8 Steps To Recovery After A Controlling Relationship

8 Steps To Recovery After A Controlling Relationship

A relationship of coercive control can leave a deep damaging impression on one’s mind. While being physically free is easy, but healing emotionally and mentally is not really a very short process. But at the same time, it isn’t impossible for recovery to happen after a controlling relationship.

It takes a long time to recover from an abusive and controlling relationship. Being monitored, isolated, stalked, and abused leaves its mark. Below are suggestions for people who have left a relationship of coercive control. People who are still in such a relationship should seek help from a domestic violence advocate, even if there is no physical violence.

But beyond the break-up—before they can feel completely well again—victims/survivors need to focus on recovering. I’ve organized these suggested activities under the acronym RECOVERY

Here Is How You Can Recover From A Controlling Relationship

1. Reclaiming activities that had been blocked by the abuser.

8 Steps To Recovery After A Controlling Relationship
8 Steps To Recovery After A Controlling Relationship

For instance, Sharon’s partner did not want her to go on walks alone. After separating, she felt a wave of liberation every time she laced up her walking shoes.

2. Embodying. 

Being kind to one’s body by becoming physically active and eating well helps a person feel better all around. In a controlling relationship, many people become alienated from their physical selves.

For instance, Pat had no choice about when to engage in sex nor about what food to prepare for the family. Walking, yoga, dancing, lifting weights, stretching, bopping to the radio—all these can help survivors feel their vitality again.

Related: Finding Peace After A Toxic Relationship

3. Connecting with family, friends, and supportive professionals. 

Abusers deliberately separate their victims from others. Reconnecting with their social circle helps survivors regain support and a sense of themselves.

Abby’s husband made it difficult for her to visit her parents and complained every time she was on the phone with friends. Over time, she grew more and more dependent on him for all her social contact and her self-esteem plummeted. After their separation, Abby discovered that her loved ones were eager to spend time with her again. 

Psychotherapists also provide important support for survivors and help them face the challenges ahead. To be effective with survivors, therapists must understand the concept of coercive control—which is still a new idea to many.

4. Organizing time and physical space can help a person feel less overwhelmed.

After Katrina moved out with her children, all the possessions she had been able to grab were in plastic bags and she despaired of ever feeling “normal” again.

Arranging her belongings into labeled boxes in her shelter room helped her feel more settled. She noticed that her children responded positively to a more orderly living space, too. A daily routine also helps organize one’s emotional life.

5. Verbalizing.

Sharing the true story of the relationship—in ways that feel right—can be empowering. Some survivors start by keeping a diary where they can be honest with themselves. Then they speak with selected friends and family who they know will be supportive. Telling one’s true story helps survivors cope with their feelings and may also have positive practical effects.

For instance, when Carla explained her home situation, her boss became much firmer about denying her ex access to the workplace and not giving him any information over the phone regarding Carla’s whereabouts.

Related Recovery From Abusive Relationships: How Long Does It Take?

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Lisa Aronson Fontes Ph.D.

Lisa Aronson Fontes, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and author of numerous publications including the books: Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship, Interviewing Clients Across Cultures, and Child Abuse & Culture: Working with Diverse Families. She has dedicated two decades to making mental health, criminal justice, and social service systems more responsive to culturally diverse people. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. Fontes is a popular trainer, consultant, and speaker for audiences around the world.View Author posts