Almost all women have been traumatized in some way in their lifetime. One in three women has experienced sexual assault, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And sexual assault and domestic violence are not the only ways in which people can be traumatized.
If you have been traumatized, you are much more likely to develop symptoms of codependency. This makes sense, doesn’t it? Think about it. Many women have been attacked in some way just for being female—an experience that leads to an “I’d better conform and get along so I can stay safe” mentality.
Certainly, this is not how all women respond. However, the power differential that is always present has to lay a foundation for some of this coping style. This kind of mentality plants the seeds for the codependent behaviors covered in my book.
I have worked extensively in battered-women’s shelters, and what I learned from those experience suggests that the surrounding pressure and power, combined with early life experiences (ranging from stressful to traumatic), ultimately disempower and lead many women into limited, self-sacrificing detrimental caretaking roles.
It is not uncommon for victims of trauma to have difficulty recognizing trauma when it happens again. Previous trauma makes it hard for them to know how to get out of these situations because of a phenomenon called learned helplessness. But going from survivor to thriver is absolutely possible. Part of that shift means moving away from the victim role.
Part of not being a victim means facing your fears. You may not even know what you are of.
I have a helpful exercise in my book. Try Step 1 here.
Take 5 or 6 of the goals in your life and fill in the blank for each one.
I want ___________________ in my life. But I am afraid of _____________.
Personally, I find that when I am feeling fearful or anxious, I make myself say the fears out loud. I find this helps the fears lose their power because in saying them, we take our pent-up “fear energy” that’s inside us and we release it. Then what …
Now, I’m not saying you should do everything you are afraid of. Some fears are useful.
However, when you are sure your fears are holding you back, just take a step. It helps to have the support of someone you trust.
Sometimes the aftermath of trauma, broken and dysfunctional relationships, and past disappointments combines with societal pressures and adds to the mountain of fear inside. This is understandable. These feelings can overwhelm you and compete with your willingness to overcome. Try not to wait for the fear to lessen on its own. Instead, reach and pray for your strength to help you feel primed for the task.
Cherilynn Veland, MSW, LCSW, is a counselor and coach based in Chicago. She has been helping individuals, couples and families for more than 20 years. She is author of Stop Giving It Away, a new book about developing healthier relationships with yourself and others. The Stop Giving It Away movement aims to stop the detrimental level of self-sacrifice in which many women live and work. For more insight, get a copy of Stop Giving It Away.