How to End the Habit of Isolation in Domestic Abuse Recovery
It's well known that your abuser's first order of business was to isolate you, the victim, from family, friends, and anyone else who would offer you support. Once isolated, the aloneness and loneliness can take a toll on both your self-confidence and mental health (depression, social anxiety, addiction and other mental illnesses are associated with isolation).1 So, after living in isolation during the abusive relationship, it is possible that you continue to isolate yourself out of either the habit of isolation or symptoms of mental illness. If you want to end your habit of isolation during abuse recovery, here are some ideas to consider.
The Habit of Isolation Affects Many Abuse Survivors
A domestic abuse survivor writes:
I was in an trapped in abusive relationship for 9 years, been out of it for 4 years, and I have remarried. I've come to the realization that I feel residual effects of abuse on my ability to make friends. Isolation was part of the abuse. I notice this problem more when my husband wants to go out with friends ...[and] I get very jealous of his sense of independence. I see it as something I still don’t have. It puts a strain on my marriage because of the jealousy that comes about.
Even if I don’t have anyone to hang out with, I have a problem being alone because I don’t know what I enjoy anymore. ...[When I'm alone] I have no idea what to do.
My life is different now and I have freedom, but it sure does not feel like it. I feel I still have victim tendencies and I don’t know why. My husband is supportive of me to go out, but I have a hard time making plans to get around other women.
Does anything I say sound familiar? Can you offer any advice or refer me to any more info on this matter? I would really appreciate it!
The Habit of Isolation Feels Safe
I empathize with you. I also isolate myself sometimes still, and I miss having close friendships with women my own age. I see commercials and watch shows and know that there is such a thing as a girls night out and I wonder if I will ever have a couple of good female friends to go out with again. I miss having girlfriends who understand me and live near me!
The upside of your issue is that you are very aware of the roots of your jealousy - a huge plus. That shows self-awareness and bravery in that you're willing to search out and identify the roots of your emotions. Abuse disconnects us from our own feelings, so being aware will help you going forward.
You also seem aware that you are, in a way, abusing yourself by living in the imaginary prison. You know you could go with him, you could make nice with his friends' wives, and you could find something enjoyable to do if you chose to be alone. But you don't. I think we isolate ourselves for a very powerful reason: it was safer to stay isolated than challenge the abuser's rules.
I wouldn't consider this victim tendencies because that indicates that there may be something wrong with you, but you are okay - trust me. You are no longer a victim, you're a survivor. Try thinking of isolating yourself as a behavior that served its purpose (during the abuse) but is no longer needed (Telling Your Trauma Story: Why You Really Should).
Awareness of Your Isolation Habit Makes It Easier to Change
Even though awareness of your isolation habit is in itself a sign of healing, behaviors do not change overnight. It takes time and practice to change them. The good news is that just like any other habit, you can emerge from isolation and find what you enjoy doing in the process. The friends will come as you discover what interests you - after all, friends are better when we share a common interest or two.
You feel jealousy because your habitual behavior is to isolate yourself, but you wish you felt more freedom and independence. Isolation leads to not knowing what you like to do anymore (no fresh ideas in, no fresh ideas out). These issues tie neatly together into one frustrating knot. I will share my story with you in hope of sparking your ability to unravel the knot and feel better about almost everything.
Tips to End Your Isolation Habit
Change Based on the Past
Some people suggest remembering what you liked to do before the abuse and trying those activities again. For me, this worked to an extent but left me frustrated because I was NOT that 20 year old girl anymore and didn't really want to be her (I was 38 when I divorced). And, to top it off, his voice was in my head when I picked up a paintbrush, saying my work sucked and blah blah blah.
Perhaps there is something from your past that you could bring forward immediately, but seeing that your greatest gifts are the first things abusers attack and destroy, it may not work very well for you at first. After you feel better and the abuser's voice vacates your head, revisiting those interests may work better. (Now I can pick up a paintbrush if I want to without pain.)
