How Getting Out Of An Abusive Relationship Can Change You, According To Experts
One in three women experience some form of violence at the hands of an intimate partner, according to research by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Women between 18 and 24 are most commonly the age bracket who experience violence at the hands of their partner and 15 percent of all violent crimes is an intimate partner violence crime. The numbers are terrifying to say the least.
Whether it be physical abuse, emotional abuse, or mental abuse, all abuse leaves wounds and a lasting impact. And while it may be easy for people on the outside to say you should just leave the relationship, it's more complicated than that. Anyone who has been in an abusive relationship and has escaped knows that, as with many things in life, leaving is easier said than done. And if children are involved, it's even more difficult. However, for those who have been able to leave their abusive relationship, then comes the aftermath of trying to get their life in order again.
"Getting the strength to get out of an abusive relationship can feel as though you just moved a mountain off you," Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and author of Smart Relationships: How Successful Women Can Find True Love, tells Bustle. "You probably feel relieved — but you also might feel sad at the loss, and a bit frightened of trusting your love judgment again."
Here's how you change after you get out of an abusive relationship, according to experts.
1. You Might Become Overly Cautious
If you've been abused, your trust may go out the window. When that happens, it's hard to accept that anyone, even if their intentions are genuine and legit, is not going to hurt you in some way. In effect, you build a wall around you and proceed with extreme hesitation.
"People become cautious, sometimes overly so," relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, Chris Armstrong, tells Bustle. "This is very difficult to speak to since abuse is a serious thing and using 'overly' can sound both judgmental and insensitive. This said, while caution is important people often become cautious around everyone before eventually settling into institutional distrust."
2. You Might Put Dating On Hold For Awhile
"You might avoid dating out of fear of repeating the same relationship pattern," says Dr. Wish.
If you can't trust anyone and you're the victim of intimate partner abuse, then of course dating again is going to be extremely hard. And there's no set time as to when it will stop being hard, so it's a wait-and-see situation before you're able to trust and date again.
3. You Become More Empathetic
When you've experienced such trauma, it's only normal and human, to relate to those who are either currently experiencing similar abuse or have experienced such abuse in the past.
"Once people have been abused, they become very aware of — and compassionate to — other people inflight," explains Armstrong. "News articles, co-worker stories, or even neighborhood rumors about bullying, rape, and other issues will trigger anger, sadness and, above all, empathy."
4. You're Easily Triggered
Not only are you triggered into feeling a whole slew of emotions, especially empathy, but it also doesn't take much to trigger you — and it can also happen out of nowhere. A person who might resemble your abuser can walk past you on the street and suddenly your memories take you back to that abusive situation.
"[People] are triggered by memories of what happened and associations with anyone that shares a descriptor (gender, for instance) of the person who abused them," says Armstrong.
5. You May Try To Overcompensate
Although you should never blame yourself for the abuse you've endured because it wasn't you fault, some people, in a reaction to the actions that were done to them, might become hardened as a response. When that happens, it's the other people around you who suffer.
"You also might over-correct your submissiveness and tolerance of abuse by becoming controlling, demanding, critical, and 'no-nonsense' in your next relationships," says Dr. Wish.
6. You Might Become Self-Exploratory
Although there are no answers, other than the fact that it was your partner who was wrong and in need of psychological help, you might spend a lot of time looking inward, trying to decipher how things got to the point that they got to in your relationship.
"People become self-exploratory," says Armstrong. "They want to know what happened. They want to know why it happened. They want to know what, if any role, they had in the abuse. Or, they want to understand how they could 'let it happen'. Of course, abuse is never the responsibility of the abused, but that does not stop the introspection and self-reflection."
7. You Might Feel Extra In Control
As Dr. Wish mentioned, getting out of an abusive relationship can feel like you "moved a mountain off you." With this freedom can some a sense of relief, as though you're in charge of your life again. "You feel emotionally stronger, and able to recognize abusive behavior," says Dr. Wish. "You might even get emotionally brave enough to seek therapy so you can understand yourself better before risking love again."
While it's nice to think that once you've escaped an abusive relationship, you'll never go back to that person or end up in an abusive relationship again, that's not always the case. "We all would like to think that we've 'learned our lesson' about getting into unhealthy relationship patterns," says Dr. Wish, "But sometimes we don't recognize right away the similarities or the more hidden signs of disrespect in a new partner such as sarcasm, criticism, refusing to talk about issues, or the slow changes from being caring to being controlling."
So although you may come out of an abusive relationship changed, it's extremely important to seek therapy or support from loved ones so you work through your trauma and, ideally, never find yourself in such a situation again.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline.