What I Learned From Survivors
As a mental health service provider one of my areas of focus is working with survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence. While the work can be grueling at times, it’s also some of my most rewarding experiences. It’s a journey about redefining love for yourself and redefining what it means to be loved by others. Many of my clients come in with their own insight, wisdom, and knowledge and part of my job is to support them in how to better listen to themselves. Here’s what I’ve learned from survivors over the years:
1) Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can cut more deeply
When we think about the word violence or abuse what usually comes to mind is the experience of physical violence. Physical violence is more visceral and in some-ways harder to deny, but emotional violence can have an enduring impact for years. Bones heal, bruises heal, but what resonates longer in the nervous system is the fear. And even if you have never experienced physical abuse, the emotional abuse can be just as devastating. Emotional abuse is real and valid.
2) It’s ok to love your abuser
This can sound controversial but is very common and survivors sometimes experience guilt and shame about their mixed feelings. Many survivors get through their day to day by holding onto the good things they have experienced with their abuser. It is ok to acknowledge that and to love those aspects of that person. This reflects the immense depth of your compassion. People are not born abusers, they are created out of their own life experience and are complex in their own right. While concerns for safety and fear are not parts of a healthy relationship and those qualities tip the scale away from any number of good qualities your abuser might have, it can help to reduce the guilt and shame by holding the complexity of your experience with your abuser while acknowledging that not all traits are equally weighted.
3) Trust your gut
This is a big one. It’s a lifelong practice of learning how to trust your own intuition. You may not even know what it feels like or sounds like because the fear of the abuse overshadows your gut. Acknowledge that fear and lack of safety are normalized in your life experience and keep you disconnected with yourself. But once you start practicing trusting yourself and your intuition, it is the most vital tool you will have in keeping yourself safe. I often hear survivors say, "I don't know why but I just have this feeling like something is going to happen” and more often than not they are correct. Your gut is what’s going to keep you safe and if you decide to leave your abuser, it is going to help you discern from safer people and unsafe people.