ERP 332: Healing From Abuse In Relationship —An Interview With Dr. Amelia Kelley

By Posted in - Podcast August 9th, 2022 0 Comments

Making the choice to leave an abusive relationship can be one of the most difficult things a person has to do. Without the right resources and support, it would be hard to move on even after you have cut your ties with your abuser.

Being in an abusive relationship causes you to constantly pay more attention to your surroundings than is necessary. So, in this episode, Dr. Amelia Kelley discusses some useful techniques for managing feelings of anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance, as well as how to retrain your body to feel secure in any situation.

Dr. Amelia Kelley is a trauma-informed therapist who has conducted research on the effects of exercise on ADHD symptoms as well as the effects of resiliency on PTSD. She is a trained hypnotherapist, art therapist, HSP Therapist, EMDR-informed therapist, and meditation and yoga teacher. She is a presenter and writer in the “science-help” field, focusing on relationships, highly sensitive people, trauma, motivation, healthy living, and adult ADHD. She is a guest podcast presenter focusing on women’s issues and coping with the trauma of unhealthy relationships, as well as a coach and trainer for SAS’s Work/Life Program in Cary, NC, and a resident trainer for the NC Art Therapy Institute. Her practice is also currently part of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium at the Kinsey Institute.

In this Episode

7:18 How to rediscover yourself and rebuild your self-confidence after an abusive relationship.

20:32 Managing feelings of anxiety, stress, and hypervigilance.

40:43 Useful strategies for beginning self-healing.

43:04 A summary of her book, What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship and the narrative that inspired it.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Make a list of the hobbies you enjoyed as a child and begin to gradually incorporate them into your daily routine.
  • Choose at least one person—someone you may have lost touch with as a result of the abusive relationship or someone you know has always stood by you—and let them know how things are going.
  • Do not go into deep work right away. The first step might be to consider what can help down-regulate your nervous system.
  • If you are open to it, get a medical or bodywork provider involved. Get support and treatment for the trauma.
  • Go out for walks and give yourself permission to pause.
  • Set up a no-contact rule with your abuser. At the very least, establish boundaries if you have kids or for any other reason.
  • Educate yourself as much as you can.
  • Gradually push yourself to increase your tolerance.

Mentioned

What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship (*Instagram)

High Heels and Heartache Podcast (*Apple podcast)

ERP 321: How to Tell the Difference Between an Abusive Relationship & a Toxic Dynamic — An Interview with Dr. Amelia Kelley

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Dr. Amelia Kelley

Websites: ameliakelley.com — insighttimer.com/kelleycounseling

Facebook: facebook.com/DrAmeliaKelley/

Twitter: twitter.com/DrAmeliaKelley

Instagram: instagram.com/drameliakelley/

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Amelia Kelley, thank you so much again for joining us a second time. I’ll make sure to put the link to the first episode where we talked about toxic relationships and abusive relationships. And today, we’re going to really be pivoting towards recovery. How to heal, how to repair, and how to restore after having experienced an abusive, toxic relationship. 

Before we get started, I would love to invite people to talk a little bit more about what got them into this. I know you spoke about that in the first episode. Is there anything else you want to share for people to get to know you and how this topic matters to you? 

Well, first, I want to thank you for having me back. Especially because focusing on abusive relationships and all the things to look out for is obviously so very important, but it’s not the whole story. And so, I’m so grateful that we get to offer your listeners the other end of the story. You know, how do we keep going and thrive? 

I think, for me, you know, as I mentioned last time, the way I found counseling was not a direct route. I think that that is part of what really drives the work that I do and why this is so important to me because we have so many different tangents our lives can go on. 

The more we learn and the more we kind of impart and share what we know with each other, the more we all benefit, and we all just excel and really are able to just be more joyful. So, I’m so happy that we have this time to keep going with this really important topic. 

