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.

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Don’t Hate the Love Month, Learn to Love It!

tumblr_mi7851G9Nl1qlo84oo1_500The love month is upon us, and some people hate it because they are single. Is this you?

Well, time to cheer up – here’s how anyone can learn to love the love month. The thing to remember is that a romantic relationship is not just about sex. It’s about intimacy too, in all its many guises.

Love and intimacy are actually around you all the time in different forms. The problem is, as human beings in our society, we are attached to love or intimacy in a particular form or package.

If it isn’t tall, dark and handsome with the name ‘boyfriend’ OR hot and sexy with the name ‘girlfriend’ then we reject it. And when we do that, we fail to see just how much love we have in our life so we wind up running around spitting at couples and cursing at happy matches because we feel angry about being single.

tumblr_mhg7ttnalJ1qj4315o1_400Love is all around you, it’s no cliché

Love is all around and perhaps you don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend but you will have 4-5 amazing people in your life who provide love in its different ways.

This feeling we have of a need for love is actually a need for the various components of love and intimacy, and when we reject and shut off these things because they do not fit some sort of socially accepted package, we are stopping ourselves from enjoying a huge amount of pleasure endorphins and overall feelings of wellbeing.

If you break down the components of a romantic relationship, you might find you have a lot of love around. Here are some examples.

Companionship

Your mother/father/the dude you watch football with/a friend you watch movies with or collect stamps with – who provides companionship in your life? You get this in many places.

Snuggles

Who do you get snuggles from? Perhaps a beloved pet, a huggy friend, your mother/father or a giant teddy bear. You could volunteer at a shelter or go visit a dogs’ home or buy a giant pink panther teddy bear. You could even put a sign up that you will give away free hugs to get your snuggle time. The simple act of snuggling releases endorphins – doesn’t matter who or what with.

Laughter

Who makes you laugh? Don’t tell me no one makes you laugh in your life! Surround yourself with gigglers or go try out some Laughter Yoga.

Good Listening

Find someone in your life who really listens to you and gets you. You already know this person and perhaps you don’t spend enough time with him or her. Schedule that in.

Romance

When you are single, it’s tricky to get the romance fix BUT there are probably single people in your life you can flirt with so find them and flirt with them.

If you are brave and put yourself out there into environments where you are in close physical contact with new people, it might just creep up on you. Join a dance class and try out that tango with a hunky man, or go to a dating event and simply enjoy the spark of getting to know new people.

See how much easier the love month is to bear when you break it down and find the components?

Go and get the intimacy you need. It’s all there just waiting for you!

Happy Valentine’s day!

Lots of hugs

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How to support someone going through a divorce or break up

Divorce or a really bad break up can be classed as a trauma regardless of how much notice one is given. If we consider the things that help us feel secure in life, our jobs/homes/relationships/family and health are our core foundations.

Going through a divorce or break up, for whatever reason, can come as a shock – even if you knew it was coming. It’s a massive change and as human beings, we don’t take changes very well. Yes, there are opportunities which arise out of the change but first you need to process the feelings of rejection, grief, anxiety, panic, worry, loss of self esteem (as sometimes the rejection experienced is taken personally) and loss of ‘self’ as you probably linked your self-worth to your relationship.

In this blog, I am not going to handle divorce from the point of view of the person going through the divorce but from the point of view of the person who is supporting a partner or loved one through a divorce.

It may be that your partner, parent or close family friend has just told you they are getting divorced and you are watching them spiral slightly out of control.

Many feelings will arise including moodiness, upsetness, depression, anxiety, panic and insomnia. It is very hard to know how best to support someone through the roller coaster of emotions and if they are your close partner, you will almost feel like you are on the roller coaster with them.

It’s tempting to want to make them happy, distract them or tell them to stop being gloomy and feel different/ look on the bright side of life. A common human trait is to try to intellectualise the emotion:

“think of the opportunities”

“you never liked your ex anyway”

“there are lots of fish in the sea”

“God will never give you something you cannot handle”

“don’t be sad, this is a chance to really examine everything from a fresh perspective”

Although all these statements are probably true – it’s ALL about timing. Delivering these messages in the first few weeks is not going to go down well.

In the first few weeks, it’s critical for the ‘soon-to-be-divorced person’ to just feel their emotions. Emotions, when fully experienced, naturally evolve along the path of healing but its often the people supporting the person being made redundant that interrupt this healing pattern.

The initial state before the cycle begins is often quite stable, at least in terms of the
subsequent reaction to hearing the bad news (compared with the ups and downs to
come, even if there is some variation, this is indeed a fairly stable state).
And then, in the calm of this relative paradise, a bombshell bursts…

The naked divorce grieving cycle

1 Denial stage: trying to avoid the inevitable.
2 Anger and betrayal stage: frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
3 Panic and negotiation stage: seeking a way out. Making deals with your
ex.
4 Humiliation, fear of failure or looking bad stage: gradually sinking into
a spiral, feeling embarrassed and avoiding seeing people.
5 Despair stage: realization that something awful is coming your way and
you’re strapped into the rollercoaster and helpless.
6 Loss, grief and depression stage: a final realization of the inevitable,
surrendering to the grief.
7 Space and nothingness stage: once you have grieved and grieved, experiencing
loss and pain, you’re left with a feeling of nothingness. It’s different
to numbness because you feel very present and can notice things around you.
Your senses are heightened. You may also find that you cannot cry anymore.
You experience an emotional vacuum.
8 Acceptance stage: seeking realistic solutions and finally finding the way
forward, it’s not a feeling of resignation. It’s a feeling of profound understanding
of the way things are and the way things are not.
9 Responsibility and forgiveness stage: taking responsibility for where you
may have caused cracks in the relationship and contributed to its subsequent
breakdown and divorce. Forgiving your ex and yourself for any failings during
the relationship is a critical part of true and real healing.
10 Gratitude stage: transformational experience. Learning from your divorce
and seeing positives and negatives from the experience. This stage completes
the healing.

