Dealing with PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Domestic Abuse

July 26, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

Dealing with PTSD symptoms is a fact of life for many domestic abuse survivors. Learn how to deal with PTSD symptoms resulting from domestic abuse. Read this.

Yesterday, Andi commented on Victims Think They May Be The Abuser. Andi said:

. . . I reached the point where I feared that the emotional / verbal abuse was going to move towards physical abuse. It has been a long time since this happened. I've moved far away and started over, but I'm still scared, feeling PTSD symptoms, and can't seem to move on. I want so desperately to be whole again. Any thoughts and help would be greatly appreciated.

First of all, Andi and anyone else who feels this way, you are whole! You may have an extra voice in your head - a remnant of your abuser's lies, but that adds to you, it didn't take any part of you away! Granted, it doesn't add to you in a positive way and that voice needs to take a hike. But without that voice, you are still whole. Your abuser didn't dismantle you.

Secondly, honor your fear. You developed your fears for good reason, and they won't become manageable until you take some steps to counteract them. Here are some ideas to deal with PTSD symptoms and fully heal from abuse.

How to Reduce PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Domestic Abuse

As a previous abuse victim, you're probably now re-learning to trust your intuition. If you think of a way to help yourself, then try it. Perhaps one of the following suggestions will help you, or maybe they'll spark your intuition in a different direction.

Address Your Fears

Some Fears Are Not PTSD Symptoms

You've left an abuser, and honestly, it's impossible to forecast what he or she will do. Fear serves you well when you use it to prepare safety plans and think through your options to protect yourself. The key is to pick an action that empowers you and do it. Any healthy action that will help you to feel safer is a good choice. When you feel afraid, remind yourself of what you did to protect yourself.

The ideas presented at Safety Planning for Domestic Violence and Abuse Victims can help you thoroughly plan for your safety (click that link then scroll to the bottom of the page to download the safety plan for free). The safety plan will help you think through stranger danger protective strategies although it's intended to help you develop strategies to protect you from your ex.

Self-defense classes or even simple fitness program can make you feel better about your ability to protect yourself.

Educating yourself further about PTSD, domestic violence and the abusive personality will help you make sense of what fears are real and should be guarded against and what fears are products of the abuse (or unlikely to affect you at all).

Fear Triggers or Startle Responses

Does the phone ringing fill you with dread? If so, make a commitment to yourself to never answer your phone. Let all calls go to voicemail (don't screen them), then check your voicemail whenever you like. This will remind you that you're not on your abuser's leash anymore. You choose who to talk to and when.

If you realize you're easily startled, you can talk about it with those who live with you. Ask them to make noise moving around corners or when entering a room you're in. Tell them that sneaking up on you isn't funny (You may have to clue your kids in on that one -- they think it's funny to scare people. Well, so do a lot of people!)


If you have nightmares that wake you from a sound sleep, try to have something to do when you're jerked awake from fear. Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down the dream. You could drink a from a glass of water kept on your night stand. You could get up, make your bed, and then crawl back into it. Interacting with something you can taste, touch, or smell will pull you out of the dream, calm you down, and let you go back to sleep.

Audial or Visual Hallucinations

Hearing and seeing things that aren't there is another symptom of PTSD. If you're experiencing audial or visual hallucinations regularly, see a doctor. Until you can get into the doctor, treat the hallucinations like you would a nightmare: write them down, eat a raw veggie or drink some water, smell some menthol . . . remember, taste, touch, or smell brings you back to now instead of where your mind took you.

Home Alone or Nighttime Sounds

Do loud (or soft) noises when you're home alone scare you into irrational thinking? Although you can't be sure no one might enter your home, you can take steps to protect yourself if they do. Make sure your doors and windows are locked. Buy some pepper spray or a weapon you're comfortable using and place it under your pillow at night. Tell your neighbors you're concerned about prowlers (or if you like, tell them you're concerned your ex will come around). Knowing they're keeping a lookout will ease your mind.

Use Self-Help to Deal With PTSD Symptoms

Relax on Purpose

Try deep-breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga, or taking a walk. Do something that brings you down to earth on a daily basis, not only when your symptoms flare. Visualize yourself as safe and calm (even if you aren't) every chance you get so if you hit a panicky place, you can easily envision yourself in control. (I know everyone says this, but that's because relaxing works!)

Join a Support Group

There are support groups online and off that relate to abuse or PTSD. Talking about your experience instead of holding it inside relieves fear.

