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When to Leave an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

by Sherri Mabry Gordon

Manipulation, humiliation, isolation and intimidation are the hallmarks of an emotionally abusive relationship. Slowly, these tactics drain the trust and security from your relationship. As a result you may lose confidence, become withdrawn and have feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty. You also may doubt yourself and feel trapped. Even though you have no visible scars, no bruises and no broken bones, emotional abuse is serious. Ignoring your feelings or trying harder will not make the abuse stop.

Evaluate Your Situation

A healthy relationship features mutual respect, trust, honesty, equality and good communication. Likewise, healthy people are supportive and caring. But these elements are absent in an emotionally abusive relationship. Abusive people make snide remarks and use nasty putdowns. They also demean, ridicule and criticize people they claim to care about. The intent is to gain absolute control over you. Living with emotional abuse is damaging. Your sense of self diminishes, and you find yourself doubting your perceptions and your sense of reality. If you find yourself dating an emotionally abusive person, it is best to get out of the relationship early. End the relationship at the first sign of abuse. Hoping things will get better or trying harder are futile. You can spot abuse early by knowing the warning signs like jealousy, isolation, mood swings and control. However, because abuse starts out slowly and subtly, it is easy to miss these early signs while dating. Before you know it, you find yourself coupled with an emotionally abusive person. At this point, knowing when to leave becomes complicated. You may be financially dependent on the abuser or you may be cut off from family and friends. But don't let your fears about the future keep you from taking care of yourself. If your situation has progressed to the point that you walk on eggshells, feel emotionally unsafe and fear angering your partner, your circumstances are dire. It is time to consider leaving. Other indicators that it may be time to leave include: • a fear that your partner will hurt you or your children, • a loss of spontaneity and enthusiasm about life, • a belief that something is wrong with you or that you are crazy, • an internal critical voice • a desire to run away or escape Finally, you will know it is time to leave when the cost of staying outweighs the cost of leaving. Remember, abuse is a choice. There is nothing you can do to keep your partner from abusing you. Despite your best efforts, your relationship will never change unless your partner changes. No one deserves abuse. Everyone has a right to be cared for and to feel safe -- and so do you.

Set A Timetable

The idea of leaving may overwhelm you at first. You may have fears about money, safety, your future and your children. Considering these factors is a crucial step in determining the exact timing of your departure; but these decisions should not be made in isolation. Finding help and support for your situation is vital. Contact a counselor trained in abuse or a shelter in your area. If the first person you talk to does not take your situation seriously, keep trying until you find someone who will listen to you. Your support person should allow you to set your own timetable. Do not let someone else make decisions for you. Be realistic in setting your goals. Can you be ready to be leave in three months? Six months? A year? Only you can decide the exact timing. Learning to trust yourself, and your instincts will serve you well once you leave.

Put It All Together

Once you decide to leave, remember escaping an emotionally abusive relationship can be dangerous -- even if your partner has never hit you. Safety should be your top concern. Abuse often escalates during a breakup. Take precautions and develop a safety plan. Your counselor, advocate or pastor can help you. Stash away money, find work if you do not have a job and arrange a place to stay. Locate important documents like financial records, insurance cards, car titles, Social Security cards and birth certificates and put them in a safe place. Keep a journal that documents the abuse. Describe each incident and how you felt. List the date and any witnesses (including children). Finally, be prepared to leave immediately in case your partner becomes violent. Have a bag packed with personal items, clothing and a phone card or pre-paid cell phone. Leave this bag at a friend's house or hide it in your car's trunk. Hide an extra set of keys in a place you can get to quickly. Abusive people are unpredictable. So, be prepared for any scenario, but do not rush yourself. You need to be emotionally strong and sure about what you are doing. Leaving an abusive relationship takes time, planning and patience. Move at a pace that is comfortable for you.

References

About the Author

Sherri Mabry Gordon is the author of Peanut Butter, Milk, and Other Deadly Threats: What You Should Know About Food Allergies (Enslow 2006), which won a National Science Teachers Award. Gordon also has authored six other educational books including Beyond Bruises, a book about teen abuse. She has served as a writer and an editor of several local magazines.