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Dealing With PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Abuse

Yesterday, Andi commented on Victims Think They May Be The Abuser. Andi said:

“…I reached the point where I feared that the emotional / verbal abuse was going to move towards physical abuse. It has been a long time since this happened. I’ve moved far away and started over, but I’m still scared, feeling PTSD symptoms, and can’t seem to move on. I want so desperately to be whole again. Any thoughts and help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.”

First of all, you are whole! You may have an extra voice in your head – a remnant of your abuser’s lies, but that adds to you, it doesn’t take away! Granted, it doesn’t add to you in a positive way and that voice needs to take a hike. But without that voice, you are still whole. Your abuser didn’t dismantle you. I know this because you left.

Secondly, honor your fear. You developed your fears for good reason, and they won’t become manageable until you take some steps to counteract them.

Dealing With PTSD Symptoms Easier When You Address Fears

I don’t know if your symptoms include jumpiness, but in case they do, let’s look at some of the things that you can do to relieve fears that can cause a startle response.

Does the phone ringing fill you with dread? If so, make a commitment to yourself to never answer your phone. Let all calls go to voicemail, then check your voicemail. This will remind you that you’re not on your abuser’s leash anymore. You choose who to talk to and when.

Is it loud (or soft) noises when you’re home alone? Although you can never be sure no one could enter your home, you can take steps to protect yourself if they do. Make sure your doors and windows are locked. Buy some pepper spray or a weapon you’re comfortable using and place it under your pillow at night. Tell your neighbors you’re concerned because you think you saw a prowler (doesn’t have to be true). Knowing they’re helping keep a look out will ease your mind.

Often, fears of what can happen in our physical world cannot totally be erased. I mean, even if you didn’t have an abusive ex, you could still fear intruders. The key is to pick an action that empowers you and do it. Any action that will help you to feel safer is a good choice. When you feel afraid, remind yourself of what you did to protect yourself.

Self-Help to Deal With PTSD Symptoms

As a previous abuse victim, you’re probably now re-learning to trust your intuition. If you think of a way to help yourself, then try it. Perhaps one of the following suggestions will help you, or maybe they’ll spark your intuition in a different direction.

Relax. Try deep-breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga, or taking a walk. Do something that brings you down to earth on a daily basis, not only when your symptoms flare. Visualize yourself as safe and calm (even if you aren’t) every chance you get so if you hit a panicky place, you can easily envision yourself in control. (I know everyone says this, but that’s because relaxing works!)

If you have nightmares that wake you from a sound sleep, try to have something to do when you’re jerked awake from fear. Keep a pen and paper by your bed and write down the dream. You could drink a from a glass of water kept on your night stand. You could get up, make your bed, and then crawl back into it. Interacting with something you can taste, touch, or smell will pull you out of the dream, calm you down, and let you go back to sleep.

Seeing things that aren’t there is another symptom of PTSD. If you’re having hallucinations, you must see a doctor. Until you can get into the doctor, treat them like you would a nightmare: write them down, eat a raw veggie or drink some water, smell some menthol…remember, taste, touch, or smell brings you back to now instead of where your mind took you.

Join a support group that relates to abuse or PTSD. Talking about your experience instead of holding it inside relieves fear.

Likewise, a journal or blog gives you an outlet to express your fears, feelings and memories. If you don’t like to write, you could speak your journal entries into a digital voice recorder. Online, you could record videos (youtube has a private option if you prefer it) or voice journals (soundcloud gives some free space for recordings).

Look into the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) too. In theory, EFT works similarly to EMDR therapy (see below), but you can do it yourself. EFT is also called “tapping” and there are plenty of free videos and information articles online. (See more at Anxiety Treatments Are Effective)

Therapies for PTSD Symptoms

Mental symptoms of PTSD, like intrusive memories and flashbacks, can be difficult, but not impossible, to deal with on your own. Please find a counselor! If you feel you can’t afford one, go through your social services department to see if they offer assistance for domestic violence survivors. Ask the therapists about what type of therapy they use and how it works for PTSD before deciding who to see.

