Thank you so much for asking us this question. It can be extremely frightening when you recognize you or someone you love is in a violent situation, so we appreciate your trust in us.
First, recognize your wellbeing and safety is important. Sometimes people who cause us harm might try to manipulate us into thinking that we are to blame, we are not worthy of seeking help, or that no one will care if we do reach out. Realize that this is not true. There are many people and resources out there to support you when you are ready.
It is also important to recognize that it is not always possible to leave a violent or unhealthy environment right away. This can be due to fears of further violence, worries over how this could affect others in your life, or grief over the loss of what you feel is an important relationship.
If you cannot leave a violent situation, you may consider developing a safety plan. Creating a detailed safety plan can help minimize risk and help you navigate difficult living situations. Safety plans look different for everyone, and you decide what pieces are useful to you and your situation.
Living in an unhealthy environment is stressful and predicting when conflict or potential danger might erupt is difficult. In moments of tension, it’s hard to think clearly and know how to respond. Developing a safety plan helps you think through and plan for scenarios before they happen.
An exit plan can be critical for situations that might become dangerous. It can be helpful to think through belongings you would need to quickly leave, what door is easiest to access, who you will contact after leaving, and where you can go for safety. Safe spaces could include the homes of nearby friends or family, a public space that is well populated and where you feel safe, or a housing shelter.
Safety plans can also be used to meet psychological and emotional needs. If it’s not possible or necessary to physically exit your environment, finding a safe and private space within your living space or nearby can be of equal importance for your mental wellbeing.
You don’t need to have a physical copy of your plan, especially if it would be a risk if found. Mentally planning is just as valid and useful. If you do write it out, try to keep it in a private place or in a password protected note, where it’s less likely to be found by others. The National Domestic Violence hotline has a great online tool to do this that you can use here: Relationship Abuse Safety Planning | National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org).
Safety planning is a tool that can help minimize risk, but remember that you are never responsible for someone else’s violent or abusive actions. Other things you may consider doing include building and maintaining a social network outside of places that you experience harm. This will help pull you out of isolation (where abuse can thrive) and provide you with additional positive, supportive networks in their life.
Finally, there are services to support you. For example, The National Domestic Violence Hotline has call, text and chat options 24/7 which you can find here: Get Help | The National Domestic Violence Hotline (thehotline.org). There are other hotlines specific to other types of violence that may be applicable to you as well.
When you are unable to leave a violent situation, it can feel like you’re responsible for managing the emotions and behaviors of those around you. It’s easy to lose sight of your own needs and worth when your environment does not reflect back how important you truly are. Your thoughts and feelings matter. You matter. You are never responsible for the hurtful actions of those around you.
Thank you for this question. We are here for you.