1. You are able to acknowledge that you’ve been through something totally life-changing. Something that has shaken up your world. There’s no denial or playing things down.
2. You allow yourself to feel ALL the feelings. This includes the intense, negative, and scary ones. You don’t pretend that you’re OK, or use positive thinking to bypass your unwanted and negative emotions.
3. You accept support. From counsellors, therapists, doctors, or close friends. You know this is too big, and you can’t do it alone. Being traumatized is different from dealing with tough things. It’s a different beast entirely. And a very scary one.
4. You consciously nurture your body and mind. Your autonomic nervous system has been stuck on over-drive. Hence, you know you really need to pay attention to your health. So you rest when you can and you make time for exercise. You eat a healthy diet, and seek medial advice for any side effects of the traumatic response. You also have slowed down, and are skilled at saying ‘no’. You recognize your limits, and have healthy boundaries.
5. You accept that it’s OK to not be OK. You now understand the nature of trauma, grief and loss – which comes in powerful waves, and often unexpectedly. And you’ve accepted the hard truth that this is how it’s going to be – and that healing will take time, and it will follow its own course.
6. You know you’re not alone. This is a shared experience. There are others in the world who have experienced this as well. They’ve experienced the same symptoms; they’ve reacted similarly. But you know that they’ve survived … which means that you can survive too.
7. You don’t need to hide the truth; you have worked through the sense of shame. You accept this is your story. One that others wrote for you. But you can hold your head up high, for this says nothing about you – except that you’ve survived, and you’re courageous, brave, and strong.
That is, you’re not some powerless victim. You have taken back your life.
“Real healing is hard, exhausting, and draining. Let yourself go through it. Don’t try to paint it as anything other than it is. Be there for yourself. With no judgment.”
When trust has been shattered and you’re in a state of shock, you may not recognize the person you’ve become.
This doesn’t mean you’re crazy, or you’ve lost your mind.
In fact, the following reactions are all completely normal for someone who’s experienced betrayal, or a trauma:
Experiencing a roller coaster of emotions
Being triggered frequently and unexpectedly
Experiencing irrational and extreme thoughts and reactions
Struggling with rage and intense feelings of anger
Crying all the time – often uncontrollably
Having the desire to make your partner pay
Wanting absolutely nothing to do with your partner
Suddenly wanting to have sex with your partner
Being terrified of losing your partner
Being afraid of a future without your partner
Battling self-hatred and intense feelings of shame
Having very low self-worth and self-esteem
Completely losing your sense of confidence
Hating your body and the way you look/ feeling unattractive and ugly all the time
Feeling rejected, unwanted and alone
Wanting to self-harm, or having suicidal thoughts
Being anxious, worried and afraid of everything
Experiencing anxiety and panic attacks
Obsessing over what has happened/ what might have happened/ and what could happen in the future
Desperately wanting to find out all you can about your partner, and their secret life
Never being sure you know everything/ thinking you will never know everything
Wanting to withdraw from people and life
Experiencing a numbing of all emotions (both positive and negative)
Being unable concentrate, focus, and to think clearly and rationally
Being unable to plan and to make decisions
Feeling utterly confused / uncertain about who your partner was
Believing the life you shared together was a lie
Feeling confused and uncertain about what you want for yourself (both in the present, and related to the future)
Living with insomnia, broken sleep and night terrors
Feeling unable (and also unwilling) to trust anyone and anything.
For now, accept these feelings and be gentle with yourself. This is part of processing betrayal trauma. In time, these will ease, and you’ll find yourself again. But for now, make self-care your top priority.
“Here’s what I most want you to know: this really is as bad as you think.
No matter what anyone else says, this sucks. What has happened cannot be made right. What is lost cannot be restored. There is no beauty here inside this central fact.
Acknowledgement is everything.
You’re in pain. It can’t be made better.
The reality of grief is far different from what others see from the outside. There is pain in this world that you can’t be cheered out of.
You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to see your grief. To acknowledge it. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring in the hole that was your life.
Something cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” – Megan Divine
When we hear the stories of victims of abuse, we also hear comments like: “Why did she stay? Why on earth did she put up with that level of abuse?”
As if the situation wasn’t really complicated.
So why do victims stay; why don’t they leave immediately? There are many different reasons – but the key ones include:
1. What’s happening doesn’t match their definition of abuse: Think about some statements like the following:
“He was yelling at me, and throwing things around the room. But he never, ever laid a finger on me.”
“He didn’t hit or harm me. He was just restraining me. He was blocking the door so I couldn’t get away.”
“It only happened a few times. I wouldn’t say it was a pattern.”
“I was being unreasonable so it was my fault, too.”
“I didn’t know, that as a wife, I could say no to sex.”
Comments like these point to a lack of information, or to a lack of knowledge, around what is abuse. Also, the person may have grown up in a family or culture where these types of behaviours had been normalized – so the person doesn’t realize that they’re being abused.
2. It escalates slowly. Few people are abusive when they’re on the first few dates. And often the abuser is a charismatic person. They make you feel you’re special, that you’re wonderful, and loved. So, the switch is unexpected, and it comes out of the blue – and you tend to write it off as being ‘out of character’. Furthermore, they appear to be remorseful, and are shocked at what they’ve done.
This is usually how it starts … and from there it escalates.
3. You internalize the message that you’re flawed, inadequate, and deserve to be mistreated – for you aren’t good enough. When you caught up in gaslighting, you can’t judge realty. You question everything – and that includes your sanity.
Also, you’ve been attacked, humiliated, mocked, and treated like you’re trash. Your self-esteem’s demolished, and you struggle with self-worth. That is, you’ve internalized the messages and lies that you’ve been told, such as:
“No-one else would want you, or love you, anyway. You’re ugly … Stupid … Boring … And a useless parent, too.”
4. It’s not always bad. And during those few times when the abuser’s being ‘normal’, your life can almost feel like an amazing fairy tale. The abuser can be charming, and can treat you really well. You can feel like you’re a princess – with the gifts and holidays. First class travel. Lavish restaurants. Gorgeous outfits. Jewelry.
Then he switches – and life changes – and the demons reappear.
5. You are absolutely terrified of what they might do (if you ever break the silence, and you choose to walk away). You’ve seen the other side of them, and know what they can do. Of course you are afraid … both for your kids, and for yourself.
You know they wouldn’t hesitate to do the following: destroy your reputation; spread malicious, evil lies; distort and reveal secrets; destroy close relationships.
It all comes down to power, and them ruining your life. Hence, it takes a lot of courage to decide to walk away.
You are caught in a hard place, where all the choices feel unsafe. Remaining may be risky – but it’s dangerous to leave.
“Grief…is a sneaky thing, because it can disappear for a long time, and then pops back up when you least expect it.” – Lemony Snicket
I wonder if this has been your experience?
You think you’re moving on. Life is on an even keel. You’ve done a lot of work, and the trauma is receding. The nights are so much better. You’re not triggered quite as much. Sometimes you feel you’re normal. What an unexpected thing!
And then you hit some roadblock, and you’re right back at square one. You’re living in some time warp where the trauma feels so real. Now all the buried memories are resurfacing again. You thought this was behind you. Will you never, ever heal?
This happens to us all. There are many layers to grieving. We often do not realize the extent of all that damage.
But every time this happens, and we give ourselves permission to mourn and grieve our losses, we will heal a little more.
So do not be discouraged. Just stay with it. Feel the feelings. Your mind knows what it’s doing. You can trust the healing process.
And one day you’ll look back, and you’ll see that things are different. The past has lost its power – though the memories still remain.