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After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect

After leaving your abusive relationship, no one can predict your emotions exactly. But after some time of mentoring survivors, I’ve found many similarities between other survivor’s emotional experiences and my own. Fear of the unknown may be a factor in whether or not someone leaves their abuser. So I hope this post gives you a heads up about the emotions you might experience after leaving your abusive relationship.

After Leaving My Abusive Relationship, He Was Still There

Leaving an abusive relationship didn’t immediately change my life. I was gone, but I hadn’t left him. I obsessed over him and our marriage. I imagined conversations we might have the next time we met. I woke to his voice only to find he was not in the house. My heart raced around the time he would normally return home from work.

My old routines remained. I continued to fear doing something wrong that he would discover. I cleaned the house, bought his favorite foods, and budgeted the money he sent me for four despite having only three of us in the house (our kids and me). When he called, I was afraid not to answer. When he emailed, I emailed right back hoping I met his time schedule for responding.

I continued to behave as if he would come home any second. I lived in chaos, attempting to attend to an abusive husband who no longer lived in our home.

Retraining Myself After Leaving the Abusive Relationship

About 6 weeks after we split, I noticed how much time I spent waiting on his next move. I decided that I would no longer put off doing what I needed to do just in case he decided to contact me. This was not easy, and it didn’t happen overnight.

I trained myself to wait before answering or returning his calls and emails. I trained myself to recognize and cut his words out of my vocabulary. I trained myself to exude confidence when I saw him. I trained myself to react calmly to his insults and manipulations (see How Did You Brainwash Me?).

The hardest part about retraining myself to not react to his antics was realizing just how many of his opinions and actions I’d adopted as my own. Take for example his look of disgust when he saw the laundry basket sitting at the foot of the bed, clean clothes folded but not put away. When I saw that look, I hustled to get those clothes in their drawers.

So to retrain myself, I left a laundry basket on the bed for a full week. I lived out of that laundry basket. At the end of the week, the sky hadn’t fallen and no one was seriously injured. I started to feel better about ignoring housework to focus on other, more important issues (like how to support myself after the divorce).

Real Change Came After Leaving My Abusive Relationship

Once I forced my ex-abuser out of my head (or at least forced him out of a good bit of it), I could concentrate on the important things. For one, deciding how to support myself was scary! I didn’t have clue one as to where to begin. I didn’t want to work my life away as someone’s employee, but bit by bit, I began to realize that being an employee temporarily was probably the quickest way to an income. I didn’t know how to become an employee! Truly – I didn’t.

I found out about a class at the Small Business Association and took it. I learned that I had skills and how to document them on a resume. I learned how to look for suitable work, and I followed the advice from the class. I got a job doing something I loved to do, and took it despite its drawbacks.

Key Is To Keep Ex-Abuser At A Distance

During this time I kept him out of my plans. I didn’t tell him what I was doing. I didn’t share my thoughts or plans with him. I viewed him as our children’s father, someone who shared their lives with me, but he was no longer invited to peer into the rest of my life.

I desperately missed having someone with whom to share my hopes and fears, but I knew that sharing with my ex would only end in him twisting my words into a knife to thrust into my back. I called my sister more often. I went out with an old friend. I met a man and we had lunch. In short, I broke my isolation and forced myself to find other outlets for my needs.

About 6 or 7 months after I’d left that abusive marriage, my ex showed up at my house at 10 o’clock one night. He looked sad, but wouldn’t say why he was there. He wanted to come inside. I had detached myself enough to know that allowing him inside was the worst thing I could do. I told him that I had company, that it wasn’t a good time to visit.

He left and peeled out of my driveway in a flash.

I felt good. I really did! I took a look around: I had a job, I had a house. I had enough income to feed myself, our boys, and my cats. I had friends and family who checked in on me and whom I called just for fun. I wasn’t all the way healed, but I was a lot closer to it than I could have imagined half a year ago.

You can be happier, too. Be patient with yourself, but don’t look back to your abuser for comfort. When you find yourself second-guessing your decision to leave, think about the crap you used to tolerate and ask yourself if you want your abuser’s manipulative behaviors back in your life.

It’s normal to want to retreat, but it’s also normal to overcome abuse. You can do it.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so please do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized. This post is part of my story and my abuser was male.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

108 thoughts on “After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect”

  1. This is an amazing post. Thank you for sharing your brave journey. I also want to add how this is an excellent example of how we are our best “saviors”. We understand better than anyone ever could what happened, how it made us feel and, with some soul searching, the best ways to (using your word) retrain ourselves into a healthier state. Here is a link from my blog with similar experiences of my own that I shared – http://www.theloveinhereyes.com/2012/02/02/a-no-closure-situation/

  2. Yes, Kellie. You hit the nail on the head – sbsolutely consistent with the control the abuser continues to wield in our lives until long after his possessions have left the house.

