How to Survive Domestic Violence

Three Parts:Taking Immediate ActionStaying SafeHealing Emotionally

Domestic abuse is a very serious issue. Abusers can be emotionally and physically manipulative, making it difficult to negotiate the complicated web of emotions you may be feeling.[1] Whether you're being abused in a romantic relationship or by a member of your family, you need to form a plan to put a stop to it and to get help. The most important thing to do is ensure your immediate safety; only then should you put a plan in place for your recovery.

If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Part 1
Taking Immediate Action

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    Protect yourself. If you're in danger, get out of the house and get to a safe location. If you're in immediate danger, call the authorities now, or contact a domestic abuse center in your area.[2] To find one locally in the United States, call the Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
    • Depending on your physical, mental, or emotional state, you may wish to go to the hospital or a safe house for people who have survived domestic abuse, to assess the situation and plan your next steps. The location of a safe house is kept a secret, and they may be able to send a car to pick you up if you can't make it there yourself. They provide food, donated clothing, shelter, a bed to sleep in, and services to help you get reestablished, such as obtaining welfare and setting up housing, and have counseling services available.
    • You might also elect to go immediately to the local police station, the home of a trusted friend or relative, or to any open, safe, public place like as a shopping mall, big box store, or restaurant. Be sure not to tell your abuser where you are going or he may follow you.[3]
    • If you have no transportation, find somewhere safe to hide in the neighborhood. Go to a neighbor's house, climb a tree, hide behind the garbage cans, hunker down in a ditch. Do whatever you need to to protect yourself the best you can.
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    Avoid escalating the situation. Although it is a myth that victims are the ones provoking domestic violence in the first place, if your abuser is being confrontational, try to avoid fighting back.[4] Use your best judgment here, but it may be best to give in temporarily to avoid a more serious violent counterattack. Try to stay under the radar until you can make a plan to leave for good.
    • For example, if your abuser hit you and said that you didn't do the laundry correctly, just try your best to do what he wants, rather than try to take a stand on this particular issue. Instead, focus your energy on staying safe and setting a plan in motion to get out for good.
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    Keep pepper spray on you. Hide this in your purse and know where it is in the house at all times. If things get out of hand, spray and run for safety. Don't look back or second-guess your decision. Remind yourself that protecting yourself and your children (if applicable) is the number one priority.[5]
    • Practice how to use the pepper spray so you know what to do right away if you ever need it for real.
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    Put a plan in place to end the relationship immediately. It is often difficult to leave an abusive relationship. The situation may be complicated by custody of children, finances, religion, family, and other cultural considerations. But the first thing to do is plot your escape and cover your tracks, then worry about these complications later.[6]
    • The one caveat though is to always be sure to ensure the safety of your children before escaping from the relationship.
    • Don't let your partner know that you're planning on leaving and don't wait for the worst to happen before you leave. Any legal issues arising from your departure may be settled after you have sought help from Domestic Violence networks and the police.
    • Leaving your partner doesn't necessarily mean that you don't love him, or that you've given up on someone who may need help with substance abuse issues, a personality disorder, or other mental health issues. But again, your physical safety is your priority. You can always settle complicated matters afterward.
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    Make a safety plan for your kids. If you have kids, be sure to have a safety plan in place for them. This includes several important steps that can help to keep your kids safe in a domestic abuse situation [7]:
    • Teach your kids how to dial 9-1-1 and explain to them when they should do so (i.e., when they feel threatened or when you are being hit).
    • Make arrangements with a neighbor who is home a lot for your kids to leave and stay with your neighbor if the situation escalates.
    • Make sure whoever your children stay with in emergency situations knows that under no circumstances is this person to hand your children over to your abuser.[8]
    • In the event that your children can't escape (e.g., if your abusive partner is blocking the door to outside), have a place they know about where they can hide until things settle down. This might be under a bed or in a closet, anywhere that they are out of sight and farthest from any potential weapons that might be lying about (e.g., don't make the spot somewhere in the kitchen where there are knives).
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    Open separate accounts. Try to secure a PO Box and a safe deposit box, in which you can stash money away from the home, not in an account with your name on it where your abuser might be able to access it. [9]
    • Don't tell anyone about your plan to leave in advance unless they are a domestic violence counselor, a therapist, or a long time friend who has no ties to your abuser and is aware not to reveal any information about you to him.
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    Keep or collect documentation of the abuse. To help prosecute and end your abuser's ability to harm, it's important to take the steps necessary to secure a conviction. Make certain you have a small tape recorder with you at all times. Buy it from a "surveillance" shop and learn how to use it from the sales staff. Turn it on whenever you have a gut feeling of mood swing from the person. Keep batteries fresh. Be sure also to take photos of your injuries and of objects broken during violent outbursts.[10]
    • Place copies of legal/financial documents in your safe deposit box. Do the same for any evidence you have of abuse: photos, diary, letters of apology from your abuser.
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    Pack a "go" bag. Find a small bag you can pack with everything you'll need for a few nights, just the essentials, and keep it in an easy-to-access place, so that you'll be able to grab it and leave at a moment's notice. It shouldn't look like a suitcase to your abuser: an inexpensive small bag will do. Pack several days of clothing, medications, enough money to cover the cost of a motel for a few nights, a cell phone, and important phone numbers and addresses.[11]
    • If you have children, or a pet, it's essential that you pack for them as well. Keep all packed belongings as portable and light as possible. Again, if you haven't taken the time to do this, don't wait and waste valuable time. Leave immediately and worry about the details later. Head to a domestic abuse shelter near you and they can help you sort getting your belongings once you are safe.
    • If you have children, it might be better, depending on your specific situation, to put them in a secure situation before leaving. Consider leaving them with friends or relatives if you have that option and if your abuser won't check there.
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    Practice escaping. Know exactly what ways you can leave from your house. Can you fit through the bathroom window? How many seconds does it take you to unlock the front door? Make sure you are prepared to leave quickly in situations where there is an immediate threat of violence.[12]
    • Be sure to practice these leaving strategies when your abuser is not around.
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    Execute your plan. Choose an opportune moment to leave and then leave. Don't decide to have a big confrontation and risk more abuse. If you can, leave quietly and write a note to your abuser letting him know that you have left for good. Make sure you have all your needed belongings such as your social security number, needed medications, birth certificates of all family members, school and vaccination records for your children, your house and car keys and lease or rental agreement, your passport or work or study permit if in a foreign country, and anything else you think of that you deem a necessity. [13]
    • If you are feeling guilty about leaving in the night, remember that your abuser is causing you significant amounts of physical and emotional pain and there is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

