To leave an abusive relationship is an intense challenge, at the least.
There are hundreds of misconceptions floating around about abusive relationships. Many people don’t make vital distinctions relevant to the types of abuse, the dynamics between the abuse and the victim or the trauma and healing processes that accompany the abuse.
Leaving an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things a person might have to do in their lives. This is especially true in cases of long-term relationships or marriages, or where the victim has had children with their abuser.
In contexts like these, the longer the abuse has been happening, the weaker the moral resistance of the victim may be.
One must, however, leave. If you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is involved in one, you must break the silence.
The stakes are extremely high since it’s about the maintenance of physical and psychological integrity and even one’s life. But most of all, we must shed a light on abusive relationships because nobody deserves to suffer like this.
Every human being has value. Every human being deserves loving, stable, trusting relationships that nurture them.
Here are some key steps that help you leave an abusive relationship:
1. Identify the abuse
Until recently, society didn’t care much about abusive relationships. Factors like gender stereotyping, victim shaming, and the notion of “private affairs” were a major hindrance in speaking out.
Thankfully, we have now become more vocal regarding abuse, and more and more individuals are coming together to battle the pathology.
More importantly, we have learned how to identify abusive and toxic behaviors. Abusive relationships don’t necessarily signify a wife-beater. Abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, verbal or otherwise.
More often than not, an abusive relationship can include all the above, in an escalating pattern. The main red flags include:
No respect for boundaries:
If your partner has no respect for your privacy, goes through your correspondence or social media without permission, or demands your constant attention, that is a red flag.
An abusive relationship in the making usually starts with the abuser invading all aspects of their victim’s life, to better isolate them and leave them with no “safe space” to retreat into when the abuse begins.
Constant belittling and disrespect:
All abusers must first chip away at their victim’s mental defenses. The way to accomplish that is through beating down their sense of worth and self-esteem. It is vital to understand that no healthy relationship includes berating, belittling, disrespecting and offending one’s partner.
Beware of gaslighting; it’s a standard technique for abusers to misdirect our natural response and gut reaction to the abuse, and to make you doubt yourself.
Obsessive jealousy and possessiveness:
This one speaks for itself. The harmful stereotype that “jealousy means they love you” is extremely toxic and pervasive in modern culture. A person who cares about you will not try to isolate you from your social and friendly cycle. A person who loves you will not want to lock you up for their own gain.
2. Speak to someone
Once you believe you have identified some of the red flags discussed above or are otherwise suspecting that you are in an abusive relationship, you must seek help.
Making contact with your local shelter or support institution, or calling a hotline, can sometimes be a literal lifesaver. The support networks will provide you with more detailed information on abusive relationships, psychological aid, and resources to help you leave.
3. Create a social support network for when you leave an abusive relationship
Most people in abusive relationships are afraid to reach out to friends and family about their abuse. This is usually due to shame, or self-guilt. Sometimes a close family may even not provide the necessary support.
In the past, women in abusive relationships were advised to remain in the cycle of abuse “for the sake of the family or “for the sake of the children”.
Thankfully, these notions are today obsolete. It is not your duty to sacrifice yourself to the altar of family. Sacrifice is not noble, and not a female trait.
Men in abusive relationships, on the other hand, may find difficulty in having a support network because of stereotyping. A man being abused is considered ridiculous. That, however, is harmful to both genders.
Anyone can be abused, and anyone can abuse. Abuse is not limited by gender. When the time comes to leave, you will need a safe place to crash for a few days, and most definitely someone to support you in your journey of healing. That’s what friends are for, even if your family fails you.
Please remember: it is not shameful to seek help. You are not weak. You are taking care of yourself. Nobody can judge you on your experience and trauma, and professionals most definitely will not. Please break the silence.
4. Make Financial Preparations
A key characteristic of abusive relationships is the powerlessness of the victim. The abuser will seek to strip their victim from all recourses and safety nets.
To this aim, they will isolate their victim socially, professionally, and financially. In many cases of abuse, the victim cannot gather the courage to leave because they are financially dependent on their abuser.
This is why it’s important to create a financial plan and gather some funds without the abuser’s knowledge. If you have a joint bank account with your abuser, try to open a separate one for yourself or to gather some money in secret space. Once you have enough, it will be easier to leave, because you will feel empowered and able to support yourself.
5. Take Steps to Heal Yourself
Abuse can be harrowing, and an abusive relationship is a traumatizing experience. It completely breaks down your self-worth, your trust in others, and can create dysfunctional representations about relationships and romance.
Many victims of abuse need a long time to recover and start making intimate connections again. That is okay. It is inevitable, and it is necessary, for healing is a long process.
But it is important to get the help you deserve. Therapy, self-care, and anything else that will help you stand back on your feet and believe in yourself and the world again.
You are worth it, and you are important, no matter what anyone has ever said or done to discredit it. Love is a kind, nurturing force, and you must love yourself.