Updated: Jan 21
Everyone knows how hard it is to break up a relationship but to leave a person who is abusing you is particularly hard. Mainly because of the fears that are involved… What will you do? How will you do it so you are safe? What if what he told you are true? (Incidentally, they are not true) ‘You can’t leave me, I will kill myself” or “you’ll never survive without me” or maybe you are scared that he will physically attack you, maybe, even kill you. You may have been isolated from your friends and family and you have no one to call for help. You may have been financially controlled, which means you don’t have any access to money. You may have been sexually abused or physically abused or emotionally abused and controlled which has led to you having been diagnosed as depressed, having PTSD and other traumatic related illnesses. You may feel confused to whether you are overreacting or if you should or shouldn’t leave. One moment you are so desperate to get freedom but then within minutes want to see if you can change the abuser, you know the abuser, they don’t mean it, they are lost, they had a bad childhood and ‘I feel sorry for them’. I get it, it is a hard decision. This is not a good enough reason to stay. Yes, they may change, in fact from my experience, they seem to get worse over time.
Let me make this clear… YOU actually DO matter, and you need to get your children (if you have any) and yourself to safety. But you do need to know how to do it safely.
If you are in immediate danger call the police.
Let’s put a safety plan in place. You are more than happy to put a fire plan in place, but this seems a little weird to you, the thing is, if you are already in an abusive relationship there is more chance of an abusive episode than a fire. This is a good protocol for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it reduces the reaction from the abusive partner. I don’t want to scare you but the most dangerous time for anyone is when they are breaking free from a controlling relationship because all of the sudden the abuser is out of control, and they are desperate to regain that control at any cost. When you have a plan in place you can be completely out of the danger zone within minutes before the abuse actually realises what has happened. (we will talk about safety after you leave later)
Another reason is, it will help you to create order from chaos, the physical chaos and the emotional one. It orders your mind to create a sense of well-being. It helps you feel like you are in control, and for someone in an abusive relationship that is a rare commodity that will be a welcome feeling.
Another reason to make a plan, is that it is so easy to feel insecure and out of place once we leave. We feel that it’s hard to live without the abuser and and it’s a scary thing to feel that no one is controlling you and you don’t know what to do with that. The fear of being alone also scares us. So we go back. It might take a few going backs before we leave completely, and sometimes we end up staying because it’s too hard. If we make a plan of action and we set this in motion, it helps to give us a clear path and vision and we are able to stay out of the abusive environment that controlled us foe so long.
Even if you are not quite ready to leave yet you can start to prepare to create a safe place.
1) Know what makes your abuser ‘lose it’ (red flags). Stay alert for signs that your abuser is getting upset and may explode in anger or violence. Prepare some several believable reasons to leave the house quickly (either through the day and at night) if you sense that she/he is about to lose it.
2) Create a code word. Establish a word, phrase, or signal you can use to let your children, friends, neighbours, or co-workers know that you’re in danger and they should call the police. You can either text them or call them.
3) Find a safe area in your house If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window. (it might be good hide a ‘secret’ phone somewhere in the room you chose). Avoid small enclosed areas such as bathroom or anywhere where he can find a weapon such as kitchen.
A Safe Escape plan.
1. Be alert and ready to implement this plan in a moment.
Keep the car fuelled up and facing the driveway exit or facing the garage door (so back it in the garage if that is where you keep the car)
Keep the driver’s door unlocked.
Hide a spare car key where you can get to it quickly.
Have emergency cash, clothing, and important phone numbers and documents stashed in a safe place (at a friend’s house, for example).
If you don’t drive, know the area you live well, so you can find safe routes to get away into a safe area and call someone (taxi or friend/family member) to come and pick you up.
Have a pre-packed bag hidden with essentials and valuables.
2. Make and Memorise a list of emergency contacts. Ask several trusted individuals if you can contact them if you need a ride, a place to stay, or help contacting the police. If you don’t drive discuss some safe spots where you can run to and they can pick you up from.
3. Memorise the numbers of your emergency contacts, local shelter, and domestic violence hotline.
4. Practice escaping quickly and safely. This way you will know exactly what to do if you know a battle is brewing. If you have children, make sure they practice the escape plan also. If you practice it, it will be almost second nature and you will immediately know how to respond rather that freeze. (if you keep these in your phone, remember to give them pseudo names so your abuser won’t figure it out if he/she goes through your phone).
5. Call helplines on another phone. Because abusers often spy on phones, computers etc. try and call DV helplines in another phone (a neighbours or a trusted friend)
6. Check your smart phone settings regularly make sure there are no added apps that you don’t recognise. There are spying apps so he/she can figure out who you have been talking to, or where you have been.
7. Get a second phone and hide it. – this way you can keep your conversations private, you will have a spare one handy for when you leave, and you will have a different number to keep you safe from stalking. Get a prepaid SIM card, this way, bills cannot be traced.
8. Use a safe computer, Internet café or a trusted friend’s computer
9. Change your user names and passwords on all your social media, media, computers etc.
10. Prepare a place to leave to. It might be a shelter, hotel room for the first few nights (so have the number handy), a trusted friend or a relative.
11. Change Bank Account Try and set up another bank account where any wages or social security money goes into. There are banks who may help so it’s worth asking.
12. Know the abusers schedule This way you will know when you are safe to collect any important documents, and belongings, clothing, medication you may need.
Keeping you safe once you left.
1. Get an unlisted phone number and continue to use the second mobile phone that he/she doesn’t know about. Keep your new number quiet, only tell those who need to know. Stalking is a real problem for people who have been in a dv relationship
2. Use a Post office box instead of your home address
3. Cancel your name on any joint bank accounts or old bank accounts that he may know about and speak to the bank for some other security guidelines.
4. Mix up your routine, if you are remaining in the same area then change up your routines about. Drop the kids off in different ways to school, or go to work a different way, park somewhere different, etc.
5. Begin to take steps to heal and move on. Find a good counsellor any dv help lines or services should be able to help you.
This is not an exhaustive list, but some ideas to help. Any other information that you may require feel free to contact me or find some good supportive local resource.
If you feel that you are in an abusive relationship, please feel free to contact me or find someone you trust to help you. Some organisations will support you, so google organisations near you.
Read my 'Great Safe Escape blog for more information on leaving an abusive relationship safely.
If you have found this helpful to understand trauma bonding, then please share and link this blog. If you would like to know more about my own personal story, you can buy my book 'Broken To Be Beautiful' here.
Author information: Xenia Schembri
Along with her husband, Simon, are the founders of the charity At the Ark based on the Gold Coast Queensland Australia. Since 2010 At The Ark have supported families whose children have been abused and families impacted by domestic violence.
Previously, Xenia was in a 15-year domestic violent marriage. Xenia has become a voice for the voiceless and has a passion to prove that the past does not have to negatively impact the future, but positively propel anyone to change to their future.
Xenia was Woman of the Year 2020 on the Gold Coast Australia and one of the Westfield's Local Heroes in 2020. She is an international speaker and author of 4 published books. The Brave Little Bear series that equips families with self-protective behaviours and her own story Broken To Be Beautiful.
Here are links to some of her other blogs that you may find interesting.