Hello and welcome to Week 6, Session 2 of Bloom where we’ll be discussing “difficult” feelings.
If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!’
You might need your thought diary for our homework this week so take a moment to find it if you haven’t already.
We hope you’ve been finding the homework from these sessions interesting. What have you uncovered about your anger? Was there something that surprised you?
That’s one of our favourite things about learning - when we open ourselves to new information and to change, we receive answers and even ask questions we might not have anticipated, expected, or known were possible.
On our end, we’ve been considering the ways anger can even be loving - when we can recognise it, breathe through it, and listen to its cues.
To reference a tweet on our timelines:
The tweet, from Lyndsey Gallant, reads: ‘I wanna share something my therapist said about anger that blew my mind: “Your anger is the part of you that knows your mistreatment and abuse are unacceptable. Your anger knows you deserve to be treated well, and with kindness. Your anger is a part of you that LOVES you”.’
With that being said, we are carrying on with more of these “loving” feelings - the parts of ourselves that value and know our own worth, recognise what is unjust, and strive for full and meaningful lives. However, these can also be the bits of our psyche which question our actions, the feelings - like shame - that find it simpler to shift that blame inwards, where we have greater control.
The goals for this session are:
- To consider our feelings of guilt. As with anger, our understanding of guilt is too easily changed after or during abuse. It can be hard to recognise what is vs. what is not our responsibility, as we take on the needs of our abusers.
- To go into a larger discussion of grief - asking ourselves how we let go or move on from relationships that are founded on betrayal, and a mixture of contradictory memories and feelings.
Today’s grounding exercise is…
Sometimes moving our bodies is the best way to ground ourselves - that physical connection with the body. If you can, stand up (or, if not, sit straight in your chair).
Think about a fruit that grows from a tree. Do you have it in your mind? Our Bloom team is going to go with Apples.
Now think about a fruit or veg that grows from the ground. We are going to go with Potatoes. Ready? Now, we are going to stretch to pick those apples by taking our arms up to the sky and trying to reach them.
Then, let's collect our potatoes from the ground. These kinds of exercises get our blood flowing and allow our brain and body to concentrate on something else. It can feel silly to describe or do, but it feels amazing after.
Fun question: What’s your go-to karaoke song? Or else, what’s a song you can’t help but sing when you hear it?
During the original run of our Trauma Resilience course, back in March 2020, we received a question from a participant in our feedback form that felt especially relevant to the difficult feelings we bear as survivors.
They asked: “How do you cope with suddenly feeling sad or guilty for leaving your abuser, then feeling ashamed for holding on?”
It hit us with particular impact - one which resonated and stayed with us as we expanded our Bloom courses. As survivors, we are often burdened or shackled to contradictory feelings: settled in a middle-ground between love and loss, between pain and fear, numbness and hyperarousal.
It becomes difficult to know what is real and okay to feel - which is why we wanted to spend today’s video to answer this question, with a focus on two more difficult emotions: guilt and, perhaps surprisingly, grief.
To begin, we are going to talk about two different types of guilt.
The first type of guilt is: Genuine Guilt, which is an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes that they have compromised their own standards of conduct and take on significant responsibility for that transgression. There are real ways of addressing genuine guilt, for your own life, separately from any standards your abuser has expected you to uphold.
The Second form of guilt is: Guilt Trips, which leaves a person feeling guilty for something that may not be their responsibility or personal fault - as we encounter in abusive dynamics. Guilt trips can be difficult to overcome because:
Guilt trips can also be inflicted internally - or from our own minds - for things that are not our fault, as we monitor and manage the projections and expectations of unreasonable partners or family members.
Guilt trips feel like genuine guilt, making it hard to be able to differentiate between the two.
People often feel they must comply with guilt trip demands as a way of receiving others’ approval.
This is especially true for women - as our patriarchal society places the emotional burden of looking after people, of putting other peoples’ needs before our own, of accepting blame for difficulties in relationships, largely on women.
There are many pervasive ideas about how women should accept the blame for anything that goes wrong, even things that are clearly out of anyone’s control. Within this system, it can be difficult as survivors to not constantly internalise blame and guilt-trips for things that go wrong.
In addition, we know that - regardless of gender - as survivors in a cycle of diminished self-esteem - it is a survival strategy to guilt ourselves, as our own actions are things we can manage and change.
So, how do you recognise the difference between these two types of guilt? It’s good to remember the following:
- Guilt-trips are often triggered by things that may seem self-indulgent or selfish. But, as we’ve spoken about in the past, taking care of yourself and your own needs does not make you selfish - so your feelings of guilt are unnecessary here. In answering the original question about feeling guilty or sad about leaving an abusive relationship, or having that relationship end: choosing how you want to spend your life when something or someone is no longer working out for you is not selfishness. It does not require guilt, as you are allowed to decide how to spend your own life. Relationships can end. No one is entitled to your existence, your service, or subservience, or bond.
- Guilt-trips can also be based on someone else’s projection of their own guilt onto you. This is something you are not responsible for.
It helps to imagine that someone else is in your situation instead of you, when interpreting your guilt. What would you tell a friend if they were feeling guilty about the same thing you are? Does it still feel like real guilt or does it seem unfounded?
And, when it comes to what we “give up” or need to put aside - such as our personal needs or self-care or independence - ask yourself whether or not the person who is asking you to feel guilty has power over you. More often than not, those who ask us to sacrifice our wants are already above us, and merely want to maintain their position.
