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Staying Strong After Leaving the Shelter

Why some survivors consider returning to an abusive partner

  • August 27, 2014
  • By domesticshelters.org
Staying Strong After Leaving the Shelter

Make no mistake about it—seeking help from a domestic violence shelter is a courageous, bold and strong decision. Shelters can be places survivors find safety as well as a place where they can begin to plan for a brighter, healthier future. 

But like any safe place, leaving a shelter can sometimes cause uncertainty, anxiety and fear. Survivors don’t always feel prepared to live a life independently from their partner and, despite the abuse, may return to the abuser who led them to the shelter in the first place.

Why would a survivor ever return to an abusive partner? That’s the question Steven Stonsny, counselor and founder of the anger and violence management program CompassionPower, was asked by CNN after popstar Rihanna reconciled with abusive boyfriend Chris Brown. Stosny told the news source that a survivor will "leave out of either fear, anger or resentment … But then, after the fear, anger or resentment begins to subside, they feel guilt, shame, anxiety, and that [can] take them back."

Survivors may also return for many of the same reason they find it difficult to leave in the first place. Survivor Sarah Buel, clinical professor of law at Arizona State University, compiled a list of 50 barriers survivors may face. They include things like financial abuse, threats from the abuser, denial, fear of losing custody of their children, guilt, homelessness, disabilities or other health issues, religious beliefs and yes, even love. 

Find Your Tribe

These barriers are all reasons why it’s vital for survivors to find support in some capacity, either by confiding in a trusted (and non-judgemental) friend or family member, calling a trained domestic violence advocate, attending a support group or finding an online support system of other survivors. Counseling and peer support groups can help a survivor feel supported and strong enough to resist the temptation to return to an abusive partner or be drawn into the ruse of one again. 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline says some other steps survivors can take to stay strong and not return to an abusive partner include:

  • Identifying a call buddy for those times when you miss your ex. Talking to a friend can help you resist the urge to reach out to your ex-partner
  • Remind yourself why you left. Journal about your abuse and reread the entries when you’re having thoughts about returning to your abusive partner.
  • Be conscious of your emotional routines. If your ex-partner was someone you turned to in times of hardship, you need to find new coping mechanisms. Try reaching out to a friend, family member or counselor, or start a new coping go-to method, like attending an exercise class,  getting out of town for a day or two, treating yourself to a massage or seeing a funny movie.

Learning about domestic violence can also help a survivor feel empowered. Find our recommendations for the best books about becoming a survivor here. Survivors may also want to check out, "Recognizing 'Unsafe' People," which can help you identify three types of red flags that can spell trouble when considering a new relationship.