Part 2
Staying Safe

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    Contact the proper authorities. As soon as you secure your physical security and the security of your children (if applicable), it's important that you speak with the authorities and move forward with ensuring that your abuse will end.[14] Consider finding an attorney you trust to tell your story to and get legal advice on how to move forward with pressing charges.
    • Make contact and meet with domestic violence counselors, making certain they keep your record of consulting them in their files. Ask for a copy to place with your other documents. Domestic violence specialists may be able to help secure you new lodging, even if you've got a spotty rent history or employment record.
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    File for a restraining order. Once you break free, don't go back, attempt to contact, or reconcile with your partner. Let your abuser get the message with the restraining order paperwork. Don't try to reason with your abuser as it very likely will not work.[15]
    • Although the details will vary by country and county, in general, to file a restraining order, you should go to a family courthouse and request the necessary paperwork.[16] To find a courthouse you can visit, see:
    • Decide whether your case requires urgent attention or not. If you are in serious threat of physical danger, or otherwise deem that you need a restraining order right away, you can apply for a motion, which essentially means the courts may issue you a restraining order right away (as opposed to the normal process of a few weeks).[17]
    • If you can, get the help of a lawyer as you navigate this process. Your lawyer can send someone to serve the documents to your abuser. Serving the documents is required; in other words, the courts must be sure that abuser was given notification about the restraining order. If you cannot obtain a lawyer, the courts may be able to provide a member of staff who can serve the documents for you.[18] You will then need to file for proof that the documents have been served.
    • Go to court whenever you are required; you may be asked to go to court more than once, just follow the instructions provided by the courthouse and be sure not to miss your appointment(s)![19]
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    Avoid all contact with your abuser. Abusers are physically and emotionally manipulative, and getting out effectively means that you have to cut all ties and start ignoring your abuser at once. Don't entertain apologies, promises, or ultimatums to change.
    • Your partner may threaten you and attempt to have you return to the home. Cut all communication and make sure your partner doesn't know where you are. Your physical safety is your only priority. If your partner makes threats over text or email, be sure to save this as evidence in case you need it for legal reasons. [20]
    • If your partner is holding your child or financial resources so you can't leave, you can always settle custody or joint banking accounts during legal proceedings. Do not get intimidated by your abuser.