Change Based on New Adventures
I had to start slower, still in isolation but pushing the old "rules" of how I was "supposed to act". Every rule broken opened up an adventure, at least for my mind and soul. Some people who have never isolated themselves due to abuse may find my "adventure" not so exciting. However, for me, learning to UN-isolate myself was exciting, emboldening, and I managed to make a few good friends along the way.
Here is how I got started (and what I revert to doing when I realize I'm isolating myself again):
I began somewhere safe for me. My abuser couldn't discourage what I did alone in my car, so his voice did not live there. It felt good to drive along, listening to talk radio or music, especially at night with the windows down. Sometimes I'd cry, sometimes I'd sing. It was therapy in a car. I talked to God and to myself during those drives.
I also went to drive-thru restaurants alone, ordering without fear of my abuser's voice saying "Should you really eat that?" or "You're more expensive than the dates I had in high school!"
Eventually, after seeing people out and about and together, being alone started to feel lonely. I felt like I deserved to laugh more (what?! I deserved to laugh? what a revelation), but it wasn't easy to laugh after all I'd gone through. I decided to drive to the bookstore, find a funny book, buy a mocha, and sit by the window to read.
There were people around, but I could still be isolated (still afraid of making contact), but I didn't feel as lonely. I would laugh out loud at some of those crazy books and no one criticized. Sometimes they'd chuckle to themselves or ask what book I was reading. And the best part? The stores don't make you buy the book!
Picking up books on subjects I would not normally read was the next step. It was easy to figure out what interested my mind or bored me to death. I started getting to know myself again, and that was empowering. Eventually, I went to dinner at a real restaurant and went to a movie by myself and by golly I had a great time being just with me!
The Key to the Breaking the Isolation Habit
The key: I enjoyed being with me. Liking myself again helped me feel happier even though I was alone. I smiled more. I enjoyed routine tasks more. And lo and behold, people started noticing me because my attitude changed. My first friend (besides myself) turned out to love taking pointless drives and talking or singing with the radio. Can you imagine that?! It's not like I had that interest tattooed on my forehead. It just happened.
The first friend you make is you. The next friends are attracted to you by what interests you've found. And although it is a process that can be uncomfortable, challenging yourself to break your bonds and then breaking them (in baby steps) will help you rid yourself of jealousy of those who embrace their independence, find things you enjoy doing, and break the habit of isolation.
Your path will undoubtedly be different from mine, but you can do it. Start with where you felt the least bothered by your abuser and work out from there.
1 Asatryan, K. (2015, July 23). 4 Disorders That May Thrive on Loneliness. Retrieved October 09, 2017.
Jo, K. (2013, November 9). How to End the Habit of Isolation in Domestic Abuse Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2013/11/tips-overcome-isolation-habit
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
[…] especially important for you to help your friend avoid isolation after surviving domestic abuse. If your friend starts spending more time alone, they are at a […]
I'm 4 1/2 years out of a long abusive relationship. I suffer from bipolar disorder and my abuser used to aggrevate my illness by sleep depriving me. There were physical attacks and horrible mind games. He claimed none of his friends liked me and I wasn't invited out. I was so alone for so long, I don't know another way to be. I still isolate myself and have problems functioning with people. So scared of rejection and hurt and abuse. I get physically ill when I'm nervous. This all has caused issue with my ability to care for myself properly.
I was abused for 50 years and after 8 years i am healed except for the isolation i cause myself. I am working on it and know that it will end soon. Its not easy to heal but oh so worthwhile and i wanted to wait to start a new relationship when i was whole. So for all of you know there is help out there and God is on your side. Healing comes the more we search for it and try new thinking and new ways.
I am here now in refuge, I walk around like a zombie most days, try and crack a smile like I am coping most days. Up late most nights because I can't sleep. I remember rhe churning in my stomach, I remember the sick feeling I got when he was way past drunk. I remember the way he smelt, the way he would paw around for me before passing out like an after thought. I remember the first time he punched me up against a wall, the light smashed my little girl screamed and I stayed.
I remember being heavily pregnant and he was very drunk as he dragged me up an alleyway and I cowered to protect my belly and I stayed
I remember feeling so anxious that it made me feel sick every time I heard the snappping open the first can of beer. I remember him making me insecure, stealing my things, taking my money calling me fat and ugly and I stayed.
