I work a good deal with women who’ve been abused emotionally, physically and sexually. When I meet them, they’re usually trying to leave or have just escaped an abusive relationship. Sometimes divorce fails to end the abuse, which continues because they need to have exchanges about finances or children. My goal for clients is to move from victim to survivor to thriver, to go from fractured to healing to whole. Note that though I use “him” for abuser, the “him” could easily be a “her.”
If you’re a victim or survivor of abuse, I hope that by laying out the elements of each stage, you’ll be inspired to move forward. If you’re not a victim, you may know someone who is, and through understanding the change process they need to go through, you’ll be able to give them hope and whatever support they need to cope, heal and prosper.
The victim mindset involves believing that whatever abuse you’re receiving is your fault. You believe that you can control whether or not you get abused by how you behave—what you do and don’t do, say and don’t say. You also believe that you deserve or should tolerate the mistreatment you’re receiving. You believe that your abuser can and will change if you could just find that magical key to turn off his anger at you. You view yourself as powerless to change the situation because you can’t change him. You fail to question the basic premise of the relationship: something is seriously and disturbingly emotionally wrong with your partner.
The survivor mindset is all about staying under the radar of and away from the abuser. He retains power over you because, though you’ve gotten away, you spend enormous amounts of energy and effort to feel safe and sane, especially his presence. You’re fearful that friends, family, the court or your lawyer won’t understand or side with your perceptions. You have a compelling need to repeat your story frequently to describe the horror of what befalls or befell you. You require a great deal of validation that your perceptions are correct and assurance that you’re not crazy to wish to stay away from your abuser. Sometimes you fear that survival won’t last and that you’ll awaken one day and return to him. Though you’re out of the relationship, you sometimes feel as if you’re still in it or under this his power.
The thriver mindset focuses solely on your agenda. Your abuser might try to mistreat you, but his efforts fall flat. You feel detached and don’t much care what your abuser says or does because he means nothing to you now and has no power in your life. You feel untouchable—viewing him as a nuisance, not a threat—and mostly interested in making up for lost time. You have new interests, new friends and, most importantly, a more positive sense of yourself as empowered and full steam ahead. Finally, you spend less time thinking of your past because you’re so focused on planning for your future.