Twelve Days of Christmas with Avalanche #5: safe exits and trauma bonding

With just days to go until the festive turkey-and-all-the-trimmings extravaganza is upon us, I’m talking about how you can progress in your journey toward safety and happiness. We’ll look at making a safe exit plan, and beating trauma bonding at Christmas.

DAY FIVE if you are living with your abuser

Photo by anitapatterson

Photo by anitapatterson

You crave security, peace and calm – perhaps even more so at the festive season – but you know your partner is the antitheses to this. You think about leaving, but maybe you are too mixed up or frightened or ‘just not there yet’. That’s okay. Whether leaving still seems out of reach, or whether you feel it may come before Christmas does – a bit of preparation will help you enormously.

WHY NOT do this today?

In an abusive relationship, risk is never higher than at the point of departure. It can be the most dangerous (but hugely important) time for you and your children.

According to Lees (2000), women are at greatest risk of being murdered at the point of leaving, or after separating from, a violent partner. Seven per cent of women say that the worst incident of domestic violence happened after they left their abusive partner. (Walby & Allen, 2004). Your leaving is a direct threat to your abuser’s need to control you – the most powerful challenge that there is.

Photo by Håkan Dahlström

Photo by Håkan Dahlström

That’s why a safe exit plan is absolutely essential – whether you feel you will need it soon, or just want to be prepared for when things get worse. Don’t write down your plan if you’re afraid of discovery, but it will help you to think about:

  1. Innocent reasons for you to leave the house without making him suspicious. It could be walking the dog, taking your son to a scheduled medical appointment, or a trip to the grocery store.
  2. Check out the Resources and Support page for links to service providers that can and will help you if you choose to go. They can provide help with housing, finances, legal aspects of separation, and emotional support. Also, think about friends or family that could help – or who may at least be able to take care of your much-loved pet.
  3. Teach your children how to dial emergency services.
  4. Identify rooms with good escape routes out of the house and where there are no items that could be used as a weapon. Try to head there if an incident is brewing.
  5. Pack and hide an emergency bag.

Find out more about making a safe exit plan – also known as a safety plan – at

Even if you don’t plan to leave, you won’t regret being prepared. Even knowing that you have a plan that you could swing into action before he’s even pulled the Christmas cracker, can be a comfort.

DAY FIVE if you have escaped your abuser

Photo by squeezeomatic

Photo by squeezeomatic

At Christmas, happy families are pushed down our throats like eggnog. Turn on the television and there’s a sickly sweet movie about Christmas togetherness. Click onto Facebook and all your friends are posting updates about their blissful yuletide activities. So, though you’ve spent hours decorating the house and it looks like Santa’s Grotto has exploded in your living room, you feel more sad than joyful.

Perhaps at this time of year more than ever, you will be feel pangs of regret and maybe even longing for the old days. You know, before he dropped the charming mask and you saw the monster underneath. Like me, you may be pushing down bitterness that he sold you a lemon. Your life wasn’t meant to be like this!

WHY NOT do this today?

Recognise that the tableau of Christmas joy is, for lots of people, exactly that. Most people also feel the pressure to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas – and, like you, they probably worry that they’re not as happy as they could be, either.

chainsImportantly, remember that the trauma bond is at work here. This is the bond that kept you tethered to your abuser, and it was born out of the need to survive – not love.

Having made the most powerful decision of your life – to leave your abuser – the trauma bond can make you doubt your judgement and worry about whether you did the right thing. Let me remind you: you made the right decision. It took courage and determination, and a whole lot of strength that you once thought he had ground out of you.

You have come so far, and worked so hard. It is natural and fine to have a wobble during such an emotionally-charged season, so don’t beat yourself up. Remind yourself why you got out. Acknowledge that your feelings will be a complicated tangle, for a while. Know that the tug of nostalgia is not love, but a result of extreme conditioning.

Now, stamp on those rose-tinted spectacles!


Photo by a_glitch

Photo by a_glitch

Check out my post, An Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Christmas, for more tips on keeping safe and happy this festive season.

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

3 responses to “Twelve Days of Christmas with Avalanche #5: safe exits and trauma bonding

  1. It’s so important what you’re doing here. I hope it reaches young women & prevents these situations. Maybe some young men could learn, too, from your perspective/experience & make changes within so that they love, not hurt.


    • Thank you, I hope so too. I escaped one abusive relationship, just to get into another. At no point did I have information about domestic abuse or any strategies to cope with what I was experiencing. I had to learn the hard way, by myself. So, I hope that these posts give someone the information they need to choose happy, safe lives.

      I really like your point about abusers learning not to abuse. In my experience, most abusers don’t change – though I understand that, with serious intervention, this can happen. That’s because the abuse stems from a deep-seated need to control, which needs to be acknowledged and resolved before he can accept responsibility for abuse. Still, prayers to anyone starting on that journey!


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