Written for those who have suffered extreme abuse and who are having a difficult time recovering from exploitive, soul-damaging situations.
Surviving the Emergency Stage
The important thing to remember is that the emergency stage is a natural part of the healing process and that it will come to an end. The nature of crisis is that it overwhelms you; while you are in it, it is all you can see. There will be a time, though, when you will not think, eat, and dream memories of abuse twenty four hours a day. And, if you are in the emergency stage, that time cannot come a moment too soon. In these times of crisis it is very important that you act on what you know rather than what you feel.Remember:
Don't hurt or try to kill yourself
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Even though you may not be able to see it, there is a way out. During crisis your vision may become clouded. Suicide and self-injury are never good answers to any problem. Reach out for help from someone who understands, will listen, and can help you put things back into perspective. You are valuable and you do have purpose. (Psalm 139)
Realize that you are not going crazy
The intensity of what you are experiencing is a recognized part of the healing process. Flashbacks are normal. Don't be afraid of letting yourself feel your emotions. They won't kill you.
Find others you can talk to
Don't try to do this alone. Abuse has isolated you enough already. Learn to develop good relationships with others and to receive comfort from them. Remember that you are valuable and that you also have a lot to offer to others. What you have been through can give you a unique compassion.
Get skilled professional support
Seek out a therapist who is experienced in dealing with complex post traumatic stress disorder (a.k.a. complex post traumatic stress syndrome) and whom you are comfortable with. If you were in a high demand, abusive group or relationship, make sure they are knowledgeable about thought reform and manipulation techniques that were used and the after effects.
Simplify your life
Drop whatever is nonessential. Release the pressure any way you can. This may mean minimizing time with unsupportive people, quitting activities, lightening your workload and getting extra childcare.
Create a safe area in your home
You must have at least one place where you feel safe. Do what you can to make that place a pleasant place to be.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Repeatedly numbing your feelings will only prolong the crisis. Using drugs and overindulgence in alcohol also puts you at risk for developing an addiction.
Get out of abusive situations
If you are currently in a situation where you are being abused, get out of it. As an adult, you do not have to allow yourself to be abused again.
Avoid making big decisions right now
Your decision-making capability is limited right now. Except for getting out of abusive situations, the emergency stage is not a good time for making major life changes.
This too shall pass
Remember: "And it came to pass..." It did not come to stay. You will not always feel this way. There is "the other side." You have a promising future.
Specific Survival Techniques
Sometimes you need practical techniques for surviving the pain and intense emotion you're feeling right now. Here are some suggestions:
Use all of your senses. Stay in the present. Focus on breathing. Move your eyes. Remember that any self-harm messages are lies.
Connect safely with anger. Legitimate anger can decrease the despair that you may be feeling. It may also heighten your coping skills. Too often this tool is under-utilized.
Shedding tears reduces hopelessness and depression. Let yourself cry. You won't cry forever. Eventually the tears will stop and you'll feel much stronger for having released the pain through the tears. (Psalm 126:5)
Take Care of the Basics
Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Pay attention to your body's needs. Get plenty of sleep, but avoid using sleep to escape from dealing with abuse. You'll feel better about yourself in the long run. The same is true of food. Make sure you are getting enough nutritious food to eat, but avoid using food to numb your feelings. The sooner you process those feelings rather than avoiding them, the sooner you may experience true healing from the memories. Take care of your body in other ways too. Don't neglect your personal hygiene (i.e. brushing your teeth). Exercise is also helpful, but don't overdo it. Everything in moderation. Note: Walking can relieve stress and distress.
- Find a safe place
- Picture in your mind setting aside an overwhelming memory or emotion.
- Pay attention to current sensory experience. For example, take notice of a particular smell or sound that. is going on right now. This helps to orient you to the present.
- Sight: Take a walk (with a safe person if needed).
- Touch: Hold on to something stationary; hug a pillow or soft stuffed animal.
- Sound: Listen to soothing music (see #9 and #10 below).
- Taste: Eat something.
- Smell: Smell something with a strong aroma like perfume or scented candles.
- Tell someone about it (call a close friend).
- Write in a private journal, or email your feelings to a supportive friend. Writing helps to process the intrusive, painful thoughts that you are struggling with. Read: Where Do the Feelings Go?
- Practice breathing exercises. Controlled breathing will relax the body during a panic attack. Count to four as you take a slow, deep breath, then release it in a slower, controlled exhalation to the count of eight and repeat this for several cycles. This will help if you are breathing fast or holding your breath. (See offsite article: A Breathing Exercise to Calm Panic Attacks)
- Wrap a soft blanket around yourself, up to your neck and lie or sit down. This can give a snuggly feeling of security.
- Connect with the here and now.
- Listen to relaxing, soothing music.1 This will help you to orient yourself.
- Take a shower or bath.
- Make a list of problems and separate them into two categories: those you have control over, and those you don't. Concentrate only on those you can control. Be realistic.
- Decide what is important and what is not.
- Monitor self-talk. Challenge distorted thinking. [Read: Cognitive Behavioral Focusing for Exiters (An Approach to Handling Depression, Anxiety, Fear & Guilt)]
- Do something nice for yourself (buy yourself something, read a book, etc.)
- Draw or write poetry.
- Identify the trigger.
~Info adapted from an article given to Exit & Support Network™
Dialectical Behavior Therapy: If you are struggling with any kind of destructive behavior; i. e., suicidal behavior, or self-injury, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been found to be helpful. This kind of therapy helps survivors to use tools to control moods that can go out of control very rapidly. As one child survivor (who underwent DBT) told us: "When you feel powerless, you feel hopeless. Once you realize that you have the power to change things in your life, you will not feel you have to wait for people to be good to you. You have the power to choose a better option."
EMDR: A number of survivors who have suffered trauma say they have been helped with a new procedure called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Notice: Therapists trained in complex trauma-related conditions, including mind control trauma, have told us that if the survivor is dissociative (DID), this therapy may cause a flooding of memories. Please discuss this, and any other questions, with a qualified therapist. [offsite links]
Psychiatric Service Dogs: These dogs are specifically trained to assist people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, phobias, severe depression, etc. [offsite link]
1 Solitudes Music (check for "Dan Gibson Solitudes" on Amazon to see all titles). Dan Gibson [1922-2006] was a world-renowned naturalist and a pioneer in the field of sound recording. We have found his "Rocky Mountain Suite" and "Solitudes Nature Sound Collection" very helpful for relieving stress and facilitating mental relaxation after exiting an abusive, high demand group. Others have found comfort in reading through the words of classic hymns or songs. See: Comfort in Music.