Are the people there for you drains – or radiators?

True friends will help us get through this crisis and better deal with the isolation many victims of Domestic Abuse are faced with. However isolated we might feel, a phone call with a real friend will remind us that we’re not alone. But before we make a grab for the phone, we might want to stop a moment and have a think, is this person we’re about to call a real friend?


Some friends and social contacts make us feel good, they validate us, respect us, encourage our progress and are happy for our success. Following contact with these people, we may have a warm feeling that lasts long after they’ve left; these people are our radiators.

Other social contacts will leave us feeling tired, depressed, doubting ourselves and our abilities and feeling depleted, these people are our drains.

Drains and radiators are two extremes, especially the hot radiators and fast flush drains, we will also have contact with many people in between. We may have a few lukewarm radiators and slow flush drains in our lives too. Also, some hot radiators have intermittent faults and turn cold from time to time, and fast flow drains sometimes block. The difficulty can be that many of our drains purport to be radiators and this can be confusing if we rely on what they say, but gut instinct tends to be very accurate in telling us which category our social contacts belong in. Being surrounded by radiators and eliminating the drains from our lives will add to our happiness and sense of wellbeing.


Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse are industrial strength drains. They sap our energy, personality, confidence, self-esteem and happiness. When we are around them we will feel nervous, frightened, depressed and exhausted, quite literally drained of our normal reserves. When they fear they’ve drained us too much, they may have hot moments to convince us they are really on our side, but the draining will inevitably continue, it’s just a matter of time.

When living with an abusive man, we are often more vulnerable to attracting other damaging and draining social contacts.

Domestic Abuse has a corrosive effect of our sense of self-worth making us more likely to accept abusive behaviour from others too, we believe we don’t deserve to be treated any better. Also, because for various reasons, survivors of abuse often find themselves socially isolated, it’s common for them to have lost contact with the radiators in their lives who used to encourage and validate them.

Survivors of Domestic Abuse are more likely than others to self-medicate with drink and recreational drugs. Sometimes abusive men encourage women to drink too much and abuse drugs in order to weaken them and make them more vulnerable. Other times, survivors misuse substances as a coping strategy when the abuse is too much to deal with.

When moving on from the abusive relationship, recovering from the addictions and healing themselves, survivors will need to review their social circles, or they’ll be vulnerable to being drawn back into substance misuse. Those who misuse substances generally won’t want to see someone else come clean, they will deliberately undermine efforts by offering drink and drugs. It’s not that they’re bad people, it’s that they will feel less adequate if they see someone else improve their situation while they’re left behind.

Ending a Relationship

Ending an abusive relationship can mark the start of a major life review, and reviewing our social contacts is an important part of that review. It’s not just the way our intimate partner behaves towards us that has a significant impact of our wellbeing, it’s the way our friends and family treat us too. If we’ve been putting up with giving to a friend who never gives back, paying for too much rarely to have this reciprocated, paying compliments and realising they are rarely returned, it’s time for a friendship audit.

This possibly sounds very daunting; can it really be possible to just get rid of draining family and friends? Family is certainly trickier to deal with than friends, often it’s not possible or even appropriate to distance yourself from abusive family members, such as an elderly mother who has always been cold and critical, but there might be better ways of managing them so you’re more protected from their draining influence.

Learning assertiveness skills, understanding your boundaries better, reducing time spent with certain people, only giving when it’s reciprocated and refusing to tolerate undermining behaviour are all strategies that may encourage your family and friends to be more respectful. But there will be times when the relationship is too toxic and needs to be ended completely.

When you realize you need to end a friendship for your own wellbeing, it can be difficult and awkward. You may not want to have the conversation, you might not need to.

Gradually reducing your interactions with a person over time is the most peaceful and nonconfrontational way to end a relationship. Eventually, the relationship is just phased out. If the social contact doesn’t accept being phased out, you may be forced to have a conversation with them. It’s best to avoid hostility but to be honest. Rather than blame, “You always make me feel crap”, it’s generally best to talk about what your needs and wishes are, “Now I’ve left Karl, I need to move on and work out what makes me happy”. You may get a hostile and angry response, but this might help reinforce that your decision to move on was right for you.

Working to improve your social networks is not an easy task, many skills are required, and difficult choices need to be made, however our social networks have such a big impact on wellbeing, it’s an important task. With good friends and supportive family, we are capable of so much.

You Are Not Alone

If you are or have been in an abusive relationship and realise you’re surrounded by drains, our outreach workers have the expertise to work with you to get more radiators in your life. We’re restricted from face to face meetings just now, but we are at the end of a phone!

Broxtowe Women’s Project are still supporting those affected by Domestic Abuse in Nottinghamshire. If you are experiencing Domestic Abuse or are affected by past Domestic Abuse, we are here to support you. You can contact us at or call our mobile support line – 07914 634190.