Healing from abuse means doing the work of healing, not just talking about the abuse. Yes, in the beginning of healing, talking about what happened to you is important. In fact, talking, in itself, is very healing and breaks the bonds of silence that your abusers taught you. At what point in the journey, do some survivors get stuck in the drama of telling their stories and never move beyond that point? How do you tell when you are healing from telling your story and when you are just plain stuck?
For me, I told my story over and over for about 10 years but that wasn't all that I was doing. I was reading books on healing from incest. I was writing about my own experiences. I talked to other survivors who were doing their own work. I went to two different groups for counseling as well as doing individual work with two counselors over that ten year period. I also had two 12-Step sponsors that gave me personal work to do on healing from incest.
I did the work of recognizing the lies that my abusers told me. Darlene Ouimet, the owner of Emerging From Broken blog, does the best job of anyone that I know of exposing the lies that many survivors grew up hearing from their abusers. I will give you a link to Emerging From Broken at the end of this article.
For many survivors, those abusers were one or both of their parents. Exposing the lies of your abusers is a very important part of your early recovery. So is telling your story. Both are healing steps that need to be taken.
Telling your story does not mean creating drama for yourselves or others. Some suvivors create drama as a way of recreating what they are used to as children. This is where exposing the lies of your abusers is so important. When you see those beliefs as lies, you can begin to choose how you will react to your triggers, how you will react to the people that, on purpose or accidentally, set off those triggers in you.
I believe that triggers happen to show you where you still need to work on yourselves and the issues behind the triggers. Triggers don't happen to make you blow up all over someone else. When you do that, then you become like your abusers and abuse someone else. That is what was done to you as children and it is what you continue to do to others until you learn that you don't have to continue those unhealthy patterns of behavior.
A pattern happens when you repeat the same behavior over and over. I have learned to look for patterns in my own behavior. With awareness of patterns, I can then decide to make changes or stay the same. If my behavior is hurting me or others, I decide to change. That in itself is a process that takes time with lots of trial and error and apologies along the way until I change that pattern with a new, healthier pattern.
One example that comes from my own life has to do with anger and rage. Rage is unheathy anger that grows and grows and gets blow all out of proportion usually because the first signs of anger were ignored, denied or stuffed deep inside. Rage eventually comes out when the pressure is too great to hold it in any longer. It comes out, usually on someone that totally doesn't deserve it. I used to do this all the time. Anger wasn't allowed in my house except for the rage that my dad carried around so my anger was denied and stuffed with food until the rage came rolling out like hot magma from an out of control volcano damaging everything in its path.
Rage was the first feeling that I learned to deal with because it was so volatile that I could easily see the damage that I was doing with it. Doing this work isn't a matter of feeling shame for the fact that I couldn't control my rage. Doing this work is a matter of feeling the feelings without allowing them to hurt myself or someone else.
Rather than feeling shame when I get a new awareness, I forgive myself for not seeing the pattern sooner, then I set out to change the situation so that I don't continue to hurt myself or someone else. It isn't enough to feel bad about my behavior. If I am being hurt or someone else is, then I need to change that behavior. If I say I am sorry but continue to do the same destructive pattern, then I am not really sorry. Any behavior that I continue to do, I am getting something out of it or I would quit. Feeling shame or guilt about a behavior is a sign that change needs to happen. If I know that my reactions are out of proportion to the situation, it is my responsibility to do something to change my reaction. If I am looking to create drama, I will find an excuse to do it.
With healing comes responsibility for my own actions and reactions. Another person does not trigger me. My own issues are what trigger me, not what someone else said or did. Those issues trigger me because I haven't healed that particular issue. It is not anyone else's responsibility to fix me, just as it is not my responsibility to fix anyone else. The triggers will keep coming until I am healed in that area. I am not saying that I am at fault or wrong or bad because I am still being triggered. I am saying that it is my responsibility to heal me so that I am not triggered. It is my responsibility to do my own work to heal. If I am refusing to see the awareness that has come into my life because of my triggers then I am still playing victim. I am still believing my abusers' lies that say that I am not capable of taking care of myself. Or I am still believing the lie that says I am too stupid and that I am worthless and have no value and can't make decisions for my own self. No matter what you said about me or to me, I alone am responsible for what I do with that information. You do not make me angry. I choose whether to get angry or not. My actions are my responsibility. How I respond to a person or a situation is my responsibility, not yours. I can't blame you for what I am feeling. I choose whether I stay stuck in the victim role or I move forward in the survivor role.
Saying that I never meant to hurt someone doesn't mean a thing if I continue to hurt them. Feelings are not inappropriate. It is what we do with them that can be inappropriate. I have no way of knowing what another person is feeling unless they tell me. What I may see as insensitivity or lack of empathy in another person may not be that at all. I cannot know or guess what another person is feeling. What that person may say has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. I cannot second guess other people unless I am intent on creating drama for myself. If I want to create drama, drama will find me. When I say someone else is insensitive, I am projecting my own insensitivity onto that person.
I want to heal from incest. I do not want to be defined by incest. Incest happened to me but is not who I am. I am a human being living and growing through my experiences. Sharing my experiences does not make me better than you or perfect. I am far from being perfect. I make mistakes. I still sometimes see someone else hurting and out of my feelings of compassion I want to make their way easier. Sometimes I can help. Sometimes I cannot. Sometimes I even manage to make situations worse. Sometimes I play devil's advocate and try to look at the bigger picture. I don't know where the term "devil's advocate" came from. I don't see it as bad. I see it as the simple process of stepping back and looking at more than the immediate view or seeing a different view than everyone else is taking. Being different is not a bad thing.
To use something that I heard earlier today on an interview between Michelle Rosenthal and Susan Kingsley-Smith on the Blog Talk Radio station called Heal My PTSD, you hold the power of your own healing. You have to do the work if you want to heal. My question for you is, "Do you want to heal?" or "Do you want to stay stuck in victim mode and blame everybody else for your life?" If you want to heal, at some point, you have to move beyond the blaming stage of healing. In order to heal, at some point in your life, you have to take responsibility for your present and future. Responsibility for the abuse of your childhood belongs with your abuser. Responsibility for what you do with your adult life belongs with you.
Emerging From Broken blog
Heal My PTSD interview on "Why Don't Survivors Want To Do the Work to Heal PTSD?"