Healing from abuse as a mom feels pretty dang impossible. But as someone who has been there, done that, I’m here to tell you that it’s not.
This is the Beginner’s Guide to Healing from Abuse as a Mom.
Disclaimer: Everybody’s recovery journey is different. If you’re able to get support, get that support. If you’re able to get therapy, please seek out therapy.
This is the foundation, the first steps you need to take to start healing on your own journey in your own time. It will help you take the steps you need to become the mom that you dream of being.
Step one: give yourself GRACE.
Even outside of the abuse that we went through and the trauma we experienced, giving yourself grace as a mom is really freaking hard.
You always feel like you’re doing too much and not enough. Every where you turn you see yourself failing and falling apart. It seems like no matter what you do, you’re just not capable of being a good mom.
I’m here to tell you that that is complete BS and NOT true.
You ARE a good mom.
This is even more difficult because while you were in the abusive relationship, you were conditioned to believe that what you went through was your fault and that you’re inherently bad. If you experienced it, clearly you must deserve it. So therefor, you DON’T deserve grace.
But this is why it’s even more important to take the time to give yourself as much grace as you can muster.
Giving yourself grace is not giving yourself a free pass every time you mess up or that it doesn’t matter if you do it.
Giving yourself grace is giving yourself the permission to forgive yourself for when you mess up. It means that you get to take a step back, take a deep breath and say, I’m not a bad mom, I’m human, and I’m going to work to be better.
Step two: understand your brain.
When you experience an abusive relationship, it changes your brain. It’s not a fluffy, cute thing to say. It genuinely changes your brain’s shape, feeling and even function. But we don’t realize this.
Imagine you’re in the kitchen making dinner and you cut your finger. It bleeds everywhere, it’s SO painful and now you have to go through the process to repair it by keeping it clean and creating an environment for it to heal.
That’s exactly what happens to your brain. Abuse is trauma that changes your brain. It changes how you react to life, your kids, your family and even yourself.
This is really important to understand because society loves to tell us all the ways that it was our fault. If we don’t understand how our brain works, we’ll believe them. We’ll spiral into a deep depression that some people never come out of.
Your brain has been damaged, addicted to the abuser which makes it even harder for you to leave.
If you don’t create the space for your brain to heal, it will not heal.
If you let your cut finger stay open and go about your day, you’d not only make a mess everywhere but you’d also get an infection. It will continue to get worse until your whole body is affected.
We forget that our brain is just as much of an organ as your finger and that it takes time for it to heal. I know you think that you’ve tucked it away and you’re no longer affected by it, but what’s really happening is you’ve wiped off the blood and maybe it stopped bleeding altogether. It’s clean but you’re moving it around, reopening it every time it starts to heal. Dirt slowly starts to build up and the infection happens before you even realize it.
Our brain does the exact same thing.
This is why you need to educate yourself on how your brain works and why it does what it does. I highly recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. It’s very intense and triggering, so approach with caution. But if you can, it’s an incredible deep dive on the brain. You can also check out this article I wrote breaking down how it affects your brain.
There’s so much power in taking the time to learn how our brain works because it’s harder for you to beat up on yourself when you know that it’s your brain processing trauma. Learning about your brain keeps you from remaining the victim.
Instead of living in fear, you know how to handle it. You know how to stand up for yourself and keep yourself regulated. You know that you’re strong, capable, intelligent, worthy.
Step three: Take Responsibility
Become comfortable with calling yourself out and recognizing your triggered, inappropriate behavior. We have to learn how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable here. You can’t start being yourself up about it because that does you no good. But you do need to objectively look at your life and find where you need to take responsibility and improve.
To heal the relationship between us and our kids, we need to accept responsibility for the harm that we caused. I know this is painful to hear, but I also know that you know it’s true.
We don’t want our kids to grow up not taking responsibility for their behavior. We can tell them all day, but if we’re not taking our own advice we’re not modeling that behavior.
