Getting out of an abusive relationship is extremely difficult. Some people never make it out alive. Domestic violence is scary, life-altering, confusing, and dangerous. Being a survivor means just that – you survived and now it’s time to move forward with the rest of your life!
Moving forward definitely does not mean forgetting. The first year is the hardest and there’s a lot of experiences you might not realize are coming your way. So let me break down a few things that I experienced.
- Feelings of immense empowerment : This may come immediately after escaping and knowing that you’ve really done it for good this time. When you realize that you had the strength to overcome someone once and for all that has held you down under their thumb for so long that you became nothing more than an empty shell – when you realize that you did it – THAT IS POWERFUL. You may feel like you can accomplish anything during this time and it can be possible to bite off more than you can chew because for so long you were chained and now you’re free, feeling like super woman. Take it slow, be cautious. I’m not saying don’t reach for the stars – absolutely enjoy your freedom! The gratitude of this accomplishment is priceless. Do things you weren’t allowed to before! Just don’t take on too much and burn out!
- Clarity and Confusion at the same time: When you finally get away, it’s like a veil is lifted or you wake up from a bad dream. It can literally be like waking up and your eyes are opened and you look back and realize things you didn’t before. Seeing everything you happened from a completely different perspective now. You knew something was wrong but you didn’t realize how bad it was. With emotional abuse that is very covert, it may have been hard to recognize while you were there – Now that you’re out you may begin to focus on the past and not only feel clarity but also confusion – “HOW?!” You may wonder how someone can be so good at manipulating and coercing that they completely take away your identity and sense of personal control.
- Fear : For so long, you’ve been controlled, manipulated, possibly threatened or even physically harmed. You’ve behaved in ways to keep your partner happy so that you didn’t suffer consequences. You’ve been trained to live in fear. Now that you’re out, you’ve got to rewire your brain. As you start making decision on your own and living life the way you want and need to live it, you may feel fear at very inappropriate as well as appropriate times. Depending on the type of abuser you had, you may feel like he’s watching your every move. You may feel like you’re being followed, set up, and manipulated through allies that he’s formed. You may fear going out in public where you know he’ll be. These are all extremely normal feelings and it’s possible they last for months or even years without therapy. Expect it and prepare for it – build your support system, seek therapy from a licensed therapist, and draw near to the Lord and draw on His strength and peace. Isaiah 41:10 became my mantra during these times. If you have good reason to fear because of communicated threats, then alert the police and ask for police escorts and patrols when you’re going to be alone. When law enforcement know where to look out, they can be ready and close by if you have them on the look out. Don’t wait until it’s too late to call 911. Also try not to even be alone. If you have a concealed carry license, then use it!
- Need for validation : Once you escape and he’s not even visible in the rear view anymore, you will probably want to start understanding how you got into that situation in the first place. People will start asking you “why did you stay so long?” or worse yet, “You don’t think you can work it out? What if he changes?” These questions may make you feel like you’re being doubted for leaving. Especially if this was a marriage, and even worse if there are kids involved. A lot of people do not understand emotional, spiritual, financial abuse, and sexual abuse within a marriage. I hate to say it, but Christians are probably one of the hardest groups to convince that you did the right thing. Sometimes the church wants to protect “marriage” more than the individual. You may feel the need to find proof of what you went through, that you’re not crazy, or just even searching to see if you did the right thing. You may want to tell everyone what happened so they can see that you did the right thing. But telling everyone what happened may not be the best solution. If he’s good at what he does, it can come back to bite you. Expect to feel a deep need for others to understand and a need for you to even understand for yourself. Try finding one thorough outlet for validation and accept that God is in control and he’s got you. How other people feel or think does not define you. Validation by others is nice, but it’s not vital to your life. People will think what they want to think, so let them think it. You just worry about you!
- Shock and disbelief : Emotional and spiritual abuse can be easily disguised to the victim as love and religion when really it’s the abuser’s means of control and power. Brainwashing will cloud your view while you’re there and make you question what the problem is. As you start doing your homework to try and validate your exit, you may read things that describe exactly what you experienced. You may start seeing connections that you didn’t even realize were there. When you read what someone wrote 5 years ago, 2000 miles away from you, and you could have written it yourself – your jaw will drop, your world will spin, and you may not be able to believe your eyes. Abusive behavior has been documented thoroughly and these people are all the same in their patterns, words, and methods. Some variances here and there, but they have a kindred spirit. Expect to feel a level of shock and disbelief when you read your story from someone else’s mouth.
- Anger and even rage : As you start sorting things out, unpacking your baggage, processing what you experienced, dealing with PTSD, and connecting the dots, the anger that you weren’t able to feel before because it was suppressed is very likely to start rising up. Bitterness can gnaw at you, feelings that you didn’t even know you could feel may take over you. This is to be expected when you start realizing even the little ways that you were manipulated and controlled. A sense of “how could you!?” may come up a lot. See “5 Steps to Letting Go of Bitterness After Domestic Abuse”
- Rebellion and lack of self control: You were controlled. You were told what to do. You were isolated and chained. Now that you’re free, there may be a tendency to overshoot in your new found freedom. Like pulling back on a slingshot – the release may send you flying so far in the opposite direction because your ability to manage your own decisions and emotions were crippled for the duration of the relationship. It’s important to focus on what will keep you healthy and well, balanced in your life, and safe. Keep your eyes on the prize and when you do overshoot, give yourself grace and forgiveness and calmly return to center. Learn from these mistakes – just like learning to walk again. That’s exactly what you’re doing – learning to walk on your own again. You’ll get it back.
- Peace, joy, and love : You read that right. These three qualities of life can actually be yours now. They were always there, but chances are you were blinded by your abuser’s veil. When you are putting your faith and trust in the One who gave you life and not living under someone else’s control and power trying to please them for your own protection, you can finally experience the fullness of what God has for you. Your life is precious – own that. Your worth is priceless – accept that. Peace, joy, and love are freely given by the Lord and your abuser cannot take that away. It felt like he did, but now that your mind is able to open up and truly accept what God’s got for you – you can fully embrace it.
All of these things can be extremely normal to experience after an abusive relationship has ended. This list is not exhaustive though!
Your overall wellness is extremely important to walking through all of these experiences though. I can help you navigate how to stage your wellness for the best recovery! If you’d like to know more, please contact me to start your Freedom Project!