When I started to heal after my abusive relationship, I spent months trying to figure out the reasons. I was trying to find some sense in the inexplicable. I spent a long time with torturing myself by looking for answers for questions that shouldn’t have been even there to ask.
It was horrible. And at the same time, it was necessary. I was trying what my brain wanted the most: to find meaning where there was none, to cater to the oh-so-natural human need of cognitively grasping the world.
It took me a long time to realise that my quest for learning about all the reasons was not taking me anywhere. Because there were no right answers to impossible questions. After all, how could you make sense of something nonsensical? How could you find a reasonable explanation for the unnecessary and meaningless hurt that came from the very person who was supposed to love you?
It was a dark time. The darkest of all.
But eventually, I came to realise that the questions I am asking, have nothing to do with my future life. They were questions about a past that shouldn’t have happened and they were questions that weren’t supposed to provide me with any closure.
The right questions came only after I let go of the idea of finding meaning.
There is this idea that everything happens for a reason. And as much as it tries to be comforting, it is infuriating. When we say that the inexplicable happens according to a masterplan that we don’t see or understand, we are cognitively surrendering to the unknown, and it is supposed to give us peace of mind. It gives us a pseudo-closure and it takes away our responsibility. But it also renders us purposeless puppets in a game of adults, where we don’t have a say.
If things — bad things — can happen for a reason that we are not privy to, it strips us from our ability to decide about our own lives and suggests that fatalism is the only way to go. It takes away our agency, as we couldn’t have had any means of changing the course of events then, so how could we now?
In fairness, if I look back on it, I could have prevented the abuse. There was a time when I knew what was going on and I could have left then. I had a choice, I really did. But I stayed. I ignored the red flags. I surrendered to my feelings instead of making rational decisions. I chose not to see what I should have seen. Because there were things that clouded my judgment more than I care to admit.
Was the reason that I made a bad decision? Nah. I did make a bad decision, but I still believe that there was no real reason. It was unnecessary and meaningless.
All I had to do was to let go of trying to understand…
But this is not how we are wired.
We are wired to understand and understanding comes after letting go of this eternal quest for answers.
One of my favourite quotes is:
“We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” — Charles R Swindoll
This quote doesn’t speak about the reason. It doesn’t speak about blame. It doesn’t speak about growing. All it says that we have the power of rewriting our own narrative and whatever we perceive good or bad will be determined not by the events, but our own mindset.
When I finally let go of trying to find the explanation, there came a time that was a lot more fruitful and it offered me more closure than any made-up reason could ever have.
I realised that I can choose how I look at my trauma.
I realised that it is up to me to decide if I let it define me or not.
It didn’t have universal learning attached to it. It wasn’t that I needed to know my boundaries better or to become better at recognising toxic people… no. The learning was that this life is made up of events that have the power to shape us — but only to the extent that we will allow them.
When I let go of wanting to explain why it happened, I finally had the clarity to shift the perspective into what I can take out of it — even if it was terrible. Especially because it was terrible.
The internet is full of fake positivity and helpful advice. But it is a trap. When you are really low down, faking positivity is a trap. You cannot fake positivity till you feel positive, not after you were raped, assaulted or abused; not after losing a loved one in an inexplicable and cruel way; not after losing a child which is the biggest of horrors that can ever happen to anyone.
You don’t need to be positive about any of it. These events are not to spark positivity.
But you need to admit what they can teach you and you can choose to look at the learnings in a positive way — even if you didn’t ask for any of it. Of course, you didn’t ask for it. Of course, you didn’t deserve it. But you were handed this, and now it’s your time to decide what you will do about it and how you will incorporate the learnings into your future.
My abuser was mean. He was unnecessarily cruel. He hurt me just because he could. There was not one single reason for him raping me and beating me and leaving me with a one-year-old baby — other than because this is what he chose to do. According to a decent mind, there are no explanations to this.
I learnt a lesson that I never asked for. I learnt it, because there was nothing else to do but learn it and accept it.
It changed me.
And this change — whether I wanted it or not, whether I needed it or not — was the mandatory outcome that I needed to incorporate in my life. I was given this change and there was nothing to do about it, but to accept it and learn from it. As when I tried to fight it and I resisted it, it didn’t go anywhere.
Our biggest teachers in life are the most unexpected ones. It is possible that you learnt a lot from your parents and from your partners. It is possible that your kids teach you, or your colleagues teach you lessons that slowly shape you, making you into a slightly different person.
An abusive event, a loss of a loved one, a mental health problem — they are going to be your biggest teachers, whether you like it or not.
And the only thing that is sensible to do is to embrace the change they are forcing you through.
My biggest learning, after the abuse was that there are times when I need to stop fighting the inevitable. The inevitable wasn’t the rape — that could have been avoided, for example by him deciding not to do it — it was the change in me, after the rape.
How Can You Embrace That You Changed and Make the Most Of it?
- Acknowledge that you changed. Stop fighting it, stop trying to go back to where you were, because these events leave an indelible mark on you whether you want it, or like it or not.
- Spot the differences and look for the positive change in character. How did you change? Did you get better at judging people? Did you get more introvert? Did you get stronger? Did you gain a certain clarity of people and life in general?
- Embrace the positive change. Applaud yourself for everything that you have learned — disregard the circumstances of it entirely. If it wasn’t for the trigger, but you got more resilient, isn’t that a good thing? Strip the negative events of the positive change and focus on the change itself.
- Stop looking backward. Stop saying things like: I am only strong because I have to be. No, you are strong because you choose to be strong. You could break down, you could be weak — yet you are not. You are strong and you are doing better than ever.
- Use your acquired strengths for something new. Make something good out of the things leading to changing you. Do you have a better understanding of people now that you have been hurt? Great! Use it! Go out and meet some new people, armed with your invisible knowledge and congratulate yourself every step along the way when you use your newly found understanding.
Let go of the idea that everything happens for a reason. The world isn’t created to cater to our needs and there are things that have absolutely no reason. Stop looking for something that might not exist. Instead, focus your attention on things you can have an impact on, your wellbeing, self-care and helping others.
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