They prefer the certainty of misery rather than the misery of uncertainty.
—Bruce Perry, MD, PhD
When Savannah’s mother, Rowena, married a military man, she thought her family’s future was secure. A glamorous woman with a professional singing career, Rowena always sought out men in uniform for their military benefits: better housing, health care, and good schools for Savannah and her younger brothers, yet Savannah wasn’t even sure if she even liked these men.
When Savannah’s second stepfather came into her life when she was thirteen, he imposed a kind of martial law enforced with violence, and Savannah and her siblings were sometimes the targets. Even the most trivial incidents would send him over the edge. The family had ordered pizza from Domino’s, and her little half brother, who was three at the time, reached up to the counter to grab a cinnamon stick without asking first. When the toddler accidentally knocked them all to the floor, Savannah’s stepfather picked him up by his arm and held him up in the air. Their mother screamed at him to stop, and he lunged for her instead. Savannah ran into the bathroom, grabbed a hair dryer and used it to hit her stepfather in the head, hoping it would stun him enough to release his grip on her mother. More enraged, he tossed her brother onto the ground to grab Savannah by the throat and slammed her against the wall.
She still remembers him trying to strangle both her and her mother with each hand. Then suddenly he stopped. He dropped both women and walked out without a word.
“There were no apologies; everything went back to normal the next day, and that’s how it always was. Nothing ever seemed to get better.”
Savannah’s turbulent childhood of living with domestic violence was the only consistent thing in her family’s uncertain existence as they moved in and out of military bases all over the United States and Europe. It left her with a deep sadness and sense of loss that she’s still dealing with today. While most of the violence took place between her mother and stepfather, life revolved around his strict rules to the point at which she became the live-in nanny, servant, and cook. Still just a child herself, she was cast in the role of mother to her younger siblings, isolated in her own home and robbed of her freedom, her childhood. Subject to constant criticism and discipline, she felt completely insignificant, even to her own mother. She was told she was good for nothing and had to earn the roof over her head by doing her parents’ bidding, and she came to believe that her life would always be this way.
“I had way too much information about how dark life could get,” she says, “and not enough ground to stand on. I couldn’t carry it all.”
I LOST SOMETHING I CANNOT GET BACK—MY CHILDHOOD
For many children of domestic violence, feeling sad is a constant that follows them well into adulthood. You might call the deep feeling of sadness, loss, depression, or misery. You feel defeated, let down, or grief stricken. Perhaps you go through life turned inward, dwelling on the hopelessness of your situation and thinking, “What’s the point? Nothing good is ever going to happen to me anyway.” While this feeling may vary by degrees from being blue to suffering clinical depression, for the sake of simplicity we’ll call it sadness.
As a child I felt let down often. Things just didn’t work out for me. My mother let me down, my family let me down, everyone let me down because they didn’t help me or protect me. I lost my childhood. I had a deep sense of loss around that and it made me sad.
Like an umbrella under which many other emotions fall, feeling sad is a common feeling for anyone who grew up living with domestic violence. Crippling and complex, it is an insidious affliction that immobilizes its victims, making them feel persistently depressed, unhappy, and hopeless. Different from just the normal blues, depression is an all-encompassing low mood that destroys the pleasure you would ordinarily take in enjoyable activities. Hanging over your world is the constant sense of dread.
Children can be trapped in sadness, unable to understand or articulate it. It’s the quicksand of emotions, making you sink deeper and deeper into a world of despair. Research increasingly links the risk of depression to the number of uncontrollable stressful events people experienced during their childhood.1 So you withdraw and become isolated. As a child, you hide in your room. You lose yourself in watching TV or playing video games. And if you’re an adult, you may numb yourself with sleeping pills, alcohol, or other drugs. You’re often angry, lashing out at those you perceive as weaker than you. And you don’t consistently function well in school, in extracurricular activities, or at social events.
VIOLENCE KNOWS NO GENDER
Even before Savannah’s violent stepfather came along, she had no foundation for happiness. Anger, despair, and abandonment—that was what she’d always known.
Rowena, her mother, also had a violent side. Her first husband, Savannah’s birth father, ran off when Savannah was a baby because his wife was physically abusive toward him. Rowena’s second husband, a sweet-natured guy Savannah came to think of as Dad, was more loving and never abusive, but he was an alcoholic who spent most of his time in bars near the military base when he wasn’t working night shifts. Savannah’s mother was also a heavy drinker who liked to party, often leaving Savannah and her younger half brother with neighbors and relatives. Her mother was so neglectful that a neighbor once reported the situation to social services, and Savannah and her younger brother almost got taken into foster care.
