4 Ways to Learn to Love Yourself after Abuse
When I finally got out of my abusive marriage, I was sure about only one thing in life: that I had no idea who I really was. Since this man had taken over my life at age 15, I lost just about everything about me that made me who I am. Even my likes and dislikes had morphed dramatically. I found that things I used to enjoy immensely had been shed from my life just to keep the peace or go along. I had stopped doing things that had previously given my life balance because I was mocked or criticized mercilessly. So, once I had cleared safe airspace from Captain Crazy of the S.S. Melodrama, I took an inventory, which led me to learning to love and nurture myself again. Here are the things I assessed:
Focus On The Good: What Good Things Have I Done In The World?
By asking myself this and really exploring the concept, I was able to reconnect with the goodness in myself. This is an incredibly important step for any abuse survivor, because you have spent an extended period of time being convinced that you are all bad. You are told you are the problem and hounded into thinking there is absolutely nothing good about you. By examining the things you have done for others, big and small, you can get back in touch with the goodness that is you. This helps you reframe your perception of who you are as a human.
Ignite The Kid: What Did I Dream Of Doing When I Was Young?
No, you can’t go back in time, but exploring this area helps to bring you back to a place where you weren’t afraid to dream. Hard to believe, but there was a time in your life, even if it was brief, when you believed you could do anything. Don’t limit yourself and don’t say, “Well, that would be great but it’s not possible.” There is a huge difference between impossible and impractical. Could I go to medical school? Sure. But I’m darned near 50 years old and have two kids to put through college, so it’s impractical. It was when I espoused this thinking that I was able to achieve things I never would have bet on.
Breathe New Life Into Your Circle: When Is the Last Time You Made New Friends?
I am a naturally gregarious person so I don’t have trouble meeting people. What I developed trouble with was making friends. That’s because in order to make friends with people, you have to let them experience who you are and to know something about your life. When you spend most of your energy covering up the realities of your life, the last thing you are willing to do is open up to someone new. After escape, I found that opening up not only expanded my circle, it gave me the chance to meet others who had been silently suffering, too.
Make A “Bucket List”: Big or Small, Crazy or Not, Start Checking a Few Things Off
The satisfaction of checking things off lists is something I have always enjoyed. When you are learning to love yourself again (or for the first time), part of that is achieved by honoring your own needs and desires. I don’t care if it’s “I’ve never had the 5 scoop sundae at Denny’s” so you buy it and eat 5 bites…it’s still fun and it’s something you have done for yourself. I let my mind run wild and discovered there were an awful lot of things I had never done but wanted to, or things I had maybe done once but decided not to count them because the experience was overshadowed by Captain Crazy. Up toward the top of my list? Back to London, Paris, and Italy…3 places I loved and made multiple trips to, but always with him. Even if you are not financially able yet to do certain things, there are always items on your list that can be done. One of my favorites when I was still completely broke was to go sit in the woods or a park somewhere with no timetable, no hiking plan, and no talking. Just peace.
While these four things might initially seem a little nuts, or unrelated to loving yourself, I assure you that they create new connections in your brain that help you to nurture your soul. The two biggest parts of recovery from abuse are learning to forgive yourself for whatever you may be holding over your own head, and learning to love yourself just as you are, where you are. By exploring these long-overshadowed pieces of yourself, you can rekindle the flame that is you. As a complement to these four items, I also highly recommend Louise Hay’s mirror work. There is nothing more powerful than telling that person in the mirror that you love her/him, then acting upon it.