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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.

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

  1. Hi Everyone.. Its been almost 7 months since i left my husband but after a week of contemplating I ended up in my ex husbands house main reason is to grab some of my winter clothes as hes only started allowing me to get some of my personal things without playing games i think.

    He was very welcoming as if he hasn’t done anything to me. (Which hes never really acknowledged his behavior since day 1. Anyway seeing him like that I forgot
    All the abusive words and ugly thing that he did. Now Im all confused. I ALMOST didnt want to leave him. The only thing that saved me waa when i remembered the scenario why i finally left after 10 years of relationship. Please help I am so confused hes saying that he wasnt abusive that hes put me on pedestal all those years .

    1. Grace you know better, He treated you like crap and he didnt care. Still, the key question doesn’t go away: do emotionally abusive men know they are abusive? Because, if they don’t, how come they are so good at knowing exactly where, and how, to hurt? That can’t just be an accident, can it?

      I read that somewhere now pull your girly pants up and remember to change his name in your phone to PAIN,ANXIETY AND PANIC. So you see him for what he represents to your life. I am still with my abuser but have tried leaving before. Do this for YOU and me. Pray for me that I leave. He wants to isolate me further by moving us away.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I left my partner after being strangled for a third time and I didn’t even know he was an abuser when I left. Something took over and I just had to get him out. I feel so sad and miss him,and for this I find myself thinking “What’s wrong with me?!”. I find it so hard to stay strong and not let him in when he’s crying outside and howling and beg find it hard not to call him all the time, but I’ve realised now that he no longer tries so contact me, until his withdrawals set in anyway. I heard he’s hanging around scummy girls, and it hurt so much to hear like he just forgot about me so quick he must never have really loved me like he said it did. It hurts but it made it easier to stay strong and not call when I heard that. Now I hear he is having drug psychoses often and will be in jail soon. I still pray for him but from afar. I will not let him in to my life ever again. Lots of love to allother women going through this same thing. You can do it xx

  3. i left an abusive marriage and im left to pick up the pieces. it’s not just the isolation… its living thats hard. I see abuse in everything in everyone, more than my abuser and i know it comes from me being in his head and seeing through his eyes. I still find myself living in the habits of abuse. I always wonder when the next attack will come, i welcome it just so i can get it over with and when it doesnt happen, i think what’s wrong with him. Inside of me, I get mad at him bc I’m still walking on eggshells, watching… waiting. I see glimpses of abusive behavior, a tone that may not even be there, hurt feelings that turn into defensiveness from something i said wrong and i shut down, prepare for the numbness thats inside of me and everything is quiet. the quiet before the storm and still im waiting. i know if people know, they will think im crazy but i think I’m crazy. i see myself living life against my will, always going through the motions doing only what will please them just to prevent an attack. i see people watching me and i hear his voice, see the
    way they are looking at you. i dont understand why I am more mad at others than him, for looking at me that way, for a punishment that never comes. Without it, there will be no relief for me and i have lived for this relief. i know i have this problem but even worse is the fear that it will be used against me. I dont know how to pull myself from this darkness bc it was always him that took the lead to forgiveness. I know that my way of preventing future attacks is different from others. It always comes back to complete isolation. The only place i feel safe is inside of me, knowing that when i speak or laugh no one knows that im the one struggling. The only place i feel safe is in the lie, that I’m okay.
    i live in 2 worlds where i am raw and broken but i laugh and play and touch and hug and my daughter wonders why I am sad and cry when we are alone.
    Sometimes I don’t know what to say that isn’t wrong. Sometimes I feel like there isn’t any version of myself that doesn’t mess everything up. My habits of abuse are forced on myself by me. I still tell myself that I don’t matter and try to move on. I spend my days in the fog of someone elses shadow of importance. I’m starting to see glimpses of my reality in which i know that i don’t always feel more than others. “don’t look at me that way” I start to say as he rolls his eyes and says, “ok, I won’t look at you.” But I want him to. I want him to see me, not this broken person who stays silent. I want people to understand that what i have been through hasnt broken me because I’m still here. my mind may not always be clear but I’m still fighting. I’m fighting to wake up every morning, put one foot in front of the other even as I make my way to work. I’m still fighting with my kids as tired as it makes me feel. When someone actually does take the time to look at me, I’m afraid that I will become what they see. I don’t want to become the person they see… I want to be me.

