Emotional abuse is a toxic tether that can feel almost impossible to break. It’s a slow suffocation, a feeling of internal collapse and self mistrust that can continue long after you’ve walked out the door. So how do you truly break free? And how do you protect yourself?
I remember the day I left so vividly. I had borrowed my mother’s car and carefully packed it with the remainder of mine and my daughter’s things. Over the course of a month, I had slowly and imperceptibly began moving our belongings out in preparation. At the advice of a friend, I’d also asked my mother to set up a bank account for me so that I could make deposits without question.
I was nervously waiting for my ex to come home. When he came in, I finally spoke the words, and, as if by magic I felt I had opened the portal to a new reality. I drove away elated, unburdened, and so very proud of myself. And I wish that was the end of the story… I had an inkling my ex would be vindictive, but little did I know how challenging the fallout would be.
Coming to the realization that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship is a huge step in and of itself, but actually making tangible moves to extract yourself requires even more strength. If you are with an emotionally abusive partner, be aware that the abuse doesn’t necessarily stop just because you leave the relationship. If anything, it may even escalate. After I left my relationship, I suffered years of unrelenting harassment, threats, stalking, sabotage, slander, public humiliation… the list goes on.
Below are tips for safeguarding yourself after exiting an emotionally abusive relationship. The aftermath will take a lot from you, but you get back YOU.
And that is irreplaceable.
Keep it all —
Document EVERYTHING — screenshot every vicious text message, every publicly humiliating and slanderous Facebook post, and save every disparaging email and derogatory voicemail. Documentation will help you establish credibility to your claims of patterned and consistent emotional abuse if you ever need to provide such proof in a court of law. Your instinct might be to either delete or write an emotionally charged response — but don’t do either. Just screenshot, print, and file.
Keep your cool —
Resist the urge to communicate with anything other than a tone of neutral utility. Short, polite answers to questions without initiating a dialogue will get you a long way. Be warned though, the calmer you are, the more agitated your ex will get. He or she may try to provoke you, but keep your cool and don’t react. My lawyer gave me a piece of golden advice when going through endless custody hearings. He said, “Don’t be the crazy one. The more in control you are, the more out of control your ex will be, and it will be very obvious to anyone who is who.” Some days it will take everything you have not to unleash your fury, but each time you command your emotions, you’re building back your sense of self trust, which is essential to your healing and growth.
Keep it clean —
If your coping mechanisms include a nightly glass of wine or five, cannabis galore, chain smoking, pill popping, etc. find a new way to cope. Firstly, for you. You need a clear head and a clean body to deal with what’s to come, both the challenges and the victories. And secondly, for protection. Anything your ex can use as leverage against you is worth taking off the table, especially if you have children… and alcohol and drugs are most definitely leverage.
Emotional abuse is an unseen battle that leaves its scars on the inside, and winning means reclaiming your self sovereignty in thought, word, and action.
Aliks Keller, L.Ac. is an acupuncturist and holistic health practitioner specializing in postpartum wellness and mental health. She is a happily married, mother of two. Based in New York, Aliks offers in-person and telemedicine sessions. Find her at @wellculture.co // wellculture.co.