The shock of discovering you are in an abusive relationship can turn to panic over what to do. The following guide will help you clear your thinking after weeks or years of abuse. These are the first steps for abuse victims.
Over your time in an abusive relationship, you’ve likely developed some side effects of abuse that weaken your ability to exercise personal choice. The beauty of these first steps is that they create and support confidence and clarity. Both confidence and clarity are characteristics that will help you to say goodbye to abuse.
On this page:
- Accept that you cannot control your partner or when they choose to abuse you.
- Reach out to friends, family outside your home, and resources in the community.
- Educate yourself about all types of abuse and control methods used in an abusive relationship.
- Develop self-reliance through detachment and personal boundaries.
- Create a safety plan.
When you realize you’re in an abusive relationship:
Accept that you cannot control your partner or when they choose to abuse you.
To start, you have no control over your abusive partner’s choice of when and where to abuse you. It may seem like you have a bit of control, but remember: When you’re in an abusive relationship, your thinking gets turned around.
- First of all, abusers tell us we make them behave that way, so it stands to reason we can stop them from behaving abusively. But we can’t.
- Secondly, we spend every waking moment trying to soothe our abusive partners or do what we think they expect to avoid abuse.
- And, little discussed but true, we sometimes hurry things along so our abuser will explode and we can get to the other side of the tension to the honeymoon period.
All three of those thoughts and behaviors reinforce the idea that we do have control over when our partner abuses us.
When I Realized I Didn’t and Couldn’t Control the Abuse
Instead of attempting to control if or when they abuse, we could control how we react when they do abuse (see individual Examples of Verbal Abuse pages for suggestions on how to respond to abuse).
Additionally, I challenge you to pay attention to your abuser more closely. You’ll soon realize that you can spend 24 hours or zero hours on abuse prevention, but the fact remains: if your partner feels a need to abuse you, they will. No matter what you’ve done to prevent it. You may as well let go of your attempts to control and move on to activities that will help you complete the first steps for abuse victims.
Reach out to friends, family outside your home, and resources in the community.
You must do this to break your partner’s hold on you! You’re fighting a powerful abusive enemy, and they want to keep you fighting their game with their rules. You’ll need all the help you can get. Your silence is your abuser’s most powerful ally – stop giving your abuser the advantage.
- Call national or state hotlines.
- Share your story of abuse with others, even the hotline volunteer on the other end of the phone, to get your thoughts moving.
- Call a family member or friend and talk to them. Reconnect if you’re isolated from them.
- Visit a domestic violence support group (call your local Department of Social Services or visit DomesticShelters.org).
- Sign up for mentoring from survivors at Domestic Abuse Survivor Help (DASH).
- Join an online message board with other abuse victims and survivors.
- Connect with others like you on the DASH Facebook page.
Remember that your current friends and family, due to cultural, religious, or personal attitudes, might be horrible helpers! Some people still believe it is okay to smack a woman every now and then to keep her in line. Or that you’re simply hen-pecked if your wife bosses you around. If you find this to be your situation, don’t sabotage your recovery or strength by listening to more nonsense. Call hotlines or join online groups instead.
Educate yourself about all types of abuse and control methods used in an abusive relationship.
Recognizing abusive behavior and putting a name to your partner’s control methods will help you to see your situation and your abuser in a new light. Here are some reading suggestions for people in an abusive relationship:
- Check out the subjects of emotional and verbal abuse, domestic violence, etc.
- Researching verbal abuse is a great starting point because it underlies every other type of abuse.
- Read about logical fallacies online to see not only how our mind tricks us, but also how abusive people use inaccurate logic to corrupt and control us.
- Educate yourself on brainwashing and crazymaking to see how your abuser warped your heart and mind to believe they were a necessary part of your life.
Develop self-reliance through detachment and personal boundaries.
Writing my own boundaries gave me a sense of personal strength and responsibility to myself to end the abuse. I stopped seeing myself as a victim. Instead, I started seeing myself as an agent of change, both for myself and my relationship.
When I began enforcing my boundaries, the abuse increased. My abuser was like a little child being denied his comfort blanket. He didn’t take to my new reactions well. He lashed out physically, and I left him. As much as I didn’t want to leave, I will not go back to that relationship ever again.
The outcome for your relationship may be different. Some people find saving the relationship possible. But that happens after you follow the first steps for abuse victims, change your reactions to the abuse, and receive professional guidance.
Create a safety plan.
A safety plan is a must whether you think you’ll leave the abuser or plan to stay with him. Your safety plan will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can leave when or if you must.
If you need help with safety planning, reach out to a mentor to guide you through the process.
Featured image by Eric Nopanen
- First Steps For Abuse Victims
- Reach Out for Help with Domestic Abuse
- Safety Planning for Domestic Violence and Abuse Victims
- Boundaries Are Crucial for Abuse Victims
- Verbal Self-Defense: What You Must Know
- Help a Domestic Abuse Victim Leave the Abusive Partner
- Books About Domestic Abuse
- Verbal Abuse Books That Teach the Vocabulary of Abuse