Rebuilding After an Abusive Relationship

[CW: Covert Narcissism, Emotional Abuse, Covert Manipulation, Relational Abuse]

Leaving an abusive relationship may leave you grappling with an intense mix of emotions. Some of these emotions may be incredibly confusing and difficult to share with others.

I want you to know that it is completely normal to feel this mix of emotions! It is normal to feel both shame and pride, loneliness and freedom, regret and excitement, numbness and vitality, confusion and clarity…they are all a part of what you have been through.

You may also experience an even more confusing set of symptoms related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One moment you may feel fine and the next you may find yourself feeling anxious or completely numb. You may find that you frighten easily and that you avoid the outside world.  Perhaps you have trouble sleeping and get caught up in a frenzy of anxious thoughts.

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Just know this one thing: healing is possible. You deserve better and you deserve to rebuild.

Rebuilding after an abusive relationship is a journey and not a destination. Regardless of the path you take towards rebuilding, healing means doing the internal work and showing up for yourself over and over again.

Finding Safety

One of the first ways that you can show up for yourself, is by re-establishing a sense of safety. When we are in an abusive relationship our fight, flight, freeze system (the part of our bodies designed to respond to danger) is constantly being activated. That means your body is constantly saying “danger, danger, danger!”. Now that the threat is no longer there, your body needs time to remember what it feels like to be safe. Take this time to find stability and safety. Physically be in a place where you know your ex cannot harm you anymore. Mentally find space to feel safe. This may mean learning how to ground yourself in the present moment, holding yourself tightly to calm your nervous system, or meditating to find stillness…whatever helps you feel that sense of stability and safety.

Allowing for Grief

Once you have established safety, give yourself time to grieve. The grief you feel after leaving the relationship will feel confusing, conflicting and sometimes downright infuriating. Find a way to process this grief rather than hide from it. Feel the emotions as they arise, sit with them. Picture each big emotion like a wave crashing over you, knowing that it will eventually pass...and come back. Showing up for yourself in this moment may mean journaling, mediating, praying, making art, being in nature, dancing, singing, drumming, or moving your body in a joyful way- all the while allowing yourself to feel what you feel.

Processing & Healing Trauma

Finally, the last way that you can show up for yourself is by giving yourself the time and space to process, and heal from, the trauma that you have been through. Processing and healing trauma can be incredibly scary and yet incredibly freeing. You will learn that you are not your trauma. You will learn that what you went through makes you a warrior. You will learn that your story has the power to heal. Know that this is a process and it doesn’t only take time, it takes vulnerability, patience and tenacity. You will feel up, down and sideways along the way, but eventually you will feel things smooth out. You will feel a greater sense of peace and empowerment. You will feel like ‘you’ again.


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Author: Kassandra Heap, MC, Registered Psychologist

@kassandra.heap.yyc on Instagram

Kassandra is an associate clinician at Cobb & Associates in SW Calgary. For more information about her and how to book an appointment visit https://www.nathancobb.com/Cobb-And-Associates.html

*Disclaimer: the article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. The author is not liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on information obtained through the article. It is your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information, opinion, advice or other content in the article. Please seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding the evaluation of any specific information, opinion, advice or other content. Never disregard professional advice, including medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read in this article.

Karina Zapata