By the time many abuse victims find my website, they are beaten down, emotionally exhausted and thoroughly confused. They wonder whether their situations are hopeless, what they should do, and where to begin.
To those of you to whom the above applies, I say:
Don’t give up. You have taken the first step by discovering the truth about abuse. There is a wealth of information and help available to begin the work necessary to do what you must to reclaim your value and your life. I, and many others like me, have escaped, survived and recovered. Every abuse victim has unique circumstances but, if you are willing, the journey toward recovery begins here. It begins now.
Stop doubting yourself. Call abuse what it is. You have probably denied what you have been living with for far too long.
Gather information. Get your hands on resources that will educate you on the truth about abusive relationships and the roles of abusers and enablers that will help you to acknowledge and identify abuse when it happens, and what to do when it occurs.
Tell your secrets. Spend some time with people you trust and tell them the truth about your relationship. You will be validated, and opening up will empower you as you assess the decisions and changes you may need to make in your life.
Develop a support network. Seek support from a counselor (preferably one knowledgeable in issues relating to abusive relationships), a pastor, an attorney, other abuse survivors, friends, family members and/or a women’s shelter. Let people know your needs and begin to develop a plan for separation (if it becomes necessary). If the abuser has threatened to harm you physically or financially, consider getting a legal separation or other legal protection, and develop options for safe alternative housing, financial, employment, child care, etc.
Stop talking and start doing. Pleading with your spouse or partner to stop hurting you hasn’t worked yet, has it? Demand change by changing. (Make the changes you must to take care of yourself recognizing that, although it would be nice to see your spouse change as a result, he may not.)
Don’t confuse compliance with change. If you separate, let time bear witness of legitimate, heartfelt change. Beware of magic words, buy-offs and hooks the abuser will almost certainly use to get you back into his domain.
Begin to rebuild your life and your sense of value. Stop basing your value on his assessment. He has convinced you that you are not worth loving, and you have been trying to convince him that you are. Know that if your relationship does not survive, you can still become who you want to be apart from him.
Above all, be safe. A verbal or emotional abuser may resort to physical control or violence if he feels his control is threatened. Take all necessary precautions, including keeping a record of threats, harassment, stalking or other actions that may indicate a risk to yourself or any children. Notify co-workers, friends and family members of such actions and promptly seek a restraining order if it is merited. In extreme cases, you may need to find living arrangements that are unknown to the abuser, change your phone number, notify your children’s school and provide a copy of a restraining order (should you obtain one), and inform co-workers or supervisors at your place of employment – for your safety and theirs.
And, finally, realize…
There is life beyond abuse. We enablers become obsessively caught up in his world, trying to earn love and quell his discontent. We put on an optimistic, cautious smile and pray that maybe today he’ll decide to love us only to discover that we are missing out on the lives we are meant to live.
Abuse is not normal. Healthy relationships are characterized by acceptance, respect, affection, joy, laughter, contentment, beauty, and peace. If your abuser won’t allow you to have those things, you need to go find them for yourself.
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