Whether in the home or on the school yard, people should have the right to feel safe.
Sadly this is not the case for so many of us. November is a month where people are invited to stand up against abuse in all its forms. Fear and hurt, rather than joy and safety are the reality in thousands, if not millions of relationships around the world. One of the greatest tragedies I believe that results from bullying and abuse is the shame that becomes so deeply entrenched in the hearts and souls of survivors. This self-hatred drives some people to shut the door to any new relationships, and in its worst form can result in repeating the cycle of abuse or in self-harm.
Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.
I remember being taught this little chant offered as a buffer from the cruelty of others. However, when this fallacy fails to lessen the sting, all too often we find ourselves laying blame within. We use words like weak, too sensitive, or not smart enough to describe our vulnerability to the abuse. Instead of having compassion for ourselves and seeing the strength it takes to endure humiliations and violations, we question ourselves for having gotten into the situation or the relationship in the first place. We plague ourselves with what ifs or if onlys and should on ourselves over and over again. I have seen many survivors internalize their abuser’s lies about themselves and the world. Even long after the abuse has stopped, people can be paralyzed in fear and shame. If we do not believe we are worth it, we may find ourselves, once again the victim of someone’s abuse, because we fail to see warning signs or assert our boundaries. Our ability to heal can also be greatly impaired. All too often I’ve witnessed this paradox of people coming for counselling or group therapy; learning skills and gaining awareness but continuing to struggle and may even get worse with the added self-condemnation of feeling like a failure once again.
Compassion is the way out.
I truly believe abuse is a learned behaviour and in order to stop the cycle of violence we need to have compassion for others. What brain research tells us though is that this outward compassion is greatly impaired if we do not have self-compassion. When we are constantly beating ourselves up, noticing our flaws or feeling inadequate, we activate a threat response that not only creates a physiological tail spin increasing our risk of illness and disease but it also prevents our ability to focus and problem solve. We are primed to be on guard and fight or run away. Instead of feeling like damaged goods, flawed and alone, we need to see that it is our struggles, our pain, our mistakes that actually connect us as human beings. We are not to blame and there is not inherently something wrong or bad with us. We are human and we hurt. We need to have compassion for the hurt and all the feelings that accompany it. As best selling author, Wayne Muller, writes Before we can heal, before we can learn to love, we must first stop the war within ourselves. How much more compassionate and safe a world this would be if we could all give ourselves the gift of forgiveness, the gift of mercy, the gift of nonviolence?
Our walk-in counselling clinic is available weekly on Thursdays beginning at 1 p.m. to support you on your healing journey.