    Even after so many years, I can still lie awake at night imagining what cruel things my abuser might find to say to me if I ever ran into him. Terrible how much of our lives we let them claim. Reclaiming our lives is not easy but it is invaluable, a true victory.

    You conveyed this reality beautifully.

    Cindy

  3. Kellie, I’m almost a year out and I seem to have regressed. I think it was the arrival of NEW WOMAN that sent me backward. How could he meet someone just weeks after the divorce was final that could follow all the rules and meet his needs? I can’t help but think, maybe it was me? I still do many of the things you describe, and I find my anxiety is out of control sometimes. I do have a therapist and just found a support group. I’m hoping this has just been a minor setback and I’ll be back on the road to recovery soon.

  4. Kelly, think back to the beginning of your relationship with him. Wasn’t it grand? You loved him, he loved you…perfect match (or perfect enough to overlook the red flags).

    The new woman is being sucked into his world. He couldn’t begin the relationship by overt abuse and expect her to stay, could he?

    Soon enough she will undergo the traumas you did. If she’s fortunate enough to see and honor the red flags, perhaps she won’t stick around.

    I look at it this way – if my ex truly changes, then he will apologize to me no matter how long we’ve been apart. I say that because apologizing to someone you’ve hurt is natural IF YOU ADMIT YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR. Until he admits he did wrong, there will be no apology and therefore no change.

    His new woman is not your concern. She is not better than you and will not fare better in the relationship. You did not make your husband abuse you, Kelly. He did not magically change because a new woman stepped into his life.

    Detach from what he is doing…his personal life is not your concern. Keep going to therapy and your support group. Refocus your recovery on yourself. You will find relief soon.

  5. Hi Kellie thanks for your blogs I keep re-reading them. I have never lived with him but I spent 12 – 18 hrs a day with him for 7 years. I sacked him and every day he comes to my house I dont talk to him and he leaves notes and food at my door. I changed my numbers in 3 weeks he has my new one. I find it very difficult to keep the no contact going. After 2 or 3 weeks he stops me on the way to work and I talk to him because I dont want to be mean or turns up at 1 am when Im feeling week and takes me to macdonalds for a burger. Then I talk to him for a day or two because I cant find a reason not to talk to him he acts controlling or abuses my friends I sack him again. We have no reason to talk, no kids. How did you keep the boundaries you set. How do you get some one to leave you alone without the police. How do you stop feeling sorry for them when you dont hate them?

  6. The “laundry basket” and fear, retraining yourself to not think of abuser reaction/ his thinking- I can relate. I would also like to write a full blog of my experience one day. It’s amazing how much influence and how integrated the abuser is in our thoughts and actions even after it’s over. I was married to a narcissistic + other personality disorder type and I was the “good” person who stayed until he walked out on me cos he couldn’t deal with me fighting to keep my identity. I was married for only 3 years but the symptoms of abuse remain even now two years on from separation. I am retraining back to my former self.

  7. Kellie, thank you so much for sharing yourself and your story.

    I am just getting out of a relationship that was abusive in practically every way: verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually, financially, and eventually physically. (I wish the physical abuse had started first, then I would have left within the earliest stages of the relationship. I had some twisted idea in my mind that if he ever hurt me physically, that would be the last straw — which is actually stupid because in my case, the physical abuse was the least severe and the easiest to heal from.)

    What really resonated with me was when you said he randomly appeared at your doorstep at 10pm looking sad, and you were recovered enough to tell him to leave. Every time I tried to get out of the relationship, I never got far enough to reach that point where I could tell myself he is just acting pitiful but once I let him back in it’s all going to be the same as before.

    This time, which I KNOW is the final time, I still made that same mistake… he really looked so sad, he sobbed in public which made me think things must be terrible, because he would never do that. So I caved… and I set boundaries (e.g. be gone by a certain date; no touching me; no taking money from me; etc.) which worked for the first day or two… and then things slowly started to head back towards the usual. I became really unhappy and knew I had to get him out… I just couldn’t think of HOW… But I am very glad he is as terrible as he is — I found out yet another of his recent terrible deeds and that was it, I told him to come and get his stuff and leave, and never come back.

    And I have resisted contact… I did cave once or twice but each time reminds me how stupid it is because it just ends up another battle, so I think I am doing OK. I’m really, really tired, though… and it does hurt…

    Well, I’m only about 2-3 weeks into this whole leaving thing, and even then it’s been so vague because of the times I tried to give him one-off help but ended up getting entangled again. But I’m very clear with myself on what I want (i.e. to leave and never go back) and I think I am learning to head in that direction and make less wrong turns.

    This post has really given me hope. Thank you so, so much.

