Trying to recover from a controlling relationship is easier said than done, and it’s not really a very short process. But at the same time, it isn’t impossible for recovery to happen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6. Expressing oneself creatively.
Dancing. Drawing. Gardening. Singing. Many victims shut down creatively during a coercive control relationship, busily attending to their partner’s every demand. Releasing one’s creative side can be a step on the path to recovery.
When her abusive relationship ended, Chris began drawing cartoons and then repainted her apartment with vibrant colors. She loved choosing the paint herself and—room by room—as she wielded the roller she felt as if she was covering over bad memories and reclaiming the space as “hers” in a new way.
Some survivors compile a list of the controlling incidents that they experienced. The list helps them appreciate what they’ve been through and realize their own strength. They can take pride in the courage they showed, and look forward to a full life as a free person.