In this podcast (episode #301) and blog, I speak to Ashley Bendiksen, an expert in abuse prevention and personal development, national speaker, certified life empowerment coach, author, nonprofit founder, award-winning activist, and founder of the Blue Hearts Project. We discuss the wide-reaching impact of domestic violence, how Ashley uses her experiences to educate and help others, the warning signs of domestic violence, how to help someone who may be in an abusive relationship, the importance of teaching our children about healthy relationships, and so much more!
After experiencing a series of abusive relationships, domestic violence, sexual abuse, stalking, homelessness and more during her teenage and college years, Ashley decided to change the direction of her life. She now uses her experiences to help young people and adults around the world recognize and deal with trauma, work towards healing and abuse prevention, and understand the difference between healthy and toxic relationships.
As Ashley points out, there is always hope. No matter where you are or have been, you can turn your life around. Life is not just about responding to different struggles. There is so much more to living!
Sometimes, when you reach rock bottom in life, you realize that you don’t have to stay there. Your story is yours to create and yours to tell—you don’t have to live your life according to the demands or whims of others.
Indeed, one of the greatest mindset shifts we can make is to stand outside ourselves, observe our life and where we are, and choose to live differently. This allows us to start seeing all sorts of opportunities to heal and make progress in life. When we have this mindset, we often attract just what we need when we need it.
But if you are in an abusive relationship, you can’t change your whole life overnight. Small steps are key, especially when leaving a toxic or abusive relationship. For many people, this means first finding a safe place to live and getting your basic needs in order. As Ashley points out, the key to healing from an abusive relationship is to take one day at a time. There is no time limit on healing, and if it takes the rest of your life, then that is perfectly okay! Healing is a journey, not a destination.
We also need to recognize that emotional abuse can be just as harmful as physical abuse in a relationship. Domestic abuse is not just about hurting your partner physically. It can also include breaking objects and driving erratically, and can progress into greater violence over time.
If you are planning to end an abusive relationship, try not to do it alone. Have a support system in place and make a plan, such as breaking up via phone, talking to an advocate at a local shelter and changing your locks. There is no shame in asking for help or support!
Not sure if your relationship is abusive? Some red flags to watch out for in a relationship is an over-dependence on spending time with you (which is often subtle at first), as well as constant manipulation, the belittling of your friends and family, feeling like you are losing what is “yours” in your own life (such as hobbies, time, relationships and so on), jealousy, extreme mood swings, major insecurities, and the prioritization of your partner’s emotional needs over yours. A common indicator of abuse in a relationship is the constant cycle from very happy moments to tense/upset moments and arguments.
However, one of the biggest red flags in any relationship is simply wondering if something is a red flag. We need to be intentional about listening to our intuition and gut feelings. Feeling like you are being mistreated or wondering if something is wrong IS a red flag.
We especially need to teach our children and teenagers about relationship red flags. Many people do not realize that young people are incredibly vulnerable to relationship abuse and domestic violence. Statistics indicate that 1 in 3 teenagers will be in a toxic relationship! Some common signs a young person may be in an abusive relationship are disordered eating, body dysmorphia, isolation, a drop in school performance, self-harming, mood swings, and increased levels of anxiety and/or depression.
Even if you are not in an abusive relationship, you may know someone who is, so it is important to educate yourself and others on what the red flags are. If someone you know or love is in an abusive relationship, stay patient and present, and understand that leaving is a process. Try not to insert your opinions or judgments, as that person already feels disempowered by their partner. Don’t just point out the flaws of the partner; rather, shift the focus on your friend or loved one, and try get them to self-reflect in a compassionate and kind way.
For more on healing from domestic abuse, taking back control over your life and helping someone who is suffering, listen to my podcast with Ashley (episode #301), and check out her website, her book, and her list of abuse prevention and help resources.
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2:30, 7:22 Ashley’s story & how she used her experiences to help others
12:10 Ashley’s decision to start living her life differently
15:05 How to start healing after an abusive relationship
17:10 Why healing is an ongoing journey, not just a destination
20:30 What to do if you want to end an abusive relationship
24:00 The red flags to watch out for in a relationship
29:30 Why domestic abuse education is so important
31:00 How to teach our children about the difference between healthy & toxic relationships
42:40 The importance of healthy boundaries
44:00 How to help a loved one who may be in an abusive relationship
49:00 Why we need to take care of ourselves & practice self-care
50:20 How to help someone who is struggling with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.
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