This is the first of a two part series on how to recover from abuse. I decided to publish this early in the new year for three reasons…
- I know that dealing with issues related to abuse (current or past) can be difficult.
- This is a subject that is difficult for people to discuss.
- If abuse issues are relevant to you, perhaps you will take something that I say in this article, make it a “New Year’s Resolution” and implement the suggestion in your life.
Bur before I get into it, a serious note of encouragement….
If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help. Therapy works. When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic. When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.
During my 30 year career as a Psychologist with the California Youth Authority, I treated young women whose history included multiple types of abuse including physical, emotional and sexual. While some of my clients may not have been “abused” over time, many had been raped.
Let me explain that when I talk of abuse, I am referring to inappropriate interactions with parents, siblings and caretakers which occurred repeatedly and over time. While the offense of rape may only have occurred on a single occasion, the distinction I make between abuse and rape in no way implies that one type of mistreatment is worse than or more difficult to deal with than the other as this is not the case. Rather, I am attempting to include all victims of these abusive victimizing interactions as the way to recover from theses traumatic events is basically the same whether the abusive was perpetrated over time or occurred as a single event.
One caveat before I describe for you how you can recover from “abuse”.
While it is relatively “easy” to describe the recovery process, it is by no means easy for a victim to go through this process on her (or his) way to recovery. The recovery process is often painful time-consuming and difficult (but not impossible) to do alone.
How past abuse keeps impacting you in the present.
Maybe, you’ve had the experience of sharing your history with someone who says to you (or you have said to yourself) something along the lines of “That (event) happened long ago. Let it go and move on.”
Okay, maybe they were a little more caring than that. But the idea that something that took place so long ago continues to impact you is often difficult to comprehend.
The reason that your past continues to bug you (and may even feel as if it happened yesterday) has to do with the relationship between your past and your present.
The best way to understand this was offered by Albert Ellis in his description of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
I explained REBT to my clients this way using the “formula” E-T=>F. In this formula, E stands for the event(s) you experienced, T stands for your Thoughts about the event(s) and F stands for the feelings which follow from those thoughts. This is a simplification of REBT but it works to understand Dr. Ellis’s approach.
By the way, just about everything you ever wanted to know about feelings can be learned by visiting my blog (TheEmotionsDoctor.com).
Dr. Ellis was one of the first psychologists to emphasize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings. It is your feelings in the here and now about the event which keep that event current in your life. When someone says that the event was in the past, they are correct about the actual physical event (or events). And, it is factually the case that the past can’t physically impact the present. However, the actual facts are not important here as we are talking about your psychological reality wherein your feelings about the past are in the present and they can (and do) significantly impact you in the here and now.
The important insight offered by REBT (which, by the way is one type of cognitive therapy) is that your feelings are elicited by your thoughts. The good news here is that you can change your thoughts.
And, when you change your thoughts, you change your feelings. Changing your feelings allows you to move beyond your past and recover from your abuse.
Your Problematic Thoughts
There are three “elements” which define your abuse.
- The abusive event (or events): What you actually experienced and your perception of what took place.
- Your perpetrator: That person or people who victimized you.
- You: How you view yourself through the lens of your abuse, what you think about your “involvement” in your abuse, and your view of yourself post-event.
Now, I need to point out that while these three elements are, indeed, separate, psychologically, they may be experienced as interconnected in the same way that a red, a blue and a white strand of rope, while initially separate, become intertwined when we braid them together. Ultimately, you can learn to separate these elements, as I will discuss them below, so you can change your thoughts about each and move on.
What happened to you is burned into your brain. Your “recollection” of these events may be very vivid (like it happened yesterday), detailed, or fuzzy. What you remember may be accurate (in the details) or may not match a video (if one existed).
None of the above matters!
The reason for this is that your thoughts (memories) are real to you and combine to create the feelings which are problematic and which negatively impact your life.
I am assuming that some sort of victimizing event or events occurred and, as we are dealing with the “court” of your psychology and not a Court of Law, the “facts” are not critical.
The way to move beyond your past can be summarized in the acronym IWBNI which stands for (I) It (W) Would (B) Be (N) Nice (I) If.
Here is a link to an article I wrote on IWBNI_s IWBNI’.
Again, let me emphasize that the process I am laying out is easy to describe but challenging to complete.
To put it another way….IT MAY BE DIFFICULT, BUT IT IS DOABLE!