Last week I received an angry email from my dad, who was clearly triggered by something I had said the week before. Unfortunately, he didn’t express his hurt in a functional way, but did it in an abusive way. He told me he never wanted to speak to me again and said this email was “good-bye forever.” In other words, he threw me away because he was angry with me.
I am now old enough and have been around my father for over 50 years. I know that if I stay in my adult self and hold a good boundary with him, our relationship will repair. However, anyone who is co-dependent or lacks these tools would likely be triggered and wind up in a hormone imbalance, have their leaky gut aggravated, and potentially suffer from an autoimmune flare. I see it day in and day out in my practice.
Abuse is a strong word. I want you to understand what abuse is. I want you to know how to handle it. I am giving you 10 things I want you to know about abuse. Most people don’t even know that their family dynamics are abusive if they don’t contain physical violence.
What Is Abuse?
Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person. In my family there is a lot of sarcasm used by my father as humor. Sarcasm is actually a form of abuse. The definition of sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt for another person. This is purposefully harming another.
There are many kinds of abuse encountered by adults, including:
- Physical abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Sexual assault
- Verbal abuse
- Elder abuse
- Financial abuse
Someone who purposefully harms another in any way is committing abuse. I was deep into my own trauma therapy before I realized that I came from an abusive family of origin because there was no direct physical violence beyond spanking. There was however a LOT of contempt conveyed, lots of cold silent treatment, and I was thrown away several times when I disappointed my parents. Add that to sexual abuse in my elementary school and having a dad that was in the Navy and gone a good deal of my childhood, and I have an Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) score of at least 3. It was no surprise that I married a man who I had to send to jail twice for domestic violence.
Am I broken? No. Do I blame my parents, my vice principal, my husband for everything that goes wrong in my life? Absolutely not. Do I call myself a victim? NO. In fact, at this point in my life I am deeply grateful for these experiences as they have forced me to learn new tools, grow, and expand my consciousness.
10 Things I Want You to Know About Abuse
- It was not your fault.
Survivors of abuse carry messages of “not being good enough, worthy enough, deserving of better” into their adulthood. This creates illnesses like autoimmune disease and cancer. The reality is your abuser also had that same message and acted out in a dysfunctional way. You do not want to continue the abusive pattern against yourself by getting into toxic relationships, addictions, and habits. You also don’t want to be the perpetrator of abuse onto another human or animal. You are enough. Unlike your abuser, you don’t have to abuse anyone else to feel superior or complete. You are already whole, and perfect, in your own imperfect ways.
- You cannot make your abuser change.
No matter how much love, money, support or pleading you pour into an abusive person, you cannot make them change. Like anyone with an addiction, they must hit rock bottom and be willing to make the change for themselves. They have to seek help. That help might be court-ordered if you do something like call 911 the next time you are hurt by your perpetrator. Making sure you hold boundaries with abusive personalities is the greatest gift you can give them, and yourself. Not only do you learn to advocate for yourself, but you also force rock bottom to happen sooner rather than later, so the person you love can make the choice to get help.
- You deserve love and safety.
Every human deserves to be safe, to feel loved, and to have the opportunity to reach self-actualization. This includes you and it includes those people in your life who have been abusive. Clinging to a co-dependent relationship just perpetuates toxicity in your life and in theirs. You deserve to be in healthy, supportive and loving relationships in which you feel seen and are heard.
- You are not broken.
In my medical practice and in the retreats I host, I often hear people lament that they are forever damaged and broken. This is simply not true. Many of us grew up repeating this nursery rhyme:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the Kings horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.
You are not Humpty Dumpty. You are a resilient, valiant, and courageous human being. Once you make the choice to recover, you can. You just have to make the choice to stop being a victim. The victim position is a powerful one. You can claim a pass on taking responsibility in your life and many people will let you get away with it. However, you are capable of much better than this dysfunctional way of trying to claim a small amount of power. You are MUCH bigger than this. In fact, it is imperative that you shine brighter than the cloudy little victim can. You cannot attain your birthright and live your mission if you do not shake off the chains of victimhood and reach for the brass ring of taking responsibility for each and every breath you take in your life. No one is to blame for your circumstances once you are an adult. My You Unbroken online program teaches you how to do this. You have GOT THIS!
