This series is as much for me as much as it is for you. I am doing the work and taking you along for the ride. Today I want to talk about love after abuse, which can be much more difficult than it sounds. Though silly it may seem, the truth is our mind and body can have two separate experiences from the same sensation. Even though our mind may understand the affection we’re receiving is of a good and loving nature, our bodies may still flinch or back away reflexively after surviving childhood or relationship abuse.
If you have ever experienced the urge to pull away from someone you’re deeply in love with, then you know the pain and confusion that follows for all involved. This may be a romantic parter, a friend, a family member, or a child. The good news is there are ways to correct the crossed wires that were laid when you were exposed to abuse.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline writes in a September 2018 article, Learning to Love Again After Abuse,
“You may also feel helpless to begin rebuilding the foundation of self-empathy, a necessary component in the process of healing and loving again. Self-empathy allows you to connect to your feelings and your experiences in a way that enables you to identify with the part of you that is alive, energetic, fun and worth loving again.“
Self-love is so important when you’re attempting to heal and thrive again. This is not to be confused with self indulgence or self pity. The ability to self soothe and practice self-compassion becomes invaluable when you’ve been made to feel isolated, powerless, and unworthy by physical, verbal, or sexual violence. This is because self-love is just that, a form of self-care and self-preservation that can not be taken away from you therefore remedying the aforementioned isolation, powerlessness, or unworthiness you may feel. Empathizing with one’s self allows you to find the value in your talents and contribution, and restore the self worth that never truly left to begin with.
So, that tackles the emotional stuff, but what about touch tolerance? The real work lies in exposure to positive touch. It means staying in the moment when loved ones offer affection, facing the discomfort, and building trust through reassurance and repetition. I do this through positive interactions with my son, affection from my partner, and receiving healing touch from medical providers. Over time, the mind begins to associate positive touch in a healthy way, and your intolerance toward touch will lessen. Strangely enough, getting tattoos has been one of the most healing things I’ve ever done.
If you’re the partner of a loved one who has survived abuse, OneLove offers solutions for you, too. From Helping Your Partner Heal From Relationship Abuse,
1. Validate your partner’s feelings
In some cases, it’s likely that your S/O already feels crazy about what he or she is saying, so the last thing they need is their partner to reinforce that feeling. Remember to validate how they feel and not merely just respond with logic. Their feelings may not be rational, but they’re real and they need to be reminded that how they feel is valid.
2. Don’t allow your partner to dismiss their experiences
Rather, give weight to what they’ve gone through. Before they met you, they may have been shushed about their experiences or not have dealt with their feelings at all. Internally, they may believe the lie that it wasn’t “that bad” or they’re overreacting. But as their partner, it’s vital that you don’t allow them to dismiss their experiences as insignificant. Give weight to what they’ve been through, let it settle on their shoulders and allow them to mourn it; this is an important part of the healing process.
3. Listen, listen, listen
Whether it’s 2 am before work in the morning, or over dinner – try to be a listening ear. This will allow them to know that you’re a safe place and they’re not “too much” for you. More often than not, your partner may just need you to hear them out. Great damage can come from internalizing everything and not sharing what’s on our heart. You may have to hear the same thing a thousand times over, but all those times are contributing to the healing of your partner.
4. Be patient
The after-effects of trauma can come in swells and some seasons will be harder than others. Sometimes, it might seem like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back. But from the beginning, make the decision to be patient with your partner. Patience is a tangible depiction of our long-term commitment and is one of the most loving things you can do for your S/O. With this, keep in mind that there is no end goal; you just want healing for them and the timeline of healing looks different for everyone. Be patient and gracious.
5. Rejoice in the baby steps
It’s easy to get discouraged during the healing process because it can feel slow. But keep an eye out for the baby steps and when they come, make a big deal of them. Did your partner seem more comfortable with you today? Rejoice. Did they have a personal revelation? Rejoice. Did they let you approach them physically without tensing up? Rejoice. In the moment, these may not seem significant, but they are crucial to the healing process. Notice them and refer to them often as a means of encouraging your partner and keeping them from getting discouraged.
To summarize, surviving abuse is never easy, but healing and thriving is a possiblity if you’re willing to put forth the work. It all starts with overcoming avoidance, embracing acknowledgement from yourself and others, and building on healthy positive experiences.
Coming up: Navigating repressed memories of abuse, and implementing coping skills!
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!