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How my experience of an abusive relationship can help you

I wrote this article because I’m asked so many times how it can be possible to move on from an abusive relationship.   People wonder how is it that my past no longer affects me, whether I have regrets and how I can now trust again.

But first things first, let me remind you; you WILL survive!

However you do have a choice to make.

You can choose to go through life full of anger, bitterness, guilt and sadness or you can come to terms with what has passed and stop any regret and self blame.

As you read that sentence you might be muttering to yourself and asking ‘what does she know?  My situation is so bad that I can’t ever see a way forwards.’

You might even be telling yourself that you don’t deserve to feel happy ever again and you might have already resigned yourself to living with those negative feelings.

Some people remain trapped because the stress and anxiety holds them in a sort of warped comfort zone, sucking any energy out of them and preventing them from changing because they only have enough to survive.  It’s not that people don’t want to change, it’s because they don’t know how to change; they don’t know how to move that energy and utilize it better.

The second thing that you need to know is that I am not perfect.  I still have bad days, I still catch myself reacting defensively to a certain tone of voice or my belief in myself wavers and  I get anxious; however I now have coping mechanisms and an awareness of why and how I have been triggered and I take evasive action and I can usually get myself back on track.

I and countless others are proof that it IS possible to become a better version of you.

It’s not that we have stopped caring what other people think about us but we understand that as long as we live true to our core values, we don’t knowingly hurt others and we can find an acceptance of past events, we know that we can move on to a place of peace.  We don’t need to hold onto our past in order to hold on to our identity. 

Are you even aware that your relationship is, or was abusive?

In the early days after I had run from my twenty five year marriage (I had fled from the house in the early hours of the morning) I regularly received phone calls from a lady at Women’s Aid.  She kept trying to convince me that it would be in my best interest to go ‘no contact’ with my ex and to apply for a non-molestation order….but how could I do that when I wasn’t even aware at that point that what I had been subjected to over the years was domestic abuse?

I also had the added dilemma that by cutting all contact I might also lose a line of communication to my (almost grown) children so I went round and round in circles just getting more and more exhausted from being in a constant state of hyper-vigilance.

As I flitted around spare beds in the homes that my super generous friends offered me I would tell my children where I was living, wanting to keep that connection with them.  I was hoping that I would soon be able to settle in one place and they could come and live with me if they chose to, yet their father went into full-on victim mode; sobbing that he needed my address(es) from them so that he could try and persuade me to return and we could live as a family once again.

Sadly, what my children never saw was that he would rapidly turn off the tears and switch to uncontrolled rage as he pounded on doors and windows at two in the morning, scream at mutual friends that they had ‘a duty to bring me back to him’ because I was psychotic and menopausal and he would terrorize my colleagues by arriving and shouting in my workplace – once he even gained entry to the actual office space where he emptied several bags of my clothes all over the open plan office floor (making sure that my underwear and a vibrator were positioned strategically on the top!)

I tell you these things not because I am still stuck and reliving the past but because it could help you or someone that you know who might be experiencing something similar.  I have accepted and come to terms with what happened to me and I can replay any of these scenarios in my mind without any attachment, animosity or with any sense of loss or regret.  I want to tell you what I learnt from my abusive relationship and explain how it can help you.  I want to explain how moving on doesn’t have to minimize what happened to you or make it any less important or dramatic but once you accept it for what it is, it can have a positive impact on your happiness and mental health.

Had I understood back then that the behaviours that I had endured during the years of our marriage were emotional abuse, manipulation and coercive control then I am sure that I would have found strength inside myself to go no contact sooner.

I would also have had a better understanding of how likely my ex husband would use our children as weapons and because forewarned is forearmed, things may have even turned out very differently in that respect.

Coercive control undermines self-belief and self-confidence.

Contrary to popular belief, manipulative and controlling bullies rarely target meek or submissive people.  There is no personal gain in that for them.  They will target people who are different than them; often people who are strong, outspoken or free- thinking.  The prize for them is in reducing somebody’s sense of self-worth and self-confidence and making them reliant on them, because this gives them the feeling of power that they are searching for (often to compensate for their own inadequacies)

Did the abuse in my marriage destroy my self-belief?  Certainly! 

Had I been more self-confident at seventeen would I have got involved with my ex?  Possibly not!

Had I been aware that his behaviours even right back at the beginning of our relationship screamed of red flags of abuse would I have married him?  Probably not! 

But I didn’t know, I wasn’t aware and I didn’t understand so I did marry him and I chose to stay for twenty five years (you can read more about some of the many reasons a person may choose to stay in an abusive relationship here). 

Following my emotional breakdown due to the stress, trauma and danger after I had left the relationship I eventually chose to learn how to rebuild myself and my self-esteem and the product of that decision is what you see today.

I work with many survivors of abuse, people who are currently stuck in toxic relationships and even with the perpetrators of abuse.  Some perpetrators are unwilling to change, others can and do.  I will not tell you whether you should leave your relationship nor stay – each and every situation is unique although there are well established patterns and behaviours that many seem to follow.  I will work with you to identify whether the abuse or rude and disrespectful behavior could be altered, accommodated or should be tolerated and help you to work with your decision.

I can show you the signs and the pitfalls, the red flags and the possible consequences of your decisions.  I can help you to be prepared so that you can leave safely if you choose to leave.  I can help you to come to terms with and accept your past and then show you how to move on to a place of peace and fulfillment.

You can trust me precisely because I have lived through the experience as well as studying and training in how to support others as a mindfulness practitioner and coach.  I have experienced the terror of harassment and stalking, the hopelessness of estrangement and the consequences of work place bullying.  But I survived, although I would have probably come to this place of peace a lot quicker had I had somebody just like me to lean on and to learn from.

I will never tell you that you should leave or stay but I will help you to come to the decision that is the right one for you – so reach out and find out how you finally can move on.

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