Tips for Life after Violence & Abuse
Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone – whatever age you are, if you are a man or a woman, whatever your lifestyle and wherever you live.
The ideas below are about protecting your physical and emotional safety and that of your children and moving forward after the abuse. Not all of them will apply to everyone – some people may have children with them, others may not and every experience of abuse and set of circumstances will be different.
We hope you will find something which helps you to rebuild your life.
Celebrate your achievements
You’ve found the strength, courage and determination to end the abusive relationship. That makes you a very special person. As you gain confidence, independence and control over your life, there will be other successes to celebrate and to be proud of. Perhaps other people may not even notice them, but they will be milestones for you. It’s a good idea to write each of them down with any special thoughts you had, so you can look back at them whenever you want and see how far you’ve come.
Learn to make choices
Making choices can be difficult when you’ve never been allowed to before. But every small choice you make (what to wear, what to have for tea, which TV programme to watch) shows that now you are in control of your life and free to do what you want, when you want. Learning to make small choices strengthens your ability to make bigger choices.
Take care of yourself
When you were in the abusive relationship, you probably put everyone else’s needs before your own. But now you need to look after yourself, your mind and your body, if you are going to rebuild your life as an independent person. Eat regularly, even if it’s only a small amount. Take some exercise every day – just walking to the shops gets you out of the house and around other people. Plan small treats just for you – they don’t have to cost money, sometimes a sit down with a cup of tea is a treat!
In the past, you may have used drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of abuse, but try and reduce or get clean. This is hard and you may need professional help, but it will help you to look at your situation straight on, come to terms with what’s gone on and move ahead with your life.
Be gentle with yourself
You’ve gone through a massive upheaval in your life. You need time to recover, to heal the mental wounds as well as the physical scars. Listen to your feelings and trust your instincts. Some people find that writing down their thoughts and feelings helps to make things clearer in their minds. And writing poetry may help as well. If you think that counselling will help, look around for free agencies in your area or your local Women’s Centre may be able to help. There are also online services available.
It may not be a good idea to rush into another relationship. It’s an easy thing to do, but you need to find out who you are and what you want in life first and learn to put yourself first. Then you can be in a relationship because you want to be, not because you need to be.
Build a support network
People who experience abuse often say they felt isolated by their abuser from any outside support. In your new life, a support network can give you so much help, provided you use it with care and put your safety and that of your children first. There are some ideas below that may help you. Get back in touch with family and friends, if you can do it without putting them or you in danger. Talk to the professionals who you are in contact with and ask for the help you need. Get to know your community and your neighbours. You don’t have to tell them everything about yourself, but don’t shut yourself away – that plays back into the abusive situation you were in.
Sometimes it’s easier to talk to others who have had the same experiences as you. Online forums are great, but there may also be local drop-in centres near you or a support group in your area.
Time to be a family
You may need to rebuild relationships with your children, to get over the fear and control you have all experienced. Children and young people who have been in similar situations to yours, say that what they want is to be able to talk when they want to talk, to be given information about what is happening and to be consulted. Sometimes, they will hold back on talking about what has happened because they don’t want to upset you.. Take time to do things together and create a safe environment for this to happen. Simple things like exploring local walks, a picnic on the back lawn, football in the park will give you all a chance to be together, to tell them what is happening , to ask for their ideas and let them talk, if they want to, about their feelings and experiences.
There will be times when you feel you’re fighting a losing battle and it just all seems too much to cope with. Times when you’ve held it together all day and now just want to fall apart. This is where your support network can be vital. If you can phone a friend or family member just for a chat, that may be enough. Or the National Domestic Violence Helpline is always available. (0808 2000 247) It can be very busy in the daytime, but is often easier to get through to in the evenings, at weekends and during the night). There are also organisations specifically for men who are being abused and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – see the resources at the end of this article
There may also be local helplines in your area that you can use. If you’re feeling really down, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day (08457 909090). You may want to make a note of some of these telephone numbers and keep them handy. Knowing that help is available may be all that you need in order to be able to cope. Look back at what you have achieved – no one can take that away from you.
Reach out to others
When you feel able to, volunteering in a charity shop or any community centre, is a great way of giving something to the community and meeting other people in a non-threatening atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be a project helping people who have experienced abuse; there are loads of projects who would welcome a few hours of your time. Also it looks good on a CV if you are thinking about getting back into the workplace. Or how about learning a new skill or doing a training course? Many short courses are run at times to suit mothers with young children and some colleges provide crèches. Have a look at our selection of Online Courses to get you started.
You’ve escaped from being controlled, but your abuser may still try to control you once you have left. They know you very well and the buttons to press to upset or frighten you. That’s a challenge, but one that you can deal with because you are changing and becoming stronger and more independent. Put your safety and that of your children first. If you write things down, keep it somewhere safe where an abuser/controller won’t find it. Think of who you can trust and be careful who you tell about what you are planning to do to be safe. You can have good friendships and relationships with the people who love you, even if you don’t tell them everything. Change your mobile number if you’re getting harassed and perhaps change the way you access social media. Remember that it is never acceptable for you to be abused verbally or physically. Keep a note of any incidents that are frightening or intimidating, with dates and times. If there are any independent witnesses, make a note of their names if possible. Tell the police and ask to be referred to the Domestic Violence Unit. If things kick off suddenly, phone 999. Remember, the law and right-thinking people want to help and protect you – you don’t have to do this on your own.
If there is court ordered contact and you’re concerned about potential violence, try and have someone with you when you hand over or collect the children. People are much more likely to behave themselves in front of potential witnesses. Keep a record of any problems or incidents that occur, with full details, times and dates.
At the end of the day...
Many people who have been through domestic violence and abuse want to know how they can change the abusive behaviour. The short answer is – you can’t. We can each of us only control our own behaviour and only the abuser can stop the abuse.
You are the person who knows what has happened and what an abuser has done to you. Many people will give you advice, but you are the expert in this, you know the situation better than anyone else so it’s your decision about what is best for you (and your children). It is your right to live in peace, in freedom and without fear. It could be a long journey, be patient with yourself and you will create your new life.
These tips have been drawn from the experiences of other people recovering from abuse. Hopefully they have given you some ideas which you can use to help you. But there are many other sources of help and support around, whoever you are and whatever your situation and a few of them have been listed in a separate information sheet on this website, as well as books and other resources which may be useful. One important tip is to seek support from people and organisations that understand domestic violence and abuse – others, such as solicitors, counsellors, immigration advisers, work much better if they have had specialist training. The domestic violence and abuse organisations can often give you contact details of such specialists.
If you are currently in danger call 999.
If you would like to speak to someone call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
This Helpline can give support, help and information over the telephone, wherever the caller might be in the country. The Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by fully trained female helpline support workers and volunteers. All calls are completely confidential. Translation facilities for callers whose first language is not English and a service for callers who are deaf or hard of hearing are available.
Tips for when calling the National Domestic Violence Helpline:
- If they are busy, you can leave a message on their voicemail with your phone number make sure you tell them when it is safe for them to phone you back
- It can be difficult to get through to in the daytime, but is quieter and easier in the evenings, weekends and at night. If you can’t get through straight away, be persistent!!
For further resources visit Womens Aid Useful Links page.
If you are male and looking for some support contact the MALE (Mens Advice Line) on 0808 801 0327
If you don't live in the UK, go to Hot Peach Pages which is an International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies.