If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will.
Someone you’re getting to know, and starting to feel comfortable telling The Story of You to, will interrupt and say, “But you’re over it, right?”
“It” being the abuse you endured for months, possible years.
And this person you think you’re connecting with — whether it’s platonic or romantic — ruins it. Five words is all it takes to break the connection, to tell you they aren’t worth your time.
Because, clearly, they aren’t interested in knowing the real you. They aren’t strong or wise or mature enough to handle the less-than-perfect experiences that have grown you into who you are today. They only want the perfectly-packaged you, the unmessy you, whoever it is that meets their superficial expectation, and so the raw and real Story of You isn’t allowed.
It could also be someone you’ve known for years, they just don’t want to listen. They don’t have the empathetic capacity to process the details of your journey, or are too self-absorbed to offer such deep grace, or just can’t hear about abuse because your story means it really does exist… when they’d rather keep pretending it does not. So, they divert the conversation by dismissing your reality, and minimizing the worst of what you’ve ever been through.
“But you’re over it, right?”
Consider that phrase — or any variation of it — a red flag.
Makes you feel pretty small. As if you’re selfish for wanting to share, or own power in your own survival. Like all you’re doing is holding a grudge, unable to “move on.” Or, worse yet, like you’re wrong for carrying this around as part of your past. How dare you not be perfectly healed and present without any scars for their benefit.
You don’t have to be “over it,” friend.
You don’t have to justify why you aren’t.
And you don’t have to bend over backwards to make anyone — new connection or not — feel more comfortable about Your Story.
This short essay originally appeared on Breaking the Silence for Women a year ago today.
“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
This morning while I was in my workplace bathroom, I noticed a small and wispy spider climbing the wall.
Her mission was clear: To rise. And she was determined, I could tell by her speed.
Every inch or so she lost her footing, and with that, a small bit of her progress. She would not be discouraged, however. I was witness as she regained her grip, never slowing, and pushed onward many times over.
That’s what healing after abuse is like.
We are challenged by the process, just like our leggy friend, and affected by factors we have no control over. We also get to choose, as she did, whether we’ll give up when triggered, or hunker down and keep going despite what tries to deter us.
Our friend tells us this, too:
*Pay no attention to your audience. I was three feet from her and she didn’t care. She was on a journey for herself and didn’t let me stop her.
*Big-picture progress is more powerful than any individual measure. She may have slipped countless times, but guess what? She still made it up the wall.
*It’s okay to rest. I’ve been back to the bathroom since our encounter and there’s no sign of her. She’s found herself somewhere to hide out and take a break. You’re allowed breaks, too.
*Only we can define what our healing looks like. Maybe she didn’t yet know her ultimate goal, just that she needed to move forward; that she couldn’t remain immobile or stagnant. Maybe she’s figuring it out as she goes.
*Our potential—where we’re headed and why we’re going—is bigger than our fears. I have arachnophobia, and yet I chose to watch and learn from this little spider, nothing more.
She was fierce.
You are fierce. You are brave, no matter what your healing journey and progress look like.
I’m with you,
I was thinking this morning about how a banana is not banana bread.
A banana will never be banana bread unless a perfect sequence of events happens,
from removing its peel and mashing it in a bowl
to dumping in flour and adding the just-right ingredients
to mixing the batter and baking it, for some time, in a hot oven.
Only then does a banana become banana bread.
But all of that’s even after a feasible bulb — placed and nurtured in proper soil with good drainage, yada yada, for 9 to 12 months — results in what we know of as bananas.
And, of course, we have to choose to turn our bananas into banana bread, too.
Still with me?
I keep seeing folks who are pro-life say (in print and on the news) that every “child with a heartbeat” deserves to live.
Yes, every <child> does. Every <baby> does. No one who is pro-choice will ever argue that.
The multicellular organism found in utero during pregnancy is not the same thing as a “child.”
