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 email@example.com. We’ll talk about it carefully and confidentially.
Last year I drove by myself to Des Moines from the Kansas City area. It was a Saturday in May, nice weather. An impulsive decision. I decided to drive up for tacos and drive back, no joke.
I made that afternoon up-and-back trip for these reasons:
> I had free time and gas money, plus the gumption
> no one could question me, or tell me no
> I wanted to take Iowa back
Because the last time I saw Iowa, years ago, the experience was contentious, at best. Travel with my abuser always was. You’ve been there. You’ve felt the tension, the discord, when it’s supposed to be “vacation.”
And so I wanted to go back, just me. Me and my peace as a new, healed-and-healing person.
People might laugh at you, and others won’t understand your need for revisiting and reframing places that once held uncomfortable feelings. But guess what? They don’t need to. It’s another thing you can and should do for yourself. No one else matters.
My journey, of course, wasn’t about the tacos. It was about choosing a thing I wanted to do and then making it happen, then holding a memory of my own making — without someone else’s infringement on my experience.
We each have our own pace. Our own awareness. Our own willingness. Our own awakening.
That is our hope, anyway. Right? That each victim awakens and undergoes her journey toward survival and then, eventually, she thrives.
Some women know on some level that their partner is toxic but avoid dissecting what that really means, because if they acknowledge the abuse, they have to figure out what to do about it.Some women opt, then, to tuck their head in the sand and stay where it’s “comfortable.” That isn’t to say abuse is comfortable, because we know it isn’t, but when it’s habit, routine, secure in the sense that, at least, you halfway know what to expect, it can be easier to stay on that path than accepting some hard truths, figuring out an escape plan, worrying about what happens to your children or how you’ll afford *anything* if you leave, etc. etc.
I’m not saying that a woman in this situation actively *chooses* to stay with the abuse, but rather that she doesn’t allow herself to consider, really consider, that she has another choice.
This woman who can’t see her situation, that she in fact has a choice and should choose leaving, needs our grace. And support. Perhaps gentle encouragement. But that’s it. Hard advice to leave will fall on deaf ears. Her own, independent awakening has to come first.
We all need grace. Every woman on her journey — no matter the pace, no matter the progress — needs grace.
**Please know that it is never my intention to victim-blame here. If you ever read something that feels contrary to that, please comment on the post or message me so we can talk through it. | Janna
Some days I feel like a shadow of my normal self.
Surviving is hard.
Thriving is hard, too, because you can easily fool yourself into thinking that when you’ve been through so much, and after you’ve come so far, you have to stay up, stay positive, stay strong.
But one hard-won lesson I’ve learned is that no one can sustain the good stuff every day.
No one can be strong all the time.
No one has to to track constant progress or growth.
It’s okay if there’s a down day
when something steals your motivation, or pisses you off, or makes you sad, or gives you a case of the mopes. It’s okay to allow stagnation once in a while.
Because we are survivors, absolutely. We are warriors. But we’re also human.
It’s okay to be a shadow once in a while.
Sometimes it’s as simple as wearing a smile on your face, and being so, so careful about how much you say and to whom, so that no one knows how bad it really is.
Sometimes it’s more grandiose, a kind of overcompensation meant to distract from what’s happening behind the magician’s curtain. Think sleight of hand.
For the abuser, the latter is intentional. He loves fooling people, and his victim. His game is gaslighting and he wants to win.
For the victim, it’s subconscious. She is caught up in his lies and manipulations, as is true with all the other abuses, and is conditioned to believe his bullshit narratives and follow the hype.
[Until she wakes up, that is. Until she knows better and won’t be fooled any longer.]
Impression management is the way abusers and their victims cloak the existence of toxic behavior around friends and family, and for an audience on social media.
They might seem too good to be true. Maybe it feels forced.
Maybe they come off a little syrupy. Too lovey. Soooo romantic.
They somehow never fight or share their challenges, rather, they couldn’t get along more perfectly.
I’m not talking about the people who never air their dirty laundry, or who are emotionally mature enough to communicate through their disagreements.
I’m talking about the people who act as if they don’t have any—dirty laundry, or fights.
To be sure, this isn’t a full portrait of impression management. It’s just a snapshot. And I’m not suggesting you start investigating every couple you know who seems to have it all together.
I’m just saying you need to be willing to look deeper than face value.
Because when 1 in 3 women experiences domestic violence — or 1 in 4, depending on which source is referenced — we’re all witness to impression management.
Some of us are even participating.
People assume it’s the hard wood of a church pew that makes it so uncomfortable for long periods.
But a woman who’s had to listen to a sermon about love and kindness and humility and doing for others and forgiveness, etc., etc., while sitting next to her abuser knows that’s not true.
Focusing on the pastor’s words while trying not to remember last night’s attack is uncomfortable.
Smiling while your abuser tells a lighthearted joke after the service, because he doesn’t see or care that you’re hurting, is uncomfortable.
Hearing him offer to help fellow congregant Joe Schmo build a new deck tomorrow when he has refused to fix your own kitchen drawer for months is uncomfortable.
Watching him lovingly tease the Sunday school teacher’s toddler when he ignores his own children at home is uncomfortable.
And so on and so forth, amen.
Spirituality ebbs and flows, seizes and grows, and will look + feel different during and after the healing process. Be patient. Be open. Guide your own spirituality… or not. It’s up to you to define now.
Maybe for you, Sunday is a quiet day in nature, or a fun day with friends. Maybe it’s finding a new church that functions differently from your last.
It’s up to you, your body, and your spirit.
This afternoon I received a message with a picture. It was from a friend and survivor I’ve been coaching as she establishes her own household. It hasn’t been long since she left her abuser, so every inch of change and progress is a small victory.
Remember that scene in Sleeping with the Enemy, when Julia Roberts goes into the kitchen of her new home, then opens the cabinets and pushes around the canned goods and knocks over food boxes until every one of them is cattywampus? It’s because she’s realized she doesn’t live with her controlling abuser anymore. He isn’t around to demand things done his way. So she chooses her way, and has a moment of dawning, meaningful liberation.
That’s something like what today’s survivor did. Then she sent me photographic evidence of it.
“What a triumph!” she said. “A small symbol of freedom from bullshit control and rules!”
And I told her, “We’ll call it a Little Rebellion.”
Dear readers, we are conditioned through abuse to do everything someone else’s way, and you know as well as I do, there is punishment of some sort when we don’t.
So, in our survivor journey, breaking those patterns by CHOOSING OUR OWN WAY gives us our power back, bit by bit, and manifests the path toward healing.
Tell us about one of your Little Rebellions.