Tips for Re-Empowerment After Abuse by Sarah Mendivel, Author of Sam’s Theory
Our guest writer, Sarah Mandivel believes deeply in the American SPCC’s mission to give voices to children who otherwise have none, as she commonly challenges people to envision a world in which just a single generation of children are raised without abuse. Sarah hopes to strengthen and inspire the message of American SPCC and continue supporting children in need.
We Can Change Everything Together.
There is currently a great deal of media coverage and conversation in our society about abuse. It seems every time a web browser is opened, or a social media account is signed into, there is another breaking story about a survivor outing their perpetrator or an institution admitting to a scandal.
Although these publicized accounts are a courageous step in the right direction because they drench light onto an overdue and under recognized issue, they are only one half the story.
What might be a sensational two minute read for a consumer, is a lifelong journey of aftermath for a survivor. What comes after the spotlight dissolves? For a survivor, it can be an arduous battle of regaining a sense of identity and security. The journey of recovery and healing is a visceral one. It is a truth that only survivors know.
Luckily, abuse is only part of a survivor’s makeup. Believe it or not, there are gorgeously valuable attributes of a survivor that are still intact and beckoning to be nurtured. There is an entire world surrounding the dark space we’ve been locked into. Good news: it is possible to gather and internalize these life gems, but it will require you to shift your perspective a bit.
So, how can I be so confident these gifts of health, happiness, and inner peace are possible for survivors? Well, I know because I worked impossibly hard to find them for myself. It was in this hard work that I discovered the tangible and realistic hope that inspired the book Sam’s Theory.
Sam’s Theory is an inspiring novel that not only addresses abuse, but offers answers on how to live life with purpose afterwards. Because, as the old saying goes, “You cannot start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”
Tips to feel re-empowered after abuse:
This can sometimes be the most difficult step. You know something happened, but talking about how bad it really was or accepting that the ones the ones closest to you might be responsible, can trigger a whirlwind of disappointment and grief.
New perspective- you have already survived the abuse itself. The scary part (for some) is done. You were resilient enough to have survived, which means your body and brain are naturally designed to regenerate after something bad happens. That’s a pretty cool superpower to have! Now, it’s time to process the feelings and thoughts that go with it. This isn’t a luxury you were afforded originally, but now you have the chance to do so. This can be exciting because you now have control over what this part looks like!
State out loud that you were abused. Say it in the mirror, to a therapist, to a trusted friend. Choose a safe space to speak your truth, and then allow it to manifest. Abuse silences survivors and takes away their voice. Reclaim yours by speaking out loud.
2) Accept the Injustice
I’ll say it for you: it wasn’t fair that you got abused. You didn’t chose this, but it happened to you. There is a grief process (and rightfully so!) that comes with accepting that abuse happened to you. But, the injustice of it all doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
“Our experiences are stepping stones to our purpose.” – Sam’s Theory
It can be easy to get stuck in a “why me” mindset (I will explore this more in later tips). The reality is- abuse happened and now it’s time to do something about it. What will you choose to do? Will you chose to reclaim your life and make it your own? Are you interested and ready in having a life without the history of abuse running it?
Grief is productively acknowledging that a loss happened, but pity is a weakened state that doesn’t add value to your journey. How do you know the difference? When you’re done crying or journaling, a lesson or movement will occur. Actively grieve the loss of your childhood and the family you could have had, then rise. This doesn’t minimize your experiences, it amplifies them into hero status. New perspective: abuse wasn’t your fault, but conquering the effects of it is your responsibility. Know that you are capable of this, because you were capable enough to survive in the first place.
2) Be Honest
This is such a critical piece of emotional health in general. If you can’t be completely honest with your therapist or social system, then please, always, be blatantly honest with yourself. Are you really ready to take the next step? Be honest. If not, what is getting in the way? Be honest. What do you need to conquer that piece? Be honest. Are you getting in your own way? Be honest.
This kind of transparency is how self-awareness is built. The person that abused you lacked self-awareness and compassion. Be better than them. Develop your system to recognize and nurture its own needs. If you stay honest with yourself, you can make more productive decisions towards health. New perspective: adversity can make us stronger, wiser, and more interesting because of the character building it offers, if we allow it to. Who doesn’t want to be all of those things?!
3) Stay Grounded
Thinking about your past will no doubt trigger hard feelings. Survivors are no stranger to anxiety, depression, disassociation, low self-esteem, and anger. Be prepared for these emotions to surface as you work on your past, and then meet them with grace.
We don’t lose parts of ourselves when we get abuse, they just get buried. We can unbury them by making the younger parts of ourselves feel safe. Look up grounding exercises to calm your internal system when it starts to overload. Know how different feelings feel in your body (i.e. anxiety feels like a helicopter in your chest) and then know how to soothe them.
