When the subject of my abusive past comes up, the surprised response I most often hear from others who have known me for a while is, “But you’re so normal!”

There are a lot of different ways of coping with abuse. For me, I thought I could perform and please my way out of it. I was the responsible one. I was the one who appeared to have it all together. People who knew me in high school would say things like, “But you seemed happy!” Yes, I was smiling. I was even bubbly. And I was also coping with narcissistic, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse.

Outward behavior does not always indicate the inner life. For me, appearing to look normal and happy were necessary for survival. But it was also those coping skills that made me put off seeking a deeper level of help for my wounds. For me, admitting that what happened was not OK, that I was not OK, was extremely difficult and scary. I didn’t want to admit that I was abused, because I felt that meant on some level that they won. They got the best of me. Yet, hiding from reality only means that  it popped up in other ways. Because I wasn’t dealing with the real trauma on an emotional level, it was impacting me on a physical level.

Sometimes, the people who appear “normal” are the ones hurting the most. They don’t feel safe enough to live any other way. Sometimes, the ones sobbing and carrying on are the healthy ones. Sometimes, people are downright bullies to those who are grieving. They insist that positive thinking and sucking it up are the pathway to health. As someone who coped with abuse for forty years through positive thinking and sucking it up, I can tell you that for some people, it is the worst possible advice.

So here is some better advice. You have the right to feel every single one of your feelings. You have the right to feel safe. You have the right to feel loved. You have the right to feel understood. You have the right to walk away from anyone who does not make you feel safe, loved, or understood. You have the right to surround yourself with the ones who do.

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