Why it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship (2023)


violence and abuse


Sanjana Gupta

Why it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship (1)

Sanjana Gupta

Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans a variety of health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition and wellness.

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Posted on June 23, 2022

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Why it can be hard to leave an abusive relationship (3)

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  • Reasons why walking can be difficult

  • Make the decision to go

When people find out someone is in an abusive relationship, they often wonder why the person didn'tleave your partner. However, the reality is often not so simple for someone in this situation.

Leaving an abusive relationship is a process that can be scary, complicated, and overwhelming. In fact, the person may try to leave their partner multiple times before finally being able to end the relationship and run away.

This article examines some of the reasons it can be difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

If you or a family member has been the victim of intimate partner violence, contact theNational Domestic Violence Hotlineem1-800-799-7233receive confidential help from trained lawyers.

If you're in immediate danger, call911. For more mental health resources, visit ourNational Database of Support Lines.

Reasons why walking can be difficult

Here are some of the reasons someone might have a hard time leaving an unhealthy relationship:

  • Hoping it gets better:The person may still worry about their partner or hope things will get better. Your partner may have promised you that you would change and asked for another chance. Abuse can often becyclicand an abusive phase can be followed by a honeymoon phase where everything feels great.However, the honeymoon phase can be difficult and lead to another episode of abuse.
  • Experiencing past trauma:People who have lived a lifetimeTraumaor abuse, they may experience a frozen or dissociative response, where they become numb and unable to process what happened. This can make it harder to respond to abuse.
  • Be manipulated or gaslighted: The person may feel confused, question their reality, wonder if they are responsible for their abuse, and feel unable to deal with it on their own after being left helpless, worthless, and powerless by their abuser has felt. This makes it difficult for them to build the confidence to walk.
  • have health problems:The person may have injuries or health problems, sometimes from abuse, that can make it difficult for them to walk.
  • Feeling isolated:Abusers often isolate their partners from their friends and family, so the person may feel like they have nowhere else to go.It can be difficult to make such a move without asupport system.
  • Have children together:Leaving a parent can be difficult because the person may not want to disrupt the children's lives, tearing the family apart and taking it away from the other parent. This can be especially difficult if the person is a good parent but an abusive partner. They may also fear losing their children, especially if the other parent threatened them or suggested taking them away.
  • Be economically dependent:The person may have no income or savings, or their partner maycontrol of your finances.They may not have access to cash, cards, or their bank accounts.
  • Counter threats:The person's perpetrator may have threatened to hurt you if you try to leave.Threats can even extend to your family, friends, or pets.
  • Be in danger:In fact, abusive relationships can be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five murders is committed by an intimate partner.The CDC also notes that more than half of female murder victims in the United States are killed by former or current intimate partners.
  • Failure to detect abuse:It can sometimes be difficult for people to recognize that they are being abused, especially when they have lived with it for many years.If they haven't had healthy, respectful relationships, they may not realize that their partner's actions are unacceptable. This is especially true in relationships that involveemotional abusebut not physical or sexual abuse.
  • Facing the pressure to stay together:Society tends to encourage people not to give up on relationships and to hold on to them no matter what. Divorce often carries with it social stigma and even breakups are seen as personal failures. There is a lot of pressure to be in a perfect relationship.
  • Not wanting to admit being abused:Someone who has been abused may feel afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to admit it to others. The fact that sacrifices are oftenguiltybeing abused doesn't help.It can be even more difficult for the person to name the abuser if they are powerful or well-liked in the community.
  • In case of legal difficulties:The person may have tried to call for help, but authorities may have dismissed this as a domestic dispute.Or the person is legally compromised in some way, which can make it difficult for them to seek help from the authorities. For example, your partner may have made a false report against you, or you are a migrant fearing deportation.

