Recovering From an Abusive Relationship – Overview
Recovering From an Abusive Relationship – “Why don’t you just leave?” A question often asked by concerned loved ones, but they may never get an answer. At least not until you are ready to leave. Getting out of an abusive relationship is dangerous, scary, and will leave you second-guessing everything you ever knew.
It takes a victim of abuse, on average, seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. The feelings of powerlessness, low self-worth, their threats to harm you, themselves, or others, and more all weigh heavy on your heart.
Finally having the courage to leave an abusive relationship is something that, while terrifying, you will always thank yourself for. After removing the abuser from your life, a victim tends to go through three stages of self. These are the victim, survivor, and thriver. Consider them the grieving process of an ended abusive relationship. No one ever wants to go through them, but they have to in order to live a mentally and physically healthy life.
Stage of Self One: Victim
The first stage after an abusive relationship is the victim stage. In this stage, you are just trying to figure out your life again. Maybe you are going through the stages of grief for the ended relationship, blaming yourself, or feeling like you are losing control. All of these are completely normal reactions to the end of an abusive relationship.
What is crucial in this stage is for you to understand what just happened to you. You need to feel the emotions and the pain, as it is part of the healing process. Most importantly, you need to understand this was not your fault. You did not deserve the abuse you endured in that relationship.
To successfully process and move through the victim stage, you must answer these questions for yourself:
- What did I just experience?
- What steps did I take to remove myself from the situation?
- Who did I turn to for help?
- What were my coping mechanisms throughout the abusive relationship?
- Which were most effective? Which were most toxic?
- What is the most important thing I learned from this experience?
- What can I do to avoid this situation again?
After leaving an abusive relationship, many victims still experience self-esteem issues, making excuses for the behavior of themselves and others, and feeling like they are stuck in the same cycles. It is difficult for the victim to realize this when they keep running back to an abuser or go into a new relationship with a different abuser.
Once you see that you deserve better and this is not a healthy way of living, you will be able to start putting yourself first. People who have been in abusive relationships can understand how their interaction with their partner is almost addictive. The highest of highs you get after the lowest of lows, the constant “they’ll be different this time”, and not admitting to themselves how bad things really are can be impossible for some people to leave. Especially when they really care for their partner.
Stage of Self Two: Survivor
Being able to move into the survivor stage means that you have come to the realization of what you actually went through. You have started actively working on healing your trauma and moving forward in life. Reaching out to friends, family, a therapist, or other external means and being open and honest with them about your abusive experience is usually done in this stage of self.
Your focus in this stage is on yourself in the present moment. You want to move forward from the past. Sure, you will still have moments where you experience waves of emotions, miss your ex, and struggle with the trauma. That is normal and healthy. It is part of grieving your past and accepting your new and healthier future. As long as you leave the past in the past and do not go back to them when you are missing them.
This is when you start working to find yourself again. Learning who you are, mentally and physically, will help you to grow into who you were always meant to be. Getting to know yourself again may look like this:
- New hobbies
- Practicing your faith
- Learning a new skill
Anything that includes you working on bettering yourself and learning how to live a life you enjoy would be included in this list. You will never be able to “get back to your old self” because that person does not exist anymore. You are someone who has been through something extremely traumatic and survived. You are a newer, stronger, more resilient version of who you used to be. You cannot erase what happened to you, but you do get to make the decision if you are going to let it keep you down or if you will grow from it.
Stage of Self Three: Thriver
Thriver is the stage that every victim should want to get themselves to. This means that you have done the work, you have healed, and you know how to love and be loved in a healthy way. You have realized your worth and are looking forward to what your future has to hold.
You have recovered.
You may still experience setbacks and triggers that will bring you back into the victim mindset at times. Understand this is normal and completely okay. The difference is now you have the coping skills to quickly overcome your triggers and get back to living in the moment. Your ability to separate yourself from your past and understand the abuse is no longer part of your life is invigorating.
No matter what stage you are in, be proud of yourself. You escaped one of the most traumatizing situations a person can experience in life. One that took a toll on your self-worth, made you question who you were or if it was worth living and told you that you would never be good enough.
You deserve a life you love. You deserve a healthy relationship. Never should you base your self-worth on what your abuser has said or done again. That is no longer your life. It is an uphill battle to better yourself, but what is most important, right now and always, is that you are free from the abuse.