As a metaphor, kings rarely like to bleed their own blood. You do not deserve guilt for refusing to be cut.
Grief is a word we commonly associate with death, but it can also be an emotion we feel with the loss of a relationship. When relationships or meaningful events which meant something to us disappear - even the feelings those people or times represented to us - we can feel grief, sorrow and pain, similar to the death of a loved one.
After all, in a way, when our abusers reveal their true natures, or when we recognise the horrors of the ways that they’ve chosen to treat us, it can feel like a death. It can mean the death of the person they were, whom we recognised and loved in our memories. It can also mean the death of trust: in others, in situations, or in ourselves.
We also know from our previous sessions that the bonds we build with our abusers, through tactics such as love bombing and traumatic bonds, can be even stronger than in non-abusive relationships.
The times we’ve spent with our abusers are rarely only negative. If they were, it would be easier to break free or move on from their pull, like gravity. Our emotions and memories can be knotted, and endings - regardless of circumstances - are typically painful, messy, and unclean.
Whether you are a part of this course and thinking about leaving or you have left already, it is normal to have overwhelming feelings of loss or solitude in the wake of a split. This is a lot to process - regardless of your present relationship with the abusers in your life - let’s break it down a bit.
- Is something that takes time to work through,
- Is a very complex emotion that may come with lots of other feelings...
- ...these feelings might be: anger, depression, or denial, but there are a lot of others. We might feel only some of these, we might shuffle through them or struggle with more than one at once.
- Is not a linear path and can be processed in different ways by different people, and cultures.
- Is something that, with time, can dissipate and lead us to a place of feeling hope and acceptance.
You can get through these feelings - and know that working on yourself and recognising your emotions is a really great place to start!
A few ideas to help you process and come to terms with grief are:
- Getting support from friends, family, professionals, or finding a helpful community
- Exploring some new possibilities for ourselves once we’re ready - like:
- new activities
- meeting new people
- facing some new challenges
No feeling, however painful - physical or shaking - needs to be forever.
However, we recognise how difficult it can be when our relationships have been so distorted and we’re left uncared for.
Abusers are like thieves. They take from us, stealing our time, our joy, finances, our attentions- even our thoughts in repetition, as we’re made to think of them over, and over, and over - whether we’re still with them or have left.
And it’s natural to try and unpuzzle these memories. Many times, we’ve been gaslit so often that we no longer trust ourselves to know something the first time we see it or feel it. Gaslighting, as we covered, is a tactic abusers use where they lie or deny what we’ve seen, felt, or been through - sometimes even blatantly - that makes us second-guess our own reality.
The abuser is also tied to important memories, events, and people in your life. It’s also normal to want to make sense of your own story - to know what was or is true, as the person living your own life.
We might ask whether the person we were with did what they did on purpose; if they lied to get what they wanted (in the good moments together, or during the bad). You might wonder: Did they mean to hurt me? Did they actually feel sorry? Which version of the person I loved was real?
With no obvious answers, and with the rules (and their masks) always changing, it can feel like our abusers not only took parts of our past but also our present, as we spend our days trying to make sense of it or continue to brainstorm strategies to keep ourselves safe – even for those who have left. You might also wonder: Is there something wrong with me if I didn’t notice they were pretending? Were they pretending? How can I trust anyone else again? Or, how can I trust myself and move on? In this, it can also feel like the people who’ve betrayed us have taken away our futures, too.
To this, we want to say that it is easy to make someone think of you by making them afraid. It’s a strategy abusers use: if someone is scared you’ll hurt them, then they have to think of you (all the time); they have to worry about what will keep them safe; and take care of your needs, your ills, your greed.
It is easier for people to control with fear rather than love. It is harder to be loving long-term - to yourself and to others. It takes more work - just like the work it takes to self-reflect, as you’re doing through this course.
This makes you incredible - and stronger than the people who’ve hurt you.
This is the fact that matters, that you will always know is true, no matter what answers you miss out on, or what you have to grieve. By self-reflecting and working to show yourself care that does not intrude on the wellbeing of others, you are more incredible and amazing than they could ever hope to be - whoever they are.
You are worth being seen, known, and loved by someone who is capable of more than just the aggressive defense of their own ego - someone with the sight, the compassion, and tenderness for real connection. Without shame, guilt, or confusion.
And the more information you gather, the more you show yourself love and spend time with those who are loving, whether you are with your abuser or otherwise, the easier it will become to let go. And - as we all hope to - live our lives as brilliantly and as bright as we wish.
The homework for this week is…
Maggie Smith is an American poet who recently published a book of affirmations, called ‘Keep Moving’, based on a series of tweets she wrote after her divorce. There was one in particular that we wanted to share with you. In it, she writes “Today’s goal: Do not be ashamed of the intensity of your emotion. That’s your humanity. If your grief- a kind of love - is sometimes wild, feral, frightening, just give it a safe place to live. Be there with it. Keep moving”.
Consider what your grief looks like. Is it like an animal like a dog, something with teeth? Is it small and plastic, immobile? What fictional space do you need to keep your grief safe? Build it.
Does it look like an open field? Or is it a bedroom, maybe something with blankets?
Describe both of these things: what your grief looks like and where it can live.
As a practice, we can always build imaginary spaces for our difficult feelings, so they don’t have to take up room in our minds or our bodies. We can imagine these worlds, place them there, know that the feeling is looked after and heard, and make steps to move through our day without them.
Remember, this is an investment in your own journey to recovery. Give yourself the best chance to build resilience. You can do this.