How do we make sure our next relationship isn’t destructive to us? How do we know the next person we get involved with isn’t a narcissistic abuser? Is there a clear way of determining if someone will be abusive? Abuse is never our fault. No one deserves to be abused. But if you are in a pattern of being involved with damaging people you have to take a look at what inside of you an unhealthy person might be attracted to. Also, you need to consider what it is about your personality or your situation that allows you to accept abuse.
There are no clear cut ways of telling if someone will be abusive except through time and experiences. We can’t hand someone we are getting to know a quiz and expect honest answers. Educating yourself on the warning signs of abuse is very important. There are great books out there that can help you understand traits of abusers, behaviors of abusers, and personality disorders that can be common in abusers. One of the books I recommend is Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He do that? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Another is The Verbally Abusive Relationship, how to Recognize it and how to Respond by Patricia Evans. Knowing the warning signs and educating yourself won’t always save you from becoming involved in a dangerous relationship.
Another way of protecting yourself from unhealthy relationships is by becoming a healthy person yourself. Recovery means that you move through all the stages of grief after an abusive relationship. Moving through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance is a necessary process to arrive into a healthy new life. Going through each stage is necessary. There isn’t one that you can skip and there also isn’t one that you can stay stuck in and be recovered.
Following are important components of creating your new life.
• Get counseling. A counselor can aid you with processing the stages of grief. They also can help you with the self-awareness you will need to become emotionally healthy. As you put time and distance between you and your last unhealthy relationship self- exploration will reveal areas in your personality that need fine tuning.
• Join a support group. Most cities have domestic violence support groups. Keep in mind a healthy group isn’t an abuser bashing session. Talking about our abuser/abuse is important for healing. But at some point the focus needs to be on us and what we are going to do to create a positive life for ourselves. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for a list of support groups in your area.
• Build your self-esteem. This means doing the work. Saying you are building your self-esteem is not the same as actively making healthy choices for yourself that will lead to a greater self- love. Facing challenges and fears consistently will build your self-esteem.
• Say what you mean. Learn to say what’s on your mind. Remember that you are not responsible for other people’s feelings in reaction to what you say. What matters is that you stay true to yourself and speak that truth.
• Set clear boundaries. Boundaries can be a tricky thing. We each have our own. As you work through counseling and the other steps of recovery your boundaries will be revealed to you.
• Build a circle of friends and stay connected to them. Friends are important for so many reasons. They know us well and can often be the first to cue us that we are losing ourselves in a relationship. They also might be able to see something in a new partner that we are unwilling to see.
• Have hobbies that are meaningful to you. If you fell out of touch with yourself during your last relationship taking time to find yourself again is necessary. Remembering the things you used to enjoy doing or exploring new activities builds self- esteem and gives you a foundation for your life. These things provide a true sense of self.
• Learn how to be assertive. Speaking what’s on your mind and setting boundaries are part of learning to be assertive. Assertiveness training courses are helpful. Reading self- help books on the topic of assertiveness can help but may not be as productive as classes. Assertiveness is a skill and generally coaching is a better way of learning it.
At some point it becomes the next step to take responsibility for ourselves and our lives. Moving from victim to victor takes action keeping the focus on US. Leaving a bad relationship is hard, what makes it worth it is living a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.