by Eric, a Hotline Advocate
Isolation is a painful product of abuse and unhealthy relationships. Partners who behave abusively often intentionally separate their significant other from the people that care about them, because it offers them greater power and control over the relationship and survivor. Your partner might have asked or demanded that you not be around or communicate with people they suspect you are attracted to, or even long-term family or friends. They could have ordered you to stop going to the places or doing the things you once enjoyed. These expectations have no place in a healthy relationship – and you have the right to be part of a robust support network and community, as the social human that you are!
Whether you have left an abusive or unhealthy relationship, or remain in one, you could be feeling lonely and frustrated over the lack of social support available to you because of this isolation. We know that having a support network of friends, family, neighbors, community members, and associates is important for healing and recovery. They can offer emotional support, hold on to important documents or evidence, or provide feedback for next steps. They can also aid and encourage your self-care, whether that be going with you to the gym, meeting for brunch, or just being a reassuring presence in trying times.
Here are some tips for rebuilding and maintaining social support after the isolation of abuse and unhealthy partners:
Reconnect with yourself and your past – Write down how this relationship has affected you. If you keep a journal or post on social media, review entries from before this relationship. Reflect on the people you would spend time with, the activities you enjoyed, and the places you would go. Utilize this as direction for future steps and people in your past that you can contact.
Reach out and rebuild relationships – It can be scary to make connections again after abuse, especially if there was “bad blood” that developed between you and those in your support network because of the pressure put on you by your abuser. Research shows though that expressing vulnerability, the feeling of being emotionally exposed, can bring you closer to others, and strengthen connections. Reflect on what happened between you and those friends or family, and write a message, email or letter to them speaking honestly and openly about what happened and your desire to reconnect. Remember that there is always the possibility of rejection from those who don’t understand abuse, why it is so hard to leave, or why you had to do what you did while you were with your abuser. However, you might be surprised by the affirmative and supportive responses you get from those that love you.
Throw a party, get together, or playdate – Most people love the opportunity to connect and meet in groups. Invite people you have known in the past or people you would like to know better over to your home for a potluck, or if you are staying elsewhere or in shelter, a public place like a park for a picnic. If you have children, arrange a playdate with other parents from your child’s daycare or school.
Join a local organization, club, or place of worship – There are also likely opportunities in your area to contribute to a local organization where you can connect with others, whether that be a knitting circle at a local coffee shop, a car hobbyist club, or place of worship. There you can meet new people that might be able to offer support in the future. Try reviewing websites like Meetup to find likeminded individuals with similar interests as you.
Go outside and be a part of the community – Make a goal for yourself to be an active member of the community and enjoy the comforts of your city or town. Getting into the public sphere opens opportunities for building friendships and relationships. Check out the local bowling alley, enjoy a dip in the neighborhood pool, or enroll in a pottery class at a community center. You can also give back by volunteering at an animal shelter or electing to read to at your local library’s storytime. There’s even an app where you can help people in your neighborhood (or ask for help) with everything from borrowing a cat carrier to moving!
Consider a support group – Support groups can assist in connecting you with other survivors. They can be a safe space for you to talk about what you have experienced, and for you to brainstorm strategies that have kept you emotionally and physically safe. Support groups are located at domestic violence and social service organizations. You can locate support groups near you by reaching out to our advocates, or by reviewing online directories such as GoodTherapy, 211 and Aunt Bertha. If you are uncomfortable with or unable to find face-to-face local support groups, you can also try an online group.
Be gentle with yourself and celebrate your progress – Habits, unfortunately, do not disappear overnight. Change is a process and happens over time. You might not immediately find all the emotional support you feel you need, or feel anxious about the steps required. Every step towards limiting your isolation is a success — and should be treated as such. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, no matter how small, and be sure to practice lots of self-care as you are trying these tips. You deserve it!
Stay safe – As you are constructing your plan to decrease isolation, remember that you understand best what is needed to stay safe from your abusive partner. If any of these suggestions put you at risk for harm, consider a safer alternative. And if you need any assistance or have questions about how to decrease isolation, know that we are always available to brainstorm options and support you 24/7/365. Chat at www.thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).