Main warning signs of domestic violence

Make the decision to go

If you are in an abusive relationship and are considering leaving, consider the following factors:

  • It's not your fault:Your partner may have convinced you that you are somehow responsible for the situation or that you somehow deserve it. You may think that if you can somehow be a better partner, it's up to you to sort things out or that everything will be fine. Remember that it is not your fault and you are not responsible for your abuser's actions.
  • Abuse is not love:Your partner may convince you that abuse, jealousy, or attempts to control you are the way to show your love or passion. However, an abusive relationship is neither healthy nor normal.amarrequires care and mutual respect.
  • Abuse usually escalates:Violence in intimate relationships often escalates and gets worse. Even if it starts as emotional abuse, it can escalate into physical abuse that gets worse with each episode.You must exit the situation as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • You are not responsible for your abuser:If you care about your abuser, you might try to convince them to get help or think you should stay with them while they're trying to heal. Sometimes abusers manipulate their partners to stay by threatening to harm themselves or by making them feel like they can't do it on their own. However, you do not owe them anything and should put your safety and well-being above their priority.

9 ways to help a victim of domestic violence

A word from Verywell

When you or a loved one find themselves in an abusive situation, getting out may not be as easy as people think. It can be a process that can take weeks or months, sometimes even years. However, it is important to create a safety plan and work towards it. Various organizations can help provide protection andSupportyou need.

It's important to create a safety plan before going out if you're concerned that your partner may hurt or threaten you in the past. Consider reaching out to your local safe house or other community resources to help you create a plan. You can contact themHomecenter Insuranceem734-995-5444For more information.

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Verywell Mind uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. read ourspublishing processto learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and dependable.

  1. US Department of Health and Human ServicesGet out of an abusive relationship.

  2. Choi AWM, Lo BCY, Wong JYH, et al.Clinical characteristics of victims of heterosexual partner violence with injuries of increasing severity.J engages in violence. 2021;36(17-18):8585-8605. doi:10.1177/0886260519850539

  3. US Department of Health and Human ServicesEmotional and verbal abuse.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Prevention of intimate partner violence.

  5. Washington State Department of Health and Human Services.Types and Signs of Abuse..

  6. Nemours Foundation.abuse.

  7. Grace E.Intimate partner violence against women and victim blaming.Taurus World Health Organization. 2014;92(5):380-381. doi:10.2471/BLT.13.131391

  8. Patra P, Prakash J, Patra B, Khanna P.Violence in partnership: The wounds go deeper.Indiana J Psychiatry. 2018;60(4):494-498. doi:10.4103/psiquiatría.IndianJPsychiatry_74_17

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Why is it so hard to break up with an abuser? ›

Leaving can be dangerous: Many people experiencing intimate partner violence realistically fear that their abusive partners' actions will become more violent and even lethal if they attempt to leave. The abuser may have threatened to kill them or hurt their child, family member or pet if they leave.

What is it called when you cant leave an abuser? ›

Stockholm syndrome is a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. This condition applies to situations including child abuse, coach-athlete abuse, relationship abuse and sex trafficking.

Why do I stay in a toxic relationship? ›

A lot of people in abusive relationships stay in them because they love their partner and think that things will change. They might also believe their partner's behavior is due to tough times or feel as though they can change their partner if they are a better partner themselves.

Why do some people stay with their abusers? ›

They may feel that they've done something wrong, that they deserve the abuse, or that experiencing abuse is a sign of weakness. Remember that blame-shifting is a common tactic that their partner may use and can reinforce a sense of responsibility for their partner's abusive behaviors.

How do you detach from an abuser? ›

Here are some detachment techniques:
  1. Make yourself solely responsible for your own well-being and happiness. ...
  2. Accept that you can't fix, change, rescue, save, make someone else happy or love someone enough to make them be nice to you. ...
  3. Eliminate the hooks of your abuser. ...
  4. Learn to control your body language.

What is staying with an abuser called? ›

Stockholm syndrome is an emotional response. It happens to some abuse and hostage victims when they have positive feelings toward an abuser or captor.

