Loneliness is a feeling that can arise even if a person is never physically alone. Rather than being about a simple lack of company, loneliness is really about the feeling of being misunderstood, disconnected from the people around, or not being valued enough. After an emotionally abusive relationship, many people will feel lonely simply from no longer being in a relationship. Many others will find that their social circle has diminished greatly since they were last single. Many more will feel lonely simply because they feel misunderstood or perhaps judged for the abuse they have suffered.
There are many ways to practically tackle these feelings when recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that everyone you know will not be able to understand what you have experienced. While some people naturally have a talent for empathy, others find it difficult to relate to scenarios that they have not directly experienced. This is not a flaw, but simply a personality trait. Recognise the friends with whom you can and cannot talk about your experience of domestic violence.
Forgive the ones who cannot relate to you. They don’t understand, but that does not have to affect your friendship.
It is important to find a supportive network of people who do understand you, however, as this can greatly reduce your feelings of loneliness.
Online forums are great places to meet other people and read about their experiences, and to receive good practical advice about coping with life after domestic abuse. If there is one in your area, you may like to consider joining a support group for survivors of domestic violence.
It is an extremely cathartic experience to discuss your experience candidly with strangers, and gratifying to know that you have been truly understood. You may even find that some of the people you meet at a support group turn out to be potential life-long friends.
On a day to day basis, you may find it difficult living alone. It is a drastic change, especially for many abuse victims who have been used to being monitored every second of the day by their partner, and it can become very lonely. Don’t let yourself succumb to these feelings of sadness, and don’t dwell on what has happened to you. The key to overcoming any sort of trauma is in the combination of ‘processing’ past memories, and in making new, good memories that cause the old ones to fade.
The processing of traumatic memories takes a long time, and is often best dealt with by having one time and place for thinking about what has happened to you each week – your counsellor’s office, for example – and by then purposefully not thinking about it at all.
Concentrate on making yourself happy, and your feelings of loneliness will start to fade. Do things you enjoy and take good care of yourself. Get plenty of exercise and eat healthily. Don’t be tempted to binge drink or eat as quick-fix solutions to feelings of emptiness, loneliness and depression. This would only be abusing yourself further. Treat your own body the way you know it deserves to be treated.
Try to socialise with friends as much as possible. You may find it difficult, initially, as you may have trouble adjusting from what you have been through, and the subject of their conversation, but it is healthy to learn not to dwell on your trauma and to talk about other things instead. Learn to ‘chat’ again. Talk about nonsensical things just for fun. You don’t need to be engaging in a deep emotional bond in order to feel less lonely. Break your routine and try to meet new people. This may mean joining a class or volunteering for a charity. Try to choose an activity where you will meet like-minded people. If you don’t feel confident, try to convince yourself that you are. It’s scientifically proven that simply telling yourself something is true can make it so!
Find meaning in your life. While many people are able to do this through their religious beliefs, many others are able to find it in art and literature. Reading examples of emotional abuse in books will also be a cathartic experience, and will help you to understand that there are many others out there just like you. Reading about vastly different lives than your own will give you a refreshing break from being ‘inside’ your own mind. Contemplating a piece of art can be an incredibly restful and inspiring experience.