Escaping Abuse: 5 Things Your Therapist Won't Tell You
No formula for escaping abuse exists; every abuse victim's escape story differs slightly. However, the domestic violence escape plan for almost all abuse victims takes shape when he or she can no longer excuse or cope with the abusive behavior. Sometimes, the abuse victim attends therapy when hit with the realization that escaping abuse is the best option. When that realization comes, the victim/survivor tends to focus on the escape and gives very little thought to what he or she may feel after escaping abuse. And guess what? Your therapist isn't going to tell you the future. But I will.
Escaping Abuse Is Step One, Not The Only Step
The goal of therapists or services that aid domestic violence victims revolves around first keeping the victim safe, and secondly, getting the victim away from the abuse. Usually, escaping abuse means leaving the abusive relationship. Although therapists and other helpers should honor your desire to stay in the relationship for as long as you feel that way, they also want you mentally healthy. You cannot be mentally healthy when living with a contagion like abusive behavior; it is impossible to grow mentally or emotionally when your focus is on regaining your mental footing every day.
So, don't begrudge your therapist or domestic violence workers for not telling you about what can happen emotionally and mentally after you escape abuse. They know that once you leave, your mental health will improve - over time - and that is the big picture goal. But there are some feelings and obstacles that come up after escaping abuse that I wish someone had warned me about before I left.
What to Expect After Escaping Abuse
No one is like me, and no one is like you. You may or may not go through all of the processes I mention, but you will go through some surprising changes. If I can protect you from the shock of just one of these emotional changes, then you'll be in a better place than I was after escaping abuse.
The First Two Things Your Therapist Won't Tell You About Escaping Abuse
1.) You could feel frightened to the point of paranoia and distrust.
When you escape your abuser, you expect retribution. Your relationship's history tells you there will be a punishment for leaving. Domestic violence literature warns that even if your abuser never physically assaulted you during the relationship, the likelihood of physical abuse increases when your leaving becomes real. Whether you leave the home or you legally force your partner out, the fear that he or she will find a way to hurt you is so real you can taste it. It tastes so horrible you consider reconciling just to get the punishment out of the way.
Don't reconcile out of fear.* Stick it out. Get yourself some pepper spray, change your locks and don't talk to anyone you cannot trust 100%. If you hang tough, you will overcome the fear in favor of freedom, and you will learn empowering actions that can help you differentiate between useful fear and paranoia.
2.) You could obsess over what your abusive partner is doing now that you're gone.
The unhealthy obsession with your abuser after you leave may surprise you. You fought to be free, and now all you can do is wonder what he is doing or who she is seeing. But really, the obsession is not surprising when you consider how much of your thinking time revolved around your abuser before you left. If you considered his or her reactions to what you bought, wore, said, did or thought every day, then you can bet almost every single thought you had before escaping abuse somehow related to your partner. You spend a lot of time obsessing over your partner during the relationship, and it is going to take your brain some time and training to stop obsessing.
The difference is after escaping abuse, you will realize just how often you think about the abuser. You may feel obsessed with them and be tempted to stalk their Facebook page (or them)! The biggest possible mistake is allowing yourself to believe that your obsession equals true love. Obsession is never love. Relax - you are not crazy for obsessing over someone who hurt you. Your brain simply likes familiarity; you will learn to think of other things once your abuser no longer haunts your decisions.
So far, we’ve covered two of the things your therapist won’t tell you about escaping abuse. I think you can see why they stay quiet . . . the mental challenges you could face after escaping abuse can seem as challenging as coping with active abuse. But don’t worry: the rest of the list holds some good surprises.
Next: Escaping Abusive Relationships: Therapists Keep This Quiet, Part 2
*If your abuser stands in front of you and threatens to kill you - do what they say to do! Pretend to reconcile. Save your life before your pride.
You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Jo, K. (2015, April 6). Escaping Abuse: 5 Things Your Therapist Won't Tell You, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2015/04/escaping-abuse-5-things-your-therapist-wont-tell-you
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
This article and the comments left have been beyond helpful, however I find that most of these situations involve romantic partners, where as mine did not. Being in an abusive situation with your parents at the age of 19 has an insurmountable toll. I didn't understand that what was happening was wrong, and that the displayed behaviour was not okay. Being isolated from my friends, not being aloud to leave the house, having no control over my money, and not being aloud to work or attend university. It took so many various people to tell me that what was happening was wrong. I was walking around with bruises, bumps consistently, and I excused their behaviour as punishment. I started attending DV meetings with a support worker on the few occasions I could leave, and it took for that for me to realise that what was happening to me was wrong. The meetings started putting me leaving into affect, where I would go, how I would pay for it etc. I left every meeting feeling guilty. Then as things started getting more serious with me leaving, I would backtrack, no longer wanting to leave because I felt I was needed, what would they do without me? I couldn't put them in that situation. It took for one explosive event and one text to my friend to ring the police for me to gain the courage to leave, and I have been gone for a substantive amount of time but I still feel guilty, I cant help but wonder whether they are struggling, I am convinced they are. I am receiving help from multiple agencies but theres still a niggle at the back of my mind telling me that Im going to go back. I suppose that's a feeling that will go with time. They have attempted contact, multiple times, attempting to guilt me into return, Yes, I am scared, and yes I am paranoid but I am convinced I can do this, I will do this. Because I am better, and I am a survivor. I hope people read this and draw the hope they need to know that they are better than the life they are being given, and that things will get better, never forget your worth.
Thankful for this article. Not related to bad therapist, but the detail of emotions I am having, and now knowing I am not crazy, or that there is something wrong with me. This is extremely helpful to me. Left abuser 79 days ago. Today was 1st day I felt a hint of normalcy, and dare I say, happy. Stranger still is the difficulty I have at times to remember the abuse. I have purposely told my family, details I hid for last 8 year's, so they can remind me why I left on the hardest days. I'm disappointed how I lost who I was, and only a vague memory of which to draw from, to try and see a future. But today, I think maybe there is one. It's almost like I fear to even let go of him. He was given such control of the happy times. I still wonder why I relinquished them... I'm still learning. I feel for those without support. And found there were certain people I could not rely on for the, sometimes draining, help I needed to just be able to talk, or sort, through what was going on in my head, my thoughts. But I just kept pushing to find those who could help or listen, so I didn't go back, because I could already see that was an issue for me. And I knew I wouldn't be in this needy state forever. Knowing that is good. I think someone may come into my life in the condition I left my abuser, and I will be there for them. Again, thank you for making it ok to heal from this in the way it actually happens, and we are not just "crazy" or "addicted". And for all, your mind IS better when you leave and commit to the healing process. Please NEVER give up!
This will help my friend, she is going through an abusive marriage and she is scared of leaving.
I understand this so well. It's because they slowly coerced us and lied to us and broke down who we knew we were. Then you wake up one day thinking how did I get here? The first time he touched me violently, 10 years after being married, I was done. But it still took months to get out because at that point I wasn't working and he had isolated me from everyone. I no longer had daily friends as I ALWAYS had before meeting him. I hope you DID get away. And yes it sucks after you get away too because you have to now face that all that time you were being totally manipulated and abused but it's STILL better than actually being with them. But yes I am still feeling mortally wounded. I guess you'll never read this but I pray that you did or will get out.
I have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for almost 20 years, married for 10. There have been times where I have been threatened or intimidated and feared physical abuse. I finally decided to leave the relationship, I felt strong, confident that I was making the right decision. I told a few of my closest friends what was going on and I started to make plans to leave. Once this decision had become "real" I started to have major anxiety and fear. I couldn't eat for days. The fear and anxiety was so overwhelming that I shut down, mentally and physically. I fear what he will do, I know that it is very likely that he will become violent if he finds out I am leaving. So the fear got the best of me and I started to rationalize why I should stay...at least for now. This has caused me to become extremely depressed, I slept a lot in the last couple of weeks, but I needed the rest. I am pulling myself out of the depression as much as possible to start planning again. I have to act normal, so that I can give myself more time. We are getting along fine, no major issues, no yelling or screaming in my face. No tantrums or breaking things, but i feel like I'm walking on eggshells every day. I have let my doubts and fears of what he will do after I leave keep me here again. I still plan to leave, but I fear the longer I wait either I will change my mind, or he will become physically abusive. I know the relationship is toxic, but I am struggling to find the strength to leave.