Try counting backwards from 10 while deep breathing. Not working? Name the 5 sense in your environment. What does the room smell like? What color are the walls? What noises do you here? Help your brain stay present in its body. New perspective: you are building a new relationship with body. Think of what feels safe and then create that over and over again. Why? Because you deserve it, even if you don’t believe yet.
4) Give Yourself Permission
Give yourself permission to have a hard day, make mistakes, feel overwhelmed, move forward, and realize your potential. Someone likely told you you weren’t allowed to do all of these things when you were younger. Well, let’s be rebels together and do it anyway! This is your life now and you’re going to start calling the shots. Let yourself feel, and then give yourself room to feel it. Make sure it’s productive and you’re learning as you go.
“All feelings are valid.”- Sam’s Theory
We are all born with the same set of feelings, it’s just a matter of how we use them. Feelings act as an alarm system to our environment to cue us into what’s happening. Listen to them, get to know them, and then invite them to breathe. Be forgiving of yourself, while holding yourself accountable in a kind way.
Need a clue on how to do this? Look for something you’re scared of doing. Are you afraid of laughing too loud? Are you afraid of being happy for too long? Tell your inner kid that he/she/they are allowed to be happy for a bit. Still too hard? Give yourself permission to smile or laugh for 5 whole minutes. Why? Because you can. Because you’re taking back the power. Because it’s on you now and you deserve it. New perspective: you are you’re own person. You may not have had the power to make your own rules when you were younger or under the power of your abuser, but you do now. Use this to grow and get bigger!
5) Celebrate the Wins
Healing from abuse is sometimes just as difficult as the abuse itself. It can be confusing, upsetting, and lonely. If this sounds familiar, then it sounds like you need to celebrate a little!
We have worked through four tips so far. Those are four opportunities to celebrate a win. Have you acknowledged your abuse yet? If so, then go splurge on craft materials or take the afternoon to picnic alone with a book. Not only are these treating yourself to something special, but they are coping tools that can help ground you when things get tough again.
If you haven’t acknowledged your abuse out loud yet, that’s okay. You’ve made it this far in the article and that’s huge! Congratulations for being brave enough to be curious. Go celebrate (within reason, of course)!
New perspective: you should be proud of yourself, constantly. When learning a new skill or doing something hard for the first time, the action needs to be paired with a reward or else you’ll lose momentum. Not only will small celebrations along the way highlight your milestones, but they will slowly build self-esteem and excitement. Healing doesn’t have to be so serious all of the time. Go loosen up and have some fun for once!
5) Realize Your Abuser is Sick
There is no excuse for abuse, but sometimes having a better working knowledge of why people handle their emotions in certain ways can help you feel less at fault. People that abuse others often have a weak sense of self and a poor set of coping tools to manage their emotions. They are reactive and have poor boundaries.
Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can be a learned behavior. Make sure you don’t repeat these behaviors, rather see them for the destructive entities that they are and rise above them. These behaviors can also be a sign that the perpetrator has a deeper psychological issue or a disorder that needs professional intervention to treat.
New perspective: the person that abused you is unhealthy and the abuse is not a reflection of who you are as a person, or were as a child. We are all responsible for our own actions, and abuse by the abuser is no different.
Try reading about the psychology of abuse and doing research as to why it occurs. Sometimes having answers that are concrete, factual, and academic can add color to the situation and give meaning to an otherwise confusing and hurtful situation. By researching and gaining a productive understanding of why people behave the way they do, you increase your self-awareness and automatically begin to break the cycle of abuse. Write a list of ways you hope to do things differently and then reflect on how to make this happen.
6) Look for Evidence
Sometimes life can feel grim for a survivor and feelings can overwhelm reason. Although it is essential to maintain hope, hope is not a strategy. New perspective: If you don’t believe you are worthy or capable of healing, start collecting evidence that you are.
What does evidence look like? Start with the fact that you survived your abuse. You are alive and breathing, which means you are capable of surviving, still. Do you have friends, a partner, supportive co-workers, or a therapist? These connections are evidence that you are capable of attachment, brave enough to trust again, and interesting enough to maintain relationships. When your brain starts working against you, play detective to find evidence that you are, in fact, competent enough to explore a new way of life. Remember to be patient and keep trying.
“Stay forward-focused.” – Sam’s Theory
Sarah Mendivel is a master’s level behavioral health interventionist and trauma researcher. She has devoted her life’s work to advocating for children and teens with trauma backgrounds in the clinical setting. Sam’s Theory, a young adult novel with built-in therapeutic advice for survivors, is her debut novel.
Click here to purchase Sam’s Theory and Amazon will donate a proceed of the sale to American SPCC! To learn more about Sarah, visit (www.SarahMendivel.com).
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