If there’s a therapist that practices Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy near you, then give them a call. EMDR therapy can be a miracle cure for some people with PTSD symptoms and it would be worth it to find out if you’re a person it will help.

I just interviewed Jodi Aman about narrative therapy (changing the stories we tell ourselves). Reworking your memories to empower yourself isn’t denying the memory or stuffing it down – it’s giving you a new and more useful way to look at it.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis are other types of therapy more commonly offered. Between the two, the quicker road to recovery would be CBT, which helps you deconstruct your memories and find errors in thinking; then, when you recognize these thinking errors, you enact a new behavioral response to them.

Psychoanalysis analyzes dreams and other symbols of the unconscious mind to get to the root problem. A psychoanalyst would probably ask the question, “Where in your childhood did you first experience abuse?” and work from base level up. As you can imagine, psychoanalysis isn’t the best type of therapy for quickly relieving PTSD symptoms.

You’re Going To Be Okay

I know you wonder if the effects of abuse will ever go away. They can if you use conscious effort to address them. Was there a time that you were silent about your abuse because you were ashamed of it? But you stopped being silent, and you ended the abuse.

The same thing goes for abuse side effects. The more you talk about them, the quicker you’ll find relief. You did it before. You can do it again.

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17 Responses to Dealing With PTSD Symptoms After Leaving Abuse

  1. Dana Cetz says:

    how do I get rid of the risidual effects of my ex abusers verbal and emotional abuse.

  2. Dana, therapy helps. Time and working with self-help books will also help. Attending domestic violence groups (even though you’re no longer in the relationship) is helpful, too. Go to a doctor who can determine if you have any mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. Dealing with mental health issues responsibly will make healing from the other effects of abuse easier.

    Be patient with yourself and your healing process.

  3. Ari says:

    Resilient HeartMarch 24, 2013I find myself doing this from time to time…that’s someadthing I am disadcovaderading on my healading jouradney too. It’s odd! It feels like there’s an unconadscious sctiwh that gets flipped and I’m on auto-pilot tryading to carry the damn weight of the world! I think it’s archived pain from my childadhood where shame, anger, punadishadment ruled thea0roost. Our behavadior is fasadciadnatading and disadsectading it is both teradriadfyading and healading. Good fora0you!

  4. amanda says:

    it has been 4 yrs counseling off and on and i’m single and I feel lonely and unfortunately where I have moved to,(after leaving him), the men are blah, anyway I still cry this week I feel washed over with sadness, and as much ad I tried to run from the tidal wave of depression it has come and taken me over, it was triggered by a dream of him, im at this moment at work and after every other call I want to cry, I know im lonely im just very sad and it makes me feel like I made a mistake by leaving, although I know it was unhealthy as hell, anyway I take suggestions and advice.

  5. Triggers and nightmares will fade. Your ex won’t change. Keep that in mind as you heal. <3

  6. Brandy says:

    Ive been feeling ptsd lately. My ex was very emotionally and mentally abusive he left after two years and I was fine for a while but now 8mths later im in a new relationship and ive been having some moments of ptsd

  7. PTSD doesn’t go away with a new relationship. In fact, my first relationship after leaving my ex triggered me often. It wasn’t that the new guy was abusive, but some topics of conversation (finances, relationship issues) triggered me to think and behave as I did in the abusive relationship.

    It’s okay. You’ll be okay. The more often you check back to discover the trigger, the easier it will be to overcome it. But, be careful. If your new guy is abusive, … be sure to recognize it as quick as possible.

    Also, see if you can get into therapy with someone who has experience with PTSD and domestic violence. That would help A LOT.

