Leaving an Abusive Relationship: What I’ve Learned and How I’ve Moved On

Relaxation

“Sometimes things have to go wrong before they can go right. Sometimes we have to let the wrong people walk out before we allow the right people to walk in. Sometimes we have to feel weak in order to know what it’s like to feel strong. Sometimes you have to be broken to realize you’ll never be shattered.” ~Unknown

Leaving is the hardest part—that’s what they say, right? I don’t know if I agree. It takes courage to get out, but the healing process can be brutal.

It’s an ongoing process that seeps into every aspect of my daily life. Moving on is much easier said than done. The bruises healed, but scars remain.

I wanted to find love—the kind everyone wants and deserves to feel at least once. I wanted it, but I first needed to allow myself enough time to heal.

Coming out of an abusive relationship is confusing. The constant worry and watching my back about everything I do or say slowly receded. But I was also very lonely and missed our connection, regardless of how much it hurt me.

That’s why people often stay or go back, right? Believe them when they say they’re sorry and hope and pray it won’t happen again—until it does and then the cycle continues.

As I learned to navigate life without intense fear, jumping back into any relationship would be silly. New people didn’t help me heal; I had to do that myself.

It’s tempting to dive into a new connection since it can be a good distraction from pain. However, I know unresolved issues will surface until I face and process them head-on. It took me months to feel like myself again.

There is no specific timeline for healing from an abusive relationship. No matter how long it took, I had to give myself grace and allow adequate time for my wounds to heal.

I had to set boundaries to protect myself from being gaslit or manipulated. I won’t let it happen again—I can’t.

Around one in three women—35 percent of females—are domestic violence victims and experience physical or sexual abuse from their spouses. Likewise, one in seven men experience violence from an intimate partner. The red flags that eluded me in past relationships wouldn’t slip by me again.

My eyes are open wide. I forgive myself for past transgressions. I won’t let shame or guilt from staying in an abusive relationship affect my future relationships.

I started with a clean slate and let go of relationships when they no longer serve me. A healthy relationship isn’t perfect, but respect is essential. Staying true to myself is the most critical thing in my healing process.

For example, I won’t skip social events to spend more time with a new love interest, and I won’t let anyone convince me otherwise. I refuse to back down from the boundaries I set.

Survival mode made me believe things would change too many times. It played tricks on my subconscious. I convinced myself the good days were good enough to pretend the bad ones didn’t happen—until they happened again.

Jolts of hope and love when my ex gave me positive attention or did something nice washed over me and made me forget their bad days. Love will prevail, but is it worth it?

When they said such hurtful things, maybe I took it too personally. Perhaps I was too sensitive, and I should learn that’s just how they cope with things—by taking them out on me. Does being a spouse include being a metaphorical punching bag?

Healthy relationships have hiccups and arguments but aren’t cruel and unkind. I shouldn’t feel like they despise my existence every time we argue.

I won’t ever feel that way again. Pieces of me chipped away with every insult, every jab, every name they called me. Boundaries will help protect me from letting anyone treat me that way again.

Emotional, financial, psychological, or sexual abuse can be as damaging as physical. Being in a toxic relationship destroyed my self-image and deteriorated my self-esteem.

I loved them wholeheartedly and believed everything they said, no matter how painful. Horrible things were said about me so much that I began to accept them. I deserved the below-the-belt comments for whatever mistake I made that day.

Tensions are high in the middle of an argument. I was always too emotional to think clearly when we fought.

One day, I decided it wasn’t all my fault. I deserved better and I needed to believe it to survive. I had to look in the mirror and be proud of the person looking back at me.

I had to take care of myself. Once I freed myself from those chains, I had to practice self-care and nurture myself after such a draining experience. Rebuilding my confidence was challenging, especially from the ground up.

Rock bottom is lonely, but I could only go up from there once I hit it. I started small by doing something just for me, like shopping for a new pair of Jordans. Shoes make me happy, so I like to collect them when I can afford them.

My ex liked throwing this in my face when we argued, saying I was superficial and high-maintenance. It wasn’t true, but I believed them because why else would they be so upset? If they’re that bothered by something I do, why would I continue to do it?

Well, it wasn’t hurting anyone. I wasn’t buying shoes when our budget was overextended or spending money on shoes rather than necessary things. I didn’t have a shopping problem.

It was just one more thing they used to hang over my head and control me. Well, not anymore. I kept doing what made me happy and gradually found my way back to myself.

I took bubble baths, walked outside for at least thirty minutes a day and immersed myself in a good novel when I could. I did whatever brought me joy, and it helped me regain my sense of self. I gave myself permission to prioritize self-care to build my confidence, lower stress, and nurture my mental health.

My relationship made me push away those closest to me. My loved ones slowly began recognizing patterns I didn’t see because I was caught in them.

At first, I vented to friends and family about minor relationship issues. Then, I couldn’t wrap my head around the major ones. They encouraged me to leave my partner and when I didn’t, it caused a rift.

How could I stay in a relationship that harmed my mental health? I wasn’t blind—I was in denial. No one understood them but me.

Couldn’t they see that I loved my relationship? The good far outweighed the bad, and they only heard about the bad parts. There was nothing anyone could do to help me.

When I finally left, I had pushed everyone away from me. I felt like I couldn’t reach out for support because I quit checking on others when they didn’t support me staying in the relationship. I was a lousy friend, sibling, cousin, and co-worker.

I had no one, so I found support groups that helped me regain my confidence and sense of belonging. I went to therapy and poured my heart out.

I tried to see things from every perspective so I could know it wasn’t my fault I was abused so that I could move on. I knew being abused wasn’t my fault, but I was accused of playing the victim. Regardless, I knew I didn’t deserve to feel like I was nothing.

Outlets were always available to me, although I felt so alone. I didn’t want to reach out, but my friends assured me they would’ve picked up the phone on the first ring. There were 24-hour hotlines available that I didn’t even consider calling. If I could go back, I’d call them after the first slap in a heartbeat.

When I was ready, I dated someone understanding and caring. They saw the best in me and made me feel like I was worth something again.

But I caught myself starting fights by accusing them of something my ex did when that was the farthest from their intention. It isn’t fair to blame a new partner for something the old one did. Abusive relationships often instill bad habits and unnecessary coping mechanisms.

Trust is hard, especially after a painful breakup, even if it wasn’t abusive. My ex would use others to make me jealous, and then gaslight me into thinking it was all in my head and that they would never do something like that. It made me feel crazy, although I knew what they were doing deep down.

I would do one of two things for every relationship that began afterward. I would alienate myself and ignore the red flags—chalk them up to harmless flirting or friendship so I didn’t feel crazy voicing my feelings. Or I would say them, then feel bad about it and immediately take them back.

I had to work on myself and let go of my past relationship to give a new one a fighting chance.

I had to let go of the past so it didn’t continue to weigh me down. Starting over never felt so good.

Moving on can be daunting, but it’s always a journey worth taking if you’re experiencing abuse. I had to learn to trust my instincts and be patient to find love again. It was worth it.

**I used the pronoun “they” to protect my ex’s privacy by obscuring their gender.

About Jack Shaw

Jack Shaw has dedicated much of his adult life to writing and speaking on health, both mental and physical. For the past five years he has written extensively on how to navigate relationships, recognize self-worth, and stay healthy. His writings on fitness and life advice can be seen on Modded, where he works as a senior writer and editor.

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