This story is part of “Love Don’t Live Here” Word In Black’s series about how domestic violence impacts our community and what we can do about it. Trigger Warning: These stories contain mention of domestic violence and abuse.
Christy White worked as an immigration attorney because she wanted to save everyone. But, she quit when she realized she could only save herself.
“I became a lawyer because of my trauma, because of my domestic abuse and I wanted to save all the people who were going through the same things that I went through,” White says. “Once I recognized that I didn’t have to fight that anymore, I decided to get to know myself.”
She grew up with a father with alcoholism who was violent and verbally abusive toward the family and a mother who was physically violent as well.
While in college and law school, White was in a 12-year on-and-off relationship with her ex-fiancé. Over the years, she says he manipulated, threatened, and verbally abused her. After getting engaged, she started going to therapy.
“I was able to discern that it was a repeating relationship that I had been in several times,” she says. “It was just familiarity instead of something healthy.”
But her ex-fiancé wasn’t the only person abusing her at that time. In 2019, when she was trying to leave him, White realized her best friend was also manipulative. They worked together when she learned that “unethical things” were going on. As a result, White had to get the police involved.
“It didn’t really end well,” she says. “It also ended with nothing being harmed to my body, so I felt like that was a plus.”
Safely Leaving Abusive Partners
Kiva Harper, a psychotherapist in Arlington, Texas, says safety is a huge concern for those in abusive relationships. It’s not enough to tell a woman to leave — it’s about helping them to leave with a safety plan.
“Domestic violence is about power and control,” she says. “When they lose their power and control, they become very desperate.”
According to research “75% of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left an abusive relationship.” One of the reasons domestic violence emergency shelters exist is to keep women safe during this dangerous time.
Women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving. And on average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before leaving for good.
Every minute, about 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In one day, that’s nearly 30,000 people. In one week, it’s a little more than 200,000 people.
Whether you are family, friends, or acquaintances with someone in an abusive relationship, Harper says it’s imperative to help them find professional help. “We see so many cases of murder suicide in the news because of people just leaving.” Harper recommends domestic violence victims develop a comprehensive safety plan when they leave.
That plan could look like a woman or man in an abusive relationship forming a plan to remain safe if they decide to stay, another plan if they decide to leave, and a plan to stay safe after leaving. Harper says each plan varies by person and circumstance — and some may need to seek refuge at an emergency shelter or an anonymous location.
It can also include getting a protective order, which typically offers more protection than a restraining order. Depending on the state, if an abuser violates a protective order they can be immediately arrested.
“We also have to respect that women and men who are in these abusive relationships know their partner better than we do,” Harper says. “If they say, ‘he’ll kill me’ and they choose to stay to protect themselves and their kids … we have to know that helping someone is not about getting them to leave. It’s about keeping them safe.”
A Safety Plan is Self-Care
If and when someone leaves an abusive relationship, Harper says there are things survivors can do to take care of their mental health. A big part of a safety plan includes self-care. Oftentimes, selfcare is touted as long baths, nature walks, and drinking water — but there’s more to it for domestic violence survivors.
Self-care involves empowerment, validation, and support. With nearly 20 years of experience treating Black women in abusive relationships, Harper offers four pieces of advice.
Set boundaries and limits with people who are not supportive in that moment. Prioritize protecting your mental and emotional health. Learn to eliminate toxic relationships.
- Social Media Safety
Look at your digital footprint. Deactivate your social media accounts periodically. When using the internet, use an incognito browser.
- Spiritual Health
Many clergy members still advise women to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner. Take care of your spiritual needs by keeping yourself safe — even if your church is not supportive of it.
Be intentional about what you are consuming and putting into your body. Take some time to move your body. And prioritize rest. Part of being intentional means knowing where to get professional help.
Healing Is Possible
Chloe Panta, a mindset expert in Los Angeles, knows what it’s like to heal from a domestic violence relationship. Initially, she didn’t tell anyone around her what was going on with her relationship. This deprived her of a support network.
“I know what it’s like to hit rock bottom,” Panta says. “I know what it’s like to be in a rut where you feel as if there is no way out. Or you don’t know how to get out.”
Her self-worth was low at the time, and she says she was ashamed and embarrassed to disclose her struggle to people who loved her. But she knew she needed to get out. One day, she reached out to a friend who told Panta not only can she leave but she can take control of her life. Now, as a transformational coach she helps others to heal from the same traumas she experienced.
For Panta self-care was at the bottom of the list; it was nonexistent. Her abusive ex-partner convinced her that she was not deserving or worthy of caring for herself, so she had to unlearn the cycle of putting other people first.
“We are not deserving of abuse, or hate, or punishment,” she says.
Once she realized how important self-care was to her mental health, she made that a priority. Panta says many women don’t understand the price paid when you don’t take care of yourself and uplift yourself.
“We are worthy of having love, and abundance, and joy. We have to accept that ourselves and allow that in,” she says. “Now I romanticize my life by wearing perfume, getting dressed up every single day … getting a massage once a week. That’s making myself feel loved and beautiful and know that I am worthy of that.”
Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence
After surviving years of abuse, White has learned to prioritize her mental health. In doing so, she leaned on close friends who supported her and didn’t bombard her with questions. Part of what helped her heal was having people around her who didn’t blame her for experiencing abuse.
“I couldn’t really talk much,” White says about the time when she left her abusive fiancé. “It was really just love and silence.”
To reclaim her power and control, the 35-year-old moved from Dallas to Barcelona. Before moving, she worked on breathing techniques to reconnect with her body. And now she actively prioritizes her mental health and wellbeing.
“I did get the opportunity to heal there,” she says. “Now I’m getting the opportunity to grow, just from a different place. It feels like a second start. It feels really good.”
If you or someone you know is being affected by intimate partner violence, please consider making an anonymous, confidential call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Chat at http://thehotline.org | Text “START” to 88788. There are people waiting to help you heal 24/7/365.