So when we lash out and scream at our kids, belittling and gaslighting them, we need to apologize. Not just an empty “I’m sorry,” either. Truly take full responsibility.
We can’t tell our kids they need to gain emotional maturity and then blame our kids for our own reactions. We can’t take our own issues and place them on our child. Our kids are not responsible for our emotional well being. We can’t tell our kids that it’s their fault that we feel a certain way because we know damn well no one can make us feel anything. It’s an active choice you’re making. I know that’s hard to hear, but bear with me.
When you were in the abusive relationship, what did you hear all of the time?
“If you didn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t have done that.”
“If you just would’ve said yes, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
“If you wouldn’t have argued, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Why do you think that the abuse was your fault to begin with? Because it was shoved down your throat.
I’m not saying that you’re doing this to your kids on purpose the way that the abuser was. What I’m saying is that we have to be really careful to not pass down the cycle. We need to be very aware and take responsibility. Harnessing Cycle Breaker energy is so important that I even created a mini course around it.
The abusive relationship epidemic is a massive societal problem and it needs to be changed on a societal level. But the reason I harp so hard on this is because while that absolutely needs to happen, I don’t think I’ll see change in my lifetime, but I want to do everything I can to be sure my son sees change in his.
That means it’s up to me to change my behavior. If we want to stop the cycle, we have to start with us. I know it’s hard. But without awareness, we can’t change.
If I start with me, that will get passed down to my son. And should he become a parent, he’ll heal and do even better with his kids. The cycle will eventually become weaker and weaker to the point that it will break.
Prefer to watch? See below!
Step four: Manage your Triggers
Ask yourself, “what’s causing me to lash out and do these things that I need to take responsibility for?”
I created an ebook that teaches you exactly how to do this and it’s completely free. Grab yours here.
It’s important to accept responsibility and apologize, but it’s even more important to change your behavior and fight to do better. To do that, you have to understand why you react this way to begin with.
This starts with learning how to manage your triggers. You have to recognize why you lash out, why you get so angry so fast, why you withdraw, gaslight, or shut down.
Whenever you react in a way that you’re not proud of, regardless of what that reaction was, you’re triggered. That’s a reaction that you need to work toward changing.
This is how you’ll be able to take a step back, stop reacting and start responding. Pull yourself out of the panic part of your brain and work towards, “Ok, I’m going to take a deep breath and center myself so I respond like the mom I want to be.
If you want to learn how to do this, I’ve written an ebook that walks you through the entire framework I provide to paying clients. This WORKS and it’s completely free. Grab your copy by clicking here!
Step 5: Build Better Boundaries
This has been a tough subject with every client I’ve had. This is because you have to learn how to set and keep boundaries, not only with the people that hurt you, but also with the people you love. You have to set and keep boundaries with your family, friends, kids, spouse, yourself. This resistance comes from seeing boundaries as a wall.
When we think of boundaries, we think of pushing people away, keeping them at arms length. This stems from so many things at a societal level, but especially when you were in the abusive relationship. You were told your boundaries, your thoughts, feelings and emotions didn’t matter. You weren’t important. When you tried to communicate boundaries they got angry. If you tried to actually enforce them, you were put in a dangerous situation.
So first, it’s very important for you to learn that you’re allowed to set and keep boundaries with anyone you want! In fact, you should have some level of boundaries with everybody, including yourself.
Changing how you view boundaries will make this process easier. Boundaries are not walls that push people out. But let’s be real: you probably really struggle with setting and keeping boundaries and yet you have a lot of walls up that keep people out. You’re pushing people away all the time. Chances are you even have your kids at arm’s length because you don’t even believe that you’re a good mom and you’re scared to screw up.
Boundaries aren’t walls.
Boundaries are what bust a hole right through those walls and build a door. You get to control that door.
Instead of your kids, friends and family trying to scale walls are dig tunnels underneath, not knowing what they’re in for, not knowing what’s ok and what isn’t, there’s a door that makes it abundantly clear. You have an open or closed sign, you get to decide who gets what sign, you get to decide how open that door is. You get to choose if it’s locked and who gets a key. You can even change the lock if someone doesn’t act right, no explanation needed. This is YOUR door. This door leads to the most sacred part of you: your personal space, access to you.
