“Are you really capable of overcoming emotional abuse?”

by Annie Kaszina on June 29, 2011

The questioner, Omar Reyes, of www.icansurvivedomesticviolence.com, answers his own question thus:

I say that you never fully recover. The scars are always there. But there are various strategies that can be used to help you regain your confidence and your self-esteem…”

I disagree with him, on the grounds of my own experience, the experience of the many hundreds of women I’ve worked with, and my contact with others who have been through seemingly unbearable trauma, and come out the other side, whole and happy.

But first, a word about Omar.  His ex-wife was killed by an abusive partner.  Both he and the woman he is now married to have been victims of domestic violence.  He has suffered immensely, and he makes sense of that experience in the very best way he can – as we all do.

I honor his standpoint, and I disagree with it.

By the time my marriage broke up, I was just about the most negative woman on the planet – which was hardly surprising after all those years living in the very long, very dark shadow of the most negative man on the planet.  (Or at least the most negative man I knew… barring my father-in-law, come to think of it.)

Still, one thing I believed with every fibre of my being was that I had to heal.

So, I told myself two stories.  On the one hand, I told myself that my life, and my psyche, had been smashed into a million tiny pieces by my abusive husband, and neither could ever be made whole again.  On the other, I believed healing was possible, and I had to do it.

Often that second, small voice, call it optimism, or simply survival, was drowned out by the belief that I was broken.  Yet, that small voice remained.  At a very profound level, I believed what it was telling me, and that saved me.  That was what allowed me to pursue a course of learning and healing in the outside world.

In the end, it is the story we tell ourselves that determines the quality of our life.

My ex-husband was a second generation concentration camp survivor.  His parents spent the Second World War in a Russian concentration camp.  They, and almost their entire immediate families survived.   My in-laws left Russia, and went on to build a successful business in the New World.  They had three children, who all became high achievers, and they lived long, healthy lives.

Yet, in their own minds, my in-laws had never left that concentration camp.

When I joined that family, I, too, found myself in that concentration camp.

Compare that, if you will, with a man I’ll call Henry.  Henry was a Nazi concentration camp survivor.  A Polish Jew, he lost his entire family, barring one sister, in the Holocaust.  His fellow survivors have been as dear to him as family for the rest of his life.  He made a wonderful marriage, has children and grandchildren he loves dearly, and he built a thriving business.

To this day, Henry spreads light wherever he goes; whereas my ex-in-laws spread misery.

What’s the difference?

The difference is the story they tell themselves.  Henry focuses on the present and the future.  He focuses on what is good in his life, and the many blessings he sees.

He always did.  He is passionate about the value of life.  My ex-in-laws focused on the power of destructive forces.

Henry has always embraced life in the most meaningful way possible.  He emerged from a Nazi concentration camp an emaciated youth, and competed as an athlete in the 1948 Olympic Games.

My ex-in-laws told themselves a story of bitterness, inhumanity and tragedy.  Henry told himself a story in which there was loss, tragedy, and inhumanity, and yet it is a story of hope, joy, meaning, and optimism.

You have as much right as anyone to tell yourself a story of cruelty, heartbreak, and rejection.  You’ve certainly experienced it.

It’s only right for you to own what you’ve been through.  And, of course, there can be a sadness about all that you have lost, or never had.

But if that is what you focus on, that is what you will experience.

It’s not easy to let go of the hurt and the maelstrom of negative emotions you’ve been through.  But it can be done.

You can heal the wounds – and the scars – overcome emotional abuse, and go on to live a rich, joyful life.

In fact, getting over the misery of emotional abuse means that you will be inclined to savor the joys in your life rather more than another person might.  The thrill of feeling happy, just because, is something that will stay with you.

Overcoming emotional abuse is very, very doable.  And it needn’t take years, and years, either.

An abuser will do everything they can to make you feel the damage they’ve done is irreparable, but it’s not.

It may not be easy, at least until you know how to resolve the hurt, let go of the obsession with an abusive (ex)partner, and undo all the negative “programming” you’ve undergone. But it is very, very possible.

Some women need to walk away before they can begin their recovery journey.  While others need to begin that process even before they walk away from the abusive relationship – otherwise they might not   find the strength they need to walk away.

Validation is the first step along the journey, by which I mean having contact with a person, or a group, that will listen respectfully.

Sadly, that often does NOT mean family and friends, because they would prefer to hear something that confirms their own – often misguided – perceptions, and they don’t like to think of ‘ugly’ things going on in the world near them.

That is their problem, not yours.  As you resolve your own problem, they may well come to see you through new eyes.

But, first, you need to see yourself through new eyes; the eyes of care, compassion, and respect.

Once again, that’s very realistic.

You can discover how to do that.

It really is only the present moment that counts.

Are you ready to discover how to love that past, abused you, be joyful and at peace in the present, and you let go of the horrors of the past without any loss of identity?

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