Leaving Your Abuser Sometimes Means Forcing Them to Leave You

May 2, 2019 Kristen Milstead


Leaving your abuser is a process. I left my abuser dozens of times before it was finally over. 

Long before leaving my abuser, there had been two of me: the one that prayed for it to end and the one that prayed it never would--the one that wished desperately for him to put an end to all of the madness once and for all, to put a foundation beneath us and to surround me with truth.

It was only afterward that I realized he was surrounding me with the truth all along. It's easy to blame myself for not seeing it. Yet he did everything he could to blind me from it by infusing false slivers of hope into our time spent together that he intertwined with those desperate wishes he'd been the one to put there in the first place, way back in the beginning. Before things turned bad.

I left my abuser dozens of times before it was finally over, but he just wouldn't go away.

A New Way to Think About Leaving Your Abuser

Thinking of Abusers as Predators

Everyone tells you to develop an exit strategy (or if they're ignorant about abusive relationships, they just ask why you don't walk away). What they don't tell you is what to do when the abuser comes back.

If you're swimming in the ocean and happen to get attacked by a shark, you're lucky if you happen to escape. If the shark turns back around to bite into you again before you're able to swim to shore, no one asks why you didn't swim away fast enough or why you let the shark attack a second time. 

It's easy to consider the victim's free will. We forget, however, that the abuser has free will, too.  

Many abusers return to their victims after the victims have left to try to entice them to interact again. They may not even want to pull the victims into full-on relationships again.

Sometimes they want to assuage their egos that they can come back into the victim's life at any time, or they may not want to let go of whatever it was that the victim brought into their lives: attention, sex, a place to stay, money, or some other benefit to the abuser. Sometimes the abuser just doesn't want the victim to move on with his or her life.

Thinking of abusers as predators who don't want to let their victims go makes this a lot easier to understand. These types of engagements are attacks on the victim and his or her attempt to escape and get his or her own life back and out of under control of the abuser.

What do you do when you can't get away from someone who is determined to keep you close at all costs?

How to Force an Abuser to Leave You

Forcing abusers to leave you means making them leave you alone. They will only leave us alone when they believe there is nothing to gain or when we are no longer appealing.

The most obvious way to force an abuser to leave us alone is to move away somewhere where the abuser can't find us. Sometimes, however, that just isn't possible. For example, there may be monetary, legal or job-related reasons why leaving isn't realistic, or we may have children with the abuser.

Another way to force abusers to leave us alone is to become so non-reactive to what they say and do that it is no longer worth it to them to stay around any longer. Sometimes that means becoming completely flat and lifeless around them, responding to them in monotone and not providing a reaction to anything they do even when they aren't being abusive at all.

Doing this, however, was too difficult for me, personally. I loved my abuser too much, despite everything he had done. I could not act indifferent around him, and he used his extreme positive emotions to keep me from building up a wall because of his extreme negative ones.

What I finally realized was that I had to use his own emotions against him to force him to leave. The only option I felt that I had left was to instigate a scenario in which he would become so angry or upset or find me so repulsive that he would cut me off and that would be the end ("Is Cheating in Your Abusive Relationship a Cure for Effects of Abuse?"). 

I didn't truly understand consciously what I was doing as I was leaving my abuser. I only knew that I was acting out of desperation to change the pattern I had fallen into and that I had to get away from him somehow. It was as if one day I burst open and tried something new. "Acting out" like that felt like jumping off the deep end of a pool that had no bottom. I was numb as I went through the motions that I knew were tearing everything apart.

And that's exactly how I ended up orchestrating the death of our relationship.

Inside me, there were other silent deaths I could not articulate at the time. I grieved the most over the death of the piece of myself I had to leave behind when I finally broke away. 

But he can keep it.

I like the one that has grown in its place better.

APA Reference
Milstead, K. (2019, May 2). Leaving Your Abuser Sometimes Means Forcing Them to Leave You, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Kristen Milstead

Kristen is a survivor of narcissistic abuse. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology and is the author of a toolkit, "Taking Your Life Back After a Relationship with a Narcissist," which is available for free on her website, Fairy Tale Shadows, a blog with the mission of promoting awareness about hidden abuse and empowering other survivors. Find Kristen on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on her website. 

