Leaving Abuse: What a Victim Can Expect

I have thought deeply about this post. Fearful I will miss something important or add something no one else experiences, I have decided upon a missive that encapsulates my own experience and those of many friends I know who have escaped similar circumstances. I am combining our pasts to give an idea of what one can expect upon leaving an abuser. When I left my ex-husband 15 months ago, I was ill-prepared for what was about to transpire in my life. The shock of what was happening (physically, mentally and emotionally) was an added weight to the already-overwhelming magnitude of stress I felt from just leaving. My plan is to inform readers – both those who have left and those who have yet to leave – of what they might expect when they make the agonizingly brave decision to leave their abusers. Every situation is different; goodness! every person is different. It will not look the same. However, to the best of my ability, here are some common occurrences . . . .

A Seed Must First Die and be Buried, Then Life Comes

Leaving your abuser is like leaving a cult. If he or she has mentally, emotionally or verbally abused you, you may feel as though you are committing the ultimate act of betrayal. You may not even be able to separate your abuser from God. Thoughts like, “Is God still with me?” or “Am I in the will of God?” or “Will I survive? Will my CHILDREN survive?” will clutter your brain and mock you with a force that would make the strongest person break. Your abuser could very well come after you with letters, gifts, personal attacks . . . a constant manipulative assault on your heart and mind. You will need much much affirmation and encouragement. When one leaves an abusive spouse, it feels like a death. There is mourning. A strange combination of mourning mixed with relief.

Something did die.

There is the death of a dream. No one marries thinking they will be abused. There is the death of slavery. Death of what is known. And what is left is something very weak, very small, but very alive and VERY free. This is the part that now needs to be fed and nurtured. Listen – in order for there to be resurrection, something has to die first. Let it go; let it die. Leave the abuser behind as best as you can and embrace that small part in you that KNOWS, deep down inside – you were made to be free. That is the new life peeking out. Break free from the manipulation; make the decision that you will no longer allow your abuser to control you anymore. Ask for help “deciphering” his or her letters, emails, texts. Set massive, sweeping boundaries to the best of your ability. Your abuser  might try to manipulate you through your children. God is with you, courageous one. Even if you descended into the depths of hell, He will be with you. No decision of yours could change that. (Psalm 139)

Doubts, Doubts, Doubts

You may doubt yourself and think thoughts like, “Well, was he really all that bad?” or “Maybe it’s me; maybe I’m crazy.” These are times where you need to be strong and try to remember that you left for a reason. Something and someone made it impossible for you to remain in that state any longer. You ran for your life. You tried. You stayed as long as you could. You did the best you could. It was the only decision you could make. Do not doubt yourself. God has given you a sane mind.

Many people have a difficult time sleeping. Thoughts about what to do and what the future will hold may haunt you at night. You may have nightmares. You might shake or lose weight. Your body is going through a tremendous trauma. Thoughts that are centered on a desire to protect children from an abusive spouse can eat away at the soul. We take on enormous responsibility in our hearts with our little ones. Fear threatens to swallow us whole. Don’t stop praying; never give up.

Put On Your Armor

One of the hardest ideas for a victim to wrap his or her mind around is the idea of being a warrior. We were all oppressed for so long. It is highly counterintuitive to be a warriorBut, my brother or sister, I am pleading with you to be just that. Pull it from deep within you – it is there! And begin to be offensive instead of defensive. I know what it is to always be on my heels. Make the decision to be the one to push this time. Fight, with all your heart, for your freedom as well as that of your children. Try to stay one step ahead of your abuser.

The Pain of Betrayal

The most shocking display for so many is watching close friends side with the abuser. He or she might be “important” in the church, charming, “so nice”, etc. This is the hardest part and mentioned so many times before . . . an abuser will often work overtime to ally himself with your closest friends and family. You will lose many friendships, family and, often, any standing in the church. You may be shocked at who betrays you. And you could very well be rejected by the church. The good news about this is that, I believe, this is God’s way of protecting you. God’s protection. He is sifting through those closest to you to show you who you can trust and who you cannot! Divine sifting! And those who follow Christ are no strangers to being thrown out of the synagogues (John 9). You are not alone. After all, it is not the Church who is rejecting you! You are already part of the Church if you know Jesus! No one can take that way.

Remember, the Enemy does not want you to be free. He will work over-time to try to put you back in bondage.

This all might seem daunting to those who have not left yet. To that, I would say, yes. It is daunting. But, if I could paint one broad stroke across this blog post, it would say: IT IS WORTH IT. Christ describes a pearl of great price . . . something so incredibly precious that the “finder” sells everything he has to buy it. He gave up everything. Our pearl is our freedom. Christ paid a high price for our freedom. Fight for it. Allow yourself to leave everything behind for it. Defend it. These seasons above will not last forever. There is so much hope for you, my friend. So much beauty ahead. And Jesus will take your hand every step of the way. And so will we.

57 thoughts on “Leaving Abuse: What a Victim Can Expect”

  1. Oh, Megan, this is wonderful. I found myself sitting smiling and moaning a happy, “Hmmmmm.” I can certainly relate to so much of what you said, but he is still hanging on so tightly and tormenting me via the children that the hope is hard to hang on to some days. You have given me a glimpse of hope as I head off to bed for the night. Thank you!

  2. Megan this is WONDERFUL.
    I’m sitting here in the public library because my internet at home is not working, and reading your post I’ve been rejoicing with fists in the air, praying and groaning and saying “This is GOOD!” – I’m sure the two ladies sitting opposite me must think I’m a bit weird. But who cares. I take my hat off to you girl, you’ve got the gift.

  3. Megan, Fantastic job! this part really spoke to me. I remember saying to God that I didn’t like having to be a warrior as it felt unnatural to me! Thank you for your bravery and for sharing your thoughts and your encouragement.

  4. Megan:

    ” The good news about this is that, I believe, this is God’s way of protecting you. God’s protection. He is sifting through those closest to you to show you who you can trust and who you cannot! Divine sifting!”

    Yes! Yes!! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ex–ACTly!!!! What the enemy means for evil God intends for GOOD!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Thank you for this WONDERFUL post. It completely describes what all I went through when I left my abuser, almost 5 years ago. And I agree with you, no matter how hard it may be, it is totally worth everything you have to give up. You gain SO much in return.

  6. You all have REALLY encouraged me here! Thank you so much for your comments! I am very inspired to keep on writing!

    1. Thanks for the advice LMM and Megan. I have a restraining order against my husband had have NO contact unless he brakes it. Which he has done about a dozen times in the past 3 months all at the beginning. I was strong and brave and stood up to him every time letting him know that I would not let him sway me. I even reported his violations to the police because they are a violation of his parole. I hope that because I was strong in the beginning he has decided that I’m not worth his trouble, but I also think that that is too much to hope for and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next attack. I just wish I could have true peace.

      1. Hi Anonee,
        I removed some details from your comment, to help you keep safe. Welcome to the blog. 🙂

        We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

        I changed your screen name to Anonee as a precaution. If you want us to change it to something else, just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂

  7. Thank you! This post was PERFECT, you explained it perfectly.
    Maybe you or someone out there could help me with the feeling of paranoia. I have not heard anything from my husband in over a month and I have this overwhelming since that he is up to something (like a small child playing quietly, you know they are up to no good). How can I prepare myself for his next move without letting paranoia eat away at me?

    1. yes, I’d like to know too…I never want to hear from him but it’s actually safer when I do because I know what he’s planning, rather than not knowing what new history/ fantasy he has concocted in his mind as truth and what he plans to do with this new idea. Hard to not live in fear and paranoia….but at the same time it’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you!!

    2. The calm before the storm. I’m not very far into it yet, and it’s been mentioned on the blog before, but reading Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” may help provide ways of trusting your intuition and doing something to protect yourself even during these quiet times. I’ve always found action and preparedness are the best tools to combat paranoia.

      1. Yes — I agree with LMM. Being proactive is the best protection. I have found that abusers do often go through this “silent” mode — yet another way to manipulate. Talk reality to yourself. What can he REALLY do to you? What is the very worst? Come up with the worse-case scenario and then be proactive in making sure that can’t happen.

