How to Heal After an Abusive Relationship
Recovering from an abusive relationship is possible. Here are helpful steps on how to heal and prioritize your well-being in the process.
If you’ve recently left an abusive relationship, you’ve already taken one of the most important steps of the process — leaving.
Learning how to heal and take care of yourself after the breakup can help you navigate what comes next.
Common experiences while recovering from an abusive relationship
There are many types of abusive situations and relationships:
financial (e.g. limiting access to funds, controlling shared finances)
reproductive coercion (e.g. breaking condoms, interfering with birth control access)
digital (e.g. stalking, demanding passwords or access to your phone)
A range of intense emotions may pop up when recovering from an abusive relationship — all of which are valid. Depending on the situation, you may experience some of the following thoughts or feelings:
missing your ex
feeling lonely or isolated
debating going back to the relationship
feeling uncertain or unable to make decisions by yourself
feelings of anxiety or depression
finding it difficult to feel independent
a lingering fear or sense of being in danger
symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
You may have positive feelings, too. “Sometimes a survivor can feel a sense of freedom, as if a weight has been lifted off of their shoulders,” says Melody Gross, domestic violence keynote speaker and founder of Courageous SHIFT.
“Some days, you might feel strong, happy, and confident in your decision. Other days you may be overwhelmed by sadness and anxiety and question everything,” adds Ebele Onyema, director of programs at One Love. “All of these feelings, from feeling free and empowered to feeling lonely and missing your ex, are completely normal.”
How long it might take to heal “When someone leaves an abusive relationship, healing isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Survival does,” says Gross. There’s no set time frame to healing, as each survivor’s experience is different. “But what is there is possibility — the possibility to get to a place where you know, understand, and can respond appropriately to your triggers,” she adds.
How to heal from an abusive relationship The healing process isn’t linear, but there are ways to find relief and support along the way.
Create a safety plan (if you haven’t already) Safety planning can give you a sense of control and protection, Gross explains: “You can add responses for different circumstances, such as seeing [your ex] in public or if they contact you on social media.” “Make your safety and security the top priority post-breakup, so you can focus on yourself and your healing journey,” says Onyema.
Set boundaries According to Onyema, setting boundaries after the relationship is just as important as during it. “Make sure you and your ex are on the same page in terms of communication and behavior,” she says. “And, if you [aren’t] — and you very well may not be — remember that your needs and boundaries matter. Be clear in expressing them and confident that you have every right to need the time and space that you need.” Also consider setting digital boundaries, like blocking your ex or taking a social media break. “Knowing that your partner doesn’t have access to you on social media can provide the distance you might need to move through healing at your own pace,” she adds.
Prioritize self-care and self-love “Self-care and self-love is vital because without them, survivors can find themselves in another abusive relationship,” says Gross. Honor your thoughts and feelings as they come up. She suggests journaling as a great way to process your emotions. It can serve as a personal safe space and way to reflect on your growth as time passes. Onyema also recommends picking up old hobbies and doing things you used to love. “Use your newfound time to focus on things that build your confidence and help you regain emotional balance. You deserve it,” she says.
Repeat healing affirmations Gross says to keep reminding yourself that the abuse was never your fault: “If you have to set an alarm on your phone or write it on a Post-It note, do it.” “It can be hard not to look back on your past relationship with rose-colored glasses, or you may feel like you miss your ex-partner, but keep in mind that you’re strong, and you’ll get through it,” adds Onyema. “Remember that everyone — including you — deserves a healthy relationship where they feel loved, respected, and valued.”
Educate yourself about abuse No matter where you are in your journey, learning about abuse can prevent you from entering similar situations in the future. Gross recommends learning about:
signs of abuse
why people fall in love with abusive partners
reasons people stay in ‘unhealthy’ relationships
potential barriers to leaving
how abuse shows up in different areas of life
“When everyone has a better understanding and knowledge of how intimate partner violence works, then we can remove the stigma and get the support and services needed for survivors and perpetrators,” she says.
Build a strong support system You don’t have to do this alone. Receiving support can help you feel stronger and more connected during the healing process. “A great support system can include family, friends, a therapist, coach, personal trainer, [and] support group,” says Gross. Oftentimes, Onyema says someone in an abusive relationship can be isolated from friends and family. “It’s good to reconnect with them. [They] can emotionally support you, build up your sense of self, and offer a counter to some of the doubts or negative thoughts we can have about ourselves after a breakup.”
Ask for help Consider seeing a therapist or mental health professional. Therapy can teach you helpful skills for coping after an abusive relationship and offer further support during the recovery process. Other support resources are available, including:
domestic violence hotlines
organizations like One Love
events and programs for survivors
connecting with other survivors through support groups
“Don’t let shame or embarrassment stop you from getting your needs met,” reminds Gross, who suggests tapping into every resource you can.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, intimate partner violence affects millions of people in the United States each year. If you’ve recently been in an abusive relationship, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault.
There’s no solid answer as to how long it takes to heal after any type of abusive relationship. But creating a safety plan, practicing self-love, seeing a therapist, setting boundaries, joining support groups, and seeking additional resources can bring you relief.
“Breakups aren’t easy. Be patient and kind to yourself, as there’s no ‘right way’ to heal,” Onyema says. Healing is possible, though, and you will feel stronger in time.
You’re a survivor, and help is readily available whenever you want or need it.
“You made the first brave step — you decided to leave,” she reminds. “And as you continue to center yourself, you’re healing in big and small ways every step of the way.”