The Invisible Symptoms Of Domestic Abuse That Stay Long After You Have Left

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When you finally leave an abusive relationship, you believe all your troubles are over. You have removed yourself from the person that was causing the damage.

What we don’t realize is that the damage causes invisible scars and ingrained coping mechanisms, which will stay with us for a lifetime if we let them.

Physically leaving an abusive partner is the first, essential, step towards freedom. Unfortunately, there are many more steps between that first one and the last step that leads to true freedom.

To be honest, I’m not sure we ever reach that last step.

But those invisible scars can heal, and the behaviors borne from being a victim and a survivor can be changed. To the point where you are free to be your true self and cope with the odd blip that pops up now and again (even many years later).

Here are 6 invisible symptoms of domestic abuse that stay with you long after you have left:

1. Acute self-awareness

All our time was spent either observing and monitoring our partner’s actions and words (for signs of potential danger) or our own.

Our words were carefully chosen so as not to anger, our actions were dictated by what our partner needed or wanted, and we became acutely aware of the effect our behaviors had on others. We were made to believe that everything was our fault, so we started taking full responsibility for everything that happened.

There was no space for automatic responses, they were too dangerous. It’s how we minimize the chances of abuse.

And we maintain this level of self-awareness when we leave. We continue to monitor our actions and words for fear that if we do or say something that upsets someone else, we will get hurt.

I still monitor myself closely, assessing risk and altering my behavior accordingly. It’s tiring and prevents me from being my true self.

It holds back our personality and stops us from shining.

RELATED: 4 Essential Lessons About Loving Yourself After Leaving An Abusive Relationship

2. People pleasing

We were only shown love and affection when we were “good.” Pleasing our partner became our most important job. In the eyes of our partner, their pleasure was of utmost importance, ours was irrelevant. So, we put ourselves at the bottom of our list.

This lack of worth stays with us long after we have left. We continue to equate doing things for others with receiving love, care, and attention.

We remain at the bottom of our priority list because everyone else’s pleasure is more important than our own. Why would anyone want to spend time with us if we aren’t helping them out in some way?

We can’t possibly say no to someone or express a differing opinion, they might decide they don’t like us.

3. Feel others suffering

Whilst living with abuse, I saw it everywhere. It felt like I had a radar on me that could detect someone else’s discomfort or suffering.

This has stayed with me, despite being away from abuse for over 15 years. I can’t stand the thought of anyone feeling unwelcome, lonely or rubbish about themselves because I know how much that hurts. So, I go above and beyond to make others feel good about themselves and that they belong.

Empathy can be a wonderful thing to possess, but it can be harmful to the person displaying it when it encourages you to continue to put your own feelings aside in favor of making someone else feel better.

I have missed out on things and given up things so that others don’t have to. This is very admirable and selfless, but it comes with my own suffering, which isn’t healthy.

RELATED: It Wasn't Your Fault: How To Heal The Shame Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

4. Mistrust

We know how dangerous other people can be. It’s something I wish I’d never learned.

Our hearts have been broken by someone else, and as a result, we stop trusting others. We also stop trusting ourselves. Most of us can recall the alarm bells we overlooked, which shows we cannot be trusted.

It’s scary letting yourself trust another person again, but we must do it if we are to enjoy healthy relationships in the future.

We find ourselves reluctant to trust and listen to ourselves because we have ignored our feelings and intuition for a long time. But we need to show ourselves some compassion and start listening, so we can learn to rely on our judgment again.

5. Never good enough

The verbal abuse we were subjected to, continues when we’ve left. Their words stay in our heads, and we find ourselves using the same language, criticizing ourselves and putting ourselves down.

We have come to believe that no matter what we do, it’s never enough. So, we continue to push ourselves, downplaying our achievements and focusing on our mistakes.

The only way to be “enough” is to be perfect. It’s the only measure that counts, the only way we can guarantee we will not be criticized. But perfect doesn’t exist and the pursuit of it causes worry, procrastination and overwhelm.

6. Compliance

I am a very good girl, I do as I am told. Whether that be from a book, a course, a boss, my husband or my family.

Being compliant whilst in an abusive relationship kept us safe. When we did as we were told, we would sometimes get a show of love or affection — a glimpse of the person we fell in love with. There would be no reason for them to harm us (although they always seem to find one).

We continue with this compliance when out of the relationship because we believe that it increases our chances of being liked and loved by others and reduces the risk of getting hurt.

Sadly, it also provides us with some structure, which we need because we don’t trust ourselves to make the right decisions or judgments.

However, when we willingly follow others’ leads without question or suggestion, we become a prime candidate for another unhealthy, unequal relationship.

RELATED: 4 Harsh Reasons You Keep Having Emotionally Abusive Relationships

These are all common issues that many people face, not just domestic abuse survivors. However, because they stem from a place of survival, they are extremely difficult to let go of.

  • You daren’t be anything other than perfect because you can’t cope with any more criticism.
  • You can’t trust this person because you know you could get badly hurt.
  • You need people to like and love you, so you do everything for them. If you say no to someone, they may never speak to you again.
  • If you do as you are told, you reduce the likelihood of harm.

Healing from domestic abuse, as with any trauma, happens at a multitude of levels. We’ve been deeply hurt, and the healing required is not visible, it’s visceral.

After almost 18 years of being free, I’m not sure that we ever completely heal. But that’s OK.

  • We have become more empathetic, which is a blessing when experienced at a level that does not cause you to overlook your own feelings.
  • We have an inner strength and resilience that comes from recognizing the courage we showed to get through every day, both as a victim and a survivor.
  • We are more aware of and less likely to take for granted true love, care and attention.
  • We can help and support each other from a place of understanding and non-judgment.
  • We can educate others, including our children, about what not to accept in a relationship.
  • We can fall in love with and trust ourselves, knowing that we have somehow dragged ourselves up from the depths of hopelessness.
  • We can chip away at those ingrained behaviors and beliefs so that they become just a speck in our healthy self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • And we can prove our ex-partners wrong because no matter what they said or did, we are still here enjoying whatever level of freedom we are at. We’re smiling, laughing, loving and most importantly being true to ourselves.

We won.

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.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence, domestic abuse, or relationship abuse as a “pattern of behaviors used 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. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling with 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.

RELATED: 3 Ways To Finally Break The Bonds Of An Abusive Relationship (Because It's Time)

Lisa Johnson is a writer and coach, based in the UK. She is a regular writer on Medium.com, sharing her personal experiences and lessons learned, proving that there is life, love, and happiness after domestic abuse. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.