If your relationship is unstable and unsafe, it is important to have a way to protect yourself. If you have children, you are responsible for their well-being also. Having a safety plan can help you process your emotional state and regain a sense of power in a seemingly helpless situation. When you have clarity on how to feel safe, the “when” of it becomes more attainable: soon or now.
It is a good idea to establish a safety plan with a professional so that you can escape an abusive situation and not let it continue to hold you back. Keep in mind that at anytime, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or TDD 800-787-3224. In an emergency, always call 911.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you make a safety plan:
- Who do you feel safe calling in an emergency? Know which friends or family members will harbor you when you leave. Make sure not to reveal this or any of the safety plan information to your abuser. And if you can, think of neighbors who may overhear an attack and will call for help if they are concerned.
- How do I know when I am being abused or about to be abused? If you feel fearful or helpless in a relationship where you should feel safe, consider this a big, waving red flag. If you have already been abused, chances are that the incident will repeat itself, especially if your abuser did not take drastic steps to get help. An apology or promise is not enough to keep you safe — a safety plan is the key to extricate yourself from a toxic relationship.
- When is the time to leave? The short answer is as soon as you can. If you are in an abusive situation, it is exhausting to your emotional and psychological well-being. If the abuse is physical, there is no reason to believe that it will stay the same or not recur; you could become impaired long-term and that is a risk you don’t want to take. Get your safety plan ready and escape as soon as you can.
How to stay safe on a daily basis:
- Keep your phone on you at all times.
- Have regular check-ins with someone safe.
- Be cautious with what you post on social media and employ privacy settings.
- Be careful in your daily activities especially in an empty office or distant parking spot.
- Make sure your safety plan is clear and that the details of it are known only to you and a close, trusted friend — someone that is guaranteed to not reveal it to your abuser.
- Think of a few excuses that would allow you to leave quickly and have these ready in case you need to do so.
- Note all possible exits in your home including windows and backdoors. Also think about your place of work or school and how you can exit quickly. Include these details in your safety plan.
- Practice your exit strategy and include your children on how to do so.
- Consider opening a bank account in your own name to save money for your exit or open a credit card.
- Come up with a few places where you can go if you need to — a shelter or with a friend or family member.
- Pack a bag for yourself and your children and keep it somewhere safe (for example, at your safety location if it is with friends or family). Try to avoid mutual friends or family. Include identification and legal records as well as money and medication in your safety plan.
What to do if/when the time comes to leave:
- If you have reason to believe you will be harmed, make your exit sooner rather than later. Your life and the lives of your children depend on this decision.
- Get a court order of protection and distribute copies to your safe contacts and your children’s care providers
- Do not use your cell phone if it is on a shared plan with your abuser as it may be tracked.
- Do not go to places where your abuser may look for you. Just because you have left does not mean you are safe; your abuser may escalate if they feel a loss of control.
- Avoid parking in areas that make you vulnerable to a surprise attack.
- Stay at a domestic violence shelter where you and your kids will be hidden for your own protection.
Whether or not you decide to end the relationship, it’s a good idea to empower yourself with the knowledge of how to act should the time come for you to exit. Your safety plan gives you some practical power as well as an emotional sense of control, but it can only make a real difference if you implement it. Do not stay in an abusive situation any longer than you have to; it is better to escape sooner than later. If you want to sit down with a counselor to discuss how to keep yourself safe or begin to process your healing after leaving, please call us so we can walk you through regaining your sense of self-confidence.
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About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653