Yes, thank you for just expressing there’s just a journey we’re all on. My experience, too, is that when one heals, that has an impact on others. It’s like when one heals, it heals us all in some collective way. And also, I find in these conversations that the healing that is shared, I’m benefited from it. 

Oh, absolutely. 

Even if it wasn’t my exact story, that the learning and the gift of your transformation. I get to feel the gift of that as you share it. So, thank you. 

Absolutely.

Yeah. And so, we are going to be talking about how to recover. I know there are many things that you would like to make space for in the process of recovery. As I just imagine having experienced that separation, that breakup, that removal, what’s Ground Zero? 

What do you start with? Where do you want to begin with what people are negotiating in this beginning place? It’s not a beginning like a new birth, but there’s some newness to it, and there’s an opportunity and also a grieving, and a whole letting go of many, many things. So, where do people start? 

I think the very beginning that I’ve noticed with most folks I work with is, “Who Am I?” It can be very common that after experiencing abuse, especially if you’ve experienced forms of gaslighting or powers of control that have been over you, you can actually start to lose the sense of even just common interests you have, what flavor of soda you’d like, as my co-author wrote in our book, you know, just something so simple as what do I like? 

And that, I think, is a place where I often start with people. Who are you? Where did that person go? So, dating yourself in a way. It’s almost like a fun way of stating what this process is, but you don’t have anyone else to explain yourself to anymore. 

That gives you an opportunity to try the things that maybe you were too uncomfortable to try or try the things that you were put down for wanting to do or criticized for wanting to do. You get to do everything that you want to do. Now, while I say this, that can also cause decision fatigue. It can be, “Okay. Well, where do I start?” 

An overwhelm. 

Yes, incredible overwhelm. Is it Newton’s law that what is in motion stays in motion? And so, if you’ve had to stop your entire life and work so very hard to get out of abuse, it’s almost like you just kind of stand in the spinning room, and you’re looking around which direction first? 

So, I think starting simply is such a beautiful, compassionate way to go. One intervention I like doing with clients is, “Let’s write a list of hobbies you have as a child.” Even things like coloring or putting on a puppet show. I mean, we might not all run out and put on puppet shows right now. But, you know, it’s what are these simple little things that we love to do, and how can you start to integrate that very slowly, and just on a regular basis in your everyday life? 

These are such beautiful—just who am I? Right? Even that question really turns the spotlight back inwards and gives a lot of space and permission. And when you talk about getting out of abuse, and all the things that were needed to pay attention and perhaps be hyper-vigilant about or attend to so much outwardly focused, and so bring that focus back. 

And even when you use the analogy of like, courting or dating. I almost think the best dating sometimes is going slow and building trust. And sometimes, these beginning efforts might feel tentative or might feel wobbly, and we can feel some strengthening as we start to experience ourselves and feel ourselves and be in a relationship with ourselves. Like, that can begin to evolve and get stronger. Would you agree? 

Yes, absolutely. And also, you know, in that process of being tentative and taking your time, this may not be the time, right, when you get out to say, “Okay, I’m going to sit down and journal every trauma I experienced.” or this is the time for me to dive straight into EMDR, which is a commonly used trauma treatment. 

You want to make sure that your body is able to stay and remain and feel safe in the environments that you’re in. Community is a good goal. I definitely say if we’re looking for a healing, we often need other people. That allows for co-regulation and the feeling of safety around people to remind you that not everyone is dangerous like the abuser was. But to imagine putting yourself in a scenario where you’re in a room with all these people or exposing yourself and your story can feel like too much because it very well may be too much. 

Yes, there are kids laughing and playing, and it might get like loud and might actually be triggering, right? Perhaps if there are loud noises or just might be a lot to absorb. And when we’re in that maybe a little bit more tender, vulnerable, even. Yeah, I just feel like it feels raw. Right? Boundaries are totally clear. 

