Calling Out Abuse
Calling out abuse means naming what happened” as abuse, coercive control, gaslighting, intimate partner violence, domestic abuse—whatever term feels right to you. It includes acknowledging that the person you love is willing to harm you. This will hurt! However, it’s the beginning step toward freedom.
Last month, HOW TO EMPOWER YOURSELF WHEN AN INTIMATE PARTNER ABUSES YOU summarized six elements that promote healing from an abusive relationship. Today’s blog is the first in a series that gives detail for each of the six elements.
Calling Out Abuse Begins Healing
Naming what you experience brings pain for reasons touched on by Sue Monk Kidd’s quote:
“There had been so many things I hadn’t allowed myself to see, because if I fully woke to the truth, then what would I do? How would I be able to reconcile myself to it? The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.” The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
This accurately describes what I call the great reckoning: realizing what your partner is doing and how it’s affecting you. You must confront this reckoning before you can do the following three things:
See the Relationship Through Your Own Eyes
Abusive partners deny your perceptions. Naming enables you to reclaim what you perceive. It includes making space to be yourself. All healthy relationships respect partners’ rights to be who they are, make their own choices, and have their own feelings and beliefs.
To feel powerful, abusive partners keep their vulnerable emotions inside and armor themselves with anger and power over behaviors. Unfortunately, a partner who believes they’re entitled to power over you does not see the advantages of mutuality and shared power.
Emerge from Confusion
When you haven’t named what you experience, you remain in a state of confusion and questions like these:
Why does my partner hurt me?
Do I deserve to be treated this way?
What’s going on?
Am I crazy?
It’s hard to escape from a cloud of confusion alone. Blogs, books, and articles about intimate partner violnece (IPV) are resources. Confiding to trusted people is a special boon I’ll say more about.
Calling out abuse frees you to think about how you want to respond. You can explore your options. The best decisions happen when we gather knowledge and think through alternatives. Again, IPV resources help with this.
Disclosure with Supportive Others
The power of naming what happened with someone you trust cannot be over-emphasized. When we disclose to safe people, it lightens our emotional burden as well as lessens our loneliness.
Why? Secrets produce shame. Hiding a part of yourself reduces intimacy with friends or family. Sharing allows for deeper relationships. And it opens the door to receiving empathy and understanding. Individuals may share stories of their own abuse. Even when they do not, you no longer feel so alone because you have their support and compassion.
Disclosure also plays an important role in reducing confusion. There is something about saying it out loud that helps us think clearly. We catch twisted facts and falsehoods better than when they live only in our thoughts. Conversations also allow for others to give insights into any blind spots we may have. We all have them. We are great at dishing out wisdom to others, but often can’t see that wisdom when it applies to ourselves.
Facing the Roadblock of Emotional Pain
We often want to skip talking about painful incidents. Calling out abuse doesn’t mean you have to talk about every single incident or that you will get stuck in overwhelming emotions.
It is human to want to avoid hard stuff. The irony is that healing never fully happens when we do not face our feelings. If we suppress them, they don’t disappear. Instead, they undermine healing. That said, you have the right to take it at your pace and to receive support from a therapist or others. Pain eventually fades away when we face what causes it.
Emotions that may interfere with calling out abuse:
Fear: You may feel fear of being alone, of what your partner will do, of what will happen with children, or any number of other unpleasant possibilities. When you shy away from naming what you are experiencing, this may keep you entangled in the abusive relationship. If so, you will not see, much less explore, your options.
Shame: A common misperception is that you “allowed” abuses to happen. You did not give your permission. Shame may lead you to isolate from others, which increases your vulnerability. Confronting this emotion means letting yourself off the hook for what you didn’t understand. Remember these important facts. You are not what happened to you. Victim is not your identity. You can’t know what you don’t know. Your partner is responsible for how they behave.
Disappointment: You may see yourself as strong but feel disappointed you didn’t recognize abusive behavior earlier. You are strong. Another fact: Abusers hide their behavior until you’re committed. Giving the benefit of the doubt is good in healthy relationships. Do not blame yourself for what you did not know ahead of time.
Sadness: Naming your experience also means facing your losses. Examples: loss of the relationship, deception and betrayal by someone you loved, estrangement from friends or family, lost time with children, the erosion of self-trust. Sadness and grief are a normal part of loss and betrayal. And grieving is a first step toward healing.
Calling out abuse and seeing how you were affected facilitates emotional healing. If talking about what occurred results in overwhelming emotions, a therapist can guide you in processing the trauma you experienced.
The rational fear of what a partner will do should never be dismissed. You know best what they are capable of. When shared, you feel less alone and have people to help in making plans, especially regarding safety.
Sharing increases your awareness of ways in which your confidence and trust in your perceptions have been influenced by coercive control. Learning to trust yourself will help you in the future to discern sincere love from love-bombing, narcissistic individuals from respectful ones. When you share, you can receive feedback that challenges your misperceptions or your abusive partner’s accusations. You are able to counteract any negative thoughts that prevent you from growing.
It takes time to heal. You deserve not to walk your healing path alone. Reach out to people who are safe. Sometimes that has to start with therapists or advocates.
The free download Identifying Coercive Control gives more information that will help you call out abuse wherever it’s present. You may also access the Coercive Control Checklist excerpted from my book, Coercive Relationships: Find the Answers You Seek.
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