It got so bad on the military base in Europe where they were living at the time that her parents became known as “the Drop-Offs” because they were always trying to drop their children off somewhere so they could go out for the night. “It was so embarrassing,” recalls Savannah. Not only was it obvious to her that her parents either didn’t care enough to be responsible or were incapable of looking after their own children, everyone in the small community of the base knew.
Savannah’s mother rarely expressed affection toward her children. In fact, her nurturing skills were practically nonexistent. She wasn’t physically abusive, at least not with Savannah and her brother, but she communicated almost exclusively through sarcastic remarks and put-downs.
“This was not anything intentional; to be mean or degrading, but this is how my mother behaved. This is how she spoke,” recalls Savannah. “This is how she taught me to speak.”
When Savannah was twelve, the family moved back to the United States. By then, her mother’s second marriage was finished, although they tried to make it work for a few months after her stepfather’s affair. Because their mother stayed behind in Europe, Savannah and her brother moved to a military base with her stepfather in Oregon. They settled into their new life in America, and for a moment it looked as if there were hope.
Even though her parents were now estranged, Savannah remained close with her first stepfather, and came to know his extended family as her own. She and her brother stayed with him while her mother took off again. Life without her was noticeably better. But the peace and stability ended when her mother finally came back with a newborn baby by the next military man, her new husband-to-be.
“I could not fathom why she would decide that of all the things we needed right now, some random man she met was supposed to be the answer to our problems,” recalls Savannah, who questioned her mother’s decision.
“Aren’t you going through something since you just had a baby? Like, postpartum or whatever? I don’t think you should be making decisions like this so soon, Mom.”
“And what am I supposed to do now with the baby and no husband? Your stepfather and I are getting divorced. We can’t live here anymore. Base housing will kick us out, and we will be homeless. But I gotta plan.”
She left a few weeks later for Indiana, where her new boyfriend was stationed. Savannah didn’t see her new brother again until he was three months old, when her mother sent for Savannah and her other brother.
Savannah had a bad feeling. She was aware that being around her mother, getting dragged along as she made questionable life choices, was becoming toxic. So she begged her stepfather to adopt her. He gave her a hug, told her he was sorry and that he didn’t want to lose her but explained that the law wouldn’t allow him to. It felt like another rejection. Instead of seeing the facts, she concluded that he was just making up a story because he didn’t care.
As we grow older, it becomes very easy for us to become disappointed in others. If someone doesn’t deliver on a promise, it becomes a personal affront. We figure, “This is what happens to people like me.” It’s hard enough to deal with the world letting you down, but it adds an entire new level of challenge and difficulty when you believe that everyone who lets you down is doing it with malice directed at you. It’s one more thing that reinforces the lie of our relentless sadness.
Life got progressively worse for Savannah and her brothers. Despite the escalating violence, her mother always took her new stepfather’s side. Savannah felt torn between defending her mother, who sought her protection, and total rejection, when her mother and new stepfather blamed her for getting in the way. Savannah felt there was no way out, and she fell into a deep depression.
IS THE SADNESS SO BAD THAT PHYSICALLY HURTING YOURSELF FEELS BETTER?
When Savannah was fourteen, the cutting started. She began the almost daily ritual of slicing a razor blade across her arms until the blood flowed as she tried to release the chronic emotional hurt.
It’s difficult to say how many people who’ve lived with domestic violence have harmed themselves, because it usually takes place in secret, but it is more common than you would think. According to a UK study published in 2006, about 25 percent of emergency room patients with a history of domestic violence presented evidence of self-harm.2 Many of the people we come into contact with at our foundation report starting rituals of cutting themselves in their early teens.
The psychological pain of growing up in these homes is so deep, that physical pain can induce a sense of temporary relief, much the same as abusing drugs or alcohol. In fact, many of these practices go hand in hand when we are so deep in this sadness we see no way out. It’s what can happen when we find ourselves deep inside the lie of sadness and despair.
Self-injury—the act of deliberately harming your own body, involves systematically cutting, burning, or otherwise injuring yourself as a way to manage tension, anger, frustration, a sense of chaos, or any emotion that’s difficult to control.3 It can even help temporarily break through that sense of numbness that accompanies some forms of severe depression. Savannah describes the relief of the ritual best:
It was more than a coping mechanism; it was a way of life for me—clothing choices in the summer; music styles in my headphones; writing from my heart; blood on the pages. It gave me a release every time someone hurt me. It was a way of keeping my anger in control. Instead of hurting others, I would hurt myself.
