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Week 8, Session 1: Creating a Safer Environment: If You Stay and Exit Strategies

Hello and welcome to Week 8, Session 1 of Bloom’s ‘Coping with Domestic Abuse’.

Wow, welcome to the last week. We’re so proud of you for reading along with us, and are really glad you’ve come on this journey with Bloom.

If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

You might want your thought diary for the homework in this session so take a moment to find it if you don’t have it with you already. 

The goals for this session are:

  • Outline safety plans
  • Talk about exit strategies for those who plan to leave their abusers
  • Discuss coping strategies for those who stay
  • Break down important terms

Let’s start with a grounding exercise… Take a breath in and take a moment to look around the room you are in. As you do that, pick one interesting object in your field of vision. This can be anything from a windowsill to a chair, to the shoes you are wearing. It doesn’t matter what it is, just something you can see. Slowly, trace its outline with your eyes, as if you were drawing its lines. If you can, remember to keep breathing while you draw its outline! Great job!

Fun question: What celebrity or figure from history would you most want to have dinner with?

Today - and really, this week in general - is all about safety planning. 

But before we do that, there are a few important terms we wanted to break down related to abuse. It can be easier, and even feel like a weight has lifted, when we have the language to describe what’s happening or has happened to us. And knowing that similar things have happened to others can bring community and take away some of the isolation - and help us decide how to act. We’ll link out to further resources in some places, so you can read more about terms that feel relevant.

  1. For those who do decide to leave and do not have to co-parent with an ex, we want to link you to an article summarising a “no contact” strategy you can adopt -- which aims to break the chemical traumatic bonds we’re so familiar with, as written by a fellow survivor: https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2018/02/this-is-what-it-really-means-to-go-no-contact-with-an-abusive-narcissist/ 
  2. In addition, after going no contact, or simply after leaving and limiting your relationship, your abusive ex or family members may try to guilt you or attempt to “trick” you back into getting in touch with them (usually just to prove that they can), using “hoovering” or “triangulation”. More on hoovering at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/captivating-crimes/202003/hoovering-and-the-narcissistic-victim. And for insights into triangulation (it’s what you’re seeing when abusers post “happy” life pictures with other people): https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/05/3-powerful-ways-to-heal-from-the-toxic-triangulation-of-narcissists/
  3. We are linking you to a technique called “grey rock”, which is a behaviour you can adapt when dealing with abusive peoples - past, present, or future. Basically, we get to be as boring as we want! https://www.healthline.com/health/grey-rock
    To quote: “This strategy involves becoming the most boring and uninteresting person you can be when interacting with a manipulative person...since people with manipulative personalities feed on drama, the duller and more boring you seem, the more you undermine their efforts to manipulate and control you.” 

By keeping to the basic, we cut off the fuel, supply, or source of attention and dramatic up-and-downs abusers need to feel special. This can be especially effective to adapt in situations of co-parenting, where you still have to meet with your ex and want to protect your time, energy, and space.
Consider what dull and basic topics you will discuss before you see them; limit your answers; let them think your life is dull without them there. We’re the ones who know better: and they don’t get to access those amazing parts of our day any longer.
If you are in an abusive home, we have already covered that you are ALREADY using the best techniques to keep yourself from harm: by attending to your abusers’ needs and being alert to their cues. You are the expert in your own corner. However, grey rock can still offer an important reminder to survivors: we can stay alert to abusive moods, but we do not always have to be switched “on”. Sometimes, when our abusers can’t get what they want from us, they will move their attention elsewhere. 

So, onto safety planning. For a lot of us, this may sound like a daunting task to take on, because we might feel like we don’t have the strength or ability to create safety for ourselves. After all, it’s too easy to blame ourselves for getting into an abusive situation to begin with - after we’ve taken on the burden of the abuser’s guilt. We also might think a safety plan is only about leaving our abuser - which is not always an option for us, for a multitude of reasons.
Reactions like this are completely understandable and normal. But we want to make it clear that creating a safety plan is not always about leaving immediately or about leaving at all. It’s about giving ourselves options and controlling what we can, where we spend so much of our time - where things are private. A safety plan is meant to empower us, keep us well, and give us options. It may seem daunting to start with, but this is something you can do. 

So, what is a safety plan?

A safety plan is a personalised, practical plan of actionable steps that can help you avoid dangerous situations. It helps you know and prepare for the best way to react when you’re in danger. We know that it can be almost impossible to make decisions when we are in these heightened situations of violence and stress, so having created a safety plan in advance saves us from making a choice in the moment. It mobilises us with the knowledge of how we can act in different scenarios - without having to decide them on the spot.

Safety plans are completely unique to each person - they are not one size fits all. They might be just for you, or you might build them with your children or other family members in mind. Either way, we are going to outline how to build the best safety plan for you, as you need it.

