Has an abusive relationship left you feeling unable to look for love again? Do you feel stuck, and doubtful of your judgement? Are you afraid to open up your heart? Here are FOUR steps to help you trust yourself to love again.
I escaped one abusive relationship only to fall into another, even worse than before. When I finally hit the exit, I thought I’d never be able to let another man into my life. I craved a loving relationship, but I was afraid to let myself be vulnerable again. I realised that something needed to change, and I needed to start with me. By following these steps, I’ve moved on from fear to build a relationship with a new man.
1. Be single for as long as it takes
There is no way to overstate how important this is. In the early post-abuse days we are more vulnerable than we realise. Our emotions are all over the place – ranging from euphoria to fear and sadness and everything in between. Often, we long for the comfort that a relationship offers. However, this is not the time for making relationship decisions.
When I left my first abusive partner, I was scared and exhausted by the hoovering campaign that he unleashed. So, it was perhaps unsurprising that I fell hard and fast for a man who set himself up as a knight in shining armor. Armed with the knowledge of what had happened to me, this human chameleon took pains to show that he was different, that only he could protect me, and that he would never hurt me. Years later, he dropped the act altogether and I saw him for the living lie he was.
I now believe I was targetted precisely because of my vulnerability. Had I taken the time to be single, I could’ve broken the dependency cycle and allowed myself the space needed to invest in my recovery.
2. Invest time and energy in your recovery
Leaving our abusive partner isn’t the end of the matter. In many respects, it is the beginning. After the chaos of abuse – where we typically sideline our own needs in favour of his, and try repeatedly to fix him (always without success) – you probably want to move on as quickly as possible. So, I’m not asking you to dwell on what happened. Instead, I recommend you take positive steps to learn more about yourself and the dynamics of abuse and to come to terms with your experiences.
After breaking free from my second abuser, I invested time in myself and my own recovery. I completed the wonderfully empowering Freedom Programme. I engaged with a local support group. And I found truly valuable information and support networks online, particularly among the blogging community. Now, I’m much more informed than I once was, and feel confident in my own judgement once more. I am better able to trust myself and others.
So, whether it is a course, informal learning, counselling, professional help (essential if you think you may have PTSD or other health and wellbeing conditions) or simply confiding in friends and family, make a recovery plan and do it. It is so worth it.
3. Be kind to yourself
You’ve been through a traumatic experience. You may be feeling guilt that you ‘allowed it to happen’ or maybe because you stuck around as long as you did. Know then, that the guilt is not yours, and stop beating yourself up. Be kind to yourself by:
- Allowing yourself to grieve. Wallow with a tub of ice cream and box of Kleenex if you want – but set a time-limit so you don’t get stuck in the mourning period.
- Doing something that makes you happy, preferably something which you could not do whilst you were in that toxic relationship. Go out with the girls without worrying about what will happen when you get home. Take a day-trip. Enjoy time with the kids. Curl up on the couch with a good book. Whatever helps you feel recharged and at peace, take the time to do it.
- Being productive with your free time. Volunteer for charity. Redecorate, and take pride in the result of your hard work. Write. I started this blog, and I get so much joy from knowing that it has offered some support to others.
- Carving out some time to be alone. Experts say a little purposeful solitude, on a regular basis, can produce many benefits, including enabling you to re-energise, take stock, boost your creativity and improve your mood.
4. Put your new understanding to work when you date
All you’ve learned about yourself and about domestic abuse is a priceless tool. So, when you’re ready to re-enter the dating pool, put your new understanding to work.
Initially, I was terrified at the prospect of meeting someone new. Falling in love again – or even simply dating – felt like making myself horribly vulnerable. It seemed a huge risk to trust my own judgement once more. But I wanted to believe it was possible to live a full life once more, so eventually I decided to dip my toe back into the dating pool.
I avoided the ‘type’ of man I usually go for. I trusted my gut, alert to the early warning signs of abuse. I valued myself, and was clear about the standards that I would accept. My trust had to be earned, and in time it was – by a guy who has shown himself to be compassionate, caring, and understanding. My boyfriend knows about my past trauma, and is supporting me to work through its after affects. He is a part of my recovery too.
Opening ourselves up to love again may seem frightening, but it is an essential part of our recovery process. I’m glad I have given myself the chance to heal, and to love again. You can too.
What do you think? Is it hard to love again post-abuse? What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to trust?
© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14