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Emotions After Leaving Your Abuser

young woman sitting on stone stairs in her robe and pajamas experiencing emotions after leaving her abuser

Escaping Abuse Is More Than Leaving

Escaping an abusive relationship involves more than having a safety plan and walking out the door. In addition to the logistical planning, you also must plan for some confusing emotions after leaving your abuser. The loaded emotions create a minefield that my therapist didn’t prepare me for. But I hope to help you avoid some of those mines.

Some Surprising Emotions After Leaving Your Abuser

After escaping the abuse in my marriage, I went through some surprising feelings. However, warning you of those emotional changes might help you feel better about your own surprising emotions that pop up after you leave your abuser.

I Felt Genuine Fear and Paranoia

When I escaped my abuser, I expected retribution. My relationship’s history told me that there would be punishment for leaving him. Domestic violence literature warned that even if my abuser never physically assaulted me during the relationship (which he had), the likelihood of physical abuse increased when my leaving became real. Whether I left the home or legally forced my partner out, the fear that he would find a way to hurt me was so real I could taste it. It tasted so horrible I considered reconciling just to get the punishment out of the way.

However, I knew that I shouldn’t reconcile out of fear. I’d be more afraid if I went back to living with him inside rooms with no hiding spots. I hung tough, got myself some pepper spray, changed my locks, and didn’t talk to anyone I couldn’t trust. Then I was able to overcome the fear in favor of freedom and learned empowering actions that helped me differentiate between useful fear and paranoia.

I Obsessed Over Him

The unhealthy obsession with my abuser after I left surprised me. I fought to be free, and now all I could do was wonder what he was doing or who he was seeing. But really, the obsession was not surprising when I considered how much of my thinking revolved around my abuser before I left.

I considered his possible reactions to what I bought, wore, said, did, or thought every day for 17+ years. I had spent a lot of time obsessing over my partner during the relationship. It made sense that it took my brain some time and training to stop obsessing.

During all of this habitual obsessing, the grandest possible mistake would have been to believe that obsession equals true love. Obsession is never love. That fervent urge to end the pain and return to your partner is a byproduct of abuse. So relax – you are not out of your mind for obsessing over someone who hurt you. Your brain likes familiarity; you will learn to think of new things once your abuser’s voice stops haunting your decisions.

I Felt Compelled to Speak Well of My Ex

One confusing emotion after leaving my abuser was an overwhelming desire to speak well of my partner to my friends, despite what he did to me. During the relationship, I had to soothe my ex-partner’s ego, calm him down, apologize, or purposefully say good things about him to others. Old habits die hard, and I found myself saying things that reminded me of my ex’s better qualities, real or imagined.

I Felt Extraordinary Guilt

I also felt guilty for leaving my abuser, even though logically I knew that leaving him wasn’t my fault. He abused me. I felt sorry for my ex and imagined what he might be feeling. It was a challenge, but I had to remind myself to focus on my own emotions and not worry about what my ex was feeling.

I Mourned the Death of the Relationship

Lastly, I found myself mourning the death of the abusive relationship. I didn’t want to feel like a victim anymore, but I had to allow myself to feel the loss and sadness. I had to let go of the 17-year-old dream of a happy future with my ex and focus on the reality of the abuse I endured. It was a difficult process, but it was necessary for my emotional and mental health.

Confusing Emotions After Leaving Your Abuser Are a Rite of Passage

As I look back on my experience, I see these emotions as a rite of passage in recovery. No matter how horrible I felt during my recovery, leaving my abusive relationship was the only way to guarantee that my mental and emotional health would improve. Escaping the abuse became the only way I could be who I want to be.

No matter where you are in your desire to leave, expect the unexpected emotion and talk through your emotions with a therapist. Although therapists can’t predict your emotions after leaving your abuser, they will be by your side to help you deal with whatever you do feel.