Why do victims stay? ›

Generally, victims stay because the fear of leaving is greater than the fear of staying. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful reason for “staying put.” Also, victims are often threatened with physical harm if they try to leave. It is well documented that victims are at the most risk of injury when they are leaving.

How many times does it take to leave a toxic relationship? ›

In abusive relationships, victims make an average of seven attempts to end the relationship before they do, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

How many attempts does it take to leave an abuser? ›

Leaving is not easy. On average, it takes a victim seven times to leave before staying away for good. Exiting the relationship is most unsafe time for a victim. As the abuser senses that they're losing power, they will often act in dangerous ways to regain control over their victim.

How do I stop obsessing over a toxic relationship? ›

What To Do When You Start Thinking About Your Ex?
  1. Do something you enjoy to help you get your mind off your ex. Work out, start a hobby, hang out with friends, or do anything else that's good for you.
  2. Practice meditation and mindfulness. ...
  3. Avoid talking to them or lurking on their Facebook. ...
  4. Seek help.
Oct 5, 2022

How do you let go of a toxic relationship when you still love them? ›

15 Tips for Letting Go of a Relationship That Is Not Healthy
  1. Recognize the Problem.
  2. Allow Yourself to Feel.
  3. Discover the Lesson.
  4. Create Separation.
  5. Let Go of the Mementos.
  6. Take Off Your Love Goggles.
  7. Compose a Letter to Your Ex.
  8. Focus On Empowering Yourself.
Aug 29, 2016

Why are toxic relationships so addictive? ›

If our caregiver fails to create a secure attachment, we will feel insecure (and anxious) in our attachments later in life. This has some biological underpinnings - our nervous system registers our initial attachments as “the norm” and we become biologically addicted to this type of attachment.

What mental illness do most abusers have? ›

The results of this research show that do- mestic abusers tend to obtain high points for some types of personality disorders, especially narcissistic, antisocial and bor- derline disorders. They also present symptoms of depressive disorders and consumption of drugs and alcohol.

What are 3 characteristics of abusers? ›

Red flags and warning signs of an abuser include but are not limited to:
  • Extreme jealousy.
  • Possessiveness.
  • Unpredictability.
  • A bad temper.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Verbal abuse.
  • Extremely controlling behavior.
  • Antiquated beliefs about roles of women and men in relationships.

How do you break a trauma bond with an abuser? ›

Outside of getting professional support, here are some steps you can take on your own to break free from a trauma bonded relationship:
  1. Educate Yourself. ...
  2. Focus on the Here and Now. ...
  3. Create Some Space. ...
  4. Find Support. ...
  5. Practice Good Self-Care. ...
  6. Make Future Plans. ...
  7. Develop Healthy Relationships. ...
  8. Give Yourself Permission to Heal.
Feb 18, 2022

How do you emotionally detach from a toxic person? ›

If you can't completely avoid or scale back the amount of time you spend with someone, you still have options.
  1. Set boundaries. “Boundaries are essential,” Sueskind says. ...
  2. Have an exit strategy. ...
  3. Change your routine. ...
  4. Encourage them to get help. ...
  5. Don't get personal. ...
  6. Maintain calm. ...
  7. Work with a therapist.
Nov 20, 2019

Can you ever forgive an abuser? ›

Abuse is never justified, however, it is possible to forgive your abuser if you wish to do so. Forgiving an abuser can be a very difficult and long process however it can be beneficial for the victims emotional healing process.

How does narcissistic abuse feel? ›

The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

What does 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. Read more about the effects on your health. You may also: Question your memory of events: “Did that really happen?” (See Gaslighting.)

What are the 5 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

Why do victims stay silent? ›

Abuse survivors who choose not to come forward, report abuse or tell their stories are known as “silent victims.” Assault survivors may have many reasons for their silence, including: Extreme emotional or psychological trauma that is too difficult to face. Feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment.

Why do victims get attached? ›

A person may develop a trauma bond because they rely on the abusive person to fulfill emotional needs. For example, a child relies on their parent or caregiver for love and support. If that caregiver is abusive, the child may come to associate love with abuse.

