i'm in an abusive relationship, what should i do?
written by Saraya Haddad (she/her)
Content Warning: This article contains references to emotional abuse, abusive and coercive behaviour and domestic violence.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship and need help, contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.
A year and a half ago I tucked into sushi at my local ITSU and devoured freshly purchased poetry from the Waterstones next door; Amanda Lovelace’s To Make Monsters Out of Girls.
I circled the lines:
monster all by
I’d been out of an abusive relationship for six months. My “monster” wasn’t a “he”; she was a her. The patriarchal heteronormative narrative surrounding abuse seeps into all of us, convincing us that all abusers are men. This ideology is particularly harmful for LGBTQ+ relationships, as it promotes the notion that any relationship outside of this woman/man binary cannot be abusive. The truth is, abuse doesn’t have a gender.
Any quotes in this article are taken from my own documentation made in the final weeks of my abusive relationship.
The Signs of Abuse
‘She creates thunderstorms out of
● GASLIGHTING - this is when abusers manipulate victims into doubting their sanity. They will convince you to join them in a fantasy land where the acid-dripping vitriol they just threw your way was actually strawberries coated in candy-floss. They convince you that, in reality, it was you who threw the metaphorical dagger, and that you really hurt them.
‘She makes everything she does to me my fault. Somehow part of me believes her when she tells me down is up and up is down, that green is pink and red is blue. Before I know it, I'm apologising and then asking myself what I'm apologising for.’
● PROJECTION - abusers are masters at projecting who they are onto their victims. It’s eerie how accurately abusers can describe themselves once they make you the canvas for their projector screen. The images they project onto you are their deepest fears of who they actually are inside:
‘I tell her I don’t want to fight, that I don’t want to be at war like her. She tells me I love war, but I just want peace’.
● CONTROL - abusers only know how to control. Victims often find themselves trying to recall when they last felt like themselves. They long for the last time they weren’t treading on eggshells, the last time they weren’t bending over backwards to please their abuser:
‘I feel like a caged bird. I can’t remember what it felt like to live freely. I can’t remember where I chose to fly or which songs I liked to sing.’
● VIOLENCE - while some abusers act on a psychological level, some resort to physical violence. While I haven’t experienced this personally, what I can say is that violence is never ok. Violence is absolutely classed as abuse.
● ISOLATION - many abusers isolate victims from their friends and family, often weaving a narrative that these people are the real problem, that they are “nasty” and that the victim should cut them out of their life. This makes it easier for abusers to brainwash victims, as they have cut off those who may be trying to help you get out:
‘My self-respect starts muttering but is shot down by her screams. So I do what she wants, I block them all.’
● ADDICTION - when a pattern develops in which extreme lows are followed by extreme highs, much like alcohol or drug abuse, victims can find themselves craving those highs again:
‘I’m scared that some part of me is hooked, that I get high off the thrill of making up after the fight. I’ve never felt so alive; i’ve also never felt so dead’.
Above all, just because your abuser is mentally struggling, or perhaps doesn’t even realise on a conscious level that they are abusing you, it does not make their behaviour ok.
‘I have taken on her thunderstorms and now they are mine.’
Getting out safely (the recovery)
‘There has to come a point where I look at this situation for what it is, not what I wish it was.’
THE END - however you end it, do it in a safe place with people around you who can support you. Don’t end it while you are alone with your abuser, as this could put you in danger.
● BLOCK - abusers often try to suck their victims back in. Remember that this person knows how to manipulate you into forgiving them. By blocking them, it’s harder for them to lure you back.
● WRITE - our brains love to romanticise, to wipe out the painful memories and replace them with the times the relationship was on a “high”. This is also how cognitive dissonance manifests. If you feel able, write down as many of the harmful things they did as you can, before your brain wipes them out. Then whenever you find yourself asking if it was “really that bad”, read what you wrote.
● WITHDRAWAL - lean on your friends and family for support, especially when the cravings kick in. Pick a trusted friend to be a “sponsor” figure, someone you can call to prevent you from reaching out to your abuser when you crave the “highs”.
● GREY ROCK - in the event that you see or hear from your abuser, implement the grey rock technique. Abusers can only exist in soap operas, so you must be Antiques Roadshow.
● NEW HORIZONS - stay busy! Take this time to busy yourself with hobbies or new projects. Some days you really won’t feel like it, but I promise you that giving yourself new things to love is one of the best ways to heal.
● NAVIGATING TRAUMA - recovery is not linear, it’s two steps forward one step back. Acknowledge that while time really is a great healer, it’s ok if sometimes you find yourself reliving the trauma. Trust that it will pass; it’s part of the healing process.
Once you’re out, with time you will learn how strong you are for leaving. You will realise that love is never an excuse for hate. You will know that you deserve so much more.
‘Sometimes I still hear the thunder rumbling, but I’m starting to feel the breeze of the calm after the storm.’