Abusive relationships can take many forms; typically, however, they involve a cyclical pattern of abusive events revolving around power and control, according to Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock, in their book, "It's My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence." Dugan is the director of the Americorps victim assistance program and Hock is director of the psychology program at Mendocino College in Ukiah, California. Dugan and Hock argue that leaving an abusive relationship is only the first step to recovery, and that overcoming the abuse can involve personal, practical and social considerations.
Identify the Relationship as Abusive
Dugan and Hock suggest that not all victims of abuse will be immediately comfortable identifying the relationship as actually abusive. Abusive relationships can involve physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Victims of emotional abuse may be most susceptible to minimizing the extent of abuse in the relationship. Emotionally abusive partners use fear or shame to manipulate and systematically control the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of their victims.
Move Past Love
You still may have lingering feelings of love for your abuser, according to Dugan and Hock. Despite the abusive nature of the relationship, these feelings are normal. You might wonder how you could have loved someone or -- how you can continue to love someone -- who treats you badly. Likely, your partner played a prominent role in your life for a long time. Understand that your feelings are normal, but that you don't have to dwell on them.
In addition to having feelings of love that continue to linger, you may feel intense sadness, despair and grief. Although a dysfunctional relationship is ending, the fact that it is a relationship makes you sad. When you let go of your partner, you may have lost many of your hopes and dreams. If grief is overwhelming and interferes with daily functioning, consider consulting with a mental health professional.
Dugan and Hock note that in addition to grief, you may be overcome with other emotions such as anger or guilt. Living in an abusive relationship may have left you hypervigilant to threats. The end of the abusive relationship has likely left you with many raw emotions and open wounds.
In addition to the immediate concerns of the abusive relationship you may also find yourself managing other significant relationships in your life. Dugan and Hock note that not everyone will be supportive -- and some may even diminish the abuse or blame you. In the "Psych Central" article "In an Emotionally Abusive Relationship? 5 Steps to Take," psychotherapist Julie Orlov advocates that you reconnect with people who can offer you love and support to help you through this difficult time.
If you were married to your abuser or you have children together, you may need to separate your financial affairs and divorce. Unfortunately, no quick solution to these problems exists; simply, you need to deal with them, often via accountants and legal professionals.
Rebuild Your Power
In the "Psychology Today" article, "Emotional Abuse (Overcoming Victim Identity)," family violence consultant Steven Stosny recommends that you reclaim your personal power and once again finding your sense of self. This may include reconnecting with your talents, strengths, abilities and skills, as well as realigning with your values and goals in life.
Resist Going Back
At some point, you may wish to go back to your abuser. You may hope that things will be different or you may feel torn because of the lingering feelings that you harbor. Stosny recommends that you become compassionate with yourself and your ex-spouse. Doing so ensures that you will only want the best for both of you -- not an abusive relationship. If you do return to the relationship, you need to be powerful and strong enough to walk away at the first sign of abuse.
If you have children with your abuser, you will need to continue to communicate. Take steps to manage this person in your life via third parties and keep conversations short, and keep all documents and records of your interactions. If abusive patterns emerge -- even in these limited-contact scenarios -- communicate that you will not tolerate destructive conversation.
Be Open to Love Again
After an abusive relationship, life can leave you with raw feelings. If you are having trouble coping with the aftermath of abuse to the extent that it is interfering with future relationships, a mental health professional may be able to help you open up to the possibility that love may someday happen for you.
- Psychology Today: In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship? 5 Steps to Take
- Psychology Today: Emotional Abuse (Overcoming Victim Identity)
- Psychology Today: Effects of Emotional Abuse: It Hurts When I Love
- It's My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationsip; Meg Kennedy Dugan & Roger R. Hock
Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.
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