You were startled awake by an upsetting dream? You received an unpleasant email from your boss? Your partner made an inconsiderate comment about the dinner you worked hard to cook? All surviors of abuse know that feeling when even the slightest negative experience sends us into a whirlpool of self-doubt and anxiety. Instantly, we see our abuser standing before us saying, “See? I was right! You are good for nothing!” And we end up drowning in a sea of shame and frustration without anyone to save us.
Just Because Your Abuser Said It, Doesn’t Make It True
Negative experiences are part of life, and they do not mean anything in and of themselves. Most well-adjusted people can shrug them off without too much inner turmoil. For example: He didn’t like dinner? He was rude, but you’re not offended because he’s tired. You made mistake, and your boss overreacted. It was upsetting, but you’ll get over it because you know she is anxious about her dentist appointment later that day. This is how people without consecutive traumas respond to such situations.
But survivors of abuse have spent a long time believing the cruel words of their tormentors that it feels like they live in our minds; the people who abused us have taken up residence as bullies in our heads—to the point that we think their criticisms are actually our own thoughts. This recycling of negative and critical messages is what makes it so easy to follow our own thoughts down the abuse-survivor rabbit hole and drag us into a whirlpool of depression. The guilt, shame, frustration and fear make us wonder if we’ll ever be free. In our Swan Path To Healing we say the following:
“…you now understand what has been going on, but where does that leave you? What are you to do now? How are you going to deal with the abuser? How will you ever be able to overcome all this pain?”
So how do we overcome all this pain? We need to evict the bully that lives in each of our heads!
Get That Bully To Shut Up
You may have spotted the following words knocking about on social media:
Don’t Let Negative and Toxic People Rent Space in Your Head.
Raise the Rent and Kick Them Out!
It is great advice, but not always so easily done. The trick is to actively engage your mind in positive feelings and activities. This will distract you, and it will get your body creating some happy hormones to boot!<h2>The remainder of this article is only available to our members.</h2>
You can <a href=”http://swanwaters.com/join/”>join today</a> and gain immediate access, or check out these free resources on this topic:
<a href=”http://swanwaters.com/strategies-to-say-no/”>6 Strategies To Say No</a>
<a href=”http://swanwaters.com/healthy-boundaries/”>How to Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries</a>
<a href=”http://swanwaters.com/how-limited-contact-can-work-like-a-shield/”>How Limited Contact Can Work Like a Shield</a>
Check out more free resources in our <a href=”http://swanwaters.com/pint-sized-healing/”>Pint-Sized Healing Section</a>. Here are some suggestions:
1. Visualize Positive Outcomes
That email from your boss? Try and think of the best possible outcome to whatever was in it. Do you need to re-do some work? Then see yourself re-doing it, and also getting praise for your efforts. Mentally walk yourself through that scenario. Engage your imagination and emotions to really envision it happening. By focusing your mind on positive future experiences you automatically shut down the negative conversation you were having with yourself.
2. Get Moving
Exercise is great for getting your happy juices flowing. Go for a run, hit the gym, or simply do whatever you enjoy. You don’t even have to go for an hour—even a few minutes of exercise will make you feel better and ready to face the world again. Run up and down the stairs a few times, run around the block, or even just do a couple of jumping jacks. Perhaps all it will take is doing some stretches to get the positive energy flowing through you again.
3. Call A Friend
No, you are not a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. But calling someone you feel close to will remind you that you belong. Making connections to people is important for us—we are social creatures, after all! And talking to someone you appreciate (and who appreciates you) will energize and motivate you. Vent or cry if you need to! But if you don’t feel up to that, you can simply make it a regular social call and catch up!
4. Create Something
Whether you are a painter, a baker or an author, start a project and focus! Both creativity and doing something you like doing will create flow, and this flow will invigorate you. Being creative activates different areas of the brain. So when you do it, you effectively have less brainpower to listen to the bully in your head and chew over the negative things it has to say. And if you are not in the mood to create your own project from scratch, but would like to engage your artistic side, perhaps try some coloring pages instead. SwanWaters has created some especially for those kinds of occasions.
5. What Are You Grateful For?
Even when it is not Thanksgiving, remembering the things you are grateful for in life will focus your attention on them—rather than the negative voices in your head. Make this a very conscious effort, and write down the three things you are most happy with at the moment. Coming up with three, and only the best three, means you really need to put some thought into this. Once written down, stick the note on the mirror or fridge to trigger some bursts of positivity over the next few days.
6. Grab Your Favorite Book
A little escapism never hurt anyone, but make it a book and not a movie. Reading is a much more active, well, activity. Watching TV or going to a movie does not engage your imagination as much, and that is really what you want. You want your brain busy with something pleasant and positive so the bully loses their bandwidth.
7. Make Yourself Useful
When a day starts off in a negative way (when you have had a bad dream or just wake up on the wrong side of the alarm), it can be very helpful to set yourself some daily goals. Making a to-do list or setting some short-term goals for the day can be a good way to keep yourself, as well as your mind, focused and occupied. Make it goals and tasks that will not trigger any more negativity, though. So if you know the money is tight, this may not be the best day to start paying bills as that may make you feel more anxious. Instead, clean the floors, get that last moving box unpacked, or cook yourself that healthy, gluten-free, vegan recipe you have been dying to try.
8. Look at Something Pretty
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And whether you like modern art or landscapes, looking at something aesthetically pleasing is a great way to clear your mind. So treat yourself to a day at a museum, walk through a beautiful park, or hang out with the lions in the zoo. Whatever constitutes beauty for you will do. No cheating, though! Don’t Google “Van Gogh” and look through the image search. You may not live down the block from the Louvre, but there is beauty everywhere is the world—so go out and find it!
Always wanted to travel to Paris? Can you picture the mansion you would buy if you wonn the lottery tomorrow? Do you need a new dress for that party next month? Some online browsing and windo shopping are great ways to dream. Don’t look at the price tags. Just flesh out the trip you want to make in detail, go to open houses and look at properties that appeal to you, or look at stunning designer dresses in your favourite, fancy clothes-shopping district (in this last case ignore both the price tag and size label).
10. Find Some Fellow Survivors
Our ultimate advice is always the following: find some fellow survivors! Connecting to people who “get you” is probably the strongest way to feel like you belong. That sense of belonging, and knowing that you have people to back you up, is so important when you are trying to let go of negative thought patterns. Other survivors are always willing to add some positive voices to your life. And the more positive voices you hear, the less you will hear the voice of your bully. This may not be quite the quick fix that the first 9 were, but some long-term investments in support are good, too.