It was the one area of her life that was hers alone. She’d go into the privacy of her room, lock the door and play her favorite music, especially selected for the ritual of cutting up and down her arms with a blade. She even kept a secret box with her cutting equipment and a diary where she wrote about all the experiences and emotional pain she was trying to relieve.
But at school and among her friends, she put up a brave front, flirting with boys, partying, and drinking whenever she had the opportunity. No one knew how much she was hurting.
“I would pretend to be bold and sassy in public, getting the lead in every play. I was on the dance team in high school. I became the director of our school’s TV news station. I even tried to run for class president my senior year. But when I got back home, I felt that I was just an insignificant part of my family.”
TRYING TO NUMB THE PAIN LEADS NOWHERE
When they moved overseas, Savannah was completely trapped. Her new stepfather was high ranking and had a lot of power on the base, and he kept tight control over his family. Whenever Savannah made new friends, all her movements were monitored. Apart from school, she had to remain at home to take care of the kids and do chores. She loved the theater, and got involved in the school play, but by the time any production got to the performance stage, her stepfather ordered her to stay home. She met her first serious boyfriend, who spoke his mind to Savannah’s mother about the situation at home, and was banned from ever seeing him again.
Savannah added shoplifting to her list of escapist habits, and the drinking and drug taking escalated. She tried more positive ways to manage the sadness, and even began going to church, but when she was caught stealing, her stepfather banned her from Sunday services as well.
“He told me, ‘You’re just a fuckup, nothing can fix you, not even God,’ and I let that be my mentality.”
At nineteen, Savannah made her escape, working at a factory off the base to save up just enough cash for a plane ticket. That job was her only freedom, because her stepfather kept close tabs on her shifts and monitored her so carefully that if she didn’t make it home by a certain time, Savannah would catch hell.
Once out of Germany, she landed at her grandmother’s house in the Northeast, but they didn’t get along, and by then her drug abuse was out of control. She spent the next year drifting back and forth across the country, eventually returning to her grandmother’s house.
Friends and relatives tried to help, but with no home, no job, and not enough money or access to financial aid to go to college, she hit rock bottom. Savannah locked herself in her grandmother’s spare bedroom and wrote whore in lipstick on the mirror. Blaring music, she drank “half a gallon” of vodka, smashed up the room, and started cutting herself. This time, she planned to go all the way and end her life.
As she was cutting, she looked over at a photo of herself cuddling in bed with her two younger brothers—the children she’d spent so much time caring for they called her Mom. In that moment, she couldn’t do it. She loved them too much. They were the two people in the world she loved more than anyone, and that picture reminded her that they loved her back unconditionally; it was something to be grateful for. Smeared in her own blood, she dropped the knife and called to her grandmother for help.
SERVING ANOTHER TOOK HER OUT OF SADNESS
Savannah was still a long way from healing, but that brief glimpse at the truth that she had something to be grateful for saved her life. With so much overwhelming sadness and loss dominating her life, she still had it within her to see that there was something for her to be grateful for. She was able to ask and answer for herself, “What is great about this?” Yes, “what is wrong” you can always clearly see, but “what is great” is also just as easily available, if you ask. On the beach in Oregon watching the moon, at school in Germany, working with her theater friends, and briefly enjoying the fellowship of the church on the military base, Savannah was able to feel gratitude in the simplest things. She, more than anyone, appreciated those brief moments of light because they were so rare in the dark world she grew up in. Most of all she was grateful to finally be out of that house.
Numerous studies have shown that gratitude for the more positive aspects of our lives is the key to arriving at a new truth. It’s not so much a feeling as an attitude that we can consciously cultivate and that brings real and measurable benefits to our mental health.4 Adopting a grateful attitude becomes a method for rediscovering all the things we can easily overlook in our lives—the kindness of others and the hidden beauty in the very smallest things. As we look beyond ourselves and see the world through a new lens, life changes for the better. Savannah had glimpses of it, it was just a matter of learning how to sustain the attitude long enough to turn it into her truth.
For almost two years after her aborted suicide attempt, Savannah drifted and experienced more setbacks. She was seeking happiness in all the wrong places—with men who were violent, emotionally abusive, drug dealers, or all of the above. They were all different versions of the stepfather she ran away from. Finally, at twenty-one, Savannah found herself in Seattle—pregnant, malnourished, and determined to get away from the father of the child. “There was no way was I going to bring a child into another abusive relationship,” she says.
