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If you're in an abusive relationship, you are not safe. Like someone standing outside in a tornado, or someone inside a house that's on fire, you're in a dangerous and unsafe situation.
Just like you do your damndest to get out of a house that's on fire; just like you look for safe shelter away from the tornado? The only way to get safe, and make abuse stop when someone is doing it to us, is to get away from it as safely as possible and stay away.
We can't really stop someone abusive from abusing us. They won't stop if we do everything "right" by their standards and none of the things they say "make" them hurt us. Those are empty promises. People who abuse will always find new reasons or excuses to abuse. They won't stop if we somehow understand them better: that could only make us better understand why they are behaving the way they are. But it won't change their behaviour. They won't stop because they love us. People who abuse us either don't love us, or think, in the busted way people who abuse often do, that abusing us is loving us.
We can't change someone else's behaviour. To make abuse stop, all we can do is change our own behavior by getting away from them, and staying away, so they don't have the opportunity to abuse us any more.
We know leaving isn't something everyone is always ready to do, or can do right away. Sometimes it takes time to process and accept that abuse is what has been happening; it takes some work to get out of the headspace abuse puts you in enough to see things clearly, gather your courage and take action. Other times we just have a lot we need to put into place before we can leave. If we live with the person or people abusing us, we have to find somewhere else to live and survive altogether, often with few resources and liberties to do it with. Even when we're in abuse and live elsewhere, it's still usually challenging to untangle ourselves from it, emotionally and practically. And no matter the situation, far more times than not, leaving safely involves careful planning.
While leaving, and staying far away, makes a person much safer in the end, leaving usually will temporarily put your safety at a higher risk. Abusive people tend to escalate if and when the person they are abusing is leaving or they think they may be preparing to leave. So, for as much -- and as soundly -- as anyone says you just need to leave immediately, it is in your best interest to do it as safely as you can, which usually means planning.
We have two different plans here, each with some things you can do to stay as safe as possible before you leave or can leave, while you are leaving, and after you've left. We've made these plans to suit most kinds of relationships, not just one kind. Abuse can happen with sexual or romantic partners, with friends, with family, even sometimes with people we don't know. It can also be something someone does to anyone: not just to women, not just heterosexuals, not just to less educated people or to people who don't know what abuse is. It can happen to anyone.
If and when someone abuses or is abusing you, please know that it is never your fault. It is about something they are doing, by choice, to you: it wouldn't be happening if they weren't doing it. You are not "making" them abuse you: they are actively (and usually knowingly) choosing to do so. There are things we can do to help prevent abuse or assault before it happens, and we should, of course, do those things as much as we can out of self-care. But sometimes we can't do those things. Sometimes, even when we do or have done those things, abuse still happens or we still wind up in something abusive. These plans are not here because we think abuse is your fault or doing: they are here because we want you to get safe again and leaving is the way you can make that happen.
These plans are here because you matter. Even if what you've been through or in has made you feel like you don't anymore, you do. We want to give you tools that can help you get yourself out of and away from danger and abuse once it is already happening, to do what you have the power to do so that you can get back to having a life that reflects your value, one that's safe for you to live and supports you always knowing just how much you matter.
Not sure if your relationship or situation is abuse or abusive? Click here to find out more about abuse or assault. Want a check-in for healthy relationships? Take a look here. Not sure if you should stay or go? Check this one out.
An app that can help: Circle of 6 is an app developed by Nancy Schwartzman and others to provide an easy tool to help keep yourself safe in a range of situations, or get help getting safe fast. It allowa you to pick six contacts you know would likely be able to come and get you from somewhere (and it will show them exactly where you are and how to get there), call you to interrupt a bad situation, and a few subtle ways to alert those you choose to put in your circle if and when you are in trouble and need help.
Ongoing abuse skews our perceptions: in a lot of ways, that's what abuse does by design; it keeps someone being abused confused and off-balance all the time. Someone who puts us down, sexually assaults us or hits us one day can show vulnerability or care (or make it seem like that's what they are doing) the next. But, the apology and the aggression are not opposites. In abusive dynamics, they're just different sides of the same coin. This makes abuse a difficult situation to think through: if we've been in abuse, our clear thinking and feeling has been intentionally obscured or denied. It's hard to know what's important: everything can seem back to front.
If you were about to click on one of those plans up there but paused, and kept reading, chances are one of the following thoughts or ideas might have stopped you. Here are some things you don't need to do, and why these thoughts aren't in your best interest:
You don't need to wait for the "last straw": Many people find it difficult to leave, because the time when they feel most able to is when things are going "well." The person abusing them is behaving, apologizing, and isn't actively abusing or escalating at the moment. They may even seem sweeter than ever...for now. You may think things will get better, or that maybe things weren't as bad as you remember. Of course, this honeymoon phase will pass. You'll soon be reminded that they're not getting better, and that things are exactly as bad, if not worse, as you thought.
Once you're in abuse, you already are at the last straw: any abuse is unacceptable and usually criminal. Any abuse is something that tells you, clearly, you're not in a healthy relationship, you're not safe, and it is time to get gone so you can be safe.
Over time, abuse also usually escalates; that "last straw" can, unfortunately, be too late. It may be the last straw lands you in the hospital from the abuse (or does again), or results in a pregnancy from reproductive coercion or sexual abuse. Or, like 33% of women who are homicide victims each year, or the 4% of men who are, the last straw may be an abusive person killing you. If that seems far-fetched or alarmist, please know it probably did at some point to the people who were killed by their abusers, too. Waiting for someone to take abuse up one more notch not only isn't necessary, it is dangerous and can be fatal.
You don't need to feel 100% comfortable with leaving: Habits and routines are familiar. They can make us feel more safe and comfortable than change, even positive change. And, of course, you probably care about the person or people abusing you: if you didn't, you wouldn't be in this in the first place. You've likely also had someone abusive working your head and heart to keep convincing you that you deserve abuse in some way, that it's your doing, not theirs, that their very survival depends on you not leaving, that really, they just love you so much they can't help but abuse you... a bunch of tricks, manipulations and busted ways of thinking abusive people often use to cloud and confuse your thinking.
If we've been in abuse for a while, including if we grew up with it, it's going to feel like it's normal and just how things are. It's hijacked our hearts and our heads. It's made us feel like we deserve it and do not deserve to be safe, happy or healthy.
So, you're bound to feel conflicted. Getting away from abuse doesn't always feel totally right. We can get the idea breaking free should fill us with immediate happiness, but that's not always the case. It can take time and be temporarily uncomfortable, but it is temporary, and a temporary discomfort that will get you to a way more safe and comfortable way of living and loving. Deciding to leave means putting aside that resistance and making the safe bet that you'll feel good about leaving when you look back later, rather than now. And we can promise that you will: everyone feels better when they are free of abuse.
You don't need to justify yourself: Some people may try and talk you out of leaving. They may be family or friends who are themselves in abuse or abusive, or people who don't see the side of the person or people abusing you that you do. They may be people who, for whatever reason, just do not freaking get it. A person abusing you will almost always try and keep you from leaving, physically or through emotional manipulation: that's one of the reasons this is not a decision to discuss with them.
You may also feel like you have to justify your actions to yourself; to convince yourself completely it is okay for you to leave. But it's always okay for anyone to leave a situation or relationship that is unsafe (or any relationship, for that matter). Just by being in something where someone is making you unsafe, you already have all you need to know to justify getting away to get safe.
These plans to leave safely include some helps on how and where to find real support. When you're leaving abuse, you really want to leave abuse behind, and that includes anyone who'd enable it and help you stay unsafe instead of helping you get safe. You can find your helpers, who will support you, and just set anyone who isn't willing or able to help, or who would stand in your way, aside for now.
You don't need to hate the person or people you are leaving: It doesn't matter what kind of a person they are "deep down." They are abusive because of what they do, not because of who they are. This also isn't about how you feel about them. However you may feel, they are hurting you and it has to stop. They probably won't stop it, and they will not take good care of you, so you need to do what you can to stop it by taking good care of yourself.
If you feel torn over what this decision says about them, or worried about hurting their feelings by leaving, it can help to remember that we don't help anyone by giving them opportunities to hurt people. Their lives, like ours, are not made better by abuse. They do not feel better when being abusive, just like we do not feel better by being abused. By leaving, and doing what we can to make abuse stop, we are not just helping ourselves: we are also doing the best -- and really, the only -- thing we can to help an abusive person or group by no longer enabling their abuse, and helping to get them out of abusive patterns, too.
A big part of loving someone well is doing what we can to help them be their best selves: no one can be their best self when they are not safe, and no one can be their best self when they are doing someone harm. So, if you feel like you can't leave because that isn't showing them love, consider that leaving someone abusive can be much more loving than staying is. This is about you, not them, and what you need to do to get safe and make abuse stop; but getting away from abuse, and taking away people's opportunities to do harm to others, ultimately benefits everyone.
The Northwest Network has a fantastic safety and/or support planning checklist you can use with friends and family (friends and family who are not being abusive, but who are offering support to you, or who you are asking for support) here. It is printable, so just be sure to keep it somewhere anyone abusing you will not find it. You might even have the friend(s) working on it with you keep it for you for now, and give it to you to keep for yourself once you have left your abusive relationship or situation and you know it's safe to have it around.