  8. Amanda says:

    Hello my name is amanda. I have struggled with ptsd since I was eight years old due to much parental abuse and such. I got help in texas last year with a neurological treatment therapist. It helped tremendously. I felt like a new person and no longer a prisoner to my disorder. I recently went through an abusive relationship in texas for almost a year. Well i fled from that relatiinship and came back to pa. See I thought I was fine when I came back to but I was wrong. I thought I was able to finally move on and pursue something else. Well when I tried for a couple months it seemed as though I was having a hard time. I would pursue something, get excited, then all of a sudden my emotions would just shut off and it’s something I was unable to control. Well this happened for a couple of months until I finally called my old therapist in texas. She explained to me that it’s not my fault. That I am more traumatized than I thought. It may not have been a long relationship but I lived with him (first mistake). Anyways she proceeded to say that my mind and emotions are going to keep going through that same cycle over and over until I get treatment again. I’m not fond of it happening but I’m glad I know. I get saddened alot, cry alot and I’m feeling more depressed than ever because it seems neurological treatment therapy is not easily found here so I am seeking advice to see of how to look up that specific treatment or if anyone thinks that they may know any other types that will help. I’m open for opinions. I just know for a fact I need help.

  9. tammy says:

    I was in a 24-year abusive relationship. I tried to ignore the symptoms of my abuser, I always thought he would change, love me, our kids.He got addicted to work, porn, football, was a pathological liar. found every way to be away from his family. I was in,out of many jobs due to my anxiety,depression, was later diagnosed with extreme PTSD. I tried to communicate, live a normal life with the abuser, please know it almost killed me. I went threw three different stages of depression, lost interest in life, lost my self, lost my female body functions. Please look for signs of emotional abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse, my abuser convinced my son that women are only good on earth for four things nasty/rude sex, slavery work all the time,hitting/controlling all parts of every day life, mind, body. I had two kids threw all the pain, my last child was my prayer and a gift from GOD. I owe my child my life they helped me too get free, We are in the hands of GOD caring people, taking day by day healing, stopped controlling the situation, put it in GODS hands, for my older child doesn’t have any relationship with me,or his sister due to he believes its ok for a man to hit,speak, treat a woman that way. I’ve been in and out of therapy, continue fighting the memories, flashbacks every day. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy it’s hard and the memories and flashbacks makes me relive it in my mind and head like a T.V.that won’t go off. Please if your struggling speak up the resources are very limited for people leaving domestic violence, abusive relationships. I truly wish I would of had the strength to speak up, my abuser would have a record of his issues, problem. I’m the victim and I can’t even get protection from him due to the different states have different jurisdictions. Please plan ahead if you can, I didn’t it was difficult with a school age child. I hope my story will help someone, my journey save a life.GOD BLESS ANY ONE WHO READS THIS.IT’S ALL TRUE.

  10. Linda says:

    I am having trouble understanding if my situation is ptsd but I believe so. I left me ex husband almost 2 years ago. I dealt with mental and physical abuse for about 9 years. I wasn’t allowed to be around my family and friends and if I did go, I was called horrible names. He played games with putting me down in a way that only made me go from a healthier weight of 110 to 80lbs. Now, I am divorced and have no ties to him. I moved 1500 miles away and I am with a man that adores me. I am slowly destroying this relationship because anytime an argument arises I go in complete defense mode and my outbursts are uncontrollable. It is humiliating and I am so tired of the excuses. I get triggered by things that I am aware of but mostly that I am not. When I can’t make sense of it, I cause myself to dwindle into a massive panic attack that almost leaves the feeling of blacking out. My ex was in the military and also a police officer of a very popular, high crime city. I was constantly interrogated for things I never did and I had to lie and admit to something I never did in hopes I wouldn’t get hit. I am working so hard at being positive and recognizing my faults but can not control certain situations. Afterwards I’m stricken with exhaustion and confusion because I can barely remember the fog of distruction. Im in constant fear when I know I’m safe and I just want to move on with my life that is so great yet I can’t fully enjoy it. I want to make sure the direction of help I’m seeking is ptsd?

