After you go through something painful, people love to give you advice. And one of the most common pieces of advice is the infamous expression “just give it time.” With time, the hurt and suffering you are experiencing will gradually decrease until one day it’s gone for good. And yes, I know this phrase may hold true for various situations. But when it comes to recovering from an abusive relationship, it’s a different matter entirely.
An abusive relationship strips away everything you thought you knew about human nature and the world. With abuse, you experience someone you love transform into a monster before your eyes – they degrade you, hurt you, put you down, threaten you, over and over and over again. Experiencing this kind of trauma leaves a very real and very profound mark on a person. It makes you question your previous beliefs that people are genuinely good at heart and trustworthy. Your belief that “things will all work out in the end” is shattered. Suddenly, the world becomes a very dark, very cruel, and very frightening place.
Abuse leaves you blind sighted and raw. It makes you sadder and angrier than you ever thought you could feel. Life becomes a matter of who you were before the abuser and who you are now, after the abuse. And sometimes, who you were before the abuser is such a distant memory, that it feels like it never even existed at all.
Because abuse makes you not only question other people, but it makes you question your sense of self. Your values, judgments, and perceptions suddenly seem illusory. So much so, that sometimes you feel like you don’t even know who you are anymore. You wonder how all of this happened. With abuse, the pain is not related to loss of another person, but the loss of one’s self.
So, what happens when it’s been a year? Or 2 or 3, and you’re still suffering and hurting? When everyone else has forgotten and moved on with their lives and you feel as though you haven’t moved forward more than a centimeter? Then, you are left once again to question yourself. Does it mean something is defective or wrong with you because time has passed but it still hurts? Unfortunately, it is all too easy to believe this, especially when your abuser spent months/years putting you down and making you feel worthless.
But like all the other things your abuser said, this too is a lie. There is nothing wrong with you if it’s been years and it still hurts; if on some days, the pain is so strong you can’t get out of bed, you have trouble focusing, your heart is racing, you have flashbacks, and you feel like you’re collapsing from the inside out. You are not weak or defective for feeling like this. You are dealing with something indescribably painful and traumatizing.
The thing is, when people say that time heals all wounds, they are inadvertently belittling the horror and life-altering trauma the victim has experienced. Time may distance you from the physical events, and hopefully it will distance you from the abuser himself. But it will not change what happened and the impact it had on you. The scars and the memories will always be there. The only thing we can do is to try form new memories, to slowly learn to reconnect with others, and to re-establish a sense of self, which will undoubtedly be different than it was before. The process isn’t linear, it isn’t the same for every person, and it isn’t necessarily a factor of time.
So please, don’t judge yourself for how long it takes you to heal from something like this. Don’t judge yourself if you feel like you never really do heal. Be kind to yourself and keep fighting. At the end of the day, that’s all you can really do.