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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

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’ and renewing contact with family again which had been very limited in her previous, abusive relationship.

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Age at interview: 40
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Because that does take a while to sort of get back. As I said, friends and family have been really good and like my husband and stuff, getting my confidence back, but there’s still always feel a little bit I don’t know what the word is, you never get it back totally. You know, it’s always, it’s always hard.

And how have they been helping you to rebuild your confidence? Is there anything specific that they do to help with that? Or …

My husband’s very complimentary, he’s got me on this big pedestal that I’m always afraid I’m going to fall off of.

[laughs]

But, no, just sort of taking me out bit by bit you know, just getting my family back I think and getting that sort of side of my life back that I was out of for so long. I mean, my children have got aunties and uncles they didn’t really know. 

Yeah.

And, yeah, it’s just sort of getting back into the family again I think. 

I think you mentioned you’ve got quite a large …

Yeah,..

…, family and …

.. I mean, I was lucky because my mum was diagnosed with cancer so I’ve managed to get a relationship back with her before she passed away You know, I was thankful for that because otherwise I could have missed out on that and … 

Yeah.

… it would have been, yeah, So, yeah, and like my dad and stuff, you know, I’m really close with my dad again. That’s nice. 
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 I've always had this faith, well just trust God. And I just decided to do things like dress confidently, even if I don't 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 that's 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.

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Age at interview: 37
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I spent a lot of time re-evaluating things, even just little things like going through all my drawers. I had thirty-two pairs of gym pants. I haven’t been to the gym in three years, half of them were a size eight [laughs] seriously, what the heck? Just little things like that, you know. I just felt like it was a complete, fresh start. I had the opportunity to try and, well so I thought at the beginning, to try and find a job that I’d be happy doing, yeah, with a firm I’d be happy working for. And then of course, the longer I was out of work, you know, it was just like, “OK, I’ll do anything now” [laughs].

[Laughs]

I’ll stick stamps on envelopes if it pays me. Just, de-cluttering the house, getting rid of, just getting rid of clutter stuff I felt was bogging me down, going out, the weather was quite nice actually when I was off work, getting out and, you know, in the sunshine and the fresh air...

Yeah.

…watching the dogs enjoy themselves, it really, really helped, I felt like I was starting to do things that I enjoyed, there was nobody else here, it was just, I had a whole day to please myself, joining the gym again, just everything. Everything was a case of, who am I doing this for? Am I doing this for me? Do I really need to do this if I don’t want to be?

Yeah, yeah.

And, yeah, I just feel so much lighter, I’ve just got rid of all that baggage.
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.

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Age at interview: 46
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What about the psychological impact on you being in that abusive relationship, when you were in it, how did that affect you?

Psychologically [nodding] it affected me quite bad, obviously because I was having to have a couple of pills, I was having to have a couple of drinks just to get by. But you make those excuses to yourself because you think that everybody does this, you know, when they have a bad day they take pills, when they have a bad day they have a couple of drinks. But you don’t seem to realise when you’re in that situation that it’s, it’s really bad. And there is a solution and there is a way out you just need to decide to yourself one day, “That’s it.” And I had the strength two or three years ago to say, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. I want to leave.” and I, that was probably when I was picked on the worst, was those six months sort of previously, was because I actually said that I wanted to leave. But what I should have done was say I wanted to leave, and leave, not make it worse by just keep saying, or just thinking there’s a right time to leave. There’s never a right time to leave. You’ve just got to literally pack up a bag and just take what you need. As long as you’ve got yourself and you’ve got the children and you’ve got like some clothes and you’ve got somewhere to go, then you’re fine. And there’s always somewhere to go because you’ve only just got to pick up the phone and ring Social Services, you know, or ring somebody like [Local specialist domestic abuse service], and they would have you out and somewhere to stay that night.

Yeah.

And they’ll make sure you’re safe.

So take the action.

Yeah, the action might seem really, really, really scary but that’s the thing to do. And you need to make up your mind and you need to be strong. You need to be strong for yourself and the children. Because although it’s really, really hard, now when I look back at it, it’s been three years since I’ve left the domestic violence relationship and the change has been absolutely incredible. Just to be able to go out when I want to go out, just to be able to go shopping when I want to go shopping, just to be able to pick up the phone and say to one of my friends, “Do you fancy going down the road and round the park with the kids for half an hour?” and to be able to do that and not be made to feel guilty that tea’s not on the table or you haven’t done the washing or you haven’t done this. You just take so much control of your life back. And then when you do that you just realise as to how much the domestic abuse relationship affected yourself and the children.

So how does it feel now having all of that control back of your life?

Absolutely amazing, you know. I mean I still can’t believe it that something so horrible went on and that I put up with it. A lot of people said to me, “Well why did you put up with it? Why didn’t you leave? You don’t seem the type of person to have gone through that.” But it’s because you make excuses for yourself or you say, “Oh he needs me because he’s not very well,” or he hasn’t done this or, it’s all those excuses when actually, you know, he’s exactly the same, he’s an adult and has choices. Yeah, and if he chooses to abuse you then he’s not a nice person. And it doesn’t matter what has gone on in his life, that doesn’t mean that he has to take it out on you and the children.