What exists during prenatal development is not the same as the newborns into babies into toddlers into children into young adults, and so on, that we birth and raise and love and hold dearer than ourselves.
Projection is skewing the argument. Semantics are misrepresenting the truth of science. Hyperbole is robbing women of their personal decisions and reproductive rights.
And a banana is not banana bread.
Author’s note: I realize this is a deviation from my standard content here, but it fits my greater desire of sharing about women, for women and their empowerment, so yes, I hit “publish.”
Though I’ve never experienced abortion, I share for the women who have — whether only in theory or consideration based on so-tough dynamics, or in reality. Because of domestic abuse. Rape. Incest. Nonviable pregnancy. <insert your situation here>
I’d never dare tell a victim — or survivor — or any other woman — what to do with her body, with her life, with her future, with her very personal key to survival, healing, and path forward.
Please don’t set your sights on some too-high, impossibly unattainable perception of post-abuse perfection.
What you’re doing is enough.
How you’re learning and adapting is enough.
Who you are <right now> is enough.
We are human — something our abusers couldn’t allow, what with all the emotions and authenticity and reasonable expectation — and we deserve to embrace all the moving parts and stages of our human condition. I repeat: We deserve it.
Honestly, I need this reminder, too.
I’m still learning every day. Sometimes I still struggle with triggers. My feelings or anxiety, some days, get the best of me. There are times I wish someone would just swoop in and “fix it all” for me, or, at the very least, share the load I’ve carried for so long. I get down and need a hug, a pat on the back, an “I’m proud of you.” I sometimes feel lonely and vulnerable. I still make mistakes and doubt myself and piss people off and feel too tiny to be. Just be.
I’ve been exactly where each of you finds yourself — on most if not all parallel paths (even if the details vary) — and trust me, the universe often reminds me.
Healing and transition aren’t supposed to be easy.
Survival comes through and after the fight, then remains ongoing. (Think of it in the same context as sobriety.)
The point is that we keep going, keep growing, keep knowing who we are + who we want to be, and defining — even redefining! — health and happiness for ourselves. It’s all an evolution.
And remember not to compare your journey with another survivor’s. Every step you take, no matter the speed, no matter the length of stride, is valid and valuable.
For more content like what you see here, and a chance to engage with other survivors of domestic abuse, visit my Facebook page.
The #1 lesson I’ve learned in my personal journey is that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you.
The journey for any survivor of abuse is in learning your self-worth, and building your self-confidence so as to be unshakable. This is to heal the existing wounds AND protect oneself in the future.
But the journey is also about coming to terms with the fact that life is never going to be void of conflicting personalities and people who’ll do you wrong. Until we understand this, we are vulnerable to others.
Because there will always be someone who misunderstands you,
or manipulates your relationship,
someone who vilifies you,
who spreads (or believes) rumors about you,
someone who plays your victim,
or tries to ruin the way others see you
or tries to ruffle your feathers because, ultimately,
they’re threatened or intimidated by you
and have to make you feel small so they can believe they are big.
We can’t change them. Trying to combat their behaviors is a waste of energy. They and their low vibrations aren’t worth it, and don’t serve our best life.
Once we understand this, and refuse to let others affect how we view ourselves and our truths, we are strong.
And we’ve won the lesson, not just learned it.
“What an interesting little prison we build from the invisible bricks of other people’s opinions.” — Jacob Nordby
I’ve lived in that prison. I’m not going back.
What about you?
In no particular order, at no particular pace.
Each realization gives you a boost.
Some of them are serial.
> identify a red flag
> recognize someone’s manipulation
> assert a boundary
> speak up
> break the habit of automatically saying “I’m sorry”
> let someone have the “win” because you refuse to play their game
> understand that your sensitivity is a strength
> circle back to your power
> put yourself first
> learn something new about yourself
> let go of paranoia (because everyone isn’t always upset with you, or talking about you, etc.)
