness has come to be equated with “good feeling” emotions such as joy, relaxation, and happiness.
The way I practice mindfulness is to take walks in nature and literally stop and smell the roses. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring to contemplate the intricacy with which each flower is so beautifully created. I engage all my senses, listen to birdsong, feel the breeze against my face, inhale the aroma of jasmine, Spring blossoms… any flowers that are in bloom, and watch the cloud formation and the light change throughout the day. Taking photos of the beauty around me gives me great pleasure. Practising being in the moment and enjoying everything as it unfolds around you, walking barefoot, sitting next to a stream, and listening to the gentle sound of the water tripping over the rocks. It’s a beautiful way to stay grounded.
When we are in an abusive relationship, we feel so confused, frustrated, hurt, misunderstood, betrayed, fearful, and overwhelmed a lot of the time. I found that the best way to get it out of my system (and my mind) was to write it all down. At times I was so angry the pen almost tore through the paper, but at least I was letting go of the anger in a way that wasn’t hurting me or anyone else. I found it particularly cathartic and felt much better having journaled.
Journal prompts to bring clarity to confusion:
- The question is not “Is he/she a narcissist (or bipolar or borderline)?” Journal on the question “How does he/she make me feel? Is he/she building me up or destroying me?” This will help you to understand if you are in a toxic relationship or not and how you would like to move forward.
- What do I want? (Generally, we have no idea as we have become lost in the relationship.) Keep asking yourself this question repeatedly until you can pinpoint exactly what it is that YOU want.
- Are any of my needs getting met?
- Who was I before we met? What were my strengths and what did I enjoy doing? What was I passionate about? We need to rediscover our identity to become empowered.
- Draw 2 columns and list the pros and cons of staying or leaving.
- What are my fears about leaving? Write them all down and see how you could deal with each one.
- If you have decided you want to leave, journal on “How do I go about leaving such that I can exit safely?” Write out an action plan.
people all need connection. Isolation is not good for anyone. When I began going out with my friends again and realised how much fun it is to be with people who enjoy your company, laugh with you, and build you up instead of verbally abusing and humiliating you in public, it left me feeling energised and happy. I make a point of keeping in touch with friends and family. To send a quick message each day asking how they are if you know they’re sick, to extend kindness and love to those who are going through tough times. We need to be connected to ourselves too. Aware of how we are treating ourselves. Is the voice of our inner critic narcissistic? Are we abusing ourselves in the absence of the abuser? We need to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to others.
I had a particularly vicious inner critic but now that I am aware of how cruel I can be, I deal with it as soon as the words are out of my mouth. For example, if I say, “What’s the matter with you?! You’re so stupid!”, I now literally speak out loud and say “I’m sorry Penny. That was mean. You’re not stupid. You just made a mistake. Many people make mistakes.” It’s working as by apologising I am being kind to myself and in time, my inner critic will become less critical and hopefully praise my achievements instead of pointing out my flaws!
Definitely IS THE BEST MEDICINE! It’s like internal jogging and releases happy hormones that instantly improve your mood. A good belly laugh is very beneficial to your mental health. Adults laugh about 12 times a day whereas children laugh between 300 and 500 times a day. They are naturally filled with joy and curiosity which bubbles over in laughter. I run laughter workshops and the attendees leave with big smiles on their faces feeling happy, and relaxed.
Whatever genre you enjoy! Music sets our mood and if we love to dance it’s a great way to improve how we are feeling. Music can make you feel calm and relaxed, inspired, overawed, loving, or childlike. Play the music that you feel like listening to at the time OR intentionally play music to make you feel better on a difficult day. If there is a particular artist or song that triggers you, change the channel and don’t subject yourself to that, please.
I find singing so therapeutic. It fascinates me that we can sing in tune just by opening our mouths without any conscious thought – how incredible is that!? Whether you can sing in tune or cannot hold a note is irrelevant, play songs you know the words to and sing along. Sing in the shower, sing as you drive, sing while you’re washing the dishes, sing with your children or grandchildren doing actions and movements with them, sing with your friends to background music you love whilst doing a shared hobby such as pottery or a jigsaw puzzle.
