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self-care

The Importance of Self-Care

self-careSelf-care is a simple concept, yet for many of us, it can be incredibly difficult in practice. It is especially challenging for victims and survivors of abuse, who are often made to feel like they are not worthy of love or care. But the truth is that everyone deserves to be cared for, and we all have the power to be our own caregivers. That’s what self-care is all about; taking care of yourself in ways that feel best to you, focus on your own health and well-being, and bring you comfort.

If you have experienced abuse in your life, self-care may seem like a foreign concept, exhausting, or pointless to consider. You might be questioning how it could be of any use to you, which is totally understandable. It helps to remember that self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent; it’s simply one tool you can turn to when coping with or healing from an abusive relationship. At first, doing self-care might not feel “normal” to you, and that’s okay. Start by making small, gradual changes and focus on being gentle with yourself.

Making sure basic needs are met is the foundation of self-care. Do you get adequate sleep? Do you eat regular meals? Is physical activity part of your daily life? For some people, meeting these basic needs might not be possible all at once, so it might be helpful to focus on one at a time. Others may choose to make a list to remind themselves to meet at least one basic need or do one self-care activity daily. There is no wrong way to do self-care; think about what feels right for you and your situation.

If you’ve got the hang of meeting basic needs, try brainstorming other activities that you might enjoy doing, or that you once enjoyed but haven’t done in a while. We often recommend keeping a personal journal of thoughts as a form of self-care, but only if you’re in a safe place or your abusive partner won’t have access to it. However, if journaling doesn’t appeal to you there are plenty of other options. Here are just a few examples: reading a book, taking a walk, drinking a cup of tea, knitting, drawing, painting, cycling, swimming, watching a funny movie, taking a bath, talking to a friend, baking, taking three deep breaths, praying, meditating, volunteering, taking photos, playing a videogame, playing or cuddling with a pet, attending a support group or counseling session, stretching, listening to your favorite song, dancing, singing, daydreaming – all of these things count as self-care, and some of them don’t take more than a few minutes. What matters is finding what works for you.

Do you have additional suggestions, or are there particular self-care activities that work for you? Leave a comment! Also, check out our (growing) self-care board on Pinterest.

If you need help incorporating self-care into your life, our advocates are here for you. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233, or chat online every day, 7am-2am CT.

coping through counseling

Coping Through Counseling

Sometimes we all want a miracle solution for our problems. Especially after getting out of a bad relationship, the natural desire is to just feel better, now. It may be a frustrating saying, but time does heal wounds. While counseling isn’t an instant fix, the process is truly what’s important. Taking all the time you need to explore the past and think about the future can be invaluable in strengthening and rebuilding your life.

Today we’re continuing our conversation with clinical psychologist Martha Ramos Duffer to learn more about the ins and outs of deciding to start counseling, and how you can tell if it’s working for you.


Some people want to know that therapy is working. What is a good indicator of this?

At the beginning of the therapeutic process, every therapist and client should work together to identify goals and specific ways that they will know they’re moving toward those goals. This can be helpful in determining if therapy is working for you. Overall every therapy that is working will, over time, result in a person feeling increased self-awareness, capacity to choose, clarity and peace.

If you want to have the luxury of your own space to explore yourself then individual therapy is great for that. In individual therapy you can explore your own feelings and goals much more deeply.

Is therapy for everyone? When’s the right time to start therapy?

If you feel that therapy might be helpful, sooner is always better. Therapy can be beneficial for everyone because it’s a place where you can learn increased self-awareness, clarify your goals and look at the choices in front of you.

That being said, there are many things in life that can be therapeutic. If you don’t feel comfortable with therapy there are other healing practices you can explore like journaling, spending time in nature, cultivating friendships and networks, being part of community groups or volunteering. There are many activities that can be as healing as therapy.

What are the differences between group counseling and individual counseling?

In general, both can be very beneficial, and I would recommend that people consider the type that they feel most comfortable in. If you want to focus more on interpersonal skills, want to know how you come across to other people, and want to hear from experiences from other people in their growth processes, then group counseling is wonderful for that.

