How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Not Go Back (2023)

No matter how many times you’ve gone back, you can safely move forward and permanently leave an abusive relationship.

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Intimate partner abuse is an extremely common health crisis that impacts people of all genders, races, and ages.

Studies suggest that 10 million people in the United States are affected by family and domestic health violence every year.

If you’ve recently been in an abusive relationship, trust that you’re not alone and it’s never your fault. You can break the cycle of abuse and leave your partner for good, but it requires extensive safety planning, support, and care.

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Signs of an abusive relationship

(Video) Today’s Takeaway: How To Leave An Abusive Relationship Safely

“It’s not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if a partner will become abusive, as possessive and controlling behaviors may emerge and intensify as a relationship grows,” says Laura’s House clinical director Theresa Black, MA, MFT, ATR.

But there are certain red flags and types of abuse to look out for. Your partner may be abusive if they:

  • isolate you from friends and family
  • constantly want to know where you are and what you’re doing
  • assume control over your finances, plans, etc. without discussion
  • rarely take responsibility or admit fault
  • manipulate or gaslight you
  • exhibit intense feelings and behavior, like obsession and possessiveness
  • engage in physical, emotional, or sexual violence

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According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes an average of seven attempts for a person to finally leave an abusive partner.

“Many times, leaving an abusive relationship is not only emotionally difficult but can also be life threatening,” says One Love’s CEO, Katie Hood.

An older 2000 report by the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that threat of separation (or actual separation) can be linked with an increased risk of violence for the survivor.

Some common reasons for staying in an abusive relationship include the following:

  • You feel a sense of bonding with your partner through trauma.
  • Your partner won’t let you leave (e.g. they’re controlling or threatening).
  • You have safety concerns.
  • You have nowhere to go.
  • You lack finances or independence (e.g. shared bank accounts or no job).
  • You lack knowledge around how to leave.
  • You lack support.
  • You have feelings of fear, shame, or embarrassment.
  • You want to keep your family together for the sake of your children.
  • You worry about how your partner may feel or react.

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If you’re unsure of how to leave an abusive relationship or worried that you may go back, here are some tips that could help.

(Video) Why you CAN’T Leave an Abusive Relationship | TRAUMA BONDING (Stephanie Lyn Coaching)

Create a safety plan

Establishing safety is important. A safety plan can help you outline actionable steps to reduce risk of harm or danger during the breakup process. A safety plan may include:

  • a person to contact for help or shelter
  • important items to bring when leaving
  • steps to protect children and pets
  • steps to increase safety at work, school, church, and stores
  • steps to navigate different potential scenarios with the partner

Hood notes that certain factors can make some abusive relationships more dangerous than others. “Every relationship and every situation is unique, as is every breakup, so it’s important to create a plan to end the relationship safely.”

If you need help getting out of an abusive relationship, Black recommends reaching out to your local domestic violence hotline and making a safety plan with an advocate.

“You have options, and there are several steps you can take to protect yourself (or a loved one) on your path to long-term safety,” she adds.

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Build a safety network

“To avoid going back to an abusive relationship, surround yourself with a support network of friends and loved ones who are in the loop on why you left,” says Hood.

She also suggests reconnecting with loved ones, friends, and people in your community, especially if you’ve been isolated from them during your relationship.

Remember why you left

“It’s perfectly normal to miss an abusive partner, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right to be with them,” says Hood. “Rather, it means that there was some good in the relationship, but the bad outweighs the good because everyone deserves a healthy, safe, empowering and joyful relationship.”

She recommends writing yourself a note about why you chose to leave the relationship and why you feel it’s important to not go back. Whenever you start to miss them, look back at it as a friendly reminder of why the relationship is unhealthy and reconnection isn’t the best (or safest) idea.

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Put yourself first

It’s common to think about how your partner might feel if/when you leave, especially if they’re emotionally abusive. But your feelings matter, too, and it’s important to prioritize your own well-being.

“Remember that leaving an unhealthy relationship is not ‘quitting.’ Rather, it’s a positive decision of choosing a healthier life,” adds Hood. “Bravo for making a hard, but right, choice for yourself.”

“It’s important you focus on your own growth and processing,” says Black, who recommends practicing self-care during this time. “Give yourself kindness and time to heal.”

Trust your gut

Hood reminds you to always trust your gut, because “if something feels off about your relationship or dating situation, it probably is.”

