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Therapy After an Abusive Relationship

Phi Atratus
  • Mar 16, 2022
  • 6 min read
Panicked helpless woman with bruised face after domestic violence

Every minute, nearly 20 people in the United States are physically abused by an intimate partner. Meanwhile, nearly half of all women and men have experienced at least one form of psychological aggression by an intimate partner during their lifetime. This is true for both heterosexual and non-heterosexual relationships.  

Abusive relationships are traumatic, and it’s common for victims of abuse to experience overwhelming feelings of distress, fear, and helplessness as a result of their trauma.

Leaving an abusive relationship is the first step to living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.  However, just cutting off ties with your abuser won’t remove the wounds and scars left by your time together. You may feel confused, overwhelmed, and lost after the relationship is over.  

Statistics suggest that domestic victimization correlates to a higher rate of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal behavior. Intimate partner violence also results in physical, sexual, and reproductive health issues, including HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, and non-fatal or even fatal injuries.

It may be difficult to get your thoughts and emotions back in order after going through an abusive relationship, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Going to therapy after an abusive relationship may help you get back on your feet.  

Types of Abuse in a Relationship

There are many ways a partner can abuse you in a relationship. Here are the different forms of abuse you can see or experience in an abusive relationship.  

Physical abuse

Slapping, kicking, punching, and any other actions that cause physical harm are physical abuse. This also includes any action that results in physical disability, such as pushing you down the stairs.

Emotional/psychological abuse

Emotional abuse is often the hardest to see but is also the most common. Emotional abuse is when your partner commits to a pattern of manipulation to gain power over you and uses that to control you.

Sexual abuse

When your partner pushes any form of sexual contact without your consent – that is sexual abuse. This also includes when they push you to perform a sexual act when you’re intoxicated or when your partner coerces or blackmails you into agreeing.

Financial abuse

When your partner uses money to gain control over you – that is considered financial abuse. Examples include taking over your bank account, stealing your identity to rack up debt, and selling or taking your property without permission.

Abusive Relationship Signs to Look for

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if the relationship you’re in or one someone you know is in is an abusive relationship. Here are some of the abusive relationship signs you should be on the lookout for:

  • Controlling and possessive behavior
  • Excessive jealousy
  • Stalking
  • Constant put-downs and criticisms
  • Invalidating your emotions
  • Making you feel that you are to blame for their outbursts or any problems in your relationship
  • Making you feel that no one else will want you
  • Getting angry if you don’t do as they say
  • Isolating you from your friends and family
  • Comparing you unfavorably with others
  • Physical and/or sexual violence
  • Spreading rumors about you
  • Posting your information without your consent
  • Threatening violence against you, your family, your friends, your pet, or any object you value
  • Threatening to “out” you for your gender identity or sexual orientation
  • “Love bombing” you, or bombarding you with gifts, compliments, promises, and apologies after physical and/or emotional attacks

If you are experiencing any of these from an intimate partner, consider getting help from a trusted friend or family on how to leave an abusive relationship, or calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline or any domestic violence program operating near you.  

Do I Need Therapy After My Abusive Relationship?

An abusive relationship can cause a slew of physical and psychological damage. There’s no shame if you’re still feeling the after-effects. You may be struggling to form new relationships or have trouble putting your trust in people again.

Going to therapy after an abusive relationship will help you work through insecurities, low self-esteem, and any feelings of shame, fear, guilt, anxiety, and confusion you may be feeling. 

A therapist will help provide extra support when you need it, help you establish healthier relationships in the future, and help you better understand and adapt your defense mechanisms. They can also help you identify and cope with your triggers.   

With therapy, you can slowly tread the path to healing and leaving your past behind.

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What Is Therapy After an Abusive Relationship Like?

A therapist can help you heal by helping you talk through what happened in your abusive relationship and how to proceed from there.  

Therapists are trained to listen to what you are and are not saying, and they recognize that survivors of abusive relationships need a safe space to feel heard and validated.  

Naturally, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to therapy. What works for you will depend on your own personal circumstances. A therapist may walk you through different approaches to help you resolve your unpleasant feelings, regulate strong emotions, and rebuild your ability to trust other people.  

Beyond that, there are some approaches you and your therapist may consider.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) 

CPT focuses on helping survivors identify and shift thoughts and feelings that often stay even after the immediate danger has passed from an abusive relationship. This research-based psychotherapy will help you form healthier and more balanced thoughts by guiding you through core issues such as safety, power, control, trust, intimacy, and self-esteem. 

Your therapist will guide you through a comprehensive treatment plan to address common symptoms of trauma, such as re-experiencing, avoidance, negative thoughts and mood, and changes in arousal.  

This will help you restore your sense of personal safety as well as create a sustainable plan for your long-term recovery.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 

CBT is a common approach used by therapists to treat abusive relationship survivors. CBT helps you process and evaluate your thoughts and feelings about the trauma you’ve been through. The main goal is to help you process your cognitive distortions or irrational thoughts learned through the course of the abusive relationship.

Group CBT for people who went through abusive relationships is a useful alternative to individual CBT therapy because it can help you learn from the experiences of others as well as your own. Participation can also help rebuild your trust in others and make it easier to re-establish friendships.   

A few known techniques used in CBT that may be used as part of your therapy include journaling, progressive muscle relaxation, relaxed breathing, and unraveling cognitive distortions.  

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

DBT is an evidence-based therapy that works on two seemingly contradicting ideas: acceptance and change. This approach works on people who went through abusive relationships by helping them learn and use new skills and strategies to build a better life.  

In DBT, the therapist will help you understand that your past experiences and behaviors are valid, but also that you will have to make positive changes in order to move forward and past the abusive relationship.  

DBT emphasizes maintaining a nonjudgmental stance to cultivate a safe space, as well as mindfulness techniques.

Can Online Therapy Help?

If you physically are unable to go to therapy, or if you’re not ready yet to face people, you still have options. Online therapy after an abusive relationship can help you get access to a therapist without needing to make a physical appointment.  

Online therapy is just another modality of therapy that can give you easier access to the help you need. Psychologists agree that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for most psychological issues. You also have the option of anonymity, so if you’re not comfortable revealing who you are, even to your therapist, you can still get the help you need.

With online counseling at the tip of your fingers, the mental health support you deserve is the most convenient, affordable, and accessible it has ever been.


When you leave an abusive relationship, you may not necessarily be focused on healing.  Survival is often the main priority. However, it’s also important to heal the psychological wounds from your abusive relationship in order to ensure you can look forward without the trauma burdening you.

If you went through or are still going through an abusive relationship, going to therapy will help you deal with your emotions and coach you through the steps towards healing.  

With DoMental, you can get in touch with licensed counselors wherever you are, whenever you need, with guaranteed anonymity, privacy, and security. 

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