Who suffers the most from domestic violence? ›

Women ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence.

How hard is it to leave a toxic relationship? ›

Leaving any relationship is difficult. Leaving a bad one isn't necessarily any easier. The shift from powerless to empowered is a gentle one, but lies in the way you experience the relationship. It often takes as much resourcefulness, energy and strength to stay in a bad relationship as it does to leave.

Can a toxic relationship ever be saved? ›

Yes, toxic relationships can change. But that comes with a very big if. A toxic relationship can change if and only if both partners are equally committed to overcoming it with lots of open communication, honesty, self-reflection, and possibly professional help, individually and together.

Do toxic relationships eventually end? ›

If you are in a toxic relationship, know that you are certainly not alone and that it will not last forever. Even if a small part of you, like me, hopes it lasts forever because you love the person you are with, you will feel relief once it is over even if it does hurt.

Is it still abuse if it doesn't happen often? ›

Abuse happens regularly and systematically. It doesn't have to be daily, but abuse is a pattern of behavior: weekly, every couple of days, biweekly, monthly or whatever time frame you notice. This is also true when it comes to personality.

How does the mind of an abuser work? ›

Inside an Abuser's Mind

Abusers often feel they share an identity with their victim. They do not want their victim to have a life separate from them and see the victim as an extension of themselves. They will use isolation or threats to keep their victim from leaving, getting help or having any other relationships.

Is the abuser trauma bonded too? ›

Survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse will often form trauma bonds whereby they both become emotionally hooked into the relationship – this can make it extremely difficult for the survivor to unlock herself and escape from the abuse.

Why is it so hard to let go of someone you love? ›

The Reason Why It's Hard to Let Go

Loss comes in many forms, not just death. And every loss comes with a certain level of grief. Letting go of someone you love also isn't just about that person. It also signifies a big change in your life, and maybe even your identity.

How do you detach from someone you love deeply? ›

How to let go of someone you love
  1. Identify the reason. Ask yourself why you're now deciding to detach from the relationship. ...
  2. Release your emotions. ...
  3. Don't react, respond. ...
  4. Start small. ...
  5. Keep a journal. ...
  6. Meditate. ...
  7. Be patient with yourself. ...
  8. Look forward.

Why can't I let go of a toxic relationship? ›

Because of the way it can impact your self-esteem, as well as the energy required to keep it going, an unhealthy relationship can feel like your everything — making it super difficult to leave. "For some, they see having an unhealthy relationship as better than not having a relationship at all," Madison says.

Why is it so hard to let go of someone who hurt you? ›

This happens simply because you care about your partner's opinions, wishes and concerns. The thought of losing this person hurts you. And all of these emotions we experience in a relationship become building blocks for love. Our love is what it is because it has history.

What is Breadcrumbing? ›

In modern dating parlance, breadcrumbing is the equivalent of stringing someone along via digital communication without ever meeting them.

Why do men stay in toxic relationships? ›

Fear of conflict.

Usually, the longer you've been with someone, the more conflicted the process is. It is a sad reality that many men (and women) stay in unfulfilling relationships month after month, year after year, because they fear the pain involved in breaking up and moving on.

Why am I so attached to a toxic person? ›

Merging of identities. Those who suffer from toxic attachment usually have a history of unhappiness, disrupt or disturbance in their childhood. For this reason, they often form unhealthy bonding complexes, which can cause them to be clingy or seek to merge their identity to their partner's.

Why do I still have feelings for my toxic ex? ›

Sometimes, people are still thinking about their Ex for months, or even years after the relationship ended because of lingering insecurities or comparisons they're making — even subconsciously. This is often true when your Ex has moved on before you have.

Which abuse is most damaging? ›

Studies show emotional abuse may be the most damaging form of maltreatment causing adverse developmental consequences equivalent to, or more severe than, those of other forms of abuse (Hart et al. 1996).

