Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy, and yet hundreds of thousands of people face the difficult decision every year. It’s important to recognize that there are many reasons why it can be hardest for individuals to flee from an abusive relationship. Knowing the reasons why can help both individuals in the relationship and their families and friends to support them and provide the encouragement and strength needed to ultimately make the decision to depart from an unhealthy and painful relationship.
Before delving into why it can be so difficult to flee an abusive relationship, it’s important to understand what an abusive relationship is. Abuse encompasses any type of behavior that is exploitative or coercive, resulting in physical, psychological, or emotional harm. While physical abuse such as hitting and pushing is often the first thing that comes to mind, other non-physical abuse such as name calling, manipulation, isolation, and threats of physical harm can also do tremendous damage to a person’s well-being.
Why It Can Be Hard to Leave an Abusive Relationship
- Fear of the Unknown
One of the greatest reasons why it can be so difficult to flee from an abusive relationship is fear of the unknown. When stuck in an abusive relationship, it can be easy for a person to feel like the devil they know is safer than the devil they don’t. Fledging the nest of a known abuser that one knows how to handle can feel easier and safer than entertaining the idea of being open to the unknown of being without an abuser and having to deal with life solo.
- Feelings of Worthlessness
Abusive relationships tend to attract individuals with low self-esteem, and abusive partners will often purposely set out to make people feel worthless in an effort to keep them in their grip. Abusive partners commonly use negative words and slurs to erode the confidence of their victim, and the effect of this can be to make a person feel as if they are not worthy of a better life and prevent them from leaving.
It’s common for an abuser to become a source of empathy, friendship, and even in some cases financial stability. Heavy reliance on an abuser can make it very difficult to extricate oneself, particularly if the victim is significantly reliant on their abuser for material things. The victim may begin to think that the only way to stay financially stable is to stay with the abuser, which can result in feeling trapped, with the victim having no other real options to turn to in order to provide for themselves or their children.
Isolation is a really effective tool that abusive partners use to cope with their own insecurity or insecurities and also to stop their partner from having outside support. Abusers often go to great lengths to alienate their victim from their supporters and networks, by not letting them out of the house, sneaking in and checking on them, or by denying them access to resources such as their own income or limiting access to their friends, family, and social media. Feeling like you have no one who will understand and provide the kind of support necessary to make such an overwhelming decision can make leaving a lot harder.
Often times, abusive relationships are filled with complex moments where the abuser is kind and loving along with being cruel and harsh. This type of situation presents a case of cognitive dissonance, making it difficult to make a decision. The person in the relationship may have feelings of love and gratitude towards their partner interspersed with feelings of fear and hate, making it difficult to decide what the final outcome should be.
What You Can Do
Leaving an abusive relationship is an incredibly difficult thing to do, but there is help available. Here are some resources and tips for those who are considering leaving an abusive relationship:
• Utilize local resources such as support groups, family counselors, and domestic abuse shelters.
• Educate yourself about the realities of domestic abuse and recognize that you are not alone.
• Reach out to trustworthy friends and family to make sure you have a support system in place.
• Create an escape plan – have money available and identify a safe place to go if needed.
• Recognize that it is not your fault and you are not responsible for the abuser’s behavior.
• Follow your instincts – if something bad happens or you don’t feel safe, it’s important to listen to that feeling and make the decision to leave.
Leaving an abusive relationship takes immense strength and courage, and it is important to remember that everyone’s journey will be different. It is essential to practice self-care during this process and work with trusted individuals to help you make the best decisions for yourself. No one should have to stay in an unhealthy, damaging environment, and it is important to stay focused on building a new life worth living.