Before we do, let’s remember a few really important things - almost like a bit of a course review thrown into the mix:

  • You are never to blame for your abuse or your family’s/children’s exposure to abuse
  • You are not responsible for your abuser’s violence or behaviour 
  • You cannot control your abuser - but there are ways to increase your own safety
  • And you can get professional support to help you make your safety plan or to talk about your situation
  • Your safety is always the most important thing
  • You are not alone

Building a Safety Plan:

Like we said earlier, everyone’s safety plan will look different. It’s about what makes the most sense for you. It might not be possible to do everything we list right away, but safety measures can always be added over time - where you have the time and room to implement them. This is what we suggest:

  • Create a list of telephone numbers that can include local police, nearest women’s transition house/shelter/safe home, crisis line, family members, friends, counsellors, children’s friends, etc.
    If you feel safer, you can name these with different “codes” - like ‘P’ for police, but say that it’s the Post Office.
    Here is a link to our international directory of local services, if you’d like help in your area for finding these resources: https://directory.chayn.co/login?api_token=a3e56550-3eb1-4ee8-82d6-c42d4683c16f 
  • Be careful about who can get access to stored numbers such as the last number you dialled or received a call from. You can also regularly erase stored numbers.
  • Make arrangements with friends or family - so that you can stay with them if necessary. You may also want to leave a bag with them. You do not have to say why you are leaving anything there, either. You can say that it is in case of an emergency - like an earthquake or a fire. 
  • Check your vehicle for a GPS - which your abuser may have installed in or under your car to track your movements. Look for anything that appears out of the ordinary and like it has been added on to the car, as a small routine in the morning. If you are being observed, you can simply say you are checking for any scratches from pebbles on the road.
  • If you have children, teach your children to use the phone to contact someone trusted if they need to. You can also teach them how to make a collect call if your abuser takes the children.
  • Create a code word with your children and/or family/friends so they know when to call for help.
  • Plan your emergency exits, including accessible types of transportation like a taxi or bus. This includes knowing what route you can easily take through your house that gets you to the front door or an exit the fastest. Know what obstacles are in your way. If violence is beginning to escalate, position yourself along this route, so you can leave if you need to. 
  • Consider a plan for the safety and wellbeing of your pet(s), such as making arrangements with friends or family to care for them if need be. 
  • Be aware of any weapons in the home or your abuser’s access to weapons. Do you know where they are? 
  • When using the computer, be aware that your abuser may track the websites you have visited. Here’s Chayn’s DIY online safety guide, which can help with safeguarding your digital data: https://chayn.co/safety/
  • If and when you have to communicate with your abuser after leaving, arrange to have a trusted and supportive person with you when you meet with them or talk to them. You can control your environment when they are around. You NEVER have to face them on your own when you don’t want to - whatever their guilt trips. You can choose with whom and where you meet them. 

You may need to leave in an emergency situation if your life is at risk. Here is a tool for you to do that. This is a link for a domestic violence danger assessment sheet, specifically targeted for those experiencing physical abuse to determine their present levels of safety: https://www.dangerassessment.org/DATools.aspx
While this sheet limits its language to women with male partners (rather than including men as victims or considering families are perpetrators), there is a separate sheet for same-sex relationships and women who are immigrants.
How do I fill out a Danger Assessment form? The assessment is divided into a calendar model and a 20-question quiz. The calendar helps to assess the severity and frequency of physical violence during the past year. You’re asked to mark the approximate date of an incident and to rank the severity of that incident from 1 to 5. After that, the 20-question quiz is a system wherein survivors respond with simple "yes" or "no" answers.
🚩If you answered "yes" to 18 or more questions, the threat to your life is extreme.

🚩If you answered "yes" to 14 to 17 questions, the threat to your life is severe.

🚩If you answered "yes" to 8 to 13 questions, the threat to your life is increased

And here are some things you can do in advance to be prepared - and safe:

  • Create a copy of and keep the following items in a safe and hidden place, away from the originals:
    • Passports, birth certificates, citizenship papers, immigration papers, licenses or any other forms of ID 
    • Prescription, medical, and vaccine records
    • Insurance information
    • Any court documentation - custody papers, divorce papers, court orders and so on
    • Housing documents - lease/mortgage
    • Banking statements
      → You can keep these with a trusted friend or family member, as well. Again, claiming it is in case of a national disaster, potentially. But do not feel you have to tell your abuser. They are not a part of your safety plan. They are apart from it.
  • Keep all cards/copies of cards you normally use, like credit cards or health cards, in your wallet.
  • Keep your wallet and purse handy and containing essentials like keys, bank books, driver’s license, emergency money if you are able to save some, and your cell phone.
  • Keep an emergency suitcase packed - or one handy that you can pack quickly. If you are wary of having packed bags, just knowing where there are clothes you can quickly grab is immensely helpful. You can create your own visual pockets and markers of where things are and how they can be accessed quickly that your abuser will not know to look for. 

