Everyone talks about “surviving” abuse, getting “through” it, getting “past it”. Some even talk about learning to forgive our abusers. But what happens after all that?
What happens once you finally escape an abuser?
What do you do when you wake up a year or ten years later and realize the impact of the abuse still lingers in your heart and soul? Or that it still secretly directs the way you think about yourself and others?
- The little boy inside who remembers being beaten up – or helplessly watching someone hurt the people he loves
- The little girl inside who remembers with conflicted emotion the sexual abuses perpetrated against her
- The member of an abusive cult or “religion” that constantly waved the fear of death or divine punishment for any misdeed
- The grown woman whose accuser justified his beatings by telling her she is bad, ugly or inadequate in some way.
You may be far away from those instances of abuse. You may be “safe” today. But the message embedded by abuse – that we are helpless, small, defenseless, inadequate, stupid or deeply unlovable – can crop up in the lives of victims and wreck havoc.
It can cause us to feel powerless in the world, secretly unable to cope. It may taint our ability to easily handle the relatively normal mishaps of adult life. It can cause us to abuse our bodies with drugs, food or alcohol. It may make us less alert to potential danger signals from people or places and thus cause us to be re-victimized. It may even cause us to ignore others being abused around us.
Some victims have even internalized the abuser’s harsh judgment and morphed it into a vicious inner critic that screams, “You deserve this! You are worthless!”
We don’t have to let past abuse command our present lives any longer. Here are some
things to think about. Given the prevalence of all forms of abuse, and the relatively recent permission from society to even talk about it, we now know there are plenty of people out here on the planet suffering from “Post Abuse Syndrome” – that is, Life After Abuse. Just a generation or so ago, people who had been abused didn’t talk about it. They didn’t go to therapy. They hid it from the neighbors. There was no support for the survivors.
Today, a person who has been abused in any way can reach out and find a lot of support – articles like this one, support groups everywhere, social workers to help get access to physical safety, free mental health counseling. There are trained clergy and quality therapists all around us. Help is as close as the internet.
So why don’t more victims seek help?
Here’s the reason, as I see it: A lot of abused people don’t recognize how deeply their abuse history has embedded itself into the person they have become. They feel like they’re not worth the effort to process and release the abuse. Maybe they feel like it is better forgotten, or they’re not worth the resources. Some rationalize, “I’ve lived with it for this long and things are tolerable. Why rock the boat?”
Abuse dampens our future, limits our vision of what’s possible for our lives, distorts our sense of self and alters our version of reality.
Unresolved abuse continues to abuse us internally, over and over, until we take action, get help, explore it and dismiss it…or die.
If being abused taught you to feel that you are unworthy, unlovable, guilty, inadequate or even responsible for the actions of your abuser, you are unlikely to seek help because this is what you know as “normal”. The earlier it happened to you, the more likely you are to accept it as “The Way Things Are”.
Most abuse victims just suffer along, low grade depression, low self esteem, low expectations, all their lives. It doesn’t have to be like that!
A different reality is possible for you. Not just for people in movies, or the people whose lives you imagine are perfect. The rich, beautiful people. The people who went to Ivy League schools and who now run big companies. People who were born into other kinds of families. How do you find out if it is time for YOU to get help?
Ask yourself these 7 questions, and if you don’t like the answers, seek qualified help:
1. Do you feel like other people get all the lucky breaks – except you?
2. Do you secretly feel like there’s something wrong with you, like you’re missing some vital internal component?
3. Do you spend more time in your head criticizing yourself or looking for what’s good in your life?
4. Do you honestly believe that because of what you endured, you are permanently fated to have a bad life?
5. Do you get angry or cry more easily than you think other people do? Are your emotions like riding a wild horse?
6. Do you your friends tell you you’re too hard on yourself? Are you?
7. Do you devote a lot of time to trying to blot out the past or the present?
You don’t have to continue living like this, no matter what has happened to you. You are not an exceptional case. You are not defective. It is not too late. Getting better/happier/whole isn’t “only possible for everyone else except me”. It is possible for you! Your life can get better when you take a deep breath, face how your past has distorted your present, and courageously take steps toward your own healing. Do that now.