By Claire Cappetta
When we are or have been in an emotionally abusive relationship, our self-esteem, self-worth and confidence are extremely low. Some of us who grew up in an abusive family, never really understand what it is like to have to have self-esteem or confidence because if we find a glimmer of it, it is usually immediately suppressed for fear of retaliation or further abuse. Years of gaslighting can have a profound effect on a victim, not only do we struggle with self-esteem, feeling worthy but when we find ourselves in stressful situations, for example, voices raised in heated discussions, arguments erupting we find ourselves, as I call it, “hiding in plain sight”. We disappear from the situations in our minds, we become blank, in our minds, we detract ourselves and try to hide into something, anything. We choose a flower on the wallpaper and imagine we are hiding behind it, or our mind will simply crash, rather like a computer. It's our way of escaping the situations.
It is a known fact, that when a victim has been emotionally abused for years, they will hide like this but it has even sadder repercussions if we are faced with an accident or something traumatic. Think about how you might witness a car accident while going to the store, who runs in first to help the victim in the car after the crash and who stands and watches. How many times do we read or hear people say “I don't understand, why didn't they rush in to help?” Or imagine you are standing by the road and a car loses control, careering towards you, you stand frozen. Why? Because we have recognized danger and escaped into our minds, just like we did through the abuse. It's normal to react this way when we have been abused, it's our emotional self-preservation.
It can feel distressing after we have left the abuse behind, to move on and yet still find ourselves emotionally detaching and using distractions of something like the image of the flower on the wallpaper to escape. Our minds go blank, we are not present at the moment, we “zone out.” Although we do it out of self-preservation, we are missing out on so much, being fully involved. They say that when an accident occurs, people run for cover, however, those of us who have been abused will stand, frozen and will likely be in the way of the accident, instead of running to save ourselves. This in itself is tragic.
So how can we repair the years of emotional damage which was steeped upon us? We know that by hiding is a brains natural way of coping, which was taught over time, so we need to re-train our mind to react differently. We need to take our mind back to school and re-wire it, so to speak. Over time our neural pathways in our minds have to come to understand fight or flight is to simply escape inward. We can adjust this pattern though over time, re-train our minds, fix our neural pathways. Think of it this way, normally, in a brain we have little guys walking down little, tiny paths carrying messages around helping us respond to daily life. In a fight or flight situation, they start running to carry the messages to aid survival, but in a person who has been emotionally abused, they can simply just stand still, they don't walk or run, they just freeze. We need to help train these little guys to keep on walking and not to freeze.
How do we re-train our neural pathways? Brain surgery? No, of course of not. We start meditation! It has been proven scientifically that meditation and mindfulness, staying present in the moment actually re-trains and heals our neural pathways. How amazing is that?
We hear in recovery how people can't afford treatment and it's true, sadly many treatments are expensive but meditation is free. Of course, there are apps out there that you can pay a subscription for but there are so many now that are free on websites for listening or downloading. There are masses of free guided meditations on YouTube alone!
People often say to me that they don't have time to meditate, my answer is simple, do you have time to take a shower? The answer of course is yes, so then in that case you have time to take 2 minutes in the shower to just stand, close your eyes and take a note of your breathing, simply inhale deeply and exhale slowly for those two minutes, clear your mind, focus simply on your breath, count them if you need to and hey presto! You are meditating!
Many people think meditating has to be for hours, for gurus and yogis, for sitting cross-legged in a yoga pose, not the case at all! Actually, in Hindi, there is Yogini, which is a girls name, it means “One who controls the senses.”
Within a month of meditating, you will find you can cope with stressful situations, without panicking or closing down. You will be able to stay present, focused, your neural pathways will be healing and your little guys in your brain carrying messages will now understand that they need to keep walking. You will start to notice the present moment, becoming not only wonderful at healing your mind, but you will also become what they term these days, “mindful”. You start to notice your surroundings more, of birds and butterflies, of people smiling and laughing. It's rather like someone has turned on a light in your mind, seeing things in everyday life, that we missed out on so much while we struggled mentally and emotionally.