There are so many things that you’re saying, and I want to slow this down. I don’t want to also miss what I didn’t reflect on, which was just the real beauty of going back to innocent, or perhaps young, pure curiosity and play that can reacquaint us with aspects and the spark in us that maybe we’ve been distracted or ignored or haven’t been paying attention to, from very early on, right, those young years that that can be a resource to access. 

What did I love doing? Was that dancing? Was it playing with dogs or, you know, going out into nature and just getting dirty, or whatever it is that feels like there’s some wholesome kind of access? And then, if I just slow down and unpack what you just said, about being able to regulate and being attentive to our regulation, and perhaps not going into deep work right away. So, I’m going to name that. 

And then, you also talked about the community and just recognizing how important it is to be around loved ones and people who care and feel that comfort, that nurturing, that holding and co-regulation of others. And also, that can feel like a lot to manage if it’s a lot of relationships, especially if there are certain things about it that might be triggering because it feels like there’s some stability that we have to get a handle on. Is that right?

Yes. And really, starting with the body first is a very good place to begin. When you are in an abusive relationship of any kind, you often use the word hypervigilant earlier, where you’re more attentive to your environment than is necessary on a constant basis. That can train your body to think that it always needs to be on high alert. 

I like to encourage regular practice of something that down-regulates your nervous system. This can be choosing your favorite breath skill, for instance. Imagine going to a yoga studio full of people when you feel completely exposed. You might not be ready for that yet, but boy, are there a million yoga videos you can go to online, you know. So, just to bring up an idea, things that help regulate your body. 

That should and can be the very first step. I know my co-author, Kendall Ann, when she first was out and trying to figure out how to survive and thrive, there was a point where she was so numb and felt so unstable physically that she went to the doctor and didn’t realize that she had an incredibly severe case of strep throat. 

Wow!

Yes, so disconnected from her body that she couldn’t even register the pain she was in. 

So, if you feel open to it and you’re willing, it’s also not a bad idea to get some sort of medical or bodywork provider involved because you deserve it. You deserve to see how your body is doing, how it is functioning. Finding a trauma-informed bodyworker, for instance, is a wonderful, compassionate idea. 

Again, I know that this might not be the thing people want to go out and run and do immediately, but it’s certainly a good goal in the early stages because learning that someone can touch you in a safe way, and make you feel taken care of, first of all, is so good for your nervous system. But it’s also good for rewriting the narrative on whether you can trust people. 

So, having someone who is licensed, who is medical, who maybe comes with some great recommendations from people you trust, can be a great idea. And getting back to people you trust, I would encourage listeners to pick one. Just pick at least one person. Maybe someone you’ve lost touch with because of the abusive relationship, or maybe someone that you know has always been in your corner. Let them know where you’re at. You don’t have to share your entire story until you’re ready, but it’s okay to let them know. “I just experienced something big. I need some time, but I just need to let you know where I’m at.” 

Amelia, it sounds as though there’s some scaffolding here that as we put into place these supports, and the mind-body connection, the opportunity for connection and co-regulation and self-care practices, that it might start small even when you talk about a licensed trauma-informed body worker that that could be deep intensive work. 

It can.

It can also be safe and just. I mean, this is what I love about the body, too, is that we don’t have to figure it out with our mind and try to discern what’s the right thing that the body gives so many cues. And it’s direct information. That’s not the storytelling. That’s not justifying, rationalizing, or minimizing. It’s just really clear so that the trained professional can also be responsive to that in honoring those boundaries, and really respecting that there can be so much relearning and that and repair in that. 

Absolutely. And, you know, if we were going to take, let’s say, working with a trauma-focused or trauma-informed bodyworker is the ultimate goal when it comes to reregulating safe touch, let’s pull it back. At the very beginning, maybe just take extra care when you put your lotion on after a shower.

And then maybe we look up a YouTube video on emotional freedom technique or tapping. Maybe find someone that has a nice soothing voice that appeals to you and learn how to do some tapping. Learn how to tap out the stress in your own body. So, it’s you attending and providing safe touch for you. So, you’re just reteaching your body. 