> accept that not everyone will or needs to like you
> be firm (it doesn’t mean you’re mean)
> know that you don’t have to compete with anyone
> avoid someone’s bait
> understand your emotions
> meet your goals, big and small
> practice self-care
> let someone help you
> challenge yourself in a new way
> give yourself permission to fail and grow
> study abuse tactics so you have the upper hand
> break away from toxic people and habits
> forgive yourself
**Not a complete list
I see you.
I’ve *been* you for 10 years. I know how hard it is to do things on your own.
Lean into it.
Through the overwhelm and challenge comes your strength and empowerment. Through the worry over your kids, and staying motivated by what’s right for them, comes a lifelong bond with them that will surpass anything their other parent/abuser puts them through.
Remember that you left the abuse for yourself, and for the kids. Don’t second guess that decision. You made the right decision, hard as the result is.
I repeat: You were right.
Hear me in this, too:
Eventually the loneliness gives way to freedom and independence. You want freedom and independence, truly, because those are the foundations of a healthy life, which you need for your own peace and to have healthy relationships.
Don’t rush finding a new partner. Don’t romanticize finding a new partner. You don’t need anyone to save you, because you can (and should) save yourself. You also need to find your center, to figure out what your standards are and establish your boundaries. This takes time and practice, because we remain vulnerable to the people who will treat us wrong until we figure it out.
Focus on learning everything you can about yourself. Who are you? What defines you? How do you need to navigate your new life? What kinds of people and behaviors shouldn’t have access to the new you? How will you protect yourself?
I don’t want you to listen to the cliched advice that “you have to love yourself before someone else can,” but I DO want you to know that finding the path to loving yourself is a worthy process, and only good things will come from it. You deserve that.
Single motherhood isn’t a life sentence, and it isn’t a cross to bear. After what you’ve been through, it’s a gift, and it’s a badge of honor.
Hold your head up. Shoulders back. Keep breathing.
You’re f*cking amazing.
A woman who leaves abuse and then still has to share custody of her children with that abuser has a hard road.
She is expected by society to play nice, be amicable, put her “ego” aside, and unite with her dangerous ex “for the sake of the kids.”
She is warned by her judge to follow the rules of the parenting plan, at all costs, or risk looking like SHE’S the “bad guy,” and even risk the possibility of losing her kids. Let’s note: The warning is to both parents, but only she actually hears the judge and sets course to do right. The abuser will play by his own rules.
So, she is re-victimized by her ex, who doesn’t really care about the kids. He’s good at pretending, sure, to solidify his carefully curated reputation. He wants everyone to believe he’s a good man and father who could never have abused his partner. And those kids are handy, too, as pawns, so that he can keep some sense of power and control over the woman who dared leave him. You best believe he’s going to manipulate the dynamic to his benefit. More lies. More coercion. Stonewalling. Fabrication. New kinds of gaslighting. Continued abuse. All of which affects the innocent kids, too. Don’t assume they’re unscathed.
Eventually she sees that family court gets it all wrong. In the court’s effort to remain neutral and objective, they gift more power to the abuser. She and the kids, they aren’t protected.
Eventually, because she always followed the rules but doing so never helped her, she may decide she’s done “playing nice.” Maybe the best and healthiest thing for her — and the kids — isn’t looking the other way, or pretending her abuser doesn’t still abuse her family. She certainly isn’t going to pretend he’s her friend.
Maybe the best thing is putting her mental health first. That might look like firm boundaries, limited contact with her ex, and a refusal to act like he’s a good person who cares about his children.
Maybe, at some point, she starts sharing the truth. Maybe she wants to show the world that she isn’t free, that her journey is still shackled; and she starts to understand that by being honest about it, she reclaims her power.
So, she shares more of her story.
For this, she’ll be judged. There are folks who won’t know the nuances of abuse, or see the reality behind the smoke and mirrors. They will side with her abuser.
They will ask, “How can she talk about the father of her children that way? How can she be so bitter and disrespectful? Doesn’t she know she’s hurting her kids?”
