When abusers start cutting down their victims, they do not hand them a guide on what they should and shouldn’t do. Here are some pointers on how to avoid common mistakes made by those trapped in an abusive situation.
Document injuries and any evidence of abuse
If a crime has been committed and there is good evidence incriminating your abuser, you should go to the police. If you are still too scared of standing up to your abuser, you can document your injuries without reporting your abuser to the police. Any evidence that you collect will help you later on if you need to fight for custody over children, if you are a minor trying to flee your parents, if you want more financial aid for college, or if you want to press charges. Having evidence of abuse opens up different options for you in the future.
- If you have been raped: do not shower or change your clothes. Ask for an anonymous (“Jane Doe”) rape kit if you aren’t ready to file charges yet. Ask how long the rape kit will be stored as it may be thrown away within a few years.
- If you have physical injuries, go to a doctor. If the doctor believes that the injuries are consistent with another person assaulting you, ask them to state their opinion in your medical records. You can also photograph/video your injuries on your smartphone.
Avoid therapy with your abuser
This is a terrible idea. Your abuser will not admit to having very serious issues that they need to work on. If they aren’t going to tell you what’s going on, then they aren’t going to tell a stranger about what’s going on. Your abuser will derail the session and invalidate you in front of the therapist. Nothing productive will be achieved and you may have a very negative experience if the therapist sides with your abuser.
Any therapist who does not see the problem with this has no business dealing with abused patients. They need to talk to you alone to figure out what’s going on.
If a therapist recommends that you reconcile with your abuser, they are likely dangerously inexperienced or dangerously incompetent. You wouldn’t tell a rape victim to be nicer to their rapist (even if the rapist was “family”), so it’s not like anybody should tell an abuse victim to be nicer to their abuser.
Psychiatric medications can be very dangerous
Starting on psychiatric medications is not a decision that you should make lightly. While most psychiatrists are trained to push drugs onto patients (pharma companies have large sales and marketing budgets that they use to influence medical practices), psychiatric drugs may not be in your best interests. Most of them are addictive; some people find them incredibly difficult to stop once they have been on them for a while. Please do not suddenly stop taking psychiatric medications as it can be very dangerous to do so; research the dangers and how to taper medications safely before discontinuing. For a quick overview of the dangers of medications, see Peter Breggin MD’s Youtube video “Psychiatric Drugs Are More Dangerous than You Ever Imagined”.
Self-therapy and talking-based therapies (e.g. exposure therapy / CBT, EMDR, and prolonged exposure) do not have dangerous side effects and are proven treatments for abuse-related conditions such as PTSD, complex PTSD, panic attacks, and phobias like agoraphobia. You should evaluate those options before you decide to start on medication. Once you start taking a drug and get addicted, your initial decision may become very difficult to undo.
A few psychiatric medications can be useful tools in some cases. Benzodiazepines can be used as a short-term crutch for anxiety. Long-term use can cause addiction issues. Note that benzodiazepines and certain other psychiatric drugs like amphetamines are illegal street drugs. Because they are controlled substances, getting your prescription refilled can sometimes be difficult and you may accidentally go into sudden withdrawal when you cannot get your script refilled on time. Withdrawal can be very unpleasant and even dangerous.
For child abuse, go to the police before Child Protective Services
To maximize the chances that children are protected, you should go to the police before going to CPS.
- The police tend to be much better at investigating. The police have better pay, lower workloads, lower turnover, and better training.
- The police have investigative powers that CPS doesn’t have, such as using search warrants to obtain evidence.
- The police can have criminal charges filed against an abuser, which makes it easier for children to escape their abuser.
- The police do not have a mandate to reunite families. This means that they will not help an abuser regain custody of their victim.
See the article Go to the police before Child Protective Services.
Get legal help as soon as possible when children are involved in a divorce/breakup
What often happens is:
- The courts will give the abuser some degree of custody over the children.
- The abuser will begin to abuse the children for breakup-related reasons. Common motivations are revenge, child support payments, and to hurt the ex.
An abuser will often use children (biological children and stepchildren) as weapons against their ex. The legal system often enables the abuser and lets the abuser regain custody even if the abuser has been criminally convicted of abuse in the past. Judges rarely understand abuse and do not realize that abusers rarely change. They put children back with their biological parents due to the mistaken view that children are better off bonding with their (abusive) biological parent than somebody else. If you try to do the right thing and prevent your abuser from seeing your children, a judge may punish you for ‘gatekeeping’ (preventing the other biological parent from forming a relationship with the child). This is why you should get legal help as soon as possible. The legal system likely does not work the way you think it works.
Don’t trust their attempts to win you back
Many (but not all) abusers will try to win their victim back because they cannot stand the humiliation of having somebody leave them or because they have a compulsive need to control others. They will pretend to be somebody that they’re not to lure the victim back into their web. Their remorse is almost never genuine because abusers rarely change. They rarely experience a catalyst for change, e.g. hitting rock bottom and realizing that their toxicity is destroying their life. They rarely experience personal growth. Change is exceptionally rare.
There are different ways to check if their change of mind is genuine. One way is to simply ask them to take full responsibility for their actions: to be honest about what they did, to own up to their mistakes, and to be honest about who they are as a person. You deserve these things and it is highly unlikely that you will get it. An abuser who has not changed simply will not engage with attempts at building a normal, healthy relationship.
Making good decisions can be very difficult sometimes
The next section will deal with mistakes that you may find very difficult to avoid. For example, if there is physical abuse, leaving is clearly the logical decision even if it doesn’t feel right. You should not pull a Rihanna and go back to the person who brutally beat you (see Google Image Search for images of what her ex-boyfriend did). However, you may end up making a bad decision anyways.
Look at it this way:
- Everybody knows that procrastination is a bad idea.
- Most people procrastinate anyways.
Sometimes our brains screw up, making it very hard for us to make good decisions. Try not to beat yourself up for making bad decisions. If you find it incredibly difficult to walk away from abuse, that is normal. Most abuse victims stay in their abusive situation far longer than they should. Abuse isn’t easy. With that out of the way, here are mistakes that you should try to avoid if you can.
Good decisions that are hard to follow through with
Don’t seek validation from your abuser
It is natural to want your abuser to do one or more of the following:
- To admit that they have wronged you.
- To finally love you and to treat you like a human being.
- To make the good times come back.
- To finally give you a normal, happy family instead of a broken home (if your abuser is your parent).
- To “prove” that you aren’t worthless and are worthy of being loved. That’s really what it is all about.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: it is a trap. You should not seek validation from toxic people who will repeatedly hurt you. It is not a logical place to look for validation. It is not where you will develop a sense of self-worth.
Don’t try to change your abuser by loving them harder
Where abuse is happening, the victim is not to blame. It is not about the victim. Rather, it is about the perpetrator because they chose abuse and they are therefore responsible for it. The abuser’s actions have nothing to do with whether or not you love them, whether you are perfect enough, or whether you are ‘worthy’ of love. Abusers are often motivated by one of the following:
- Narcissists are addicted to adoration, adulation, and admiration. If they cannot get those things from you, they will often resort to devaluing you and attacking you because you do not validate your abuser.
- Those with controlling tendencies are extremely scared when they feel powerless or when they feel like they are not in control. To feel safe, they need to control and hurt others.
Loving your abuser harder is not going to change their toxic nature. Their disturbing emotional issues aren’t going to be fixed by being their doormat.
Go to the police
In some cases, the police can’t do much about having your abuser criminally charged. However, it is often the case that your evidence would secure a criminal conviction for your abuser. Having criminal charges brought against your abuser can help you get out of an abusive situation, especially if you are a minor. Abusers often have multiple victims, so a criminal conviction will also help many others.
Obviously, leaving would cut the toxicity out of your life. This can do wonders for your life because your mental health is no joke. Abuse can cause you to develop difficult-to-fix psychological problems that can affect your ability to make money, to have healthy relationships, and to be happy. Compared to a broken bone, the psychological problems are far more difficult to fix, can last a lifetime, and can be far more devastating. Panic attacks, thoughts of suicide, complex PTSD, and social anxiety are examples of some acquired issues that can seriously disrupt your life.
Difficult does not mean impossible!
Overcoming abuse is a regular occurence. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes far longer than it should. Many abuse victims wait until they’ve hit rock bottom and stand on the brink of ruin. There’s a much easier way of overcoming your personal obstacles to recovery. Psychology has effective tools for undoing the illogical connections in your brain that keep you chained to abuse. You can go through the last lesson in the free guide 7 Lessons on Overcoming Abusive Relationships (or the more comprehensive guide Saying NO to Abuse) for more information on therapeutic approaches. I would urge you to start looking into a way out of abuse before the damage piles on and becomes more difficult to undo. Help does exist.