One of the most destructive side-effects of being forced to endure an abusive relationship is the hazy fog that seems to settle over not only your mind, but your entire self — body, spirit, and innermost depths.
Physically you may feel depleted, exhausted, and perhaps even in actual pain. A few of the most common side-effects of chronic abuse include headaches, achy joints or muscles, and stomach issues. An erratic heartbeat or palpitations are also typical physical symptoms, as are shortness of breath, dizziness, generalized anxiety, sleep disturbances (either too much or not enough), and cognitive confusion.
Emotionally you may feel flattened and defeated or — as I heard one young adult recently describing her mother after enduring another abusive attack — crumpled and broken. Spiritually you’ve lost joy, connection, optimism, and the ability to feel the fullness of life.
You feel “socially distanced” — from friends and family, from what was once the richness of your spiritual life, from yourself.
You may not even remember who your true self had once been, or perhaps you wonder if you ever knew her in the first place.
Domestic abuse causes a horrific dismantling of personhood, piece by piece and bit by bit, until the fog is so thick you fear you’ll never be able to truly see through it. This fogginess becomes so impenetrable it seems impossible to move beyond its confining layers.
What are the key tactics abusers use to create this debilitating fog? As best-selling author, therapist, and speaker Susan Forward puts it, this fog is created by …
Fear. As someone who has endured months, years, even decades of relationship abuse, you likely fear to do anything that will trigger your spouse’s next “Mr. Hyde” episode (even though it’s impossible to predict what that “something” might be). You’re afraid to disagree with him, to express your own opinions or to reveal your true self. The term “walking on eggshells” is too inadequate to describe your situation — what you experience is more like walking on glass. Because glass cuts. Deep. And imbeds itself into your flesh. Sadly, all this has become a way of life for you.
Obligation. As someone enduring domestic violence, you feel obligated to give in to your abuser’s demands, standards, and beliefs. He’s brainwashed you into feeling this sense of obligation, and has convinced you it’s a way of showing him respect and love. Besides, life is easier that way, and slightly less tumultuous. But only slightly.
Guilt. As a victim of intimate partner violence, guilt weighs heavily against your shoulders — but unbeknownst to you, it’s been put there by your abuser, to make you comply to his incessant demands. You don’t even realize that it’s his voice replaying in your head, telling you how you’ve failed, how you should be doing better, how he is so much more loving and supportive and adequate than you are, how you don’t give enough or love enough or … how you simply aren’t enough. You don’t realize that your guilty thoughts have been implanted—by him.
Clearing the FOG so you can rebuild your life is crucial. But how can you even begin?
Even if you’re still involved with your abuser, you can take fruitful and life-saving steps forward.
Find someone you can trust — an empathetic friend, family member, therapist, group—and talk. Then talk some more. Hiding and pretending that “all is well” are things of the past. All isn’t well, and facing the truth is the first step toward your new future. The sooner you can acknowledge that, the sooner the fog will start to lift and healing can begin.
This is the one thing that can bring you the most peace and clarity, no matter where you’re at on your spiritual journey—but sadly, it can also be the most difficult. Domestic abuse has likely zapped you of everything—especially your spiritual connection, a connection which bridges the gap between your true, innermost self and the external trauma being thrown at you from all angles. It’s essential to heal your entire being, especially your spirit. It’s essential to repair that bridge.
Go slow. Don’t put pressure on yourself. To “pray without ceasing” seems intimidating and impossible, but it’s actually not. You don’t have to live in a secluded convent or find a solitary cave where you can pray 24/7. God doesn’t expect that. We all have real lives, and our lives exist in the world God created, not solely on a picturesque mountaintop or dwelling in an isolated yurt.
What “pray without ceasing” actually means is that in order to live your fullest life, you need to release everything to Divine will.
We can’t do this alone. “Ask, and it shall be given” (Matt 7:7).
This means asking for help, support, for a spiritual reconnection to something greater than yourself, and for God to open doors you never thought possible.
“Seek, and you shall find.” Release your self-pressure and expectations. Rest, heal, understand. And then, eventually, when you’re ready, act within the new life that’s opening up for you. But first, rest some more. You deserve rest. And need rest. Plenty of it.
Keeping a journal is particularly crucial if you’re still involved in your abusive relationship, yet tremendously healing no matter where you’re at in your life.
Journaling will help you gain greater clarity and insight, allow you to vent justifiable anger, frustration and sorrow in a healthy way, and will also derail future gaslighting. When your abuser says or does something that he later denies, and tells you that you’re crazy for even thinking he’d say/do such a thing, the brain in a FOG tends to believe him. Yet if you can look back at your journal and find proof that he’s again lying and trying to gaslight you, the gas suddenly gets turned off.
You can also use journaling to detect patterns in the abuse cycle, which is immensely helpful and eye-opening. The progression of abuse—because abusive behaviours always increase as time passes—can also be documented, and returning to entries weeks, months, even years later can give you greater insight and clarity into your situation. This in turn will help you seek the strength you need to change your circumstances, if you haven’t done so already. If you have, you’ll find an even deeper level of healing. When you keep a journal you can be honest with yourself in ways you normally wouldn’t dare.
This is so incredibly crucial.
A word of caution, however: If you fear your abuser will find and read your journal, if feel you need to be careful, go with your gut instinct. Hide your writing someplace he’d never find it, have a trusted friend keep it for you, or whatever else you need to do to maintain your safety. Even if he’s never before been physically abusive toward you, if you’re afraid, there’s a reason. Trust yourself.
That “still small voice” of your Spirit-guided intuition is still there, even if it seems like it’s vanished. Your inner wisdom hasn’t been obliterated, only muffled.
It’s time to unwrap the muffler and start listening. This will take time and patience, because chronic self-doubt is one of the most common consequences of being abused. Slowly, as your FOG lifts and your confidence increases, you’ll begin to remember how to listen to that “small still voice” dwelling inside you, that internal compass of wisdom, compassion, and strength (1 Kings 19:12).
Remember, your FOG consists of your abuser’s voice, words, gaslighting, brainwashing, and crazy-making.
You can break through the FOG, because it’s a fog of lies, not of truth.
You may fear loss, rejection, financial instability, his anger, or him in general.
You may feel obligated to be a good wife, to be attentive and loving at all times, to support him in all ways, even to the detriment of yourself. In particular, you’ve been taught to be empathetic of his “issues” and “wounds” (most abusers love to play the victim). Yet these are his imposed obligations, rules and issues, his voice, and his demands. Separate the his from the yours in a loving, non-accusatory way. Find your true self, as God intended you to be, and act accordingly. “If you are who you were meant to be, you’ll set the world on fire!” (St. Catherine of Siena)
Guilt is a heavy burden, and one that abusers cultivate within you, because if you feel guilty, you’re easy to control. You may feel guilty that you didn’t do enough for him or the relationship, that you didn’t support him enough, you didn’t show enough affection, you’re not a good enough mother or wife or person or friend.
These are all blame-shifting tactics he uses to exert more control over you and to manipulate you into behaving the way he wants. The FOG in your head is him in your head. When you begin to consciously get him out in order to make room for your own voice and your true self, authentic healing can start to unfold and enrich your life.