As you start to meditate more frequently, we can start to heal within, we find answers to the questions which dogged us. We start to feel and understand ourselves, grow compassion and inner love. I've found when times become stressful, I can simply find a moment to simply breathe, unwind, take a mini mindful vacation. It feels decadent, priceless and selfishly, all mine. Life becomes illuminated and it is a wonderful first step to recovery and healing from emotional abuse.
When you’re a member of a small close-knit community, you hear things. You know things. People tell you things and you listen, because that’s what friends do. As an active member of a local LGBT community, I have many friends in different walks of life and many different situations. I have the privilege of walking alongside many transgender individuals and am often the only cisgender person in the room. It’s a really great experience, but it can be hard sometimes too. The following stories, very CliffsNotes© versions, are told to raise awareness, and hopefully let someone know that they are not alone, their experience is valid, and someone is listening. Names and certain details have been changed to protect privacy, but the stories are real.
Luke and Kaia were like any other couple in our group, both in their early 20s and very much in love. Kaia was a cisgender female and Luke was a transgender male. They did everything together. When we were all out and about they were always included, and we enjoyed their company; however, around the six-month mark of their relationship, there was a shift in the dynamic. Luke seemed to be constantly depressed and Kaia seemed to be always putting him down. “Why can’t you do this? A real man could.” We heard these comments and began to make remarks, but when we started to intervene, we saw less and less of Luke. Their relationship lasted a little over a year. Luke came to us after the break-up and finally spoke about the emotional abuse he was experiencing behind closed doors. “She was always putting me down and making transphobic comments. I couldn’t see it while it was happening… but yeah it was definitely emotional abuse.” She also had a habit of using her children against Luke because she knew he was very attached to them: “I can leave, and you’ll never see the kids again,” she said, “You don’t have any rights here.” This constant emotional battering took its toll on Luke, but he wasn’t the one to end the relationship. Kaia left Luke for a cisgender male and never looked back. Luke was devastated, and it took him quite a while to get over the break up. Even when asked about it now, years later, he says, “I’m over it…yeah I’m over it…I’m sure I’m over it. It was just painful you know? I can see that emotional abuse and manipulation was happening when I look back on it now…but there are still things I miss about her…and I really miss those kids.”
Aiden and Viki’s relationship was a whirlwind from the beginning. Both were happy to have found each other, as they were both transgender and it seemed to be a match that fit for both of them. Their relationship began in that hard and fast way that some relationships do, and in that same vein, the abuse in their relationship was almost immediately evident. Viki took whatever she could from Aiden: money, things, dignity… Aiden would come to talk to his friends and would express his fear of going back, “She’s going to be mad that I’m here. She hates when I talk to anyone about this. I’m getting kinda scared…she said my only way out was in a body bag.” After a couple of years, the first call to the police was made. Viki had beaten Aiden in their front yard and into the house one night. Aiden crawled to their roommates’ bedroom to get away from her and Viki left. The police were called, Viki was found, and she spent the night in jail. Aiden went to the courthouse and filed a restraining order and moved his things out of their house the next day, but when he hadn’t been seen a week later, we all knew he had gone back. This pattern of abuse escalated within the next two years. Viki took control of all of Aiden’s financials, threatened his pet, forced him into sexual encounters that he was not wanting to participate in, and she continued her onslaught of emotional and physical abuse. After a four-year relationship, Aiden left in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on his back and his dog. “How did I stay so long? … I knew the relationship was bad, but there were some good times that I just kept trying to get back to that didn’t really come…you know it’s funny, I still miss her a lot…I just don’t want to feel this way anymore…and I don’t want to die.”
Both of these stories sound like stories I have heard from cisgender females about their male abusers, but they’re different and the same all in one. The survivors in these stories both identify as male, and it was the identified females in the relationship who were the perpetrators of the abuse. Transgender individuals are experiencing IPV in their relationships. By sharing these stories, I hope it has given someone the ability to speak up and say, “Hey…That’s happening to me too and I think I need to get some help,” “I’m not alone in this,” or “That’s happening to my friend, maybe I should reach out.” Just because we’re not thinking to give transgender folks a seat at the table, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve one.