*This domestic violence post is a collaboration with multiple organisations and comes with a trigger warning.
For a long time, this was a post that was never going to be shared. One that would be forever banished to the bottom of my drafts and never to see the light of day. It was a topic that was hard enough for me to broach with friends and family, I couldn't bear to say the words domestic violence, or abusive relationship, out loud. I was humiliated and embarrassed to admit what I had been through, and not emotionally ready to confirm that this horrible period in my life was more than just a bad dream.
Why talk about domestic violence?
But then it really hit me. My experience, although heartbreaking and life-altering for me, was not unique. Sadly it's the story for many women – 1 in 3 women worldwide according to the UN – and many men. It is estimated that of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. Now safe and far removed from the domestic war zone that nearly broke me, I can admit there were times when I wondered if perhaps my life would end up another statistic.
Most of the time, I buried these thoughts under layers of denial. Let's be honest, domestic violence doesn't happen to girls like me. At least that was what I thought – what we all think – until we're in those circumstances. I never thought I would be in a situation with someone I loved so much, where I felt physically unsafe and mentally unstable in their presence. I never believed another person could claim to love someone and yet be so cruel towards them. But they can, and it can happen to anyone. Which is why it became so important to me to share my experience – no matter how hard. Because if this can help one person who is going through the same, it will be worth it.
Working with Chayn
It was award-winning organisation, CHAYN that inspired me to share my story, after they launched their brand new, interactive and intersectional mental health guide for survivors of trauma and abuse. CHAYN is a global volunteer network addressing gender-based violence by creating survivor-led resources online. The group started in 2013, and have since reached hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Their goal is helping women who are experiencing abuse to find the right information and support they need to take control of their life.
Most importantly, their resources are driven by the needs of victims and survivors from diverse backgrounds. They provide support without judgement for each stage of women’s journeys. The organisation designs for resilience and empowerment – encouraging women to feel independent so they can take informed actions. They focus on making women feel heard, understood and motivated to live a happy life. While I didn't come across their work until very recently, I think their resources could be invaluable for someone living through the same situation I did. From this point on in this post, I will talk very honestly about my experiences of domestic violence, if you find this triggering at all, please feel free to not read any further.
How domestic violence started for me
Manipulation and guilt
I want to stress that for a long time, I really felt like I was in a loving relationship. Many people see abusive relationships portrayed on TV as extremely violent and assume it is like that from the beginning, but most don't start that way. It's far more subtle than that, and honestly, it was only with hindsight that I could really see the extent of the manipulation and guilt used against me. It started with his jealous accusations of flirting, and when I tried to end the relationship early on, manipulation through apologies and declarations of love, and talk about our future.
Criticism and bullying
Criticism started small with the odd comment and eventually becoming a nasty, vicious attack on everything I said and did. It was no to everything I said, before I'd even finished saying it. I was wrong about everything, told I was stupid. It gradually broke down my confidence, made me question everything and blame myself. The bullying wasn't even noticeable at first, but later started from the second I opened my eyes in the morning, until I dared close them to sleep again that night. But most importantly, it was never constant – if it had been, no-one would ever put up with it. Instead, the cruel bullying was cleverly inter-weaved with overwhelming affection and love, and, at the worst times, cold indifference.
The sad thing is, that despite how bad the violence was, it was never the worst part. I could easily list the brutal and horrible things that I experienced, but anyone who has gone through the same will know why I'm not. Because there are no end of women out there – who may not consider themselves a domestic violence survivor – but who have seen the light in their partner's eyes disappear as they turn into a cruel, bullying shadow of themselves. The violence is never the worst part.
Identifying the signs
Physical abuse is easy to identify if it's punching, beating, slapping and kicking. But it can come in so many other forms. It could be restraining you to the point it hurts, spitting at you or locking you in a room. He might be sexually abusive towards you, or even tricking you into injuring yourself, or believing that's what happened. He might throw food or other items at you. It might even be violence that doesn't even hurt but is done to mock and belittle you because you're physically incapable of stopping them.
Mental and emotional abuse
This is much more complicated and can cover a range of factors:
- Gaslighting – making you believe their twisted lies and question whether you are responsible for the arguments and violence. Read this for more information on Gaslighting
- Separation and feeling isolated – like you have no-one to turn to.
- Belittling and bullying – making a person feel worthless and humiliated either at home or in front of other people.
- Creating reliance – making you feel like you need the person and are incapable of surviving without them
- Counter-reliance – the abuser may make you feel like they need you, like you are responsible for helping them to stop hurting you, like they can change.