  8. Megan, once again you’ve been clear and concise, and you’ve talked about a tough thing with such encouragement. Yet another way it’s worth it to get through – to help guide others over the treacherous path! Thanks!

  9. What a beautifully informative and encouraging post, Megan!

    Reading this, I am reminded of the song the Israelites sang after leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15).

    Thank you, for sharing!

  10. The most hurtful part of my whole experience has been the people in the church, and reactions of friends, most of whom do not know the truth and respond to the situation based on lies. Your thoughts about God using the betrayal to sift through my friends to show me who I can TRULY trust was a totally new idea for me. It makes perfect sense! And yes, whatever the enemy means for evil, God will use for good. Sometimes it’s just hard to see it at first. But we are traveling “out of the darkness, and into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

  11. Thanks for writing this! It’s so helpful to read the verses and to hear encouragement. The toughest thing for me has been living in the same house for nearly a month (thank God that my Mom has not left my side). He is leaving by the 1st. And the sudden involvement with the children. I know that a permanent parenting plan is going to be a struggle, but he did sign the temporary one that I wanted! God has been so good, even through what has been harder than I could ever imagine. I know that he knows the beginning from the end. Keep up the encouragement!

    1. Coco – I’m so glad to hear that your mom is with you through this! I had several months of living with mine between filing for divorce and him actually leaving. It was like living with a squatter and intensely uncomfortable. No privacy – no room to breathe!

      Also had the sudden involvement with the children thing and that was extremely hard to watch. My kids were so confused and stressed because we didn’t tell them what was happening because we couldn’t tell them until we had a plan of how things were going to be. I was so nervous telling them but after the initial upset, they have adjusted quite well. I think they’re relieved.

      God is watching out for you and we are praying for you!

      1. We are telling the kids on Friday. I know they will be fine, I’m actually more concerned about how my husband will react during that conversation. Having to spend time alone will be such an adjustment for me!
        Thank you so much for your prayers!

      2. Coco, whenever my ex would say something to our daughter that caused her to distrust or blame or feel antipathy for me in any way, I developed this “one size fits all” answer. I would tell her “That’s dad’s opinion; it’s not mine.” It was a short and calm way to defuse the situation.

      3. Coco –
        I had the good fortune to have been able to tell them within the comfort of the counselor that the children and I had been going to. I felt safe and knew he wouldn’t be able to say anything evil. Still, he wept dramatically when we told the kids. So while I comforted our child with autism, our younger child comforted his father. Bless that kid, I have to be careful to help him be a kid so he doesn’t think he has to be the man. The one with autism recovered within the hour and we went and got pizza afterwards!

        Also, I’d encourage you to think of it as ‘getting’ to spend time alone. Yes, it’s a huge adjustment, and many quiet moments by yourself may be difficult, but that’s when you’ll have time for healing. You’ll be able to catch your breath. You’ll be able to develop friendships. You’ll be able to learn and know yourself for who you really are. Then when you’re with the kids being a mom you’ll be an even better mom!

  12. This is so very true. And, you are exactly right–that it is like leaving a cult–as I know personally! This part I really, really love: . And what is left is something very weak, very small, but very alive and VERY free. This is the part that now needs to be fed and nurtured. Listen – in order for there to be resurrection, something has to die first. Let it go; let it die. Leave the abuser behind as best as you can and embrace that small part in you that KNOWS, deep down inside – you were made to be free. That is the new life peeking out.

    I love the picture you painted with your words 🙂 Cheering you on!!!

  13. I just read this post for the 2nd time and appreciate your writing this. Your words are a perfect description of what it’s like to leave an abusive relationship. My favorite words the past three years: “we are living in peace and freedom!” It isn’t easy but SO much better than the life we had before.

    1. Kay – thank you. It is such a joy to hear someone else say that they now have peace and freedom. You have blessed me today!

  14. I am so grateful I found your post. At this moment… I’m watching my two little babies sleeping… homeless, jobless… but NOT hopeless. Physical, verbal, sexual & spiritual abuse survivor. Trying to survive the roller coaster. Thank you for an encouraging article that shows the love of Jesus.