I divorced him two years ago after his family continued to stalk me in public and his behavior become frightening. I was a stay at home mom for 17 years. The divorce was non-contested and I was given the house and one of the retirement accounts. He spent most of the money he was supposed to sign over to me. He was supposed to move out in October of 2013. He didn't. In February of 2014, he fell out of a truck and broke his hand. He couldn't move out. I finally got a job and saved up money for a lawyer in September of 2015. I called a lawyer and set up my first appointment. The next day my ex lost his job and the lawyer said it wasn't worth going to court to try to get him to move out, pay alimony or the money he took.
I've spent months trying to get help from legal aid to no avail. The mediators I call say that the case is not fit to be mediated due to the stalking. Now, I'm trying to go to court by myself to enforce the orders but I fear what a judge will do. Will I lose the children? Will I be forced to pay my ex alimony? Will my ex get even scarier?
When men want control, they find ways to get it. I wish there were more options for people stuck in these situations.
When I told the police he hit me & they came to the house so that I could get my things safely the police officer spoke to him while I was in the house. Big mistake. Whatever he told the police, when I left the house (the police officer drove me to a shelter-horrible experience by the way at the shelter) the police while still kind to me acted also sypathetic in his tone when he spoke of my ex. Like he knew he was a bad guy but not THAT bad was the feeling I got. And this ex absolutely destroyed my life, friends, job, future, all the massive effort over years I'd put into college, making the Dean's list, all gone. But he (ex) must have put on his act of "oops I screwed up, hee hee, but I was trying to help her in my fumbling way" BS. Nope, he was trying to destroy me because he knew I was FINALLY on to him and what he REALLY was. But you are so right about when men want power. My ex LIED to everyone about me. It makes me want to puke. I almost killed myself over it-that's how bad it's been.
First, let me say that I am sorry that you (and apparently others) had such a bad experience with a therapist. I know that there are many therapists out there who are not skilled at counseling individuals who are experiencing abuse.
However, to say that "no therapist will" paints us all with a very bad brush! I spend a great deal of time preparing my clients for what they may feel after they leave, particularly those who have had very little exposure to non-abusive relationships.
Adjusting to a "new normal" is always extremely difficult--even when that new normal is a better, healthier place to be. It helps to have a therapist who has had specialized training in domestic violence, but it is more important to have a therapist who listens and validates all your emotions and provides encouragement and support as you make the significant adjustments to being free from abuse.
Thank you. I have left an abusive, controlling man. It took me 6 yrs but we are finally divorced. I am always thinking about him. I read about the NO Contact but we have 4 children. Thank you for making me feel as tho I am not completely insane. My new therapist said I'm addicted to him. I did nothing right. I am still filled w/ horrible self doubt. Anxiety. Depression. Some days it seems I don't know how to live like normal people. Everything I did or said was wrong. I had been a confident, successful, attractive woman. Now I am a shell. I am so grateful for your information.
Deborah, in my opinion, your therapist did you wrong by calling you an "addict." I know there's a famous book out there called, I think, "Love Addict" but I don't buy into that theory. Saying you're addicted to a toxic person is just another way to tell you how messed up YOU are without having to address what's happened TO you. It's revictimization, in my not-a-counselor-or-therapist opinion. I hope you consider hiring a new-er therapist.
Fact of the matter is that man ran through your brain like a tornado. He ripped up all your old thought patterns and laid his own tracks. Of course you're going to think of him. He trained you to think of him. They say awareness is the greatest agent of change. I think that maybe, knowing about brainwashing and all the crap your abuser did to you will help.
I know it's been 6 years of freedom and you're still obsessing. I have faith that you can retrain your brain. I have faith that you can further limit your contact with him. I'm willing to bet that he subtly (or not so subtly) abuses you every time you meet; he's able to re-lay HIS tracks in your mind that way.
Here are a couple links for you. I hope they help.
After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect
Revisiting Abuse And Healing From It
I printed this out and will read it and take pride in it. I am currently relapsed in a sexually abusive and verbally abusive cycle and know I HAVE to get out. Due to his intimidation that "we" will put a watch on you and does seem to have others to stalk his victims, I AM paranoid and obsessing about what my abuser may do next. It is a vicious cycle.
I will read this thoroughly again and again to inspire me more.