Pulling yourself out of an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things one can do. Opening yourself back up to love after an abusive relationship can be an even bigger challenge. There are certain things you should do before you can fully give yourself to another partner. Here is what worked for me:
1. Forgive yourself and understand you are worthy of love
When you’re in an abusive relationship, you adapt to make sure you survive. It’s something that helps you cope day by day. You transform into this person that is almost unrecognizable to deal with the constant belittling, gaslighting, physical abuse, and the overwhelming number of emotions. Forgive yourself and know deep down inside you will not be that person forever. You just had to become that person to survive a toxic/abusive environment.
2. Take responsibility
This was very hard for many people around me to understand. Yes, this partner may have stabbed you, beat you, choked you, called you names, or talked down to you, but in some cases (though not all), there is a possibility you developed toxic behaviors during your survival that can hurt future relationships to come. You must look deep and hard at those negative qualities you may have acquired during the relationship and try to fix them, so you are not carrying those attributes into the next relationship. When I was going through my healing process, the first thing I did was point out the negative qualities I had during that relationship. For example, I was very belittling when I spoke and very reckless at the mouth. I was not open to hearing others’ opinions or their point of view which clouded my judgment. A lot of people thought I was making excuses for my abuser. That was not the case, and if I didn’t fix those negative traits then I would have never been able to meet my husband and allow our relationship to prosper. We are not fixing these traits for anybody but ourselves.
3. Figure out what trapped you in the relationship
It’s easy to say “well I thought he/she would change” but it goes deeper than that. Usually, our trauma starts way before the actual abusive relationship. This might be a hard journey to start, but it will truly be the most helpful when figuring out why you were able to put up with such behavior and “love” through the years beyond the element of fear, as it’s often more complicated than we think. This will help you in the future to know what you are willing to put up with.
4. Seek professional help and community
It will be helpful to speak to people that have been through the same trauma or someone that can help guide you through your healing process. The brain works in mysterious ways, and as you start to heal, the brain will begin to adapt and recognize that you’re in a safe place and start releasing more memories because it knows you’re able to handle it. This process can be very overwhelming and it’s best if you have a support system that understands and can help you cope with those incidents. Healing is a wild journey and can evoke many emotions and feelings that can really cause you more harm than good if not addressed. I know before I started therapy, I would get bad flashbacks and it would cripple me for days. After talking to my therapist, I was able to get those flashbacks and they wouldn’t consume me as they did before. It was a great feeling when I finally was able to cope with the flashback and triggers instead of it ruining my entire day.
5. Be honest and open with your new partner
I know it’s taboo to talk about your previous partner with your new one, but when you have experienced trauma during that relationship it’s best you are open about all of that. You never know what might trigger thoughts and feelings so it’s important to always communicate how you feel. Especially so that your new partner can begin to help you through those scary feelings and there’s no way for them to know if they have no idea what you have experienced. I think it’s easy for us to keep things a secret because we are embarrassed or ashamed of the past and think that we can just figure it out on our own, but this kind of trauma needs the extra help and support to unpack it.
The best person to help is the person you’re falling in love with and if they love you unconditionally, they will do whatever it takes to make sure that you feel safe and supported. I am 7 years out of my abusive relationship. I still have very realistic dreams that cause me to remember situations that I thought were just made up in my head. Sometimes I will smell a smell that reminds me of my past, and just like that I am right back in that abusive relationship, and it’s very intense. Being open and honest with my now husband about my trauma has helped me to have these hard conversations about what I need from him at that moment.
6. Embrace the happiness you find
When you finally have reached the happiness that you didn’t think you deserved, you will second guess that happiness. It’s very easy to think back to all the times that you spent in this toxic relationship. Licensed therapist Delena Zimmerman gave me this advice, and it really resonated with me. “Forgive yourself. The subconscious is strong. You deserve the life you have now. That lie that you don’t is in your subconscious. Tell that mountain to move and it will jump in the sea. You deserve safety, peace, and love.”
[If you need help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to live chat with someone 24/7. Help is out there and you are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Durlak of Antioch, IL. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Tiffany:
‘I like you around my mommy because you don’t yell at her.’ The judge thanked him for stepping up. I couldn’t hold back my tears.’: Woman marries ‘fairy tale’ man after abusive relationship, new husband adopts her 3 kids
‘My daughter said ‘Daddy!’ the first time she met him. I was mortified. I thought my abusive past would be a deal breaker.’: Stepdad adopts wife’s 3 kids after her abusive relationship, loves them ‘unconditionally’ as his own
Provide beauty and strength for others. SHARE this story on Facebook with friends and family.