I remember the time I dared to say no to him outside his sisters house over birthday presents for his mum. I remember handing over my child to his cousin before he attacked me and punched me in front of all the neighbours, so humiliating and I stayed.
I remember losing my flat having to give up everything that was home for the last time knowing I could never go back and yet, I stayed.
I remember him flying into a rage and throwing an ashtray at my eye cutting it open there was blood everywhere but of course I stayed.
Who sees my broken heart? where is my voice?
I can't break down or they will take my children from me? Me? Where is the justice in that? And yet I stayed
I remember the time I was sure it was the end he had kicked my bedroom door down in front of my son trying to get to me, he smashed up my phone and called me a whore, I was so frightened I ran into the bathroom with my pregnant belly again. It was 6 months and my baby need me. I bolted the door and tried to call the police he was sure to kill me. He was drunk again.
He got arrested but I felt bad stuck by him, went to court and paid the fines for what he did to me. I didn't love myself very much and I stayed.
He took and took and took all my self respect and self esteem till I was crawling on the floor. I cleaned up his sick when he had been drinking. Even his faeces when he was too drunk to realise the hallway was not the toilet, and yet I stayed.
Try to stay dignified and not mention how I feel and show my pain to the world. I am just the horrible woman that took his children away, despite being the only woman that gave him his children so far, I stayed. He is so good at making people feel sorry for him, he is the I have made mistakes but I am a good father/guy. I stayed...only problem is he made me want to go. Made me severely depressed and isolated.
Everytime I fought back by getting a job, he would break me down. Tell me that I am getting ahead of myself after all my younger siblings where way more successful than me.
He told me he would kill me if I ever cheated on him, he would kill me and kill him the him that was making me happier than I was.
I tried to leave after we had been living in a bed and breakfast accommodation and I had worked my ass off to keep everything together and make the best of a bad situation. I left and I took my baby with me, he got my baby back and I left again. I wanted to see how he would cope without me feeding and clothing him and most importantly how he would support our son alone.
I supported him, I helped him get his provisional licence. I helped hom get his birth certificate and payed for his theory. I also helped him get his bank account up and running too.
Bought him everything he expressed a desire about without expecting anything in return and he never changed and I still stayed.
He caused an argument in the final act just so he could go out drinking, he made me crumble calling me fat and ugly and lazy. I stayed in bed all day and I never took my child to school all untrue. Yet I stayed
He scared me so much, I called to speak to a DV worker but the police turned up and took him away. Took me and the children away, this time I had to go. I had the opportunity to go. I let him in to my mind and heart and now I am thinking maybe I should have stayed.
I thought leaving the abusive relationship was all i needed to do. and pouf i would eventually shrink back to my old self prior to that relationship. I had self righteously given myself 2 years to grieve get over it or whatever needed to happen. but it turns out that i was more scarred than i was aware of. im at the phase where i isolate myself, when prior to the abusive relationship i was such a social butterfly (a good one at that too) now im sad because i dont know how to connect with other people. its too daunting and im scared of being critiscized for every minute thing.
but in this isolation i have found the strenght the enjoy my own company. to go to a movie by myself and be unashamedly myself and LOVE it. im starting to dress up like i used to simply because i love the way that i look. and im starting to notice that other people love the way that i look too. that used to make me feel self conscious like under a microscope but the more i love myself the more free it feels. im not always put together but it is happening more and more frequently.
Thank you for sharing this. i thought there was something wrong with me and that i was destined to be an oddball forever because i was afraid of people. but now i understand that this is just a phase. and that i can feel throught it learn what i need to learn from it and then i will grow into the next phase of healing. :)
i left an abusive marriage and im left to pick up the pieces. im living with someone else. 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 he knows, he 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 him 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 them 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.
Thank you for sharing. I just happened to run across your blog somewhat hoping to find that I was not alone. I am still here 15 years weaker, but I am starting to seek some sort of cerebral relief even if just online. I found your words o too familiar. Never really read anything like this before that hit so close to home. Again, thank you!