And then, if we go even a step further, what if you go out for walks and you practice some scanning? Scanning, the beginning stages of EMDR, is actually incredibly regulating for your vagus nerve, which lets us know if we’re safe. And then let’s take it a step further. What if you invite a friend on the walk next? 

And then take it a step further, you start talking about what happened on the walk. So, it’s these, as you said. I love that you use scaffolding. That’s such a great term. These little learning points that build to the ultimate goal. We can have a moving target with what makes us feel that we’re thriving. 

No kidding. Thank you for giving those examples. It’s really, really helpful to be able to have some clarity around what that can actually look like. You mentioned early on that it might not be such a great idea to overwhelm or almost be too ambitious about the therapeutic process of engaging in EMDR. 

I’m also aware people might be contending with flashbacks or feeling triggered by certain things, as I mentioned, even just a loud noise and a family gathering or something. So even if someone is being intentional about going slow, trying to listen, and finding that stability and regulation, there might be waves of intensity that might emerge. Or even depression or anxiety. Can you speak about how to negotiate those intense experiences? 

Absolutely. So, we’ll put the depression and anxiety on one table, and then we’ll go to just the hypervigilance on the first table here because I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to almost immediately after leaving abuse. I would say find your version of your truth that you’re willing to share in those moments. Here’s my reason. 

Research shows, and I’ve seen this with clients of mine. When it comes to public speaking, using this as an example. If you declare that you’re nervous, your nervousness precedes. Right? So, if we declare what we’re experiencing, that experience becomes more manageable. So, you may not necessarily hear a loud noise. Turn to the person you’re at an event with and say, “I am having a trigger trauma response because of my past abuse, and these are all the things that happen.” You may not need to go down that road. You could just look at this person and say, “Hold on. I need a moment.” 

And even just stating something, just honoring where you’re at that moment, reinforces to yourself and your body that when you’re in these scenarios, you will give yourself a sense of safety. And you will allow yourself to take breaks. 

I once read this really funny meme where it said something like when I hang out with people I don’t like, I just drink a lot of water, so I have to go to the bathroom all the time. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I do that.” But it’s not because I don’t like people. It’s because I’m highly sensitive, and I need a break sometimes. 

It’s brilliant, though. 

I know. So just get yourself a giant pint of water. But to go to the other table with regard to depression and anxiety, you know, these can be very common occurrences after experiencing trauma, the way that we encounter the world, the way that our mental health is impacted is dramatic after abuse. 

Something that I encourage people not to try to do is find quick fixes to numb that because the depression and the anxiety are trying to inform us of something. It’s informing us that something was not okay and there needs to be some sort of intervention. 

That can be different for different people. Some people may speak to their medical provider and go that route with medication. Other folks might find a more holistic route. But whatever route you take, whatever is best for you, getting back to the idea that I proposed with honoring where you’re at when you’re experiencing it is the most important. There is no shame in experiencing depression and anxiety, most definitely after experiencing trauma or an abusive relationship.

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“There is no shame in experiencing depression and anxiety, most definitely after experiencing trauma or an abusive relationship. Honoring that’s what you’re having will ensure that you will thrive at some point even if, at this moment, you’re feeling pretty horrible.”

It is such a common occurrence. And honoring that that’s what you’re having and what you’re experiencing instead of trying to push it or numb it, and just kind of being with it and informing and educating yourself on how do I handle these mental health issues will ensure that you will thrive at some point even if at this moment, you’re feeling pretty horrible. 

Oh, my goodness. Just even giving that space for the depression or the anxiety or those symptoms that even just giving a little bit of space to normalize. Like, it makes perfect sense that this is an appropriate healthy response to abuse. 

Yes, absolutely. 

And when we look at the intensity of being triggered or feeling activated in one’s nervous system, that even just acknowledging it similarly that it doesn’t have to be the whole everything in the fully unpacking it in the sharing but just even to name as you said earlier, there’s something big happening for me or I feel my system activated. Period. 