The most important thing is you know, you get your life back. And to think three years later on down the line that the person I am today as to the person I was is absolutely amazing, you know. And just to be able to be free and to be able to be your own person again and do what you want and to, you know, take control of your life is absolutely fantastic just to, just to think that I’ve actually come out the other side. Because you don’t see there’s another side when you’re in that relationship, that’s your life and you can’t see anything past that.
Freedom

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.

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Age at interview: 46
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But yeah, things have definitely changed. It’s about doing what I want to do, when I want to do it. Or when I first left, I was, I did everything that he used to constrain me. Like cutting the cheese was always wrong. I never cut it straight enough. 

So I, when I left him I sort of cut the cheese in pyramid shapes or any way I wanted to. And it was about doing all the opposites of what he held me to for all the years. And like if I wanted to dress up for having my tea, I would dress up for having my tea. It didn’t, it just didn’t need to be an excuse.

And if I want to clean, I clean. And if I don’t, it doesn’t matter. 

Hmm. Any other things, I love the cheese example.

Yeah, it’s good [laughs].

[Laughs]

And like going to bed and reading in bed. He used to say, “Oh, some of us have got to go to work tomorrow.” So you, you could never read in bed. And, it’s just some of those little tiny things he dominated the remote control on the TV. So I had to watch the same programmes over and over. And if nipped out to the loo, I’d come back and think, “I can’t understand this film” because he would have turned it over. And he’d always say, “Oh, well I might have missed that bit when I went to the loo.” So you’d see the same one, film, over and over and over. And he would never let me see the programmes I wanted to. And now I can have the TV off, for a whole week. It doesn’t have to be on. It’s great [laughs].
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.

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Age at interview: 50
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And is there anything you feel you’ve learnt from this whole experience? 

Oh I’ve learned a lot.

Yeah.

A helluva lot, believe me I’ve learned a lot. 

Yeah.

I’ve learnt a helluva lot. You never ever trust anyone. And that, that’s it. Even if the right one comes along you still won’t trust them.

No. 

And I’m being honest with you, you rather be on your own.

Hmm, yeah, sure.

And like I said to you I lived with my sister when I was sixteen. I met him when I was sixteen, I was with him the whole of the time then. For thirty years. 

Oh.

Didn’t know what it was like to live on my own.

No.

And now, I’ve done it. 

And what’s it like? 

Brilliant. 

Good.

Brilliant, I wouldn’t go back on it. I wouldn’t go back. Honestly. I would never ever, ever, ever go back. I’ve got my own little car - got no tracker on it. I’ve got my own little front door I can walk in. I can do what I want, I can have who I want in my house. If I want my friends in there I can have them in there. I can go out if I want to go out, I can go out. 

Yeah.

There’s nobody telling me that I can’t do what I want.

Yeah.

And I love it. Go bed when I want. I can watch TV when I want. It’s lovely. I love it and it just seems really weird because you go and you put the TV on and you think oh my God, sometimes, like, isn’t this lovely? You don’t have to answer to anyone or, do you want to watch this channel? You just sit there and watch it. You don’t, you don’t worry about things. Or, getting up to like make yourself a coffee and, and you’ve got no problems…

Yeah, yeah. 

…with it and it’s lovely. It is lovely. It is.

Yeah.

It’s like no rowing. Nobody looking at you funny and because your friends is in there, it’s just you do what you want.

Yeah.

And it’s brilliant. I love it. 

Yeah.

Now…

Good. 

…I really do.
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’ and ‘servant’, always looking after her partner’s needs.

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Age at interview: 33
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We’re going, because last time I was in London ten years ago and this Sunday I’m taking my children, and we’re going to London. Yea. And…

A day out. 

… yes, day out and we’re going to Spain on holiday and this year’s just to feel that you are free, that you can do anything you want.

That you can organise everything for yourself and …

And when you didn’t have that freedom in the relationship for so many years, how did that make you feel, not having that freedom? 

Like a prisoner. Prisoner at home. Just be grateful for food on your table, serve him anytime, yeah, sex straight away when he wants it.

Right.

If not it’s just you’re frigid, what kind of woman you are, and after, the new, being abused like day before you want anything, it’s just and, but anyway, it’s doable. Yes, I cried a lot. Yes, it’s difficult but I know that there is future.

Yeah.

And …

Yeah.

… if you want best for yourself they will use everyone. They will use everyone just to gain control over your, just money, just live, they will leave you without money, where to live without just any support, all your friends will tell you just stay with him because he’s such a wonderful person, he’s wonderful father. But, don’t listen. I’m tell, telling, don’t listen. Just if you, make your decision and stick to it. Find a good friend, supporter and talk any time you need. I’m really grateful because in this country I don’t have relatives and just sometimes a girl might, just strangers, now they’re my friends …

Yeah.

… and they supported me and I think because just probably just God send people you need at that moment.

Last reviewed February 2020.

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