We recently asked survivors on our Facebook page: What do you wish you knew while you were experiencing abuse that seems obvious now? More than 150 of you responded with myriad answers—everything from wishing you knew what the red flags were from the start to convincing your past self not to go back once you left.
“I wished I had remembered the one thing I had lived by up until that point my heart took over—trust your gut from the first sign…”. – T.B.
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“I wish I had recognized him for what he was right from the start because the red flags started popping up the first year. I continued to be gracious and give the benefit of the doubt always. Big, big, big mistake. Still dealing with the fallout of those decisions 25 years later.” – R.R.
Many survivors are in this boat—in hindsight, the red flags are glaringly obvious. But in the moment, we may not want to admit that this person who seems like Prince Charming is anything but. Read “3 Ways to Listen to Your Gut” and learn how not to override your own intuition.
“I wish I had known my value. I wish I had known my worth didn't hinge upon the man I was married to. I wish I hadn't looked to him to tell me who I was.” – C.J.
Abusers are manipulative individuals who—contrary to popular belief—make conscious, calculated decisions on how to control their victims. Part of that control is gained by lowering a survivor’s self-esteem, making them feel as though they are lucky to have the abuser, and the abuser is the only person who will ever truly care for them. This is, obviously, a bold-faced lie. Survivors, especially those who have learned a negative mindset from childhood domestic violence, can reframe these thoughts with help through positive affirmations, therapy and programs like Courage Unleashed.
“I wish I would have abandoned ship the very first time he lost control on the children exposing his true colors.” – D.H.
According to research, 30 to 60 percent of children who live in households where domestic violence is present are victims of direct child abuse. Read “Children Caught in the Crossfire” for more on this heartbreaking topic. In fact, childhood trauma, sometimes known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, can carry over into adulthood, resulting in physical and mental health issues, and a continued cycle of abuse in relationships. Read “How to Help Children Find Their Courage Again After Trauma” for tips on rebuilding the littlest victims’ self-esteem.
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“That I would have known about narcissistic personality disorder!” – C.S.
Narcissistic abusers are among the worst for their lack of regret, their particularly sinister manipulation tactics and their uncanny ability to make survivors believe it’s their own fault the abuse is happening. Unfortunately, says Shannon Thomas, LCSW, author of Healing From Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse, narcissistic abusers will not change, so a survivor’s best—possibly only hope—is to run away, and fast, when the red flags appear.
“I wish I would have known it would happen again.” – M.L.
The difference between abuse and “just a bad argument” is that abuse is a cycle. It will happen over and over again, often escalating over time and, in the worst of situations, can lead to homicide. So yes, it will happen again, until the survivor decides to leave. And even then, it may not stop. Many survivors choose to return to an abuser after leaving. The reasons can range from lack of financial security to plain old love. Read “I Went Back” to learn what happened when one survivor thought the abuser she knew had changed.
“I wish I was taught to know the signs of abuse when I was a teenager.” – M.K.
“I wish elementary school would have taught self-love and respect and about what a healthy verses unhealthy relationship would look like. Too many children in broken homes including myself don’t have an example of how to relate to a potential partner.” – B.B.
Advocates and experts agree—we have to start the conversation around dating and domestic abuse, and how to have healthy relationships, boundaries and emotions with kids. These two pictures books for littles center on themes of domestic violence without being scary. LoveIsRespect.org offers two free toolkits aimed at middle and high school educators to talk healthy conflict resolution. These five young adult novels can help parents and teachers alike start conversations around dating and domestic violence.
And it’s not just young women who need to learn how to protect themselves—the Men Can Stop Rape Program targets boys ages 11-22 to start a dialogue early about masculinity and gender bias.
“Travel the world because it has more love and beauty to offer you than any man ever will.” – V.C.
See “6 Ways to Get Away for Cheap” and start packing.
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