How to Leave an Abusive Relationship: A Step-by-Step Plan
An abusive relationship is any relationship that involves physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and control. So, abusive relationships are not just limited to physical abuse. Any relationship that makes you feel insecure, unhappy, frightened, and drained is a toxic, abusive relationship.
A toxic bond in an abusive relationship can cause you to doubt your reality and sanity and lose a sense of self-respect. In addition, a relationship with an abusive partner can isolate you, cutting you off from your support circles and generating significant emotional distress. At some point, the abusive relationship may pose an imminent threat to your health and life.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911 (IF in the US and Canada). If you have access to phone and can make a phone call, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?
Leaving an abusive relationship may seem like the obvious logical step to someone who has never experienced it. Why does she stay in an abusive relationship? Can’t she just leave?
No, she can’t.
Anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship knows that leaving is not that simple. No breakup or separation is easy. And it becomes more complicated when you have been manipulated, controlled, threatened, and isolated from family and friends.
Ending an abusive relationship takes a lot of courage and a good plan. However, before we focus on how to leave an abusive relationship, let’s first see how to recognize one.
Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship
Abusive relationships often begin like any other relationship. In the beginning, the abuser may profess endless love for you. They may use a manipulation strategy known as love bombing.
This behavior is often linked to narcissism. A narcissist will shower you with attention, love, and admiration to indebt you. They may seem deep in love with you, putting you on their love pedestal only to manipulate you into a belief that you owe them something so that they can gain power over you.
Love bombing will soon be switched by anger and rage. When the abuser is in this state, they may react with either explosive (screaming, explosive outbursts) or passive rage (passive aggression, hidden resentment, neglect, etc.). However, rage is almost always disproportionate to the trigger.
Toxic Attention Demands
Victims in abusive relationships give a lot and receive very little or nothing in return. The abusive partner will demand that you put aside your needs and tend to their needs. Yet, no matter how much you give, it is never enough. The abuser will criticize you for not trying hard enough, humiliating, threatening, or abusing you for “not doing enough.”
You cannot say “no” to your toxic partner’s request either because you don’t want to disappoint them, fear they might leave you, or feel threatened and frightened.
You may constantly feel guilty, believing that you are responsible for your partner’s feelings and behaviors.
A Toxic Level of Control
You are constantly judged, manipulated, and controlled. Your partner tells you what to do and what not to, restricts contact with your friends and family, puts you down, and threatens you. Their behavior is unpredictable – the abuser may act differently at different times in similar situations.
How to Leave an Abusive Relationship
Whether you decide to leave or are just brainstorming your options, considering how to leave an abusive relationship is an important first step in setting free from abuse and starting a new life.
So, here is a step-by-step guide on how to leave an abusive relationship.
Step 1: Give Yourself Permission to Leave
Abusers use various manipulation strategies to control their victims. For example, you may feel disoriented, insecure, and guilty because the abuser will manipulate you into believing that the abuse is your fault.
Remember that you are not to blame for being harmed and abused. You were never the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior, and, like everyone else, you deserve safety, protection, and happiness. You deserve to be treated with respect, care, and love.
Although you may feel isolated, abandoned, and horrified, know that you are not alone. There are people who can help you heal and feel safe again.
Step 2: Always Put Your Safety First
- Make sure your partner doesn’t become aware of your plans to leave.
- If possible, get to a safe place.
- Rehearse your escape plan and make a list of emergency contacts.
- Memorize it, so you don’t have to write anything down.
- Use a safe computer or phone to research information and create new usernames and passwords for your online accounts.
- Prepare and take important papers with you.
Step 3: Talk to a Professional
Step 4: Have a Plan and a Place to Go
Contact your friends and family or other people who love you and care for you. They can help you stay safe, support you through this challenging time, and even prevent you from returning to the abuser.
Step 5: If You Have to Leave in a Hurry
If you have to leave in a rush to protect yourself from violence, reach for domestic violence resources as soon as possible. Go to a shelter or another safe place. If you can, hire a lawyer. Get a temporary restraining order or temporary protective order from a judge to keep the abuser away. If you have kids, the order should also give you custody.
How to Move Forward and Heal from an Abusive Relationship
After breaking the abuse cycle, make self-care your priority. Reconnect with friends and family, seek support to address emotional distress, and come to terms with your experience.
- RELATED: How Dating a Narcissist Changes You
Also, coaching or therapy can help you identify negative thinking patterns, challenge them, and replace them with positive ones to improve resilience and self-esteem.
- Journal about your thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Practice mindfulness and relaxation.
- Start exercising regularly.
- Give yourself time to grieve and process a traumatic experience.
- Get enough sleep.
- Practice self-compassion.
Mindfully focus on the present after you set free from an abusive relationship. Make new memories getting your life back on track.