When we experience abuse, two things are usually occurring. We gain irrational beliefs, pain, anger, distrust … and we lose a relationship, security, freedom, energy, joy. Recovery is about the journey of bringing back to life all of those things that were lost, deadened, beaten out of you—but not destroyed—as a result of the abuse.
A common thread that ties us to each other as survivors of abuse is the desire to stop certain thoughts or behaviors. We are often focused on what we want to “cut out” rather than what we want to “add in” when we initially start the journey of recovery.
However, I encourage you to spend time reflecting on what it is you would like to “get back” that was lost as a result of the abuse. Knowing what you want to “add in” will get you much further along than focusing on what it is you want to “cut out.”
Why is that? Starting a behavior is much easier than stopping a behavior! If we think of a behavior or thought as something we have to “stop,” we struggle more. I think being told or telling ourselves to “stop” just triggers our inner two-year-olds, and we stubbornly refuse to cooperate.
For example, one client wanted to stop feeling extreme anger every time her boyfriend failed her in some way. As we worked together, we discovered that one of the things she had lost as a result of childhood abuse was the ability to trust that she could depend on others. We shifted away from talking about how to stop being angry and instead focused on what she would need to start thinking or doing in order to trust others. She learned new communication skills. She started looking for times when the boyfriend came through rather than focusing only on the mistakes (which were actually few and far between). She also started to challenge the belief that others would always let her down.
After two months, she was able to respond to being let down or disappointed in a healthy way minus the excessive anger. For example, rather than blowing up when her boyfriend did not come through for her, she would use breathing techniques to calm her body and mind, journal about how she felt in the situation, and then communicate to him the impact his choice had on her and explore options to avoid a similar situation in the future.
As I was thinking about this, I came across this acronym for people who want to stop smoking:
S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you will face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
START! While the outcome is ending the behavior of smoking, the path to getting there is to start. This same premise applies to our journey of recovery. Focusing on what needs to be added in rather than what needs to be cut out gives us the perspective and the motivation needed to experience real transformation.
Can you think of at least one thing you would like to “get back” that the experience of abuse has taken away? What would you like to “bring back to life”? What would be present in your life if you were living instead of surviving?
When the journey gets hard, come back to this list to remind yourself what you are fighting for, what is to gain by doing the work of recovery.
Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Sexual Abuse Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. She works with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken, unfixable, and burdened by the past. She helps them let go of the pain of abuse and finally feel normal.
Her program, Beyond Surviving, has been specifically designed to change the way we think about and heal from abuse. Based on her educational training, study of neuroscience, and lessons learned from her own journey, she has successfully used this program since 2007 to help her clients break free from the past and move on with their lives.
Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. She is also a member of the International Coach Federation & San Francisco Coaches.