Leaving Abuse: Ways to Feel Better Before You Go

I left my abusive husband 4 years and a month ago, but I clearly remember those first few months of freedom. It sure didn’t feel like freedom as depression and anxiety tore through me like tornadoes, first one direction and then another. My emotions seemed to control whether I could take a breath or not. I lived in a spiral for about three months and feel lucky it lasted only that long. Leaving abuse is not easy to do. Leaving abuse is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. It helps to understand the process before you go.

What Happens When You Leave Abuser

Are You Wrapped Around the Axle of Your Abuser?During an abusive relationship, not only do we come to believe (on some level) that we’re the pieces of shit our partners claim, but we also tightly wrap ourselves around our abuser’s emotional experience. I think of it as getting wrapped up in their axles – you know, like when you run over a large plastic bag or some rope in the road and your tire kicks it up, wrapping it so tightly around the axle that you think you’ll never get it out. In my situation, I’d wrapped myself around his axle for about 18 years. When I left, I immediately felt lost and afraid.

Why? Because I didn’t know how to feel my emotions anymore – I felt his instead. During abuse, we must be on the same emotional wavelength as our abuser so we can protect ourselves from an outburst (or rather, that’s what we think will prevent it). Six times out of ten we can prevent our partner from “losing it” if we pretend to feel the same way they do. Our abusive partners want us to be extensions of their minds, so if we can fool them into thinking that we are the same as them, then they feel in control and might not rage. So after 18 years of pretending to be him, I’d lost touch with me and my emotional experiences.

I didn’t know how to feel without my husband’s subtle clues to guide me. Lost and afraid doesn’t adequately describe my emotions. What I felt made me want him back just to end the confusion. Fortunately, I did not succumb to returning.

Ways to Feel Better Before Leaving Abuse

One of my saving graces was understanding what could happen to me after leaving my abuser. I knew that he could become more violent, stalk me, or kill me and possibly our children. I knew he may not honor the restraining order (70% of them do, but you can’t tell beforehand if your abuser will). I also knew that my mind and heart would be pretty messed up and the urge to return to my abuser could be very strong. Fortunately for me, I did a few things before I left that made leaving him easier.

Things to do before you leave (if possible)

Sometimes abuse survivors are not able to escape their abuser’s control long enough to put these suggestions in place. But if you’re able to get online and read what’s on this website, then you are able to escape the abuse long enough to gradually carry out these suggestions.

However, sometimes the abuser forces us out by physically assaulting us (our choice to leave) or just gets so nasty as to put us out on our asses. In those cases, we may have to do this work after we’ve left. It’s easier on you to do these things before leaving, but it isn’t a dire drawback if you aren’t able. It is never too late to switch to a better path.

Create a Safety Plan

Verbal Abuse Journals has a great safety plan that will help keep you safer whether you stay or leave, and helps you to understand the dynamics of the abuse in your relationship. You can also download safety plans, sometimes called emergency plans, from the major anti-domestic violence nonprofits such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Build a Support Network

Before leaving abuse, I had a therapist and a support network from which to draw support. If you do not have a support network, I encourage you to build one by

  • participating in online groups and a local domestic violence support group,
  • telling your family and friends what is happening to you,
  • calling hotlines, and
  • taking advantage of the free help with domestic abuse here at Verbal Abuse Journals.

Educate Yourself About Abuse and The Way Your Brain Works

Supplement your eye-opening interactions with other survivors by reading everything you can get your hands on about the effects of domestic violence. Additionally, an understanding of how your brain works – how it “thinks” and forms neural paths – will bring you comfort as you work to think differently.

