After Leaving Abuse: Dealing with Fear for Your Safety

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Emotions To Deal With After Leaving Your Abuser

Immediately after leaving your abusive relationship, you tend to feel some conflicting emotions in no certain order: joy, pride, fear, and great sadness. I remember feeling them all at once sometimes in the days and weeks after separating from my ex husband. The fear and sadness tempt you to return; the joy and pride beg you to stay away. They say an average abuse victim leaves 7 – 8 times before they stay gone for good, so you can understand how powerful the emotions of fear and sadness could be for you after you go.

The key for staying away lies in your safety plan. However, even the best safety planning can leave you struggling in the aftermath of leaving. It isn’t your fault for not seeing every problem you could have after you leave. Last time I checked, only a small percentage of people are psychic like that and most all of them can’t see their own futures! If you choose to return, write down what made you go back.

  • Did you return because of money? If so, think of a better way to handle the finances the next time you leave. Talk to an attorney (most will give free consults) and find out what your rights are to the marital funds. Whatever money you take with you will be settled up in court later, so if you need it, take it.
  • Did you return because  of your partner’s begging and pleading or threats to commit suicide? Then think of ways to insulate yourself from your partner’s words the next time you leave. One good tip for handling the ex who promises to kill themselves if you don’t come back is to call all their friends and family and let them know what your ex partner threats to do. Let them tend to those needs; you stay out of it.
  • Did you return because of overwhelming sadness? Then education is key for understanding the “trauma bond” and understanding that you are sad because of the broken dreams you’ve left behind. You may miss your partner’s good qualities, that is true; however, most of the sadness comes from grieving the loss of a dream. If you can hold on and feel the grief without returning, it will pass.

TIP: However sound your reasons seem to return to your abusive partner, there will come a day where you realize your emotions caused you to make a dangerous decision; you will decide to leave again. So it is important to keep notes about what made you decide to go back! Your notes will help you write a safety plan that includes solutions for that problem, and your chances of staying away the next time increase.

Ways to Control the Fear Caused By Leaving Your Abusive Relationship

After leaving your abusive relationship, joy, pride, fear, & sadness are your concern. This post addresses dealing with fear for your physical safety.Undoubtedly, you will experience many more negative emotions other than fear and sadness after you leave your abusive relationship. Some of those emotions could be the sense of betrayal, shame, worry about what your ex is doing or saying about you, indignant, wishing for revenge, and on and on. But those emotions you can deal with later. The emergency emotions that might cause you to return to your abuser are fear and sadness. First we’ll talk about fear and the different forms it can take right after you leave.

Fear for Your Safety

On the earlier post, we discussed fear in the sense of fearing for your life. I can just about guarantee you that every story on the news that deals with a murder/suicide between intimate partners culminates after the abused leaves the abuser. Ladies and gentlemen, leaving is a very dangerous time for you, and you have reason to protect yourself. Even if your abuser has not used physical violence to control you, the painful fact is that leaving them could be the thing that puts them over the edge.

For the most part, consider your fears to be liars. Your fears may or may not come true, but jamming up your ability to live is no way to live. Fear can take away the joy and pride you could feel. You want to think of ways to lower your fear level by increasing your physical safety.

The best thing to do after leaving is to go somewhere your partner will not find you. In a perfect world, that would work for everyone, but it doesn’t. Some of us have had our abusers arrested; but they get out of jail on bond relatively quickly. In some cases, later that same day. So, if you plan to involve the police and an arrest in your safety plan so you can stay in the house, be ready to do a few things as soon as the police have them in custody:

  • Tell the neighbors that your partner should not be around the house. Ask them to call the police if they see him or her on the premises. Yes, this may be embarrassing to think about doing – but if you get it done while your adrenaline is flowing, you won’t care so much. They’ll probably be watching the action from their yards or windows, but that doesn’t mean they know what is going on. Your ex probably seems like a saint to them! They probably have no idea why your partner could be arrested and simply assume it is a mistake.
  • Unfortunately, you’ll also have to give your children a heads up about what happened (unless they’re very young). But if your children are old enough to unlock and open a door, you must tell them they cannot do that without you there. You can decide for yourself whether to tell them about their other parent or leave it at “don’t open the door, no matter who is there.” You’re going to have to get on their schedule too. For example, if your children wake up to watch cartoons and have some cereal before you do, set your alarm early to make sure you’re up with them. Your children do and most likely will always want a connection with their mom or dad – you can’t stop them from trusting your abuser. Work with them instead of against them as much as possible.
  • Change the locks to the doors, all of them. If you have a dog door, make sure it stays closed and locked. The bigger ones give a person plenty of room to crawl in.
  • Place hornet spray or pepper spray by the doors. Put pepper spray in your purse and under your pillow. If you feel better having a knife or gun nearby, place it there, but be sure you know how to use the weapon so it’s less likely that your abuser can use it on you. If your partner knows where you keep a weapon, move it.
  • Ensure your windows stay closed, but make sure you can open them too! Then lock them. If the locks don’t work, place a dowel vertically in the window so it cannot be opened from the outside.
  • Get an emergency only cell phone from a local domestic violence program or the police/sheriff department if you cannot afford your own. If your abuser pays your cell phone bill, count on them taking you off the plan! Get another phone. Besides, your abuser could have installed GPS tracking on the one you have now.

The idea is to protect yourself as much as you can in your home or wherever it is you choose to stay. Yes, there is always a way into any home – breaking a window, picking a lock, breaking in a door. I’m sure you’ve thought of those things happening, and they are very frightening! Remind yourself that you are as safe as possible, and make sure to think about what you will do if your ex breaks into your home and surprises you.

TIP: Instead of going round and round in your head wondering “What if?” and getting yourself worked up, answer those what-if questions. Make a plan; something you think gives you the best chance to escape.

For example, “What if my partner breaks the front window?” Stop thinking about your ex breaking the front window and the fear involved. Breathe. Say, “If my ex breaks the window, I will hear it. My children will be in my bedroom and the bedroom door will be locked. I will open the bedroom window, place the children outside like it’s a game, then follow them out. We will run to the neighbors as I dial 911.”

Just answering the question gives you more peace of mind than having no plan at all. Trust that coming up with the plan is good enough for now. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be reasonable in your mind. And remember, if you can come up with this plan, you can come up with an alternate if you need  to change it IF the fear becomes reality.

Previous Post – Leaving Abuse: Before You Leave

Next up: Fear of Financial Hardship


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About Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly passionately advocates against domestic violence through her writing and mentoring service. She loves helping women cope with abuse while in the relationship and supporting them as they leave the relationship and begin to heal. You can also find Kellie on Google+, Facebook and Twitter. You can buy her books from Amazon.


  1. Thanks Kellie for your insightful information. I’m sure that it will be helpful for women living with abusive partners. Sadly, many victims never leave their abusers. Hopefully, your information will help them make the decision to escape. They need to feel empowered to make that decision.

    A good resource for persons wishing to help a loved one, friend or relative in an abusive household: “Helping her to Get Free” by Susan Brewster.

  2. caroline abbott says:

    Great job Kellie! I like your advice that rather than go round and round worrying about something, come up with a plan for what to do if that thing DOES happen.

    • Thank you, Caroline. When I felt most panicked in the weeks after having him removed from the house, I soothed myself by answering the what-ifs. I knew my fears were REAL even if he didn’t act as I feared…does that make sense? Yeah, I think so. So instead of going round and round with them, I just came up with the best plan possible at the time. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t, but it helped me get through the fear.

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