March, 4 2024 at 10:13 am

The reply that you left Julie was helpful to me. I have a male friend who is like a father to me, whom I've known for decades now. We go out and have a meal and a few drinks and a good laugh. There's never any trouble but it's something I've never been able to do with my now ex. There has ALWAYS been an argument of some kind.
I went out with my friend last week and was a bit drunk. The following day, I was speaking to my then BF about it and he was jealous at the fact that I could do this with my friend but not him. I pointed out that I can do this with almost any friend I have but not him and said that the common denominator here was HIM - he has fallen out with his ex's in the past and friends so it's him and not us/them. I also fought back when he attacked me a few days later and he left. I feel that he's left because he realises that he's lost control of me, so I'm no longer of 'value'. After all of the abuse he did to me, it's ironic that when I've hit him back (not that I'm proud of this or advocate it), he's left and won't be back.
I am sad - we had some good and great times, but as you say in your article, he just isn't consistent in his personality and he tried to make me feel awful for enjoying my time elsewhere. I will miss the friend that he could be - but not the relationship.

February, 14 2022 at 11:32 pm

oh wow Kristen thank you for writing this. I especially resonated with the end that I am only grieving the part of me that will never be the same again. There is a Yeah yeah yeahs song that says " I wish I could buy back, the woman you stole." It is the saddest part. And realizing now that it never had anything to do with love. And it just finally being in the death throes, I know that something will grow in that place. Thank you for that bit of encouragement

Sharon C
May, 9 2019 at 3:43 pm

I didn't think anyone else had gone through this, I don't know why I thought that. This scene happens to be me, but the crazy thing is that I miss him, and I seem lost without him. I have tried to move on, but I cannot seem to get out of my comfort zone. I feel alone and lost right now, I even tried to reach out to him more than five times, and it didn't work, so I asked myself, it's a reason why he doesen't respond, but what about me, why does he get to be happy and remarry and I continue to be lonely?

May, 9 2019 at 6:01 pm

Hi Sharon: It's normal to grieve the loss of the good times we had with them as well as the person we were when we were with them. If abusers were horrible to us all the time, we never would have been in relationships with them in the first place, or stayed with them. So it's impossible not to remember those times too. They can even sometimes manipulate us into thinking we can't live without them, or we will never find anyone better than they are. We have to leave them both physically AND mentally or emotionally, which means to stop idealizing the relationship after we have grieved it. It means facing the totality of who they are and what they did and it can take a long time but it is possible. His cycle will repeat with someone new--but you can be truly happy with someone else. I wish you peace on your path to recovery. -Kristen

May, 5 2019 at 10:43 pm

Interesting article Kristen. It's often women who initiate and end relationships. I wonder how you would've reacted if he didn't leave you despite you making him angry and stuff. Would he then have come across as someone who's not willing to give up on you no matter what? Would you then have continued the relationship despite it being abusive?

May, 6 2019 at 8:35 pm

Hi Hanan: That is an interesting question. I think that you're right that women are usually the ones to end relationships. To be truthful, I think I ended this one. I just did it in a non-conventional way because it was an abusive one. In a normal relationship when someone ends a relationship, the other party is respectful of the other person's wishes even though he or she might not feel the same way. That doesn't happen in abusive relationships because the abuser wants control. My answer is likely not going to make sense because I don't think I can adequately answer in a comment, but I'll try. He was a walking contradiction. He both came across as someone who would never give up on me no matter what and who gave up on me in a heartbeat. He was manipulative with his presence and his absence. He was pathologically unable to maintain a consistent story or a consistent persona, and that's part of what made him abusive. I had to make his actions match his words by making him leave for good so that's what I did. -Kristen

May, 4 2019 at 11:34 am

There are so many of these ppl in my world it’s hard to do this all at once so I’m doing it bit by bit. This has been my life since I was four and my sister started this as a one year old. Sister husband mother in law: Which is the real narcissist and which is also a victim I ask myself. So like you I slowly acted out (spoke truth and didn’t let them abuse me) as I got stronger. It separates the grain from the chaff. I can tell who also wants to be healed from their learned behavior and who is pathological and doesn’t want to change by how much they desire to accept their shame when confronted in kindness with truth. If they continue to press that I’m the cause for speaking truth and then lie about me to get an emotional charge, I walk away. Today is the day I decided to walk away from my MIL after she abused me a week ago and then doubled down later in the week. My husband has tried to change, and is not abusing me, but he is also the victim of his mother and so he gets sucked back into the deceptive behavior he learned to hide the family dynamic. The drama causes him to struggle to move forward. And I have a hard time when this happens; wondering which he is abuse victim or abuser or is he both. You encourage me daily. Your work is so good.

