Leaving the abusive relationship and situation is just the first step. Recovery from it and living a “normal” existence takes time and work.
Many survivors are embarrassed and ashamed of the abuse and the things they tolerated. Survivors often minimize the abuse by making excuses for the behavior and believe they brought this on themselves.
Here are some steps in healing from the trauma of domestic violence.
1. The initial safety. The process begins when the victim of abuse is separated from the abuser. This step can take months or even years. Safety means the victim is physically away from their attacker and can sleep without fear. Many victims need constant reassurance that they are safe.
2. A stable environment. Victims need a period of rest to adjust to their new normal before the therapy can begin so as not to re-traumatize the victim. The length of this step is determined by the victim and the amount of abuse endured.
3. Unconditional support. There will be times when victims appear to forget the trauma and remember good moments with their abuser. This can be frustrating for those that support the victim, but this unconditional support is necessary for the victim’s recovery.
4. Share experiences. Abuse is very isolating, humiliating, and shameful. Knowing others have been abused is both saddening and comforting to victims. It’s helpful for victims to find a support group to share common experiences so they realize the are not alone.
5. Processing the incidents. As the survivor works through the trauma, new abusive incidents are recalled. This can be overwhelming and survivors will struggle with these recollections. Once they process this abuse, they are able to move forward in a positive way.
6. Rework the narrative. Victims of domestic abuse have to rewrite the narrative of what happened to them in order to heal. They often take responsibility for the abuser’s behavior, but once they cease this and hold the abuser accountable, there is a shift in their thinking. Victims no longer believe they deserve the abuse. They instead recognize their bravery and strength in taking back their lives.
7. Setting boundaries. The final step towards in healing is setting boundaries of acceptable behavior. Once survivors learn to trust themselves, these new standards reduce their fears of reentering into another abusive relationship.
Abuse can happen to anyone in any relationship - partner relationships, parent/child relationships, and friendships can all be abusive. It’s not the nature of the relationship or the victim that determines abusiveness. It’s the actions of the abuser. Victims can change things and become survivors.