12 Tools for Recovery from a Violent Relationship

One in Five

According to Women’s Aid statistics, one in five women in Ireland are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence.  

One in five is a frightening statistic, that means that at least one person you know is experiencing domestic violence right now.  In this very moment…..

Why don’t they leave, you say?  True, most will try to fix it for a time.  Many will blame themselves, believing if they only could be nicer, hotter, slimmer, more fun or just different, in other words, anyone other than what they are or have become, their partner will be once again behave like the guy they fell in love with.

Nonsense, they should leave, I hear you cry.  Leave…..!

Leaving means extracting oneself from a deeply enmeshed, emotionally charged, unsafe, financial and legal mess.  A mess that takes years to fix with the banks and the courts, who don’t favour separations and who offer little by way of support.  If there are children involved, the mess never really gets fixed. The chance to wipe the slate clean for some, never really comes.

Leaving also requires the woman to fully and completely fall out of love with the man who abuses her, strange as it may sound, that can take years.   As they say denial is not a river in Egypt. Until that day, interventions are futile, she will always go back until that emotional door shuts inside and the love is finally, at long last, gone.   

Some die before that finally happens.  Eight women died of domestic violence in Ireland in 2017 alone.

If you suspect you know someone who is being abused but aren’t sure here are some signs:

  • Her appearance has changed – either she is covering up her arms and neck, dressing more conservatively or she is trying to look like a trophy girl to keep/please her man;

  • She appears preoccupied in conversation;

  • She is always seeking perfection and is defensive in conversation;

  • Participation in social gatherings is limited or has ceased altogether;

  • Her previously bubbly nature has all but disappeared and that sparkle is gone;

  • The phone is on the table and she is constantly checking it;

  • Her relationship talk is very superficial and no-one knows much about him.

What can you do?

Avoid making an intervention, let her know that you are there for her in your own way (this can be done carefully without acknowledging openly her domestic situation) offer warmth and support, but be prepared to take the long view, she may take a very long time, if ever, to fall out of love with her abuser and leave him, so take very great care of yourself emotionally too.

Thankfully there are now an increasingly great number of groups offering practical and emotional support e.g. Women’s Aid and Safe Ireland to name but two.

If you are currently in a violent and/or abusive relationship and would like to think of a way out but don’t know how or even where to begin or, if you have left the situation and feel like a fish out of water, here are some suggestions which might be help:

  1. Admission and acknowledgement of the violent relationship   

It’s common to get stuck here and thus remain in the unhealthy situation or unhealthy thought patterns about it for a very long time.  The violent/abusive episodes and events can be minimised in your mind so that no action is taken, as it’s too painful to consider. An admission and an acknowledgement will create the internal space and practical potential for you to move on.

2. Accept that the situation is no longer tolerable

Acceptance that the relationship can’t be fixed will come, this allows you to move towards creating room to focus on building a fuller and happier existence away from the relationship. This process can take a very long time, rushing it before you are fully done can mean there are many unsafe and half-hearted endings. When it’s done, ensure it’s fully done then make inroads towards your new beginning.

3. Find a daily practice for the soul

Begin to foster a daily practice of self-reflection and self-care so that you can reconnect with your inner strength, inner wisdom and inner light.  Nourish and take care of yourself inside and out. You will need this practice to empower you for the inevitable legal, property and financial struggles ahead.

4. Reconnect with old friends

For a variety of reasons you may have lost touch with old friends.  Reconnecting with them will bring you back the sense of self you had before the troubled relationship began and boost your confidence.

5. Build a new community around you

For many, the end of the relationship can mean that half of your family evaporates overnight. Sides are often taken despite the best of intentions of all involved. Find your new tribe for fun, chats and practical support.   Make sure they ‘get’ you.

6. Avail of all supports

For some time you may need to talk things out, engage with trained and professional supports and staff to support your mental and emotional health.  Look online, there are many options and there will be one that feels right for your particular situation.

7. Commit to getting to know yourself

Commit to really finding out who you are, welcome all of the information on board as neutrally as you can.  Consider taking your time with this and engaging quality, professional help to identify patterns, tendencies and ideas.  This will mitigate against a return to a similar and unsafe relationship.

8. Shake it off

Unless you are managing an injury sustained during the relationship, move more.  Find an enjoyable activity to literally shake the icky stuff of this relationship out of your tissues.  Bring your children if appropriate/practical.

9. Rediscover and reinvent yourself

Rediscover old interests that you had prior to the relationship or find new ones that fill you with passion and energy.  Show a greater interest in your appearance, years of stress may well start to disappear off your face. Start your new life, your new you, as soon as you can.

10. Rewrite ‘your story’ every day

There will always be off days.  It’s ok to look back but best not to stare for too long. Acknowledge the past, feel the feelings and move on when you can.  Indulging in the old stories will hold you back and get you stuck again.  Today is all that you have. Today, the present is a gift. Try to treat it as such.

11. Reflect and soften into yourself

Take times every day of quiet reflection.  Although you have borne the mental, emotional and physical scars of a violent and abusive situation, it may be time to soften.  Allow the battle armour to fall away, drop survivor mode and allow your inner strength to show itself firmly but gently.

12. Be not defined by the violent relationship

The violent relationship needn’t define you forever.  It happened, hopefully it is either over or you are now taking steps to leave the relationship.  Rather than holding onto constant thoughts about the relationship, allow yourself to be more clearly defined by the lovely, polished and shining version of you that is emerging.

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