What happens when you leave an abusive relationship?

For so long we’ve wanted the emotional rollercoaster of an abusive relationship to end.  When it does we’re euphoric at first. I no longer had to walk on eggshells. I could do what made me feel happy without fearing it being sabotaged.  It felt incredibly liberating.   For the first few days, when I was strong in my decision to leave I felt freedom like I hadn’t felt in years.  I was on a high.

What happens when you leave an abusive relationship?

But then I crashed hard.   I wasn’t expecting so much pain to follow.  Because after the phase of euphoria, emotions rush out.

The thawing out period after you leave an abusive relationship can be excruciating.  Those weeks and months where we are withdrawing and feeling the effects of going cold turkey, like an addict does when kicking a drug.

This is when emotions, we haven’t felt before, erupt like a volcano out of us and overwhelm us.  The reason this happens is because once we are away from them we are safer to feel them.  Before, if we admitted to any feelings they were used against us to hurt us.   It’s also because when we are no longer immersed in chaos and drama we’re still for the first time.   Being still hurts so badly as we are withdrawing from our addiction to them.

My loving him had become an unhealthy obsession.  An addiction for me. I was in a futile search for that first high I’d felt and he’d reward me with, between the bad times.

I also thought I could control the chaos.  If only I do X, then he’ll be change.  If I do Y, then he’ll be happy, I thought.   I could make the bad go away and we’d live that dream life I envisioned.   It was an addiction that could have killed me.

I didn’t know then how much I needed that chaos and drama.  When I found the courage to leave it was the opposite.  I was still for the first time in years.

Being still also meant I had to face myself.  For the first time.  I’d spent years going from one boyfriend to the other.  By the time one dumped me I’d already lined up his replacement.  I was never alone.  The new boyfriend therapy was the best antidote to a broken heart.  It was great for my self-esteem too, always having a gorgeous man on my arm and immersed in a relationship.

But this ‘never being alone’ and ‘never being still’ was also an anaesthetic. Masking my own deep-seated issues. Once I was away from the chaos and drama, I had nowhere to hide.   I had to face me.

I had to ask myself the painful question: why had I stayed after violence, when others wouldn’t have? That opened up a Pandora’s box of pain.

I didn’t like the person I saw.   I always thought I was the confident one.  Ask any of my school friends, they’d say the same. ‘Outgoing, confident’ is how I am sure they’d describe me.

Instead, I found this frightened little insecure girl.  One who was terrified of being abandoned. No wonder when I first met my ex it had felt so right.  Why I thought he was The One.   Our baggage matched in a weird way.   The dysfunction felt familiar to me.

Whilst he was the ‘damaged’ one.  Whilst my focus was on fixing him, I could deny I needed fixing myself.  My need to be needed was a great way to numb my insecurities.  He ‘needed me’ to save him, nothing wrong with me!   It made me feel good.  It filled the void inside.

If I was in a relationship with a man who needed me, was more damaged than me, he’d never leave me or so I thought!  My fear of abandonment was alleviated.

But this is not the basis for a long-term healthy relationship.  Bandaids (or Plasters for those in the UK!) never last.  They fall off after a while.   When mine did I saw the rot inside.   But, as painful as it was, it was also liberating. I realised:

I couldn’t control the uncontrollable, I couldn’t fix him. But I could change me.  I now knew where to start.   I had to be still, feel and process the pain.  To start to nurture that frightened little girl.

Take time now to think about your own relationship and perhaps ones in the past too.  Have you used them as an anaesthetic to numb yourself?  Have you needed chaos and drama to prevent yourself from being still and facing your inner demons? Let me know in the comments below.



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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2 thoughts on “What happens when you leave an abusive relationship?

  1. V –
    I appreciate this blog. I just came upon it because I have recently removed myself from a domestic violence situation. My husband is a classic case narcissist and upon realizing this, he no longer looks human to me. I feel that I have been married to an alien, a non human. I confronted him about all the horrible things he has done and said to me through the years we have been together, and he did not validate or acknowledge the pain I was in. After I left he has sought “counseling” and “therapy” but I do not trust this will change him, and if it does, it will take a very long time. He is abusive, he gaslights me, he threatens and intimidates me, and makes me responsible for his feelings and actions. I am also pregnant. He has no capability to feel empathy or care or concern for anyone other than himself. I believe that he does not feel “empathy or care” even to himself, but it is just a bloated self-destructive ego that he worships and upholds like a golden idol. I have believed him when he blamed me for his behavior, when he said that I was the reason why he yelled and raged at me. He told me to get counseling and I like a fool went to therapy for the past year, though I must say it has helped me to identify the problem at home and to build my self esteem. I was going to therapy to fix our relationship. i was carrying the torch by myself. All the while, giving him full permission to continue his behavior towards me and undermine my trust on a regular daily basis. I believe , though I have no concrete evidence, only from little bits and pieces I have observed here and there, that he has been unfaithful to me as well in our relationship. At home he is an absolute terror, unpredictable, impulsive, angry at every slight, raging at every mistake I make, cursing and “punishing” me every time I disagree with him or call him out on something corrupted that he does/says. It pains me to admit, but I have stayed with him because I loved him. And he knows I love him, and he took full advantage of this through the course of our relationship. I am now seeing the truth of this damaged person, and I am no longer putting faith or hope in him. I am putting myself and my baby first.

    1. I am presently sitting in hospital waiting to go in for an operation and this has made my day. I am so happy to read this. What an empowered message this is; I can hear the strength you have found in every word here. It takes a lot of courage to find such strength, I know. I remember this turning point so well, when finally the blinkers fell from my eyes and I saw him for who he really was. I talked about this here: https://www.beingunbeatable.com/dr-jekyll-mr-hyde/

      Our only mistake is to love them. We love them too much in fact. They take and take and take and take and put up with it all, even accepted the blame for it, because of that love. But now you know, it’s not a healthy form of love or relationship.

      I am so sorry you have been through all this, but am so glad you have found your way to the answer, just as I did. A bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – it is there inside us all along. You will never look back now.

      We are powerless to change them. Only they can do that, but they must accept responsibility first and even if they do go to therapy, it may just be another tactic to get us back. After all, they have no empathy, so chances of them accepting responsibility are slim. Going to therapy ourselves to fix the relationship is not the way to go either. The only person we can change is us. We need to stop rescuing them and save ourselves instead.

      Once we start with ME. Take our focus away from them and the toxic relationship and start to nurture our self-esteem and find our self-worth, everything changes. This is what I did. Like you, it was my baby I was going to put first and live for now.

      Do remember the Whitney Houston song: ‘The Greatest Love of All’? – listen to it again, for me. It’s all about showing children the beauty they have inside. It’s about self-love, never living in anyone’s shadow again. That was my anthem that gave me strength at the time. Teach your child by your example – that loving yourself first is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It will show him or her how to set strong boundaries and never let anyone abuse them. You will break the cycle and not let it pass down another generation.

      Keep strong, put one foot in front of the other when you have bad days (which you may do – recovery is slow and painful). Walk towards the light and away from that darkness. You deserve better. Your baby deserves better. I am so proud of you. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Stay strong xx

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