    1. I’m so glad this post saved you from having to endure worse things that what you have no doubt already endured from your abuser.

      Since this seems like your first comment on the blog — Welcome! 🙂

      You had put what looked like your real name in the “name” field of the comments form so I changed it to NotUsingRealName — to protect your identity and safety.

      We always encourage new readers and new commenters to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

    1. Hi dear sister, welcome to the blog. 🙂 I changed your screen name to Dappled as a precaution; it’s not usually a good idea to use your real name on this blog. If you want us to change the screen name to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain) twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be happy to assist. 🙂

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, I suggest you look at our FAQ page.

  15. Thank you for this post. Jesus said in my heart a couple of weeks ago, “You cannot serve two masters.” He opened my eyes to show me that I can’t serve Him FULLY and trust Him FULLY if I stay in a marriage because of fear over finances. I can’t serve Him and money. I have had nights of shaking like Megan describes here. It is so good to know this is normal for this circumstance. It is so hard to take the definitive step to end this relationship. I am very grateful for this website.

    1. Thank you BreathAgain. I love the way God applied the scripture ‘you cannot serve two masters’ to your situation. I have never heard that application before, but of course it is spot on. 🙂

      1. Thank you Barbara, I appreciate your encouraging words! Looking at His words again, instead of feeling convicted by them, or accusing myself with them, I see He is offering me Freedom. For whatever reason I didn’t see that part of it until right now. He is lifting a burden of fear. 🙂

  16. Thank you. For your post. Its so hard to go through this pain. Great passages from the Bible. I really needed this message today.

    1. Hi GoingThrough,

      Welcome to the blog! We like to encourage new commenters to visit our New Users’ page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. I changed your screen name to protect your identity. If you would like another screen name feel free to contact me, TWBTC, at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

      Also you may find our FAQ page helpful.

      Again, Welcome!

  17. I am days away from escaping my emotionally abusive husband. We have been together for [a few] years, and I was abused from the very beginning. I am a survivor of sexual child abuse, and I believe the empathy and vulnerability that instilled in me is what attracted my husband to me. He has been breaking me down ever since the beginning. Not until I sought counseling in secret, and helped my best friend escape an eerily similar relationship did I see what was going on in my life clearly.

    My confidence has gone from a moderately healthy level to nothing. My anxiety has made me sick to the point that I have lost weight that my already small frame did not need to lose. I began to have [medical concerns]. I have been prescribed both anti anxiety medication and antidepressants. I am a sad shell of the young woman I used to be. The worst of it all, is I love him. I love him and have loved him unconditionally for [these] years, never receiving the same in return. I truly thought it was my duty to stay with him, love him, and take care of him for the rest of my life because I could not imagine how anyone else could. I am only [in my mid-twenties] years old, I’m well educated, successful in my career field, and have been told by many people that I am beautiful. Yet he, in my eyes, had reduced me to so little that I began to hate myself and feel “trapped” in my marriage feeling that no one else would love me either.

    Leaving him will be the scariest thing I have ever experienced. He terrifies me as he has recently shown me a potential for becoming physically violent. However, I know that the moment this house is in my rear view mirror, I will be able to breath for the first time in much too long. For every moment I feel scared and anxious about my decision, there are twice as many moments where I find myself smiling with the thought of relief, feeling safe, and how bright my future is. I will NEVER forget who I am again, and I will NEVER let anyone else forget it either.

    1. Soon to be Free,

      Welcome to the blog! You will notice that I changed your screen name as it appeared that you gave your real name. For safety reasons I changed your screen name and edited your comment of specific details. If you would like a different screen name please feel free to contact me at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

      We also like to encourage new commenters to read our New Users’ page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog.

      And, as you may already know, leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time as the abuser will often escalate his abuse. You may find some helpful information on our Safety Planningpage.

      Again, Welcome to the blog! Very glad that you are getting free!!

    2. Hi Soon to be Free,

      Since leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time, I encourage you to look at our Safety Planning page and also to ring a DV Hotline to discuss safety planning. Or you could contact your local DV support service to discuss safety planning. You may already have worked out many safety strategies for yourself, but it’s always useful to get a second opinion from a DV professional who is trained in safety planning.