That’s enough. You don’t need to explain anything else. 

Right. Or I need a minute, and there is no explanation.

Right. 

That that in and of itself identifies which starts to help us organize and deal with the thing that is happening that if we so quickly turn away or ignore or suppress that, then we’re not giving space for the metabolizing of what we’re feeling. We’re not maybe having the self-care or giving ourselves the space to be able to get support and treatment for the trauma, depression, or anxiety symptoms. 

Right. And speaking of treatment, that is something that abusers often, people who try to control their—I hate to use the word victim, but their victim—is that they don’t want you to gain insight. They don’t want you to go get a third-party perspective on what’s happening. And so, many of the people who try to control their partner will say, “Well, if you go to therapy, you’re crazy.” or “You don’t need to go to therapy.” or “You’re the problem.” 

They’ll even go to therapy with their partner in order to abuse them in session. I actually had that happen recently with a couple, and I had to discontinue therapy because I wasn’t going to create a platform for the abuser to gaslight their partner. It’s not acceptable. But not all therapists are going to be that direct to ending that abuse in the office. 

And the modeling that’s happening there, right, when one is questioning, do I need treatment? Is treatment supportive and helpful? Is there even a problem here? And when the gaslighting and the abuser is trying to keep the perspective in a distorted way, you’re creating health in the system. 

Right. And so, I do find whatever your reason, whether it be there are some mental health symptoms, whether it be you just want to answer that question “Who am I?” Whether you just want to co-regulate, whether you want to try alternative therapies too, you know, acupuncture, yoga therapy. I had someone today talk about jujitsu. Like, all these different things that we can find therapeutic. Yes. 

Krav Maga was another one that was brought up recently. It’s your right right now in this moment in the after stage to get all the insight and all the help that you want because that is not only the most ultimate form of self-care, but it gives you the opportunity to integrate your story of what happened into future meaning. 

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“It’s your “right” right now in this moment in the after stage to get all the insight and all the help that you want because that is not only the most ultimate form of self-care, but it gives you the opportunity to integrate your story of what happened into future meaning.”

I want to go there. I just also want to underscore something that I’m feeling that feels really important that it almost sounds as if you’re saying in the abusive relationship, people, they have their gut sense, they have their feelings sense, and they learn to or they try to shut that down. They even will prioritize their partner. And what that means is they’re abandoning themselves. So, there’s this process of almost reconnecting and honoring what has been so shut down and so diminished and so damaged in that inner connection. I don’t know if I’m articulating that well, but do you get what I’m saying?

Absolutely. Absolutely. That is something that I hear so many folks that I work with talk about when they have that hindsight moment, and they can look back and say, “Well, at all these moments–.” And that’s why I always talk about red flags. “All these moments, if you are not in a kind of an addicted relationship. If you haven’t grown addicted to the abuser, it’s a little bit easier to identify those aha moments, those red flag moments.” 

I know Kendall Ann had mentioned, my co-author had mentioned multiple times that she didn’t listen to her gut. That her gut was speaking, but that the abuse cycle that is so potent prevents the gut from leading the way. And I love that you mentioned the gut, too, because a lot of people I work with who I’ve tried to talk about healthy boundaries with, I always ask them if someone asks you a yes or no, and you want to make sure you always only give enthusiastic yeses, a very easy way to tell, at least for me, and it can be a different center of the body for everyone. Is the area of your body tight or loose and open? 

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“Hoovering is something many abusers will try to do, where they try to suck their partner back into the relationship. And they will do this by any means possible. They are playing on you, not listening to your body. ”

So, for me, if I’m not really wanting to say yes to something, my heart center gets really tight. My chest gets very tight. But if I really want to say yes, it’s nice and loose and open and just, I can breathe easily. So that’s as you explore what had happened in this aftermath, it’s very common where you might look back and go, “Oh, yeah. My body was talking to me.” But pay attention to it now because we haven’t mentioned the term hoovering. 