Part 3
Healing Emotionally

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    Don't suffer in silence. Talk to a licensed mental health professional. Domestic violence is not a simple life challenge to live through. Often, there are many reasons why people find themselves in domestic violence situations, many of them stemming from childhood. The way to arrest the cycle of abuse is to get professional help right away. Seek out or ask your therapist to help you find a local domestic violence support group and attend as soon as possible to begin the process of healing.[21]
    • To find a psychologist in your area, visit:
    • Finding support can help you heal emotionally and plan ahead for your future. Both of these are very important for building up your happiness and self-worth.[22]
    • Surround yourself with positive influences, making new supportive friends, and spending time building yourself back up in the company of people who have your best interests at heart.
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    Work on building up your self-esteem again. Tell yourself, even if you do not believe it at the moment, that you are important. Stop believing what your abuser has been telling you about yourself. You are worthy, you do have rights, and your happiness is important.[23] If you have trouble believing this, make a list of your strengths as evidence of your value. Ask your loved ones or therapist to contribute to this list.
    • One way to build your self-worth is by taking up a new hobby that allows you to express yourself while gaining mastery at something new.[24] Try something new like a dance class, art class, poetry, drawing, or photography.
    • You can even do simpler things to boost your self-esteem such as wearing clothes that make you feel good about yourself, caring for your personal hygiene, or making a list of your strengths and most worthy achievements.[25]
    • If you feel like your self esteem is getting lower and not higher, remember that it may be a long and rocky process to improve your self-worth. After all, you have been put down for a long time and it can take a while for your inner self to feel worthy and back in control.
    • Just make sure you do become a member of a group and continue to get support from other domestic violence survivors. It is important that you are involved with survivors who will support you.
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    Process your anger. While you might not have been able to feel it before, underneath your survival fear there may be a deep well of anger. To promote your recovery into a better life, it is important that this anger is processed and managed effectively.[26] Try to channel your anger into productive energy, not self-destructive or risky behavior.
    • Anger often promotes the urge to retaliate, and although it might feel good in the short term, do your best to avoid retaliation as it will only make your problems worse in the long run. [27]
    • Instead, if you feel yourself building with rage, channel that anger into productivity or at least less destructive ways of letting it out. You could, for example, write down what you are upset about in a journal or a poem to process your feelings. You might also or instead go for a hard work out; you may choose to go to the gym and hit a punching bag, or go for a long run. Studies show, in fact, that exercise helps to reduce anger.[28]
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    Spend time with loved ones. Your friends and your extended family are there to support you and can provide a security blanket to protect you from the influence of your abuser. Spending time with those you are close to can help to reduce stress and aid in the healing process.[29] Be with people you can trust and let the healing begin.


  • Leaving can be a very dangerous time. If you decide to leave, talk to a counselor who understands domestic violence and ask for help to do this in a safe way.
  • Each day tell yourself you are worth it, you have a new and better life ahead.
  • Remember, it's not you fault the abuser is acting this way.
  • Be patient with yourself, you will not understand everything about the abuse all at once, it will take a while for you to recover and become the old you once again.
  • If the abuser is removed from the household, change all locks immediately.
  • If children are involved write down what you want (contact arrangements, etc.) before any meetings/court dates, as your abuser may try to intimidate a deal out of you that you do not want.


  • Restraining orders can be helpful and needed for some but dangerous when it comes to abusers who have a history of not respecting or caring about law and other authorities. Talk to someone who understands the pros and cons and decide for yourself if this is the safest solution.
  • Do not go back to your abuser under any circumstances whatsoever. It will not get better.

Things You'll Need

  • A bit of money; begin squirreling away whatever you can
  • Social support of trusted friends or family.
  • A good plan you can rely on, so you know what to do in scary situations.

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Domestic Violence | Stress Anxiety and Crisis Management