Recovering From Isolation

By Rebecca Lynn

According to Speak Out Loud, isolation is a tactic abusers use to weaken and control their victims. When the victim is isolated from outside influences, their belief and acceptance in the abuser grows stronger. Isolation occurs over time, through a variety of hidden tactics that start out subtle and increase in frequency. Often the victim perceives the abuser’s jealousy, protectiveness, and difficulty sharing time with others as a form of intense love. This leads to the victim avoiding situations that would upset their partner. All of which ends with a strategically effective method to isolate and further control the victim, often without the victim being aware.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have experienced isolation by your abuser:

  • Did your abuser ever become jealous of your friends and family or make you feel guilty for the amount of time you spent with them?
  • Were they critical, untrusting or rude to those you were once close to?
  • Were there times when the lack of money, use of the car, or other unusual issues forced you to cancel plans?
  • Did your abuser limit the amount of time you were gone and who you could see?
  • Did your abuser insist that all relationship issues be kept between the two of you, forcing you to avoid others to prevent their questions and the consequences of answering them?
  • Did you start to feel uncomfortable and judged by those who were aware of the abuse and began to seclude yourself due to their opinions of your abuser?  
  • Did your friends and family start to pull away, leaving you to feel betrayed and alone?  

Leaving an abusive relationship is empowering, takes strength, and means you are a survivor. You made it out, you are free, and now you can go back to who you were before the abuse. Unfortunately what most survivors find out, and those who knew you before the abuse don’t understand, is that domestic violence changes you. The bruises may go away, but the emotional impact of abuse can cause scars that no one can see. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you may be more cautious and less trusting of others, which can impact your current and future personal relationships. Because of the prevalence of complex PTSD in domestic violence victims and survivors, you may be triggered easily, suffer from insomnia, and think of your abuser frequently.  You may become frustrated at the person that you thought would be left behind when you escaped your abuser, and wonder why you feel so alone?

Isolation transpires over an extended period and, as a survivor, it is a process to reverse the effects, one that will not happen overnight. According to Isolation and Domestic Violence, isolation can leave you feeling anxious, unable to concentrate, fearful, and depressive. The feeling of being detached from others can create social anxiety, making it difficult for you to make friends, or even want to leave the house. Isolation can become a habit, it’s something that you are familiar with, which feels safer than stepping out and doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable.  Often you won’t even realize that you are isolating yourself, it is the moment that you acknowledge it, that you are taking your most significant step to recovery.

Yes, recovery–according to Psychology Today, the coercive control that you endured requires you to recover, very much like an addiction, losing a loved one, or surgery. There are little steps Psychology Today came up with that can help you work up to gaining back your confidence, self-control, and your comfort in social situations. Some of the steps may take longer than others, but unlike the past, no one is judging you, and you can take all the time you need. There may be days when you feel more regret, depressed, or angry than others, this is not uncommon when you are recovering. Just remember that it takes time to change a habit and even more time to create a new one.

Here are some suggestions for how you can begin:

  • Break the rules you lived by when you were under your abuser’s control. Maybe that means wearing makeup, shopping for as long as you want, treating yourself to fast food, or rediscovering an old hobby you weren’t allowed to pursue during the abuse.
  • Take care of yourself. Get active and pay attention to your health–this can include anything from cutting your hair, catching up on doctors appointments, getting exercise, or seeing a therapist to begin healing from your experience.
  • Rebuild your lost connections.
  • Get organized. Whether you are in a shelter, a friends house or in transition to your own place, take time to declutter your chaos. When people live out of suitcases for extended periods or have a lack of organization in their life, it makes it emotionally difficult to feel like you are moving forward. This can even mean organizing your belongings and important papers or getting rid of stuff you don’t need and the things that are dragging you down.
  • Share your story. You don’t have to be silent or ashamed anymore, you can share your story: say it out loud, talk loved ones, or publish it on the BTS blog–there are so many options to break your silence.  You will find that each time you share your story, you become empowered and gain back the control that was taken from you. When you share your story you will be amazed by how many people understand and have experienced similar situations and, chances are, you won’t feel as alone as you thought you were.

You can check out this article from Psychology Today for more ways to begin your recovery.

Domestic violence is life-altering; it not only changes how you see yourself and others, but it also leaves scars that will always be there. Recovery is a process that may never entirely be over. Support is the key, whether it is from old friends, family, a new support group, or people who have entered your life because you shared your story. Taking steps to recover from the control of isolation is proof that you are not alone. You are no longer a victim, you are a survivor.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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