After all, you know your situation better than anyone else. Listen to your intuition and trust your own judgment on the safest time to leave. “You have the strength to leave, but only when you’re ready,” adds Black.

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(Video) What you MUST do to LEAVE an Emotionally Abusive Relationship | Stephanie Lyn Coaching

Work toward becoming independent

Research is limited, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that increased financial and housing security can reduce risk of intimate partner violence.

Especially if you used to rely on your partner for shelter and finances, finding a safe space to live and a job can jumpstart your path to independence. “Establish financial independence, including your own source of income, savings, and credit,” says Hood.

This may improve your chances of staying away from your partner.

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Several resources are available to support you when leaving an abusive relationship.


“Reach out to your local domestic violence hotline, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or [call] 211 to get connected to more information about domestic violence as well as gaining assistance in creating a safety plan,” says Black.

She also recommends asking hotline advocates about:

  • case management
  • therapy
  • legal advocacy
  • other helpful resources

“Case management services can provide you with resources to help you gain independence, such as housing, employment, financial literacy, etc.,” Black adds.

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Support groups and organizations

Getting involved in support groups, joining organizations, and connecting with other survivors can offer you comfort and support during this time.

“Many people who find and become involved in One Love because of an unhealthy or abusive relationship report a sense of relief in seeing their situations depicted in our content, strength in educating others, or support in joining our community of volunteers, student leaders, educators, advocates, and staff,” says Hood.

Laura’s House also provides shelter, support services, and non-residential direct services to people affected by abuse in the Southern California area. You can visit or call 866-498-1511 to learn more.

(Video) How to safely leave an abusive relationship - Terri Cole

“Legal advocates can also provide education and support in terms of restraining orders and possibly provide legal referrals,” adds Black.

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Keep in mind that couples counseling doesn’t work in abusive relationships. But individual therapy can help you strengthen your relationships, set boundaries, and better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, says Black.

A mental health professional can also teach you coping strategies and tips for building healthier relationships.

“It’s important to educate yourself about the common patterns of abuse and the types of abusive behaviors you may have experienced in order to break the cycle of violence,” she says. “Knowledge is power.”

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It’s possible for you to leave an abusive relationship for good. Every situation requires different planning, but creating a safety plan, establishing a support network, prioritizing self-care, and becoming independent can help.

“No one ever deserves to experience abuse, and there are many resources available that can help you heal,” reminds Black. Joining support groups, getting involved in organizations, leaning on your loved ones, and starting therapy are great places to start.

“You’re never alone, and your relationship is not a reflection of who you are, your strength, or your worth,” adds Hood.

Remember that you’re worthy and deserving of a love that feels good. You can build happier, healthier relationships if and when you’re ready. In the meantime, focus on your safety and well-being.

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Can you break the cycle of emotional abuse? ›

If you are in an abusive relationship, you can break the cycle of abuse. The most important thing is to take action to protect your safety and well-being. Creating a plan specific to your needs and implementing it will help you break the cycle and take back control of your life.

What is the emotional abuse apology cycle? ›

The cycle of abuse is a four-stage cycle used to describe the way abuse sometimes occurs in relationships. The stages—tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm—repeat themselves over and over again if the abuse follows this pattern.

Why do trauma victims return to their abusers? ›

Survivors sometimes want the abuse to end, not the relationship. A survivor may return to the abuser because that's the person she the survivor fell in love with, and she believes his promises to change. It's not easy for anyone to let go of hopes and dreams.

How often do people return to their abusers? ›

In fact, survivors of abuse return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before they leave for good. That may sound unbelievable or unreasonable to a person who has never experienced abuse. But there are many reasons why a person might stay or return to their abusive partner.

How does the brain change after emotional abuse? ›

Emotional abuse is linked to thinning of certain areas of the brain that help you manage emotions and be self-aware — especially the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe. Epigenetic changes and depression. Research from 2018 has connected childhood abuse to epigenetic brain changes that may cause depression.

What are the 5 cycles of emotional abuse? ›

The 5 cycles of emotional abuse, as listed in Sarakay Smullens' “Five Cycles of Emotional Abuse: Codification and Treatment of an Invisible Malignancy” are enmeshment, extreme overprotection and overindulgence, complete neglect, rage, and rejection/abandonment.

