The aftereffects of living under abuse are long and complicated. It’s a bit like a brain tumor that has wrapped itself around the brainstem and all throughout your skull. There’s not just one easy way to undo all that’s been done. There’s no off switch. One of my bosses several years ago told me this in my annual job review: “You rush to make decisions, and then you second-guess yourself to the point of sometimes undoing the entire thing. You might want to look into that.” I spent well over fifteen years second-guessing myself.
I believe this happened for two reasons. First of all, what I thought was my reality was not my reality, for most of my adulthood. So, that totally threw me off base as you might imagine. And secondly, I was told things that made me question myself, like that I was out of my mind or my behavior would be understandable if I were mentally ill. Frankly, and I seriously mean this, I have no idea how I got myself dressed every day, let alone how I raised two children, wrote some books, kept my home looking somewhat decent, traveled to some third-world countries or held down a job. Because I was ninety-five percent emotional mess/five percent functioning adult. It was exhausting and I didn’t know if I were coming or going most of the time.
So now I’m on the other side of it, other than a few tiny blips on the screen that still come up. (And I sit there stunned and thrown back a few years and forget that I’m a grown-up who can think and talk.) But on this other side – the healing side – I have taken two steps in working through all of the leftover emotional baggage.
First, I asked for a lot of advice. It’s important for me to run what I’m thinking by another person (or twenty) who I believe are in their right minds. But here’s the thing. I’m asking for so much less than I used to. I went for years only asking for advice in small bursts. I was like the mouse in those old cartoons that saw a piece of cheese in the middle of the floor and took its chances running out to get it before the cat noticed. I’d ask for counsel, grab it, run back to my hole, try to implement it, it wouldn’t work, I’d stay in the hole for a couple more years, then try it all again. Until I really asked for advice and then asked for it every day, many times a day, until I felt more steady. And now, now I ask for it maybe once a week. And no longer from like twenty people, but usually from just a couple. Scripture points to the importance and wisdom in surrounding yourself with good counsel, and it only makes sense that someone who thinks she’s an idiot might benefit from asking others for their opinions. You won’t always have to ask for a ton of advice; just until you get your emotional feet back on the ground. Don’t beat yourself up for having to do this…it’s normal, it makes sense, and it will help you get better.
And secondly, I’ve been deprogramming myself. I have done some exercises where I listed off all the bad things anyone has ever said to me, and I’ve replaced them with truth and with Scripture. (Example: “You’re a lying ass” to “Best as I can tell, I tell the truth almost all of the time! And, I’m not an ass.”.) But I’m also reading as much as I can on the subject of emotional and verbal abuse so that I can recognize what it was in my past, be aware of its long-lasting consequences in my life, be able to notice it immediately in the future, and desperately try to learn how to handle it better/differently than I have been up to this point.
Emotional abuse is insidious. It can wreak havoc with who God created us to be. And it can linger. But God wants us free from all of this. Words that have pierced our souls were not words that came from the mouth of God and I believe our hearts were not created to be able to withstand them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can ruin a person. If you were in that place, expect it to take time before you feel like yourself again. Expect to have to do some work in the healing process. But also expect God to show up and restore you.
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. -Proverbs 16:24-