I have mentioned personal development and emancipation a few times in previous posts. The truth is, I believe that these are the two most important concepts a victim needs to understand in order to extricate herself from abuse, aside from specific education about domestic abuse.
Personal development and emancipation are life-long processes and too detailed to describe completely here. But I would like to give you an idea of where you can begin. The emancipation process takes place when you begin to question “universal truths” which are placed upon you by others. This statement may get you thinking about who is currently imposing their “truth” on you, but the process of “swallowing others’ truths” often begins in childhood – when you were taught to be afraid that you would be hurt if you disagreed.
How do you know the difference between your values and the truths imposed upon you by others and those you choose for yourself? Pay attention to yourself. When someone is asserting themselves with you, do you feel nervous or afraid? Do you have a sense that something is wrong – but can’t quite figure out what it is? This is the time for you to recognize where the other person’s voice is in conflict with your own inner wisdom.
This is where you begin.
Most likely, if you went through sexual, emotional or physical abuse as a child, you survived by distancing yourself from your feelings. If you never learned to deal directly with your feelings related to your childhood experiences, you are good at shutting uncomfortable feelings down as a survival mechanism. It is that very survival mechanism that will prevent you from leaving an abusive relationship as an adult.
You probably learned to turn your feelings “off” and just keep moving forward. It is terrifying to be in an dangerous situation and remain connected to feelings of terror that come from that situation. But it is necessary to connect to your feelings associated with the realities of domestic abuse in order to change your situation.
That means you need to have the courage to listen to your discomfort. Allow it to tell you aren’t safe when you would rather tell yourself that everything is okay.
There are two situations that lead women victims of abuse to tell themselves everything is okay when it really isn’t.
The first is after an episode of violence. This is when you hear apologies and see loving actions that convince you that what you thought was wrong is going to get better. But be honest with yourself: Is it really getting better? Do you already know that it’s going to happen again because it has happened so many times before? Resist the urge to ignore what you know is the truth right now.
The second situation that lets you pretend everything is okay when it isn’t is when domestic abuse doesn’t include physical danger. In this situation, becoming aware of how you feel within the context of the relationship will likely reveal feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and confusion. If you assert your ideas in disagreement, you may be talked out of having your own perspective. Maybe you start a conversation regarding something you want to address in your relationship. You feel confident and clear about what you want to discuss, but in the course of the conversation, you begin to feel confused and wonder what you were trying to bring to the discussion. By the end of the conversation, you are agreeing to things that are against your best interest and you aren’t even sure how that happened. You walk away feeling uneasy, but talk yourself into feeling better about it as time goes by. Until your inner voice nags you into initiating another conversation about the same concern that you have tried to talk about over and over again. This is not okay. Please stop convincing yourself otherwise.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.
In cooperation with 2bsisters, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors.