Leaving Isn’t Easy
Abuse is about control. An abuser will use various tactics to wear down his partner, often leaving her doubting her own intuition, believing she cannot live without her partner, and frightened of what might happen if she walks away. Abusers use financial control to keep their victims trapped. They use emotional and psychological abuse to tear down her self-confidence and make her believe that she is the problem. And they use the threat of physical violence to keep her from leaving.
When survivors start to recognize the abuse, they begin to take back their power. And power is a threat to the abuser. The most dangerous time for any survivor is when she decides to leave her abuser.
Leaving Doesn’t Happen All at Once
Leaving isn’t easy, and it usually doesn’t happen all at once. Even if a survivor has made up her mind to go, multiple barriers keep her trapped. Can she support herself on her own? Does she face homelessness if she leaves? Can she take her children and protect them from the abuser?
Combined with self-doubt fueled by the abuse, these uncertainties cause many abuse victims to “false start.” They might plan to leave but not follow through. Or they might say they’re leaving, only to have the abuser promise to change (spoiler alert: he won’t).
While it’s certainly possible to create a safety plan and leave in a rip-the-band-aid-off fashion, that approach doesn’t work for everyone. If you are in an abusive situation, make a plan to get out safely. That might mean waiting until you have all your ducks in a row. It might mean dipping your toe in the pool of independence before you take a flying leap off the deep end.
However, do not wait if you are in a violent situation, with imminent danger to yourself or others in the household. Get out, get to safety, and contact the authorities.
How You Can Support a Survivor
Leaving takes time. If someone you love is in an abusive situation, it can be frustrating to watch her suffer. Your instinct may be to rush in and “save her.” While your intentions are good, know that meddling in this abusive relationship can have unintended – and even unsafe – consequences for everyone involved.
The best thing you can do to help a survivor is to offer your support. Be a listening ear. Offer to help find resources that will help the survivor leave safely. Connect her with helping organizations in your local area that offer housing, assistance, and counseling.
Abusers make their victims believe that they aren’t capable of life on their own. As the friend or family member, be the encouraging word she needs to hear. Tell her she is capable, strong, and intelligent. Tell her that she deserves happiness.
Most of all, be a sympathetic cheerleader. Leaving an abusive situation can be a long process. If someone you love is struggling with domestic abuse, be patient. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter how long it takes for them to find peace.