Boundaries teach people how to treat you, they’re your blueprint. You get to hand that blueprint to your kids, partner, friends, boss, coworkers. You give them the blueprint and say, “This is exactly how I want to be treated. This is what I’m ok with and this is what I’m ok with and this is what I’m not ok with.”
But here’s the deal: your boundaries can’t push someone away. If someone does something you’re not ok with, by enforcing your boundary you’re not pushing them away. They’re making an active decision to say, “I don’t want to treat you the way you want to be treated. I want to treat you the way I want to treat you. If I don’t get to do that, I’m walking away.”
Boundaries make it clear who cares about you and who doesn’t.
I wrote an ebook that teaches you exactly how to set, communicate and enforce your boundaries with anyone in your life. It’s completely free and you can get instant access to it today. Click here to grab it!
Step Six: Understand your child’s brain
Not just getting to know your kids as people, but absolutely that too. Definitely take time one on one to spend time with your kids and learn their personalities. But I’m talking about their actual psychology. Take the time to learn where your child is developmentally, how their brain actually works and how things function. Learn what’s going on inside their head.
If you have a child who is neurodivergent of any kind, this is especially important. You NEED to know how their brain works so you understand why they act the way they do.
The things that no one talks about enough is the fact our kids trigger us. They not only push all of our mom buttons, but they can also set off triggers from the abuse we went through.
Abuse stems from emotional immaturity. Children are emotionally immature so their behavior can mirror the abusers’ behavior. It’s developmentally appropriate for a child to lie about eating cookie dough even when it’s all over their face. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a grown adult to lie to you when the proof is right there in front of everyone.
Two very different developmental stages but same basic idea. The reason I bring this up is because your brain is going to see that as a threat. Your brain will freak out and tell you that your kids are lying to you and they’re a problem and it’s all going to happen all over again.
But when you take a step back and understand that your kids are acting that way because their brain is still developing, you can respond to their behavior instead of reacint go it.
But that only comes with the understanding of where their brains are at and why they’re doing what they’re doing.
It’s not appropriate for you to lash out and have a triggered response. It is appropriate for you to say, “Hey dude, I see the cookie dough on your face. Don’t lie to me.”
Understanding your child’s brain is the key to having the relationship with them that you want.
This would absolutely change so many families lives if they took the time to do this.
As survivors, it is key to get this information because we need to prove to our brains that our kids aren’t a threat. If we stop seeing our kids as threats and instead small humans who are learning life, it’s a lot easier to process information and not respond in a triggered way.
Right now, your brain sees your kids like it does the person who hurt you. Learning about your kids will help you break that.
I’ve read several books that have helped my son and I so much. You can find them all here.
Step Seven: Create a Safe Space
This safe space could be a therapist, trusted friend, journal, Facebook group, video diary. Whatever it is, you need to have space for you to process through your thoughts.
When you’re trying to heal, all of your thoughts are swirling around in your head and you can’t tell one from the other. You’re trying to figure out what’s for dinner, why you’re screaming at your kids and what on earth you did to deserve all of the bad things that have happened to you.
When you have a place to store your thoughts and get all this out, it becomes a lot easier to process and heal from one thing at a time.
I’m a huge fan of journaling. It has absolutely changed my life. I love journaling so much I wrote one, Worthy of Recovery: 30 Day Guided Journal for Survivors of Abuse. If you want to know more, check it out here.
If you don’t want to go the guided route, start by journaling about five things you did today that you’re proud of. Start by just brain dumping or whatever works for you.
If you have access to a therapist or counselor, please take advantage of that. Please know that you deserve that support.
Whatever your safe space is to store your thoughts, enter that space consistently.
This journey of healing is hard, but you’ve survived too much to not keep going.
You’ve got this, mama.