  11. I am not qualified to diagnose you, but your description sounds like PTSD. I recommend that you look for a therapist who has experience in dealing with domestic abuse. Let the therapist give you a diagnosis.

    BTW, I go through the same thing in my current relationship. It’s disheartening to realize I’ve been triggered after the fact and then explain that to my love. I too wish these feelings would disappear, but I continue to work on thinking about what I feel before I speak it. I know that when I immediately feel anger, fear or when my eyes automatically well up in tears, that something triggered me. I have to take a minute to decide if I feel that way because of the past or present. As I think about it, the emergency of the emotion disappears and I make better decisions on how to address the issue.

    I’m a work in progress, and so are you. Be compassionate with yourself. Your reactions are sometimes results of the past, but sometimes they’re of the present. You owe it to yourself and your relationship to address each instance individually – and to realize that triggers are NOT your fault, but a remnant of past survival skills.

    We’ll make it through this. Enjoy the peace when it comes.

  12. Jaime says:

    How could I possible get better if I have children with him and have no choice but to put up with it because of that (at least that’s what the courts have said)? The courts just see a pissed off ex not someone who is cause real serious damage here.

  13. PTSD makes everything harder, I know. And the courtroom has a way of seeing things backwards. I know that, too. Get help for the PTSD and be very familiar with your triggers and symptoms. Ask your friends “what you look like” to a stranger when your PTSD symptoms act up. A lot of times, the very mental illness the abuser caused can make us appear unstable in court. It’s stupid – judges and lawyers should know better – but they don’t. Read this article and let me know your thoughts on it: Co-Parenting with an Abuser at http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/12/coparenting-with-an-abuser/

  14. Debbie says:

    I knew it was bad, I knew it was wrong. It wasn’t until after I left him I’ve realised just how bad it was/is. It was emotional and sexual, exactly as everyone describes here. When you leave the fog goes away and exposes everything. I live in Christchurch New Zealand. My ex is a Police Officer, the same as me. This can happen to anyone. Am still dealing with the PTSD of it all. We have primary children and so the contact will always have to be there.
    We work in the same building and as I was broken from the abuse he comes across stronger and as he promised has poisoned a lot against me. I realise from all of this just how ineffective out Police system is. Just how uneducated the officers are do deal with these situations. More often than not their actions create more victimisation. I use to be one, now I know.
    The reason I write here is he has poisoned every area of my life, friends, work, kids schooling. Still abuses me at any opportunity. How do you combat that..how do you survive?

  15. Jennie says:

    Debbie
    It looks like you are feeling no safe, support system. You have the same job and have same social circles. It sounds like you are experiencing gaslighting by your ex. Have you ever watched Sam Vaknin or Spartanlifecoach on Youtube? Narcissism Survivor has good videos explaining Narcissistic abuse as well.

    When you are feeling sabotaged, it may have some elements of this kind of manipulation.

    I have been in your place of helplessness and I found no one around for support.

    Find a therapist and start talking it out. Talk about any feelings no matter what. I am a Veteran and there should be more services available for Police and I hope there is. A high stress job with responsibility like yours require some support.

    You may feel numb, fearful, vulnerable and that is because you just went through a major change. You are human and deserve to know your feelings ARE important too.

    Plan one step at a time how to survive. You will survive, indeed. You are a survivor and now you must devote time to heal. One secon, one minute, one day at a time. Write small goals down but if you do not feel up to tackling them one day, there is always another.

    Rest, eat healthier, do some gym time, as a must! Exercise releases the chemicals that help your brain n give you a break with some good music. Meditation or just some calming self hypnosis vids with a nice calm voice you choose may help at night.

    Next plan to change those things that make you feel uncomfortable. Possibly change your job at some point where you move away from the daily triggers. Places, people can trigger anxiety.

    You matter and thank you for your service in providing safety for the public.

    Now it is your time to protect your mental health and wellbeing.

    You are not alone! This process will be a permanent routine towards improving the quality of you life.

