Many women who’ve been reading my blog and others, have asked what they should do if they realize their relationship is abusive. How do they cope? What should they do? What now?
That question can only be answered by the person asking it! You know your relationship best. This is your journey, and only you can choose what to do and when to do it. You have all the power in making safe, reasonable choices for you.
There are a few things that I encourage you to do as you travel this road through abuse and into recovery. The first step, you’ve already taken. You’ve realized that you are being abused or that your relationship is abusive! Good for you!! Realizing what is going on in your relationship is the “AH-HA” moment that will propel you to make changes for the better. This is one of the hardest moments for any victim, but it is also the pivotal moment that will make you a survivor instead of a victim.
Deciding what to do once you’ve discovered that you are in an abusive relationship takes time. Most victims feel a rush of all sorts of emotions – from relief and confusion, to anger and depression. You might be hopeful that you can address the abuse and your abuser might change. Most of us are hopeful when we discover the core issue and want our abuser to desire change. While change is possible, it is also very rare for an abuser to choose to change. They must make this choice by themselves, for themselves because they desire better.
There are steps you can take, now that you are coming to accept your situation, that will help you become strong, regain your self esteem and protect your heart. These are not long term fixes for your relationship, but rather short term ways of establishing your rights and taking care of yourself while you figure things out.
Educate yourself about abuse: This is immeasurably important! Start reading everything you safely can get a hold of regarding abuse. Here are some great places to start- The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans and Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. You can go to some great websites like www.ncadv.org and www.thehotline.org. There a thousand different places you can go to educate yourself and find support. I highly recommend that you do so. The more you know about the dynamics of what you are living with, the more effectively you can keep yourself sane and safe.
Break the Isolation: The very first move for all abusers is to get you isolated. Whether this was done by physically moving you to another location or by cutting you off from friends and family by driving a wedge between you, you find yourself isolated without friends and support. It is vital that you reach out as soon as you can! Break the isolation. He has narrowed your world to the point that nobody else can speak into it. It is him and him alone, no one else is trustworthy, wants what is best for you, or cares for you like he does. Maybe you had to quit school and work because he wanted you to be home with him. Whatever happened and how it happened, doesn’t matter! You can break the isolation by just reaching out to someone. Maybe you have a neighbor you can get to know? Your child’s teacher? a church member? Whomever it is, make a friend. When you feel like they are a safe person, tell them your experience. Breaking the isolation is the best way to begin to regain your personal life.
If there is absolutely no way to break your isolation or it is too dangerous, I recommend calling the abuse hotline. They are there 24/7 and are very supportive. They will talk to you, help you and just listen to you if that is what you need. I’ve called them many times and always felt supported and far less alone by making that call. They also have a great ‘chat line’ online that you connect with someone if it isn’t safe for you to speak out loud.
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Care for yourself: You’ve spent years care-taking and catering to your abuser. You have been completely caught up in pleasing him and anticipating his moods. Now is the time to start mentally separating yourself from his demands. This can be REALLY hard but with practice you’ll begin to be able to put up a wall that will protect your heart and preserve your sanity. Expect that when you start to care for yourself physically and emotionally, the abuser will do everything he can to stop your self care. He may manipulate and pout or try to send you on guilt trips. This is why being educated about abuse will empower you to identify these tactics and safely resist them.
Connect with God: God NEVER wants His children to be unsafe emotionally or physically. He NEVER condones abuse. He is with you and He will be your source of strength as well as reality, when the confusion, manipulation and doubt surface. His word will be grounding to you. His word will identify you and label you with truth instead of lies. You can connect with Christian support groups in your area or reach out to Christian advocates online. Here are some of my favorites: Helping Abuse Victims Flee Nationwide, Crying Out for Justice and Julie Owens.
Stop the Blame Game: One reason why abuse is so effective, is because the victim is manipulated into accepting the blame for everything the abuser wants to heap on her. Once you realize the game that is being played, you can choose to stop participating. Stop accepting the responsibility for things that do not belong to you. Identify who has the problem or issue and allow that person to own it. It is not your responsibility to fix everything even if he pressures you or has conditioned you to believe it is so. It’s OK to realize that the abuser is the one with the problem. The problem is that he is abusive. You can’t change that for them but you can begin to acknowledge that it is not your fault. Stop the craziness and refuse to accept the blame.
Stop Engaging in the Crazy: Once you start to accept that you are not to blame for his abuse, you can start to see how crazy the abuse makes you feel. You might notice how often you are egged into an argument or begin to see when he picks a fight with you. When this happens you want to explain yourself, reasonably discuss the issue with him or accept the blame by apologizing. Now, you can recognize this as his way of manipulating you into engaging in his abuse. There is a great technique called ‘grey stone’ and its a way of not engaging. Become as boring and as unengaged in his arguments as a grey stone sitting in your driveway. Practice not reacting and not participating in his abusive world. Keep up the grey stone façade as a way of protecting yourself from his onslaughts of negative behavior.
Learn how to set boundaries: an abusive relationship exists basically with very few personal boundaries. It is up to you to learn what your boundaries are and how to enforce them. Enforcing boundaries will not make your abuser very happy, but it will help you to regain some of your lost power. It will also help to empower you and keep you safe as you move forward in your journey. Boundary setting can start out simple. Requiring your partner to speak not yell, to call you by your name not rude names or to not swear around you are great places to begin. Along with you boundary, you must have consequences. You’ll have to communicate with your abuser and tell them what your boundary and consequence are. For instance, “I will not stay in a conversation with you when you yell at me. If you choose to raise your voice at me, I will leave the room.” Be prepared to follow through with your boundary and your consequence because you can bet your bottom dollar, your abuser will run right over your boundary in order to regain control.
Put a plan together to ensure your safety: Remember, these are temporary actions that will help you as you move forward emotionally and mentally. Abuse is so extremely confusing and insidious that it takes time for a victim to sort it out and make good choices regarding the situation. You will need time to learn, to grow and to decide what you are going to do about your situation. Your choices are all up to you and only you can decide what you are willing to do. Regardless, you will need a plan. You will need to look at safe ways to stay if that is your decision or you may need to find a safe way to get out. Either way, a plan is essential and will be super important to helping you maintain your sanity and your long term goals. Find a counselor who is experienced in abuse counseling. Under NO circumstances do we ever recommend marriage or joint counseling with the abuser. Engaging in joint counseling is very dangerous to the victim. If your counselor encourages couples counseling, you may want to consider finding a new therapist. A good counselor, women’s shelter advocate or the abuse hotline will be able to help you make a safety plan. Your safety plan can change over time and I promise there will be things to think about that you would never have considered without their help. On average, it takes 7 attempts for a victim to safely leave and stay out of her relationship. There are a dozen and more reasons for this statistic. Also, remember, the time when she is leaving, to just after her departure, is the most dangerous for a victim and this is the time when most women experience their first physical violence and often even death.
Remember, you know your situation the very best. You are in charge of your choices. You have the power to change your situation, how you go about that is up to you. Living in an abusive relationship will not only erode your self esteem, it will also erode your physical and mental health. Becoming a survivor, getting safe, is essential to living a happy life and it is a journey, often a journey that can take days to years to complete.
I sincerely pray that this blog has helped you put together a plan for your safety. Your reasons to stay and your reasons to leave are valid. Your hopes, dreams and future are important. You are not responsible to change your partner but you can change yourself, your actions, your reactions and the dynamic of power and control in your relationship. Allow God to redefine you and to speak truth into your life. You can do this. You can overcome and you can survive!