She remembered she had an uncle living ten minutes from where she was staying. As soon as he heard her voice on the phone, he insisted she come to his house and stay for as long as it took to get well.
Savannah terminated her pregnancy and spent the next three weeks in his spare bedroom, sleeping, crying, and succumbing to her despair. The grief for her lost childhood and the opportunities she’d missed was overwhelming. Finally, her uncle had had enough. He dragged her out of bed, stood her in front of the mirror and said, “Look at yourself! You are beautiful. You have so much promise in life and all the wisdom to become successful and happy. You have a whole amazing life ahead of you. I need you to see that.”
Savannah’s uncle became the One for her, reminding her of all the many things she had to be grateful for: the fact that she was intelligent and worldly, with more life experience and sophistication attained in her twenty-one years than most people have in their lifetime; that she was young and healthy; and that there were people in her life who cared about her.
One afternoon, her uncle brought home a bunch of helium balloons. They went into the backyard of their brownstone, and he made her write everything she hated about herself, all her problems, on the balloons. One by one, she let them float up into the air. When she’d released them all, she felt physically lighter.
She cleaned herself up, got her hair done, went shopping for new clothes and then hit the pavement. Savannah is so attractive, she even did some modeling. But she quickly found work as a hostess at a fine restaurant, eventually working her way up to manager of an elite nightclub. And she stopped cutting herself.
From that moment in her uncle’s backyard, when she let go of all that pain and sadness, Savannah’s transformation was remarkably rapid. Today, just three years later, Savannah is happily married and living a full life with a career she loves. She keeps her friends close, exchanging positive and encouraging texts and email messages every day. She’s also grateful—for everything.
“I don’t want to change anything about what happened to me. I am not mad about it anymore. I believe in my heart that everything happens for a reason.”
These days, Savannah is the rock in her family. Her brothers, mother, extended family, and friends come to her for advice. She is the One for everyone her life touches.
“Had I not lived the life I lived I wouldn’t know what to say or do in certain situations; I wouldn’t know right from wrong. I wouldn’t be so proud of myself had it all been handed to me.”
Savannah expresses her gratitude by contributing. She shares her stories with others and uses her hard-won wisdom to help anyone who comes into her life. She’s there for acquaintances, strangers, friends, even her mother, to listen and offer insight through her own experiences. She’s learning to rein in her quick temper and manage the “tact and tone” problem she picked up from her mother, who loved to win an argument at all costs. In fact, she is conscious every moment of every day to be nothing like her mother or stepfather.
HURTING OTHERS CREATES THE ULTIMATE SADNESS
The first rule of dealing with sadness: Don’t hurt the feelings or body of another when you get angry. Don’t hurt them the way you were hurt. How many times have you felt justified in your mind to hurt someone’s feelings only to find that a few minutes later you feel awful? If you hurt their body, it is even worse. That’s because we are not designed to hurt those we love. When we do, we experience an equal hurt in the form of sadness and depression. But if you refrain from hurting others you won’t have to feel this sadness. Of course, it’s difficult to give when you feel you don’t have much to give, just as it’s difficult to give when no one was there for you. When you’ve grown up focused on all that you lost, you start to believe the lie: Life is bleak and it always will be. It’s what you deserve. Then you try to escape the pain by going down a self-destructive path that serves only to reinforce the lie that there is nothing to be grateful for, and you are getting what you deserve.
There’s a bleakness that becomes a part of our psychological and physiological makeup. People who’ve lived with domestic violence become conditioned for sadness through their unrelenting exposure to emotional stress, conflict, and neglect. Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, who has studied the biochemistry of stress and its impact on mood, explains that the human body contains a set of brain circuits and hormonal systems that are designed to deal with stress and threats to survival. But when we overtax these systems through constant exposure to domestic violence, they start to turn against us, constantly flooding our bodies with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisone to create a broad range of behavioral and physiological disorders that can persist over a lifetime.
Many of the classic signs of depression—sleep disturbances, cognitive dullness, and a distinct loss of pleasure in everyday activities—will appear in children and adults even long after the storm of violence has passed.
