Break Free from Your Abusive Relationship: You Are Worth It!

Winding country road at dusk leads into treesI’m here to say you do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. There is a way out, and I’m here to help you through that process.

If you asked me how I ended up in an abusive relationship over 30 years ago, I honestly would not be able to tell you. In fact, for the 15 years I was in that relationship, I did not recognize it as abusive or harmful until the last couple of years. How is it possible I could end up in such a situation? How could I devalue myself so much that my self-worth was essentially nonexistent? What did I do to deserve this?

Do you find that you’re asking yourself the same questions?

I know this may sound a bit silly, but in my case, being oblivious was almost easier than realizing something wasn’t right. When we recognize that something is off, we begin to feel uncomfortable and we seek ways to bring about change. And change is difficult.

We get used to working with what we know. In my case, I got used to giving in to his sexual demands so I could have money to buy food. I got used to being belittled and degraded so my children and I could have a roof over our heads. In fact, I got so used to it, I didn’t realize it could be different.

The turning point for me was early one morning when my daughter asked my ex-husband why he was so mean to mommy. As soon as I heard those words, I knew I had to do something. Here was a child of less than 5 who was able to see something I thought I was hiding so well. My love for my children gave me the strength and courage to say, “No more.” While the path to divorce was quite long and convoluted, it was worth it.

As if getting physically free isn’t hard enough, there is the task of healing; of learning to love the person you are; and of valuing your worth as an individual. For me, that was so much harder. When we have been told for so long we are worthless, that no one could possibly love us, it becomes ingrained in us and we come to truly believe it. It doesn’t seem to matter how many people tell us we are wonderful or capable; we listen, but don’t hear.

So, how do we find our way to emotional freedom? It’s easy and obvious to say therapy, but let’s face it—often we feel too much shame or embarrassment to talk to anyone about it, let alone a stranger. What will they think of us? Will they blame us for being or staying in that situation? How can we trust anyone when we can’t even trust ourselves?

Great questions, and yes, I asked them all too. It took me quite some time to get to a therapist, and to be honest I took my children. I didn’t have the courage to go on my own.

To this day, I am incredibly grateful for her compassion and guidance. She gave me the tools and strategies I needed to handle even the simplest tasks on a daily basis. For example, at that time I was still afraid to set boundaries even though we were separated. I had a difficult time convincing myself it was okay to say no. So, she would have me write down exactly what I could say on an index card. I had a stack of these cards, and when my ex would say something, I could just pull out a card and read directly off of it. That helped me to find my voice and create healthy boundaries. I’d like to tell you it all happened quickly, but that would be dishonest. It has taken me years, and at times I still struggle to not doubt my self-worth.

The journey is a long and winding road, with so many twists and turns that at times it may feel as if you are going backward instead of forward. We are human; we have to offer ourselves the same level of compassion we would give to a friend.

The journey is a long and winding road, with so many twists and turns that at times it may feel as if you are going backward instead of forward. We are human; we have to offer ourselves the same level of compassion we would give to a friend. We need to be patient and kind to ourselves as we let go of the negative thoughts and emotions that have plagued our conscious and subconscious minds for so many years.

As time went on, I found myself reading many self-help books for ways to build myself back up. I went back to school, began teaching, and raised my children on my own. I continued to struggle with a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, but was able to recognize these feelings and develop strategies to let them go. After many attempts, I eventually found a therapist who would bring me to where I am today: grateful for the journey, and happy to just be me.

That is why I am writing this—to let you know that you, too, can be free from the physical, mental, and emotional binds that have held you back and a mental health professional can help. You are strong, resilient, worthy of love, and totally awesome!

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so please reach out for guidance or support if you need it. Know there are people who would consider it an honor and privilege to help you examine your options and find your way back to a sense of wholeness. If you don’t feel safe reaching out to a mental health professional, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time of day or night for free, confidential support.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Edye Caine, MA, therapist in Brookline, Massachusetts

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jasmine

    Jasmine

    October 18th, 2017 at 11:08 AM

    What so many people fail to understand is just how worthless you have been made o feel over time, so you don’t have any self worth left after you have been in an abusive relationship such as this. You feel like you will never be able to make it on your own because you have been trained and made to be dependent on having this other person in your life. You have a hard time seeing that this is all about having control over you from their perspective. They have told you that this is what love looks like and it is hard to see beyond that anymore.