- You get to choose how and when you end the toxic habit.
Do not let anyone guilt or shame you for the choices you have made in your life. You have not made mistakes if you are learning from them. They are roads to wisdom if you treat them that way. You can only understand the choices another makes if you walk a mile in their moccasins. You do you and let others do them. We each have our own paths to tread and what others think of you is none of your business. Carry on.
- Forgiveness of the abuser is necessary if you are to heal completely…reconciliation is not however.
Forgiving is essential, reconciliation is optional and only done under certain conditions. You only reconcile with an abuser if they have expressed contrition for what they did, apologized, and sought help to make sure they do not repeat the pattern again.
Forgiveness is releasing yourself of the toxicity that will ultimately kill you if you carry it around in the form of resentment and bitterness. It translates literally to pain. I teach a method for forgiving, but it’s hard. It’s not easy to truly forgive. It’s very easy to give lip service to forgiveness, but that doesn’t actually work.
- Self-compassion is a must.
Self-care is a must. Victims of abuse often put themselves last on their “to do” list. This is perpetuating the abuse you have already suffered. You do not need to continue this abusive cycle by abusing yourself. You will never get better unless you learn to love yourself. I teach my patients, students and retreat participants how to bond with their child selves, the ones who were abused. I teach them how to reclaim their power, so they can regain their health. This is a must.
- You are not crazy.
Dr. John Gottman identified two kinds of abusers: the cobra and the bull dog. The cobra will never recover from their abusive ways. They are calculating, cold, and manipulative. They gaslight their victims and make them feel like they are crazy. The bull dog gets angry, explodes, and then comes back to apologize eventually. The bull dog can benefit from treatment. 30% of bull dogs who get treatment actually do recover. You are not crazy. You need to know if you are with a bull dog or a cobra though. If you are with a cobra, you need to get out…fast. Leave no forwarding address and do it after careful planning and do not tell them you are leaving before you go.
- You deserve the best there is.
You deserve to do the work required to be in a healthy and loving relationship. Trust me…this is hard work. You deserve to suffer and to succeed. You deserve sorrow and you deserve joy. You deserve to be angry and you deserve to be content. This is the orchestra of human emotions and we all feel them. No one is happy all of the time. Every relationship has conflict. The difference between a healthy relationship and a dysfunctional and even abusive relationship is people in healthy relationships talk and listen to one another. They don’t forget that despite the fact that they are angry, they still hold this person in love and don’t forget that they hold a Divine spark of God within them. They do not discount. They do not throw you away if they are mad at you. They do not yell, hit, or demean each other. They retain respect for one another in the midst of conflict. They do not give each other the silent treatment.
- Abusive relationships are not a waste of time.
Many people believe they have wasted time on relationships that don’t “turn out.” This is not true. Every experience you have can be one that helps you attain more wisdom and growth. This is true for relationships. Every relationship is an opportunity for growth and an expansion of self-awareness and consciousness. I know that I would not be as far along as I am in my life in terms of knowledge, communication skills, and wisdom had I not been in toxic relationships that forced me to learn to advocate for myself AND my abuser. How do I advocate for abusive people? I hold good, strong, impenetrable boundaries. That is the greatest gift you can offer someone who is so narcissistic that they are able to devalue other humans to such an extent that they actually harm them.
I now know everyone has experienced trauma and abuse in some form. The good news is it can be healed, and you can reframe your story and reclaim your power. You do need help to do it however. I call this “borrowing a brain” or the right kind of therapy. Talk therapy DOES NOT work. You need specific therapy that to rewire the brain, release the trauma from the body, and to reframe old messages of victimhood to powerful adult beliefs. You can get started with the You Unbroken Program right from your own computer in your own home. This program is one I designed to help you attain more emotional resilience, better skills for dealing with conflict, and it teaches you how to find the right therapist for your individual needs. You can get it here.