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How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship and Start Afresh

How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship and Start Afresh

When you meet someone to whom you are romantically attracted, most people don’t ever think for a minute that the relationship will turn abusive. Most of us hope to live a fairy tale love story and ride off into the sunset deeply in love.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. Many find themselves in an abusive relationship.

If you’ve never been in one, you might wonder why someone would ever tolerate that negative behavior toward themselves. Well, it’s not as simple as it sounds. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to say, “why don’t they get out?” But from the inside, it’s a much different experience for most people who are abused.

How Does it Start?

Believe it or not, most abusive relationships start out just like any other. The abuser is typically very charming and charismatic. The abusee falls for the “act” they are putting on and, as a result, probably falls in love with them.

But that’s not the REAL person. The real person, deep down, is abusive.

It happens slowly. To explain better let me use a metaphor.

Let’s say you like to eat frog legs (I know most people don’t, but remember, this is just an analogy). So, one day you catch a frog yourself and intend to cook it by boiling it in hot water.

If you drop the frog into boiling water, it will be shocked and try to get out. Because of the suddenness of the change, they notice it immediately.

But, if you put the frog in room temperature water first, and then slowly, very slowly, turn up the heat toward boiling, then the frog won’t really notice until it is too late. It happens almost without the frog knowing it.

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You see, that’s what happens in abusive relationships most of the time. The abuse starts slowly, and then apologies come. And then forgiveness. Then more abuse, and more, and more, until it finally escalates into full-blown abuse.

That’s why it’s sometimes difficult for someone to recognize when they are in an abusive relationship.

What Are the Signs of Abuse?

In order to get out of an abusive relationship, you first have to admit to yourself that you are in one. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. Again, that might sound like an easy thing to do, but it’s not for many people. So, here are just a few signs that you are in an abusive relationship.

1. Name-Calling

“B*tch,” “Wh*re” and many other horrible names can be used when the abuser is angry. They use these words to degrade you and ruin your self-esteem.

See, an abuser can’t really abuse you if you love yourself – because you won’t stand for it. That’s why they have to call you names.

2. Insults

In addition to name-calling, any other kind of insult will be flying your way, too. They could call you fat, dumb, a slob, idiot, “no one likes you,” or anything else. Again, this is the abuser’s attempt to continually destroy your sense of self and self-esteem.

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a psychological technique of manipulation that makes someone question their own sanity. You are constantly second-guessing yourself. You frequently ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” and feel confused or even crazy.

You might even find yourself apologizing all the time even if you think you’re not really wrong. But the abuser makes you THINK you are wrong.

4. Jealous and Controlling Behavior

Unfortunately, most people think jealousy is a sign of love. But really, it is not. It is a sign of insecurity and anxiety.

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If someone is jealous, they will naturally try to control your actions, such as, “You can’t talk to that guy at work.” They will eventually try to control your whole life if you let them.

5. Isolation

In more extreme abusive relationships, the jealous and controlling behavior can lead to social isolation. In other words, the abuser won’t let you see your family or friends anymore. Because if they do let you, they might try to talk some sense into you and convince you to leave your abuser.

6. Blaming You for Everything

They never take personal responsibility for anything – because everything is “your fault.” This could also be a part of the gaslighting strategy as well. They think they can “do no wrong,” and therefore, YOU are the person who needs to change – not THEM.

7. Physical Violence – Even If Just Threats

Most people know that physical violence is a sign of an abusive relationship. However, perhaps you grew up in a family where you or someone else was physically abused, so you might think it’s a “normal” part of a relationship.

Let me assure you – it is NOT. Even mere threats of physical abuse is abusive behavior.

How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship

Now that you know some of the signs of an abusive relationship (although there are many more), let’s talk about how you can get out.

1. Document Everything

Write everything that happens to you down in a journal or diary. The reason for that is two-fold:

First, it will help you to NOT question your sanity. Documenting what you said and what they said (and did) really helps put things into perspective.

Second, it can serve as documentation if you need to file a restraining order or have to prosecute them in some way. There are apps out there that can help you. For example, if your abuser is degrading and threatening you, then you can hit a secret button on your phone and it will start recording them.

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2. Pack an Emergency Bag

You never know when you are going to have a chance to leave. Kind of like when you have a baby, you just don’t know when the moment is going to strike.

So, pack a bag and have it ready to run out the door when the time is right. And if you have children, have theirs packed too. If your abuser has kept you isolated, this is especially important because maybe they don’t even let you leave the house – and as a result, they keep a close eye on you.

3. Have a Plan

It’s one thing to leave, but it’s another thing to know where you are going. If you have supportive family and friends, then the most obvious choice would be to live with one of them.

However, if your abuser is really crazy and violent, that could also potentially put them in harm’s way. You could also go to a women’s shelter or any other place that helps abused women.

Wherever you go, you have to have a plan set in stone before you leave.

4. Save Money in a Secret and Accessible Place

This will be a lot easier if you have your own job. However, even if you don’t, you can try to find money around the house and slowly save enough until you have some to leave.

Perhaps get a secret job where your abuser won’t find out if possible. But obviously, you don’t want to have your abuser know. It’s best to keep it out of the house with a trusted family member or friend if possible. Or even open your own secret bank account at a different bank.

5. Alert Your Family and Friends

If you have supportive family and friends, you will need to alert them of your plan. Tell them exactly what is going on in the relationship so they know that you could be leaving at moment’s notice.

If you’ve been in an abusive relationship for a long time, they might not actually believe you are leaving “this time” (think “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”) But assure them that you are serious this time and have them help you follow through with your plan.

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6. Block and Disengage with your Abuser

Unfortunately, many people who are successful at leaving abusive relationships just sabotage themselves by going back. You can’t do that! I mean, what’s the point? In fact, your abuser will probably get worse because you had the courage to leave them, and that will make them angry!

So, STAY AWAY. Block their phone number. Block them on social media. Don’t post on social media so they can’t find you.

Completely disengage with them so you can move on with your life. That is the ONLY WAY. Because if you don’t, then they will make you think that they “changed” with their apologies and empty promise. I guarantee you that they won’t change – so don’t believe them!

Final Thoughts

While most people think of men as being the abusers in a relationship, it can also be the other way around. There are plenty of men in the world who are being abused by women, but they are probably too afraid/proud to admit it. It doesn’t matter your gender – abuse is abuse. And it needs to stop.

Remember this: You need to get some counseling or therapy before you enter into another relationship. You need to figure out what it is about you that allowed the other person to abuse you in the first place. There are many reasons, and many are unique to each individual. But you need to sort that out within yourself so you don’t attract another abuser the next time.

It might sound near impossible to leave an abusive relationship, but it’s not. Many people have done it before, and you can too.

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Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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