    These are the emotions I went through after I left my abusive marriage after 12 years while working with a dentist. It’s been 2 years since I left my abusive marriage and some days are still really hard.

  4. Hello, I am 20 years old and I just left an abusive relationship after about 3 and half years together. we have a tenth month old daughter which has made it very hard to leave. I didn’t want to be alone while pregnant or being a single mother and I think it’s that fear of not knowing what was going to happen to me and my daughter is what kept me from leaving. My mom is out of the picture(She ran off with a new fiance and he got her into drugs) I’ve been on my own since I was 18, but I’m still only 20 and had no one to talk to I felt Isolated. he made sure that I had no one to talk to, or that I felt I had no one but him. He isolated me from my family. They hated me for staying with someone who would treat me this way, and for not getting our daughter away from him. He is an alcoholic and for months if not the last year and a half maybe two. I have been supporting his addiction. He has the password to my online banking and all my pin numbers(so he would take my card and buy alcohol whenever he wanted) it made it to where we could not afford rent cause he had spent all his money and most of mine. We had to borrow money from his parents in order to pay our last months rent. We were going to sign another lease together, but his parent thought we should find someplace cheaper. I’m so glad they did, cause I decided then to start looking for a place with a girlfriend of mine.
    He’s been trying everything he can think of to get me back. He tried to suicide card, the jealous card, the I can take your daughter away card cause my parents make more money then your dad who’s living off disability. (we both temporarily moved into our parents. it’s been a few days now) Now he’s threatening to move away to Santa Barbara where he has a friend living there already. saying I will have to take care of Sky all by myself, which is what I want, but I” already be sharing rent to an apartment that is on the higher end of my price range, and now I have to afford day care… I work Mon-Fri 7am-4pm My daughter is at home currently with my older sister who is visiting, but I need to make other arrangements and I’m scared, I have no authority figure to tell me what to do. I’m supposed to know because I’m someones mom, but I need a little guidance in the right direction.

    ANY help or advice at all would be great!

    P.s. I didn’t go into detail about the abuse, but lets just say he’s not someone I want anyone else to be with. Unless he gets MAJOR help! I’ve had three concussions cause of him and my two front teeth got knocked halfway out. I triangle chip. He hit me while pregnant and in front of my daughter and while I’ve been holding her. I’ve left so many times, but I always end up going back to him. I think it was so hard cause I lived with him this whole time and we would wake up and he would act as if nothing had happened. half the time he blacks out and doesn’t remember anything and cries like a baby asking for forgiveness cause he doesn’t remember and would never really do that or mean that. For some reason I’d always go back! and it makes me feel like a terrible mother! I don’t want this to affect my daughter negatively. She’s the happiest baby I’ve ever met and just a pure angel. I’d like to keep her that way.

    anyways, this is longer then I wanted it to be.

    Thanks in advance for anyone who responds!it is GREATLY appreciated.