What advice would you give someone who is apprehensive about counseling?

Entering counseling does not necessarily mean that you are mentally ill or can’t cope on your own. Therapy is about how much you’re putting in place to support yourself in healing and succeeding.


Have you thought that therapy might be a good choice for you? Whether you’re struggling in an abusive relationship or trying to heal after leaving one, getting in touch with a counselor to strengthen your support system can have a powerful effect. Give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE and our advocates can help you locate counselors in your area.

Further Reading

In our post on Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors we talk more about breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support.

This PDF brochure from the National Association of Social Workers has a helpful checklist of positive indicators when determining if your counselor is the right fit for you.

finding the right counselor for you

Finding the Right Counselor for You

The idea of sharing personal stories and emotions can be scary, especially if you’re still feeling hurt or vulnerable from a breakup. Delving into these difficult feelings can ultimately be one of the most helpful ways to cope and move on. That’s where counseling comes in. Talking with someone one-on-one in a safe space is a great option for anyone who may need support.

To learn more about the process of starting counseling, we met up with licensed clinical psychologist and motivational speaker Martha Ramos Duffer whose work is centered on trauma treatment, empowerment and personal growth. She provided us with incredibly helpful information on how to choose a counselor.


What are the differences between a counselor, therapist, psychologist and psychiatrist? Who would you suggest for someone who has left an abusive relationship?

That’s an important place to start. The words psychotherapist, therapist and counselor are all used interchangeably. These are people who have received master’s degrees in counseling, social work or psychology. Psychologists have more training because they are doctorate level therapists. Any of these professionals can do a great job providing therapy.

On the other hand, psychiatrists have a doctorate in medicine. In most states they are the only ones who can prescribe medicine and most don’t provide therapy. What most often happens is that somebody who needs medication will see a psychologist or other licensed counselor for therapy and see a psychiatrist for medication.

It’s important to make sure the professional you decide to speak with is a licensed mental health professional. Terms like “licensed professional counselor” are legally regulated, so not just anybody can call themselves that. Words like “counselor” or “coach” are not regulated, so anybody can call themselves that.

What are the steps to take in order to find the right counselor?

The first thing to think about is financial access. Will you try to use insurance to pay? If not, will you pay out of pocket and do you need sliding scale fees? Some therapists offer varying prices based on the client’s income level.

Some communities also have local mental health centers with low fees. If you’re just leaving an abusive relationship and you don’t have access to funds or insurance, see if one of these exists in your area.

If you have insurance, call and request a list of mental health care providers. After you have a list, you can begin to ask around to see which of these professionals are recommended by others. If you’re coming out of a shelter, ask the people who work there for recommendations. Ask friends and family if anybody has seen a mental health professional who has worked well for them.

If your friends and family members haven’t used mental health professionals, there are other options. Ask for recommendations from other health professionals in the community, like your physician or even other psychologists. Psychology Today is also a useful site where many mental health professionals advertise, allowing you to read doctors’ bios and research more options in your area.

Call several different therapists and talk with them before setting up an appointment. This lets you determine how comfortable you feel and how responsive they are. Ask if they have expertise working with clients who have experienced trauma and domestic violence.

What are some red flags that indicate that a therapist may not understand domestic violence or aren’t a good fit for you?

If a therapist gets defensive when you ask them if they have experience with trauma and domestic violence, then it is likely that they are not well trained in that area.

Another huge red flag is if a therapist wants to begin by looking at your role in the relationship and treats the abuse as a mutual-fault issue. That doesn’t mean that in complex ways we don’t all play a role in every dynamic but that’s not how to treat a survivor of domestic violence. If they start to discuss the situation as if it was a traditional marriage or relationship issue and try to explore your own role in triggering or participating in the abuse, this is a clear sign they don’t understand domestic violence.

If a counselor recommends couples therapy or marriage therapy, this is also a red flag. This is not recommended when there’s battering and violence in a relationship.

How do you know a counselor is a good fit for you?

