How to Heal After an Abusive Relationship
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All Points North Lodge is here to support you or your loved one in healing after an abusive relationship. However, if you need emergency support, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7 online, over the phone, and via text.
None of us enter into relationships thinking we're going to suffer abuse at the hands of a loved one. Unfortunately, we have very little control over how other people act. Often, abuse escalates over time, so incidents early in the relationship might seem minor and forgivable. Still, the cycle of violence can trap you in a routine that becomes your norm.
At some point, however, the abuse may become so bad that you not only realize the danger you're in, but you try to find a way to escape it. This is much harder than someone outside the relationship could imagine because of the brainwashing and normalization that often accompany abuse, not to mention the fears and self-doubt that go along with living as a victim of abuse long term.
Once you've escaped an abusive relationship, then the healing process can begin. Healing won't happen overnight, and it won't be easy. You might not even know where to start or how to find the support and resources you need.
Healing starts with acknowledging and understanding the trauma you've suffered, followed by reaching out for help and learning to treat yourself with kindness and respect so that you don't find yourself in similar situations again. Here are a few tips to guide you through the basic process of seeking help and healing after an abusive relationship.
Acknowledge the Trauma
There's a tendency for abuse victims to minimize the trauma they've suffered as a way to separate from the harmful, negative emotions surrounding the situation. However, healing can't begin until you admit that you experienced abuse.
One way abusers perpetuate the cycle of violence is by convincing you that it's somehow your fault. This is not true, but if you believe it, your abuser can use it to manipulate and control you. An abuser can gaslight you, causing you to question your judgments, compounding the trauma.
It's important to realize that there's only one person responsible for abuse: the abuser. Admitting that you are not at fault and that there was nothing you could do to redirect that toxic behavior empowers you to approach the situation from a position of truth. From here, you can begin to take the steps necessary to heal, rebuild your life, and grow as a person.
Understand the Impact of Abuse
There are several types of abuse, including physical, verbal, and emotional. Abusive behavior and signs of abuse can include¹:
- Sexual abuse
- Threats of harm
- Physically holding hostage
- Controlling behavior
- Destruction of property
- Jealous accusations and/or cheating
- Withholding love and affection as "punishment"
- Silent treatment
- Exposure to violence against others
Family members, romantic partners, friends, and colleagues can all be abusers. All forms of abuse cause harmful side effects in both the short and long term. Even short-term abuse can lead to physical, mental, and emotional side effects, such as:
- Mood swings
- Lack of focus
- Muscle tension
- Aches and pains
If the abuse continues for weeks, months, or even years, the results can be much more damaging. Victims may experience symptoms, such as:
- Anxiety and depression
- Guilt, shame, and erosion of self-worth (i.e., feelings of worthlessness)
- Sleep disorders/insomnia
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to trust others
- Chronic pain conditions
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
- Suicidal ideation
Despite the trauma you've suffered and the damaging physiological and psychological impacts, there is hope once you escape an abusive relationship. When you understand the lasting effects of abuse, you have a chance to seek help and begin the long road to recovery, health, and well-being.
Consider Potential Sources of Support
Help is available for those who have suffered abusive relationships, and there are several options to explore. If your abuser was an addict, you might want to join a local Al-Anon group explicitly geared toward providing a mutual support environment for those affected by someone else's addiction.
Alateen is an option for teenagers, while Adult Children of Alcoholics helps adults who grew up in a household with one or more alcoholic parents.
It's important to note that these groups, while free, are not explicitly intended to deal with the trauma of abuse. However, support groups offer an invaluable resource and peer support for survivors of abuse by an addict. You can share your experiences in a safe and anonymous environment and learn about addiction, its impact, and the codependency it generates, all of which can help you in your journey toward healing.
To specifically start treating the trauma of abuse, you're going to need targeted trauma therapy, conducted by one or more qualified professionals, possibly including medical doctors and clinical psychologists, depending on the abuse you suffered. This therapy begins with understanding your history and any related dysfunction, followed by creating a targeted treatment plan that could include different forms of behavioral and addiction treatment, depending on your particular needs.
You will learn to acknowledge trauma, recognize harmful behaviors, identify triggers, develop coping mechanisms, recognize your self-worth, communicate effectively with others, and take on new responsibilities as a means of advancing through your healing process. You may also need addiction treatment if you've turned to substances as a way to cope with trauma.
Give Yourself a Break
Surviving abuse isn't easy, and it's going to take time to recover. It's normal to downplay the impact, blame yourself, and feel like you aren't worthy of help. However, you've suffered severe trauma, and you need to give yourself some grace.
Consider the compassion you might feel for someone else who had suffered similar trauma and try to apply that level of kindness and consideration to yourself. Putting your interests first and learning to love and value yourself again is hard, but you're worth it.
Pay it Forward
Abuse recovery can be a lengthy process. You may need years of therapy to gain awareness of how physical, verbal, and/or emotional abuse has affected you, so you can start overcoming the trauma and improving your life and relationships. At some point, however, you may feel compelled to take the knowledge and insights gained from your personal experience and use them to help others in situations like yours.
Some people who have suffered trauma find it incredibly rewarding to help others pull themselves out of abusive situations and start their journey toward healing. You may be interested in joining an organization like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, for example, where you can share valuable resources with others in need or join petitions seeking action from Congress to support abuse survivors.
Of course, you'll have to decide if and when such activity is suitable for you. In the meantime, take advantage of resources available to you to get the support you need to heal. With professional help from the dedicated and qualified team at All Points North Lodge, you can participate in a wide range of therapies from trauma therapy to retreats to residential treatment, all designed to suit your personal needs and preferences.
If you're ready to learn more and take the first steps toward healing after an abusive relationship, All Points North Lodge is here to provide comprehensive, custom-curated care. Call us today at 855.235.9792 or contact us online via LiveChat to get started.
- Fletcher, Jenna. "What Are the Effects of Emotional Abuse?" Edited by Timothy J. Legg, Medical News Today, Medical News Today, 21 Nov. 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327080#short-term-effects.