Domestic Violence/Moving on?

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QUESTION: My question concerning moving on after abuse. I have been divorced for five years now and me and my six year old son have made a new life for ourselves. We struggle some times, but we are healthy and happy - we are blessed. My marriage only lasted a little over three years, but the after effects have lasted much longer it seems. I still have major trust issues. I am extremely independent and I don't like my routines interrupted. I also have a hard time dating. I enjoy going out to have fun with a nice guy, but if they get too close like trying to hold my hand or hug me I shut down. It's not that I don't want the human contact. I just cringe inside if they touch me. I am a people pleaser and so I have never admitted to a date that I don't want to be touched. I don't like to reject them and I don't want to seem weird, but it is really hard for me to go back out with a guy who tried to kiss me too soon. It looks like five years should be long enough, but the more I try and fail the more I wonder if I am ready to date again or not. Will these issues get easier with time or is this some thing I have to purposely work out?

My ex husband was the love of my life. Two years of emotional, mental and physical abuse has left its scars. I still loved him when I walked out, but I had to take our one year old out of that situation. It is hard to understand why leaving was so hard, but what is even hard is the fact I can't seem to get over the past. My ex remarried within a month of our divorce and started him a new little family. He moved on just fine. I feel trapped some times by my scars, my fears, my past. Do you have any advice on how to move on after abuse?

ANSWER: Hi Sarah,
You pose a very good question.  Moving on after an abusive relationship can be very difficult.  Mostly because of the trauma that is involved in the abuse.  It would be my first recommendation to begin work with a trauma counselor who practices EMDR therapy.  It is very effective at working out the emotional chemistry that is connected to most traumatic memories.  These are the things that keep you from getting close and really believing in men again.  Part of moving on for many women has to do with accepting reality about who the abuser really was.  Loving him when you left begs the question why?  Did you love him, or did you love who you thought he was?  He was actually an abuser, perhaps even a personality disordered individual which is suggested by the idea that he moved on so quickly.  Seeing him in the light of truth helps to let him go and also separates him from other men who may come in to your life.

The other thing you may be dealing with is grief.  Grief is a funny animal, especially when attached to abuse.  We grieve the loss of the relationship but we also tend to grieve the loss of what we could have had in the relationship as well as who we thought we were and who we thought our spouse was.  Grief is an adjustment emotion and goes beyond just sadness.  A counselor can also help you move through the stages of unresolved grief.

Women's centers or Domestic Violence centers often provide counseling at reduced cost if finances are an issue.  If counseling is out of the question, the next best thing is looking at self help books.  Amazon is a great resource as you can read the reviews and see what books are most helpful.  Co-Dependent No More is a good book that helps women realize how to step away from the ways they may not have stood up for themselves, covered up for the abuser or even justified some behaviors.  If that was not an issue here, just do your research and see which books speak to your situation.

I am sorry you experienced this type of a relationship, but you can give yourself a lot of credit for getting yourself and your child out of the situation.  If I can be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me again.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Going to counseling five years later is harder than it sounds. I choose not to share with anyone during it all and even after. Now, I have a few friends that know, but not many. Most believe that he left me instead of the truth. Opening all the past back up is not easy. There is also an issue for me with the only agency offering that type of counseling in my area. I would like to work on these things myself if that is possible.

I am not sure I under the emotional chemistry you speak about. I believe that has to do with what attract me emotionally to men. I can see that my attractions are connected to traumatic memories which is causing some of my walls. I'm not sure how to un-connect them.

You are right about his issues with a personality disorder. He would never agree to help, but everything I have read matches up. Living his roller coaster was harder than living with just an all around bad man. It has cause me to question all good times because I believe inside I am still waiting for the bad time to follow.

As for grief, I have seen several stages in the last few years. I do really good until I have to deal with my ex again over our son. He doesn't have much all to do with him except to torment me about the child support he doesn't want to pay or to threaten to take him if I don't give him what he wants. Every time I have to deal with him again, it seems I cycle back around through those stages again. I don't want to cycle anymore! I want to be able to deal with him the same as I would anyone else. Will I forever see him as my abuser?

Last question: do you think I should wait on dating until I have these issues worked out or is dating a part of how I will work the issues out?

Answer
Hi Sarah,
Last question first...if might be easier for you if you dealt with these issues before entering another relationship.  Often times people just carry their baggage from one relationship to another and that baggage effects things more and more.  

With regard to the chemistry I was talking about, that is the chemistry of the emotion and the memory.  Both are constructed from brain chemicals and when that chemistry is not resolved through the normal means of REM sleep, verbal processing etc., it continues to dump and redump every time the event is triggered.  EMDR therapy is very good for resolving these kind of traumatic memories.  If you have not talked about the experiences or worked through them, then they have not and will not be processed.  I know that people may prefer to work through things themselves, however in some circumstances, individuals don't have the skill set necessary to work through trauma on their own.  

If you are a spiritual person, you might see if any of the churches in your area offer abuse support groups.  Sometimes that is a successful medium for dealing with trauma.  Yes, it is hard to talk about, but you might find it is easier to talk with people who have been through it and understand.

On the outside chance that you would want to speak with a Christian counselor over the phone, I could put you in touch with a very good one who could spend some time with you.  She does charge, but it might be a good alternative to the counseling center that you question.  Let me know if you are interested.

Domestic Violence

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Kriss Mitchell, M.Ed, CRC, CNHP

Expertise

I am able to answer questions with regard to problems that result from emotional abuse or physical abuse in both dating and marriage relationships. Having been in an abusive relationship for many years, I know first hand the feelings, the questions and the doubts we go through as we try to make decisions about our lives. Often victims of abuse have deep faith based concerns regarding staying in these kinds of relationships which I am able to address as well.

Experience

My background started as a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship as well as having family members who were victims of violence and physical abuse. I have gone on to become a professional counselor and I work with abused women.

Organizations
American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Association of Christian Counselors, International Association of Prayer Counselors

Publications
I currently maintain a blog at www.livingwellcc.blogspot.com. I also have links and currently written articles on my website at www.livingwellcc.com. You can also follow me on TWITTER @livingwellcc, or on facebook at Living Well Counseling and Consulting. My writings have appeared in The Good News Northwest and the North Idaho Business Journal

Education/Credentials
Licensed Professional Counselor, Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Certified Natural Health Professional

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