Expert Answers: When will hurt of abusive years end?

After a stormy and unhappy marriage involving threats and sexual abuse I left my husband three years ago. I am now living on my own and life is so peaceful, but I can't forget or get over the reasons why I left. How long will this hurt go on for?

It is not easy to move past the pain of an abusive relationship.

Abuse at the hands of a loved can leave you feeling worthless, depressed and hopeless. However, you should not allow the bullying tactics of one person to taint the rest of your life.

Your abuser may have tried to convince you that you are weak, but that isn't true.

You had the strength to get out of your unhealthy relationship in spite of your partner's attempts to control you. With courage and determination, you can leave this chapter of your life behind.

Step 1 – End all contact with your abuser. Even after your relationship has ended, your abuser may try to reconcile with you. He might plead with you to give him another chance and promise that his behaviour will change if you'll come back to him. However sincere he may appear to be, you need to remember that he is attempting to manipulate you. A partner with a pattern of abuse will eventually lose control and take his aggression out on you.

Do not allow yourself to be pulled back into a relationship with someone who gives himself permission to hurt you.

Do not take his calls, and block his emails. To move on, you need to make sure he is entirely out of your life.

Step 2 – Reconnect with your family and friends. An abusive partner wants control. The more isolated you are from other people, the more dependent you will be.

It is important during this recovery stage that you have the support of people who love you. If you've tried to keep the nature of your relationship hidden from your family and friends, confide in them now. Surrounding yourself with caring, supportive people will give you a chance to express the feelings you felt compelled to hide or suppress during your relationship. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed, but telling the truth will help free you from the past.

Step 3 – Stay busy. Another control tactic of an abuser is to monopolise your time. You may have given up hobbies, interests or even your job in an effort to placate your former partner. Begin again to involve yourself in activities that you find fulfilling and enjoyable.

Be as determined and proactive about creating the life you want as you were about ending your unhealthy relationship in the first place.

Not only will it help you to feel better, each moment you keep yourself engaged in meaningful work or play is a moment that will not be taken up by thoughts or memories of your former partner.

Paul Charlson

GP from Brough

It takes courage and a lot of strength to walk away from an abusive relationship, it is one of the hardest things you will ever do. You have done so well to do this and build a new life for yourself. You need to find someone who can listen as you unburden your pain and torment.

Don't bottle it up inside or struggle alone, this is one instance where you will need supportive relatives or friends. Consider a visit to your GP who could put you in touch with a counsellor or therapist who can offer you valuable insight and empathy as you work toward healing your emotional wounds.

He/she can also put you in touch with a support group, which will give you the opportunity to talk with people who have had your experience and share your goals of moving on.

With courage and determination, you can leave this chapter of your life behind and enjoy the safe, happy and fulfilling future you deserve.

Elaine Douglas

A chartered psychologist who specialises in family and child relationships

To do what you did must have been very hard, and I am glad that life is more peaceful for you. Sexual abuse is insidious as it damages an individual's feelings of self, destroys their confidence and makes it so difficult to cope with everyday life. Lack of control and powerlessness are debilitating which makes it so difficult for the victims of this kind of abuse to break free. You have done that, but what you are experiencing is the aftermath of the abuse you suffered. I would strongly advise that you seek some professional help to enable you to come to terms with your past and move forward. Your lifestyle will be different and you may be living in reduced circumstances. All of this will have an impact on the time it will take for you to adjust.

I don't know whether you work, but perhaps a part-time job or some voluntary work would help you to focus on things other than the terrible situation that you have come through. I think you need to try and rebuild your day-to-day life – to give you structure and purpose, so please consider what you may initially see as distractions or diversions as ways to help you move forward.

Cary Cooper

Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University

I think that if the hurt is still there, and it sounds as if it is, I would suggest that you go to see a counsellor or clinical psychologist.

Getting your feelings out to a trained professional might help you to come to terms with it better.

This is not to say that these experiences might not re-emerge from time to time after counselling, but at least you will be able to explore your feelings with someone who has dealt with others in similar situations, which might help to contextualise your reactions.

I suspect that a counsellor will say that years of trauma like these will be difficult to totally eradicate, but being able to talk about it might help think through a strategy to deal with it.

Dr Carol Burniston

Consultant Clinical Child Psychologist

You have had a very difficult time and you have been very courageous in breaking away. Long-term abuse can have lifelong consequences for many people. The events you have endured will have shaped your character and your view of the world. Many people who have lived through similar experiences to yourself, have issues with trusting others.

You can access help from a variety of sources but in the first instance, you can consult your GP who will know of the services available in your area which would be most appropriate. Counselling may be helpful to enable you to make sense of the life experiences you have had. If you are still traumatised by your experiences, more specialist therapy such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitisation and re-programming) has been found to be very helpful.

Many areas now have support groups for survivors of domestic abuse, but I do not know enough about your situation to know whether this would be appropriate. Again, your GP would be able to advise you.