Looking after yourself emotionally
Leaving a relationship can be difficult, even if it was abusive or not. Making the transition can be hard and there will be many challenges you may face. When you have left an abusive relationship it is important that you get support to help you deal with your experiences to assist you through any legal processes and to help keep you and your children safe.
When you leave a relationship, you may feel the loss of identity and mourn your relationship.
It might take some time before you start to feel safe and confident to make decisions about your future, concerned that you might make mistakes. You may feel your emotions very strongly and might experience feelings of anger, betrayal, grief, joy and freedom. The feelings you are experiencing may be overwhelming, contradictory and unexpected. This is very normal and these feelings are just part of the transition process.
Some of the feelings you may experience are:
This is part of letting go of a relationship and all the plans, hopes and dreams associated with it. Even if the relationship was violent there may be good things about the relationship and your former partner that you will mourn.
You might experience a sense of euphoria that could last for weeks or months after you have left the relationship. It can energise you and make you feel that you have made the right decision. This euphoria may be followed by anger or depression.
You might be surprised by the intensity of the anger you may feel, after keeping it bottled up during the relationship. You may also feel frightened by the level of rage, however it too is normal and is just part of the process you are undergoing. Anger can be used constructively to motivate and empower. Talk about your anger and be careful that you do not use it negatively for revenge or harm. This could lead to negative consequences for you.
When you are in a violent relationship you may experience anxiety about what your partner will do however you may continue to feel anxious even after the relationship has ended. As you gain more control over your life and become more comfortable with making decisions your anxiety may decrease.
After leaving the relationship you may find that you have very few connections with people and feel lonely and isolated. Over time you may have lost contact with friends and family or have had to relocate to a new area to be safe. You may be concerned about making new friends and struggle to know who to trust. As impossible as it seems the loneliness will pass as you make new relationships or renew old ones. Loneliness can often be a key reason for women returning to the relationship.
You may also experience a range of physical symptoms. These may include sleep disturbances, changes in heart rate, diarrhoea, constipation, menstrual changes, weight loss, weight gain, skin conditions, hair loss, heartburn and nausea. You may also have poor concentration, poor memory, indecisiveness, irritability. As every woman’s experience and journey is unique, it will be different for everyone. It is a time to look after yourself and treat yourself with kindness and compassion. You may find it helpful to talk to a health professional or people in your life who are supportive.
You can also talk to your GP about a Mental Health Care Plan. These plans can help you access counselling sessions with a local Psychologist or Social Worker who are registered with Medicare. The sessions may be free or have a small gap payment depending on the provider. Each one is different so make sure you talk to them about any fees or charges.
If you require support after hours there is a national phone line 1800 Respect (1800 737373) that you can also call for support and counselling.
Women who have experienced family and domestic violence often grieve the loss of their relationship to the same extent that women experiencing divorce or relationship loss for other reasons.
DV Practice Guidelines, Western Australian Government 2013.
I feel like I want to return to the relationship
After leaving your relationship you might have feelings of remorse and regret and consider reuniting with your former partner. This might be motivated by loneliness, fear, pressure from friends or family or your former partner, concerns about your children and feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.
It is important at this time to stay connected to your support networks and agencies that are supporting you. Specialist Domestic Violence services will understand the challenges you may be facing, the emotions you are feeling and will be respectful of your choices. They can provide you with support to assist you to understand that this too is part of a process, help you to recognise the growth that you have undergone and help you imagine a safe future for you and your family.