Letting Your Light Shine – Teens Healing From Abuse
While each individual’s path of healing is unique, this “healing flame” is a visual representation of factors that contribute to healing for youth who have experienced abuse. It has been adapted from Kate Cavett’s Healing Wheel. It starts with the inner flame and grows outward.
Naming the Abuse. Identifying abusive experiences and naming them can be the first step to healing. Talking to someone about your experiences in relationships can help you to see them in a new light and to identify what you may have initially thought of as “normal” as actually being harmful or abusive. Talking to a trusted friend or adult begins the journey of breaking through the isolation. The Power and Control Wheel can help.
Finding Safety. Once you have identified and named the abuse, it is important to create and/or implement an individualized “plan” to keep yourself safe from further harm. Often times you are already taking steps to stay safe at home, at work or at school. Make a list of the things you are doing already that are keeping you safe. Safety planning also helps you to think through possible scenarios so that if they occur you know automatically what your next steps will be. Think about what your fears are and brainstorm what you can do to avoid dangerous situations or to get help if needed. Check out the Love is Respect Interactive Safety Planning Tool here.
Gathering Resources. It can be tempting to try to deal with abuse on your own, but it will be much easier with support. As a part of your safety plan, identify people and organizations that can help. This may include family, friends, and others. Is there someone at school who you trust? Can you alert security to the situation and include them in safety planning? Could you connect with a local advocacy organization that specializes in helping people who are experiencing abuse? Are you involved in a faith community or an after school program? Gathering your resources means building a safety net for your physical as well as emotional health. Write down the names and contact information for people you can go to for assistance when you need it. Make an effort to reach out.
Deciding on a Different Path. Once you are safe and know your resources, make a decision to choose something better for yourself. You may have to learn some strategies for coping until you are able to safely escape. Create your own goals. What do you see for your future? What do you want out of your relationships now and in the future?
Redefining Love. Many of us have grown up thinking that love is the drama and romance that we see in the movies. You may have even learned at home that love is about being overpowering and controlling or submissive and dependent. After naming the abuse and identifying what you don’t want in your relationships, you have the opportunity to decide what you do want. Part of healing involves developing a new definition of what love means to you.
Learning About Yourself. When you can take the focus off of the person who is abusive to you, you have the opportunity to get to know someone who you might not have met yet… yourself! Let go of the messages you have been told about yourself by others, and instead spend some time learning who you are, what you like and don’t like. Practice acceptance and non- judgment. Eventually you will find your own voice and work up the courage to speak the truth.
Developing Healthy Boundaries. When people run you over with their abusive behaviors, it can be hard to know where their actions or decisions end and yours begin. It is common to feel responsible for other people’s actions or to think you caused their abusive behavior. In time you will learn that you are not responsible for other people’s behavior- only your own. At this point in your healing journey, you are well equipped to set boundaries in your relationships. You have the right to expect respect and the power to decide how you want to be treated. You cannot control other people’s behavior, but you can choose to enforce boundaries with those who are not respectful of you. For example, if you say you will not engage in risky behavior such as alcohol or drug use, you cannot stop your friend or partner from using, but you can decide not to be around them if they are.
Grieving and Letting Go of the Past. Once you are in a safer and healthier place, physically and emotionally, it may be time to grieve. Shed tears. Release your anger and pain in nonviolent ways. Most importantly let yourself feel whatever you are feeling. Grieving is a process and emotions may come in waves. Give yourself time and space to work through your feelings of loss. Let your feelings out rather than holding onto them inside. You will know when it is time to let go of the past.
Accepting Where You Are In Order To Move Forward. What happened was wrong, and you know that now. You know how it has affected your life, possibly in some major ways. After you have released some of your emotions, you might reach a point of accepting where you are without resentment, if only to move past the raw emotions and focus on something better in your life.
Nurturing Your Own Flame. Sometimes we need to be our own best advocate. Part of healing is learning to stand up for ourselves and to nurture ourselves in ways that others have not. Give yourself plenty of compliments, affirmations and words of encouragement. Give yourself everything you wish you would have gotten from your parent or partner. You have come a long way. You are surviving and healing! Your flame will only continue to grow as you let your true light shine.
Taryn Tessneer is one of three Youth Advocates at Alexandra House who serve students in Anoka County schools.