Leaving any relationship can be difficult, but ending an abusive one takes a great deal of courage. If you’ve left an abusive relationship, give yourself credit for taking the hardest – and most important – step. You’ve freed yourself. And if you’re considering leaving an abusive partner, give yourself credit for recognising the truth of the situation. You have the strength to leave, and there are resources available to help you.
Recovering from an abusive relationship takes time and effort. You might feel like you’ve lost your identity because your ex has convinced you that you’re worthless, though this isn’t true. You might feel frightened and unable to trust other people. But you won’t feel this way forever. With patience and self-care, you will begin to heal and remember who you really are. Your life will get better.
Here are some steps you can take to rebuild your life after an abusive relationship:
Accept what happened
There’s a tendency for survivors of abuse to blame themselves, especially in the early stages of the breakup. So it’s important to recognise that what happened wasn’t your fault. Abuse, whether emotional or physical is never justified. The first step to begin to heal is to acknowledge that what your ex did was wrong.
You might choose to make a list of the abusive things your ex did or said to you. This can be painful to write, but it can also help you understand how strong you’ve been to survive this, and why you feel the way you do now. It’s important to remember that if you’re feeling worthless or ashamed, this isn’t who you really are. It’s a reflection of your ex’s own issues and agenda.
Seek professional help
Counselling is a safe space to talk freely with someone who isn’t emotionally connected to you or your abuser. A counsellor won’t try to impose their opinions on you, but will always be willing to understand things from your point of view. He or she will listen without judgement and offer insights so you can come to terms with what’s happened and rebuild your self-esteem.
Make a clean break
Your ex will likely want to persuade you to go back to them. They might threaten, apologise or make promises that things will be different. So cut out contact with them as much as you can. If you’re having second thoughts about leaving, remind yourself why you left. Try to resist the temptation to look them up on social media, too. Focus on healing yourself instead, so you don’t find yourself slipping back into an abusive situation.
Visit support groups
For many survivors of abuse, support groups are a crucial part of recovery. Support groups give you the chance to talk with people who understand first-hand what you’re going through. Hearing stories from others who’ve been in a similar situation will make you feel less alone. You’ll also get practical insights and tips on ways to move forward.
Reclaim your hobbies and activities
If your partner stopped you doing things you love, discovering these again can be a big step in getting your life back. What activities did you enjoy before the relationship started? Perhaps you liked to learn new things, to read or be creative. Doing these activities might feel strange and scary at first; your ex might have convinced you that your own opinions, likes and dislikes are wrong. But if you persevere you will remember why you enjoyed those activities, and start to enjoy them again.
Be kind to yourself
An abusive partner can chip away at your self-esteem, but with care and attention to your own needs it is possible to get it back.
Try speaking or writing down positive affirmations, even if at first you don’t believe them. You have the power to control what happens to you, and you can give yourself treats as part of your new routine. You might want to make time for a warm bath, your favourite TV show or a nice meal. Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and yoga can help calm you if you’re feeling anxious or afraid. Take these steps and with time you can identify yourself as a survivor, not a victim.
Reconnect with friends and family
Very often an abusive person will isolate their partner to have greater influence over them. You might want to try reaching out to family and friends who aren’t connected with your ex, and who will be a good source of support. Think of people who treat you with respect, and choose to spend time with them.
And if there’s no one that fits the bill, when you feel ready you might like to seek out new friends who have personality traits you want to be around.
Give yourself time
You’ve been through something traumatic, and you’ve experienced that trauma for a very long time. So take it easy on yourself and try not to impose a time limit on how soon you think you ought to recover. You have the right to heal at your own pace.
You might find yourself missing aspects of the relationship very much. Leaving any relationship – even an abusive one – is a loss, and you don’t need to be ashamed of these feelings.
Put yourself first
At first, you’re not just living in fear of your abuser, you’re in fear of believing in yourself. But you can do it. Think about what you’ve achieved already. You’re still here, despite the pain and trauma you’ve been through. You’ve broken free. It won’t be easy but you can take back control by putting your own needs at the centre of your new routine, and surrounding yourself with positive people.
Do you need someone to talk to?
If you need someone to talk to, I’m here to listen. Whether you’re in the aftermath of an abusive relationship or there’s something else troubling you, you’re very welcome to get in touch with me. I’m a qualified person-centred counsellor and hypnotherapist based in Manchester. I offer face-to-face therapy in the Manchester area, and UK wide online and telephone counselling.
Resources and helplines
The National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 200 0247 (free, open 24 hours) offers advice and support to women and can refer them to emergency accommodation.
The Men’s Advice Line – a helpline for men experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner. They offer support and practical advice. Helpline: 0808 801 0327 (open Monday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm.)
National Counselling Society (NCS). This is the professional association for counsellors. Their website has a national directory of qualified therapists, searchable by area.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence helps people get protection from an abuser. They offer free legal support, such as helping individuals get injunctions from a local court. Telephone: 0800 970 2070
Galop offers support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence. Helpline: 0300 999 5428 or freephone 0800 999 5428. They’re open Monday to Thursday 10am to 8pm. Tuesday 1pm-5pm for a trans specific service.
Karma Nirvana is a charity which advises survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse. Helpline: 0800 599 9247 (Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5pm)