A good match between therapist and client is one of the most powerful healing factors in a therapeutic relationship. Look for someone who makes you feel heard, understood, safe and comfortable.

If you don’t feel this way, it makes sense to look for someone else. However, it’s important to first ask yourself what is making you uncomfortable. Is your discomfort coming from how difficult it is to talk about this? Of course you’re going to feel badly as you start to talk about what happened. There are all kinds of things that can make a first session not feel good, and you need to discern if your discomfort is because starting the process is difficult, or because you don’t feel heard and understood by the counselor.


Check the blog on Wednesday for the second part of our interview with Martha.

survivor stories

Shared Voices PT 2: Your Stories of Life After Abuse

Yesterday we shared some survivor’s stories that we were fortunate enough to have received from our inspirational Facebook community. These stories expressed the patience and hope needed to rebuild your life after abuse, and we heard from survivors in all different stages of healing. Some shared their feelings on whether or not they’d want another relationship. Many spoke about how important it is to spend time focusing on yourself and your own pursuits and learning to love yourself.

We’re so thankful for everyone who was able to share their personal stories with us, and we hope that reading these will inspire courage and hope, no matter what your situation may be.


Today we’re continuing to share these inspirational stories, with a focus on survivors who have found love after abuse and are starting a new chapter of their lives with a partner.

Melissa’s Story

I am a survivor of both sexual and domestic abuse.

I’ve been with my love for 3 years now… 2 years after I left a long, emotionally and physically abusive relationship that I cycled through for almost 6 years. The man I love today is the most gentle, loving, caring and supportive man I have ever met. He showed me that there are good guys who do nice things just because they are nice and they love and resort women.

I had found a rare gem of a loving man. I asked him to be official and we’ve been together ever since. He’s supported my return to college (I graduate this May!!!) as well as supported me emotionally as I continue to deal with the lasting effects of the abuse I have experienced in my life.

He has never once raised his voice, or his hand. He doesn’t have one aggressive bone in his body. In 3 years we have never had a fight, we have discussions. Finding love after abuse has been the miracle I’ve been waiting for my whole life…  I found love when I wasn’t even looking and life has been So Amazing since.

Andrea’s Story

I did! I am so blessed to have found such a kind, loving and patient man who loves me and my children. When I was with my abuser, I dreamt of being with someone that was loving and affectionate. Somehow, this dream has become a reality and I am thankful everyday that he is in my life.

Celeste’s Story

I got married a year and a half after I left my abuser. I know my worth and don’t let anyone or anything take me to a place where I can’t grow or prosper. I learned the value of the word NO. No, I can’t do that because it’s not in line with my goals. Or, no, that just isn’t true. I love the me I am today, but am really excited about the me I am becoming.

Curtis’s Story

It took time to discover who I really was – uncover the “real me” beneath the abuse. I started this process before leaving my abuser and it gave me the strength to realize that I had a better life head of me.

Now that I am comfortable with who I am and what I want to do with my life, I have found that I am able to love. I have an amazing partner who is my best friend. I feel free to express myself however I want to – through dance, song, jokes, and general happiness – and I feel respected in my thoughts and opinions. I truly believe that we are equals, that we compliment each other, and that our individual strengths and weaknesses are complimentary… not curses.

I think of her happiness regularly, and see how well it supplements my own happiness. After more than two years and countless struggles with my former spouse in court, we still have “young love”. Thank you for being my rock, my soft place, and my everything, Candice!

Shanna’s Story

I left my abusive ex-husband five years ago. My kids and I spent time in a DV shelter until we could get back on our feet. For a while, I felt like I had lost everything.

I married a wonderful, kind, caring, patient man last year. We still have to deal with my ex on a fairly consistent basis. It doesn’t strain our relationship, which is amazing to me. He helps me know that I am not the person my ex led me to believe I was. Re-finding myself after the years of horror I lived through has been a stressful, freeing, exciting journey.

Julie’s Story

A long road, but worth the journey. Yes, I did remarry 13 years after leaving my abuser.

