Mark’s wife began by verbally abusing him early on in the marriage. As the years progressed, so did her abusive behavior escalating into her throwing and destroying his phone. He wants to get a divorce, but also wants to wait until after his daughter graduates from high school which is about one year away.
Natalie’s boss is overbearing, demanding, sexually harassing, and downright rude. Even though she has reported some of his abusive behavior to Human Resources, he still manages to escape any consequence. Because she is a single parent, she needs the income and cannot quit her job until she has another one lined up.
Neither one wants to be in an abusive relationship and both are in the process of actively looking for ways out of their situation. But how can they survive until they can get away? Try these methods.
Before the abuse starts:
- Learn about kinds of abuse: There are seven major types of abuse: physical, mental, emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, and spiritual. Mark experienced physical (aggression, hitting, throwing objects), emotional (guilt tripping, anger rages, confusion), and verbal (name calling, belittling, sarcasm). While Natalie experienced financial (threats of losing her job, reducing her pay), mental (Gaslighting, twisting the truth, silent treatment), and sexual (grooming, coercion, inciting fear).
- Know the person: Mark and Natalie began to study their abusers from the outside looking in on their situation. This perspective allowed them to see their abuser as a tormented soul who needed help from someone other than them.
- Anticipate type of abuse: The combination of knowing the types of abuse and studying an abuser, allows a person to be able to more accurately anticipate the type of abuse. Most abusers use the same tactics over and over so it is not too difficult to spot.
- Set reasonable expectations: Instead of believing that the abuse would stop, Mark and Natalie began to realize that their abusers would likely look for another target if they were not there. Unless a person goes through a significant transformation, abusive behavior is not likely to change.
During the abuse:
- Put on protective bubble: Think of the bubble as an invisible force field that no one can penetrate. A person inside the bubble can see outside it just as a person outside the bubble can see inside. However, there is a protective layer that keeps the abuser’s emotions from penetrating the bubble just as it protects the person inside from absorbing the abuse.
- Slow speech down, talk in a quiet voice: One of the most natural methods to make an abusive person calm down quickly is to slow down the rate of speaking and talk in a hushed voice. This method almost forces the abuser to match the new speed instead of escalating.
- Pause for extra breaths: The slower speech allows for deep breathing in between words. This oxygenates the whole body while giving the brain extra time to process. At first, this is difficult, but with practice, it becomes easier.
- Lower heart rate: After slowing the speech and adding more breaths, it is more natural to become aware of an elevated heart rate. Be intentional about slowing it down. This reduces any effect from increased anxiety as a result of the abuse.
- Say “I’m safe”: The normal response to an abusive moment is to go into survival mode. But this leads to a fight, flight, freeze, or faint response. Once this is activated, the brain shuts down and the response is automated leaving no room for executive thinking. Instead, say the words, “I am safe,” which will prevent the survival mode from activating.
- Countdown “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, I’m present”: Mark and Natalie discovered that the defense mechanism of dissociation happened during an abusive moment. While this can be useful in some instances, not being present means their response time was greatly reduced. They often wished they had said something in the moment but couldn’t seem to think of it. Counting down and saying, “ 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, I’m present” kept them in the present and not far away.
After the abusive behavior:
- Assess the incident only 2 times: There is nothing good that comes after reviewing an abusive moment more than 2 times. It can lead to absorbing harmful information, obsessing over the incident, and/or believing the lies of the abuser. Replay the abuse only 2 times to learn from the incident and discover ways to improve performance.
- Look for ways to improve self: The stronger a person is, the harder it is to abuse them. Mark and Natalie worked hard at improving their self-image, gaining confidence from environments outside of the abuse, and engaging with people who loved them.
- Express stored emotion: During the abusive moment, it is not wise to express any emotion. Rather, shelve it for another time but do come back to when in a safe location. Alone, Mark and Natalie would pretend that they were screaming at the person doing the abuse. This allowed them a chance to release their pent-up emotions.
- Release event: Regardless of a person’s ability to forgive an abusive event, it cannot be and should not be forgotten. While the event doesn’t have to live in the present moment, the lessons learned from the abuse do last a lifetime. Make them valuable.
Eventually, Mark and Natalie were able to get out of their abusive situations. The skills they learned during the abuse became valuable life-altering lessons.