By: Amy Thomson
The methods used by our abusers during active abuse to condition, control, and silence us have impacts that go far deeper than we realize. They are powerfully restrictive, because the abuser understands that this is how to keep us trapped in a state of victimization and silent about what is being done to us against our will behind closed doors. These methods create damage far beyond the element of fear and control, extending into a far darker place as they erode our sense of self-worth, confidence, and peace.
To an extent, abuse also erases our identity and takes away our choices. When we leave, it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and lost. We spent so much time being told what to do and who we were (or were not), that we feel unequipped when faced with choices. Yet when others outright tell us what to do, we may feel as though we are being controlled all over again. While we do need others’ guidance when first transitioning into survivorship, there are important things we can each do to empower ourselves to heal after leaving an abuser.
Invest in counseling as a way to reconcile what you have been through.
This is perhaps one of the most important ways to empower yourself. By taking control of your healing, you are making it possible to move forward and reclaim your life. Beyond engaging in talk therapy with your counsellor, you can also take an active role in discussing types of therapy that you feel may be beneficial for you. This includes being able to communicate with your therapist when you feel something isn’t working for you or making the decision to change counsellors if you do not feel comfortable.
Attend workshops or classes to help you grow.
Workshops and classes are powerful ways to gain knowledge and insight, and they are available for a wide range of topics. For those who have left abusive relationships, empowerment workshops such as tools to cope with trauma, reversing negative self-talk, financial literacy, building and maintaining heathy relationships, establishing boundaries, and consent can be helpful in understanding how our experiences with abuse impacted us while simultaneously providing ways to process and overcome the damage.
Go back to school to earn a degree or get certified.
Many survivors of abuse are forced out of employment by their abusers as a way to keep control over them. Some domestic violence organizations like Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence offer scholarships toward college tuition to help those impacted by domestic violence begin school or complete a degree they already started. You can also earn language and professional certifications.
There are some domestic violence organizations that hold annual trainings that last for a week each, as well some shorter ones, that you can complete to be eligible for helpline volunteering or other opportunities.
Join (or start) a support group with other survivors of domestic violence.
We all need sounding boards to help us further process our experiences and get advice on how to handle situations we may be struggling to overcome. One way to get this support is join local support groups for survivors of intimate partner violence. Typically, the moderator of the group will have trauma and domestic violence training, and sometimes may also be employed in the field psychology. If you can get DV training and discover that there is no such group in your area, consider organizing one in cooperation with a domestic violence service organization in your area.
Recognize that your voice can be a powerful tool.
Many survivors associate this with getting up in front of large audiences for speaking engagements, but this is not the only way that we can use our voice as survivors. Initially, it’s common for us to feel uneasy or unsafe doing so, but we can still find ways to speak out against domestic violence.
Consider volunteering for a domestic violence organization in your area. Many organizations, including Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, have a range of volunteer positions from social media to event coordinators to blogging. If you are feeling unsure about speaking in front of others, starting with social media and blogging can be a great way to get involved. Of course, you can also share your story with those around you – family, friends, and co-works —if you’re comfortable. Sharing your experiences helps you process what you endured and connect you to others with similar circumstances.
Celebrate all your achievements – even if you think they’re “small.”
There is no pre-requisite for what qualifies as an accomplishment, and you can include as many in your inner circle as you wish to celebrate. Did you successfully keep a panic attack under control for the first time? Maybe you were able to go to a store or place your abuser would frequent. Or it could be something as “small” as leaving the house on a day where all you wanted to do was hide away. The idea behind this is re-learning that every step forward is of value, and that you are worthy of being celebrated. Many of us can struggle with this after abuse due to lack of confidence and self-worth. Having a spa day, a drink with the girls, dinner, or buying a new book or outfit can help us learn to value ourselves and stay motivated to keep moving forward. (Yes, you are worth it!)
Face the financial damage before you, and make a plan to tackle it.
Financial abuse is an extremely common cause of disruption to a survivor’s life post abuse. Depending upon how extensive the financial abuse was, there may be debts or other issues we are not aware of when we leave. If you find that facing this is too overwhelming to do on your own, enlist a trusted friend or family member to help you figure out how bad the damage is, so you can come up with a plan to work on reducing it. You can pull 3 free credit reports a year to help in addition to going through all of your bills to see where you stand. Call creditors to whom you owe money and explain the situation to them. They cannot help you work out a plan if you do not let them know you need it. You can apply for student loan deferments based on hardship and work out payment plans. It is also beneficial to create a budget covering your living, medical, transportation, and child care costs and make sure you focus on meeting those first.
Never neglect to engage in active self-care while traveling on your journey to healing. It is important that you set boundaries you feel comfortable with and enforce them. If you feel stress building, find an activity that you enjoy that can help you re-focus and re-center. This can include reading, hiking, meditating, or yoga, as long as it brings you back to yourself. Know your limitations and respect them to avoid depleting yourself of energy and peace. Reach out for help when you need the extra support. Try new things with trusted friends or family. Not only can you find new hobbies, but it will also help strengthen bonds with those you care about – and even better, with yourself.