What qualifies as narcissistic abuse? ›

Narcissistic abuse occurs when a narcissist progressively manipulates and mistreats people to gain control over them, creating a toxic environment full of emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, or physical harm.

Do emotional abusers know they are doing it? ›

Emotional abuse may be unintentional, where the person doesn't realize they are hurting someone else, according to Engel. And, “some people are reenacting patterns of being in a relationship that they learn from their parents or their caregivers,” adds Heidi Kar, Ph.

Why do abuse victims apologize so much? ›

Survivors of abuse carry a debilitating burden throughout their lives, thinking they are in some way to blame for what happened. An apology has the power to shift that burden from the survivor to the wrongdoer, which can have a strong impact on their sense of wellbeing and self-respect.

What kind of people do emotional abusers target? ›

Narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists may be drawn to emotional abuse because of the pleasure they take in having power over others or seeing them suffer (Brogaard, 2020).

Why do girls stay in toxic relationships? ›

Women give bad relationships second chances for many reasons—convenience, routine, stability, and habit are all real reasons and should not be underestimated—add in all the physical and emotional separation that occurs with any breakup and you're welcoming another world of pain.

What is the root that causes abusers to abuse others? ›

Abusive people believe they have the right to control and restrict their partner's lives, often either because they believe their own feelings and needs should be the priority in the relationship, or because they enjoy exerting the power that such abuse gives them.

Do all abusers lack empathy? ›

People who commit emotional abuse often exhibit self-centered behaviors and lack empathy. Once you have been exposed to these traits, you may be able to recognize them in future intimate relationships before emotional abuse can begin again.

How do victims react to their abusers? ›

Denial, disbelief and anger: Victims may experience denial, an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. They may experience disbelief, telling themselves that this could not have happened to them. They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the offender.

Why do abusers deflect? ›

Twisting occurs when the victim confronts the abuser. The abuser deflects attention from themselves by twisting facts around in order to place blame or responsibility onto the victim.

What does years of abuse do to the brain? ›

If you experienced abuse or neglect as a child, your brain might have become wired for fear, anxiety, and stress. And disorders such as anxiety, depression, or addiction can surface later in life. But recovery from the emotional aftermath of child abuse is possible with the right support and treatment.

How to heal your brain after narcissistic abuse? ›

Exercise Self-Care
  1. Paying attention to your stress level.
  2. Getting enough sleep.
  3. Eating healthy.
  4. Taking the time to do things you enjoy.
  5. Connecting or reconnecting with people in your life who are positive.
  6. Getting physical activity in your day.
  7. Using the coping skills you learn in therapy to help you manage your relationships.
Feb 3, 2022

Does emotional abuse cause PTSD? ›

Emotional abuse can lead to C-PTSD, a type of PTSD that involves ongoing trauma. C-PTSD shows many of the same symptoms as PTSD, although its symptoms and causes can differ. Treatment should be tailored to the situation to address the ongoing trauma the person experienced from emotional abuse.

Why do people who are abused often stay silent? ›

Fear of feeling responsible for the abuse or that speaking up can lead to direct physical harm. Sometimes there's a huge level of shame associated with attacks like this, as many survivors may feel it was their fault or that speaking up against their abuser may be unsafe and lead to physical harm.

What is the triangle of emotional abuse? ›

The Drama Triangle is a theoretical device we use to explain what might be going on in a toxic relationship and how to break free from it. If you imagine an equilateral triangle with its three points. At each point sits one of these three labels; Persecutor, Rescuer, Victim.

What are the four levels of abuse? ›

The four different main types of child abuse are physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

What does narcissist do after a breakup? ›

At the end of a relationship, narcissists may become combative, passive-aggressive, hostile, and even more controlling. People with NPD often fail to understand other people's needs and values. They are hyper focused on their egos, but do not account for how their actions affect others.

What is an example of a narcissist text message? ›

In this case, you might expect examples of narcissist text messages such as “I'm in the hospital, but I'm ok now,” “I can't feel my arm, but I don't think I should worry, should I?”, “I've had some bad news, but there's nothing you can do about it.”

How do narcissists treat their children? ›

Narcissistic parents are often emotionally abusive to their children, holding them to impossible and constantly changing expectations. Those with narcissistic personality disorder are highly sensitive and defensive. They tend to lack self-awareness and empathy for other people, including their own children.

