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  • Nick

Is it the final gift from an abusive partner?

It came to me when I was speaking with a client, she was describing the amount of effort it takes to deal with a difficult situation – the situation doesn’t really matter, but it occurred to me that there is a repeated behaviour pattern where her stress/anxiety/worry was completely disproportionate to what the situation was.


We looked into the feeling of how it made her feel and then it hit me, she is still being haunted by her ex-partner. His affect on her was so fundamental that even 11 years later she is still protecting herself from the horrendous behaviour she experienced.


I voiced my thoughts about this to my client and it hit her pretty hard – it was the final gift from her partner, the final controlling act which has kept my client from living a life. She has been surviving and dodging and managing behaviours under the fear of attack, under the shroud of past experiences.


She was living in fear of attack, even though no attack was coming. She was not in any physical or emotional danger but it felt that way – this is a really strong trigger that bypasses any kind of cognitive thought and instead she acted almost on instinct. As difficult situations arise, her brain goes into a fight or flight (there are actually five different response that the body can have) response and because her brain is dealing with such high anxiety levels, she is unable to make ‘normal’ decisions.


This happens to a lot of people when significant relationships are abusive, coercive or in many other traumatic. The lasting affects is like an echo, a shadow which stains their perspective so much that even though the person is long gone, even when the abuser’s ability to actually hurt the other person is limited, the damage is so deep and so strong that it takes a mammoth effort to change.


It might seem impossible to fathom so maybe look at it this way, it is like when someone is terrified of spiders, the mere mention of spiders can make them panic and run away, now think of that but the spider has spent years abusing, neglecting, controlling and destroying their sense of self, safety and self-wroth, so they spend their time scared and fearful every time a situation happens that reminds them of previous experiences they get triggered.


For the person being triggered it can be life limiting, destructive and means the person actual needs and wants get supressed or ignored to the point it continues the abuse they have felt. So, what can be done? Well, the good news is that it is possible to shake off the shackles of abuse but it does take time, understanding and awareness – all of which takes expert help and guidance to get you through it.


Once people (and lets face it, it is mainly women) have escaped from an abusive relationship it is probably the time when most people think it is over, the abuse has stopped and so they forget about the affects of the abuse and that it can still have a devastating ripple on the life of the abused person. A chillingly unfair legacy of the relationship they didn’t ask for or deserve but one that is all too common. There is hope.

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