Journal In Any Way

Likewise, a journal or blog gives you an outlet to express your fears, feelings and memories. If you don't like to write, you could speak your journal entries into a digital voice recorder or voice journal (soundcloud gives some free space for recordings). You could also record videos (youtube has a private option if you prefer it).

Try the Emotional Freedom Technique

Look into the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) too. In theory, EFT works similarly to EMDR therapy (see below), but you can do it yourself. EFT is also called "tapping" and there are plenty of free videos and information articles online.

Therapies That Help PTSD Symptoms

Mental symptoms of PTSD, like intrusive memories and flashbacks, can be difficult, but not impossible, to deal with on your own. Please find a counselor If you feel you can't afford one, go through your social services department to see if they offer assistance for domestic violence survivors. Interview therapists about what type of therapy they use and how it works for PTSD before deciding who to see (Anxiety Treatments Are Effective).


If there's a therapist that practices Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy near you, then give them a call. EMDR therapy can be a miracle cure for some people with PTSD symptoms and it would be worth it to find out if you're a person it will help.

Narrative Therapy

I just interviewed Jodi Aman about narrative therapy (changing the stories we tell ourselves). Reworking your memories to empower yourself isn't denying the memory or stuffing it down - it's giving you a new and more useful way to look at it.

CBT and Psychoanalysis

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis are other types of therapy commonly offered. Between the two, the quicker road to recovery would be CBT, which helps you deconstruct your memories and find errors in thinking; then, when you recognize these thinking errors, you enact a new behavioral response to them.

Psychoanalysis analyzes dreams and other symbols of the unconscious mind to get to the root problem. A psychoanalyst would probably ask the question, "Where in your childhood did you first experience abuse?" and work from base level up. As you can imagine, psychoanalysis isn't the best type of therapy for quickly relieving PTSD symptoms.

You're Going To Be Okay

I know you wonder if the effects of abuse will ever go away. They can if you use conscious effort to address them. Think about it like this: Was there a time that you were silent about your abuse because you were ashamed of it? But you stopped being silent, and you ended the abuse. The same thing goes for abuse side effects. The more you talk about them, the quicker you'll find relief.

You did it before. You can do it again.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, July 26). Dealing with PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Domestic Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

December, 13 2017 at 4:49 pm

40 male suffering PTRS ex wife 22 years is BPD. Survival is possible. My ex wakes up to different world daily..
I get lying, hate me herself others

August, 23 2017 at 7:21 am

I'm suffering from this for the past year almost, went through emotional and verbal abuse, sexual assault, and stalking. I only came clean about it a month ago. My family is worried, but just want me to get back on my feet already. I'm taking a blood pressure medication for the nightmares. I've never been so angry or frustrated with myself in my life. I'm used to being tough, thick-skinned, and silly. Right now I feel weak and pathetic, and I want to be who I was before the relationship with him. My current s.o. is amazing, but I feel guilty and useless that I'm always distant and dissociative. My constant switching of medicines leaves me feeling sick and drained, and I need go back to work, but I go into panic attacks with other people around because I feel trapped and unable to express my emotions. I just want to go back to normal. I hate living right now, but it's torture because I know I shouldn't want to hurt myself.
What can I do to get over this faster?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 23 2017 at 7:18 pm

Please be kind to yourself. You're not weak and pathetic, you are injured and healing. It takes time, support and the ability to allow yourself the understanding that you've been injured and need healing. If you have feelings that make you want to harm yourself please seek help right away. You are wonderful and worthy! 18002738255 is the National Suicide Hotline. Please know many of us understand and care.

August, 10 2017 at 8:36 am

My ex was very emotionally abusive. Very good at gaslighting, twisted words, demeaning and all of it. Threatened physical violence but never did. However, it's been years and I still panic at the thought of communicating with him. My current boyfriend has to call him to remove my name from an old credit card, And I went into full panic mode. Shaking, heart racing, flushed face. Didn't help he tried to demand to speak to me. Now he left me, but I moved, got stronger and found an amazing man. But he kept trying to contact me. Be friends. Talk all the time. I knew to distance myself and he ended yo starting to give my number out to car dealerships so my phone would get calls daily. I had to change it. I had to move. I had people say I needed to "get over it" or that I wasn't over him because of the panic. After last night I researched. And I honestly think it's PTSD from 8 years of it. I'm going to look into getting help for myself. And finally getting a firm grip on myself

July, 29 2017 at 3:58 pm

I have felt this pain on all levels. Verbal, physical and mental. You hide what you can. You lie about what you can't.

