Life after domestic violence and abuse: taking back control

Because the impacts of abuse can be so far reaching, it can take a long time for survivors to start to feel that they are back in control of their lives. This process of empowerment was recognised within the early refuge movement as women who had gone through the process shared those experiences with people new to the refuge. Long-term research has also shown the importance of having control over sometimes minor everyday things as a way of counteracting the intimidation and control many experience within abusive relationships.

Despite the ongoing problems experienced by some women after leaving abusive relationships, many of the women we spoke to felt that they were moving on in a positive way. As Lindsay explained, there was a change in her mental state which meant that ‘I’m not a victim any more. I won’t be a victim anymore.’

At the time of interview, Tasha was now settled in a new, healthy relationship and with the support of her new partner had renewed contact with her family and friends and was beginning to get her confidence back.

Tasha has enjoyed returning to a normal life’s and renewing contact with family again which had been very limited in her previous, abusive relationship.

Age at interview 40

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Becoming stronger

For Tanya, the end of her abusive relationship meant that with the passing of time, she felt increasingly free from the abuse and empowered.

‘And quite recently I felt like that. I’ve thought, ‘Right, four years now, four years free from abuse, well from his abuse. It’s taken me four years to get, to get to this state where I am feeling capable, strong, calm, worthy.’

Sara had made a conscious decision to turn things around. At first she decided to ‘appear’ more confident than she really felt:

‘I got to a point and I was just like either it can kind of crush me or you know I just kind of keep going and I think Ive always had this faith, well just trust God. And I just decided to do things like dress confidently, even if I dont feel it.,And then kind of I’m trying to make myself sit up straight and things like that like hold yourself not kind of like …because thats how I felt.’

Mandy remarked that:

‘My mum’s actually commented that I’m far happier now, than, than I ever was with him. And it’s, it’s nice that other people have noticed that.’

Mandy had changed her appearance to please her partner and ‘lost sight’ of herself. Now her relationship was over, she was doing what she wanted and feeling happier.

Age at interview 37

Gender Female

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Jane explained how in the three years since her relationship had ended, she felt that she had taken back control of her life.

Jane described being able to go out with her friends and not being made to feel guilty for not having prepared the tea or done the washing.

Age at interview 46

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Several of the women we spoke to talked about how they were now feeling ‘free’. Tanya for example said that:

‘Now I feel free, I know what it is like to feel free, and I didn’t have that, didn’t have that then’.

Jessica illustrated this when she described being able to cut cheese the way she wanted, and also being able to choose what she watched on television.

Jessica described the pleasure of being able to do what she wanted, when she wanted.

Age at interview 46

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Tina had never lived on her own until she managed to get out of her abusive relationship. When she did, she found that she loved having the freedom to watch what she wanted on television, and to be able to go where she wanted without her partner tracking her movements. At the time of interview she was no longer self-harming.

After years of abuse and numerous suicide attempts Tina now feels ‘brilliant’ and has not attempted suicide for over a year.

Age at interview 50

Gender Female

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Women were often aware that things would not immediately be easier after the relationship ended. Irina knew that getting a divorce would be a long process, however explained: ‘OK, these two years of my life probably compared those to ten years suffering, crying and, yes, they are not going to be easy, but after that freedom.’ Victoria described having to sleep on the floor at a relative’s house but thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m away from him. We are free. We are free from him.’

Irina talked about now being able to do what she wants with her children and how she now felt that she was ‘free’.

Irina was revelling in being able to do what she wanted with her children, comparing her former life as a prisoner’s and servant’s, always looking after her partner’s needs.

Age at interview 33

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