Tips for Rebuilding Your Life after an Abusive Relationship
Every 68 seconds someone in the United States is the victim of sexual assault as reported by the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network (RAINN). Survivors of abuse often report feeling helpless to stop the event, and when the abuser is an intimate partner, the power dynamic makes leaving feel impossible. Fortunately, reclaiming your life after abuse can allow you to rebuild yourself and avoid succumbing to another abuser.
The power dynamic of abuse
"Why don’t they leave?"
This is the most common response when abuse is disclosed. However, it is common for abused partners to feel trapped because the abuser has extended their control over the relationship, the household, personal finances, and even who their partner interacts with.
The power dynamic of abuse is often psychological as well as physical. Typically a dynamic begins early in the relationship as the abuser slowly initiates control. The manipulation starts small, such as disapproving of clothing choices, your close friendships, or hobbies. To make your partner happy, you begin to make concessions, and little by little, your life as you knew it disappears.
The effects of abuse
Eventually, the dynamic becomes so established that when abuse occurs, the victim could feel as if they deserved the violence. These psychological manipulations are what keep a person with an abusive partner for so long. And once the relationship ends, it can take years to get past the emotional and psychological scars from such a toxic situation.
Trusting a new partner after surviving abuse can be terrifying because we fear our next partner will initiate the same patterns as the previous partner. When I finally left my abusive partner, it took me years to disclose the extent of my trauma because I was worried if I told my new partner, he might see it as an opportunity to manipulate me.
Many of the symptoms I was experiencing were evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is one of the most common conditions of abuse survivors, and while we often picture dramatic scenes of public panic attacks, the truth about PTSD is it can be an invisible condition that leaves many of us suffering in silence with panic attacks, chronic anxiety, and obsessive tendencies.
Overcoming feelings of helplessness
The process of overcoming feelings of helplessness and PTSD may take years, and much of this work revolves around the process of regaining the power to control your life. If your previous partner was in constant control, it may feel like they may show up at any time to take control again. This can leave many living in fear, but there are steps you can take to feel more in charge.
You can file a protective order to ensure legal ramifications if your partner comes near you. Some survivors relocate because they want to avoid seeing their partner again, but for others, this can feel like their partner is still in control even after the relationship has ended.
In an effort to wrestle back control, many women empower themselves with self-defense training. The benefit of self-defense training is you can learn how to respond if you ever encounter your partner again or if you find yourself in a similar situation. For many women, knowing how to respond during an attack can help them return to their daily lives after abuse, because better knowledge of how to defend themselves removes the paralyzing sensation of helplessness.
Living your life free from abuse
While learning self-defense is simply one step in the recovery process, it can be an important one to getting you out of your home and back to your daily activities. Most importantly, it stops you from looking over your shoulder. When pairing this activity with the help of a licensed mental health professional, you can reclaim your life after abuse.
If you need help moving out of a dangerous household and relocating discretely, then visit this helpful guide from our friends at My Move.