WHEN YOU FOCUS ON YOURSELF, YOU WILL BE MISERABLE
Fiona struggled with sadness and depression her entire life after watching violence between her parents regularly as a child. Fiona grew up in an upscale neighborhood in New York State. Everyone knew her as an outgoing, vivacious girl who loved playing softball and field hockey but who was studious enough to make honor roll throughout middle school. School and sports were a passion for Fiona, and she was rewarded with praise and attention from friends, coaches, and teachers. No one noticed anything particularly wrong with Fiona—testimony at once to both her shame and courage.
Fiona’s dad was the deacon of the local church and was admired by the community for his model family and principled sermons. That is, until Fiona and her mother turned up at the homeless shelter across town. A police restraining order was filed a week after they left their home. All the wealth and privilege of their past life couldn’t help them. And without financial resources, Fiona and her mother had nowhere else to go.
Loyal parishioners urged the family to reconcile, but Fiona’s mother refused. Fifteen grueling years—the secrets and the lies—had set her mind. More details emerged, dividing the church and making the local press. Fiona and her mother, with the help of family, eventually relocated in New Hampshire and began rebuilding their lives.
But Fiona’s troubles followed her. She had kept herself together for years, just like her mother, maintaining the appearance of a happy family and finding an outlet in sports to redress her unhappiness. But after three weeks in the shelter, the embarrassment of what was said at school, and the move to a new town, Fiona began to crumble. She stopped eating, daydreamed through school, and quit calling her old friends. She skipped field hockey practices, complaining about her stomach, and hid in her room. She slept long hours, was listless throughout the weekends, and seemed uninterested in anything.
It was a dramatic change; under the strict discipline of her father, Fiona had always done well in school and been a good girl. But without his structure and all their family activities related to the church, Fiona felt lost and cut off from all she knew. She and her mother had escaped the abuse, but Fiona had been scarred much worse than anyone realized.
University of Michigan professor of psychology Sandra Graham-Bermann points out the marked disparity between child and adult behavior once they leave a violent environment. “While the adult often feels better right away, the child, who had to keep it together when the violence was happening, often falls apart,” Graham-Bermann explained to us in an interview. “She feels sad and depressed because it’s finally safe to do so—often for years to come.”
Psychologists have long understood that all of our thinking, and even our most rudimentary observations, are emotionally charged. We see and understand the world through the lens of our own emotions. Depression often acts as a cognitive filter, distorting our perception of reality, a phenomenon that has been called confirmation bias. It simply means that sad people see sadness everywhere, because the depressed mind pays closer attention to whatever confirms a negative outlook and overlooks things that contradict it.
For Fiona, the glass was always half empty. She had a slow recovery, and several dramatic relapses during her early teens—weeks when she could barely manage to come out of her room. As she got older she became defiant—staying out late, becoming verbally abusive toward her mother, and sometimes binge drinking.
To break through the lie that says we must be sad, it’s necessary to radically reshape our point of view. Those of us who grow up with domestic violence tend to be focused on ourselves because for so long we had to be; no one else was going to provide for our needs. At times we had to provide our own sense of security, love, and importance.
However, as long as you focus on yourself you will never be happy because you are not meeting your need for self-esteem. You don’t feel good about yourself when you are serving only yourself. You feel best when you are doing something to help another person and are growing in the process. Because of what you have come through, you can help a child, your own children, or another adult who does not know what you know. You are an example. Discover that the purpose of your life is to be a powerful loving example of what is possible.
Fiona stumbled onto this truth almost by accident. She found an activity that awakened her sense of gratitude, showed her the truth about her own value to others, and helped pull her out of her depression. Volunteering with an older friend at an after-school special education center near her school, she earned externship credits toward a junior college degree in social work, but more important, she learned to feel grateful for what she had instead of mourning what she had lost.
“When I started working with autistic children, something about that whole experience just touched me. The look in their eyes when you show up, being someone else’s window to the world, made me start to count my own blessings.”
She began to see her own story in a more positive light—as someone whose survival made her stronger and gave her more to offer the world. She had suffered in childhood, but if these kids, who were facing even greater difficulties, could smile, then she could too. She could actually make their lives easier by helping them. The kids liked to see her every morning, and were sad when she missed a day. Just knowing that she had touched someone’s life made her feel grateful for what she had and what she could still offer the world.
As her outlook brightened, she started connecting more with her mother. They both still have a lot of deep hurt and anger to sort out together, but her mother noticed a clear change in Fiona’s attitude. By the time Fiona entered her senior year in high school, she had actually broken out her old softball glove—a gift from her dad—and began playing on the school’s intramural team again. Her grades improved as well.
