Making the decision to leave an abusive relationship is never easy. On his Counseling Resource blog, Dr. George Simon refers to slot-machine syndrome. According to this principle, a toxic relationship is similar to a slot machine. You keep putting in quarters, or emotional energy, because every occasionally you receive a small reward. By the time you realize how much you have lost, it is tough to walk away from your sizable investment. Leaving an abusive relationship can also trigger intense emotions such as fear, regret and guilt. Your abuser might beg you to stay, threaten you or try to convince you that he can’t live without you. Yet many times, leaving is the only safe, sane, reasonable option.
In the immediate aftermath, your physical and emotional safety are paramount. Abuse sometimes escalates when the abused partner leaves, and stalking is not uncommon. Head for a shelter or the home of a supportive friend or relative. Consider relocating if possible. Put your children in a different school. Vary your routine by taking different routes to work or connecting with new groups to pursue your hobbies. Consider seeking a restraining order. You cannot heal or move on until you are in a safe space both physically and emotionally.
No matter how bad the abuse was, you once loved your abuser. You might still love her, even though you can no longer live with her. Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of the relationship and the person you thought she was. Most people also go through an emotional reaction to the trauma of the abuse. Fear, anger, guilt, sadness are common reactions to trauma. You might feel numb, disconnected from your surroundings and even physically ill. Common physical symptoms include agitation, insomnia, nightmares, fatigue and pain in virtually any area of your body. These symptoms last until you fully heal, which could take many months, although they typically lessen over time.
Leaving an abusive relationship is not the right time to strive for self-reliance. You need and deserve a safe, trusting bond with someone who will help you talk through your situation and manage your feelings. Some people find solace in friends and relatives, but many require the services of a professional therapist. Numerous therapeutic approaches exist, so look for a therapist whose approach fits your style. In addition, an online or in-person support group lets you connect with others who are in similar situations, which can help you feel less alone.
Caring for Yourself
The National Domestic Violence Hotline points out that the emotional scars from an abusive relationship can linger long after the relationship ends. Be kind to yourself during the weeks and months that follow. Figure out what helps you de-stress, such as a bubble bath or time at the gym. Recognize the roles that your ex played in your life, such as handyman or celebration partner, and find other people to fill those roles. Prepare in advance for stressful days such as your ex’s birthday or major holidays. Discover your passion, take up a new hobby or sign up for classes. Concentrate on becoming the best you that you can be.
Building New Relationships
Building new relationships, whether friendships or dating relationships, can be especially tough for abuse survivors. Your sense of trust might be shattered. You might have trouble forming attachments or actively push others away. Alternately, you might be desperate for connections and form bonds too quickly while ignoring red flags. Give yourself time to heal before trying to forge a new romance. Focus on long-time friends and supportive relatives whenever possible. When making new friends, slow down and take your time. Get to know people before letting them in too deep, but avoid the urge to put up insurmountable walls. Check your perceptions with a trusted friend or therapist, and take that person’s advice to heart.