    1. Dear lovingmyself,
      When I saw your post, I wanted to write. I hope it’s not too late to be of help. I am 29, and was abused by a parent most of my life, but escaped and am recovering. I’m hoping my experience might help you. First of all, you are brave as hell and I am so proud of you. I left an abuser, and I know how hard it is emotionally and financially – I can’t even imagine how difficult this is for you when you have a child. The consequences for your daughter right now are very high – abuse can cause PTSD, and very severe depression. I’ve been there. The good news is that there are resources. Try calling your local woman’s shelter, which can provide emergency resources like furniture, baby clothes, etc. and help with a safety plan (for free, as I understand it). Secondly, know that you have the ability to get out of this situation – you have been so brave.
      Here is what helped me escape my abuser:
      1) When thinking about that person, train yourself not to make excuses for him/her. It’s tempting, because abusers make so many excuses for their behavior.
      2) Do not trust apologies, gifts, or “loving” behavior. Abusers can be very charming – that’s why it’s so hard to leave. When he apologizes or does something nice, remember that it’s part of the game abusers play. It’s a classic abuser move. Tell yourself “This is a classic abuser move” every single time he is violent, verbally cruel, or steals your money, and then pretends it didn’t happen or makes elaborate apologies.
      3) Read articles on abusers and narcissistic behavior. This can help you identify abusive tendencies, label them as such, and strengthen your resolve.
      4) The definition of an abuser is presence of abusive behaviors. If you have concussions from this man, he is an abuser.
      5) It is normal to doubt yourself constantly when you are in such a terrifying position. Know that your instincts – to get away and protect your baby – are spot on. Recovery is about learning to trust your instincts, to “trust what you know to be true,” as my trauma specialist says.
      6) Make a safety plan (with the help of a women’s shelter, domestic abuse hotline, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.).
      7) Alert the police. Consider asking for a restraining order or a no-contact order (the first is for physical violence and the second is for harassment like repeated phonecalls). The policeman and investigator I spoke with were great, and told me sometimes a restraining order or no contact order can make things worse, sometimes better. The detective called my abuser and the contact stopped – that being said, I was in another geographic area by then. Once in awhile you may meet a policeman or woman that isn’t the best fit for the police force (ie, one that doesn’t take you seriously) – if that happens, talk to another one.
      8) Write sentences of phrases you want to learn to believe, in order to strengthen you emotionally. This can be a really important step in learning to trust yourself. For example, “I am brave and resilient. I am capable. I know what’s best for my daughter. I do not trust erratic behavior (ie. love/hate patterns) from an abuser.” Etc.
      9) It is normal to blame yourself if you are abused, and is a common reaction. It is NOT your fault. You will have to train yourself to believe this. I find writing it repeatedly helps.
      10) It is normal for an abused person to love, miss, and crave the attention and love of an abuser. Know that this is a common reaction, that you CAN have love and attention, but you need to find it in other people.
      11) In times when you have no support, know that there are amazing and kind people in the world. Sometimes, you will find kindness in unexpected places. Once, when I was very depressed and recovering from assault, I knocked over a small carton of fruit at the store. A tiny little boy picked it up for me, and it made my day. Another time, a disabled veteran I didn’t know said, “You look like you are carrying the world on your shoulders. Are you alright?” In other words – support is out there! Every time you want to go back to your abuser, identify what you want from them (love, company, etc), and identify another person who can offer that to you. It might take awhile, but escaping and healing is about learning to find love and acceptance elsewhere. Good luck – I am so rooting for you. I believe in you, and I really admire your deep love for your daughter.

    2. Your story just hit home with me. I couldn’t not reply. I hope you are doing well. For a 20 year old single mother you sound like you have your head firmly on your shoulders and are doing a great job. You can do this, trust that you have made the right decisions for the right reasons. I hope you have found a support network and are doing ok with work and getting your bills paid. Most importantly I hope that each day since you wrote this post some months back is becoming a little brighter for you and your beautiful little girl. I can relate to your story and even at 13 years older than yourself, it can be an exhausting and hard road. Please take care and be kind to yourself.

    3. Great job. I hope you stay away. You dont want to end up on the news. Stay strong. Heal your heart.and mind to meet a man that will care for you and love u and your daughter!

  5. Hi. I’m a 39 year old woman currently in the process. I have been physically, emotionally, and financially abused. During our time together I finished a two year degree. (Diploma folded up in a box. I was made to believe that my accomplishments were trash. He had been in prison most of his adult life. So, yes I lived as his jail mate. I’ve tried to leave over 7 times. I have friends who have been very patient with me. I have finally decided that I deserve to be happy. No more being a slave. I’m leaving my state with two bags of belongings. I finally accepted the help of a long time friend who struggled to keep in contact with me. I have a one way ticket to freedom. I finally began to watch him verses complain or reason with him about his disrespect and lack of love. I really began to see him for what he really was, a master manipulator. Thank you all for sharing your stories it helps with dealing with the ” fear of the unknown”. As long as you draw breathe you have a chance to escape. Don’t give up on yourself!

    1. Wow I am in this situation right now! i am a cell mate also considered to be a prison guard. thank you so much for sharing. the physical abuse just started. i am leaving i have some health problems so working is gonna be very challenging. i have a plan in place wish me luck.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

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