  18. I had the strength to leave my abuser today. Finding this made me have hope for my future in knowing that this is just the difficult part. I’ve allowed myself to lose sight of my dreams and aspirations because of a man who made me feel a certain way. It feels scary and lonely right now, I find my only close friend right now is God and knowing He heard my prayers, He gave me this opportunity.

    Thank you for your beautiful words that didn’t allow me to give up on my life yet.

    1. Hello dear sister and welcome to the blog! 🙂

      I changed your screen name to Aspiring as it looked like you had given you real name. We want to help you keep safe. 🙂

      I honor you for your courage and strength.

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you might like to look at our FAQ page.

      May I also offer you another tip? Rather than saying ‘I allowed myself to lose sight of my dreams and aspirations,’ you might find it more helpful to say ‘My abuser infiltrated my mind, colonised it, and surreptitiously coerced me to not follow my dreams and aspirations.’

      That way the blame is placed on the abuser, where it belongs.

    2. I second what Barbara says in her suggestion. You didn’t allow yourself to lose sight of your dreams and aspirations. Your abuser didn’t detail out to you up-front what his plans were for you. Your abuser didn’t tell you how your dreams and aspirations would be kicked to the curb, thanks to his evil takeover of your life.

      You were set up. You were conned. And you didn’t give up on yourself, but rather has such taken from you.

      Abusers are predators. Abusers enslave. Abusers rob the abused of their lives, time, talent, energy, gifts, resources, skills, dreams, goals, etc. Abusers are poison. Abusers are soul murderers.

      But you got yourself out of there and that speaks to how strong and courageous you are. Congrats. Better to be lonely than to have a parasitical terrorist robbing you of your present and your future.

      Abusers are really very skilled at being the predators they are. Of course he made you feel a certain way. It’s like a fishing expedition for abusers. They have an agenda, which is to devour you, and they disguise the hook with some tasty, alluring, very attractive bait and BAM! Hook, line, sinker. You were simply a normal, non-predatory person who wanted to love and be loved and a thug suckered you. No shame in that. You were upfront, he was not. You were honest, he was not. You were genuine, he was not.

      The best of society are most often the choicest morsels of prey for the depraved abusers / predators.

    3. Congratulations on taking such a big step to freedom! What wisdom it took to see the opportunity and courage to make that move. God does hear our prayers, and I know what it feels like to have Him as my only friend. But how wonderful to have such a Friend. He will never lead you astray and will be there for you day and night. I’ll be praying for you.

  19. I left my abuser a little while ago. Recently we had a meeting, mediated by our pastor. My abuser wanted to know when we were getting back together, even though he doesn’t acknowledge that he has abused us at all. And the pastor, who I thought was there to mediate, told me he felt the relationship was mutually abusive. The implication being that I shouldn’t divorce my abuser because we’re both as bad as each other. I am shattered. I feel so betrayed. I just can’t get my head round how the church can be so harsh and unloving.

    Right from the beginning, when I went to the church leadership for help because my husband had assaulted my son, they have just pressured me not to get a divorce, but haven’t provided any pastor help to me. I kept asking for regular meet ups to support me but it never happened. I wanted to go through the Freedom in Christ course to try and build my own strength and deal with the issues, but that never happened either.

    And now I also find that a very personal detail about my life which I shared in confidence at a women’s group at the church, is known by the pastor. I don’t know who I can trust any more.

    This church was a major source of support for me and my kids and now they seem to be siding with my abusive husband. They say they’re trying to support both of us, and I understand their intention (I think), but it’s like they have no idea what abuse is like, and it’s making things worse.

    1. Dear sister, your experience is typical of what we hear from many victims. They seek help from the church about the abuse. The church says they will support the victim, but it soon becomes apparent that the church leaders are clueless and are actually enabling the abuser.

      By the way, I changed your screen name on this comment to Anon–in-Hesitance. I did this because you had given a different screen name from the one you have used before on this blog.

      If you want us to change the screen names your comments have been posted under, please email TWBTC. She can change any screen name on any comment. Her address is twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

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