How Compassion Helps You Fight Back Against the Hurtful Voices in Your Head

In the third part of this series on learning to love yourself after a violent relationship, I look at how to use compassion to actually change the way your mind works.

As I talked about here and here, abuse disrupts our ability to seek out and provide the warmth and nurture that all mammals need to function. Our response mechanisms short-circuit and we have to relearn how to treat ourselves with gentleness and care.

Plus, when you’ve experienced a trauma like domestic violence, your fight-or-flight reactors go into overdrive as you try to combat the very real external threat.

But the upshot of our traumatic experience is that we’re also under attack from internal threats: pain, despair, loss, heartbreak – intense emotions that hurt and frighten us.

From a psychological perspective, we react the same way to external threats as to internal ones. So, when these feelings rise up, we counter-attack. We self-attack.

We treat the emotions with ridicule, aggression, frustration or disappointment. We try to fight them away.

But these emotions aren’t an external threat that you can simply force into retreat. They are part of you, and fighting with them will hurt you.

When our legitimate distress is met with cruelty and rejection, it makes us feel ashamed. We tell ourselves that we’re weak, stupid, not good enough… that we brought this on ourselves.

One way to tackle this is to imagine the self-attacking voice – the voice that shames you for the way you feel – as a separate person. Try to visualise them. What do they look like? What emotions are they directing at you? What do they want from you?

Then: Do they have your best interests at heart? What would happen if they left you alone? Who gains from them treating you like this?

Why are you scared of standing up to them?

You may find that the person you hear attacking you isn’t your own voice at all. You may find that it sounds suspiciously like the partner that made your life miserable. Or a parent, authority figure or bully that made you feel small. Maybe even someone that made you feel like you weren’t strong enough to stand up to the abuse.

And, if that’s the case, ask yourself: what right, what legitimacy, does that person have to attack you like this? Why do you feel you have to submit to their opinion?

What makes you think that their criticisms are at all valid?

Working out where this voice comes from won’t make it shut up. But that doesn’t mean you have to listen.

Instead, work on developing some empathy for your negative emotions. Remember the compassionate image that you developed? How would they respond to someone feeling your pain?

This is not easy. You’re working against the fight-or-flight instincts that tell you how to handle a threat. You’re talking over the voice that has dominated your emotional defenses for far too long. It will not let you take over without a struggle.

But you have to challenge the authority of that voice. You can’t just accept it – and you certainly can’t just accept it as part of who you are.

Be patient. You may need to try out different ways of handling your negative emotions and showing kindness to yourself before you find a way that works for you. These feelings might take a long time to quiet down.

What’s more, in order to really heal, you have to go beyond self-soothing – you also need to gather positive momentum for the future, setting goals and giving your vulnerable self the motivation and encouragement it needs to succeed.

The important thing is that, however you do it, you’re approaching yourself with compassion. You’re not judging, shaming or attacking the negative emotions. You’re not giving credence to the voice that attacks you.

If you’re struggling to recover from an abusive relationship, I hope that this series has helped you develop the tools you need to be kinder to yourself. If you feel you need more support, please do get in touch. I’ve helped hundreds of people to get through their divorce trauma – if you’d like to hear more, you can book a clarity call here.

Advertisements

The First Step Domestic Violence Survivors Can Take to Learn to Love Themselves Again

Last week I described how many survivors of domestic violence and abuse get so caught up in beating themselves up that they can’t give themselves the care and compassion they need to heal.

In this post, I’ll explain how to take the first step towards fixing this problem, by building a compassionate image.

If you’ve been a violent relationship, you’ve been deprived of the things that we need the most from those we love, in order to feel psychologically sound and healthy.

Things like kindness, nurture, and a sense of physical and emotional safety.

This can make it hard to picture what a loving persona actually looks like.

We all know what words like kindness and love and compassion mean on an intellectual level – but when we’ve been hurt and betrayed, it’s hard to really feel them.

The purpose of the compassionate image exercise is to start to reconnect with these ideas on an emotional level by creating a fully-formed image of compassion. This gives us an internal reference point that we can keep coming back to.