    Everthing has its own time so do not force yourself on your blue days. Those are the days you must treat yourself to something you like. A nice treat or time sitting in the sun.
    Try and get at least 15 minutes of sun a day or take vitamin D. Also take vitamins as stress depletes you and you need to feel stronger.

    Try not to rely on alcohol because this is about the chemicals in your brain and alcohol is a depressant that may help but you may wake up more depressed the next day.

    Read up on it and watch vids and buy books. Try Psychopath Free, which is a great book n also there is a book by Pete Walker on C-PTSD of which he excellently explains we get with long term abuse.

    You must be aware of that inner critic that makes you feel like you failed. Don’t listen when you get thoughts or at least tell yourself you are aware you are feeling anxious, putting yourself down, triggered. Try and define any triggers n write them down.

    If you feel helpless call the crisis line.

    You can do this and eventually any small change will denote you are headed on your path to healing.

    Big hugs. You sometimes can sit and tell yourself that even if you don’t feel safe you actually are safe at that very moment.

    Love and hugs. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to feel vindicated that your feelings count. You deserve change and a fresh new, freedom that life is taking you in a new direction.

    You may not believe it, you may not feel it yet but in time you will see how you always had that strength.

    Peace and be well.

  16. Marie says:

    21 years with an emotional abuser, ex cop turned fireman, he absolutely loved or should I say “loves” himself, more than anyone else including his 3 lovely sons. The emotional abuse was so severe I was beyond hoping and praying for myself, this was reserved for our sons. In the end, all I wanted was for our sons to know that despite the cruelty their father inflicted toward us that I, their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins loved them so much and that this would make up for what he did. I used every opportunity I could to involve my family in our post separation life. I also went to the extreme of getting them puppies. They needed to learn the devotional love from family and the unconditional love of a dog. 4 years later my sons are doing well, they have emotional abuse scars for sure but they are moving forward. As for me, I am so very fortunate to have a loving family of origin and 3 year relationship with a normal loving man. My abusive ex continues his pursuit of trying to take me down through our family court system. I continue to take myself down through my own memories and fear of what might happen with my new partner. I feel totally haunted by my ex abuser despite many years of counselling. I feel at times that i am sabotaging my new relationship because of the hauntings of my old one. I am always afraid that when my new love does something nice, I will eventually be paying a price. I go to great lengths to avoid any conflict with him and/or his teenage kids. Help!
    Marie

  17. Bonnie says:

    I was in a very abusive marriage for six years that I left ten years ago, only to return to my parents’ emotional abuse. My mom passed away shortly after that, and my Dad’s controlling behavior got even worse. I attended school and worked until I was able to get my son and I a place of our own. I stayed involved with the local domestic violence shelter and even spoke at events about our story. I continued to go to school & am now an RN living in a different town that we moved to 3 years ago. For the first time in my life, I am totally free of abuse & control! I attempted my first relationship 2 years ago. We dated for 2 years, and during this time I realized that I still have so many unresolved issues. Issues stemming from the marriage, as well as childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I thought when I moved here, I could just put it all behind me and start over….apparently it doesn’t work that way. I realize that I can’t let anyone in…I don’t want anyone getting too close. I don’t want to be touched. Alcohol became a way to mask these feelings and appear “normal” in the relationship. This created a downward spiral for me. There wasn’t any abuse in this relationship. He was a GREAT guy & I tried so hard to make it work. He tried to understand, but the harder he tried, the more I pushed him away. I start EMDR therapy next week for PTSD. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has tried EMDR therapy. I never expected to have to deal with all of these issues again, but I realize that all this time I have been so busy in “survival mode,” that I never took the time to actually heal. Now that I’ve acknowledged what I need to do, all of the memories, feelings, and emotions of everything in my past have come flooding back like a tidal wave. The insomnia, nightmares, and panic attacks are worse than ever before. I feel like I have re-lived a lifetime of hurt in the past two weeks! I keep hearing that it gets harder before it gets easier…I hope this is the “harder” part!

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