Taking those first steps back into the ‘real’ world after moving on from an abusive relationship can be very disconcerting. Those first few months bring to the fore the realisation of what you have just been put through and finding the confidence to make informed choices for yourself requires resilience and courage. It is certainly not easy and I personally spent a lot of the time questioning myself and my decisions. Who can you trust? Who can you talk to? Can I see my friends again? Will someone be watching me? Am I doing the right thing? Do I need someone else’s approval?
I was very lucky to have found a friend in my (now) husband. He really didn’t have it easy when we started our relationship. In fact there can be still moments now that I struggle to feel relaxed and confident. Ultimately, he helped to pick up the broken pieces and spent a long time in helping me to put them back together again. Make no mistake, it wasn’t simple and there’s no instruction manual or picture to refer to, he spent a lot of time guessing and trying to not make a wrong step as I worked my way through some fairly complex issues. I know if you asked him he would tell you in a heartbeat that it was worth it but even I can see just how much he had to go through to earn my trust and to be able to put aside my negative thoughts of the past. Having a ‘friend’ has helped me enormously on the journey to being the person I always knew (deep down) I was but who had been hidden from sight by the effects of an abusive and coercive relationship.
In trying to offer some help I suggest that if you’re trying to support a survivor that these steps may help:
2. Try to understand – don’t make the other person feel unusual.
3. Keep calm – it’s going to take time and most likely months if not years.
4. Actions speak louder then words – if you make those promises then stick to them.
5. Be affectionate – Often this is not paramount in the abusive relationship and affection is important as it releases the positive hormones, builds trust and reduces stress. Find out more.
6. Take things at his/her own pace and not force him/her to move on with the relationship faster, sexually or emotionally.
7. Playing devils advocate – in an appropriate away as this allows him/her to realise how they are coming across, examples include asking permission to go to the toilet, when/if they may eat or speak to friends.
In my opinion without trust there is no love (in its broadest sense) and without that there is no foundation for a healthy relationship.
One of my favourite quotes of all times is: ‘The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return’. When I was in the abusive relationship I never appreciated what this really meant and I felt that I was giving everything of me to my abuser but I was ultimately gaining nothing back.
Thankfully as time moves on, more ways of addressing abuse are being developed such as The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, find out more. This gives members of the public a ‘right to ask’ the police when they have a concern that their partner may pose a risk to them or where they are concerned that the partner of a member of their family or a friend may pose a risk to that individual. If an application is made under the scheme, police and partner agencies will carry out checks and if they show that the partner has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate that there may be a risk from the partner, the police will consider sharing this information.
Moving forward is hard and sometimes the abuse will come back in dreams, flashbacks, conversations or in other ways. I find that sometimes it feels like I am in a mental fight not to assume my husband is similar to the person who abused me. Years on and the moments have become less and I am able to shake it off but this has taken patience and has at times been mentally quite tough.
So my message to you today is that you can learn to love and trust again. The road may be difficult and sometimes challenging but its worth it!