How to Know When You've Healed From Abuse
Before we talk about anything else, it needs to be said that healing cannot begin while the abuse is still going on. It can't happen. You cannot heal from abuse while you're still in an abusive situation. It'd be like trying to blow dry your hair while you're standing in the pouring rain. It isn't possible. If you're still in the relationship, you need focus more on getting out of it first, before you try to focus on healing. Anything you accomplish will be undone because the abuse is still going on. A wound cannot even begin to heal if it is repeatedly being re-opened and exacerbated. The abuse has to stop first before healing can begin.
Now, we sometimes hear that healing should happen within a prescribed amount of time, or that if you follow a prescribed number of steps in a particular order, you'll be healed. The truth is, it's different for everybody. Not everybody has the same tools, not everyone has gone through the same situation or been through the same level of abuse for the same period of time, so there's no way to really say how long it should or shouldn't take.
In general, the steps to recovery from abuse are the same, but the length of time they may take to go through them or the way a person does it is dependent on them and their situation. Healing is an organic process that happens naturally. Everybody is different, so if anyone says it should be a certain amount of time, or that you're doing something out of step or whatever, you do what feels right for you. That's what matters. It's your life and your pain and nobody can tell you how to work things so they work for you.
So how do you know you've healed? Well, probably you won't have to ask that question. When you've truly healed from abuse, you'll know. People sometimes say well, you're never healed, you'll always have scars. Scars are healed. They don't hurt anymore. The place where you have a scar may not be exactly the same as it was before the injury, but it's healed. It's not bleeding and open. It's not fresh. So sure, we all have scars. That doesn't mean we haven't healed. It means we've had experiences in life. These are the things that make us who we are, for better or for worse. Scars are reminders of where we've been and what we've learned. They're nothing more and they're certainly nothing less. Scars are the difference between a victim and a survivor. A victim is still bleeding. A survivor has scars. Maybe that's the best way to look at it: when you are no longer a victim but a survivor, that's when you know you've healed.
Probably the best barometer for this is when you are no longer angry. We sometimes hear people say that they are healed from abuse, but after you listen to them talk for a while, you realize they are still so angry. If you are still angry, if it still preys on your mind that much, you are not over it. You've not moved on. And there's nothing wrong with that. It takes time and no one can tell you how much time it should take. Just be cautious of believing you are farther along than you actually are in your recovery. This can blindside people, if they think they are over something but they aren't. Let time take time and don't try to rush through things.
Sometimes we will find that people are intentionally hanging on to their anger because they are afraid to let it go. They often get angry or are offended at the suggestion that they let it go so they can move on. They might feel vulnerable without it, or they may feel that letting it go means letting their abuser off the hook. Just so you know, it means neither of these things. You're actually more vulnerable when you're angry, not less, because anger and other "hot" emotions blind people. And it isn't letting your abuser off the hook. It's letting yourself off the hook. This person has already taken so much from you. Don't let them take your joy, too. Don't let them take your enjoyment of life away. That's letting them continue to victimize you even after the abuse has stopped.
Of course, if it's been 3 months, then no one has the right to question your anger. But if it's been years and you are still really angry, you might want to ask yourself if that anger is helping you or if it may actually be stopping you from moving on. There eventually comes a point where people are choosing not to let their anger and hatred go. This doesn't hurt the abuser. It only hurts the person who is angry. Look at narcissists. They are the perfect example of what happens to a person who cannot process their feelings and move on. Even people who aren't narcissists have that problem; we all know someone like that, who cannot let go of their anger and hatred. They are angry at everything all the time. They are often bitter, miserable people. Anger is a thief. It steals your joy and your ability to be happy. No one has the right to take that from you and you can choose not to let them.