To the contrary…
What matters isn’t how she talks about him, or that she talks about him, period. What matters is how he ever could have abused his partner and the mother of his children to begin with.
What matters is that, if he abused the mother of his children, what kind of father could he *really* be?
What matters is that if she meets society’s expectation by being amicable and pretending he’s harmless, she is complicit in the trauma her kids experience because of him.
What matters is the fear and bravery this woman is forced to live with.
How dare you judge her.
How dare you forsake those kids.
How dare you side with their abuser.
This topic is difficult to talk about, not just because of the subject matter and trauma triggers, but because the context and fullness are so complicated to master in a single post.
YES. Protect your kids. Shield them from hurtful truths as long as possible, especially when they’re younger.
YES. Follow your court-filed parenting plan. Not doing so is incredibly risky. And you’re in the long game here. If the ex wins a battle by exploiting the parenting plan, it doesn’t matter. Let him have it. Your purpose, with and for the kids, is to win the war.
YES. Define your boundaries. Decide that you will ONLY talk with your abuser about the children. [He does not deserve to know your personal life after him. Your life details are not safe with him. You deserve to build your own world without him being in it.] Decide that you want every exchange documented, which means you will ONLY communicate by email. This means you can avoid invasive, explosive, insidious texts and manipulative face-to-face interactions. YOU control how you’ll talk, about what, and when. Take this power.]
YES. Listen to your kids when they start to see and feel the effects of their dad’s personality disorder(s). Validate them. Help them understand that his abuse isn’t their fault. Instill in them proper coping skills, so they can navigate that world with as little long-term, damaging impact as possible.
YES. Share your story if you’re comfortable doing so. But read the room. Be diplomatic. Protect the details as necessary, so that you protect yourself. Weigh the desire to be transparent against the possibility of kickback for sharing.
YES. Hold your head high. Put your peace first. What others think — especially those who choose to misunderstand you and your circumstances — doesn’t matter. Your self-preservation and healing do.
If you have questions or need to talk privately about this topic, message me using firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few weeks ago I was invited to the SAGE Community podcast show.
Founder Erin and I talked about what abuse looks like, how survivors need to tackle their healing with patience, some special tools that help, and more. It was really, really good.
I’m proud of the warm and real conversation that is our end result.
You can access episode #23 | Janna, Woman Determined on the SAGE website here:
Choose from Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple.
Let’s talk about self-image.
How comfortable are you taking pictures of yourself?
What do you think when you look at you?
Does your abuser’s voice still narrate your perception of self?
This is me in 2014. I had been divorced a few years already, but was still learning how to look at myself in healthy ways, and what to think about who I saw.
(Apparently on this day, I was feeling confidence for the camera. I wish I could go back and find out why. What prompted that particular self-love mood?)
I have mixed feelings about selfies. Women (and probably men, too, as well as our nonbinary peeps) can be harshly judged for selfies.
“She’s showing off.”
“She’s so full of herself, and just looking for superficial validation.”
Too, I’m aware of that internal conflict that abuse survivors harbor, having been belittled, humiliated, shamed for so long, and having been conditioned to believe we’re the self-absorbed, arrogant, hollow ones.
“Who cares about seeing a picture of me?”
“Am I too much?”
“Look at [insert abuser’s insult about physical appearance].”
That conditioning, that self-doubt, takes years to eradicate.
So a selfie can feel like a weapon, like a hamper on healing, but it can also be an exercise toward self-love. That’s why I have the mixed feelings. Because why *shouldn’t* we be comfortable taking pictures of ourselves? Why can’t we look at ourselves from all angles, see our vulnerabilities, see our beauty, and find something to love and celebrate?
Why should be we judged by people who think we’re being superficial attention-seekers, when all we’re doing is testing our sense of self-worth? And speaking of, who says positive validation from others isn’t part of what helps us navigate our sense of self-worth — especially after all the negative damage from abuse?
I say we embrace the selfies, because we are beautiful and worthy.