What does love mean to someone who has been abused mentally, physically and/or emotionally? The words from Tina Turner’s song come to mind.
A shared characteristic of humanity, no matter what gender you are, what color your skin is, where you live or were born, is that we want to love and be loved. There is no greater feeling when we share or experience this love in an unconditional sense. It lifts us up, in a way that no material possession, currency, or title can. We feel a sense of joy and belief that we can do anything. Ahh yes, the power of unconditional love.
When abuse happens, our perception of love is shattered. Those that we were supposed to trust and love us, took advantage of our innocence and hurt us deeply. The emotional pain is often worse than the physical pain we experienced, and it lasts for much of our life. As we attempt to rationalize this, it only results in an unhealthy belief that is stored deep in our subconscious. In some form or another we come to believe that we deserved this somehow, that we are a bad person, and that we are unloveable. We wrap our hearts with a thick layer of cement, creating a wall and vowing that we will not be hurt again.
This will play out in many different ways in our life, as if we are callous and don’t care. It is simply a means of survival in what we now know as a cold and cruel world.
As I reflect back on my own life, the abuse took the form of a deep rooted belief that I was not good enough, not worthy of being loved, and that others that loved me would only hurt me. I carried these unhealthy beliefs into my adult life which would form self-fulfilling prophecies, a vicious cycle of proof that I was not worthy. And yet, I desired love, like any normal human being would, but my distorted beliefs and how I acted upon them, would only end up with me feeling hurt again.
It seems so trite to say that love conquers all, but it does. The challenge for those suffering from this type of abusive past is learning how to acknowledge what happened, understand the beliefs and unhealthy patterns that were a result, and then make that difficult choice to learn how to be a victim no more! This often requires breaking down enough of the wall they placed around their heart to feel once again that pain. I shared in my book my personal account of coming to grips with what happened and my experience at Chit-Chat where I was carefully led into my anger work. With a nerf bat in hand and a well trained counselor prodding me to reveal what happened, I unleashed much of my pent up anger as I pounded a pillow. I was so reluctant to allow the anger to surface since it scared me. I had stuffed this for so many years.
The result was a sense of complete exhaustion which was followed by many group hugs. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and avoid everyone. The feeling of being bad was out now and on the surface. I was raw. I accepted the hugs which deep down felt good, but scary. I wanted to rebuild my wall since it was all I had known. It had given me the sense of safety. But now that the truth was out, I could begin the process of healing the past. It began with learning how to acknowledge and like myself. The word “love” was still a four-letter word for some time, so I focused on “like” instead. Through a steady diet of affirmations, mirror work and counseling, I learned how to replace my unhealthy beliefs with positive ones.
Over time the work paid off. I was able to replace much of the hurt and pain with gratitude, compassion and appreciation for life around me. Although I still feel the tendency to keep myself guarded, I am more able to form caring, nurturing and meaningful relationships. I learned how to love again and be loved.
I had also learned that there was a different meaning to the word love than is commonly referred to in terms of physical love. It was more about gratitude and appreciation than it was sex or lust. It was learning how to love life once again, love nature around me, and love what I do with my life. Learning to love once again is difficult, and requires continual work to keep me there, but it was worth the struggle to find love again!