It’s something that many abusers will try to do, where they try to suck their partner back into the relationship. And they will do this by any means possible. They will do this by using things like family, friends, children, accomplishments, money, status, and/or even love, you know, the promise of change, the promise of altered experience, something completely new. They are playing on you, not listening to your body. 

Here’s something to be really mindful of. Our bodies react to our environment. So, if we are with our abuser, if we are even around our abuser, our whole entire somatic experience will change, even after a long period of time. That’s why another thing to think about in order to prevent hoovering from being successful is, can you potentially establish no contact? And if you have children or some other reason, at least limited contact. These are very important things to remember to protect yourself now that you’re out. 

It sounds as if when there can be a lot of awareness and slowing down and consciousness to the felt experience, the body experience, that there are signs, there are cues. And that can become that much more clear if, in fact, we can establish no contact. Like, that can be very striking. 

Yes!

The contrast of like, “Ah, I can breathe.” or “I’m not looking over my shoulder.” or you know that there might be some moments that even the somatic sense might be a little jarring, even like, oh my god, I just relaxed. I don’t even know the last time I relaxed. Right? And that can feel scary and new, but also like progress and how different. And then, if there does need to be contact in the case of co-parenting, that one can be able to feel somatically the difference. And that can be such a great teacher too, perhaps. 

Well, it is important with limited contact. I always say to come up with your boundaries before you’re around a person. So, you know, how many phone calls or emails? How do you want to communicate? What is the least triggering way to communicate? What is the least communication you can have and still accomplish what you need to with that person? Because the thing about the somatic experience after leaving abuse is that it ebbs and flows. 

So just like you might say, “Oh, I feel relaxed, or I’m not looking over my shoulder.” Remember, you might wake up one day with some false anxiety because maybe you didn’t sleep well or your blood sugar’s off. And you’re feeling a little bit more anxious, so you are looking over your shoulder that day. That doesn’t mean that you’re backtracking and losing all your progress. It just means a little bit more self-care that day is necessary.

Yes. And that it can be, and this might turn towards what you were talking about in rewriting the story, that the familiarity with feeling activated or anxious and looking over the shoulder has been so familiar with the abuse that anything similar gets pulled right into that experience because of the trauma, right? 

So, you’re giving space that there might be times where we will feel anxious or have that similar physiological state. And then, it might be just that I didn’t sleep well or that I’m stressed or whatever it is. And so, the self-care that you’re talking about, and I love, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what you said, because that is such great protection when we might have to go into interaction, whether or not it’s through text, email, or even seeing and drop off or whatever that might be. 

There’s a plan in place that’s kind of got me because I might not have built up the skills, or I might not be so far along in my recovery or my healing that I am able to negotiate that without that in place. Like it’s just extremely important. 

Well, and it’s really honoring yourself because when you honor your own boundaries, you feel more empowered, and when they continue their old behaviors, eventually, they won’t be as impactful. I say old behaviors because they will most likely try to manipulate still, even if you’re not in the relationship, even if it’s because they want a good image, for instance. 

But one other thing to consider with regard to these healthy boundaries, and you had mentioned something about like the stimulation of looking over your shoulder. What we also want is enough variation between you feeling incredibly hypervigilant and stressed to what does it feel like to be relaxed. 

I often like to use the example of giving up dairy. As you know, all humans, to some degree, are a bit dairy intolerant to some degree. So, let’s say you give up dairy for a month. You are just cold turkey. You’re off dairy. And then day 30, you say, “I’m having a piece of pizza.” Pretty sure you’re going to feel miserable after. That’s how much of a variety I feel your nervous system needs when it comes to interacting. 

