Abuse, by its very nature, is all-consuming, confusing, and messy.
One in four women will experience intimate partner abuse in her lifetime. One moment things are golden and the next she finds herself a crumpled mess on the floor, wondering what went wrong. Abusers work in a cyclical nature: they’re charming and delightful, then they isolate, and finally they harm. Then they start the cycle all over again. Abusers try to minimize his actions or the harm done, and typically promise that it will never happen again.
But before we talk about what it takes to leave an abuser, we need to talk about the type of women that abusers target. Because yes, abusers definitely target a particular type. A targeted woman is kind, conscientious, and generous. She is intuitive, readily picks up on body language, and is quick to take personal responsibility for her actions. In short, this type of woman is targeted because of her strengths, not her weaknesses.
An abuser’s goal is to control his targets. He blames her for his problems because he knows she’ll take responsibility. (She thinks something must be broken in herself to cause such a poor relationship.) He rewards her efforts for a while by lavishing her with praise or gifts, then isolates and harms her. This cycle can take months, but always repeats itself.
Without intervention, this cycle will continue, each downward spiral becoming more and more violent or controlling. The cycle is often physical, but can also involve emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.
Whether you’re leaving an abuser or helping someone else who is being abused, there are important things to consider in order that you remain as safe as possible.
If you are in danger now, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.787.3224.
Make a Plan Before You Leave
An abused woman is in the most danger when she leaves her abuser. (But leaving further solidifies that she isn’t a victim at all — rather, she’s a survivor!) Because of the risk involved in leaving an abuser, it’s imperative to plan carefully and to involve a few trusted people in the process. There are many things to consider as you prepare to leave. We list 3 below:
Know Your Abuser’s Red Flags
Each abuser can have different triggers. Know the cues and be on high alert if your abuser is getting upset. These instances can quickly escalate to violence. Consider some believable reasons to leave the house immediately and be willing to use them when necessary.
Know Your Immediate Safe Places
Know the areas in your home that are safest for you. Avoid small, enclosed places that have only one exit, or that have any type of weapons. If you need to retreat, choose a room that has an exterior window or door, or at least one that has access to a phone. Establish a code word with trusted friends or your children that will notify them that you need them to call the police.
Be Ready at a Moment’s Notice
If you’re making plans to leave your abuser, be ready to drop everything and leave at a moment’s notice. Have a bag packed. If possible, include an emergency stash of cash, a change of clothing, important documents (driver’s license, medication, credit cards, pay stubs, etc.), and phone numbers of your trusted circle. These may be best stored at a friend’s home so they won’t be discovered by your abuser. Know your escape plan and practice it.
Protect Yourself After You Leave
Leaving takes an incredible amount of courage. If you’re helping a friend leave an abuser, realize that there is a difficult road ahead. Always consider the following:
If Your Abuser is Forced to Leave Your Home
Sometimes, your abuser is forced to leave your home. An abuser may return to exert control either by apologies or threats. He knows your routine and knows your triggers as well. To keep yourself safe, consider the following:
- Change your locks
- Rent a post office box to protect your mail
- Change your routine
- Alter your typical routes
- Reschedule any known appointments
If You’re Relocating to a New Residence
Be aware that any court order will include the address of your new residence. An abuser will stalk and terrorize in attempt to regain control.
Loop in Neighbors and Friends
No matter where you live, make your neighbors and friends aware of the potential danger you face. Encourage them to call the police if they feel you are in danger.
Inform Your Children’s School and Caregivers
Let your children’s school know of the situation you’re in and any restraining orders you may have in place. Let them know specifically who is allowed to pick your children and who is not.
If you’ve been thinking about leaving your abuser, or in the process of creating a plan, we applaud your courage. The road ahead is not easy, but it is worth the effort. If you’re supporting a woman who is in an abusive relationship or has left one, know that your encouragement and assistance is highly valued.