I’ve left and I need support
The effects of domestic abuse
Domestic abuse can have a considerable impact on your health and wellbeing – and your children. The immediate physical effects of domestic abuse can include injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, lost teeth and hair. It is also likely to have an effect on your mental health and your self-esteem, that can last for a long time after leaving an abusive partner. Some survivors might develop coping strategies such as using alcohol, drugs or other substances. If you are struggling with this, support is here for you.
Children might suffer short and long-term health and development complications as a result of witnessing and experiencing abuse. In some cases, this can lead to learning difficulties.
Starting over after abuse
When the abuse is over and you have made practical arrangements in relation to housing, money and schools – you may be expecting to feel great, but be patient because this may not happen straight away. Sometimes, survivors may feel an immediate sense of elation which may suddenly be displaced by feelings of grief and overwhelm. However you respond individually is valid.
Recovering from the trauma of being abused by someone you once loved and trusted is a long process and it may take months and even years for you and your children to heal.
For some people, it is also normal to experience a sense of anti-climax. You are likely to experience grief and the range of emotions which go with it, including a deep sense of loss. After all, your trust has been betrayed and your self-esteem and confidence shattered.
Mental health support after leaving abuse
Leaving an abusive partner can be a long, tiring and stressful process. The transition to freedom from abuse is often a busy period. Women often find that they don’t have time to process their feelings as they are busy understanding legal processes, arranging housing and securing children’s futures.
When you are safe and have a secure future ahead of you, many women understandably expect to feel amazing. It’s normal to feel a sense of anti-climax and for a process of grieving to begin when you have more time for space and reflection. The journey to emotional recovery is just beginning and will require patience, support and self-care.
You’ve gained your freedom but you may feel as though you have lost a lot too. Your trust may have been betrayed, you may have lost your confidence or left material belongings behind, this could have been your home, your job or income, sentimental belongings and pets.
All grieving processes take time and this is no different. There will be some days when you feel like you are moving one step forwards and other days when you sense you are moving backwards.
You might feel the urge to change your whole lifestyle by joining local organisations, returning to education or looking for a new job – but pace yourself and move at your own speed rather than worrying about what others might expect. Treat yourself gently and don’t rush the healing process by setting unrealistic goals.
A big change has taken place and you may feel lonely and isolated at first, coming home to an empty house or flat. There may even be times when an abusive partner or family member seems better than no one at all.
A perpetrator of abuse might have cut you off from friends and family, but it’s never too late to try to re-establish contact with them or create new support networks – in time, you will build confidence to make new friends.
Think about the things below as practical ways of looking after yourself:
- Take time and space for yourself each day
- Reward yourself
- Do something you enjoy and are good at
- Take regular exercise like swimming, running, dancing or walking
- Learn a new skill like yoga or meditation
- Try creative activities like drawing, painting or writing
- Practice relaxation exercises like breathing exercises
- Try to eat well and to get enough sleep
- Contact your local domestic abuse service, they may have access to a support group or specialist domestic abuse counselling.
Living with someone who is always putting you down, criticising you, controlling you and being abusive or violent towards you will have chipped away at your self-confidence.
You may find it hard to make decisions if the perpetrator did not allow you to make choices for yourself.
Managing money is likely to be very difficult if the abuser controlled all the household finances. You might be having to manage on a more limited income – as well as having had to leave behind many of your personal possessions.
But you have already taken a huge, courageous step in leaving and you must give yourself credit for that. It might help to write a list of all the things you have achieved in your life so you can return to this when you are feeling low.
You might find it helpful to talk about your experiences with other women who have also been in abusive relationships. You could contact your local domestic abuse service or visit the Survivors’ Forum – a safe, anonymous space for women to share their experiences and support one another. You also can call the Freephone National 24-hour Domestic Abuse Helpline (run by Refuge) on 0808 2000 247. You can also contact the helpline in BSL, from Monday to Friday between 10am and 6pm.
While you were with the perpetrator, you may not have been free to make decisions on work, study or how to spend your free time.
Now, you have the freedom to choose for yourself and your children, but it’s normal to feel scared and overwhelmed when these choices are in your hands. Women’s Aid is here for you.
When you left the relationship, you may have had to give up your home, your job or moved to a new area for safety. As you settle into your new life, it’s important you think about what you want now. Do you want to go back into work or education? Would you like to retrain or do some voluntary work instead? It’s okay if you don’t feel ready to think about this yet, everything takes time.
It might be worth seeking advice around benefits. You could contact Turn2Us who can help you assess whether you are eligible for financial support.
You might find it helpful to look at some of the information and support available for single parents. Single Parents brings together information, advice and first-hand experiences to help you manage and enjoy life as a single parent, including information on benefits, childcare and balancing work and single parenting.