And let’s might even say your views, or we could say another potential person who might not be the best future relationship choice. So, if you have enough time to feel more centered and within yourself, and then you interact with someone like that, your bells and whistles will work better. Whereas if there’s not enough space, if you still have this kind of gradual contact with your abuser or abusive type people, or you’re not honoring and taking care of yourself, when you interact with someone who could potentially be an emotional vampire, whether it be your old abuser or a potential future one, your nervous system is not going to signal danger, danger, it’s just going to say more of the same. 

And what a great feedback mechanism that is.

And if you think about that is what makes someone more or less likely to make a good choice for their next relationship. Because I know many who have experienced an abusive relationship might have at least some level of uncertainty about, “Well, what if I choose poorly again?” 

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“You didn’t choose to be abused. The skills used by the abuser in the beginning, are so powerful and so impactful. They are the same skills that dictators use, that cult leaders use. So, wrong place, wrong time. This was not you choosing to be abused.”

Let me preface this. You didn’t choose to be abused. The skills used by the abuser, in the beginning, are so powerful and so impactful. They are the same skills that dictators use that cult leaders use. So, wrong place, wrong time. This was not you choosing to be abused. But now you know, now you know the signs. And even if you don’t feel you know it all, go ahead and do a little bit more learning and reading. 

That’s another great thing during this time. Just piling in all the education you can. That’s something when I work with trauma survivors, I tell them I don’t want to be the gatekeeper for everything trauma, I want you yourself to learn the nuances of all of this. And so, I tell them all the books I’ve read. I tell them all the blogs I love. I’m like, “You get on board. Let’s have a back and forth about this.” 

Love that. Thank you for saying that because it even just reminds me of what you were saying earlier. And I’m connecting the two of these that when you’re suggesting be mindful of reaching for something to alleviate, or to just cope, whether or not it’s binge watching a program. And not to say this is bad, but right that just that there can be so much learning like whether or not we’re reaching for a drink or something food, sugar, or the pizza, whatever it is that we might be trying to comfort and sue the parts of us and that there’s so much healing that can happen. 

So conversely, if we turn to some books, get clear and form practice some of the self-care some of these beginning steps in just being able to tolerate a little bit. And we’re talking about the scaffolding or the stepping or the slowing this down that it’s accessible. Do you want to add anything before we turn towards the narrative and just what you want to? 

Well, I do love that you brought up the word tolerance because using that concept of the window of tolerance that that window has room to grow. And so, while what you can tolerate now might be one thing, every day that you-. I think we should just have #scaffolding for this episode. We’ll get all of these teachers saying, “What are you talking about?” But as you start to challenge yourself little by little, your tolerance will grow. You’re going to surprise yourself. 

I mean, I’m truly confident that those who have endured trauma come out the other side, learn what they went through, and reregulate themselves. They end up having a whole new set of skills. And a new story about–. Well, here. Look. This is a perfect transition into the narrative. A new story about what they put up with and who they are in the world. And so, they go out and do these amazing things and help other people too sometimes. It’s just incredible.

And is there anything that you encourage to help people identify and start to tell the story that gives space and room for this? 

Well, you know, I mentioned journaling earlier. And journaling, sometimes I think can feel—for some, it’s really a nice cozy place. And for others, it’s like the empty page syndrome where you can get a little overwhelmed. So, finding books or workbooks that you are giving prompts about, you know, kind of filling in your story, that can be a nice place to start. 

Another option, I think, is finding other survivors’ stories. I know there are quite a few podcasts out there that highlight survivors. And then maybe find that trusted person that you want to share that with. If you want to keep taking that a step further, there are most definitely support groups, whether virtual or in person. 

I know that you can go and write a book, or a blog, or, you know, there are so many different ways to be creative with this. And it doesn’t just have to be the written word. As an art therapist, which is, you know, one of my specialties. Art can be very powerful. So, you know, creating maybe an art piece for the end of that relationship, creating an art piece for where you’re at now, creating an art piece for where you want to be. Or even just spontaneous art, instead of writing how you’re feeling that day, showing it on a piece of paper with colors and images. 