Here are some books that helped me:

Up Next: Dealing with fear for your safety

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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. john la berge says:

    o.k. all the above cannot be argued with, unless you are the abuser or the abusers enablers. just like addicts they have no where to go when the target is not there even less space to hide thier weaknesses when their support groups are not supporting him or her.
    your circumstances are not unque nor is every other targets, the way we learn to deal with the source is the way we leran to allow us to be taught this is the way it is by my version of the relationship. until i finally told my wife the crap that what i do is not of a satndard that is satisfactory to her does toing but show both of us how she was abused by her to use a corruption of the german phrase dine haupthbrotten mutter or as she imagined herself to be in all things the high born lady of the manor house was and is in it self a emotional battering ram to use on a disabled child.
    funny how what was nearly a daily spouting has not been heard for at least a month now.
    kelly knows i had a 7 tone truck assist my acquiring one of at least 7 brain injuries while my wife bears the effects of a EXTREMELY rare form of cerbral palsy, try leaving a abusive situation when you know that if you do you will because she is the recipient of a s.s.i.ncome package and you aren’t you are really left with only one alternative start theowing the shit back at the sources it comes from. that includes his or her freinds, the best way to deal with them is not a restraining order but registering a suit in the court of common pleadings under other. when the j.p. asks the reason for the suit have the list of rented rooms, telephone and denny’s bills ready to show and why you have them. that really shakes the friends up, somehow they disappear when theare served for the action: that cost too can be put into the court claim. what no money the sherrif can arrest and detain, somehow those self inflicted injuries which occur in holding can get pretty serious.:especially when the kids are on the scene and one is one way or another disabled ,.
    i am learning to ask myself do i deserve this am i the source of the problem? that can be a real bear to face, when i realize i am wrong it takes a lot of crow to accept that part of the issue. when i am not i am learing to say that ain’t happenin no more, blow it out you ear, or something like that. use this if you wish comment or scrap it. i am turning my life around within my ” marraige” i think it is time for everyone to female and male to start saying whoa there whats going on and why are you doing this to us. again that really shakes the deputy when she or he hears that.

  2. Thanks for this Kellie Jo! This really does describe the confusion an abuse victim feels while still in the relationship, and for some time after. I remember trying to purchase a tablecloth once. We were hosting my husbands work friends, and I stood in the store wondering what he might like for a long time. After he sent me back twice (he didn’t like my first two choices,) I realized that not only did I have no idea what HE would like, I had no idea which one I would like! My ability to know my own mind about something so simple was gone. I appreciate your suggestions about what a victim can do BEFORE leaving. Great job!

  3. Great post, Kellie! I remember all too well those first few months after my ex and I separated. I felt like I was spiraling down, down, down. Panic attacks one minute, crippling depression and fatigue the next. It was awful. I can only imagine if I hadn’t put my support network and safety plan in place first how much worse it would have been. I’m so thankful for your site and other like it that helped me to plan ahead of time.

  4. I was just reading some of the comments after I’d taken the are you in an abusive relationship. I was devastated when I concluded I was. I am sickened and helpless feeling right now. I love my significant other, I don’t want to be apart. I WANT TO MAKE THINGS DIFFERENT! This probably isn’t what you expect……. After taking the test I realized that I am the abuser. I want help!

    • Marty, a word of caution: victims can believe they are the source of abuse – victims can believe that they are the abuser. I’m concerned that you could be a victim of abuse wanting to take the whole mess upon your own shoulders. No one can live in abuse and dysfunction without becoming dysfunctional too.

      If you are the abuser, then you have an excellent chance of learning new ways to think and behave because most abusers never admit to their poor behavior. If it turns out you are the abuser, then the fact that you want help tells me you will get it and you will change.

      I recommend therapy if you can afford it. Whether abuser or victim, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help. They will point you in the right direction. The website is http://thehotline.org

      “Marty” can be a male or female name, so I’m not sure of your gender. However, even if you are female, I believe the website called Men Ending Verbal Abuse and Control can help you, too. It is a message board designed for men who want to treat the ones they love with dignity and respect. If you are female and if Mick (the moderator) does not want to admit you to the boards, then I am almost certain he will give you some resources. But I suspect he’ll admit you either way. The website is http://mevac.proboards.com/

      Marty, you are very brave in facing the issues plaguing you. I hope you continue researching and finding better ways to deal with your emotions and thoughts. You can do this!

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