“How Can I Ever Get Past This?” Reclaiming Your Future After the Abuse Has Ended
For more on this topic, see Trauma: Your Lord Has Not Forsaken You
What is happening to me?
Understanding your thoughts and emotions
What is labeling?
How are our identities impacted by the labels we ascribe to ourselves?
The impact of labeling on spirituality
Learned helplessness after victimization
Changing your mind, body, and heart
Unweaving the tapestry of our minds
Sense of inadequacy
Relinquishing the victim mindset: From victim to survivor
Why do I still feel like a victim?
What can I do to see myself as a survivor rather than a victim?
- Build Awareness: What happened to you is not ok. Your mind continues to hold on to familiar patterns of fear even after the threat has passed; it is a compilation of your experiences and the ways these experiences have affected you. There are so many aspects of your life that you did not choose—from your eye color to your parents to the traumas you have experienced. Your job is not to blame yourself for what happened to you or what you are mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally struggling with right now. Your responsibility is to get to know the programs that are running in your brain that were developed because your environment was threatening. Building awareness is the first step to regain control of your choices, actions and responses to situations.
- Acknowledge the Struggle with Compassion: There is often shame, anger, fear, disgust, and self-doubt associated with experiences of abuse. Acknowledge all of the different thoughts and emotions you are experiencing without judgment. There is nothing wrong with anything you may be feeling. “Naming” the emotion you are feeling helps to tame it; it reduces the hold it has on you and normalizes it. Criticizing yourself for struggling or being hard on yourself because you expected yourself to have “gotten over it by now,” will only hurt you more. Remind yourself that what happened to you was not ok, that pain is a normal human experience, and verbalize the intention: “I want to be helpful, not harmful to my pain.”
- Focus on What You Can Control: Making a conscious choice to no longer give your struggles the power to define you is an empowering step forward. When it comes to shedding the victim label and viewing yourself as a survivor, focusing on the things you can control in different situations—even miniscule details—is key. Begin by focusing on small steps you can take toward accomplishing something. This can be as simple as acknowledging the choices you make in preparing something to eat when you feel hungry. When you feel stuck and as though you’re unable to control any aspect of your life, ask yourself what you would tell a friend in your situation: What small aspect of your friend’s situation can they change at this very moment? You likely wouldn’t tell them to give up; you’d likely help them to walk through all of the different choices they have at their disposal. Treat yourself as you would treat this friend.
- Regain Control of Your Body: Survivors of abuse, particularly physical violations, struggle with an additional feeling of powerlessness—an encroachment on the privacy of one’s own body. Regaining ownership of your body is an empowering step. It can be beneficial to engage in forms of physical activity that lead to a sense of regained body control. Exercise, including martial arts, running, and yoga can help you reconnect with your body in a powerful way to relieve feelings of helplessness as a sense of control over the body is regained. Furthermore, recognizing the capabilities of your body, the way it functions, and what it gives you shifts your focus to the strengths and power of your body to regain a sense of power and control.
- Remember the Ultimate Justice: Allah (swt) says,“That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.”8 You may be bearing the burden of your abuser’s choices; however always remember that they will be asked by Allah (swt) about every single choice, every single consequence of that choice, and every single ounce of pain you are currently experiencing. “They will have what they earned.” On the Day of Judgment, you will not be asked about the faults and abuses of others. Focus on what is in your control today and know that the accountability of the soon-to-come tomorrow will be weighed by Allah (swt) Who has seen all you have suffered.
Dismantling negative labels
Self-compassion, warmth, and safety
Change the ending of your story
Imagine your best possible future self
The Imagined Self technique13
Inspirational ayāt and hadith for reflection
O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent—then it is those who are the wrongdoers.14
And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.15
Do you not see that Allah has made subject to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and amply bestowed upon you His favors, [both] apparent and unapparent? But of the people is he who disputes about Allah without knowledge or guidance or an enlightening Book [from Him].16
And [mention] when We said to the angels, “Prostrate before Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers.18
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah created Adam in His image, and he was sixty cubits tall. When He created him, He said, ‘Go and greet that group of angels who are sitting and listen to how they greet you, for that will be your greeting and the greeting of your descendants.’ So he said, ‘Al-salāmu ʿalaykum (peace be upon you),’ and they said, ‘Al-salāmu ‘alayka wa raḥmat Allah (Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah).’ So they added (the words) ‘wa rahmat Allah.’ Everyone who enters Paradise will be in the form of Adam, but mankind continued to grow shorter until now.19