I took up BIODANZA which I loved! I realised how much I used to enjoy dancing. You need to be somewhat courageous and unconcerned about others judging or ridiculing you (which for me was a bit difficult in the beginning) as it involves freeform dancing in a class of people all of whom are strangers. I felt quite uncomfortable at the beginning but after a couple of classes, I relaxed and was able to participate without feeling embarrassed or worrying about what others thought. At home I would play praise and worship music and dance, singing the lyrics as I know many of the songs. If you know the words you can do movements that portray them and I always come away in awe of God, who is love. I feel calm and safe and held, knowing that God is in control and has a plan and purpose for my life.
Is a great way to reduce emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress. It’s a dance technique that starts with fitness and ends with comprehensive healing of the body, mind, and emotions. The first and most advanced form of fusion fitness combining classic movement forms, it encompasses the martial arts (Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido) the healing arts (Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais) and dance (Jazz, Modern, and Duncan Dance). I love this semi-choreographed form of dance. Incredibly gentle, in no way intimidating, and people of every age and body type can partake. It’s effective and fun!
Line-dancing, Modern, Ballroom, Latin American, or anything choreographed is great as we focus intently on the movement instead of our troubles.
I was introduced to drumming at a health hydro and it immediately appealed to me. At the time I was depressed and heartbroken but participating in a drumming circle makes you focus on the rhythm, and I found that listening to the beat was very therapeutic. There are drumming meditations for self-care too.
movies or comedians that appeal to your sense of humour uplift your mood and are a great way to escape when you are overthinking. When I couldn’t sleep, I would watch Michael McIntyre whom I find hilarious! It makes insomnia more bearable too 😊 There is a comedian here who regularly does one-man shows and is an absolute tonic! I watch every one of his productions, with my daughters and their families, as his sense of humour is as ridiculous as mine and I leave with sore cheeks having laughed so much.
allowing myself to have fun and enjoy life. Playing with my grandchildren, building Lego, painting, doing sand art, or playing games in the garden. I attended a class once where adults were encouraged to do finger painting and it’s so freeing to do something creative with a slant on childhood pleasure. When I hold my Support Group meetings, I often include childlike activities like playing musical chairs. They look mortified before they begin the game, (going around a circle of chairs to music), but when it stops, and they are competing with one another to get a chair the laughter that ensues is so contagious and they are happily surprised by the joy they feel in the moment. Being childlike and embracing a happy “crazy” is such fun!
Being creative is a great way to bring us into our bodies and reconnect with ourselves. I have taken up pottery and as I work with the clay whilst chatting with others in the class I get completely engrossed in the process. Making pots is not for me, but I love sculpture. It is so challenging and at times I have to focus so intently that I don’t communicate at all. This is very good for me as I am a talker 😊. Baking, painting, sewing, drawing… any creative activity is very helpful to heal from trauma.
jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, crossword puzzles, board games, bridge, and bingo.
BrainWorking Recursive Therapy worked well for me. It’s a technique used to rewire the brain based on neuroplasticity which is the ability to change the neural pathways such that you can create new healthy ways of functioning and eradicate the toxic memories over time. The psychologist asked me to think of an emotion I least liked to feel and then to pick one we could work with. I chose rejection. I had to think of a time when I had felt the worst possible rejection. He then did the BWRT technique and by the time the session was over, that painful memory had lost its sting. It’s quick and I liked it because the pain I felt initially as I remembered the situation was brief and none of the BWRT process re-traumatised me.
Trauma Release Exercise. An induced tremor helps to release the trauma stored in the cells of our bodies. When I do this the tremor begins in my legs (as it does with everyone) but then my body seems to know where the trauma is stored most, and my shoulders and neck begin to tremor. I store all my stress in my neck and shoulders. If one practices this regularly it facilitates healing.
