When it comes to relationships, we’re all eager to talk about the happiness and bliss when living together in harmony. But one thing rarely spoken about is the adverse side of relationships that often lead to damaging spirits… until recently. We’re now living in a time when abuse (and its blatant display) seems to be more commonplace than at any other time during the past decade.

The world was shocked to see post-abuse photos of Rihanna years ago, and even this past weekend, the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice for apparently “knocking out his then girlfriend and dragging her off of the elevator they were riding” in February. There are songs that promote the disrespect of women; reality shows that depict some men’s low regard for a woman’s safety when they angry and feel threatened; and countless videos online that display full-on fights of women wrestling each other to the ground, with some men assisting in the beatdowns.

There’s no wonder why so many women are afraid to trust in relationships, especially they’ve experienced abuse in a previous union—and abuse doesn’t just end with a fist to flesh. Emotional abuse suffered from verbal attacks to one’s self esteem is just as hurtful and damaging to a person’s psyche and overall wellbeing.

It’s true that men are affected by abuse just as women are, but women fall victim to abuse more often than men, and this has been proven throughout history. Abuse can be a difficult thing to overcome when one wants to move forward in experiencing and receiving healing love. Whether you’re a man or woman suffering from the aftershocks of an abusive relationship and seeking freedom from the mental oppression of past manipulation, here are a few ways to reclaim your happiness and move on past the hurt.

1. Seek Counseling

Many who have suffered through traumatic experiences make the mistake of believing that they can get through it alone. And in the African-American community, it appears that many have an issue seeking out professional therapy. Seeking counseling after a traumatic event like abuse is necessary in order to transform the mind back to a healthy state of thinking.

What happens on the inside of the mind is reflected in a person’s physical state, and the only way to regain a healthy lifestyle is to regain a healthy mind. Abuse skews a person’s self-image, causing one to inflict more pain and abuse in embracing damaging views of self. During weekly or monthly counseling sessions, one will be allowed to have the floor to speak about his/her feelings. A guide will be present to help one sort through the pain and hurt of mental conditioning and adopt healthy perspectives of self and of the past situation.

Eventually, one can reconcile with the past hurt and be able to move forward in confidence understanding what’s healthy and acceptable behavior in a relationship and what isn’t. Maintaining patience through the process is necessary, because healing won’t happen overnight, and it can be an uphill battle. There are thousands of counselors and therapists around the nation that are accessible now online and via telephone or Skype sessions. If abuse is something you’re seeking to overcome, check out therapists.psychologytoday.com to find the therapist who’s right for you.

2. Take Responsibility

Social media was up in a frenzy this past weekend when veteran sports commentator Stephen A. Smith. He stated that female victims of domestic abuse should ensure they “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions,” and this sparked many debates from activists and those who are in support of groups against abuse.

While Smith’s comment was insensitive, there’s a bit of truth buried deep within its context that needs to be pulled out. Before being able to move on to live out a new relationship, there needs to be some responsibility taken on behalf of the abused. Yes, one who has come under attack because of the insecurity of another never deserves to be treated with disrespect or violence. But one must take responsibility for allowing his/herself to fall into such an ensnaring trap of physical, emotional and psychological abuse.

Personally, I know all too well what it’s like to fall victim to a warped perception of what love really is, and it can be extremely difficult to come from under what one would perceive as “love that is attached to a few mistakes here and there.” But the only way to truly heal from abuse is to realize that even though the abuser may have been controlling, you too had a part in allowing this to happen.

The one thing that was hardest for me to overcome when facing the truth about abuse I suffered in a past relationship was that I allowed myself to slip so low and believe the lies being fed to me by someone who was so insecure and screwed up himself, and it hurt. It hurt me to know I’d allowed myself to stay in something that was not serving me in a positive way, all because of fear that no one else would want me, all because of fear that was implanted in my mind as truth.

Taking responsibility for allowing yourself to stay in something unhealthy isn’t signifying that the abuse was your fault at all. It’s simply being aware of the fact that you still had power, even in a situation that seemed powerless. That power was given up for a moment in time to someone who sought to control through physical or psychological force.

When responsibility is taken for one’s own actions, the mental hold that this past hurt has put into place will begin to lift. There’s an old saying that “a person will only do to you what you allow them to do.” Reconcile with the fact that abuse was once an accepted part of your past relationship, forgive yourself for allowing such treatment during a low moment, and begin to move forward, knowing you’re in a better place of judgment for yourself where abuse will no longer be accepted.

3. Practice Self-Love

Abuse takes a hard hit at the ego and self-esteem, leaving victims feeling low and powerless. But the truth of the matter is, self-esteem starts with self.  Practicing self-love is a proven way to transform one’s thinking back to a healthy state, and an excellent way to boost the power within.

It may be hard to look in the mirror and see the beauty within, but with work, daily appreciation for self will begin to increase. Exercise, for example, not only helps one get into shape, but also releases endorphins known to bring about feelings of happiness. Switching up your physical appearance is another great way to practice self-love. Getting a new hairstyle or treating yourself to a spa day will help to usher in a new sense of self.

Adding bright colors into a wardrobe will awaken feminine energy and bring balance to the mind and soul. Spending personal time alone reciting positive affirmations of truth is a great way to melt away negative perceptions of self. While standing in a mirror during preparation for the day, recite phrases like “you are strong,” “you are powerful,” “you are beautiful,” and “love is infiltrating every area of my life” until they resonate within the heart.

Taking walks alone down a nature path or vacationing somewhere tropical by yourself can also help with centering oneself. By embracing the beauty of the world around you, the beauty within will begin to increase, helping to melt away misguided visions of self.  Whatever activities bring joy, happiness and love to self, participate with no guilt and watch the heart blossom.

4. Join a Support Group

It can be difficult working to get back on track to living a normal life after abuse, especially when being grouped with people who may not understand the past situation or how it could ever have been allowed to happen. Moving forward and coping can be better achieved by finding a support group attended by those who’ve experienced the same type of treatment you once endured.

Support in numbers is better than suffering through something alone, and gaining insight from others who’ve gone through similar situations helps to visualize being healthy and moving forward from abuse. Members of the group will help you with staying on track towards adopting a healthy mindset, and will hold you accountable for the necessary work that must be completed in order to see a positive change in your life. Surround yourself with support, love and acceptance from those who display love, trust and understanding.

It may seem like experiencing real love is impossible after going through the trauma of abuse. But the truth of the matter is, genuine love doesn’t hurt, and can still be experienced even after being hurt. In realizing this truth, and embracing it while taking the necessary steps to move beyond abuse and into a healthy state once again, you’ll begin to discover all the good love and life has to offer. Be patient, be honest and most importantly, don’t give up on yourself during the healing process.