This is a love letter to every abuse survivor — whether your scars are on your body or your soul. There are eleven truths that you should know in order to find a place of true peace and freedom. Many of these may be things that nobody has told you before; some will even be uncomfortable, but knowledge of these truths will transform you from a survivor into a thriver.
1 You are not a victim.
Yes, you were victimized. Someone, likely even someone you knew and loved, took advantage of your trust and hurt you. But what happened to you does not define you.
The truth is: the fact that you are an abuse survivor means that you are strong and resilient. You made it through what was intended to break you. You faced the unthinkable and you are still standing. For that reason alone you should hold your chin up, brush the dirt from your shoulders and straighten your crown.
Sometimes amidst the pain of rebuilding our lives after trauma, we forget our power and allow the effects of abuse to cause us to confuse what happened to us with who we truly are. There’s a story circulating the interwebs about a tribe in Namibia where each child is assigned a unique birth song before conception. The mother teaches the song to the midwives and old women of the village so that when the child is born, they will surround her and sing the child’s song to welcome him or her. As the child ages, the song is taught to other villagers, who sing the song throughout his or her life during times of transition, as a means of honor and appreciation. The birth song is also used as a reminder during times of difficulty or pain as a reminder of the child’s true nature.
May this letter serve as your birth song to remind you of the fire you have within. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are filled with purpose. You are powerful. You are a Rising Phoenix.
2 What happened was not your fault.
I know this may be different than you may have been told by the media, society, and possibly even your friends and family. I’m sure that every time you hear of an abuse survivor being judged in the court of public opinion, you question what you could have done differently in your own situation.
The truth is: you have no control over the actions of another person. There is nothing that you could have worn, said, or insinuated that gives another person the right to harm you. There is no amount of alcohol, drugs, or flirtation that ever makes it acceptable for another person to take advantage of you. No matter how many times it happened, how many times you went back, or your reputation — you did nothing to deserve abuse in any form.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t be empowered by the experience to make wise and prudent choices to protect ourselves (including recognizing red flags, being aware of our surroundings, investing in self-defense classes, etc.), but no matter what you may or may not have done, what happened to you was not your fault.
3 Love does not hurt.
I can hear you skeptics sucking your teeth as you think about your last breakup, but I assure you that love does not hurt. Unfulfilled expectations hurt. Insecurity hurts. Abuse hurts. But love does not hurt.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not prideful. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily-angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in negativity, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. — 1 Corinthians 13
The truth is: if it hurts, it is not love. The opposite of love is fear. In fact, ego-driven fear is the root of many painful emotions including anger, insecurity, and anxiety. Love is peace; fear is walking on eggshells. Love is joy; fear is angst and apprehension. Love is open; fear is closed off. Love is based in truth; fear is steeped in illusion. Of course there is such a thing as healthy fear (such as our fight or flight instinct), but ego and fear-based actions are never an expression of love.
Don’t be mistaken. Love is not always rainbows and lilies. We are imperfect humans navigating our way through an imperfect existence. But two imperfect beings can absolutely create a healthy love that is based on mutual respect and compassion.
4 You get to choose who you keep in your life.
As the saying goes, “some people are in our lives for a reason, some people for a season, and some for a lifetime.” Everyone does not get the honor of having your presence in their life. You have the right to rid yourself of toxic people.
The truth is: you teach others how to treat you by the way you treat yourself. When you set — and enforce — healthy boundaries, you create more honest and authentic relationships. Knowing your limits, and standing up for yourself when someone crosses them, is the healthiest thing you can do for your relationship with anyone in your life. Being clear about your boundaries allows both you and the other person to decide whether the relationship is a good fit.
An action that may be perfectly acceptable to others, may cause discomfort when done to or near you. And that is perfectly fine. Your boundaries are your own. If someone chooses to continue crossing the clear lines you have set, they do not belong in your life. This applies to friend, sibling, parent, lover, and anyone else in your life. He may be displaying his view of love in the only way he’s ever seen modeled. She may be doing the best she knows at her current level of awareness. While that may all be true, you were not placed here to be misused for the sake of someone else’s path to enlightenment.
5 It’s perfectly natural to miss your abuser.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 45% of sexual abuse survivors were raped by an intimate partner. Over 90% of child abuse survivors were violated by someone known to them. Most often, the person who has abused us is someone we loved. Often, when a woman is an abuse survivor and her relationship ends, she is not allowed to mourn her loss in the same way as others in healthy (or less outwardly toxic) relationships. People assume that her abuser must have been a monster and she should be happy to be free.
The truth is: you’re allowed to mourn the loss of your abusive relationship. Someone you once trusted betrayed you. That doesn’t take away the good times you had together. It doesn’t mean that he or she is a horrible person. He is sick and on his own path. It is okay to miss the relationship and dreams you had together.
You can miss someone from afar. But that doesn’t mean you go back to an unsafe environment or invite a toxic person back into your space. Missing will pass. No one has ever died of missing too much. Focus on truly healing and falling in love with yourself and you will open your heart to experience real and healthy love.
