Did you know that, on average, a victim of domestic abuse will try to leave her relationship 7 times before she finally leaves for good?
It takes A LOT of courage to leave an abusive relationship -- and, more often than not, the person who leaves -- though they are a survivor, will still experience feelings of grief, self-doubt, blame and fear. This is a normal part of the process and with the right support, these feelings will dissipate and healing can begin.
With healing, comes learning - here are some of the key lessons I learned after leaving an abusive relationship and connecting with supportive resources.
1. There may still be scary moments and that's ok.
Abuse Survivors and PTSD
Being physically out of the abuse doesn't mean that it leaves your memory - especially your subconscious. Up to 85% of abuse survivors will experience PTSD symptoms, like nightmares or flashbacks -- these are TOUGH to deal with, but know that you will get through this. There is no "one size fits all" way to heal and that's fine. This is your chance to learn what does work for you - exercise, yoga, prayer, meditation, volunteer work - and embrace it. You are free now, to explore healing options that fit and to practice healthy methods of coping and growing.
2. Boundaries are healthy and normal.
A lack of personal boundaries is characteristic of abusive relationships - put simply, a boundary is an invisible line over which another person cannot cross. An abusive person traipses all over these - physically; by invading your space or body, and verbally; by engaging in verbal assaults, insults, name calling, coercion, gas lighting, or humiliation.
When I left my abusive relationship, I decided which behaviors I was no longer willing to tolerate from anyone. No matter what. Some of the behaviors for which I have zero tolerance are: name calling, physical violence of any kind, and manipulative or controlling behavior. I learned that it is normal and healthy - in fact, necessary - to have reasonable boundaries in relationships.
The lack of boundaries in abusive relationship almost always will cause survivors to question their identity because, for the duration of the relationship, the abuser's identity was the dominant force. In my experience, this meant that for four years all of my past times, friend groups and even food choices were determined by my abuser. When I left, it was refreshing to take the time to learn about myself - I embraced new hobbies and the opportunity to ask myself what I really like and leave behind the things I truthfully don't. Getting to know yourself is empowering, fun and healing. Embrace it!
4. To move on.
Don't blame yourself. You did not invite your abuse, you did not cause it, and it is not your fault. The causes of abuse are many (rape culture, witnessing abuse as a child, entitlement culture), but they are linked to the desire to have power and control over another person. Recognizing this - abuse is about power and control - is key to moving on. This understanding has been instrumental in my own healing; knowing that the abuser alone is responsible for his actions has been integral to my own recovery from those actions.
A healthy relationship is never scary, never controlling, and never forced. These four lessons are just a few of the things I learned as a survivor of domestic violence, but they have been instrumental in my life. If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse or demonstrates signs of abuse -- know that help is available 24/7 from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).