Ah, the dreaded task of leaving an abuser…
Most likely, if you’re on this blog, you already have left the people who hurt you (or at least the most severe ones), but that doesn’t mean you feel great about your decision.
I bet you have some seriously complicated feelings around your choice to walk away.
There’s a lot of emotion that goes into leaving an abuser. (I actually talked a ton about that grief right here) It’s natural to have regrets, doubts, and to feel shame about the decision you made.
That’s why I wrote this blog.
To help you overcome those painful emotions and trust that you made the right decision at the right time. It may have taken you many attempts to leave, so you should celebrate the fact that you’re out now without any guilt or doubt.
Why it’s so hard to leave an abuser:
People who hurt others are stuck in their own mental prisons. They have some sort of pain that they deny, push down, and process by lashing out at others. This is no excuse for their actions, but it does explain why us empathetic and compassionate people end up in their traps so often.
Abusers want to pull us into their prison.
Sometimes it’s because of malevolence, other times its the fear of being alone in that prison. They drag us their with them or cast their pain out through violence onto us. Our abusers want us to bear their difficult feelings.
They also do a damn good job at locking us in this prison.
There’s mental manipulation like gaslighting. They convince us we’ll be harmed if we leave, or that they’ll harm themselves or someone else. They craft a tricky situation of trauma bonding—where we legitimately feel we need them in our life.
Abuse is so pervasive because it ties love and affection with hurt and fear. It hits the highest points on either end of the spectrum because of the stark contrast between pain and compassion from our abuser. It’s like a drug (chemically, abuse does work similarly!).
So, in many ways, leaving an abuser requires us to both overcome that manipulation and those doubts they planted in us. And we need to pull away from the chemical highs they cause when they are nice and loving towards us. Talk about a mess of entangling things meant to keep us by their side!
What you feared most when you left your abuser
Your abuser is the most dangerous person in your life, but in many cases they make it feel like you’re safest by their side. They acted like a protector. The one person who will give you the love you need or stop your painful emotions taking over.
They appear safe because they feel predictable. You know that you’ll get some affection, as long as you also tolerate the hurt.
Their actions are actually extremely unpredictable (which makes abusive situations so volatile), but it still has a mask of feeling safe and controlled. There’s something liberating about your life and decisions being in someone else’s hands.
This predictability creates the illusion of safety even in the face of real danger. And it’s addictive.
We, very rationally, don’t want to venture out into a world where we are responsible for all our actions and the consequences of those. Instead, it feels easier (at least in part) to let someone else have that control over us—and there’s no shame in this.
Your abuser forced you into feeling that way. You feel it’s easier because of a protective coping mechanism, not because you’re actually afraid of that responsibility.
If reading this is bringing up some feelings of shame in you (or even anger at what’s written here), keep going. Understanding why leaving them is so hard is key to forgiving yourself for making that decision.
Why it felt safe to stay by your abuser’s side
There are many reasons why it’s easiest to stay by our abuser’s side…and these major changes are just a handful of the things we subconsciously avoid.
Social changes: When you leave your abuser, it’s likely that many of your relationships will change. Maybe you’re close to their friends (or you have mutual friends) that might side with your abuser. (Damn victim blaming!) At the very least, you need to find a way to replace your abuser’s presence in your life. This is a major change.
Lifestyle changes: You’re going to have extra time without your abuser in your life. You might need to move homes, find a job, become a single parent, or make other huge shifts in your life. These are growing pains of independence—something your abuser likely tried to convince you that you couldn’t handle (adding to the fear you already had).
Sexual changes: If you survived sexual abuse, you’re going to be faced with a totally different sex life after you leave them. One of the toughest things for me to come to terms with was the fact that I’d never have the same pleasurable highs my abuser was able to create (fear is an aphrodisiac, chemically speaking). I had to find a way to reclaim sexuality and be comfortable with the aftermath. This included different sensations, intensities, and lingering physical injuries.
Post traumatic stress: PTSD or another collection of trauma related symptoms will likely set in once you’re out of the traumatic situation. (Hence the “post” trauma part.) You’re going to have to adapt to anxieties, panicked states, triggers, and very real fears of things like being abused again or running into your abuser. This alone is a major lifestyle change, and it’s not an easy one.
When you look at all of these factors stacked together, it’s totally understandable why it sometimes feels easier to stay with your abuser.
And—this above list is purely our own fears, totally disconnected from the direct manipulation they use to try to get us to stay. That’s a whole other beast.
How to love the fact you chose to leave
I’m hoping that this blog helps you feel far more self-forgiving about the fact it took you a while to leave your abuser’s side. You were faced with an incredibly hard and uncertain decision. Leaving your abuser changed the path of your entire future. It was an empowered step you took to heal.
So celebrate the fact that you made that decision. Even if it took you months or years or decades—you’re free now.
And goddamn does that show how amazing and strong you are! You’ve created a life filled with the potential for joy (whether or not that feels in reach right now). This is absolutely incredible.
To push even further into this happiness, comment below! What change was the hardest for you to make after leaving your abuser? This will show others that they can face those fears and come out on the other side safely too.