Donna’s Story

I have had an amazing man for 7 years!! He is kind, never puts me down, very supportive, never calls me names or abuses, not jealous and so much more!!! I could not imagine life without him!! Thank god I am free!!

Teresa’s Story

I was in an abusive marriage for nearly 19 years. It took me a good year or more to PLAN my escape. And another 2 years to have the divorce completed after safely separating (moved all the way from New Jersey to Arizona with 2 teens and a toddler). Happy to say, that I found a wonderful man and we have been married 7 years. Who knew life could be so peaceful?

Connie’s Story

Yes, I did. We have just celebrated our 10th anniversary this year!

Lizz’s Story

YES! I was in an abusive relationship/marriage for 14-years. The abuse I suffered was not kind. I literally ran for my life from that relationship on August 24, 2001. I’ve never looked back. It was a couple of years before I dated… I needed to get back to being ME before I could even think of a relationship.

On a fluke I met a wicked nice, funny, hard working, loving, kind man online. Flew from SoCal to NH to meet him. Spent two weeks together. Came back out a month later for a week. Two months later I moved to NH for good. I feel like I was one of the lucky ones. Got out alive and found a wonderful man. Life is good.

Jennifer’s Story

I did. My wonderful husband and I have been together 8 years, married 6 1/2.

life after abuse

Shared Voices: Your Stories of Life After Abuse

Those who have left an abusive relationship many times come face to face with new challenges and a complicated healing and recovery process. Last month we explored this topic of life after abuse and asked our Facebook community to share their own experiences finding happiness with a new partner.

The responses were powerful and enlightening. We heard from survivors in all stages of recovery. Many shared messages of their courage and openness to try to find love again, and we were reminded that rebuilding your life after abuse can take time and space.


Here are some survivors who shared their unique stories of hope and patience:

Kathy’s Story

It took a great amount of time to heal after being with someone of that nature. But, not everyone is a bad person so hopefully one day I will meet a kind person.

Mary’s Story

6 yrs later, I have not found happiness with a new partner… I’m still trying to be happy with myself first.

Ashley’s Story

I still haven’t found anyone after my 2 divorces, but for the past 2 years now I’ve come to see it is alright to just let go and allow the healing to flow. I still have a hard time with nightmares and flash backs, I’ve just barely been able to be around coworker males when they use knives for jobs we do. But the progress is steady. One day I hope to be blessed with a loving partner as well. But for now, I am just going to care for me.

Bethann’s Story

I was in an abusive relationship for two years. It’ll be a year next month since I left. While I haven’t found a “new love”, I have started dating again. I’m positive I will find someone worthy of my time and love someday though.

Johanna’s Story

I don’t have a partner but I’m really happy being single, my son is the only love of my life right now. After a really bad relationship, a relationship is not in my plans for a while. But I trust God one day I am going to find a good person for me and my son.

Anna’s Story

I am so much calmer, and have emotional energy for my kids now to be the example I have wanted to be. Before, I was just so busy trying to survive — I was often short with them or emotionally unavailable. Now, I show them everyday what awesome kids they are, and how to live happily and peacefully. It is hard being a single mom, but it was much, much harder being an abused mom!


We also received many stories from survivors who have found focusing on their own personal goals and happiness to be an important part of the healing process.

Katrina’s Story           

It has been nine years. I didn’t find a partner yet but by choice. I did however go to work at a domestic violence shelter, earned a bachelors, then my masters and now I am a licensed social worker who specializes in therapy with trauma/domestic violence/sexual assault. It has been nine years of recovery as a single mom with five kids but I am here to say it can be done!

It has been a journey for sure. Of my five children 2 are in college and one graduates this year to go to college. 2 of the 3 are earning social work degrees and the third one is looking at political science/policy setting. Education is empowerment.

I was fresh out of my marriage and trying to make sense of it all. I became a volunteer advocate (DV and SA) then later the Children’s Program Coordinator. I worked up from there! My initial framework and knowledge base that I learned as a volunteer has shaped my entire role as a therapist. Don’t give up!!! I know it seems forever but now I look back and never ever would have believed I would have been here! I was a stay at home mother in a rural area, cloaked with religion as a reason to stay and completely under his thumb. Today I am independent and so much happier. Hang in there!!!

And happiness did follow! Every time I take the kids to the park or movies without fear, every time we can stay up late or sleep in, without fear… every time I can speak to somebody without fear… happiness abounds!

Christina’s Story

I’ve been single for four years now since I’ve left my abuser. A little bit of dating here & there, but I enjoy being single & learning to love myself so that my daughter can have a happy mother that doesn’t believe that she always has to be in a relationship to be happy or successful. I do have to say I’m a lot happier & healthier. Take time for yourself to enjoy your own company and learn. Share that with your children if you have kids and embrace it. You have plenty of time to meet someone. There’s no rush and even if you never meet someone, it’s better to be single and happy than in a relationship and miserable! Keep loving, keep fighting.

Andrea’s Story

I have not, however I did fall into the wonderful arms of a great job that allows me to support my 4 wonderful boys, and my own personal dreams both professionally and personally. Life is beyond anything I ever imagined.

Marissa’s Story

Finding happiness isn’t always through finding someone else. I haven’t found love yet, but I have become a nurse and am continuing with my master’s degree. Freedom to make one’s own choices and being independent is such a reward.

amandas story

Life and Love After Abuse: Amanda’s Story

Last month, we took to Facebook to discuss life after an abusive relationship. We asked the community to share their own stories, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Survivors shared their uplifting experiences of finding love and starting over after abuse, and there was no shortage of support and encouraging messages for those struggling to heal.

Today we’re excited to publish Amanda’s story, which details her journey from a victim of domestic violence to an empowered new bride. We hope you are as inspired at her strength and hopeful spirit as we are. A very special thanks to Amanda for having the courage to share her experience with us.


In response to your Facebook post: I am one of those who found love after abuse.

I was married to a physically, emotionally and sexual abusive man for five years — I was choked, beaten, thrown into walls, raped and made to feel completely worthless. In March 2010, I incorporated my “safety plan” and left my husband.

From March 2010 through March 2011 (while my divorce was going on), I spent A LOT of time reading books on domestic violence, reading blogs of survivors, researching information on websites like yours and also working closely with a therapist. I just read and learned everything I could about domestic violence as I knew that I wanted to one day be in a healthy relationship and not stay trapped in the “cycle.” I wanted to become a healthy and happy domestic violence survivor.

In April 2011, I was asked out on a date by a man that I had known from a distance. I was terrified to trust again (yes, even if it was just a little date), but I knew from all of the research that I had done that he was a good and honest man. Our first dinner date turned into a picnic and hike which turned into several more weeks of dating which lead to us becoming “a couple.”

Being part of “a couple” — in a healthy relationship — was amazing and terrifying at the same. Amazing because I forgot how wonderful a healthy relationship was, but terrifying because I was afraid that (A) something in our relationship would cause him to “turn” and (B) I was afraid my ex would come after me or my boyfriend. However, through all of my healing and research, I knew that option “A” wasn’t going to happen. And thankfully, option “B” didn’t happen either.

Through this relationship, I learned what a real man was — real men treat you with complete respect. They are caring, gentle and kind. They love you for who you are — your likes, dislikes, goals and ideas. They will NEVER EVER hurt you physically, emotionally or sexually. And one of the most important things, especially for a domestic violence survivor, is that they are patient with you. I can’t tell you how many times I had to either stop doing something, leave a place or just needed to be comforted due to some “trigger” from my past. A real man will be there for you, he will help you heal by showing you what real love is.

Two years later, on March 30th, 2013, I got to marry this absolutely amazing man. I have a husband that I (once) never thought existed. My marriage is wonderful, it’s free of abuse, or fear. Our home is our a happy place, filled with love.

Finding love, or even being willing to trust someone, after being in an abusive relationship is extremely scary. I do believe that my key to “finding love” was allowing myself time to heal, to grieve and to learn as much as possible about abusive personalities and what healthy relationships consist of.

The photo here is from our recent wedding — yes, I’m a blissful bride. And I’m so thankful that I can say that I HAVE found love after abuse!

*Photo credit: Kristen Eson, Arden Photography

recommended books

Life After Abuse: Helpful Books to Check Out

Moving on from an abusive relationship can be an incredibly hard process. If you find yourself struggling to cope and heal, consider a trip to a bookstore or the library to pick up one of these books.

1)  After abuse ends, feelings of inadequacy and shame can last. In The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, author Brené Brown explores these difficult emotions and places importance on accepting imperfection and vulnerability. She guides readers through a process of beginning to “engage with the world from a place of worthiness” and learning to love yourself just as you are.

2) Author Pema Chödrön echoes Brown’s advice in her own book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Through an explanation of basic Buddhist beliefs, she instructs readers on how to cope with the difficulty of the past and present. Her text is filled with positive affirmations while she discusses communication, reversing habitual patterns, using pain to cultivate courage, and more.

3) If you’ve recently left a relationship and you have children, their wellbeing will undoubtedly be one of the most important concerns through your own healing process. In When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, Lundy Bancroft offers advice for how to talk with your kids about the abuse, help them deal with the separation, and rebuild your life together.

4) Figuring out where to begin again after a relationship ends can leave survivors feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R. Hock discusses this complicated and frightening time. The book acts as a manual for rebuilding your life after abuse, by focusing on strategies for recovery, learning how to establish healthy relationships in the future, and more.

5) One of the essential ways to begin coping with abuse is to start to understand the dynamics of the abuse: why it happened, why your abuser didn’t change, and why it wasn’t your fault. In Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft addresses all of that and more, painting a clear picture to help survivors (or those still in an abusive relationship) understand what they’ve gone through.

6) Even long after abuse, experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common. Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women by Mari McCaig and Edward S. Kubany is full of trauma recovery techniques called ‘cognitive trauma therapy’ to help cope with the aftermath of abuse. The book contains exercises for breaking down negative thoughts, dispelling feelings of helplessness, and beginning a happier, healthier life.

If you’re struggling with abuse or have left an abusive relationship, what books have you read? Which were most helpful?

moving on after abuse

Finding Closure After Abuse

Moving on after any breakup is challenging, but healing after an abusive relationship can be especially difficult. Sure, all breakups have their aftermath of sadness and loss, but for someone transitioning from victim to survivor, the fallout may include continued harassment or attacks. The resulting ongoing mental trauma and emotional stress can make a survivor question — was leaving really worth it?

We’re here to say YES. Yes, leaving is worth it. Why is moving on after abuse so difficult? Because abuse is rooted in power and control, and an abuser holds that power by minimizing their partner’s self-esteem and breaking their spirit. If you’re leaving an abusive relationship, rebuilding your life can be a hard process, but with time and space, finding closure and peace is possible. A violence-free life is waiting, and you are so very worth it.

How do you start to move on? Here are some tips for moving past the experience of abuse into a safer, happier reality.


1. Cut Off Contact With Your Ex

During the healing process, you may feel the need to offer forgiveness, help your abuser through the break up, or show your abuser how you’re better off. However, it’s difficult to really get closure without severing all ties with your ex.

Try different methods to avoid contacting your former partner. Delete their phone number and change yours. If you’re picking up the phone to call, put the phone in a different room and walk away.

Resist the urge to look them up on social media. Unfriend or block them, and if pictures or news keep popping up, it could be helpful to remove mutual friends as well.

Try writing a letter with all the things you want to say to your abuser and don’t send it — or, if you’re in counseling, send it to your therapist instead.

2. Surround Yourself With Support

After an abusive relationship, allow yourself to get help and support from others. Spend time with friends and family who care about you. Tell them what you need from them, whether that’s someone to talk to about what you went through, or someone to keep you from answering phone calls from your ex, stop you from texting back, etc.

If your abuser isolated you from friends and family, you may find that you no longer have that support network — but there are always people who want to help. Consider finding a counselor to talk with one-on-one, or join a support group. If you call NDVH, one of our advocates can connect you to services in your area.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is such an important part of the healing process, and that begins with understanding that the abuse that happened wasn’t your fault.

Find things that make you happy. Rediscovering what hobbies you enjoy can be a learning process, but that’s half of the fun. Join clubs or try activities like a group fitness class to meet new people.

If you have children, find ways to make time for yourself. Some gyms offer free childcare while you work out, and different domestic violence centers provide childcare while you’re attending support groups.

Praise yourself for accomplishments, little or big, and counter any negative self-talk with positive mantras or affirmations. Becoming aware of what you think and say about yourself can help shift negative thoughts.

4. Remember That You Will Get Better With Time

The old saying that “time heals all wounds” can be incredibly frustrating, but there is truth in it. Recovery does take time and space. Give yourself as much time as you need to heal.

Recovery looks different for everyone, and each person has to find what works for them. Have you left an abusive relationship? What have you found to be helpful in recovering? What would you recommend to others who are coping with moving on after abuse?

life after abuse

Dating After Domestic Violence

Dating after domestic violence can be nerve-wracking and complicated. If you’ve experienced domestic violence, you might have more trouble connecting with potential romantic partners, you might have a hard time trusting people or you might find that your perception of what is healthy/unhealthy in a relationship was warped by your abuser.

If you’re considering beginning a new relationship after experiencing domestic violence, here are some things that you should consider.

Move on Before You Start Something New

Domestic violence can leave behind physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Before you start a new relationship, make sure that you have begun to cope with the things that you experienced in your past abusive relationship. Seek counseling to help you work through your emotional pain and connect with your local domestic violence program to get support. Sever ties with your ex if possible (this is a bit more complicated when you have children with them) and if not possible, develop a system for safe interaction. Before you begin a new relationship, make sure that you are over your old one.

Educate Yourself

Learning about what domestic violence is and what the red flag warning signs for abuse are can help you find a healthy relationship. Make a list of healthy relationship characteristics and respectful partner traits and look for a relationship that matches with those standards.

Trust Your Instincts

If you begin dating and start to notice things about your partner that make you uncomfortable, if you start seeing red flag behaviors in your relationship or if your partner begins doing some of the same unhealthy things that your ex used to do, take heed. Don’t minimize questionable behaviors or write them off as personality traits. If you feel like something isn’t right, then trust your instincts. If you feel safe talking to your new partner about what you’ve noticed, then do that. See how they react to being confronted — that will show you a lot about who they are. If you want to talk to someone about the things that you’ve noticed, you can always call us to get feedback.

Practice Safe Dating

Regardless of whether you’ve been in an abusive relationship before or not, practicing safe dating is important when beginning a relationship. Making sure that you meet your partner at the location of your first few dates, rather than letting them drive you, spending time together in public at first and making sure that someone you trust knows your whereabouts are all ways to stay safe when dating. This will also help you to know that you can trust your partner as the relationship becomes more serious.

Take Things Slow

This may go hand in hand with practicing safe dating, but it’s worth saying again. Take your time in getting to know your partner and letting them know you. Develop a trusting partnership where both of you are comfortable expressing your needs, wants and thoughts. Make sure that the relationship is mutually beneficial and that both of you are happy. Treat your partner with respect and demand that they do the same for you. Don’t rush into a relationship. Take your time.

If you are considering dating after domestic violence, feel free to give us a call. Our advocates can talk with you about what you’re feeling and about any concerns that you have: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Counseling for Domestic Violence Survivors

Domestic violence is an extremely traumatizing experience and the emotional scars associated with this abuse can often outlast the physical impact.

Domestic violence survivors are at a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse or  stress-related mental health conditions. Survivors can have upsetting memories or flashbacks, fear or a sense of danger that they cannot overcome. They may feel numb or disconnected from the rest of the world (National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health). Learning to cope with residual emotional pain and fears is essential to healing.

Breaking the isolation of domestic violence by seeking counseling and support from friends and family can help survivors to move forward. Counseling sessions provide a safe and confidential environment for survivors to express their feelings, thoughts and fears. Counselors are nonjudgmental third-party advisors who listen and can help survivors work through the things that they are experiencing.

Speaking with a trauma specialist can help survivors to deal with their remaining anxiety and find ways to relieve that stress. These specialists can help to process traumatic memories or experiences so that it is possible to move on. They can also aid survivors in learning to regulate their strong emotions like fear and anger.

Group counseling can also be beneficial. Attending a group session can allow survivors to connect with others who have been through similar situations. Connecting with these people can reduce the feeling of isolation often created by abusers. Other survivors can also offer advice on how they got through tough situations.

Overcoming a traumatic experience can be scary. It’s important that if you do decide to seek counseling, that you find a well-trained professional or group that you are comfortable with.  Often domestic violence programs offer individual counseling to survivors in their communities.  If that’s not a possibility, ask potential counselors about their experiences and strategies for supporting victims of domestic violence.

Please note: if you are still in an abusive relationship, please keep in mind that we don’t recommend attending couple’s counseling with your abuser. Here’s why.

(Photo by Joe Houghton)

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Moving On Emotionally After An Abusive Relationship

Your emotional safety is just as important as your physical safety. Dealing with the aftermath of abuse can be a very challenging experience, especially on your mind and heart. The emotional scars of domestic abuse can stay with victims long after they have left the relationship. Following these tips may help you maintain your emotional health after leaving.

  • Identify things that help you calm down — taking a warm bath, reading a book or taking deep breaths can help you de-stress
  • Remind yourself why you left — journaling about your abuse can help you remember the reasons that you left and can be particularly helpful if you’re having second thoughts about leaving
  • Identify a call buddy for when you’re missing your ex — talking to a friend can help you resist the urge to reach out to your ex when you’re down
  • Talk to a counselor or join a domestic abuse survivor’s therapy group
  • Talk to your family or friends — community members and neighbors can also be a good resource
  • When an anniversary, birthday, holiday, etc. is coming up, prepare yourself — try to make other plans, set a strong support group in place to help you through emotional times
  • Give yourself time and space — recovery is hard so go easy on yourself. Don’t put a time limit on getting past your pain. It’s ok to grieve. Even though it was an abusive relationship, it is still a loss. You are allowed to feel what you feel at your pace.
  • Be conscious of your emotional routines — maybe your partner was your go-to person when something went wrong. You’ll have to change not only your physical routines (see previous post) but also your mental routines. You will have to find new coping mechanisms. This may take time but you can do it.

Remember, advocates at The Hotline are always ready to take your call if you need help or support. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or (206) 787-3224 (Video Phone Only for Deaf Callers)

Do you have any tips for recovering emotionally after an abusive relationship?

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Moving Forward: Advice for After You Leave

The first months after leaving an abusive relationship are extremely challenging. Victims often fear for their immediate safety and are attempting to cope with the emotional and physical trauma from their past.

Staying safe is just as important after leaving as during the relationship. The following tips are meant to help you increase your physical safety.

  • Trust your instincts — you know yourself and your situation better than anyone, do what you think is best
  • Keep your location a secret — tell only the people you trust where you are and explain how important it is that they don’t tell anyone else
  • Be aware of your surroundings — being cognizant of what’s going on is extremely important
  • Consider having your phone number be unlisted — ask the phone company to prevent blocked numbers from calling you
  • Consider renting a post office box for all mail — do not have any packages or letters delivered to your home or where you are staying
  • If possible, cancel old or shared bank accounts and credit cards — open new accounts with different banks
  • Talk to your kids — explain the situation in as much detail as you feel comfortable with, create an emergency plan with them
  • Change your routine — take different route to work, avoid your regular hang outs, change standing appointments

We will be examining other ways to take care of yourself after you leave in future posts. Please feel free to call The Hotline if you’d like to talk about your situation or to discuss other ways to stay safe. 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224