Other things you may want to consider if you have the ability to do so:

  • Open a bank account in your own name - and arrange that no correspondence be made to you but to a trusted person in your life.
  • Set aside as much money as you are able to or ask a trusted person to hold on to money for you - if this is not a possibility, that is okay.
  • Know that you can dial emergency services if they are available in your area and it is something you feel comfortable doing. Dialing emergency services is not always the right option for everyone, so it’s worthwhile to consider this option carefully.

It can be helpful to make the safety plan when you are feeling calm and can think scenarios through. Our situations can change rapidly, so it is helpful to consistently familiarise yourself with, review, and - if needed - revise your safety plan often. You will want to keep it in a safe place, away from where your abuser or people connected with your abuser can find it. 

Ways of coping:

Trying to live in a violent/abusive relationship can be exhausting and painful. And while we don’t always have the ability to leave or completely change our circumstances, we do have the ability to identify things that make it easier to cope. We always, always, always have our own power. The idea that we don’t or that we are useless or incapable of being good to ourselves, or of having our own agency, is merely an idea implanted by the abuser. Remember - we are resourceful, strong, resilient, bright.
In addition to the terms we outlined at the beginning of the session, which you can look into further with the links we provided, we also wanted to give you a few things to consider day-to-day to keep up self-esteem, to keep yourself well, and to keep yourself loved. 

  • Calling a friend, relative or counselor for support.
  • If they are available in your area, try and connect with a community resource or crisis center that can help assist you in navigating services and support services that meet your personal needs.
  • Attend counselling or group support sessions if you are able. Mutual aid is important - and staying connected.  
  • Find a community where you can gain support and strengthen your relationships with other people - our communities are everything! Remember: we know how the cycle of coercive control works - use it against them! Don't let them isolate you! Seek communities. Allow others to tell you the ways you are amazing and loved. It isn't always all on you to manage everything. Seek connection.

An overlooked part of safety planning is that we can be safer as we take care of ourselves - physically, emotionally, and spiritually (whatever that means for you). Again, we may have to attend to an abuser’s will (to stay focused on their needs in the day to stay protected - and that’s an incredible show of our own intelligence and survival), but it is good and necessary to step away from that laser-focus, as well. We don’t always have to take on their perceptions of us - 24/7. We can remember the other ways we are and the ways we live, outside of their boundaries and control
Take time for yourself - read, meditate, exercise, play music, draw… whatever comes to mind as a calming solitary activity! These acts of self-care are radical and enabling! 

  • Fulfil your spiritual needs in whatever way feels appropriate to you. This can take many forms - from religion to just spending time in nature.
  • Give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings, including anger!  See if you can find a constructive way to express it. Even just writing or talking about them can be helpful. Acknowledge the true feelings you have in your day. Value your emotions. 
  • Get adequate sleep and rest.
  • Take time to prepare yourself emotionally before entering stressful situations.
  • Focus on your strengths. Write them down. Remember your affirmations! 
  • Remember that you deserve kindness - and, although it may not come easily, you can give it to yourself or else find others who are strong enough to be kind. We know you can. 

A lot of these strategies can also be useful if you are considering returning to your abuser. Remember, there is no shame in having thoughts of returning. We know that trauma bonding makes this seem inevitable, at times - but it can be useful to have these strategies ready in case those feelings arise.

Leaving is the most dangerous time for survivors, and many continue to experience abuse when the relationship is over: survivors may still experience stalking, or threats, and coercive and controlling behaviour. However, there are ways you still and ALWAYS have power — whatever your abuser has made you feel, or the position they’ve put you in. Just because something is a risk does not mean you can’t do anything to alter that risk, lessen that risk, or make sure you are safe. If you are planning to leave, in addition to this safety plan, again, we encourage you to reach out to services in your area to help you, and to individually tailor or refine your exit strategies. There are communities who want to help you.

For those staying, the same applies: you may not be able to leave because of the stigma of your communities or because there is no immediate support available, or you have a family, or whatever other reason - but you can control what is in your home, and remind yourself (and practice) the ways you are strong and have agency over your actions.

We talked in the past about guilt, shame, and other difficult emotions. You may feel some or all of these things, and it isn’t any of our calls to determine your personal level of safety, but know that it CAN get better.

Start thinking about your own safety plan and what you need to put this in place. Also, note down the strategies on how to deal with abusive people from today’s session that feel relevant to you, and write down which ones you’d like to practice. 

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