Coping Mechanisms for Survivors: The Healthy and Not-So-Healthy

Once survivors of domestic violence leave an abusive relationship, their work is far from over. Anyone who has experienced trauma knows that what comes after the abuse can often be just as challenging. The emotional, mental, and physical consequences can continue long after the relationship has ended.

Every survivor has a choice: use healthy coping strategies to manage their pain or turn to damaging coping mechanisms that often lead to further harm. Today, we’re exploring coping mechanisms, both healthy and unhealthy, to help you better understand life after trauma.

Domestic Abuse and Post-Traumatic Stress

Any traumatic situation can cause long-lasting psychological and emotional side effects. It’s not at all uncommon for survivors of domestic abuse to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even those without a clinical PTSD diagnosis may still struggle to overcome their past experiences.

There are many methods to help those living with PTSD to cope. Using healthy coping mechanisms, abuse survivors can go on to live very fulfilling and happy lives. However, survivors sometimes gravitate towards unhealthy coping strategies, which we’ll talk about more below.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Overcoming abuse can be a lifelong process. Working through the pain, fear, shame, and other emotions isn’t easy, but it’s a vital part of moving forward. Unfortunately, many survivors use damaging coping strategies to mask their pain, hide from the trauma, and ignore the past.

Some unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Ignoring the feelings or “stuffing them” down to avoid facing them
  • Self-harm
  • Entering into other unhealthy relationships
  • Participating in risky behavior
  • Isolation or avoidance

Survivors don’t use these methods on purpose, but we have a natural tendency to do what is easy. Facing the trauma and working through the past abuse is difficult and uncomfortable. Therefore, some find it easier to try to avoid, deny, or mask those emotions. But these unhealthy coping methods can’t hide those emotions forever. Many of these methods eventually lead to damaging physical, financial, and psychological consequences.

Dealing with Past Abuse in a Healthy Way

Survivors didn’t choose the abuse. But they can choose to address the complicated emotions they feel because of the abuse.

Moving past traumatic experiences isn’t easy, nor is it a quick process. But by using some or all of these coping strategies, survivors can reclaim their emotional and mental health and live happy, productive, and satisfying lives.

Healthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Talking with a trauma-informed licensed mental health therapist
  • Joining a domestic violence survivors support group
  • Talking with a trusted friend
  • Journaling
  • Practicing trauma-informed yoga or other mindfulness methods
  • Focusing on your physical health and nutrition
  • Prioritizing self-care 
  • Educating yourself about domestic violence survivorship

The abuse you endured was not your fault. The trauma surrounding domestic abuse can be emotionally crippling. But choosing healthy coping mechanisms is one way to take back the power, show yourself kindness, and overcome your past.


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