Being controlled by a toxic person is a game of mental manipulation, so healing from abuse is all about mental strengthening.
Sometimes I ponder this road of healing that I have been on and how I’ve actually fared pretty well. I’m not entirely sure how, but the one thing I know for certain is that I immediately sought to understand what had happened to me and to put it in some sort of framework. Being the analytical, left-brained me, I discovered quite by accident that I felt better—emotionally, physically, spiritually—when I was actively learning about and practicing healing.
Dealing With the Ups and Downs
It’s normal to experience the emotional roller coaster in one way or another. If you are early in your healing from abuse, you may be stuck in numbness or crying, cycles of anger or despair. To truly move forward, you must learn to develop a sort of mental toughness that I call “mental Ninja moves”. This is critical if you are still exposed in any way to the toxic person or group who has damaged you.
This isn’t the kind of thing they teach soldiers or law enforcement. It is actually a form of self-care which is based on boundaries. Challenging work, to be sure, it is developing a whole new “muscle” in your thought pattern. You are retraining yourself, or perhaps training yourself for the first time. Here is a great analogy to describe what I mean:
It’s All in the Technique!
When I first got my Beagle, I began to crate train him. It was my first time crate training and I was trying to do it absolutely right. Of course, the hound dog in him had to bark incessantly when in the crate, so I sought help with how to stop him from barking and settle into his “den”. My vet gave me terrific guidance. He said to take some pennies and put them in an empty plastic 2 liter soda bottle. Every time Barney barked while in the crate, I was to shake it and say, “No, no, no, no” firmly, then stop and put the bottle away. I kid you not, it wasn’t 3 days and Barney was no longer barking while in the crate.
It’s the same with our healing. You know how you are told to not let someone “live rent-free in your head”? It’s much more than just that simplistic idea. I have told you previously that one thing I did was keep a backpack of firewood in my family room and make myself carry it around every time my ex-husband’s voice was in my head, running the show. Not exactly practical all the time or for everyone, so let’s look at some other options for mental management.
The Task Master
This is when you really give yourself a good, firm talking-to. You may say, “Aubrey, stop listening to that ugly message!” Maybe you use, “Aubrey, stop talking to my friend that way!” In any event, it is a short, stern thought to snap you out of an emotional sand trap. Don’t lay blame on yourself, but use this like a shot of strong coffee.
When you are really sad, really frightened, feel rightly victimized, or have those “give up” moments, this is the ticket. Mine was, “Aubrey, you have fought and won some incredible battles. You have an important purpose on this earth and it isn’t to funnel your energy into this garbage.” It’s also valuable to remember that you are your own best friend and ask yourself, “What would I do if someone was saying these terrible things about my best friend?”
This is a great tool for those times when you literally can’t get from one thought or action to the next. You slow down and give yourself step wise directions for getting through each next moment. Out loud if needed.
Yes, sometimes, you need to just let the toxic person have it. More than once, I have put a chair in the middle of the floor and told him precisely what I thought of him and all the pain he caused both me and my girls. Let it out. Don’t hold back.
DNR: Do Not Respond. In healthcare, this stands for “Do Not Resuscitate” and this is similar. It is also incredibly tough and takes a lot of practice. What the toxic person thrives on is baiting you and getting their fix when you respond and get dragged into their drama. It takes a while to learn, but what worked for me was learning to laugh and talk to him out loud! “Yeah, I’m not taking YOUR bait today, jackass!” “Oh, you must be bored. Well, your ego is no longer my problem!” (Seriously, picture me saying this to the computer or the phone.) My two favorites became and remain these:
1. “Go sell crazy somewhere else. We’re all stocked up here.”
2. “Wow, you’re a special kind of crazy, aren’t you?”
Frequently, there was also some mocking and swearing thrown in, just for my own entertainment!
Choose Well From the Menu
There is a point at which you must recognize that your only chance to truly heal will be to mentally detach, which is where the toughness comes in. You learn to stop investing emotion and start structuring your responses (or lack of) to both mental messages and contact from the toxic person.
This is not holding a grudge or being unforgiving, nor is it “punishment” of the toxic person. This is an emotional flak jacket, something to help protect you from ongoing trauma. It takes practice and determination, but developing this type of mental management will significantly help your healing.
Healing is truly about choices. Once you learn how to choose your response instead of just reacting, your healing takes on a whole new dimension. Do I still have feelings and reactions around my ex-husband’s behavior? Of course! It’s just that now I use them to my own healing advantage.