Gingerbread is an organisation which can support and advise single parents on a variety of issues. You can call their helpline on 0808 802 0925, or via the NGT Text relay service if you need support in BSL. They also have access to multilingual interpreters. There is also a webchat and a peer support forum.
The organisation Contact supports parents of disabled children with a variety of issues or concerns, such as financial advice, education, health services and more. Call their helpline on 0808 808 3555 or find advice and information on their FAQs page.
Helping your children after abuse
Your children will also need time to adjust to the new situation. They will almost certainly have been affected by the abuse they witnessed or experienced directly (see the section on Children and domestic violence for more information on this).
If you have moved to a different area, they will no doubt have to attend a new school and make new friends. These transitions can trigger huge anxiety and a grieving process linked to leaving behind their home, friends, pets and treasured possessions.
As the main adult in their lives who they love and trust – your children will look to you to give them the answers and reassurance they need. You may find this responsibility very hard at a time when you are trying to deal with your own emotions. On the other hand, some women view this task as a helpful distraction and even see it as a reason to carry on. Be as honest with your children as you can in a way which is safe and easy for them to understand. Tell them that you love them and reassure them that nothing that has happened is their fault.
Try to establish a ‘normal’, consistent routine as soon as possible. This will help to show them that you can be relied upon even though their father or step-father has let them down. Listen carefully to your children’s concerns and help them to find other sources of support (e.g. trusted relatives, teachers, youth workers, refuge and domestic violence outreach staff).
Although your children will feel relieved the abuse has stopped, it is likely they might miss their father or step-father and blame you for the loss as a way of expressing sadness and anger.
Young Minds provides information and support for young people themselves. The Young Minds parents’ information service provides help for parents concerned about a young person’s mental health and also explore how divorce and separation affects children and young people.
Women’s Aid website Love Respect empowers young people to talk about relationship abuse and how to spot red flags. We believe everyone has the right to be safe and happy.
We would encourage you to get in touch with your local domestic abuse service. Local services often have access to support for children and young people. They may have specialist counselling that your children could access and/or access to support groups.
The Young Minds parents’ information service provides help for parents concerned about a young person’s mental health. They also have a parents’ helpline, available on 0808 802 5533 from 9.30am – 4pm, Monday to Friday, or a webchat open during the same hours.
Young Minds provides information and support for young people who may be struggling with their mental health, or worrying about someone else.
Barnardos offer young people’s support groups and counselling.
Childline provides confidential support for children on 0800 1111 (24hrs) or chat online to a counsellor.
The Mix are a support service that can connect children/young people to support services around any problems they may be having including domestic abuse. They can be contacted on 0808 808 4994 or via their live chat service (3pm-midnight every day).
NSPCC work to prevent abuse and rebuild children’s lives. They can be contacted on 0800 800 5000 (24hrs).
Counselling and self-care
Domestic abuse can impact your mental health. It can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, or increase the symptoms. This can affect your mood, sleep, appetite and can make you withdraw from activities you enjoy, decrease your motivation or, in severe cases, make you have suicidal thoughts or self-harm.
Remember, you are not alone, Women’s Aid is here for you and ready to support you.
There are lots of way you support yourself through difficult days. Self-care can include exercises or hobbies, letting you take a moment for yourself and give you some time to relax, helping you process what you are experiencing and think about further support. Every woman will have different experiences of abuse, so while you may find some things useful, others may not work for you.
You may also want to access counselling services after experiencing abuse.
The NHS mental health services can help you find a local therapy or counselling service or you could speak with your GP for a referral.
It can be difficult to reach out to support services, especially if you have a mental health diagnosis, but our support services are here for you.
When you reach out to Women’s Aid Live Chat, our fully trained female support workers can offer you support and discuss any options you may have based on your individual circumstances.
Whoever you reach out to, your experiences of abuse should be validated. It may be hard if you don’t experience this when speaking with friends or family but it’s important to remember that reaching out to someone is a huge step in finding support.
Abusers often use mental health as a way to exert control and intensify abuse but abuse is never your fault. Only the abuser is responsible for their actions. Some examples might include:
- Say you couldn’t cope without him
- Label you as “mad”
- Not allow you to go anywhere alone because he is your “carer”
- Speak for you, saying you don’t understand or get confused
- Tell you you’re not capable of being a good mum or that you’re not able to look after your children properly
- Force you to have an abortion, saying you wouldn’t be able to cope
- Threaten to take your children away
- Threaten to tell social services, implying that your children will be taken away
- Tell your children that you can’t look after them
- Deliberately mislead or confuse you
- Withhold your medication
- Withhold or coerce you into using alcohol or drugs
- Undermine you when you reach out for support. He may do this by telling authorities like social services or the police that you are ‘mad’ or that they shouldn’t believe what you say
- Using gaslighting techniques to further impact on your mental health
If you have experienced this and need support, our Women’s Aid Live Chat is ready to support you.