As a starting point, your compassionate image needs to be built around four essential qualities: warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgement. Beyond this, it is your own personal ideal and should reflect all the ways in which you want to be loved and cared for.

Find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and breathe deeply and focus without any distractions. Your mind might wander, and that’s ok – just try to guide it gently back to the image you’re creating. You want to feel as relaxed as possible, so don’t try to force anything!

Then, guide your image by asking yourself questions such as:

How would you want your ideal caring-compassionate image to look? Are they human, or is this represented by a particular animal? Or even something else entirely, like sunlight, or the sea? What colours do you associate with them? If they are human, are they male or female? Young or old? Would they look like you?

How would your ideal caring-compassionate image sound? What are their vocal qualities (if they have them)? How does this make you feel?

What other sensory qualities are attached to your ideal caring-compassionate image? Keep in mind the qualities of warmth, strength, wisdom and non-judgment here.

How would you like your ideal caring-compassionate image to relate to you? How would you relate to them?

Perhaps you connect through touch? Laughter? Vocal support? Or perhaps it’s simply an unspoken sense of security?

Try to keep in mind all the time that this image brings you complete compassion.

As you continue in your healing journey, this compassion image will be something you refer back to again and again. You can use it to remind yourself what warmth, strength and love truly look like for you – and can tap back into this ideal when you’re tempted to lash out at yourself and others, or when those around you treat you with less compassion than you need.

It gives you a benchmark for working out what kind of people you genuinely want to have in your life – and the kind of person that you want to be.

In my next post, I’ll explain how, armed with your compassionate image, you can start to use compassion to change the way your mind works, helping you to break out of self-destructive cycles and get on the right road to recovery.

Have you tried the compassionate image exercise? I’d love to hear about your experience – if you feel comfortable, please do let me know in the comments section below.

signature

Domestic Violence Can Leave You Feeling Like You’re Losing Your Mind. Here’s How to Start Healing

I work with a lot of people who have been in violent relationships. One thing I see time and again is that they continue to beat themselves over what has happened to them.

Mostly it’s guilt. Guilt that they stayed with someone who hurt them. Guilt that they hurt other people by staying. Guilt that they hurt other people by leaving. Guilt for going back. Guilt for not going back. Guilt for standing their ground. Guilt for being weak.

They have absolutely no compassion for themselves.

People on the outside struggle to understand. They wonder why a victim of violence would be so hard on themselves. To them, it makes no sense.

But it does make sense.

Domestic violence isn’t the same as being attacked by a stranger in the street. It’s a betrayal by someone you trusted and loved.

It’s bewildering and incredibly painful to be harmed by someone you love – and it’s natural to try and rationalise it in a way you can understand. There must have been a reason, you tell yourself. I must have done something wrong.

Plus, abusive partners are masters of mind games. They are great at making you feel like you’re going crazy, you’re being over-dramatic or it’s all in your head.

Walking away is the first step, but the confusion and creeping self-doubt remain. Thanks to a phenomenon called hindsight bias, they often get worse.

Hindsight bias (also known as the “knew it all along” effect, or creeping determinism) is an unhelpful habit that humans have of looking back over things that have happened and deciding that we should have seen it coming – even when there’s no reason to think we could.

So strong is the impulse that it can even distort our memories, making us falsely reconstruct the way that something happened to better fit with the outcome.

Hindsight bias is the reason we go over and over events in our minds, berating ourselves for not stepping in to prevent disaster.

You should have been stronger/smarter/better! We scream at ourselves. How could you let this happen?
Do these accusations help? Of course not.

Sometimes they exacerbate our pain to the point that we seek out new drama just to distract ourselves from the trauma and the guilt.

Instead, if you’re struggling with how to leave a violent relationship, to move on and to heal, you need to be gentle with yourself.

Paul Gilbert, developer of compassion-focused therapy (CFT), traces this need back to our earliest experiences as babies. Mammals use gentleness and care to soothe the negative emotions of their infants, calm their threat systems and help them feel safe and secure.

If this care is cut off, we lose the ability to tap into the response systems that handle our negative emotions and painful memories.

