Staying Strong After Leaving the Shelter

Why some survivors consider returning to an abusive partner

    • August 27, 2014
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A domestic violence shelter can be a place survivors find safety from an abusive relationship, as well as a place where they can begin to plan for a healthier future. But, like any safe place, leaving it can sometimes cause anxiety or fear. Survivors sometimes don’t feel prepared to live a life independently from their partner and, despite the abuse, will go back to the relationship that led them to the shelter in the first place.

Why would a survivor ever return to an abusive relationship? That’s the question Steven Stonsny, counselor and founder of the anger and violence management program CompassionPower, was asked in 2009 by CNN after recording artist Rihanna made headlines when she reconciled with abusive boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. [1] Stosny told the news source that a survivor will “leave out of either fear, anger or resentment … But then, after the fear, anger or resentment begins to subside, they feel guilt, shame, anxiety, and that [can] take them back.”

This is one reason it’s vital for survivors to continue to take advantage of services offered by domestic violence organizations. Counseling and peer support groups can help a survivor feel supported and strong enough to resist the temptation to return to or repeat an abusive relationship. Due to the length and severity of the trauma endured, some survivors may have a hard time discerning what a healthy relationship is. Survivors can often benefit from therapy to help to teach them how to build new, healthy relationships.

More Ways to Stay Strong

The National Domestic Violence Hotline says some other steps survivors can take to stay strong and not return to an abusive partner include [2]:

  • Identifying a call buddy for those times when you miss your ex. Talking to a friend can help you resist the urge to reach out to your ex-partner
  • Remind yourself why you left. Journal about your abuse and reread the entries when you’re having thoughts about returning to your abusive partner.
  • Be conscious of you emotional routines. If your ex-partner was someone you turned to in times of hardship, you need to find new coping mechanisms. Try reaching out to a friend, family member or counselor, or cope in other ways, such as signing up for an exercise class, getting out of town for a day or two, or seeing a funny movie

Learning about domestic violence can also help a survivor feel empowered. The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists six books on their website that they recommend survivors pick up, including  The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. The book teaches survivors to “love yourself just as you are.” To see the complete list of books The Hotline recommends, go to and search “helpful books to check out.”