How to break up with an abuser: step 4, time for support

It’s time to heal. It’s time for compassion, an empathetic ear, a warm hug, pampering and safety.

It’s no time to be alone. Suppress the way you feel by working non-stop, excessive shopping, fatty foods and brain-dead TV. That’s all good, it makes time pass by, but it’s not a remedy. It’s a plaster over your wound.

I’ve mentioned the importance of a support group in Step 1, and it comes back because it’s just so necessary.

In the words of Henry Cloud and John Townsend, in their book Boundaries:

“No matter how much you talk to yourself, read, study, or practice, you can’t develop or set boundaries apart from supportive relationships…”.

Or as Bessel van der Kolk writes in one of my favourite books, The Body Keeps the Score:

“Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms. Our brains are built to help us function as members of a tribe.”

Sometimes I hear people getting out of abusive relationships and either they have no support group or their support group is the source of this abuse. How can you heal with a father who has been abusing your mother? How can you heal with people who take pleasure in seeing you down, who take you under their wing only to feel better about themselves?

And I just know they will find another abuser again.

It sounds cliche, but only love can give you the space to grieve and the tools to heal.

You need a safe space to share your pain, process it, listen and learn from other people’s experiences. You can only do that with people who can give you love without terms and conditions, without ulterior motives.

I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have friends or I hadn’t joined group therapy. My family wasn’t really there for me. My mother would tell me about her own troubles with my dad, my father said it’s too painful to hear about it. My pain was also unpleasant for them, I was suffering from PTSD and was on edge. My dad gave me a lame diagnosis, I was neurotic he said, or something else unempathetic men say when someone feels pain. Close this chapter and move on was the attitude.

It was my friends who were my true family. I spent hours talking to them. My friend S. was there throughout the break up, offering me a place to sleep, a warm curry and film night, a walk to a beautiful cemetery to look at statues. Making me smile when all I wanted to do is cry. My friend T. spent a summer with teary, edgy, moany me. Always there to listen, never judging, and hosting me at her summer house where we had long beach days, hikes and delicious meals. M. urged me to break up, she wanted me to be happy she said, listened to voice messages whenever my ex would pester me, my frustrations, panic. Together with S. they moved my stuff out of my ex’s flat.

It is because of these people and group therapy that I saw just how wrong this was. I was allowed to share it all, they validated my reality, told me how wrong it was. They did not ask me to hide my tears. By having a safe space to open up, I learnt to build my own boundaries. We’ve had bad days. Days they felt I crossed their boundaries. Days I felt the same. My heart dropped each time, I was scared I'd lose their friendship. But they taught me that something bad can happen, and you can talk it through, understand each other’s point of view, apologise, promise to be better, and stick to that promise.

That was the biggest lesson they taught me. I’ll be forever grateful to them, and hope you’re lucky enough to have people like this in your life too.

Things you can try if you don’t have people to reach out to:

  • Join a support group

  • Start group therapy

  • Listen to podcasts with people that give you a sense of comfort and strength (that’s Michelle Obama’s podcast for me)

  • Try to build a new support group by meeting new people. Join a class or even Bumble BFF.

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