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.



Stop Fixating on HIM and Focus on YOU!

keep-calm-and-focus-on-yourself-8Let me tell you a bit about one of my clients, I’ll call her Molly.

Molly came to see me towards the end of 2009. She’d been divorced for six years and in all that time hadn’t stopped obsessing about what her ex-husband was up to. In the beginning, she would talk about only one thing…

“You know, he is seeing Suzy now and I think they have been dating for a few months (not that I have noticed) and I don’t think she is right for him. He’s also got an earring now and changed his car – why do you think he did that? Well, actually I don’t care but it is strange isn’t it? A lot of our friends say that he’s changed for the worse and just isn’t the same guy now. I would agree. He’s even taken up sky-diving! He is clearly having a midlife crisis! Suzy isn’t even that pretty, she looks strange with her little skinny legs and fake tan. My friend Sally says that she gives them another six months and they will split up, too…”


Trapped by her fixation


What Molly wasn’t aware of, was that she was fixating on her ex-husband and how HE was doing, what HE was thinking, feeling and who HE was seeing.

This focus on him was actually her way of escaping and avoiding dealing with her own emotions. Although a great deal of time had passed, she was no further along in her healing.

Working with her, the key component which shifted her into healing from her divorce, was supporting her in shifting her focus from him onto herself. It was painful but once her grieving was complete, she found peace, harmony and a new life once she stopped fixating on him.

The last time I saw Molly, I asked her how her ex-husband was doing and she said, “You know, I don’t have a clue. Let me show you some pictures of the hot air balloon ride I did two weeks ago. I have always wanted to do it and now I have!”


If you have Target Fixation you’re gonna crash – I almost did!


One thing which I see time and time again with my clients is this concept of Target Fixation.

Target Fixation is the process by which the brain is focused so intently on an observed object that awareness of everything else diminishes.

With Target Fixation, the observer can become so fixated on the target that they will forget to take the necessary action to avoid it, thus colliding with it. This is a common issue for motorcyclists and mountain bikers as statistically most collisions are due to Target Fixation.

A motorcycle or bicycle will tend to go where the rider is looking; if the rider is overly focused on something in the path ahead of him, the cycle can collide with that object simply because of the rider’s focus on it, even though the rider is ostensibly trying to avoid it.

As a keen motorcyclist, I’m well aware of the hazards of Target Fixation. In fact, on one motorcycle trip in the Himalayas, I collided with the back of a motorcycle I was fixated on in front of me. This almost led me to fly off a cliff so it was a pretty frightening moment!


Stop the cycle of pain… focus on YOU


Focusing on your ex and what they are up to leads to no good. You are in essence, fixated on them and end up having daily collisions with unnecessary pain and suffering over and over again.

When I observed this type of fixation on the ex with most of the people I worked with, I realized that tackling FOCUS inside of the naked divorce was very important.

For some of you who have been divorced for years, it may be easy to not think about your ex. However, do notice if you are constantly thinking of your job or your children as a distraction from your healing. The lesson is to think of yourself during this program. It’s time to be selfish and be fascinated in how YOU are doing and to grow your awareness and analysis of yourself, rather than something else.


How to focus on Yourself


Here are a few examples.

Whenever you want to think about what your ex had for breakfast or if his new girlfriend has remembered to launder his socks – think instead about yourself, your own eating and laundry habits.

Whenever you find yourself drifting off and wondering what your ex meant when he said he loved your new hairstyle, think about the new bath towels you are purchasing on the weekend.

Whenever you find yourself wondering why your ex said what he said, focus instead on painting your nails.


Your Action Plan – Three Steps to Freedom


Training your mind to stop being preoccupied with thoughts of your ex and what he’s thinking or what he’s up to, or to stop pointless thoughts of your neighbor or friend, or job – is a little like training a new puppy:

Start by gently ignoring the yelps for attention.  If you notice your mind flashing to your ex or another unhelpful distraction, relax. Imagine that the thought is a soft, fluffy white cloud. Imagine this cloud drifting across your mind like a cloud floats across the sky. Just notice the thought and gently let it go.

Tell yourself that this unhelpful thought is just floating across your mind. Engaging with this thought is like engaging with a puppy’s yelps for attention and this is not constructive.

If the yelps continue, keep a short leash.  If you find yourself constantly drifting into an amazing fantasy story or if you find yourself stuck in a cycle of analysis paralysis, sometimes it’s good to reign in that thought with one swift action. Immediately say to yourself, “NO, enough is enough!”

Make a swift sudden action and stand up, saying out loud that this line of thinking is not constructive. Become immediately fixated on doing something else like journaling about your feelings or going for a focused power walk.

The key is swift, intentional action to jerk yourself out of the lethargy of daydreaming. If your leash is too long and you indulge negative thinking for too long, it takes longer to come back into the present.

Reward with healthy treats if well behaved.  If you notice that it’s been a few hours or days since you last engaged in unhelpful thinking, then reward yourself with a healthy treat. Something like taking yourself out on an outing. And soon, like Molly, you’ll be healthy, happy and free in your focus once more.


So, do you have target fixation on your ex?

Have these exercises helped you to bring back your focus to yourself and recover?


Tell me about your experiences!

I’d love to hear them…