6 You don’t own all the problems in the world.
As an abuse survivor, it is easy to feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever suffered so badly. You may have experienced the most horrific tragedies imaginable. It may feel like it’s safer to protect your heart instead of being vulnerable and reaching out for help. It may feel like things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
The truth is: no matter what you are facing, the situation always has the potential to get better. There is incredible power in our ability to use our thoughts to shape reality. When we expect the worst, we receive the worst. We receive more of what we focus on in life, not necessarily what we want. I’ve never been a fan of the phrase “it could be worse” because while it’s true that things can always be worse than they are, imagine how much more amazing they can be. All you have to do is change your mind.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” — Frank Outlaw
We can’t control others what others say and do, but we have full power and authority over our own thoughts. I’m absolutely a proponent of feeling your emotion fully and then moving on — the key being moving on. We can’t heal looking backwards. When we continue to tell ourselves the same story about who we are and how everything bad that has happened was someone else’s fault –no matter how much truth lies in that assertion — we stay stuck in the past.
Instead, try this simple trick: when a negative thought comes into your mind, immediately empower yourself by changing it into an affirmation. For example: I can’t do this becomes I can do anything I put my mind to.
7 Forgiveness is not the same as granting pardon.
As an abuse survivor myself, forgiveness was possibly the most difficult lesson I had to learn especially when I didn’t receive the closure and apology I sought. Why is it okay that they hurt me that way? How can I be expected to allow them back into my life? Am I supposed to just forget what they did?
The truth is: forgiveness is never about the other person; it is completely about you. It starts with forgiving you. Forgive yourself for both what you did and didn’t do. When you forgive yourself, you are able to forgive others.
Forgiveness does not mean that you are saying what the other person did was acceptable, nor does it mean you forget what happened. What it does mean, however, is that you release them. You let go of the bitterness, anger, feelings of betrayal, as well as the need to understand how someone could do something so terrible and your need for vindication. You release them unto their own karmic consequence and, in turn, you release their hold on you.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” — Unknown
As long as you are holding onto the dead weight of unforgiveness, you will never be able to soar as high as you could without the anchor. This person already hurt you before, don’t allow what they did to continue to hurt you. Stand in your power and cut the cord.
8 It’s none of your business why he or she hurt you.
What others do is wholly about them. It is no reflection of who you are nor does it determine your value. Not your circus, not your monkey.
The truth is: the closure you need cannot be found outside of yourself. As long as you are waiting until you receive an apology and permission to move on, you will continue to be held prisoner by another person. Choose to free yourself by taking control and finding wholeness from within.
Sometimes our desire to understand what happened is not so much about blaming the other person as it is about wanting to fix them. But, I still say that it’s none of your business. While it may be true that he was abandoned as a child and never had real love or that she just needs someone to be there for her, that’s not your problem. Your love is not going to save them, but it can very well kill you instead.
It’s in the nature of lightworkers, particularly women, to place the needs of others before our own. We see a broken spirit and immediately set about healing their pain. While this is not wrong in and of itself, the problem arises when helping someone else becomes martyrdom. Willingly remaining in an abusive situation as an attempt to rescue the other person is self-abuse.
9 Healthy love begins with self-love.
Respect, honor, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, support. These words comes to mind when I think of love. Healthy love begins with learning to fall madly and deeply in love with yourself.
The truth is: you deserve your love more than anyone else. When you fall in love with yourself, it’s easy to know what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. Make peace with the person you are in this very moment. Discover the adorable quirks you’ve always thought were just weird. Appreciate your body for what it is. Dress your best and smell good for yourself. Teach yourself the type of touch you enjoy. Learn to enjoy your own company so that being alone doesn’t make you feel lonely, or, worse, compel you to seek comfort in a toxic relationship.
The rigorous practice of self-love will empower you to identify the red flags of a toxic relationship early and make wiser decisions about the partners you choose. Learning to trust, respect, honor and value yourself, will allow you to set and enforce healthy boundaries. When you are already the best version of yourself, it’s hard for another person to come into your life who doesn’t multiply your greatness.
10 Being hard is not the same as being strong.
It’s natural to become hardened and tough after the trauma we’ve been through. As abuse survivors, especially those of us who may have been hurt by the people we love, the pain leaves wounds upon our souls. Untreated soul wounds make us hard, not strong.
The truth is: hard is weak. Hard is unmoving, inflexible, tough, brittle, resists pressure. When we are hard, we use pain like a shield; when trouble comes, either we break it or it breaks us. A glass is hard. Dropped on hard concrete, it is weak and shatters.
Strong, on the other hand, is flexible, resilient, and able to withstand pressure. When we are strong, we use pain as our power; when trouble comes, we use the wisdom pain has taught us to deal with the issue at hand. Rope is strong. Even when frayed, it can tie a knot and still hold on.
11 Healing is a process, not an event.
Life didn’t come with a rule book and what works for one person isn’t always what works for you. This is your process. Don’t allow anyone else to determine how long it takes or what it looks like. Growth is not always linear.
The truth is: life is a journey, not a destination. Often, we’re in such a hurry to escape a situation that we judge as bad that we miss the amazing opportunity that comes from pain. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. If you need to scream, let it out. If you need to hit something, punch a pillow. Find healthy coping skills to channel your feelings, but don’t stifle them. As long as you are not hurting yourself or another person, give yourself permission to be fully present with your emotions. When we feel it, we can learn from it.
Healing is a practice in mindfulness. There is great wisdom to be gained from valley moments. It is in those times that our strength is built and our faith refined.