There’s really no limit. But I think the answer being “allow.” Just allow that free flow. One of my personal favorite quotes is, “If I’m not creating, I’m destroying.” That is so me. It’s kind of like by creating, especially if you’re a very intuitive, sensitive person or someone who’s had your identity stamps down for so long, it can be such a way to reclaim yourself. 

No kidding. Well, Amelia, I’m realizing that in our first interview, I would have loved to have talked a little bit more about your book and you have a story. Would you like to share a little bit about the book and your journey through story? 

Sure. So, my book is called What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After An Abusive Relationship is co-authored with Kendall Ann Combs, who is a survivor of domestic violence. She has her own podcast, High Heels and Heartache. That’s where she and I met. 

I have been working with survivors for many years. In a podcast with her, we got to talking about all the amazing things she’s learned. I thought, well, wouldn’t that be interesting to write a book about it. That’s where it started. But what ended up was something so much more open, raw, and authentic than I could have ever expected, because she was ready to tell her whole story, beginning, middle and end. 

In the book, as she’s telling her story, the reader and I are watching it like it’s on a movie screen. And then, at the end of each chapter, I turn to the reader, and I tell the reader, this is what was happening. Here are the red flags. Here’s what you could do if you get in this situation. 

And then, at the end of the chapter, she tells me and the reader what she now knows from what I’ve said. It’s a really interesting exchange. But in our book, we do offer workbook pages. We offer a full safety plan that people can use to get out. Lots of different resources on how to thrive after, ways to be creative, and breath techniques. My hope is that it’s a one-stop shop for people. Like, a group therapy within a book. 

No kidding. And you touch on so much more around self-care and just the story, too, the crafting of the empowering narrative, and just how to take care of yourself and the boundaries. There’s just so much here about how to manage depression and anxiety. It sounds like a really wonderful resource to assist people in the recovery process and healing. 

I hope so. And you know, I will say, I don’t even think it’s just for survivors. As a clinician, I would have appreciated a book like this before working with this population. It’s highly informative in that way. And then we’ve actually received reviews from loved ones of people who are in abusive relationships because it can be a very confusing and scary situation and a very helpless feeling to not know how to help the person that you love. I was once asked, who is this book not for? And I said, basically, it’s for any adult, just I wouldn’t recommend children. No children. 

Right. Wow. Well, I’ll make sure to have the link to this book. 

What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After An Abusive Relationship

Is there anything else you want to point people towards? 

You could find me on Instagram where I put all my resources that I love. @DrAmeliaKelley on Instagram, or my website, AmeliaKelley.com. I always say Kelley is with an E-Y. 

Yes, super helpful. Well, I’m sure that that is such a great place to connect with you what you’re sharing, what you’re excited about, and promoting as far as resources. And then, what might people find on your website? I know you talked a little bit about this the first episode, but just for people who maybe didn’t catch that.

Absolutely. On my website, you’ll see links to all the different podcasts I’ve done, articles, and lots of interesting ideas on how to deal with high sensitivity. I also have a Highly Sensitive Person Happy Hour that I offer on Insight Timer. It is so fun. We’ve had people from all over the world join in, so that’s pretty great. 

There is also a forum there where you can send me any questions you have. So, if you send me any question under the sun, anything within my wheelhouse, I might not know the dates of when World Wars ended, but if you send me questions about anything in my wheelhouse, I will always offer in my Q&A on Instagram what my answer would be. And sometimes I’ll even do a video about it if it’s maybe someone wanting to learn a skill or something along those lines. 

Wonderful. Well, I’m excited again about sharing what we’ve talked about here today, what you have to offer in supporting people and negotiating an abusive relationship and also healing and their journey towards more thriving and empowerment. 

Again, I’ll make sure to have all of these links on today’s show notes. And again, thank you so much, Dr. Amelia Kelley, for spending your time with us here today. 

Thank you for having me. 

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching