What to do once you’ve recognised an abusive relationship?
Following on from the article about spotting the warning signs of an abusive relationship, here’s some guidance as to what you can do to escape. There are all degrees of abusive relationships; it doesn’t matter whether it’s just a month in and you’ve already spotted the signs, or whether you’re married to your abuser and you’re looking for a way out – the most important thing is that you can get out. You can always get out, no matter how hard it seems. Nothing is forever if you don’t want it to be, and you deserve better than being made to feel worthless every day.
First and foremost, remember that you don’t need them to validate your existence, your appearance or your sanity. You are whoever you want to be, and no one can tell you otherwise. They are usually perfectly comfortable being a truly terrible human being, and therefore their judgement of what makes someone acceptable is already wildly skewed. Work each day on regaining a little bit of power within yourself. It may not be an overnight process – I was lucky enough to have one incident that shocked me enough into ending the relationship that night, and the relief I felt the next morning knowing I was free was enough to convince myself that they didn’t need a second chance. Others, however, may take weeks, months, or even years to regain their own control.
Finding your own power and control does not mean you have to exercise it over them, or even show them that you’re finding yourself again. This usually results in a power struggle that is as fraught as the abuse before it and may put you in danger. Just work on something every day that helps you find enough strength to leave. Whether that means putting money aside that they don’t know about, reaching out and opening up to friends and family, or contacting the police, a refuge shelter or any other safe location that you can get to, these are all valuable and essential steps to begin to take. It’s even something as simple as trying to remember what made you happy before it was stripped away from you. Maybe you loved to read romance novels, but stopped because they told you they were tacky, or maybe you loved nothing more than standing in your kitchen eating some cake at 3 in the afternoon. Anything you can do for yourself that you love, start to do it again. Even if you have to do it in secret, do it.
Finding yourself is hard enough, but trying to re-find that person that you once knew and loved is even harder. They’re in there, and when you start to find them again, you begin to exercise some control and power over yourself and your future. I can’t stress enough how important it is to contact loved ones. Friends and family are one of the things most abusers try to separate you from, but don’t let them. And if they have managed to sever your ties with them, reach out in any way you can again. Send them a letter, make a phone call, DM them on Instagram. Tell them what has been happening. Tell them all of it. Let them help you, listen to them and don’t try to excuse the behaviour, or explain yourself or your abuser. They need to know that you need them, and they can help in any way they can.
Sometimes, even just saying it out loud or writing it down puts it in perspective. I began to write everything down; all the things being said to me, all the incidents that happened, things that I felt, and reading them back to myself was horrifying. It was like reading a tragic book, and I thought “if I were reading this in a story I would be appalled, I’d be praying for them to find help”. I also used to think “if my friend came to me and told me their partner was saying and doing this, I would be breaking down doors to help save them. Why aren’t I saving myself?”. Seeing it as if it’s happening to someone else can make you realise how you truly feel about it.
Stylist has put together a powerful and useful guide with tips from a lawyer on the steps to take when you decide to leave in order to keep yourself safe and away from harm. Some abusers will just let you go, most will fight to keep you, whether that’s through emotional blackmail, crying and promising to get help, or whether it’s through intimidation, threats and violence. But remember – you’re stronger now. You’re free. Nothing can take that from you if you don’t let it. Get yourself somewhere safe and protected, and take all necessary precautions to keep yourself that way.
Once you are free, never question whether you made the right choice – you have, and you will have always made the best and bravest decision for you and your family. Emotional or physical danger is very real, and escaping from it is one of the most incredible achievements anyone can make. It’s important to also remember that the after-effects can be hard – symptoms and illnesses such as PTSD, depression and anxiety are incredibly common in survivors of abusive relationships, and you should never feel inferior or ashamed of having these. Seek out a therapist, speak to your doctor, confide in friends and family and never be ashamed of admitting that you were in an abusive relationship. You survived, you thrived, and you will grow to be stronger than you could have ever imagined. Tackle it fearlessly. You deserve to live a life full of love, laughter and positivity, and all of these things will come to you once you’re free.
Women’s Aid and Refuge have access to 24-hour guidance available for anyone who needs it: