by Susi, a Hotline Advocate
Breakups and goodbyes can be hard, even bittersweet. This is true for abusive relationships as well—even if you were unhappy or unsafe with your partner, the end of a relationship can still bring difficult and painful feelings, especially if it was the abusive partner who ended it. You can be left feeling confused and shameful, maybe even feeling like everything is your fault, including the abuse. Maybe you feel like you should have been the one to end things, or you feel angry that your partner left after you put up with so much abuse from them. You may even still be experiencing abuse, though the relationship has ended. Moving forward can seem difficult and overwhelming for many reasons.
We are here to tell you: It is possible, and you deserve better.
Power & Control
Learning about the dynamics of domestic violence can be a good first step in starting the healing process, as it can help you understand what you went through and what you might need in order to heal. It’s important to realize that you are not only grieving the relationship, but coming to terms with trauma you may have experienced. You might ask yourself questions like, “What did my partner do to control or hurt me?” and “How did this impact me?” to explore these dynamics. It’s okay to feel sad about your relationship ending, even if you know you are safer outside of it. A journal can be a helpful tool in processing your memories and feelings around your relationship. Of course, make sure you’re being gentle on yourself through this process, since diving into your experiences can be re-traumatizing.
Abuse is a choice your partner made. The abuse was not your fault.
Gaining understanding of those two statements allows you to embrace healing. You deserve kindness, love and respect.
Support & Self-Care
Surround yourself with support, whether from important people in your life or from yourself by practicing self-care.
It can be difficult to be kind to yourself at the beginning, but allow yourself to embrace the love and support from meaningful people in your life. If it seems too overwhelming to reach out to everyone, you can start by making a list of people you feel would be supportive or those you want to rekindle a friendship with. When you feel ready, reach out to one person on that list. You don’t have to talk about the abuse or breakup to receive support—just being around people can be a powerful reminder that you are not alone, and you don’t have to go through this by yourself. Abusers seek to isolate their partners from their support systems, so reconnecting with loved ones can be a great first step toward healing. If your friends and family were critical of your relationship, they might express joy or excitement to hear that your relationship has ended. It’s okay to set boundaries and tell them what kind of support you do or don’t need right now. Your feelings are valid—you don’t need to feel happy your relationship has ended, even if it was abusive.
Practicing self-care can help with functioning day-to-day or when you feel like you’re needing some TLC. Your self-care can be engaging in a hobby, trying something new, brushing your teeth, drinking enough water, getting your nails done, watching your favorite comedy special, going out with friends, the list goes on. Self-care is exactly what it sounds like, taking care of yourself. Even if it’s only five minutes out of the day, you are worth it! Nobody deserves your love and attention more than you do.
- Mini-Activity: Make strips of things you enjoy doing (you can even label them by how long these activities may take) and put them in a jar. Draw a strip every day or when you have time, and do that activity!
Safety planning can take a lot of different forms, but the goal is for you to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. The most successful safety planning takes into account the specific, unique barriers each survivor faces, so think about what you’re most concerned about. If your ex is harassing or stalking you after the break up, you may need to decide what steps you will take to stay safe. This might look like:
- Blocking your ex on social media
- Saving screenshots of harassing or threatening texts to document your abuse
- Taking steps to secure your home
- Keeping a stalking log
- Staying with a friend or family member
- Filing a police report or seeking a protective order to remove weapons from their possession
When thinking of your emotional safety, being aware of triggers (a song, being alone, an anniversary, old texts) can help with processing your feelings and taking the proper steps to take care of yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed or even depressed, it’s ok to want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, such as a therapist, friend, or one of our advocates.
You might find yourself wanting to reach out to your ex, and that is completely normal. If your ex has expressed wanting to cut off contact, it’s healthiest to respect that boundary and find a different way to support yourself through that moment. If you and your ex are still on speaking terms, consider what will happen if you reach out to them. Will they say something hurtful? Will they manipulate or threaten you? You are the expert on your situation, so you know best how your partner is likely to react, and how that might make you feel.
Moving and shifting thoughts from “why” to “what” is not only hard, but scary. Questions like, “What do I want to do next?” or “What makes me feel better?” take time to explore, and it can be a trial and error process. Your experience and your healing will be different from anyone else’s—and may even be different from what you were hoping. Remember to be patient, and more importantly, kind to yourself. You deserve love and respect from yourself, not just from the people in your life.
If you want to talk about what you experienced, brainstorm with one of our advocates about what your plan for healing might look like, or have any questions or concerns, our advocates are available 24/7/365! Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat at www.thehotline.org when you’re ready to talk.