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'I work with abused women every day. Here's what I want them to know about recovery.'

At Mamamia, we have a year-round commitment to highlighting the epidemic of domestic violence in Australia. During May, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, we will not only raise awareness of the personal impact of violence, but do our best to ensure victims have access to help, and encourage those who abuse to take responsibility and seek help for their behaviour.

This post discusses domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers.

Siba Abdelki, who has been a trauma-based counsellor for 15 years, has helped many people get through emotional suffering after the most devastating events life can bring. This includes sexual abuse, car accidents, loss of a loved one, and domestic violence. She is particularly passionate about helping people recover from family violence at her private practice Heart Centred Counselling. 

The most common thing Siba hears survivors of domestic abuse say is, "I still love him."

"The emotional scars have been harder to heal than the physical."

Watch: Women and violence: the hidden numbers. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

"Survivors struggle with the internalised inner critic, of the perpetrator’s, the constant emotional put down."

What therapies can best assist healing?

In trauma-based counselling, which Siba recommends, "We help the survivor understand that the 'inner critic,' is the voice of the abuser, and separate to their own thoughts. This is vital so they can break away from it."

Siba says that healing is most effective when it’s a more holistic approach, rather than just counselling alone. Having a practitioner familiar with the complexities of family violence is important. Also, a practitioner that listens to what the survivor needs. 

To identify these needs, a survivor may need to rediscover things they enjoyed and identified with. This is because the relationship took so much of that away from them. 

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Siba says, "For some, it may be that 'I used to dance, it was a big part of my identity but he stripped that away from me,' so let's get back into dancing. Trauma can sit in the body, so exercise can assist with moving it through and out. 

"Being a part of a community and socialising again is also important, which can include religion, pets and nature."

Siba says it’s extremely helpful for survivors to educate themselves about healing. "Tap into resources online or books from practitioners overseas. In some parts of the world, especially in America, they are advanced in healing therapies.

"It’s not just the one hour of counselling a fortnight. These additional therapeutic activities are also pieces of the puzzle to bring back autonomy and self-esteem."

The process of healing.

Necessary to healing is processing the loss, grief, and trauma. Siba explains, "If you had to fight for safety and stability after leaving, then you may be in survival mode for some time. Healing can’t happen in survival mode. Only when safety and stability is restored, then can we work on acceptance of what's happened, and how to move forward in life."

Siba says reaching acceptance is vital for healing. "Getting to acceptance can be unique and individual and it may take longer than others, depending on the length and nature of the relationship. This means building self-esteem, resilience, agency, strength, and ideally, recreating themselves." Siba asks her clients, "What amazing person have you become from surviving all of that?"

"Trauma can be very destructive, but it also can be very transformative."

She describes acceptance is like what happens with grieving the death of a loved one. "It’s accepting there may still be traumatic memories, but it doesn't dominate life. A wedding anniversary may trigger painful memories, but they will say 'I’m going to reach out to my best friend or see my therapist.' It’s about making peace with it and recreating a relationship with the trauma. The frequency of being triggered can reduce over time."

Siba has had women openly say, "This is so much better than listening to his abuse, everyday walking on eggshells."

It might be slow, there will be bumps along the road, but you can recover.

Siba acknowledges that navigating systems and services to secure housing, finances, a job and legal assistance can be extremely challenging and re-traumatising. Yet one may need to go through all of these to achieve security and stability after leaving. 

She wants survivors to know: "If they have a negative experience in this process, it's not personal. Don't let that stop you from reaching out again for help or finding a lawyer."

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She often sees clients have just needed that encouragement from a lawyer to gain the strength to advocate for themselves. "You're going to be proud of advocating against somebody that hurt you for so long.

"Dealing with all these can be bumps on the road to healing. It’s going to be tough, but it’s just a transitional period, it’s not forever. You will climb that mountain. Lean on and talk to your supports when it gets tough."

With her 15 years of experience, she has seen survivors recover and even thrive, which makes her say with conviction, "It does happen. I've seen survivors retrain, get jobs, create businesses, their children thrive, and even buy property again. I have seen a client get a job while she was in survival mode. Some become lawyers to advocate. Over time, they can get back into the driver's seat of their life again."

You are amazing.

Siba emphasises how much she is in awe of survivors, "How resilient they are, what they're doing to keep themselves and their kids safe, what they achieved even while in the abusive relationship. They’ve built businesses, achieved degrees." She wants to say to them: "You are an amazing mother and community member. What you’ve experienced hasn’t broken you. Do you know how brave it is for you to reach out and break the cycle? It’s amazing and should be celebrated. This is where your life begins.

"You’re also playing a role for other women around you who may be suffering in silence. They may think, 'She did, I can too.' It’s healing to help another person through a stage you’ve passed."

The gift of trauma.

Many survivors say when they heal they want to give back to the community. Some of them want to retrain and work in family violence. Siba calls it the gift of trauma.

"That is part of healing. Trauma makes us grow and become that autonomous, independent person that we have to for our survival."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature Image: Getty.