August, 28 2016 at 6:25 pm

It looks like you are feeling no safe, support system. You have the same job and have same social circles. It sounds like you are experiencing gaslighting by your ex. Have you ever watched Sam Vaknin or Spartanlifecoach on Youtube? Narcissism Survivor has good videos explaining Narcissistic abuse as well.
When you are feeling sabotaged, it may have some elements of this kind of manipulation.
I have been in your place of helplessness and I found no one around for support.
Find a therapist and start talking it out. Talk about any feelings no matter what. I am a Veteran and there should be more services available for Police and I hope there is. A high stress job with responsibility like yours require some support.
You may feel numb, fearful, vulnerable and that is because you just went through a major change. You are human and deserve to know your feelings ARE important too.
Plan one step at a time how to survive. You will survive, indeed. You are a survivor and now you must devote time to heal. One secon, one minute, one day at a time. Write small goals down but if you do not feel up to tackling them one day, there is always another.
Rest, eat healthier, do some gym time, as a must! Exercise releases the chemicals that help your brain n give you a break with some good music. Meditation or just some calming self hypnosis vids with a nice calm voice you choose may help at night.
Next plan to change those things that make you feel uncomfortable. Possibly change your job at some point where you move away from the daily triggers. Places, people can trigger anxiety.
You matter and thank you for your service in providing safety for the public.
Now it is your time to protect your mental health and wellbeing.
You are not alone! This process will be a permanent routine towards improving the quality of you life.
Everthing has its own time so do not force yourself on your blue days. Those are the days you must treat yourself to something you like. A nice treat or time sitting in the sun.
Try and get at least 15 minutes of sun a day or take vitamin D. Also take vitamins as stress depletes you and you need to feel stronger.
Try not to rely on alcohol because this is about the chemicals in your brain and alcohol is a depressant that may help but you may wake up more depressed the next day.
Read up on it and watch vids and buy books. Try Psychopath Free, which is a great book n also there is a book by Pete Walker on C-PTSD of which he excellently explains we get with long term abuse.
You must be aware of that inner critic that makes you feel like you failed. Don't listen when you get thoughts or at least tell yourself you are aware you are feeling anxious, putting yourself down, triggered. Try and define any triggers n write them down.
If you feel helpless call the crisis line.
You can do this and eventually any small change will denote you are headed on your path to healing.
Big hugs. You sometimes can sit and tell yourself that even if you don't feel safe you actually are safe at that very moment.
Love and hugs. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to feel vindicated that your feelings count. You deserve change and a fresh new, freedom that life is taking you in a new direction.
You may not believe it, you may not feel it yet but in time you will see how you always had that strength.
Peace and be well.

August, 18 2016 at 7:43 am

I knew it was bad, I knew it was wrong. It wasn't until after I left him I've realised just how bad it was/is. It was emotional and sexual, exactly as everyone describes here. When you leave the fog goes away and exposes everything. I live in Christchurch New Zealand. My ex is a Police Officer, the same as me. This can happen to anyone. Am still dealing with the PTSD of it all. We have primary children and so the contact will always have to be there.
We work in the same building and as I was broken from the abuse he comes across stronger and as he promised has poisoned a lot against me. I realise from all of this just how ineffective out Police system is. Just how uneducated the officers are do deal with these situations. More often than not their actions create more victimisation. I use to be one, now I know.
The reason I write here is he has poisoned every area of my life, friends, work, kids schooling. Still abuses me at any opportunity. How do you combat do you survive?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 30 2020 at 6:31 pm

Debbie, I went to the police to report an assault from my lawyer, and they mocked me, and then when I insisted on filing a report, they took my words out of context, and there is a blatant lie that I am working on correcting, and I fell apart all over again, so yes, I agree that police can make things worse. The fact that your lives are so entangled makes it very difficult. I hope you found a support system that kept you from going crazy. I live in America, so I don't know what you can legally do there. Write back if get a chance.

