Knowing how to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship is very important for your health and safety. Even if an emotionally abusive relationship does not contain physical abuse, it can still do tremendous mental damage. In addition, emotionally abusive relationships may escalate when you try to get out. Follow these steps to help keep yourself safe.
- Recognize the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Abuse is coercive behavior which a partner uses to control you. It's hard to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship because of how the abuser can make you feel that the abuse is your fault. Consider how you feel about your partner and your relationship. Do you feel like there's something wrong with your relationship, but can't express it? Do you feel like you walk on eggshells to avoid angering your partner? Does your partner control your dress, behavior, money, job or social life? Does she threaten you with violence or constantly put you down, even in front of other people? Do you feel that no matter what you do, you can never please your partner? These are all signs of emotional abuse.
- Understand that emotional abuse is not your fault. Your partner is responsible for his own behavior, even if he tells you that she'd stop mistreating you if only you were "better." Emotional abusers abuse in order to feel power and control over others. They are experienced in manipulation and breaking down your mental defenses until you believe that their behavior is your own fault. Stop taking responsibility for your partner's actions. That is the first big step towards getting out of an abusive relationship.
- Write a list of the ways your partner manipulates you. An emotional abuser might deny or invalidate your feelings, so you don't feel that you have the right to complain. If you talk about her behavior, she might try to change the subject or accuse you of attacking her. One of the reasons that emotional abuse works so well is that the abuser can convince you to doubt your memories and experience–to apologize for doing something wrong even if you didn't. Writing down the ways your partner tries to put you down or deflect arguments will make it feel more real and help give you the inspiration you need to get out of the emotionally abusive relationship.
- Plan a safe exit from your emotionally abusive relationship. You may face added problems depending on how serious your relationship is. For example, if you live in the same house, you will have to find shelter, and if you have children you may need to hire a lawyer to get custody. Find a friend's house to stay in, or if you have your own place, move or change the locks. Do not tell the abuser that you are planning to leave, as this may make the situation escalate.
- Cut off contact with the abuser. Ideally, you should not talk to your partner or respond to any of her attempts to contact you. After you get out, an emotional abuser may beg forgiveness and promise to change. This is a common manipulation tactic; never believe it until you actually see the change. An emotional abuser may also stalk you or threaten to harm you; if that happens, call the police. If you need to have contact with your abuser (for example, to work out a custody agreement), never meet with her alone. Always take a friend to redirect the conversation if she gets out of hand–and, if possible, a tape recorder for evidence.
- Realize that getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship is hard. Emotional abusers do lasting damage to your mind and your self-esteem. You may suffer from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Talking to a therapist, attending an abuse support group or calling an emotional abuse hotline may help you work through the effects of abuse.
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