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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.

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106 Responses to After Leaving Your Abusive Relationship: Emotions to Expect

  1. It may feel like weakness, but really it is just your brain wanting what’s familiar. No matter how good you feel now that he’s gone, your brain wants you somewhere familiar so it doesn’t have to work so hard. Like you said, when he was there, the sick feeling was always there, too. In a weird way, your brain “misses” that sick feeling. It misses the emotion that used to fill its time.

    You (and the rest of us who have left) go through that, and we feel it as a feeling of “missing him” when in reality, it’s just your brain trying to get you somewhere familiar. Given time, your brain will rewire itself to accept the happiness and peace. And thank goodness, when that happens, you will be so relieved that your brain craves health instead of dysfunction.

    Tell your brain to shut up and let you do the navigating for a while.

  2. Robyn says:

    Thank you for writing this its is as if you have taken my thoughts my actions and feelings that I have experience over these last 6months and put them onto paper especially the retraining part that took me a while to get the strength to do but I’m proud of how far I’ve come and although the feeling of being alone is still here I know I’m not and with time my circle will grow the most upsetting part for me now is the realisation he never really loved me or our children I think that’s what is hurting the most the guilt I feel for them is unbearable & even though I know we’re better off without him it doesn’t make it hurt any less thank you for sharing this it really does help

  3. Debra Roberts says:

    I had an an awful time with two abusers who both abused me it was a mother and son team so this felt much worse than just the son it’s a long time ago now but I still have visions about the abuse it really brings me down.

  4. duduzile says:

    hi I need help

  5. mbalenhle says:

    hi I really need help in an abusive relationship I want to leave but its not that easy because my fiancé has paid the lobola and we have a baby boy his turning two year ,he have kids we staying with them (2)
    I don’t have a problem with the kids but where they are wrong I punish them,he becomes angry and wants to make decisions for me like play my role or tell me what to,his not supportive last time they broke at my mums house and they told me who did that when I tried to ask him to drop me at my mums house and look for those guys because I know their corners he refused ,I saw his ex girlfriend call in his phone he denied when I tell him its fine im going home move on with her im not the who fights for a guy he told me the true I even listened to their conversation then he apologised,last year august he was proposing my friend eish…December 2014 0n the 23rd he gave me a hot clap at news café nje …

    the reason im staying with him its because I fall pregnant 2014 and paid dowry(lobola) I wasn’t ready for that but scared of my parents and other thing im the only child at home,now competly changed, Im busy looking for a job but no luck ive diploma in boilermaking and Samtrac and I want to leave this relationship but its not easy because my mum said you have to be strong and remember they paid lobola if you just leave they gonna want it backyou don’t just do as you please…

    now im trying to find something that I will use it against him guess what I don’t find anything and now im tired like I cant stand for this im emotionaly hurt at my (25)age experiencing this its not easy

  6. Hi duduzile,

    The best place to find help is http://thehotline.org. They have a chat service and a free phone number to call. Please use it.

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