What are signs of severe mental abuse? ›

The signs of mental abuse include:
  • Name-calling. Abusive words are a common tactic used by abusers to ridicule and demean. ...
  • Humiliation. ...
  • Withholding affection. ...
  • Making threats. ...
  • Turning tables. ...
  • Indifference. ...
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ...
  • Eating disorders.
Nov 23, 2021

What personality disorder is caused by abuse? ›

Children who had experienced such verbal abuse were three times as likely as other children to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood.

Who are the most common abusers? ›

1 The adult may be a relative, caregiver, step-parent, religious figure, coach, or babysitter, though the majority of perpetrators are parents of the child. In the United States, children experience child abuse or neglect at a rate of 8.9 per 1,000 children.

What counts as being abusive? ›

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 are the 4 main abuse? ›

There are four main categories of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Find out more about each below, as well as the warning signs that a child may be being abused.

What are the 7 stages of trauma bonding? ›

First, we will explore the 7-stages of trauma bonding.
  • Love Bombing. At the start of the relationship, did they shower you with excess love, appreciation and gifts? ...
  • Trust and Dependency. ...
  • Criticism. ...
  • Gaslighting. ...
  • Resigning to Control. ...
  • Loss of Self. ...
  • Addiction. ...
  • Stop the Secret Self Blame.
Dec 13, 2021

What is trauma dumping? ›

Trauma dumping: With trauma dumping, you overshare difficult or intimate personal information without the other person's consent or during inappropriate times. You don't consider how your words impact the listener, and you're not open to advice or solutions.

Am I in love or trauma bonded? ›

One way to determine whether you're in a healthy relationship or a trauma bond is to focus on how your relationship consistently makes you feel. A healthy relationship makes you feel supported, secure, and confident, while a trauma bond makes you feel fearful, anxious, or put down.

How many times do people go back to their abuser? ›

Survivors may return to an abuser for multiple, complicated reasons and, according to a survey of 844 survivors by DomesticShelters.org, will leave and come back 6.3 times on average before leaving for good.

How many times does the average person go back to their abuser? ›

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy – and it isn't always the safest option. In fact, survivors of abuse return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before they leave for good.

Can you fully forget abuse? ›

Most scientists agree that memories from infancy and early childhood—under the age of two or three—are unlikely to be remembered. Research shows that many adults who remember being sexually abused as children experienced a period when they did not remember the abuse.

What are factors that may discourage a victim from leaving an abuser? ›

Additional barriers to escaping a violence relationship include by are not limited to:
  • The fear that the abuser's actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave.
  • Unsupportive friends and family.
  • Knowledge of the difficulties of single parenting and reduced financial circumstances.

What are 3 signs of a trauma bond? ›

Signs of trauma bonding
  • agree with the abusive person's reasons for treating them badly.
  • try to cover for the abusive person.
  • argue with or distance themselves from people trying to help, such as friends, family members, or neighbors.
Nov 26, 2020

What type of abuse happens the most? ›

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse. Physical abuse may include beating, shaking, burning, and biting.

What is the cycle of an abuser? ›

The cycle of abuse often goes through four main stages: tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm. Abusive behaviors may escalate from cycle to cycle, although this isn't always the case.

Does abuse change a person? ›

Traumatic childhood events can change the way a person's brain and body work. Trauma can affect the person's emotions, memory, thinking and sense of self. Trauma can also affect relationships. Women most often develop the effects of trauma if, as children, they felt helpless and trapped by abuse.

How do you help someone leave a toxic relationship? ›

Be a patient listener – let your friend know that you hear what they're saying and that you'll support whatever they decide to do. Remind your friend that they deserve respect, honesty, and open communication. Help them to see that abuse is never okay – and that it's never their fault.

What does long term abuse do to the brain? ›

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 long lasting effects of abuse? ›

Maltreatment can cause victims to feel isolation, fear, and distrust, which can translate into lifelong psychological consequences that can manifest as educational difficulties, low self-esteem, depression, and trouble forming and maintaining relationships.


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