How to Break the Cycle of Abuse

Two Parts:Protecting YourselfMoving on For Good

If you are stuck in painful relationship, the cycle can be broken. What is important is taking immediate action to secure your safety and well-being. Be sure to make a detailed plan for how to break the cycle of abuse. Once you break it, don't look back; just move on the best you can and know that a better relationship and a better life can await you in the future.

Part 1
Protecting Yourself

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    Leave when it is safe to do so. Aim to leave at a time when your abuser will be out of the house, such as at work or out with friends. Give yourself plenty of time to gather essential supplies such as necessary paperwork (e.g., passports, birth certificate), essentials such as wallet, house and car keys, a change of clothes, and contact information for family and friends, or for a shelter for the abused.[1]
    • It is not necessary to leave a note saying you have left, but if you do, make sure you do not mention anything about where you will be going.
    • If you are in immediate danger, call the police and explain that you are being abused and need help.
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    Avoid rationalizing or dismissing abuse. There's a good chance that your abuser will attempt to lead you to believe that you deserve the abuse; that you did something wrong and are being punished for it. Remember, though, that it is never acceptable for one human being to abuse another. Also, abuse doesn't have to mean consistent physical violence; it can also include cases where:
    • You have never been physically hit. Abuse can be primarily emotional or verbal.[2]
    • The abuse doesn’t seem as bad as other instances of abuse you’ve heard about. [3]
    • You have been hit once or a couple of times. If your abuser has struck you once, there's a good chance he will do it again. [4]
    • The abuse stopped after you gave into your abuser's demands. [5]
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    Be aware of the honeymoon phase of abuse. In some cases, abuse is followed by a "honeymoon phase," a period in which the abuser treats his victim nicely. This may last for a few minutes or a few weeks. Do not fall for this, as it is just a ploy. You will very likely be abused again in the future if you stick around. In particular, in the honeymoon phase your abuser may:[6]
    • Be apologetic
    • Be extra attentive to you
    • Help out more around the house
    • Make promises to change his abusive behavior
    • Give you gifts
    • Compliment you
    • Spend more time with you
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    Avoid falling for niceness after abuse. One common reason individuals stay in abusive relationships is because they have hope that their abuser will change. This hope may be fueled in part by the abuser's honeymooning behaviors.[7] Do not let his behavior in the honeymoon phase fool you. Although it can feel good to get gifts, compliments, and extra attention, remember why he is doing this: he is trying to control and manipulate you to keep you in the relationship.
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    Find your power. One reason individuals stay in abusive relationships is because they feel powerless and unable to act.[8] This feeling may be compounded by circumstances, such as poverty or fear of being alone. You may not have the means to relocate, you may be holding onto hope that your abuser will change, you may not trust authority figures, your self-esteem may be so low you believe your abuser, or you may face other daunting blockades to leaving your abuser. It will not be easy. It will be uncomfortable and difficult. But by finding ways to empower yourself and increase your self-confidence, you can begin to take steps to get help.
    • Ways you might increase your self-esteem include spending time with friends or family who support you, exercising, making a detailed escape plan so you know you can get away if necessary, seek counseling or talking to a doctor or social worker, participating in activities you enjoy and make you feel good about yourself, connecting to your community through religious services or volunteer work.
    • Getting out of this mindset is difficult and takes a long time.
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    Get yourself help. Start by searching for local resources that are designed to help victims of abuse. You can receive job training, legal counseling, financial services, and services for your children.[9] With their assistance, you may have the resources to escape your abuser. You can start trying one of the following resources and asking them for more resources should you need them. Set your internet browser to private or use a computer at work or at the library and avoid using your cell phone so your abuser cannot track your web/call history.
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    Set aside money in a secret bank account. Get a secret PO Box or set up your bank to only send bills etc. via a secret email address you abuser does not have access to. This will allow you to receive information from your bank without your abuser knowing about it. Place money into your secret bank account so that you can access it should you need to escape your abuser.[10]
    • If you don't have time to do this, you could consider charging things to your shared credit card if you have one, or ask a friend or family member for a loan.
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    Arrange shelter. Having a place to stay arranged in advance is important; at the least you should have the means to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights while you make other more permanent housing plans. If you can't afford to stay in a motel for a few nights, look into other social organizations such as shelters for the abused or a church.[11]
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    Consider ditching your old cell phone. This is important for two reasons. One, if you want to cut ties for good, you don't want your abuser to be able to contact you. Your abuser may lure you in and you will end up right back in the cycle of abuse again. Two, cellular phones can sometimes be tracked down with various apps to facilitate finding lost phones. Your abuser might be able to track you this way, so be aware of this possibility. [12]
    • You might want to get a burner/pre-paid cell phone so that you can make emergency calls on the fly without worrying about your abuser tracking your whereabouts or calls.
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    Change locks, change passwords. Don't let your abuser into your life in any way. If you are remaining in your home, change the locks immediately after your abuser leaves. Also change your email addresses, cell phone password, bank account PIN number, and anything else your abuser might use to find or take advantage of you. [13]
    • Although this will be a hassle, it is critically important. All it takes is one crack in your defenses for your abuser to re-enter your life and continue the cycle of abuse.
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    Don't allow your abuser to contact you in any way. This includes blocking your abuser's cell phone number, screening unknown numbers by having the caller leave a voicemail, blocking your abuser's email address in your contacts, and blocking the person from your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).
    • If you are having trouble figuring out how to block someone, type in Google, "How to block someone" + the name of the application or software you are struggling to figure out. There will very likely be information online for how to block someone for any program that has the option.
    • If you have the option to set your online profiles or information to "private," do so. Even if you block your abuser's account, she could potentially set up a new account or use someone else's account to access your profile.
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    Obtain a Personal Protection Order (PPO). This is a court-backed document that grants you legal protection from your abuser. To get a PPO you will need to provide evidence of abuse to the courts. Your local courthouse will likely have more specific instructions for the specific kinds of information you need to provide. [14]
    • Approved PPOs must be legally served to your abuser, so that it is clear that the abuser has received notification. You will then need to show this legal proof to the courts; your local courthouse will have more specific details for how they want the procedure done and documented [15]
    • Keep copy of your PPO on you in case you need to show it to the police during a run-in with your abuser. [16]
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    Consider a restraining order. If nothing is working to break the cycle of abuse, consider going to the courts and filing for a restraining order. [17]
    • Know the limits of a restraining order. This may or may not be an effective option depending on your abuser's level of violence and ability to act irrationally. If he is prone to violent outbursts devoid of any thought about the consequences of his actions, a restraining order may do little to protect you.
    • In cases such as this, you will be better equipped to defend yourself by avoiding this individual all together or carrying pepper spray for any emergency situations that may arise.