- Emotional roller coaster – flooding you with love and then snatching it away for cold indifference and loneliness, forcing you to be grateful and crave affection.
Getting the help you need
When you haven't experienced domestic violence, it's easy to ask why people don't just leave. But the truth is, many people try multiple times and often won't actually leave until months or even years later. It's more than just escaping physical violence, it's the emotional blackmail and bullying that makes you feel incapable of getting out. Escaping an abusive relationship is something you should be applauded for, it takes more strength and determination than most can imagine, but often it is just the start of a long journey back to yourself.
I can't tell you how many times I had my bags packed, how many times I went to leave and was dragged back in, both physically and emotionally. Eventually leaving happened after something finally snapped inside me and I decided I couldn't put up with any more.
It's the moment when you realise that no matter how much you love the person, you can't heal them, but they can break you.
No matter how much you want to save them and the relationship, you have to put yourself first or risk losing yourself altogether.
Family and friends
I never told a single member of my family or friends until the day I left. It's easy to say you should talk to someone, but not everyone has someone to talk to – a key trait of these situations is feeling incredibly isolated. Even if you do have someone to talk to, it's not exactly the easiest situation to talk about. No-one will talk until they are ready – in my situation I had tried to speak to a few friends about it but never got farther than saying we'd been arguing a lot. Deep down I think the reason I didn't say anything was because if I said it out loud, it meant the relationship was over and until the day I left, I wasn't ready for that.
In my situation, I was able to get myself out safely, but if you are in any danger, it's important that you tell someone. It could be family or friends, it could even be the police or even a neighbour. After you are out, don't be afraid to lean on family and friends – they want to help, they want to support you. Let them. It's not the easiest thing, but it makes a world of difference to surround yourself with love after being so hurt and isolated for so long.
In the wake of such devastation in your life, it's vital that you give yourself the space, and the time to heal. The effects of abuse can be long-lasting and can some people years to get through. During this time it's important to set boundaries and to focus entirely on yourself, and getting back to normal. Self-care means different things for different people – some may feel emotionally drained and have to force themselves to go through the motions of life for a while. Others may be a mess of emotions as they come to terms with what they have been through. What is important is that you realise your way of dealing with things, is the right way for you. It doesn't matter what other people think you should, or should not, be doing.
Focus on the basics – good nutrition and exercise make a huge difference to lifting that cloud. Talking to people about everything, or nothing, and even retreating from people and taking a break if you need it. Social media can be toxic and triggering at a time like this – so don't be afraid to cut yourself off from it. Surround yourself with love, and make plans for the future. Realise that while this was a low point in your life, it doesn't have to be your life. It’s vital that you remember you’re not the same person who was in that relationship – you found the strength to walk away. Being aware that you’re much stronger now than ever before can really help you to move forward with your life.
Legal support and compensation
Sometimes it's not as simple as just walking away. You can still be at risk and have to get the police involved, or even go to court. One thing I can advise, if you are in a situation like this and unable to leave – document everything. Keeping a diary of what happens, tell a friend so you have a record and a witness, or even let your phone record the violence. It's a horrible thing to have to do, but it can be vital if you have to take things further to the police or require legal support later on.
Another way you can move forward with from an abusive relationship is to make a claim for compensation to help you through this difficult time and move forward with your life. With the help of CICA UK you can find out whether you might be entitled to compensation that could help you rebuild your life after domestic violence.
Moving on with your life
You are more than your experience. You can choose to be a victim and let your experience define you, or you can take a step back and realise it was never about you. That's a hard pill to swallow, but the truth of the matter is that this person is cruel and emotionally broken, and they just happened to come into your life. Perhaps the situation, or the type of person you are, made you more vulnerable to them, but that doesn't mean you are to blame. This could have happened to anyone, and it does happen, to so many more people than you realise.
But if you are ever to truly move on with your life and be happy again, you have to stop blaming yourself and stop allowing yourself to be a victim. You survived a horrible situation, one that you did not deserve and now it is time to realise that there is life beyond an abusive relationship. This is the type of situation that can very easily affect all your future relationships and life experiences – if you let it. Dealing with what has happened is not easy, but by taking control and facing your emotions, you stand the best chance of truly moving on with your life and having a future you deserve.
Support and advice
If you are in an abusive relationship, or know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, the following support networks and charities might be useful:
- UK Goverment resource & advice for how to get help for domestic violence victims
- Citizen's Advice resource for domestic violence and abuse
- NHS information on domestic violence and abuse
- Refuge Charity – support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse
- Women's Aid Charity – support and resources on domestic abuse
- 0808 2000 247 Freephone 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline
Don't suffer in silence.