This is the second of a two-part series on abusive relationships. You can read part one here, which discusses how to recognise you're in a toxic/abusive relationship.
Recognising what’s happening to you is wrong and isn’t your fault, is the first step.
Even if at times it seems like no one can help you, there is help available. You are not alone. But before you reach out to authorities and organisations for help, the chances are that you have thought about doing it for months if not years. So how do you keep yourself safe while you create a plan to leave?
1. Spot the patterns by recording a timeline of what is happening to you.
Abusers that are charismatic, exert control by gaslighting you and turning everyone against you. Keep a diary of all the things they do and say and what triggers violent episodes.
Note down the dates and times of incidents. You never know when this may come in handy for proving the abuse to your friends and family or in court. Timelines are very useful for showing how abuse and control develops over time. Keep this diary safe as if found, it could put you in danger.
2. Gather the evidence of abuse and back this up.
Any photographs, screenshots of messages or call logs, medical files, audio recordings, emails or text messages that can demonstrate the abuse can help you in court (see this for more tips).
Evidence is good as long as it’s safe. Create a digital backup. If you trust someone, you could also share some of these with them.
3. Keep originals and copies of all your files.
Keep your and your children’s identity documents safe. Scan them if you are able to and keep both e-copies and hard copies safe. Your partner or in-laws might keep the originals with them in a safe or cabinet, so if you can come up with a legitimate excuse for needing them, make copies and keep those secret.
4. Save money.
Often what stops women from leaving is not having a place to go and no money to build a new life. If you are completely reliant on your partner, in-laws and your own family - you are at the mercy of whether they want to support you or not.
If you can, save or earn by yourself and set some money aside. You will need it if you decide to leave.
5. Know who to call, where to go and have an emergency bag ready.
Depending on where you are, there are state and national level helplines you can call.
Memorise the numbers in case your life is in immediate danger and have a bag ready with important documents, clothes and valuables in case you need to leave with little or no notice.
6. Entrust someone who deserves it.
You need someone in your corner. It could be a close neighbour or friend, someone who has proven you can trust them.
Test them a few times with little secrets first. Discuss how you will tell them if it is an emergency, and what they should do if that time does come.
7. Don’t lose hope.
Make a world of your own. Living in an abusive relationship and house is emotionally (as well as often physically) exhausting and the effects of long-term trauma can rewire how your brain reacts. You may no longer feel like yourself and may suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD.
If you are unable to see a therapist, consider using online resources like this guide to build coping mechanisms that can help. Finding spaces where you are safe to be yourself, exert some control, socialise and find purpose are important to keep your spirits up.
Whether this is volunteering at your children’s school or starting a catering business or doing remote work - you deserve to find pockets of happiness and appreciation even when you’re living through the toughest time of your life.
Always remember, if you’re in immediate danger, call 1122 or 15.