  8. I have finally left my abuser, but is it safe? he now spend nights down stairs at my landlord house. were the landlords portuguese sometimes stay there to but just recently I found out that Joe has feelings for me, I told him that I kicked my abuser out the house and locked the door and for six days I’ve been free.. so i’m thinking about talking Joe who I have known since over 15 years. but if that is going to put me in a dangerous situation then i’ll leave well alone and just wait until its safe to date when ever that is..

    thanks for reading and responding to my message, please if u don’t mind leave me a message and help me figure out what I should do. I want to move on

    1. Mildred, I advise that you hold off on starting a new relationship until you’ve healed some from your past one. I am glad that I waited to start a new relationship. More importantly than the amount of TIME it took me were the changes in my feelings toward my ex. Although you’ve known Joe for a long time, you haven’t known him as a lover/boyfriend/whatever. The relationship changes when you go from friends to “special friends”. By the time I entered into a new relationship, I had detached and distanced myself from my ex for the most part. My ex’s nasty texts and emails didn’t hold much effect over my emotions, and I was able to see through his threats and lies.

      My ex didn’t scare me anymore. I could face him in court or run into him at the store without panicking.

      By the time I started dating Max, I was able to recognize when my emotions came from my past experience with my abuser versus “normal” relationship emotions. I mean, I could separate Max from my ex – Max wasn’t intent on hurting me like my ex was, and it’s important that I was able to talk to Max about our relationship without accusing him of doing things my ex did. I’m not sure that makes sense…

      Relationships, especially confusing ones with abusive people, leave imprints on our minds that come out in our emotions and behaviors. I am glad that I was able to recognize those “imprints” as separate from my relationship with Max.

      The one person who determines when it’s “safe” to date is you. You must be honest with yourself first. Is dating or a relationship worth the complications it would add to your already complicated recovery?

    2. Mildred, I advise that you hold off on starting a new relationship until you’ve healed some from your past one. I am glad that I waited to start a new relationship. More importantly than the amount of TIME it took me were the changes in my feelings toward my ex. Although you’ve known Joe for a long time, you haven’t known him as a lover/boyfriend/whatever. The relationship changes when you go from friends to “special friends”. By the time I entered into a new relationship, I had detached and distanced myself from my ex for the most part. My ex’s nasty texts and emails didn’t hold much effect over my emotions, and I was able to see through his threats and lies.

      My ex didn’t scare me anymore. I could face him in court or run into him at the store without panicking.

      By the time I started dating Max, I was able to recognize when my emotions came from my past experience with my abuser versus “normal” relationship emotions. I mean, I could separate Max from my ex – Max wasn’t intent on hurting me like my ex was, and it’s important that I was able to talk to Max about our relationship without accusing him of doing things my ex did. I’m not sure that makes sense…

      Relationships, especially confusing ones with abusive people, leave imprints on our minds that come out in our emotions and behaviors. I am glad that I was able to recognize those “imprints” as separate from my relationship with Max.

      The one person who determines when it’s “safe” to date is you. You must be honest with yourself first. Is dating or a relationship worth the complications it would add to your already complicated recovery?

  9. Kellie,
    OMG……just discovered your blog today, in searching for information to help my teen daughter cope with emotional issues! In hoping to educate myself and improve communications with her psychiatrist, I began reading personality disorder links. The information offered much insight, gave specific examples of behaviors exhibited by my daughter, and helped to narrow the focus.

    The real OMG moment came when I linked to Verbal Abuse! Everything connected to where we are now! It was as if it was written about me, and my relationship with my husband of 25 years! Examples of verbal abuse were given that I never thought of as verbal abuse, they were dismissed as “kidding” or “oversensitivity” on my part!

    Now realizing that remaining in my marriage “for the sake of the child”, subjected her to living in a dysfunctional environment, which has caused much pain and confusion.
    The course of her life has been negatively altered, leading to the inability to cope, frustration, anger, depression, social withdrawal….medications…..psychiatrist.

    The article, “How Did He Brainwash Me”, at least explains why people like me stay in an abusive relationship. Rather than “beating myself up” over our situation, I’m choosing to feel empowered with knowledge gained. Plan to move forward in discovering how to best help my daughter, myself, and improve our quality of life!

    Thank you for your offering education, support, and hope!

    1. Isn’t it funny how looking for help for those we love turns into help for ourselves, too? It is wonderful that you’re empowered to make changes for yourself and ultimately your daughter. I took my son to a psychiatrist and he diagnosed Marc with a major disorder. It didn’t sit right with me – I didn’t want to label my son. Now that we’re both away from my ex, the symptoms the shrink were so certain pointed to “disorder” have disappeared or diminished to almost non-existence. My advice: continue to get the help your daughter needs, but don’t jump to hasty conclusions that could change how she views herself for a very long time (or for life). Mental disorders (or their scary symptoms) can actually be side-effects of abuse. Only you and your daughter will know for sure, so trust your gut.

      Trusting your Self during the coming times will be of utmost importance.

      I am wishing the best for you and your daughter. Move forward on your path with confidence and security knowing that you discovered the truth; remember Abuse will try to tell you otherwise.

      Kellie

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