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Business mogul Bill Gates once said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in 10. For survivors of domestic violence—the 1.3 million women every year who are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner, and the myriad others not counted who endure other types of abuse—escaping that seemingly endless cycle of abuse can be overwhelming. Walking out the door is often far more complicated than a one-step plan. That's why advocates and experts agree that setting long-term goals can help survivors focus on what lies ahead, rather than behind them.
Juanito Vargas is the associate vice president of Safe Horizon, a New York domestic violence nonprofit and the largest victims’ services agency in the U.S. He says goal-setting with survivors is the first step, and helping them to believe in their ability to reach those goals is the next.
“Whenever we have a client that comes to us, we ask what brought them here and where do they want to wind up. And then we work with them to realize those goals,” Vargas says.
Advocates try to improve a survivor’s sense of self-efficacy—encouraging the belief in individuals that they can complete their goals—because, “in the end, they’re the ones that are going to be doing it. We have clients that come to us that are self-blaming, so if we target that, that can do a lot of good.”
Questions Survivors Can Ask Themselves
Setting goals for the future can help survivors begin to move past the abuse and find closure. Some questions survivors can ask when figuring out what their future goals are:
- What do you need to do to stay safe? You might want to set a goal to find a new place to live, be it in a new home or a new city. This can also help you feel a better sense of getting a fresh start.
- What do you need to do to not return to the abusive situation? First off, you should cut off all contact with your abuser. Then, perhaps set a goal to continue with counseling or a support group so you can stay strong and feel supported as you venture out onto your own.
- Do you have a support system? You could set a goal to reconnect with old friends or make new friends. Just be careful that if you’re concealing your location, you don’t reconnect with someone who will tell your abuser where you are.
- How can you build back your self-confidence? This could be through finding a new job that makes you feel empowered; tackling a physical challenge—like running a 5K or joining a recreational sports team—that makes you feel strong; or reading and repeating positive affirmations, like the ones below.
Imagine Your Life in Pictures
Life coach Connie Sloane says to picture your desired outcome for the future. What does a safe and healthy life look like to you? It might be helpful to find pictures in magazines that represent this and pin them to a bulletin board or tape them on your bathroom mirror so you can be reminded every day of what you're striving for.
It might also include collecting mantras or quotes that speak to your goals and writing them on Post-Its and hanging those up to remember what's important to you. It could be something like, "I deserve to be happy," or "I am strong and will protect my children." It could be focused on your career or finances, too, such as, "I will save for the future" or "I am smart enough to become a business owner."
For some survivors who have spent so long thinking about their abuser's needs over their own, switching that mindset can take some time. You might want to start here: "Self-Care Bucket List." It's 52 ideas for making yourself a priority. They may help you spark ideas for your future goals.
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