Thursday, 11 October 2012

A letter to those who love abuse survivors

This is an adaptation of a letter I wrote to my girlfriend. Unprepared for the side of me to surfaces when I am triggered, she did and said all the wrong things in her attempt to help. In my hyper-emotional state, I rewarded her efforts with what can only be described as verbal abuse. When I had finished the letter and re-read it, I realised that there much be many other partners of abuse survivors out there who have to deal with confusing emotional outbursts from their significant others. So I post it here, in the hope it will help someone else understand.


First I want to start with an apology  I know that at times it is difficult to live with me. I know that sometimes I react in ways that are confusing. I promise you that I try to act like a rational adult, but sometimes I can't. I want you to know that it is not your fault. I accept full responsibility for my irrational and hurtful actions. It is my problem, and I am the only person who can change it. I am working hard at this, but it is still a work in progress and probably always will be.

However, I don't accept the blame. All the blame goes to the men who abused me and in doing so, rendered me emotionally handicapped.


First, you need to understand what I mean when I use the term "trigger", or "triggered".

Sometimes life throws things at me - words, smells, images, emotions - that serve as powerful reminders of the abuse I have experienced. Long ago, these "triggers" were almost guaranteed to send me spiralling into flashbacks, body memories and all the other horrific trappings of PTSD. Years of therapy have given me more resilience, but even though I rarely get flashbacks now, these "triggers" can still leave me feeling overwhelmed and struggling both to understand and to control my emotions.

When I am "triggered", I turn into a loaded and cocked gun. My emotions can escalate beyond my control within seconds, and if they do, I will probably resort to the most basic human defence mechanism - attack. You need to understand that when I lash out in anger, it is not something that you did or said. It is because I am consumed with fear, pain or self-loathing, and in that moment, I am not in control enough to deal with it.

Anger is so much easier to cope with than real emotions.

So what do you do when I am triggered?

First of all, don't attempt to reason with me. When I am triggered, I am not rational. If you appeal to my reason and I am unable to take up the challenge, it will only leave me feeling inadequate, on top of all my other intense emotions. When I am feeling inadequate, I become defensive and everyone knows the most effective defence is attack, even if it isn't always the most healthy defence.

The best thing you can do when I am emotionally out of control, is to reassure me. As you get to know me better and better, you will learn to figure out what had triggered me, and that will help you to know exactly how or why I need reassurance. Usually, being reminded that I am with someone who loves me and who will be there to listen when I am ready to talk calmly, goes a long way towards easing my raging emotions.

If I get aggressive and you cannot get through to me, please don't hang around to absorb the verbal abuse. Please leave me. But please, please don't just walk out, or leave in a cloud of anger. That will leave me feeling abandoned. Please wait until I pause, tell me where you will be when I've calmed down and reassure me that you still care. I know it sounds pathetic, but you cannot imagine how much it hurts when I feel abandoned. The pain is excruciating. It brings back all those years of loneliness, when I was just a little kid, desperate for someone to love me and be there for me to depend on.

I know it is unfair to ask you to learn this. You don't deserve to have to deal with this. You deserve to be treated only with respect and adoration. Please know that even in my worst moments, deep down under all the angst, you are still the one I want to be with. Even though I know it is selfish, I hope that you will be able to look past the scars and see the man - a man who can be volatile at times and vulnerable at other times, but above all, a man who deeply cares about you. A man who wishes he could be a better friend, lover, partner...


  1. Yes, this is good. I'm glad you posted it.

  2. Very well written. Thank you. It really helped me think about different ways I can support my spouse who is a survivor. Helped me conceptualize his behaviors and to take my emotion out of it in order to help.

    1. Thank you. It is good to hear that what I am doing here helped someone.


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