August, 4 2016 at 7:56 am

How could I possible get better if I have children with him and have no choice but to put up with it because of that (at least that's what the courts have said)? The courts just see a pissed off ex not someone who is cause real serious damage here.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
August, 8 2016 at 3:27 am

PTSD makes everything harder, I know. And the courtroom has a way of seeing things backwards. I know that, too. Get help for the PTSD and be very familiar with your triggers and symptoms. Ask your friends "what you look like" to a stranger when your PTSD symptoms act up. A lot of times, the very mental illness the abuser caused can make us appear unstable in court. It's stupid - judges and lawyers should know better - but they don't. Read this article and let me know your thoughts on it: Co-Parenting with an Abuser at…

August, 1 2016 at 5:02 am

I am having trouble understanding if my situation is ptsd but I believe so. I left me ex husband almost 2 years ago. I dealt with mental and physical abuse for about 9 years. I wasn't allowed to be around my family and friends and if I did go, I was called horrible names. He played games with putting me down in a way that only made me go from a healthier weight of 110 to 80lbs. Now, I am divorced and have no ties to him. I moved 1500 miles away and I am with a man that adores me. I am slowly destroying this relationship because anytime an argument arises I go in complete defense mode and my outbursts are uncontrollable. It is humiliating and I am so tired of the excuses. I get triggered by things that I am aware of but mostly that I am not. When I can't make sense of it, I cause myself to dwindle into a massive panic attack that almost leaves the feeling of blacking out. My ex was in the military and also a police officer of a very popular, high crime city. I was constantly interrogated for things I never did and I had to lie and admit to something I never did in hopes I wouldn't get hit. I am working so hard at being positive and recognizing my faults but can not control certain situations. Afterwards I'm stricken with exhaustion and confusion because I can barely remember the fog of distruction. Im in constant fear when I know I'm safe and I just want to move on with my life that is so great yet I can't fully enjoy it. I want to make sure the direction of help I'm seeking is ptsd?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
August, 3 2016 at 2:25 pm

I am not qualified to diagnose you, but your description sounds like PTSD. I recommend that you look for a therapist who has experience in dealing with domestic abuse. Let the therapist give you a diagnosis.
BTW, I go through the same thing in my current relationship. It's disheartening to realize I've been triggered after the fact and then explain that to my love. I too wish these feelings would disappear, but I continue to work on thinking about what I feel before I speak it. I know that when I immediately feel anger, fear or when my eyes automatically well up in tears, that something triggered me. I have to take a minute to decide if I feel that way because of the past or present. As I think about it, the emergency of the emotion disappears and I make better decisions on how to address the issue.
I'm a work in progress, and so are you. Be compassionate with yourself. Your reactions are sometimes results of the past, but sometimes they're of the present. You owe it to yourself and your relationship to address each instance individually - and to realize that triggers are NOT your fault, but a remnant of past survival skills.
We'll make it through this. Enjoy the peace when it comes.

May, 17 2016 at 6:37 am

I was in a 24-year abusive relationship. I tried to ignore the symptoms of my abuser, I always thought he would change, love me, our kids.He got addicted to work, porn, football, was a pathological liar. found every way to be away from his family. I was in,out of many jobs due to my anxiety,depression, was later diagnosed with extreme PTSD. I tried to communicate, live a normal life with the abuser, please know it almost killed me. I went threw three different stages of depression, lost interest in life, lost my self, lost my female body functions. Please look for signs of emotional abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, my abuser convinced my son that women are only good on earth for four things nasty/rude sex, slavery work all the time,hitting/controlling all parts of every day life, mind, body. I had two kids threw all the pain, my last child was my prayer and a gift from GOD. I owe my child my life they helped me too get free, We are in the hands of GOD caring people, taking day by day healing, stopped controlling the situation, put it in GODS hands, for my older child doesn't have any relationship with me,or his sister due to he believes its ok for a man to hit,speak, treat a woman that way. I've been in and out of therapy, continue fighting the memories, flashbacks every day. I'm not going to tell you it's easy it's hard and the memories and flashbacks makes me relive it in my mind and head like a T.V.that won't go off. Please if your struggling speak up the resources are very limited for people leaving domestic violence, abusive relationships. I truly wish I would of had the strength to speak up, my abuser would have a record of his issues, problem. I'm the victim and I can't even get protection from him due to the different states have different jurisdictions. Please plan ahead if you can, I didn't it was difficult with a school age child. I hope my story will help someone, my journey save a life.GOD BLESS ANY ONE WHO READS THIS.IT'S ALL TRUE.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 30 2020 at 6:23 pm