Internal Family Systems. Works with our different “parts”. We are not just one individual but consist of many different parts whose function it is to keep us safe. None of our parts is bad. As we begin to understand what role each one plays and get to know each part by talking to them with the help of an IFS therapist, the parts can be unburdened and free to no longer take on the job of keeping us safe. We will heal up as each of our parts is integrated into us as the regulated adult and they feel safe to let go and take on another role which is more beneficial for us.
Emotional Freedom Technique. I find this very effective. They offer a wide range of guided meditations to assist with anxiety, and depression, motivation to exercise, how to release negative energy picked up from someone, the “I am enough” series and so many more. Whilst you tap on the points you listen to the meditation which helps me to stay in the moment instead of my mind wandering. EFT is acupressure as opposed to acupuncture.
This is my personal favourite self-care practice when I’m feeling overwhelmed or have been triggered. Self-soothing effectively changes the brain waves to the state just before sleep at which point the trauma memories encoded in the cells of our bodies can be released. I find it so gentle and the soothing touch helped me to start the process of learning to love myself – something that is very foreign for those of us who have never even thought of loving ourselves, either because we were taught that it’s selfish or just cannot fathom how to do that. Until we understand that we need to give ourselves the love we so generously give others so that we no longer need external validation, we will continue to give to those who in the case of abusive relationships, don’t appreciate it nor return the love we give. There are Havening meditations on YouTube, or you can just soothe yourself without the meditation.
Self-administered Bi-Lateral Stimulation. When you are feeling emotionally dysregulated, any rhythmic left-right pattern can activate the process of Bi-Lateral Stimulation. It encourages communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which helps regulate the nervous system by increasing relaxation and decreasing distress. So simple to do – cross arms over shoulders and tap alternately in a rhythmic right/left pattern. When you’re feeling distressed or anxious this simple exercise really helps.
HELPING OTHERS TO HEAL
I believe that whatever abuse, trauma, pain, difficulties, or losses we experience in life, happened so that we can help others who are going through that same experience. We should, I believe, use what we learnt from our experience/s to help others. Narcissistic abuse, for example, is so insidious that you may not know you’re in a toxic relationship until it’s too late. They stole your joy, killed your spirit, and destroyed the essence of who you are. This form of abuse includes psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, spiritual, and physical abuse, and no one understands how devastating and painful it is unless they too have been in narcissistic relationships. Once we have healed (or are even part way on our healing journey) we need to help others. To educate them, open their eyes to the reality of their situation, and help them to accept that the person will not change. Guide them as to how to take back control of their lives by taking responsibility for their happiness. WE HEAL AS WE HELP OTHERS TO HEAL so it’s very beneficial for both parties.
DOING WHAT YOU LOVE!
Turn your passion into a career if possible. There’s nothing better than getting out of bed every day inspired by the work you do. Coaching is so fulfilling for me and includes both things I wanted to study – teaching and psychology – a better understanding of how our brains function. I look forward to every day as I have an opportunity to speak into people’s lives and use my expertise to help them to recover from the trauma of abuse. Watching victims of abuse take back their power and become the gifted, unique, talented, and intelligent people they were purposed to be is the most rewarding thing for me. I truly love what I do.
Focus on yourself and prioritise your needs. Rediscover who you are and what your unique identity is as a person. What is it that you are passionate about? What did you previously love to do?
Kindness and compassion are incredible gifts we have and must give – first to ourselves and then to others. Sharing our life experiences with friends and listening to them without comment – just listening to understand from their perspective so that they feel deeply heard – is such a blessing for both parties.
“Being listened to is so close to being loved one can hardly tell the difference.” ~ Anon
Smiling at someone who looks like they’re having a bad day, and any random act of kindness lifts both your spirit and the spirit of the one to whom you are extending kindness. Breathe in the glad air and feel the peace, serenity, and freedom that is now yours to enjoy.
Allow yourself to be happy. Live in the present, not in regret of the past or in fear of the future. Given time you will be able to look back and view the abuse you suffered as a gift. It forces us to do the work such that we learn, grow, address, and heal our character traits that allowed the abuse, and eventually, we will be able to live life authentically.
THIS IS YOUR TIME…..