  • Francie

    Francie

    October 18th, 2017 at 2:00 PM

    The ones who have a wonderful support system behind them are the ones who can usually find their voice and their own strength to leave much more quickly then those who have been basically left to navigate this on their own.

    It’s unfair, because often the ones who need the most help are the ones who typically find themselves all alone when they could really use a friend.

  • kit

    kit

    October 19th, 2017 at 3:00 PM

    There have always been those times when I felt like I could trust someone and I would want to ask them for some help and then I would become afraid. What if they know my abuser and then they tell him that I am talking about our private life?

    That is not a chance that I would wish to take, and so that always tends to keep me quiet,

    Another is that we have so much history together, so many times that have been good. Do I really have to let the things that are bad outshine the good times that we have had together too? That is a struggle because when he loves me, you know, he loves me. But then when he doesn’t… you know, it can get bad.

  • Edye Caine

    Edye Caine

    October 19th, 2017 at 5:49 PM

    I completely understand how you feel and want you to know that I am here for you…and if you would like to meet, our conversations would be completely confidential. You need not fear judgment or retribution. It is not about bad times outshining good times, it is about being treated with the dignity and respect that you deserve as a human being. Please don’t hesitate to reach out…I am here!

  • Wearymum

    Wearymum

    October 20th, 2017 at 4:09 AM

    I left a year ago after nearly 20 years. I’m so exhausted with the ups and downs. I feel lonely and I worry I’m not a good enough parent by myself. Although I’m getting better all the time. How long did it take you to feel certain about your decision? Some days I ask those questions about where on earth my self esteem was (I have lots of answers from my childhood now) but then I think I want him back. I know it’s a cliche that women go back but here I am, thinking about it again. It’s an exhausting cycle of finding and losing clarity. I have a lovely therapist and we talk about this. It feels like she has been a lifeline. I know I’m doing so much better than a year ago but im so impatient to be in a place where I am content in my new life.

  • Edye C.

    Edye C.

    October 20th, 2017 at 8:31 AM

    I completely understand how you are feeling. Please be patient with yourself. Healing takes time. While I think I knew logically as soon as I left, it took me at least 5 years to truly feel that the decision I made was the right. While the journey is difficult, know that I am there with you in spirit! Celebrate the moments of clarity and trust in your intuition. You are very courageous! Remember it took a long time for you to develop the beliefs that you have about yourself…give yourself the gift of time to heal them and let them go! Please feel free to reach out to me at any time…I am here for and with you! You are amazing!

  • toni

    toni

    October 21st, 2017 at 8:00 AM

    The very first time he hit me I was out the door. I knew that it would only get worse if I let myself stay and get dragged even further down that road. The longer you stay the harder it is to extricate yourself from it later.

  • Wearymum

    Wearymum

    October 21st, 2017 at 8:55 PM

    Thank you for your reply and the encouragement. I need to keep going and trust that one day it’ll feel ok. I had lost autonomy and it would be a mistake to go back to that.
    It helps to hear your experience and feel twists in the journey are normal. Thanks.

  • Mary

    Mary

    October 24th, 2017 at 3:41 PM

    Many of the victims of physical abuse are afraid to ask for help because they truly love their abuser and don’t want to see them get punished even though the know that their behavior is wrong.

  • Terri

    Terri

    February 10th, 2018 at 9:14 PM

    I have told my abuser that I want out of the relationship but he will not leave my house. Every thing in this house belongs to me. He came into my life with two trash bags of clothes. I don’t want to jam him up with the law but I want him to leave. I make him leave then I feel bad and let him come back. He makes the empty promises. Now that I’m for real he will not leave!!

  • Edye C

    Edye C

    February 12th, 2018 at 8:16 AM

    HI Terri,
    I completely understand what you are going through. He needs to know that you are certain. If you would like to talk…just let me know. I can help you find the strength and confidence to communicate effectively so that you can feel safe and secure in your own home. Please reach out to me…I am here for you!

  • Karl

    Karl

    March 8th, 2018 at 8:57 AM

    Beginning to understand.

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