Friday, February 5, 2010

Healing is Possible - A Thought for the New Year

In the depths of darkness, the kind of darkness that you can be cast into if you have a partner who tears you to pieces, it seems as though the light will never come again. But it is, truly, possible to scramble your way back to freedom and dignity, and to smile again. You can get there.

The human heart has an almost unlimited ability to bounce back from spiritually destructive experiences. Some deep part of us, the soul you could call it, fights not just for life, but for a good life, and a just one.

Your healing can begin even if the mistreatment hasn’t ended. Some important steps toward healing often happen for women while they are still mired in dealing with an abusive partner. In fact, if you get a little taste of feeling better, that can sometimes be the shift that gives you the strength to turn things around in the oppressive atmosphere that you are being forced to live in.

Certainly, you can heal faster if you can make the abuse stop, whether by calling on the police and the court system if they are helpful where you live, or involving your friends and relatives, or by threatening to leave the relationship (if you can do that safely), or by going through with ending the relationship (if you can do that safely).
I will be writing soon about strategies for making abuse stop. But my message for today is that healing may be able to start right away, and doesn’t necessarily have to wait until the big problems are solved.

Healing is stimulated by developing a kind and supportive relationship with yourself, and by developing similar relationships with other people. This is how you create the context in which deep recovery can happen, through myriad paths that we will be writing about here. Because you yourself are the closest and most accessible person to you, it makes sense to turn some attention now to ways that you can be a loving, thoughtful friend to yourself. I will write in the weeks ahead about various ways in which you can do this, but here is one way you might begin:

Stop believing anything he tells you about who you are or what you are like.

And that means don’t believe him even if he’s telling you supposedly positive things about yourself – abusive men know how to use praise as a control tactic, just the way they use criticism.
I’m not saying you have to argue with him about the mean or manipulative things he says. I realize that often it’s better, for your own peace and safety, to be quiet, or even to pretend to agree with him, so that he’ll feel triumphant and leave you alone. But in the privacy of your own mind, where he can’t hear what you are saying, keep reminding yourself that he is distorting and twisting everything, and he is so very wrong in his view of who you are.

You may be thinking, “But what about the criticisms he makes that I know are true?” Maybe your finances really are in a mess, or maybe you really have gained weight, or maybe your friends really have turned against you, and he’s throwing these things at you.

But even if he’s right, he’s still wrong. Why?

1) Because he’s exaggerating, even if there are partial truths to what he’s saying.

2) Because he’s telling you that everything that is difficult in your life is your own fault and shows what a weak person you are underneath, and that’s not true at all.

3) Because he’s ignoring how profoundly his mistreatment of you has contributed to these problems, or has even created them entirely.

4) Because people’s difficulties don’t – and shouldn’t – define who they are.

A man who chronically mistreats you is not a good source of information about who you are , including about your supposed weaknesses, or even your strengths. (Because even when he praises you, he’s doing that to try to mold you into who he wants you to be, rather than accurately reflecting back to you the person you really are – or he’s praising you to manipulate you emotionally.) His vision is too distorted, and too self-centered and self-serving, to have any useful clarity, at least when the subject is you. In short, it is impossible to abuse someone while also seeing them clearly.

Listen to yourself, and to people who treat love you and treat you well. Don’t listen to him.