If your loved one wants to know where they are within the divorce healing cycle, take them to this test:

FIND OUT HOW HUNG UP YOU ARE

What you don’t realise, in offering intellectual platitudes is that you are only doing this so YOU can feel happy again. It’s your own discomfort with their emotional state being so linked to your own emotional state that upsets you. If you resist their emotional state, it will persist because it has no avenue to be expressed.

So to survive and be happy in the first few weeks of supporting your partner, it helps to stop linking your own happiness to the happiness of this person – move to your own orbit and allow them to simply ‘BE’ where they are. Break your dependence on them and instead of fretting, go play tennis, go for a walk on your own or go shopping and allow them to be.

Here are a few tips of what to do and what not to do in supporting someone through this change.

Don’ts

  • Don’t give pep talks. Its not your job to pump them up and ensure they are happy again. Understand their need to express their emotions and use the BUCKET exercise below to give them an avenue to express these emotions Don’t intellectualise their emotions or offer any ‘sage’ advice – telling them to look on the bright side of life or telling them that ‘everything happens for a reason’ just invalidates the pit of despair they are looking into. Allow THEM to come to this conclusion on their own – this way, they will own the conclusion on a deeper level Don’t orbit around them or link your own happiness to their happiness – they are entitled to their process and way of dealing with things.
  • Don’t tell them to snap out of it
  • Don’t tell them they are being ridiculous, self indulgent or dramatic – use the BUCKET exercise to hear them – sometimes people just need to vent their emotions – its not necessarily about you.
    They will want to indulge in what I call STEATs (short term emotion avoidance tactics) so they can feel better and run from their emotions. They will want to avoid dealing with their emotions by focusing on decorating, shopping, partying, drinking or being super ‘busy’ with something or other. Rather than rejoice in these activities with them, encourage them to stop and feel their emotions. Validate their right to their emotions. If they engage in STEATs for too Long, they may end up depressed due to repressing their emotions

STEATs EXPLAINED

One thing to guard against is that your partner does not avoiding dealing with their emotions by burying themselves in things which either numb the pain or distract them. Don’t get me wrong, in the early days of divorce, the S.T.E.A.T.s are probably the things which help your partner feel better in each moment. BUT the thing to be aware of is that it’s not feeling better for real – it’s a false sense of security – a false feeling of recovering. It fits into the false healing category.

Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics include but are not limited to:

Excessive eating
Alcohol and drugs
Excessive anger towards others
Excessive socialising
Over-exercising
Fantasy or escapism activities (books, TV, movies)
Isolation
Random sexual encounters
Shopping/retail therapy
Spending countless hours with your children under the guise of being a good parent but the actual agenda is using your children to help you feel better

The problem with Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics is that they are short term. They do not last, and they do not deal with the true emotional issue. S.T.E.A.T.s are distractions that either damage or delay the recovery process.

Do’s

Once 45 days have passed, if they are still moping around – get them to see someone to process their feelings so that they can move on

BUCKET YOUR FRUSTRATIONS

    • Go fetch a bucket (a real one) and sit together with no TV or chaos in the background with the bucket between you both You start by encouraging your loved one to express their frustrations, feelings and emotions into the bucket – you not allowed to respond except to acknowledge that you hear what they are saying and ask if there is anything else to go into the bucket – encourage your partner to ‘put all their frustrations into the bucket’ and vent everything that is pissing them off about life and how life should be.
    • Your job is – JUST LISTEN
    • Keep asking if there is anything else and keep going until the bucket is full and they can think of nothing else
    • When done, you both pick up the bucket and throw out these frustrations out of the window or door
    • Now it’s your turn It’s good to say how you feel but I recommend not sharing your worries about their divorce – focus on other things that annoy you or frustrate you — this way, your loved one will feel they are not alone in being frustrated but they will feel that you are not pressuring them to snap out of their emotions
    • When done, you both pick up the bucket and throw out these frustrations out of the window or door

GRATITUDE

Now you both take turns to say what you are grateful for about your life. Your lives are actually very rich and amazing BUT because you dont focus on that, you dont see this. I want you to come up with at least 5 things you are grateful for

CREATE TOMORROW

Now you both take turns to say what you will accomplish tomorrow. This is important because at the moment, life is happening and things are not being created. Creation has a beauty to it

So, I hope that helps a bit. It is very challenging to go through a divorce, but even more challenging if you are the partner or close person of someone in that situation. If you have a specific situation you would like reviewed, contact the naked divorce team http://www.nakeddivorce.com/contact-us.

Till next time!