May, 6 2019 at 8:39 pm

Hi SEA: I'm so glad to hear that you are getting stronger and able to speak up for yourself and walk away from some of the abusive people in your life. It can be hard when we realize that abusive people are also victims not to get sucked into the things they do because we identify with the victimization aspect, but I think it's okay to realize that they can be both but at the same time realize that we don't have to put up with their abuse. Please take care of yourself and stay strong. -Kristen

Ekta Haryani
May, 2 2019 at 8:12 pm

Kristen I am so thankful to you for all your write ups. Six months of reading them again and again and I understood where I stand. And today this article I did exactly this to break myself free. Despite all the pain he was inducing in me I would take him back every time he came back and would always be there for him whenever he needed my body my money. But then I insulted and humiliated him with facts though in front of his so called wife. I know he has covered it up with her and is living with her, but he has left me alone. His wife thinks it's a victory over me. I only pray her wellbeing. But you have sailed me through. There is no pain now and I am blossoming into someone happier each day and releasing what all I had given up for that man. God bless you.

May, 6 2019 at 8:48 pm

Hi Ekta: I can relate to every word you wrote! There is a strange despair at looking back at who we were in the relationships with them--how we jumped at every request they made and even at the joy we felt while with them because we know what price we paid for it. I know when I think back, the relief I feel now that I am out of it is almost breathtaking. So when I read that you have reached that point to where you have come out of that darkness and no longer feel any pain, that brings me so much happiness. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I know your story will be inspiring to others as well. -Kristen

Robin Martin
May, 2 2019 at 1:12 pm

Kristen, wow. I did something similar to my husband by standing up to him when he tried to tell me that everything was my problem and my fault. I said, "No, YOU are the problem, and if you want things to change, then YOU change YOUR behavior." It has been crickets chirping ever since. It's heartbreaking to come to the realization that the person your wrapped your life around and loved doesn't love you. It really sucks.

May, 6 2019 at 8:52 pm

Hi Robin: Yes, it is extremely devastating to realize that the person we love so much is not the person we thought they were or cannot give us the love we give to them so freely. I really feel for where you are right now and I wish for you strength to get through this hard time. The fact that you were able to stand up to him is a first step in the path toward taking your life back--although a painful one due to these realizations. Stay strong and take care of yourself. -Kristen

May, 2 2019 at 12:27 pm

What does that mean? Give a little detail on what you did that made showed him himself? It's very confusing when you say you lost a piece of yourself. I don't want to say this article wasn't helpful but it just wasn't enough. Please continue.

May, 6 2019 at 9:18 pm

Hi Julie: I was purposely leaving the details of what I did vague for a couple of reasons. First, it's a rather long and messy story, not easy to tell in an article. Second, I wanted to keep the article general enough so that it was less about me and more about the principle itself. However, since you asked I will provide an example of one of the things that I did to change things and maybe it will be helpful. My ex-boyfriend was extremely jealous. He had isolated and controlled me to the point to where I barely spoke to other men without extreme anxiety or sometimes at all. So I knew that it would cause an intense negative reaction from him if he knew I spent time with another man, so there came a time when I did, and then I let him know about it. NOTE: We were not in a relationship at this point. Yet still, he felt he could maintain this control over me. He got extremely upset, shocked and sad and called out of work and laid in bed all day grieving his view of me. He began to see me in a different light, and see that he was losing control of me. Does this example help? When I say that I lost a piece of myself, what I mean to say is that he was never going to go peacefully. He was never going to let me go with any closure. By pushing him away, I had to let go of the idea that I could ever have that and so it was like breaking off a piece of myself. I hope that's helpful! -Kristen

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