We struggle to regulate our emotions, become overwhelmed by self-criticism and shame, and read rejection and hostility into the behaviour of people around us.

Worse, when others do attempt to be caring, we panic. We no longer know how to respond.
This means that the impact of domestic violence goes far beyond the physical harm done to a person. Essentially, it short-circuits their emotional response systems.

Living with a violent partner cuts a person off from the care system that they need to feel secure and to process negative emotions. They may have forgotten how to seek the care they need. They may be distrustful or hostile to any gestures of care that they are offered.

To heal, they need to re-learn how to give and receive care, starting by treating themselves with the compassion they so desperately need.

In the coming weeks, I’ll explain in depth how to care for yourself when cruelty has made you forget how this works. I’ll show you how to model a compassionate image and to use compassion to change the way your mind works.

If you’re trying to rebuild your life after a violent relationship, you don’t have to beat yourself up over the way you feel. Your emotional coping mechanisms have taken a pummelling, but together, we’re going to work out how to heal.

Hang in there – and I’ll see you next week.

AdeleSign2

12 Ways to Be Powerful in 2015

New YearHow are your resolutions going?

Instead of the usual suspects of exercise more, get out of debt, save more, drink less, eat more healthily, etc. how about committing to taking on the habits of thought and action that will make you more powerful in 2015?

After all, without a foundational strength of character what chance do any of your other resolutions have of succeeding? Not much!

If you can adopt even one of these lessons, you’ll find it far easier to gain control over your life, your emotions, and all your relationships this year – not least your relationship with yourself.

So in 2015, let’s:

1. Stop being a victim

Stop being caught up in getting attention by playing the victim or trying to tell everyone your sob stories. Focus instead on solving the issues and problems in your life as quickly as possible, and moving on.

2. Stop whining

Losers always whine about the reasons why they didn’t achieve something. Winners simply work out what they can learn from the experience, count it as a step towards their goal, put it from their mind and move on.

3. Learn to bounce back

Failure is not getting down, it’s staying down. Failure is simply feedback so see it as that and work on your resilience in bouncing back quickly.

4. Stop being a drama queen

Don’t see every little thing that happens as so significant and create dramas out of small things. It’s an addiction! Stop doing it – keep things small and move on.

5. Live with integrity

Focus on your personal integrity and honoring your values, ethics and agreements with people and yourself. Especially with yourself.

6. Stop just doing what you ‘feel’ like

Powerful people don’t run their lives based on what they ‘feel’ like doing at any given moment. Powerful people value their commitments and their agreements with themselves and others and when they don’t ‘feel’ like doing something they ignore those feelings and do what they agreed to do anyway.

7. Communicate with clarity

Powerful people communicate clearly and powerfully, without drama. They make requests and never make excuses for why things don’t happen.

8. Speak with power

Focus on making eye contact with people when you talk to them, lift your chin and speak in a clear audible voice. Softly spoken people are very dominating to those around them as everyone needs to lean in to hear them. It’s subtle manipulative control vs. clear powerful behavior.

9. Stop feeling sorry for yourself

The universe doesn’t care about your bad day and neither does anyone else. Pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

10. Stop gossiping

Never talk badly about other people. Bored people talk about other people. Powerful people talk about the big games, projects and exciting things they are doing in their lives.

11. Stop worrying if others like you or not

Stop giving a damn about everyone liking you. There is a clear T-junction when it comes to this point – you can focus on being liked or you can make a difference in life. Both of these items cannot always be true together.

12. Stop complaining when life isn’t fair

Life isn’t fair so people will talk about you behind your back and be horrible even if you don’t deserve it and have always been nice and supportive to them.

This is because most people will only do whatever they do to forward things for themselves so don’t expect that your good deeds and actions for others will always come back to you. Simply do your good deeds and actions for your own reasons and not to get anything back – this way you won’t be disappointed or constantly feel hard done by.

Think you can take on the challenge and become far more powerful this year? I know you can.

Let this be a wonderful, empowering 2015!

Share your thoughts below!

AdeleSign2

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat…

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat...

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

“It’s the actio…

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi