How to Rebuild Your Life and Thrive After Leaving an Abusive Relationship
The most confusing thing about domestic violence is the fact that we find ourselves loving people who hurt us. This so often stems from early childhood experiences. Oftentimes, we can’t even see how destructive our relationships are until it’s too late. Our caretakers, who were supposed to show us love and support, used power, control and violence to raise us. This leaves us traumatised, and unless we do deep healing work, attracting relationships into our lives that mirror our abusive relationships from childhood.
Domestic violence is rarely understood by someone unless they have experienced it. Police, courts and support workers can help you in the early stages when seeking safety and advice, but they do not understand the long-term emotional, physical and financial impacts of domestic violence and how to completely heal from it.
Victims of domestic violence often experience PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, similar to soldiers returning from war. But unlike soldiers, our battle lasts for decades and can leave us in a constant state of fight-or-flight, our health impacted by adrenal fatigue and burnout and emotional distress dealing with our children who continue to visit the abusive former partner.
Broadly speaking, abuse is defined as the cruel and violent treatment of a person or animal or to treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. But in terms of “cruelty,” I have found this to be very subjective and dependent upon the individual. There are also several types of abuse including: physical, emotional, financial, sexual, verbal, spiritual and many more.
Once you are out of the abusive situation, here are some ways to make sure you are on the road to recovery.
Abuse is all About Power and Control
Abuse is nothing more than one person trying to have power and control over another. By removing a person’s free will, autonomy and authenticity, abusers feel powerful. What people who have experienced abuse have to remember is this:
Abuse is only possible if one person is disempowered. If you are disempowered, you have low self-esteem, low self-worth and do not value yourself. Of course this does not apply to every situation especially with vulnerable victims (child abuse, rape, random acts of violence), but in relationship abuse this is usually the case.
The way to prevent a person from abusing you is to become empowered. As within, so without. If you are powerful on the inside – you have high self-esteem, high self-worth and value yourself – you will not attract people or partners who abuse you. Abusers will only target people with low self-worth and low-self esteem – and especially those with a high degree of empathy and compassion. Abusers themselves do not have high self-esteem or worth – this is why they abuse. Because they lack the power on the inside, they exert power and control over others to avoid feeling powerlessness. On the inside, they are unloved children, rejected by their parents who never felt like they had power and control in their own lives but they lack true empathy and compassion.
When children experience abuse, it seems to affect them in one of two ways: they become abusers or they become the continual victims of abusers – or both.
Your safety and the safety of your children is the first consideration. When dealing with domestic violence and abuse it is always a good idea to have third parties involved. You need witnesses. Do not put yourself in situations without adult witnesses. Witnesses can keep you safe and provide evidence in court and most abusers will behave with other people present. They prefer to abuse you in private.
Oftentimes, victims of domestic violence are charged for defending themselves instead of the actual perpetrator for the source of abuse. Make sure you are safe and make sure you have no contact with the abuser. Any contact should be in writing or through contact centres if you have children. Say no, apply for a domestic violence order/restraining order and do not contact the other party for any reason. Keep your location private and totally off limits. You need to create a safe haven for you and your children.
Do not give the abuser your address, change your locks, change your phone number if necessary (or block them from contacting you via phone or text) and update all passwords to banking, email and other applications. If you do need to gather evidence for court, use your old phone as the way to collect proof meanwhile purchase a new phone to use going forward.
Never excuse abusive behaviour. If you hear yourself staying things like, “He’s just stressed. He’ll calm down and then it will be ok.” Abuse is never ok no matter how stressed the other person is at any time.
Remember, abuse usually follows a pattern or cycle: the tension builds, there is conflict and then there is a calm (usually this is when the abuser apologises and promises to never do it again). Do not get caught in this cycle or believe that the abuser will stop abusing. Get out and stay away. Read more about the cycle of abuse here.
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. No contact with an abusive partner is the first step in establishing solid boundaries
Boundaries are what does and does not work for you. If you have strong boundaries, people will know how to treat you. Most likely you grew up in a household that did not show you how to establish boundaries. You had no idea of what was or what wasn’t appropriate behaviour. You were probably enmeshed with your parents and then become enmeshed with your partners. Where you stop and they begin can be difficult to discern. Learning how to establish boundaries is the number one way to keep your former partner, and future partners, from taking advantage of or hurting you. And remember, you cannot control your former partner. The only person you can control is yourself.
Boundaries are what you teach children. Boundaries are what you teach abusive adults (who are basically just raging children on the inside). No contact with an abusive partner is almost always necessary and learning how not to react to their bait and respond in a calm, business-like manner will teach them that you are no longer at their mercy. If you cannot be manipulated and controlled, they will eventually give up and find someone else to abuse.
But as soon as you put up boundaries the abuser will test to see how strong they really are.
Here are some guidelines for setting boundaries
- refuse to play the victim – you need to focus on empowerment
- determine your values: how do you want people to treat you
- learn to look after yourself first
- learn to accept disappointment – you cannot make everyone happy, only yourself
- be consistent with your boundaries – abusers will constantly test them
Many victims of abuse were trained as small children to become people-pleasers, therefore, we find it difficult to say no to people and situations that are not in our best interest. Learning how to say no and stand up for yourself – without feeling shame or guilt – is important for your recovery. You need to put yourself first no matter what.
Learn to say no and hold your boundaries. Do not let abusive or toxic people manipulate or control you.
Co-dependency is often present in violent and abusive relationships. Most people trauma bond (find partners that match their trauma from childhood) and then two people with dysfunctional personality traits become worse together.
Co-dependency is a form of relationship/love addiction – the partnership is based on control, obsessive nurturing and often occurs when one partner is chemically dependent, or engaging in undesirable behaviours, such as narcissism. No matter how bad they hurt you, you keep going back hoping that you can help or heal them and make it all better. Enmeshment happens when clear boundaries about where you start and where your partner ends are not clearly defined.
There are CODA (Co-dependent Anonymous) groups around the world to help you recover from relationship addiction. Like any addiction, a 12-step program can be helpful. The goal to overcoming co-dependency is to stop playing the victim. Co-dependency is an addiction to victimisation. STOP PLAYING THE VICTIM.
Self-Care and Self-Love
One of the reasons we find ourselves in relationships that harm us is because of our exposure to abuse in childhood. Our subconscious programming from ages 0 – 14 determines how we manifest relationships, jobs, and everything else in life unless we consciously clear the experiences, change our beliefs and re-write the programs. If we have an abusive person in our life that means we also have an abusive person inside of us (our mothers and fathers internalised and writing the script).
After experiencing domestic violence, we are also physically and mentally suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). If we want to create a better life, we must learn to put ourselves first, care for ourselves, love ourselves, clear co-dependency by becoming responsible and independent, and heal the trauma from the abuse we have suffered during our lifetime.
If we want to change our outer reality, first we must change our inner reality. Learning how to slow down and get in touch with our body is a good way to begin the process. Exercise, get massages, go for a walk, meditate – do anything to get into your body and slow down. Treat yourself like a loving parent would care for their child.
- Attend CODA (co-dependents anonymous or other 12-step programs)
- Work on clearing trauma and easing fight-or-flight
Invest in yourself
Learn new skills, empower yourself, and build a community around you that supports your healing and thriving. Find support for your children through counsellors and positive role models and be the best parent you can be.
Always play the long game – make the abuser look like the abuser they are by becoming your best self. By investing in yourself, you are telling the universe you are worthy of a good life and you deserve to be treated with love and respect. The more you invest in yourself, the better your life will become.
Lastly, as a victim you need to accept the situation, take responsibility for it, actively heal yourself, create a support network and remove toxic people from your life. Continuing to be a victim and blame the abuser does not work. You must take actionable steps to free yourself from the pattern of abuse.
Toxic people include energy vampires, narcissists/sociopaths/psychopaths (lack empathy, promote selfishness, love violence), negative Nellies and chaos addicts – do not play their game. Anyone who does not uplift you and bring good things into your life needs to go.
It’s also a good idea to cut energetic cords. Often, even after we physically leave an abuser, we are still energetically linked to them. By removing the energy cord that binds you to another person you will no longer feed energy to them.
How to Begin Your Healing
- Removing shame & guilt – take inventory of your shadow (the part of yourself where you feel the most guilt and shame) and begin investigating and clearing all childhood abuse and trauma. Write down your story and then let it go. It’s time to write the next chapters of your life from a point of personal power.
- Avoid trauma bonding and co-dependent patterns in your next relationship and consciously work on yourself and surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Do not repeat abusive patterns and if you find yourself attracting abusive people into your life, you need to further address childhood wounding.
- If you’ve decided to stop the abusive patterns in your life this will also involve clearing family and generational trauma. It all ends with you. Abuse is like a parasite that travels through the DNA down the family genetic lines. Future generations will grow up happy and healthy thanks to you.
Please remember that domestic violence is a symptom of an abusive society. The root cause of domestic violence is the imbalance we have created as a society and within ourselves. The “system” isn’t going to help us – lawyers, police and courts feed off our violence and the abusive system only grows in strength from our fighting. You can use the ‘system’ as a tool, but it will not help you heal. You are not going to find a solution or a saviour within the system. The only way to stop violence is with love – to love yourself fiercely and to make a commitment to change and never allow this in your life again. We are not victims – we will get stronger and wiser and kinder and gentler and as we change, so does the world. By saving ourselves, we change the way society functions.