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Understanding the Emotional Effects of Leaving an Abuser

Breaking Free from the Drama Cycle

LISTEN HERE: This blog is extracted from one of the audio lessons in the Get Out Get Love programme, which you can listen to here - if you prefer.

Leaving an abusive relationship can have profound emotional effects on us. It's essential to recognise the complex dynamics of the drama cycle and the psychological coping mechanisms that both partners develop.

This blog post will delve into the emotional impact of leaving an abuser, shedding light on the challenges faced and the importance of self-care and support during this difficult transition.

Understanding the Drama Cycle: Abusive relationships often follow a repetitive pattern known as the drama cycle. Both partners become familiar with the steps, behaviours, and emotional ups and downs. The victim, in particular, plays a role in perpetuating the cycle by reacting to the abuse and attempting to defend themselves. This reaction can unintentionally intensify the cycle, making it difficult to break free.

This is perhaps too short of an introduction to do the concept justice, but at this point - just hold onto the fact that it can exist and we can reinforce it when we serve it, as victims in a relationship. Why do I push for this insight?... because of what happens when we break it!

Challenging the Established Cycle: Escaping the drama (abuse) cycle is incredibly challenging due to its well-established nature.

Abusive partners have become adept at recognising the behaviours that influence and control us the most, while we have learned to accept blame, apologise, and endure abusive behaviours in order to avoid further conflict.

Leaving this cycle disrupts the dynamic and triggers strong reactions from both parties involved.

The Abuser's Reaction: When an individual leaves an abusive partner, it acts as a bombshell within the drama cycle.

The abusive partner may feel a profound sense of rejection, insult, or injustice. They might exhibit a wide range of behaviours, from intense rage to detachment and disinterest.

- blocking all contact

- replacing us quickly, with a new partner

- stalking / monitoring

- insults / accusations

- lies to friends and family

- love bombing (trying to pull us back in, with glimpses of the love and affection we crave)

These behaviours are often a manipulative response aimed at evoking specific reactions from the victim, fueling emotions such as fear, obligation, guilt, and shame.

The Victim's Emotional Journey: Leaving an abusive relationship triggers a surge in emotions for the victim.

Fear becomes ever-present, encompassing concerns about the ex-partner's potential actions and the individual's ability to survive and rebuild their life. A deep sense of obligation, ingrained throughout the relationship, weighs heavily on the victim, along with guilt for causing distress by leaving and the shame of the situation and the impact on our now ex.

The Complexity of Guilt and Shame: We often experience guilt due to the perceived harm we have inflicted on our partner by rejecting them.

We believe our partner is vulnerable and weak, and we can shoulder the blame for the relationship's difficulties. This sense of guilt is entangled with shame, which hinders our ability to seek help and compels us to return to the abuser in fleeting moments of apparent love and acceptance.

Such a tangled storm of emotions!

The Storm of Emotions and the Urge to Return: Leaving an abuser thrusts individuals into a turbulent storm of emotions that can feel overwhelming and impossible to manage.

The absence of emotional regulation, which was previously controlled by the abuser, adds to the turmoil.

We become accustomed to seeking relief when our partner exhibits calm behaviour or expresses love. Consequently, the urge to return becomes a constant struggle.

We want to be calm but struggle to create this - without our ex being calm. The consequence, we can feel pulled back as our emotions seek a way to regulate. It can feel like love, but it is a different - dysfunctional need. The need to meet the needs of an abuser, to achieve peace.

Breaking the Cycle- Staying Away and Seeking Support: Despite the difficulties, it is essential to resist the urge to return to our abuser.

Staying away requires a strong commitment to zero contact with the ex-partner and seeking support from trusted sources. This support system plays a vital role in providing guidance, understanding, and empowerment during the healing process. Support such as friends, services, clinicians, family... whatever we can collect!

Looking Ahead: In the aftermath of leaving an abusive relationship, the future may appear uncertain and devoid of calm.

Victims may struggle to envision a life outside the pain they have endured.

However, by retelling our story, understanding the psychological mechanisms at play, and committing to self-care and support, we can gradually rediscover our worth, break free from the addiction to the drama cycle, and pave the way for a brighter future.


Leaving an abusive relationship is a brave and transformative decision that can have a profound emotional impact.

The road to healing and self-empowerment may be challenging, but it is essential to remember that you are not alone.

By seeking support, committing to zero contact with your abuser, and retelling your story with a newfound understanding, you can break free from the cycle of abuse and discover a future filled with self-worth, inner peace, and the possibility of healthy relationships.

Remember, your journey toward a brighter and happier life begins with the strength and resilience within you.

The GOGL Programme:

A digital programme created by a Clinical Psychologist who escaped an abusive relationship.

Evidence-based. Proven Approach. Available as and when you need it.

Take the journey at


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