How many people in your life would qualify as the “A-word”? You know those people who are nasty and manipulative and selfish, the people who are only interested in what’s in it for them. And I label them as abusers. (What word were you thinking of?) They aren’t necessarily punching you or sexually assaulting you, but their behavior is abusive on the emotional and mental levels.

Sometimes I wonder if trauma survivors are more prone to come across abusers. I wonder if there is a sign on my back that says, “I was horribly mistreated by my parents so that makes me more likely to succumb to your nasty bullying behavior.” (That message may be a little long.) And while I could spend hours, even days, feeling victimized all over again, I know I have to look at this from a different perspective. It is not possible to change the abusers. It is not possible to avoid the abusers entirely. While I am proud to say I have learned to set better boundaries, the abusers will always be around. I have to understand how I am reacting to them internally. My reaction must change. Nothing else can.

Of course, that means hard work. I am not new to this kind of work, but it doesn’t get easier. Changing myself is the most challenging thing I have ever done. I would much prefer to attempt to change other people and blame them when it doesn’t work. But that accomplishes nothing but ensuring a miserable life.

So being an anxiety-prone person, I have to look at how I am internalizing these interactions. And deep down, I am still likening these abusers to my parents. That makes so much sense. It isn’t much of a leap. My parents were clearly abusers.

But there’s a huge difference. I am an adult now. I am no longer a helpless victim. I don’t have to sit alone, huddled in a corner of my room, waiting for the next shoe to drop. I don’t have to let these people affect my life at all. They don’t have the power to do it. No matter how much fear they are living with, and no matter much fear they stir up in me, they can’t hurt me.

So when I lie awake at night waiting for the shoe to drop because some abuser projected their fear on to me, I must remind myself that I am no longer the helpless victim. I am no longer in danger of dying. There is no retaliation by these abusers that can have a major impact on my life. They are looking for someone to push around. They are looking for that person who is so driven by fear that they can be controlled by others. And that is no longer me.

So I do what I can to calm the anxiety, the “catastrophizing”, the feeling that I am one step away from complete disaster because this person is giving me a hard time. I acknowledge that I feel this way. I am compassionate about the feelings. I understand why they are there. But then I work to let go of that. I know it is not healthy. And I know it leads to health problems. And there is no reason to allow the past to rule my future.

And this work opens up the possibility for the “F-word”. Of course, I am talking about forgiveness. (What word were you thinking of?) I don’t like the word “forgiveness”. It is a tough word for child abuse survivors. It gets used against us sometimes because there are mixed messages that come with that word. Some believe that we must allow the abuser back in to our lives or continue to accept their abusive behavior. So what if we look at it differently? What if forgiveness is nothing more than an understanding?

If I become more aware of the abusers’ difficulties, fears and drivers for their behavior, maybe I will be more likely to understand why they behave that way. This allows me two new perspectives.

1) They are behaving that way because they are scared.

2) They aren’t likely to stop so I will need to protect myself by setting boundaries.

So as I interact with people who classify as the “A-word” and I allow myself to consider the meaning behind the “F-word”, I may just find a new set of words in my life.

Acceptance & Freedom

And I can live with those.