Part 2
Moving on For Good

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    Learn to spot abusive relationships. Remember well the kind of situation that you were in and what led you down that path. Do your best to avoid making the same mistake again with a new partner by learning to spot signs of abusers. Although you can't be certain when starting a new relationship whether or not your new partner will be abusive, abusers do tend to have some common tells, such as:[18][19]
    • Very emotionally intense, emotionally volatile, or bottling his emotions
    • Co-dependent (an unhealthy dependency on a relationship or person)
    • Charming
    • A former victim of abuse
    • An alcohol or drug abuser
    • Controlling of you and/or others
    • Judgmental
    • Unwilling to compromise
    • Pushes for quick commitment or involvement
    • Cruelty to animals or children
    • "Playful" use of force in sex or demanding sex when you are ill, tired, or not in the mood
    • Believes in rigid sex roles
    • Be aware that an abusive person may be extremely charming and loving at first, showing no signs of being an potential abuser.
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    Be aware of ways an abuser manipulates or uses fear to gain power over the relationship. An abuser may use certain tactics to keep you in the relationship, creating an imbalance until she holds all the power. Some of these tactics include:[20]
    • Making and/or carrying out threats of violence
    • Threatening to leave, to commit suicide, to report you to welfare
    • Smashing things or destroying property, displaying weapons or harming pets
    • Calling you names, playing mind games, putting you down, making you think you're crazy
    • Isolating you from friends and family or forcing you to constantly check in with your whereabouts, what you're doing, and who you are with
    • Making light of the abuse or saying it didn't happen
    • Taking money or not allowing access to money, preventing you from getting a job
    • Threatening to take away children, using children to relay messages
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    Forget the past. Do your best not to look back, or else you might get sucked back in into the same vicious cycle you have left. Try to keep the future in mind; think of all the options that are exciting for your life! Thinking about the future can provide you with new meaning for your life.[21]
    • Try to think about what you might want to do with your life now that you are out of your abusive relationship. Brainstorm by writing down on a piece of paper some things that you wanted to do that your abuser denied you.
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    Spend time with your friends and family. Avoid becoming isolated; being in an abusive relationship can leave you without friends or close family. Reach out to old friends and family; suggest going for coffee or dinner or something else fun that you both enjoy. Having social support can help you feel less isolated, thereby being more likely to break the cycle of abuse, and can also reduce stress.[22]
    • You can also try making new friends at your work place, gym, or any other social gathering. Just ask someone if they want to hang out! What have you got to lose?
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    Visit a domestic violence support group. You may find it helpful to join a community of people who have gone through similar cycles of abuse. These people may have a unique ability to empathize with your situation.[23]
    • To find a domestic violence support group, you can try looking online, ask your therapist or counselor (if applicable), or look in your local newspaper.
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    Try psychotherapy. You may find that therapy helps you to recover from some of the emotional pain you have endured. Therapy may also help you break the cycle of abuse for good. Therapy may be additionally beneficial in that it can help you formulate a concrete plan for your future that keeps happier and more fulfilled, and less dependent on others.
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    Make yourself busy. To stop yourself from dwelling on the past or even thinking of returning to your abusive relationship, stay busy. Start up new hobbies and interests, take on extra work, or find new friends.
    • Research shows that staying busy can actually increase happiness, making this strategy doubly beneficial for you.[24]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Relationship Issues | Abuse