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“Why is it so hard to leave an abuser?”
“I want to go back to him, but I know I shouldn’t.”
“Why do I miss him so much?”
“After all the horrible things he’s done to me, I still love him.”
“He says he can change, I really want to believe him.”
I hear these far too often in Facebook groups for women of domestic violence.
Do these sound familiar to you? Have you found yourself saying these exact same things? I know I did.
On average, a victim of domestic violence attempts to leave 7 times before finally leaving for good.
Some Facts on Why You Can’t Leave an Abuser
Beside the real and/or perceived threat of what an abuser will do if the victim leaves; here’s the deep rooted, psychological deal with why it’s so difficult for a victim to leave her abuser. And why victims end up going back.
More than likely you’ve been in your abusive situation for an extended period of time; months, years, or maybe even decades. Abusers don’t usually reveal the abuse right away in the beginning of a relationship. That would scare you away pretty quickly.
They drip in the abuse. It’s a slow, subtle and almost unnoticeable tactic of manipulation and control. It would be a lot easier to leave if they showed their true colors right away. You know, when you haven’t had a chance to form a strong bond or connection with them. But you’ll find the abuse always escalates.
Unfortunately, due to this slow leak of abuse coupled with the love bombing they do; you end up forming a trauma bond that becomes almost impossible to break. You may not even fathom what they’re doing is abuse.
What is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma Bonding – occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse. In which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.
The bond can be even stronger for those who have grown up in abusive homes. Because abuse can seem to them to be a normal part of relationships.
Because of the strong emotional bond formed with an abuser. Even though a victim may acknowledge the abuse; they would rather receive comfort from the very person who has abused them.
This trauma bond is formed over time and the cycle of abuse looks something like this:
This cycle has the same effect as hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming.
It’s no wonder it’s insanely difficult to leave. Not only has a victim created a super strong emotional bond with their abuser; they’ve also created an attachment that makes them feel the only person they can get love from is the abuser.
If you’ve done any research on abuse / narcissistic abuse; you may have heard victims talk about how they were “brainwashed”. This is exactly what trauma bonding is – a brainwashing (aka neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis).
Abuse is Safer
That sounds crazy right? Logically, abuse is not safe. But our body (aka subconscious) has been conditioned to see the current abusive situation as “normal”. Our minds and bodies acclimate to the situation so much so that leaving is more of a threat than staying.
With any change in life we try to make, the subconscious sees change as a threat and tries to shut it down.
This is where you tell yourself it’s actually safer to stay. You come up with excuses for the abuse and excuses to stay – because your subconscious is telling you that.
No matter what you tell yourself logically, neurologically you feel “safer” in the chaos. The toxic relationship feels safe because you know exactly what to expect. There is a false sense of safety in knowing the abuse will happen.
Starting a new life and getting away from the abuse is unknown. The unknown is a perceived threat from the subconscious and will do exactly what it needs to protect you.
It’s important to simply understand that our bodies are very smart. They are just trying to do everything possible to keep us safe. Even if “safe” is really only an illusion.
Taking Action to Leave an Abuser
Taking the first step in getting away from an abuser is huge!
I literally can’t stress enough how difficult that initial first step is. So I want to give you some steps to rev yourself up to finally leave an abuser. And what to do after to make sure you stay away.
Step 1 – Mentally Prepare to Leave an Abuser
Preparing yourself mentally for leaving is crucial. You have to really imagine what it will be like when you leave. And when you imagine this, you need to imagine the good.
Prepare a list of all the great things that will come from you leaving and getting safe. Imagine vividly how much happier your life will be. How you will be free to do things that truly make you happy. Think about how much better you and your kids lives will be to be free from abuse. List it all out!
Then also prepare the list of the things that could go wrong. Be as detailed and imaginative as possible. Trust me, coming up with the bad shit will be easier than the good.
After coming up with all the bad things that could go wrong. Come up with how you will counteract those situations. Or what you could do to prevent them from happening. This will help you mentally prepare for any snags that could come up. And you’ll be better able to take the right kind of action.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous and really scary. You will want a good game plan and get a team of support behind you. Whether that is through friends and family or professional help.
Step 2 – Emotionally Prepare to Leave an Abuser
Oh boy, no one ever taught me this one before I left. But I did do some of it without even realizing how much it helped me to permanently leave.
Emotionally preparing to leave a relationship is one of the biggest ways I was finally able to get my subconscious to go along with my intentions.
I spoke above of that trauma bond. Part of emotionally preparing is breaking that connection and seeing your abuser differently.
You need to see your abuser as a threat – no matter what. They are a threat to your happiness, a threat to your kids, a threat to your sanity. The best way to see your abuser differently is to come to the realization of what you’ve been through. And what he did to you was indeed abuse.
This is what “woke me up” to leave my abuser. When I talked about the incidents with my therapist she explained how in every situation I was being abused.
There was just something about coming to that realization. Becoming aware that what my ex was doing was NOT RIGHT. I started to see what was being done to me, as abuse. And, despite the excuses I tried to come up with to my therapist about why he did certain things; she didn’t let him off the hook. This was a huge an eye opener!
My therapist didn’t excuse any of his actions. It helped me see the actions he was doing was completely in his control.
The abuse was always about being able to control me. And when I’d instinctively fight back, the abuse would escalate.
This realization help sever the trauma bond I had. I still loved my abuser, but knowing all of this helped me finally take action to leave. And once I had that realization – it was like a flipped switch and I knew I would never go back.
Step 3 – Physically Prepare to Safely Leave an Abuser
There are quite a few steps to take to really get ready to leave. Most of the time, women need to make a strategic plan to get away. And to do so in the safest way possible.
I’ve laid out some good tips in the post How to Help Someone in An Abusive Relationship. There are also some really good tips here.
What To Do to Stay Away
The hard part was leaving. Now the more difficult part comes.
I get it, we hype ourselves up to leave an abuser. And then a week later, we’re responding to their texts, begging us to come back.
Next thing you know you’re back in the relationship. It’s only a matter of days until the abuse starts again.
So the best thing you can do is – heal yourself. The single most important thing you can do is work with a professional to heal from this trauma.
You know the saying “hurt people, hurt people”? If you’re unhealed from this situation you’re going to carry this hurt into your next relationship. You could end up having trauma responses that end up hurting your kids and other relationships.
Trauma can also cause us to jump into another toxic relationship. We won’t be able to see the signs clearly, trust ourselves, and we’ll have attachment issues.
This is why it’s so important to heal from this trauma. The benefits of healing yourself show up in every single aspect of your life.
Through the process of healing yourself work on building self-confidence, self-trust, and intuition. These things will start to come naturally as you begin to heal. However, there are several things you can do to help build these particular things much quicker.
- Healthy eating
- Energy healing
It takes baby steps, an action plan, mental, emotional and physical preparation to finally leave an abuser for good. And healing to stay away.
I hope this information helps you understand why it can take so many tries to get out of abuse.
Using this information, I pray it gives you the courage to take action and finally leave. Or direct someone you know who may be struggling to leave an abuser to take action.
Life is far better lived when your free from the toxicity.
More Resources and Help:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- NCADV National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Stand! For Families Free of Violence
- BTSADV Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence
- RAINN (Sexual Violence and Assault Help)