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 email@example.com.
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.
Because you’re the real one.
You’re the one who cares about others.
You’re the one with emotional intelligence.
You’re the one with legitimate goals and ambitions.
You’re the one willing to reflect and self-assess.
You’re the one who strives to be better.
You’re the one who would never abuse someone else.
Your worth is rooted and authentic. Your abuser knew this on some level, that’s why they picked you for a victim. They pretend, and they’re excellent at pretending, but they don’t have worth like you do. It’s why they have to put you down, make you feel small, and do everything they can to control you. Because that’s the only thing they have to help them feel worthy (in their own flawed system of assessment).
Even then, it’s only a feeling of worth and it’s hollow, short-lived, and so, so pathetic.
It gets easier.
It gets easier to recognize what it was about your abuser’s behavior that made you feel small,
then understand that it was never your fault,
then repair the hurt that came from the degradation and condescension.
From there it gets easier to see, in the moment, when others try to make you feel small,
then understand it has nothing to do with you, but their own feelings of inadequacy and intimidation and smallness, and that belittling others is the only way they’ve learned to make themselves feel better,
then hold fast to the worth and self-love you’ve found
so that no one gets your permission to make you feel small ever again.
Letter writing and journaling are important exercises that assist our understanding of what we’ve been through.
But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.
I’ve designed a free printable with this in mind. It’s yours for the taking! Please download, print, and use as prompted at your discretion.
Disclaimer: This letter is for you only. DO NOT SEND IT. Burn it. Shred it. Hide it in your closet. But do not give it to your abuser, as that will not bring you peace. Your abuser will never hear or validate you, so asking them to read this will only serve to bolster any sense of power and control they still believe they have over you. Write it, then discard it.
“At least he doesn’t hit me.”
Raise your hand if ever that was part of your inner monologue.
Physical abuse is the easiest to see and prove.
That’s why some abusers avoid it, and choose — yes, CHOOSE — the “quiet” and “subtle” abuses. They’re usually interwoven and overlapping. Every version is about power and control.
Abuse can be verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, spiritual, or financial.
Yelling, berating, and name calling is abuse.
Degradation and condescension and character assassination are abuse.
Gaslighting — the art of making a victim question her sanity — is abuse.
Yes, a spouse can rape their partner. That’s abuse.
Using religion and Scripture as a weapon is abuse.
Giving an “allowance” and hiding money are abuse, as is making the victim feel like she isn’t “contributing” in life or to the family unless she, too, is earning money.
Any of this familiar?
We should also review that physical abuse manifests in more ways than a punch to the face.
It can be:
*physical intimidation or restraint
*starvation or a forced diet/exercise
He may never lay a hand on you, and yet you may be victim of severe abuse with long-lasting effects and damage.
If you need help understanding the abuse at work in your life, message me using firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll talk about it carefully and confidentially.