Why you need to thaw out after an abusive relationship, even though it hurts like hell!

When you leave an abusive or narcissistic person, the withdrawal feels as painful as weaning off heroin. It did for me, at least.

What happens is that you’ve been numb for so long.  You’ve not been allowed to feel any emotions.  If you do you’re told you’re ‘too sensitive’ or what you’re feeling is wrong.  Or any emotion you’ve expressed has been twisted to hurt you.

So, you’ve stopped feeling anything long ago.  You stopped trusting your gut.  You’ve put their needs and pains above your own.  You’ve been numb.

Now, you’ve left that abusive relationship, suddenly a flood of emotions pour out at once.  I have never sobbed like that before in my life.

I was so overwhelmed by the rawness of them.

I call this thawing out.   It happens because now we’re away from them, it’s safe to release our emotions that have been pent up for so long.  And as we’re away from the chaos and drama we’re still with ourselves for the first time – we’re not obsessively focussed on them.

As painful as I know they are, you need to feel these emotions. You need to thaw out.   To go cold turkey and feel the pain, in order to recover.  

Firstly you will feel totally devastated.  Utter despair, absolute shock and disbelief.  

I felt empty, I barely wanted to get out of bed and face the day.  I left physically sick. I couldn’t eat.  It’s as if we are going cold-turkey from a chemical addiction.

Coping with the painful withdrawal from an abusive relationship is tough.

Psychologically, you are extremely raw and vulnerable.  Some people may feel so overwhelmed they even have thoughts of suicide.

You may feel you deserve this. That you are worthless. You are nobody without him.  Emotions will rise to the surface that you’ve never felt before and it is incredibly painful. It hurts like hell.

You may still go into denial.  You start to convince yourself that he or (she’s) living a happy life without you.  They might even be flaunting a new partner on Social Media.

So, you feel the need to prove that you’re having a great time too, because then they might want you back? You might go out drinking, partying, having mindless sex, in huge efforts to convince yourself and him that you are okay.

You even harbour thoughts of going back to them.  (Or you may try to replicate your previous relationship with another abusive one).

You may also feel intense jealousy.  You become obsessed with finding out who they are with, are they sleeping with anyone?  It only adds to your feelings of not being good enough and a failure.  Perhaps they were only like that with me?

You may also feel shame.  Too often we hide the extent of domestic abuse.   We minimise to others and deny to ourselves, just how bad the situation we are in is.   There is a deep feeling of embarrassment and shame.  Partly, as we believe it is our fault.

When I left, I felt I’d failed in my marriage.   I was embarrassed.  How could I have got myself into a violent relationship?  Why didn’t I walk away sooner? I felt shame that my child had been exposed to his anger.  And how other people would look at me.

I even remember one time where two old ladies loudly declared something along the lines of how disgusted they were at how young some mothers were.  I felt so ashamed.

I also had moments where I felt guilt.  I still believed he needed me and feared what would happen to him after I left.  Then when he tried to commit suicide, a psychiatrist even phoned me to tell me he needed to see me.  That my leaving him was what had caused it.   Thankfully, I was strong enough to know by then that I wasn’t to blame for his actions.

It’s hard enough when we feel guilt of our own.  But often they are very good at manipulating other people to believe they are the victim too. That we’re the crazy ones.  We also may feel guilt about our children.  How they’ve been exposed and affected by the abusive relationship.  And we didn’t protect them enough from it.

There were moments when I wanted to run back to him as I felt intense loneliness; the despair in the pit of my stomach when I thought about never seeing him ever again was gut-wrenching.  I believed I would never find happiness again, that it was too late for me.

I honestly believed no man would ever love me, particularly when I was only 23 and had another man’s child.  I convinced myself that men who would want a girl my age, would want children of their own, not take on a step-child.    I was wrong, by the way.

You go through periods where self-doubt creeps in.  Particularly, when you start to go back over old texts or emails and analysing them in minute detail.   ‘They really did love and need me’, you think.  ‘Perhaps I was a bit cold towards them.  I exaggerated things, like they say’.  You may even convince yourself that it was you who ruined the relationship.

There will be times when anger overwhelms you.   How could they have emotionally and/or physically abused me like that?  You finally see them for who they really are.  How you were used, manipulated, and brainwashed by them.  And you’ll feel angry at yourself for being so stupid as to have ignored the warning signs.  ‘Why didn’t I just walk away’?

It may hit you hard when you realise how much you have lost, including your innocence.  Now you wonder who you can trust. Your dreams of a wonderful future together have been shattered.  You shut yourself off, you can’t sleep yet you can barely get out of bed.  It’s important to seek professional help if you are experiencing any signs of depression.  Or if you are suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, in which case even little things can trigger you.

Thawing out is crucial to recovering from an abusive relationship.  In a sense, it’s like going through the stages of grief when you lose someone you love.  

First, there’s denial, then sorrow then anger and so on, until there is an eventual acceptance.  And you are grieving.  The loss of someone you love and the fantasy of what you thought that relationship might be in your head.

If you have recently left a controlling, emotionally and/or physically abusive relationship, I won’t lie, the next days, weeks and months will be hard.  A range of emotions will flood you to the point where, at times, you’ll feel like you’re drowning.    It will hurt like hell.  And that is when you’ll be at your weakest.  That’s when you’ll be tempted to go back to them or straight into someone else’s arms.  Whatever you do, please, don’t do that.

Your self-esteem will be at a low point.  You are coming out of a relationship where you’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster.  This is not the time to look to anyone else to make you feel better.  It’s important you stay still with yourself and feel them.  Every single emotion, no matter how hard.

There is no easy way of getting around it.  It’s going to hurt. And it’s going to hurt a lot.  But, I promise you, it’s far better than staying numb.

Getting through this tunnel of pain, this withdrawal, this thawing out phase is the hardest part.  But, once you get past that stage, your life will change.

If you work through the pain, instead of trying to numb it by going back to them or into another relationship, you limit the chances of your feelings coming back to haunt you later on.

The pain won’t last forever. Time is your best friend.   And the lessons you will learn from this will allow you to grow and become a better person.

Are you going through the pain of withdrawing from an abusive relationship?  What is the hardest part? Let me know in the comments below.

If you need professional help, advice or support please see Domestic Violence resources here .


If you’re thinking of leaving an abusive relationship or struggling to get over a narcissist then my online video course may help you:

Have you left or are thinking of leaving an abusive or controlling relationship?

Are you a Survivor of emotional and / or physical abuse, but still struggling to cope with how painful it is?

Or just trying to make sense of what happened?

Do you keep picking the wrong partner? The ones who are bad for you?

The full details are here, but let me show you just a couple of the things I’ve packed into course:

In START WITH ME: Survivor to Staying Strong I’ll show you how to get over a controlling or abusive relationship, even when you still love them and feel the intense pull back to them. How to stay strong so that you can:

  • deal with the pain of withdrawing from a controlling or abusive relationship
  • thaw out after being numb for so long (as a means to survive)
  • understand why we are attracted to abusive types and stay
  • understand why we feel sorry for our abuser
  • understand why we have such low self-esteem and how to heal it
  • stay strong when the pull back to them is so intense
  • break the cycle and unhealthy addiction to them
  • learn how to forgive yourself and / or them and move on
  • learn how to trust again
  • avoid going back to them or into another abusive relationship
  • stay strong and take your first steps towards living the life you lov

This is the second in a series of online video courses I have designed especially for you. To help you change your mindset from victim to survivor. Go from survivor to staying strong. And from staying strong to finding success.

The same steps I took as a young, single mother after my ex almost killed me. And turning my life around to find success in life, career and long-term healthy love.

See you there!

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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