4 Steps You Must Take Leaving An Abusive Relationship

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Heartbreak

Living in an abusive relationship is soul-crushing. You feel terrible about yourself and are isolated from the world.

You may be afraid to tell your friends, scared all the time, and constantly making excuses for him. Your only “protection” is shutting down your feelings and enduring it. And thinking about leaving an abusive relationship can feel just as terrifying.

RELATED: When He Consistently Does Any Of These 8 Things, He's Slowly Trapping You In A Toxic Relationship

Abusers make leaving abusive relationships hard.

There are three types of abusive relationships. They often overlap and always involve emotional abuse.

  • Emotional abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse, which includes battery and sexual abuse

What makes it even harder is that you doubt yourself. You constantly think there must be something wrong with you or that you’re doing something wrong to provoke this mistreatment. That’s what he tells you. You keep trying to do “better,” but nothing ever works.

Plus, you have a critical voice in your head. His behavior links up with that voice. Maybe you were similarly mistreated as a child. You think of leaving, but the voice takes over:

"He’ll retaliate. Turn the kids and your friends against you. You can’t support yourself. You’ll be homeless or all alone."

He keeps listing the reasons you won’t make it, making you believe you need him. You don’t. It’s just that he makes you feel as though you're always wrong.

The hardest part of leaving an abusive relationship is your lack of confidence. Abusive relationships tear confidence down, even the little you had.

You know you have to leave. You’re worn down and you just can’t do it any longer. But what if he does retaliate?

Sometimes, he apologizes, cries, says he’ll “do better.” Don’t be fooled. He can’t. He’s not in emotional control.

You need to get out to be safe. But how do you safely get out?

If you’re leaving an abusive relationship, here are 4 steps to follow.

1. Ask yourself these questions before leaving an abusive relationship.

All abusive relationships include emotional abuse. If you’re not in physical danger, you’re still in danger. It can get worse. You need to protect yourself and rebuild your self-esteem.

If you have any doubt about being ready, ask yourself these five questions:

  • Are you tired of feeling bad about yourself?
  • Do you realize he’ll never change, no matter how hard you try?
  • Is it getting clearer that this is not love?
  • Do you want respect and kindness?
  • Are you ready to heal, make different choices, and feel safe?

If the answers are yes, then you’re ready. Now, you must put a plan in place to be safe.

2. Determine strict boundaries for yourself during the breakup — and stick to them.

When leaving an abusive relationship, you need to have a safety plan. Part of that plan is setting firm boundaries, something an abuser won’t let you have easily. You must stick to these boundaries and not let him in. Once you hesitate, you’ve lost your footing.

Strict boundaries are an important way to protect yourself. Here are some essentials:

  • Don’t waver or let your abuser convince you that you’re wrong.
  • Don’t respond to manipulation. Or professions of “love.”
  • If you feel in danger, get legal help and a restraining order.

For help with a restraining order, finding a battered women’s shelter, an attorney, or finding answers to other legal questions, Women's Law is a great resource.

Here’s more you can do:

  • Call the National Domestic Abuse 24-hour hotline.
  • Have a safety plan. Click here if you don’t know how.
  • Have a policy of no contact.
  • If your situation requires divorce, let your attorney handle it.
  • You need to be done, physically as well as in your heart and mind.

RELATED: 18 Signs Of Gaslighting & Examples Of How It Plays Out In Abusive Relationships

3. Set up your emotional support system.

It’s OK to ask for help when leaving an abuser.

You can’t leave an abusive relationship without a lot of support. Women's Health offers detailed and useful information about what to do to prepare yourself for leaving.

Have the backup of physical safety, shelter, and a restraining order in place. Especially if there is a danger of violence.

Be sure you have friends and family set up to support you. Be honest. There’s no reason for shame. You can’t do this alone. It’s not your fault.

Let in people you can trust who won’t violate your confidence, let your partner know where you are, or what you’re thinking. Be open about what you have been going through.

Ask for their emotional support, an ear to listen, a place to stay, and reminders of who you are and your best qualities. And also why you can’t go back.

Call the National Domestic Abuse hotline if you need to: 1-800-799-7233. If you can’t talk, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474. Help is the most important thing. You must stay safe, both physically and emotionally. And have a place to rebuild your self-esteem.

The more help the better, including professional help, to be sure this is a pattern not repeated.

Remember, these are the things you need:

  • A safe place to stay or a women’s shelter.
  • Friends and family that you can talk to.
  • To cry and grieve as much as you need.
  • Support not calling or texting your ex.
  • Re-discovering your hobbies and best self.
  • Remembering you will feel better over time.
  • What happened was not your fault.

4. Seek professional help to heal your abuse trauma.

Your abusive relationship was not your fault. You need to keep repeating this: "It was not my fault."

Yes, he blamed you for everything. The truth is, it was him and not you.

Yet, you did get into this abusive relationship. For your own reasons, you’ve stayed. Abusive relationships often repeat childhood trauma. Being in one is also traumatic.

Seek professional help with someone who specializes in trauma, by either finding a therapist through The Domestic Abuse Hotline, Women's Health, or private referral.

You don’t deserve abuse. Professional help for your abusive relationship will heal you. And it will also help you resolve your childhood trauma. The two go together.

This never has to happen again. You deserve love. Start today with help finding your path to getting the love you need.

Are you ready to leave?

Abuse tears down your self-esteem. It’s intended to — to give your abuser emotional control and a sense that he’s superior. In an abuser’s world, it’s all your fault, not his.

It’s not your fault. If you’ve been conditioned to believe it is, that can change. Ask yourself the readiness questions and take the steps to get out. Now.

Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy, but leaving is the first step to healing your self-esteem. Reach out, get help, and begin your journey to the right kind of love.

RELATED: 13 Signs Of Emotional Abuse Commonly Misinterpreted As 'Acts Of Love'

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and abuse.

Experiencing domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence, domestic abuse, or relationship abuse as a “pattern of behaviors use by one partner to maintain power and control over another person in an intimate relationship.” Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from domestic abuse. According to NDVH, close to 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence, and or stalking by a partner.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.

There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in treating persistent depressive states and childhood trauma. Contact her if you have any questions about finding the right therapist for you.