A reader writes in sharing her experience of struggling to find her voice after leaving an abusive relationship. Despite being in a caring environment now, she still feels as if she is unable to restore herself to her former sense of self-confidence. She asks for help in reclaiming her voice now that she is in a safe and happy relationship.
After getting out of an abusive relationship and now finally being in a happy marriage. How do I get my self confidence and my voice back? I tend to let things go because there used to be severe consequences to me voicing my opinion. I know my husband now would never do anything to hurt me and in fact he wants to know how I feel and my opinions, but I still feel that fear and can’t get “me” back. When I was younger no one would stop me from voicing how I felt, now I just can’t get it back.
I appreciate your courage and openness to write and share your story and journey. I am grateful to learn you are no longer in an abusive relationship. The road to acknowledging that you are in a situation or relationship that is unsafe can be so completely terrifying. The terror of abuse often forces us into a place of severe self doubt. We ask ourselves the questions: How did I get into this abusive relationship? Can I trust myself anymore? What if I repeat the same relationship patterns again? It is as if, even after the actual abusive dynamic has ended with the abuser, there are remnants from the abuse that linger within us. I call this being abused by proxy of the abuser. They don’t have to be in our lives any longer to continue to control us. You deserve to be free from the power-struggle of abuse and insecurity externally as well as internally.
There are several milestones that are important to acknowledge when transitioning out of an abusive dynamic and into a path of reclamation.
Realizing You’re Safe
You can be safe physically, but not feel safe emotionally. You had tremendous courage to liberate yourself out of an environment that was not respecting your basic human rights. You have the right to be safe emotionally, physically, and psychologically in any situation where you find yourself. We often invest so much energy preparing for the exodus out of the abuse, that we forget to acknowledge the path we took and the strength to get there. We forget to celebrate ourselves. The support you would offer for a friend, you can easily deny to yourself. Here are a few suggested steps to aid in completing the process of recognizing you’re safe and restoring inner security.
1. Tell Your Story: You choose how it is best for you to share it. Write your story; Share in a group setting with other survivors; Sing your story; Paint your story; Dance your story. However YOU CHOOSE to tell your story it is important that it is your choice and you feel safe, open, and free in the process. It is a step in restoring your right to your voice and your experiences. By telling your story you slowly turn the key to open the door of trust.
2. Nurture Yourself: You deserve to be loved – By You. Denial of self-care can become so engrained in the abuse process that we don’t even see when we’re doing it. Write a list of essential things that you can do to feel nurtured. Develop, slowly over time, a daily habit of integrating these things into your life. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Healing is about progress not perfection. Today I am able to honor myself in so many small ways, because I had the patience to ease myself into self-love. Be generous, kind, and compassionate in this process.
3. Celebrate Your Freedom: It is no small journey to leave an abusive situation. First, I encourage you to validate how wonderful you are. How will you do this? Post notes on your mirror? Create a vision board? Do a visual meditation acknowledging your magnificence? Get at tattoo? You decide what feels right for you. This is your journey. Second, allow yourself to be celebrated. There are many ways to do this, the important thing is to try to do it with other people. Throw a freedom party; Ask friends to accompany you to a special place or to do an activity you love. Bring creativity, joy, and freedom into your celebration of YOU.
Building Bridges of Communication in Relationships
After you have focused on yourself and restoring your inner voice, it is then time to integrate these skills into your relationship. The following tools will enable you to hone the use of your outer-voice in healthy and loving ways.
1. Daily Check-Ins: A fantastic tool to create an environment of safe communication in a loving and growth centered relationship is to create time for daily check-ins with your partner. The suggested steps for these are to: 1. Set aside 20 minutes each day that you both schedule in your calendar – This creates accountability and trust. 2. Face each other when you meet for your check-in – This is called a “knee-to-knee.” 3. Allow each person 5 minutes to share their feelings and experiences of the day – Without the other person interrupting or commenting on it. 4. Ask for feedback if you want it, but it is not necessary. If feedback is given, the same guidelines apply of not interrupting or commenting while each person gives feedback.
2. Respectful Conflict Agreement: To manifest an environment of safety when there is conflict I highly recommend creating a respectful conflict agreement with your partner. There are many examples of agreements you can find online to use as a template. I suggest using this one and then tailoring it to fit what works best for the 2 of you. The most important thing is that you both commit to following the steps outlined in the agreement when you are sharing about conflictual issues. By implementing a respectful conflict agreement in your relationship you are building a safe environment for your voice to be heard.
3. Service Centered Living: After you have gone through the preceding steps and have reestablished your sense of self-confidence and trust in your capacity to share your voice in a safe and respectful way, it is then time to share that skill with others. There are so many survivors seeking support from peers who have transitioned into thriving after abuse. They need to know the steps to grow and heal. You have that knowledge, strength and the compassion to now share your story and the journey you took to arrive in a place of safety.
Thank you for sharing with me, Anita. Know that I am here to support you along your journey to healing & finding the beautiful voice & strength within you! Please feel free to reach out to ask any clarifying questions or for further support.
Warmth and light,
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