I stayed 14 yrs in a similar situation. I left my husband and did get a restraining order, but I fell into the most dangerous type of covert narcissist lawyer office. You know, he coaches and teaches and everyone loves him. He gave me misinformation and lied to me to drop the restraining order on my husband, and then during the deposition, he reenacted a scene from my marriage. I did go to the police and switch law firms, but the police didn't take me seriously and I stayed with that lawyer for one year because I was soooo messed up in the head from my marriage that I didn't know that his behavior was unacceptable, and I didn't trust myself since I hadn't made decisions in a long time. I wish I planned more too! What I have learned is that we have to trust OURSELVES! If we feel something isn't right, it isn't right, and it's never too late to leave a bad situation. Something in your story struck a chord with me. I guess it is the injustice of it all. In my case, I tried to leave my husband, wound up with a criminal and unethical lawyer (no malpractice case according to other lawyers), I went to the police and they took my words and used them against me on paper, so I look crazy. All because I wanted to leave my abusive husband, and I get left with PTSD and so much more. I need some GOD in my life. Hopefully, I can pray and get some relief, and I believe you! It's all true!

April, 15 2016 at 2:13 am

Hello my name is amanda. I have struggled with ptsd since I was eight years old due to much parental abuse and such. I got help in texas last year with a neurological treatment therapist. It helped tremendously. I felt like a new person and no longer a prisoner to my disorder. I recently went through an abusive relationship in texas for almost a year. Well i fled from that relatiinship and came back to pa. See I thought I was fine when I came back to but I was wrong. I thought I was able to finally move on and pursue something else. Well when I tried for a couple months it seemed as though I was having a hard time. I would pursue something, get excited, then all of a sudden my emotions would just shut off and it's something I was unable to control. Well this happened for a couple of months until I finally called my old therapist in texas. She explained to me that it's not my fault. That I am more traumatized than I thought. It may not have been a long relationship but I lived with him (first mistake). Anyways she proceeded to say that my mind and emotions are going to keep going through that same cycle over and over until I get treatment again. I'm not fond of it happening but I'm glad I know. I get saddened alot, cry alot and I'm feeling more depressed than ever because it seems neurological treatment therapy is not easily found here so I am seeking advice to see of how to look up that specific treatment or if anyone thinks that they may know any other types that will help. I'm open for opinions. I just know for a fact I need help.

April, 8 2016 at 4:30 pm

Ive been feeling ptsd lately. My ex was very emotionally and mentally abusive he left after two years and I was fine for a while but now 8mths later im in a new relationship and ive been having some moments of ptsd

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
April, 10 2016 at 7:56 am

PTSD doesn't go away with a new relationship. In fact, my first relationship after leaving my ex triggered me often. It wasn't that the new guy was abusive, but some topics of conversation (finances, relationship issues) triggered me to think and behave as I did in the abusive relationship.
It's okay. You'll be okay. The more often you check back to discover the trigger, the easier it will be to overcome it. But, be careful. If your new guy is abusive, ... be sure to recognize it as quick as possible.
Also, see if you can get into therapy with someone who has experience with PTSD and domestic violence. That would help A LOT.

March, 29 2016 at 3:44 am

it has been 4 yrs counseling off and on and i'm single and I feel lonely and unfortunately where I have moved to,(after leaving him), the men are blah, anyway I still cry this week I feel washed over with sadness, and as much ad I tried to run from the tidal wave of depression it has come and taken me over, it was triggered by a dream of him, im at this moment at work and after every other call I want to cry, I know im lonely im just very sad and it makes me feel like I made a mistake by leaving, although I know it was unhealthy as hell, anyway I take suggestions and advice.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
March, 29 2016 at 7:06 am

Triggers and nightmares will fade. Your ex won't change. Keep that in mind as you heal. <3

December, 1 2015 at 5:25 pm

Resilient HeartMarch 24, 2013I find myself doing this from time to time…that’s someadthing I am disadcovaderading on my healading jouradney too. It’s odd! It feels like there’s an unconadscious sctiwh that gets flipped and I’m on auto-pilot tryading to carry the damn weight of the world! I think it’s archived pain from my childadhood where shame, anger, punadishadment ruled thea0roost. Our behavadior is fasadciadnatading and disadsectading it is both teradriadfyading and healading. Good fora0you!

Kellie Jo Holly
October, 26 2015 at 7:50 am

Dana, therapy helps. Time and working with self-help books will also help. Attending domestic violence groups (even though you're no longer in the relationship) is helpful, too. Go to a doctor who can determine if you have any mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. Dealing with mental health issues responsibly will make healing from the other effects of abuse easier.
Be patient with yourself and your healing process.

Dana Cetz
December, 18 2013 at 11:51 pm

how do I get rid of the risidual effects of my ex abusers verbal and emotional abuse.

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