By: Cerelia Abram
The idea that violence ends when the victim leaves their abuser is unproven.
Sure, you have taken the hard and lonely steps to end an abusive relationship. You moved out, cut off communication and stayed far away, but now you find that intrusive and obsessive thoughts about him and your past relationship are constantly spinning around in your head. Not only have you been assaulted, demeaned, disrespected and humiliated, but you are experiencing separation anxiety, a sudden major loss of income, possible legal action, child custody, the loss of mutual friendships, moving, etc.
A lot of times if you were emotionally or verbally abused, it’s difficult to get that voice out of your head. Constantly criticizing, demeaning and belittling rattle around in your head for weeks, months, even years after you’ve left your abuser.
No wonder you can’t stop obsessing about your abuser.
The conversation around domestic violence rarely focuses on this aspect of survivors post separation, and yet your emotional well-being is one of the biggest challenges victims face.
Here are five techniques that can help you on the long and arduous journey of regaining control over your mind.
Recognize Wider Social And Cultural Constructs That Act As A Boxing Match Inside Your Head
The pitfalls of social constructs are that you’re measuring yourself against unrealistic expectations particularly of romantic relationships. When you’re forced to reconcile the lie you’ve been taught with the reality, it activates obsessive thinking.
Understanding what social constructs influence your thinking can help you see how they can be used as coercive tools against you. Your partner promises to seek counseling, even admitting what they did was wrong. They need you and can’t live without you; everyone around you tells you to stick it out and it’s true love. All of this is part of the discourse taught with romantic relationships. The victim separates the abuser’s violent behavior from their “true” nature, but by doing so creates a negative self-image. You can see why anger and shame are useful mechanisms of control.
You are not responsible for your abuser’s actions. Period. Flip those obsessive and intrusive thoughts on their head where they belong, and eventually they will lose the effect of gripping fear over you.
The day-to-day, step-by-step processes of separating these notions from your identity feels like ripping your core self out of your skin, but it’s not. Really it’s returning yourself to your true identity. The journey is much more complex than you can imagine and it will require a complete shift in thinking. But in order to properly heal and move on, it’s something that must be done.
If you find you’re constantly minimizing the abuse in your head and relinquishing your sense of power, talk to a professional that specializes in domestic violence.
Don’t Feel Guilty For Isolating Yourself To Deal With The Thoughts
Separation anxiety has you feeling lonely, and because of that, all you want to do is talk about it. Suppression of these thoughts only increases them, you have to be able to talk about it and get it out. You need this harrowing experience legitimized, yet it’s so much more complex than those around you can and will probably ever understand.
Because of increased feelings of shame and the secrecy around this topic, those who appear to want to help only underestimate the obstacles that you are likely experiencing. It’s natural for victims to experience intense shame and embarrassment for not terminating an abusive relationship. One moment you are crying for help, the next you’re protecting and trying to save him by taking the blame. Instead of telling everyone all of this, it might be better to talk to those who have gone through this or have experience in helping domestic violence victims.
Think of it as having a shell of compassion and empathy for yourself and don’t be afraid to take a step back till you’ve properly dealt with it. Do the deep introspection, take it one thought at a time, one less judgment a day. It’s maddening but also freeing when it hits you that you were coerced into believing you were at fault in this game. And the shame and low self-worth that follows is why victims return to their abuser. Be especially kind to yourself during this time.
Refocus Your Thoughts And Energy Off Of Him And Onto Something Else
A nice and easy coping skill is to refocus your thoughts and energy off of the abuser and on to your family and community. As you’re healing from the trauma and learning to see yourself and the world in a different way, it is possible to inspire empathy in others and ignite a personal self-worth as they watch you transform.
Sure, you may have a case of an eroded sense of self and barely enough energy to keep fighting your own battles, but fighting for others can give you a break from your own worries. Get out there and help others who are in need. It’s the easiest and quickest way to gain control of your thoughts and give you a sense of power, independence and control over your life.
Another easy and enjoyable coping mechanism is to create something you need or will improve your life. After my breakup, I built my own rustic furniture out of old wood. It was incredibly empowering to be self-sufficient.
Reframe The Thoughts
When you find yourself ruminating, instead of thinking about the reasons you stayed, focus on the reasons why you left. It’s hard, but can be done. It can feel like all these negative aspects of your past consume every positive aspect of your thinking. Feel it and then disengage from any compulsions that it may bring like running into the arms of someone else. Disengage. Resist. Do the long and arduous work of changing your thought patterns.
Think About The New Self You Want To Construct
The self-doubt still lurks around, and deep underneath the smile is the residual shame that stings every so often, but the intense aching and grief has relinquished. You now have a strong sense of your limits and triggers and know enough about yourself to avoid scenarios where it still stings. You stay productive and can recognize profound meaning when you see it. Your suffering has taught you how resilient you are, and with that a fierce independence. The friendships you now seek out are not at all like the kind you had before and unlike what you imagined.
As you venture out of it and consciously create new ways of thinking, an identity of your own construction is the payoff.