- Self-kindness is a powerful tool to help heal emotional abuse.
- People need to take the time to acknowledge how much the abuse has hurt them.
- Comforting oneself through self-kindness can be the beginning of the healing journey.
This is Part II. in my series on how self-compassion can help heal victims of emotional abuse.
Once you have begun to acknowledge your suffering, you are ready to learn how to provide yourself with self-kindness, an important component of self-compassion.
If you fall down and scrape your knee, you know that you need to cleanse the wound and apply medicine to it to heal. But time after time, victims of emotional abuse get hurt by their partner, and instead of tending to the wound, they minimize how much it hurts or ignore it completely. Left untended in this way, your wounds tend to fester and get worse. Giving yourself compassion, in contrast, is like applying a healing salve to your wounds.
Unfortunately, even if you are willing to acknowledge your wound, you may not know how to apply the soothing salve of compassion to it. This will help: Think about the most compassionate person you have known—someone who has been kind, understanding, and supportive of you. It may have been a teacher, a friend, or perhaps a friend’s parent.
Think about how this person conveyed their compassion toward you and how you felt in this person’s presence. If you can’t think of someone in your life who has been compassionate toward you, think of a compassionate public figure or even a fictional character from a book, film, or television. Now imagine that you have the ability to become as compassionate toward yourself as this person has been toward you (or you imagine this person would be toward you). How would you treat yourself? What kinds of words would you use when you talk to yourself?
This is the goal of self-compassion: to treat yourself, in the same way the most compassionate person you know would treat you—to talk to yourself in loving, kind, and supportive ways that this compassionate person would talk to you.
Exercise: Self-Compassionate Words
- Please use the list I suggested you create in Part I. If you haven’t done so, please do it now.
- Say or write down something that expresses compassion toward yourself for each item on your list. Do this as if someone outside yourself is saying the words. For example, “I’m so sorry your wife said those horrible things to you. They were not true, and she had no right to hurt you like that,” or “It must be so confusing to have your partner constantly lie to you and try to make you feel like you are crazy. I’m so sorry.” If you can’t think of something to say to yourself, think of what a supportive friend or family member might say if you told them about how your partner abused you.
- Now think about the entirety of everything you have been through with your partner: all the pain, all the suffering. Say to yourself (out loud or silently) the words that will most comfort you regarding how you are suffering—the words you most long to hear. Again, if you experience difficulty, it might help to imagine someone who has been kind and loving toward you saying the words. If words don’t come to mind, say things to yourself like:
“I’m so sorry your partner treats you in this way.”
“No one should have to endure treatment like that.”
“Oh, how horrible. That must have been so painful, so humiliating.”
“I’m sorry you’ve had to endure this all alone.”
- Get a cup of hot tea and sit quietly, letting it all sink in—all the pain, all the humiliation. Put your arms around your shoulders or across your stomach as if someone is hugging you. Let yourself feel comforted. Let your tears flow if you feel sad. Know that the way you have been treated is not okay.
Think about how much the abuse has damaged your self-confidence and self-esteem, how much it has affected your ability to trust, how much the abuse has kept you off-balance and even caused you to doubt yourself. Give yourself credit for how hard you have to work to maintain your sanity. This acknowledgment and compassion for all you’ve suffered are what will help you to gain the strength and courage to do what is best for yourself, to put yourself first, to believe that you deserve a better life than this.
You’ve just offered yourself self-compassion. It isn’t a complicated process to learn. It is just about acknowledging your suffering and attending to that suffering. It is just about treating yourself with the same kindness, understanding, and care you would give to a wounded loved one.
Engel, Beverly (2020). Escaping Emotional Abuse: Healing the Shame You Don't Deserve. New York, NY: Kensington Press.