How Will I Know It’s Time to Leave My Abuser?

August 3, 2011 Kellie Jo Holly

The stages of moving from Victim of Abuse to Hero of Your Abuse-Free Life includes transitory phases of Target and Survivor. Some people get stuck as a Target. How do you know when and how to move on?

The period of being a Target will end in one of two ways:

  • you will leave the relationship (by choice or murder) or
  • the abuser will acknowledge that he or she abuses and will change.

But there's a third option. You could choose to live in the relationship while being a Target until the day either you or your abuser dies of natural causes. (This option is exhausting!)

The only ways to become a Survivor of abuse is to leave or for your abuser to stop abusing. Chances are that Targets will leave the relationship in order to survive. But you could choose to be a Target in hope that your abuser will change. The only deadline to being a Target is how long you can stand knowing, beyond a doubt, that the one you love abuses you.

The decision to leave comes when your pain of knowing outweighs your hope of change. If you find it necessary to leave, the decision will come at a time you find yourself capable of leaving.

Capable of leaving comes from inside of you. If you reach that decision, it won't matter what the finances look like or how old the children are or even that you promised to love, honor and cherish forever.

If you determine it is time to go, you will go no matter what your circumstances are or what you fear they will become.

Maybe you'll never have to leave. Maybe your abuser will change. But if s/he doesn't, it is important to know that you will be able to go when you are ready.

More on moving from Victim to Hero of Your Life

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2011, August 3). How Will I Know It’s Time to Leave My Abuser?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

April, 21 2017 at 9:38 pm

I have been so scared I can not open my bedroom door ,but I got help now on my way out got new place I leave on 27 April 2017 6 days time ,I am ready I am dissabled in wheelchair a member of family assaulted me he said I did it to myself ,this was Day I now in my Hart it's time to go or die ,,I want to live after 40 years of Marrage it's time to go decision was made 3 April day after 40 wedding aniversary day I was treated like scum by husband and youngest daughter / my official Carer / in reality my real abuser I could not go to police but hospital & Dr did .

June, 27 2013 at 6:16 am

I have learned that leaving an abuser is a process, it's not just a question of walking out the door. Without going through the necessary emotional steps, a victim is doomed to either go back to their abuser or find another one. I was finally able to leave a four-year relationship, two months ago.
Everyone has their own barriers to leaving. In my case, I have no friends, co-workers or family to support me, and I'm a recovering alcoholic, as well as being bipolar. I was afraid that once I was alone I'd turn back to the bottle for company, and/or end up committing suicide.
My steps:
1. I realized that my abuser was NEVER going to change, ever - no matter what I did or how long I waited.
2. I realized that if I was going to stay, I would have to accept him, and the relationship, *as is*, forever.
3. I let go of my image of "how I wanted things to be" once and for all.
4. I took a good, hard look at my ex to get to know "who he REALLY was". It was like meeting a stranger. I looked at the relationship in the same way. I didn't like what I saw!
5. I evaluated my own feelings, and realized I was unhappy most of the time: fearful, depressed, insecure, guilty, ashamed. What was I really getting from this relationship? Hurt, with no end in sight as long as I stayed. I began to disengage, emotionally (fall out of love).
6. Letting go emotionally allowed me to make the final decision to leave, BUT - I gave myself permission to do this gradually and set my own timetable. (NOTE: this isn't always an option if you're in physical danger!)
6. I methodically made arrangements to remove myself and my belongings, and set a goal date ("by the end of May"). I realized that to leave safely and successfully, I needed to care for not only my physical, but my emotional well-being. I also had to address each of my "barriers" (see above) that had prevented me from leaving sooner.
7. I arranged for counselling after I left, so I wouldn't be "alone in the world" and tempted to either go back, or rush into another bad relationship. I also know I need help in dealing with MY issues that led me to get into an abusive relationship in the first place.
A big help for me throughout this process has been keeping a journal. I started by making a list of the things about the ex that hurt me most. I referred to this list whenever I had doubts about leaving, and staying out. I also keep track of the positive things I've done, of course!

sharon fryer
June, 7 2013 at 11:16 pm

I have been married for 30 years and going thru this a long time now that I know that its not my fault I can leave but I to am afraid and ashame the emotional feelings are overwhelming.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 21 2017 at 9:31 pm

I have been in my Marrage 40 years I leave 27 April 2017

March, 27 2013 at 2:47 pm

I was afraid to leave for years because I thought he would kill me if I did. I finally left when it got to the point where I didn't care if he did. It still amazes me to this day, 12 years later, that he never did.

June, 14 2012 at 7:47 pm

I am in target mode now. When she lays it on me, I feel like hell and start talking to myself about leaving. I have even at times started to look into finding another place to live. But then, things seem to get better and I think, shoot, this isn't so bad. This usually last weeks and even a month or month and a half.
Then it gets bad again and start talking to myself about leaving.
Even when it's good I hear name calling and jokes with me as the butt and countering every day, just not as bad (if that makes sense).
It's a cycle I'm in right now.

June, 12 2012 at 5:20 am

There is a 3rd way - when you become a Target and your Abuser thinks his hold on you has weakened - They will leave you to find a NEW, more "manageable/responsive" VICTIM. So makes it easier for you to shift to Survivor Category.
No. 4 is the Abuser sees themselves as the Victim in their own twisted reality and (makes his family believe this) so he feels justified to leave the "abuser" i.e. real victim. He feels he is Survivor but in reality your now suddenly free of abuse.
If only in reality it was that easy for the Real Victims of abuse to leave as No.4 describes.

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