What are 6 behaviors that indicate emotional abuse? ›

Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, and yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. Signs of emotional abuse.

What is a trauma bonded relationship? ›

A trauma bond is a psychological response that happens when an abused person develops an unhealthy attachment to their abuser. Trauma bonds can occur in any situation where one person is exploiting another and are not limited to romantic relationships¹.

What are 2 signs of emotional abuse? ›

5 Signs of Emotional Abuse
  • They are Hyper-Critical or Judgmental Towards You. ...
  • They Ignore Boundaries or Invade Your Privacy. ...
  • They are Possessive and/or Controlling. ...
  • They are Manipulative. ...
  • They Often Dismiss You and Your Feelings.
May 23, 2017

How does a narcissist apologize? ›

In narcissists' efforts to avoid blame, they often combine several fake apologies at once, such as, “I am sorry if I said anything to offend you, but I have strong opinions. Maybe you're too sensitive,” or, “I guess I should tell you I am sorry. But you know I would never deliberately hurt you.

How do abusers say sorry? ›

Some common phrases abusers may use include, “I'm sorry I hurt you, but you shouldn't have gotten me so angry,” or “I didn't see healthy relationships growing up and don't know what to do, I'm sorry.” While this may sound like an apology, it places the blame elsewhere instead of on the abuser's choice.

Is saying sorry constantly a trauma response? ›

But repetitive, nearly constant apologies for every little thing—or, what Psychologist Paige Carambio, PsyD calls, “apologizing for existing”—can actually be an after-effect of trauma, a self-preservation technique survivors may think they still need to utilize in order to protect themselves.

What personality type is an abuser? ›

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is highly associated with verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and/or domestic violence often suffered by those who are non-borderline.

What drives an abuser? ›

Abusers are commonly motivated by devaluation, personal gain, personal gratification, psychological projection, or the enjoyment of exercising power and control. The victims of this behavior are often subject to psychological, physical, mental, sexual, or financial abuse.

Are emotional abusers narcissists? ›

Not every abuser has a narcissistic personality disorder. Abuse occurs in many different ways and every type, degree, and combination of abuse comes with its own unique spectrum. In this spectrum, we have a limitless amount of personality types of the perpetrators that are engaging in these acts of abuse.

Why is it harder to leave a toxic relationship? ›

Leaving a toxic relationship can be very hard because of all the emotional labor and time spent trying to make the relationship work. It can feel like an internal failure, or that by leaving you are giving up on something you've invested in.

Why can't people leave toxic relationships? ›

Lack of control

People who are in an unhealthy relationship frequently attempt to end it. But they don't in the end. It occurs because some people have low self-esteem and, due to that, they believe they have no control over relationships and situations. As a result, people choose to stay rather than leave.

How do you leave a toxic person? ›

Let someone know: No more secrets. Confide in a family member or friend so that they can help you with the process. If you feel threatened, inform the local authorities that you are going to need help. Seek professional help: Leaving and recovering from a toxic relationship will take effort and time.

Are abusers born or made? ›

It is important to note that the vast majority of sexual abuse victims do not grow up to become abusers. However, some scientists believe a biological predisposition to the condition, combined with the experience of being molested as a child, might lead to someone developing the condition as an adult.

Which form of abuse is the biggest cause? ›

Physical Abuse

This kind of abuse is condemned by almost everyone and it is estimated that one in four women are victims of this kind of abuse. The most common forms of abuse include hitting, throwing and scalding, even suffocation is on the list.

What is the most common form of abuse? ›

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse. Physical abuse may include beating, shaking, burning, and biting. The threshold for defining corporal punishment as abuse is unclear. Rib fractures are found to be the most common finding associated with physical abuse.

What are at least 3 side effects of emotional abuse? ›

Emotional and psychological abuse can have severe short- and long-term effects. This type of abuse can affect both your physical and your mental health. You may experience feelings of confusion, anxiety, shame, guilt, frequent crying, over-compliance, powerlessness, and more.

What trauma causes lack of empathy? ›

Trauma survivors with PTSD show social interaction and relationship impairments. It is hypothesized that traumatic experiences lead to known PTSD symptoms, empathic ability impairment, and difficulties in sharing affective, emotional, or cognitive states.

What's the difference between a narcissist and an abuser? ›

Abusers can hide their abusiveness from the public for a lifetime and no one other than their intimate partners and children will know the truth; whereas narcissists leave a trail of enemies behind them (though they also fool some of the people along the way).

