26 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You Survived an Abusive Relationship
After you’ve survived an abusive relationship — even after years or decades have passed — the effects of that trauma can still linger.
This isn’t meant to scare you. This isn’t meant to say that recovering from an abusive relationship is impossible, or that you’ll never be able to find a healthy, loving relationship again. In fact, the opposite is true: People who live through abusive relationships do find themselves again. They do find caring and respectful love.
But, that journey isn’t perfect — and it’s in no way linear. It’s normal to struggle after having an abusive partner even after the relationship is over, and if you’re in that boat right now, there’s nothing to be ashamed about.
To find out how being in an abusive relationship still affects people today, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they survived an abusive relationship. If you can relate, you’re not alone, and you deserve all the support you need.
Here’s what they told us:
“Saying sorry to literally everything. When you’re made out to feel like everything you do is wrong, you’re always apologizing for every minor thing.” — Katelyn S.
“Evaluating everything in every situation because you are used to walking on eggshells, either in order to keep the person you are with pacified, or to get ready for the storm that could possibly be brewing — or just erupt without warning.” — Casey T.
“Needing reassurance when I feel the slightest change of mood. Getting overly excited about things and stopping mid-sentence and apologizing for sounding ‘stupid.’ Never getting too close anymore for fear of repetition of the past.” — Jennifer W.
“I’ve refused to date since my abusive marriage and resulting divorce over 10 years ago. I am unsure if the people around me know if this is intentional or not. I just cannot go through something like that again.” — Jennifer H.
“Avoiding situations, mistrusting, putting guards up, getting defensive before things even happen, using anger as a defense when feeling anxious, feeling played mentally all the time [and] always thinking I’m being manipulated. It’s a constant war with myself.” — Carly T.
“Being weird and hesitant to hang out with men, especially alone. Apologizing often, getting very quiet when someone gets angry or is yelling — freeze mode. Scared to say the wrong thing.” — JoJo M.
“I was an abusive relationship. She was more verbally and emotionally abusive, but still physical. One thing that still has stuck with me many months later was when she would call me ‘fat.’ Even now, I will barely eat and feel judged if I eat in front of others. I am more self-conscious than I already was about my body. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will forever scare you.” — Justin K.
“Always, always having a way out. It doesn’t matter how happy and secure you feel now or how good and healthy your current relationship is, you always have something in your name as a fallback or an escape route/person. Always.” — Selena W.
“I’m terrified of showing any sort of emotion, whether it’s positive or negative. My emotions have been manipulated and used against me so much in the past, that it’s easier to act cold and detached from everything. I almost prefer to be numb. If I’m happy, my first thought is always, ‘How it could be destroyed?’ If I don’t like his suggestion for somewhere to eat, or a show to watch, I’m afraid to say something because it could start a fight. Even if I’m just struggling with my depression, I can’t say anything because I’m afraid of being criticized. I’ve been with the most loving and kind man I’ve ever met for over two years, and it took until the last couple months for me to feel confident and comfortable enough to admit all these little truths.” — Megan P.
“Asking permission to do anything because feel like you’ve been stripped of your independence. I was never allowed to make my own decisions or go places on my own.” — Laura C.
“Not going to social events, canceling plans last minute with flaky excuses, taking hours to respond to messages because you were isolated and had to ask your partner what you were allowed to say and do.” — Annemarie R.
“Not talking about things that are important to me. I got so used to them not having any interest in my thoughts, feelings and ideas. Getting really quiet when others are upset with me so as to not piss them off more. Having an anxiety attack when something isn’t to the other person’s standards. Not dating after two years because I’m too afraid of going through that again.” — Kara A.
“I only feel comfortable with physical contact when I’m the one who initiates it. I also get scared when my husband seems upset, like I scramble to figure out what I did wrong because it feels like it’s automatically my fault.” — Mackenzie C.
“When people get mad at me or I’m in a disagreement with someone (like my husband), I automatically shut down. He thinks I just don’t want to solve the problem and am deliberately ignoring him when in reality, I’ve dissociated and completely shut down mentally. It’s not that I don’t want to work out the argument… I’m mentally not there anymore, which usually makes him more upset because he thinks it’s something I can automatically flip on or off.” — Katie W.
“Constantly explaining myself. I’ll ask for something and then proceed to say ‘I’m sorry. That was probably weird’ or ‘I don’t even know why I said that.’ I can never just ask for what I need or even make an action without apologizing or trying to explain what happened because of my actions in the past.” — Carley S.
“Being incredibly defensive. I was my own advocate, and it took a long time to admit it to myself, so I tend to almost steamroll people who aren’t even against me.” — Bobbie S.
“I feel like I have to have control over every situation. For example, I have major anxiety allowing someone else to drive me in a car. I feel like they’re going too fast or follow other cars too close. It literally puts me in to a panic attack. My ex was drunk one night and forced me in to a car… I have many trust issues because of the abuse I went through.” — Jonna L.
“I constantly monitor the tone of people’s voices. I reciprocate that tone, and most people just think I’m being difficult because they don’t even realize their own tone has changed, because I’m just super sensitive to it. As soon as the tone becomes even slightly negative or confrontational, my mind goes into fight or flight mode, and I get antsy or visibly anxious. I either prepare myself mentally and emotionally for a confrontation, or I physically plan my escape route in case things get ugly. I’m constantly planning or a fight, and it’s mentally and physically exhausting.” – Justine A.
“Indecisiveness. Saying ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no,’ and ‘no’ when I want to say ‘yes.’ Agreeing to things I don’t agree with because tension has me expecting a fist or hand or item to fly at my face at high speeds. The walking on eggshells mentality has spilled over from abusive relationships into almost every area of my life. Living on fight or flight mode daily.” — Es X
“Double checking tiny events to make sure I didn’t misinterpret it or hallucinate. I was so heavily gaslighted I’m still struggling with believing my memory again. I keep every bit of evidence of situations that are even semi-important.” — Carmen A.
“Keeping an ongoing count of cars parked around me. Also, noticing when cars are new to the office parking lot because it’s not a license plate I’ve memorized. Preference of office where I can see who is coming and going from the building all day.” — Michelle A.
“I sleep with my glasses on…because I know what it feels like to have them knocked off, and lost for hours, and not be able to see, and it scares the crap out of me.” — Kara J.
“Constantly asking permission for even the smallest things. For example, asking permission to use the shower before anyone else because you don’t want to be yelled at.” — Fallon B.
“Literally cowering anytime a man raises his voice.” — Danielle K.
“Apologizing all the time, being skittish at loud noises, having a panic attack when I witness abuse. All of these (and more) are things I do because of domestic violence.” — Tazz M.
“I think I notice myself out in public with my boyfriend now (who would never abuse me), looking for a way to escape the restaurant or wherever we are. I notice I seem to always know where exits are and employees and cameras. I definitely apologize for everything and sometimes catch myself asking for permission. But thankfully. I’ve been really working on it and doing much, much better.” — Ally K.
If you’re still struggling with the effects of an abusive relationship, there’s hope. Even if you’re out of a relationship, you can call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Remember you’re not alone, and that there’s no timeline for healing.
Written by Sarah Schuster