Fiona realized that she couldn’t stop her thoughts from happening; she’ll never be totally immune to a sad thought. But now she knows that she’s got a choice. She can exercise a sense of control that she never knew as a child, when her father’s unpredictable outbursts and violence left her in constant fear. Now she can choose how long she stays in the sadness.
She didn’t have that power to control her reactions when she was a child, because her underdeveloped neocortex wouldn’t allow her to reason maturely. Unlike adults, who will use logic and reason to process the meaning of an event, young children understand only its emotional content. They can’t put any distance between what they see and how they feel. They are simply overwhelmed with pain and sadness at seeing their loved ones getting hurt over and over again. But now, as an adult, Fiona can change that perspective by combating sad thoughts with grateful ones. She has turned the practice of gratitude into a conscious, everyday effort, by making it a habit to consider exactly what she’s most grateful for today. By starting her day acknowledging the things for which she is most grateful, she sends her mind down new avenues of thought, seeking out the positive aspects she can look forward to. She opens up new neural pathways for thinking and diverts her mind from the false conclusions that were imprinted upon her as a child.
It’s made a massive difference in her life. These days, Fiona is married with two kids. Fiona’s happy, and it shows in her face.
“When things get bad,” she says, “you have to take a step back. You have to keep things relative. I’ve got my kids, my husband, and my friends. That’s what matters. And I always know that nothing we’re going to face tomorrow holds a candle to what I had to live through back then . . . nothing.”
Fiona’s truth echoes what the latest research has revealed: We have the capacity to experience joy precisely because of what we have lived through. As psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, puts it: “People who have experienced adversity, for example several negative events or life changing moments, are ultimately happier and less distressed, traumatized, stressed or impaired than those who have experienced no adversity.”5
Fiona and Savannah are both living proof that you don’t have to believe the lie of profound sadness. In their own way, each was affected by sadness and loss, but each made a choice, refusing to accept the lie created in childhood. They took action by recognizing that the past did not have to be their whole story. Even through all the bad things, they had the potential within them to recognize and appreciate the good—a gratitude for the smallest gifts was their secret weapon. They even see their childhood as something to be grateful for because it has given them the inner strength and wisdom to serve others: Fiona through her work with autistic children; Savannah as a sister, friend, wife, and daughter who can offer understanding and compassion because of all that she has lived through.
From the Lie to the Truth
Feeling sad is a constant that will always be with you. Things can be going great, but then a few minutes later, you sink into a sadness and cannot get out. This is just how you are. You go through life focused on yourself. You consciously and subconsciously mourn the loss of your childhood.
As a child of domestic violence you feel as though you lost something: love from your parents, your childhood, important relationships, and so on. You believe you are destined in life to continue to experience loss and hurt. This sadness is made worse when you hurt others. When you hurt someone with words or otherwise, especially those you love, you cannot feel good about yourself.
After leaving a violent environment, adults often feel better right away. The children, on the other hand, who had to keep it together when the violence was happening, often feel the effects for the rest of their lives. They may now act out on their feelings because they sense it is finally safe to do so—and the sadness they feel may continue for years to come.
I am grateful. Today, I will take the time to feel those things for which I am most grateful.
I remind myself that I now know the truth. I am no longer in the environment of my childhood. I can sleep through the night. I am now in control of my life. The very things that I longed for years ago are now available to me in abundance. They are mine. For that I am grateful.
I serve others. Gratitude comes to life through service without expectation of anything in return. I guard against hurting the feelings of others because it always makes me sad in return.
I begin my day and ask myself throughout, What am I grateful for? What is great about this?
1. When you feel the urge to do or say something hurtful toward another, break the pattern that your brain is in by saying aloud to yourself, “I am above this. This is not me. It’s just a pattern.” You were born to take pain away and not to be the cause of it.
2. When you find yourself feeling sad and notice that you are too focused on yourself, take an action that serves another. Call someone and tell her you were thinking about her. Ask someone how his day is going and really take the time to listen. Anything that makes another person feel important and appreciated.
3. Contribute beyond yourself. I know it’s difficult to give when you feel you don’t have much to give; that is why it is so powerful. It doesn’t need to take much time. You can become a role model for another because of what you have come through; you can help another child of domestic violence, your own child, or another adult who does not know what you know. Create a schedule that allows you to consistently serve another: once a day, once a week, or even just an hour a month. The key is to schedule simple actions that create the habit.
4. Use DATA, a tool I will introduce in Chapter 6, to control anger, and you will not experience the sadness that is the inevitable by-product.