How to Break Free from an Abusive Relationship - and Thrive
A step-by-step guide on how to break free and make a fresh start
*Trigger warning: this blog discusses domestic abuse.
My name is Rosy, and I was in an abusive relationship for over a decade.
The trouble was that I didn’t realize how deeply my ex-partner’s treatment of me was affecting my mental health. I had lost my identity — I was a puppet, and he pulled the strings.
In the UK 1 in 3 women (1.6 million) experience domestic abuse throughout their lifetime, and the police receive a call every 30 seconds for help relating to such abuse. These figures show only the ‘official reports’, with the real figures likely to be much higher. How many cases, like mine, remain hidden?
It can be described as a pattern of behaviour on the part of the abuser, designed to control their partner. It can happen at any point in a relationship, including after a relationship ends.
It can be physical, emotional, economic, and sexual, and can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, background, ethnicity, or sexuality. Whilst it happens to both men and women, statistics show it is far more prevalent in women who experience higher rates of repeated victimisation and are more likely to be seriously hurt or worse, than male victims.
Research has also shown that there is a two-directional relationship between domestic abuse and mental health. Sadly, individuals who have experienced domestic abuse are more likely to experience long term mental ill-health. Women subject to domestic abuse are 3 times more likely to suffer adverse mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety as well as more severe conditions such as bipolar disorder.
Importantly, domestic abuse is never the fault of the person who is experiencing it.
So maybe you are thinking “why didn’t she just leave?”
Many factors make leaving an abusive relationship so hard.
It can be a very daunting task to take those first steps to freedom and safety, which I undoubtedly experienced. For me, my confidence had been slowly destroyed over time, I was drowning in a sea of unhappiness, my life savings had been drained away making any move to safety on my behalf seem impossible — I had no car, no job, and was completely dependent on my abuser, and I had slowly been isolated from my family and friends over time. Who would I turn to for help?
Danger, fear, shame, trauma, and isolation can be powerful tools…
Asking for help is not easy, but I finally found the strength to do so. Reconnecting with my family and their offers of help, also boosted my confidence and spurred me into action, although I couldn’t accept them as they live too far away. What truly helped me take the first crucial steps was having a well-thought-through plan of action. This ensured that I remained safe as well as focused on my end goal — reclaiming my life.
Find somewhere to live
My priority was finding somewhere affordable to live, to remove myself from the immediate danger of my situation. The internet can be a powerful tool in providing help. Search it out.
I found a website called Spare Room, through which I found a kind stranger who let me move my few possessions into their spare room. Alternatively, family or friends might be able to help out until you get back on your feet again. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is also available, where you can talk through your options with a Helpline worker who can also help you access refuge accommodation.
Find an ally
If leaving is something you can’t safely do on your own, on the day you plan to leave, it is important to have a friend or family member to help out and provide moral and emotional support. Alternatively, you can call a Helpline in confidence, such as the refuge helpline, which can support you to understand options and to help create a plan.
Moving on — Importance of a support network
In my experience, seeking medical and/or professional advice was very helpful. Speak to your General Practitioner and ask to be referred for professional help. He or she can point you in the right direction.
My doctor was patient and understanding and he took the time to listen to me. When he told me that I needed to find the root of my unhappiness, it was a light bulb moment. I knew then that I had to extricate myself from the abusive relationship, whatever it took.
Talk to professionals — they are there to help. Talking therapies can help you understand and deal with negative thoughts, and help make positive changes — opening up to my counsellor helped me enormously.
My family was also very supportive and my daughter and a friend helped me to move my things into my new temporary accommodation. I will never forget the feeling of relief that very first night when I slept safely in my own bed with my whole future stretching out ahead of me. Nor will I forget the kindness of the relative stranger I moved in with. She provided amazing support and, many years on, she is still one of my closest friends. Learning to trust again, and who to place your trust in, can be daunting at first, but each day your confidence will grow, with the support of the right people.
With each additional day that I forged ahead with my new life, I became stronger, happier, and more empowered. I was able to increase my part-time job to full-time and begin to turn my financial situation around and provide for myself, which in turn increased my confidence.
It is difficult to take the initial steps to leave, it is like riding an emotional roller coaster. The ending of any relationship, be it good or bad, is the end of a chapter in your life and that has emotional consequences. Perhaps more so when the experience has had such a deeply negative impact.
However, starting that new chapter, your new beginning, can be incredibly empowering.
I also learnt that if you don’t break free from an abusive or toxic relationship, you will never know what is out there for you — and what is out there can be beautiful, you just need to find the strength to take those first crucial steps.
My life has changed for the better, over and above anything that I could ever have dreamed of.
I hope that in reading this, someone in a similar circumstance may find their light bulb moment, and the courage to make a change…
If you are a victim of domestic abuse there are several different organisations that can help and provide support, below are links to some suggestions: