Q | How soon should I start to date after leaving an abusive relationship?
A | The only right answer is not to rush it.
Given how much love, honor, respect, romance—I could go on—we were denied during the abuse, many of us crave a relationship immediately. We want connection. We want real intimacy (and I don’t mean sex). We want to be seen and heard, validated and spoiled.
This is more than fair, and totally understandable.
But the truth is we’re not ready. We have much work to do.
1. Identify the abuse. Call it by name and label it (emotional, sexual, financial, physical, psychological, etc.). Learn and understand it, because until we go through the ugliness and get to its back side we cannot push it away.
2. Work on self. Ask, Who am I, really? What parts of me are strong and valid and wonderful, despite all I’ve been taught is wrong? And what about the “wrong” parts of me, are they just human? What can I honor and celebrate about myself? Who and what do I want to be?
3. Get out of your head. Join a club or group that has nothing to do with men. Take up a new hobby. Volunteer somewhere. Spend more time with friends and family.
3.5. Spend time IN your head, if that’s how you operate. My own best truth-finding and processing and healing happened during super-long walks in nature, and time spent in solitude. Just try not to become a complete hermit, or let yourself be mopey for too long any given instance.
4. Let yourself go through ALL THE EMOTION. Lie on the living room floor and blast whatever music makes you feel. Journal. Cry. Yell. Vent to your best friend. Punch something soft. Then wipe your tears and pick yourself up, lovely, because you are SURVIVING.
5. Decide your boundaries. Actually write them out and study them. Define what you are NOT willing to accept, take on, experience, go through again. LIVE BY THESE BOUNDARIES. And set yourself up some decent standards. You deserve to have them, and nothing less.
6. Train yourself in red flags. Join support groups, follow pages (like Breaking the Silence for Women on Facebook!), participate in forums dedicated to domestic abuse survivors, so you can bolster your new knowledge and find confidence in moving forward.
7. Let go of ideas of revenge. Don’t stoop to your ex’s level. Don’t try to hurt him back—you’ll just demean yourself in the process (plus it won’t work). Don’t try to reason with him, make him see your side of things, or be his friend. Move on. Leave him in your fabulous glitter-dust. And remind yourself it doesn’t matter if he can’t see your sparkle. He was never worth it anyway.
8. Be confident. Hold your head high. Listen to your intuition. Trust yourself. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Set your own pace. Be your glorious, amazing self.
Now you’re ready to date.
[Disclaimer: My answers for this feature are based on a mixture of personal experience, training with a women’s DV shelter, state certification in the subjects of domestic and sexual violence, and substantial studies of the personality disorders that lead to abusive behavior. My efforts are powered by a passion for advocacy. Featured guidance may not be exactly right for everyone, but I do hope it’s helpful for most. | Janna]
Submit your questions about abuse by emailing jannawrites at gmail — nothing is off limits — and stay tuned for our Friday Feature: Your Abuse Questions Answered.
| All identities will remain confidential. |
[A note about the pattern of female pronouns: All of this applies to any gender, and any relationship dynamic, but since this page is devoted to women, all content keeps that in mind.]