What is passive abuse? ›

Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them. There's a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does.

Why do victims become attached to their abusers? ›

Victims of abuse often develop a strong sense of loyalty towards their abuser, despite the fact that the bond is damaging to them. Conditions necessary for trauma bonding to occur include: To be threatened with, and to believe, that there is real danger. Harsh treatment interspersed with very small kindnesses.

What is reverse abuse? ›

the abuser claims that they are actually the victim in the situation, thus reversing the positions of victim and offender. It often involves not just playing the victim but also victim blaming.

What is manipulative abuser? ›

What is a manipulative relationship? A manipulative relationship happens when one person uses emotional and verbal coercion — tactics such as threats, criticism, and lying — to control the other person. It can also include physical violence. Manipulation isn't just unfair or mean: it's abuse.

Do emotional abusers know they're doing it? ›

Emotional abuse may be unintentional, where the person doesn't realize they are hurting someone else, according to Engel. And, “some people are reenacting patterns of being in a relationship that they learn from their parents or their caregivers,” adds Heidi Kar, Ph.

Does emotional abuse ever go away? ›

Living through emotional abuse can lead to trauma, impacting both your mental and physical well-being. Healing after emotional abuse can take time, but it is possible to recover from the emotional wounds that abuse has caused, along with the help of an online therapist.

What are the 4 cycles of emotional abuse? ›

The cycle of abuse is made up of four stages. These stages include the building of tension, the abuse incident, the reconciliation, and a period of calm.

Can the brain heal from emotional abuse? ›

The functions of the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex that are affected by emotional trauma can also be reversed. The brain is ever-changing and recovery is possible.

How do you release emotional abuse? ›

Be patient and empathetic with yourself as you heal. Remind yourself that it's okay to feel confused, scared, tense, angry or any other emotions that come up. These feelings are a normal part of the healing process and there is no rush to get past them. They are yours and it's okay to sit with them and experience them.

What does years of emotional abuse do to a woman? ›

Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have long-lasting effects on your physical and mental health, including leading to chronic pain, depression, or anxiety.

Is trauma bonding real? ›

Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse with another person which fuels a need for validation and love from the person being abused. Trauma bonding often happens in romantic relationships, however, it can also occur between colleagues, non-romantic family members, and friends.

What damage can a narcissist do to you? ›

Chronic abuse can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in victims who experienced other traumas. The result of narcissistic abuse can also include a pervasive sense of shame, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, and emotional flashbacks.

How do you know if you are traumatized? ›

Intrusive memories

Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event. Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks) Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event. Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.

What a narcissist does to your brain? ›

NPD Brains Work Differently

According to research, people with narcissistic personality disorder have reduced gray matter volume in areas of the brain related to empathy and increased activity on baseline images in brain regions associated with self-directed and self-absorbed thinking.

How do you release and let go of trauma? ›

How to Let Go
  1. Stay connected to your support system.
  2. Find healthy activities that help with self-expression.
  3. Move your body in gentle ways like stretching, yoga, or walking.
  4. Eat balanced meals.
  5. Keep a regular sleep routine.
  6. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
  7. Attend a support group.
  8. Use stress management strategies.
Jan 26, 2022

How do I release my trauma? ›

How to heal trauma in the body
  1. Cognitive processing therapy. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a common therapy option for healing trauma. ...
  2. Prolonged exposure therapy. ...
  3. EMDR. ...
  4. Somatic Experiencing (SE™) ...
  5. Certain types of talk therapy. ...
  6. A movement practice.

Where is trauma stored in the body? ›

Ever since people's responses to overwhelming experiences have been systematically explored, researchers have noted that a trauma is stored in somatic memory and expressed as changes in the biological stress response.


1. Why do I keep going back to my abusive partner?
(Vivian McGrath)
2. How to Leave Forever (How to Not Go Back to an Abusive Relationship) (Part Two)
(Freedom From Abuse)
3. 8 Signs Its A Trauma Bond, Not Love
4. Emotional Abuse - How to STOP loving an Abuser
(Will Perry)
5. How to Distance Yourself from an Emotionally Abusive Person
(Stephanie Lyn Coaching)
6. Why I stayed, Why I left | Mada Tsagia-Papadakou | TEDxUniversityofPiraeus
(TEDx Talks)


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