How to break up with an abuser: step 1, find your support network

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

The antidote to an abusive relationship is love.

You may be rolling your eyes, but it’s true.

When you’re abused, either by a parent, or a romantic partner, or even someone at work, you feel alone. You feel less worthy. Your sense of self and reality is skewed. Escaping this on your own is near to impossible. Especially if you’ve been abused for years you’ll experience a chronic erosion of your sense of self and find it impossible to trust yourself and your gut instinct.

Studies show that victims of abuse, especially women, experience the highest rates of isolation. This is not a coincidence, the more abusers isolate their victims the more they can control them, and there are less chances they will escape.

Near the end of an abusive relationship, when things got worse and worse, my ex-partner would discourage me from going out with friends. Sometimes there would be no reason at all, such as: “Your friend cancels on you all the time, why don’t you cancel on her and stay home with me?” or guilt-tripping me: “What am I supposed to do if you have plans with your friends?” That was of course because my friends were worried about me and would tell me how unacceptable his behaviour was.

You need to surround yourself with people who love you so that you can find the strength to get out of an abusive relationship. You need people who will listen to you, understand you, comfort you, guide you and support you through this painful journey. You need people who can cut through the fog of gaslighting and shake you back to reality.

You can seek a support network in different groups. Dealing with cases of severe abuse is sometimes too much for friends, especially if they haven’t been through something similar. It would be unfair for them to have to deal with something so emotionally draining, and unfair for you to not get the support you need.

Starting therapy is essential. I personally started therapy and found group therapy especially helpful. When you hear that other people go through similar things the sense of despair and loneliness fades, and your compassion and sense of community grows. You will stop feeling like this weird person that weird things happen to. You will stop feeling shame. You will realise that you’re just a normal human being that experienced awful events. You will find hope.

Bessel van der Kolk in his highly recommended book The Body Keeps the Score mentions how the group helped veterans:

“In the group they found resonance and meaning in what had previously been only sensation of terror and emptiness. They felt a renewed sense of the comradeship that had been so vital to their war experience”.

You can also join online groups, on Facebook for instance, where you can share you story and seek advice. I’ve been very lucky to find some people there who shared some insights, compassion and tough love with me. However, be warned – often these groups have members who are stuck in the trauma stage. That is, retelling the story of the trauma, obsessing over the abuser, not changing anything and not doing any self-work. I’ve often encountered people who displayed the same toxic behaviours they were accusing other people of.

It’s when you turn the focus from the abuser to you that real change will happen.

Who to not surround yourself with:

• People who question your experience

• People who ignore your experience

• People who do not respect your boundaries

• People who will not treat you with gentleness and compassion

• People who will abuse you

• People who trigger you

• People who have no space for others

Useful resources

NHS urgent mental health helpline (England only)

National Centre of Domestic Violence

Abuse victim support groups on Meetup

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