Post-Separation Abuse by Social Media

BWP’s Outreach Worker examines Domestic Abuse survivor, Sarah’s experience of coercive control and post-separation abuse by social media, and provides advice.

Sarah’s story

“I often wish I’d stayed with Harry.

“Although living with him was torture, the post separation abuse he subjected me to was so much worse.

“When we were together, he’d manipulate me by being either nice or disappointed in me. When he was disappointed, he still pretended to be nice.

“His method of control was very clever and so subtle that even now I struggle to acknowledge it was coercive control.

“Everything he did was carefully planned and fine-tuned. I became his agreeable puppet, too scared of his disappointment to behave in any way that may risk triggering this. I learnt never to express an opinion that might differ with his, it became safer to wait for his lead on everything.

“When disappointed in me, he’d withdraw eye contact, somehow look through me, change his tone of voice to a slightly more monotone one. He would physically withdraw too, being sure to sit a distance away from me and lie on the edge of the bed at night as if repulsed by my proximity to him. This behaviour could go on for                                                                                     days and it tortured me to the point that I became consumed with pleasing him.

“A culmination of events led to me leaving Harry, my decision, my choice.

“On this occasion I didn’t wait for his permission. During one of his extended periods of disappointment with me, I began a relationship with a work colleague.

“I blame myself bitterly for not being strong enough to just tell Harry I’d had enough and wanted to leave. I was a coward and he had every right to be angry with me. It’s not as if he was properly abusive either, if he’d assaulted me this would have been a different matter, I could have claimed to have been too scared                                                                                        to tell him of my intentions.

“Harry started a campaign on social media to run me down, wreck my friendships and destroy my reputation.

“He’s been very successful at this and still is.

“Everyone seems to sympathise with a man who has been wronged by a promiscuous woman.

“Harry initially purported to be heartbroken by my action and generated a lot of attention from this. When he had gathered support from various people including those who I’d considered my friends, his tactics turned more hostile. He phoned me one day and threatened revenge porn – ‘to prove to everyone what a slag you are Sarah’ he told me. This terrified and worried me, but then that same day he purported that I’d threatened him with revenge porn in a Facebook post.

To all my loyal friends, it hurts and embarrasses me to say this but I need to pre-empt what Sarah might do. Because I refused to take her back, she told me she will upload some intimate images of me online. This is very distressing for me, but I think it best that I let you all know what might be coming.’

“I was horrified and immediately started getting messages from ‘friends’ telling me stop what I was doing to Harry, that I needed to accept he didn’t want me back and to move on. This abuse continued on various social media platforms, accusing me of controlling him throughout our relationship, being completely selfish and self-obsessed and making him feel scared and desperate.

“I lost friends.  Amy, who I’d known for 20 years decided to side with Harry. She told me he loved me and didn’t deserve to be treated so badly.

“Family members judged and doubted me, this made me judge and doubt myself. I became very anxious and low, this started to affect my work and it culminated in me taking an extended amount of time off sick. I lost confidence in feeling able to trust people and withdrew socially.

“Harry’s abuse continued despite me pleading with him to stop, but it became more subtle in nature, more about him being wounded and hurt than overt attacks on me. I guess he was mindful of the balance of wanting to appear as the victim and not the abuser.

“He fine-tuned this pretty well. I don’t feel as if I can ever escape him. I have taken myself off all social media platforms but friends still update me about what he’s been saying, I wish they wouldn’t. It’s been six months since I left but I’m feeling worse than ever.”

BWP Domestic Abuse expert’s thoughts: 

This is a very common form of post-separation abuse, several familiar issues come up:

Minimising of her abuse. ‘Even now I struggle to acknowledge it was coercive control’. This comment indicates that Sarah was aware she may have been coercively controlled but hasn’t completely accepted she was.

Domestic Abuse survivors commonly minimise their abuse, particularly when they haven’t been subjected to physical abuse. There is also a common myth that it can’t be abusive if it doesn’t come in the form of shouting – the quiet, covert abusers who are pretending to be nice don’t fit with the angry man stereotype.

Although minimising of abuse is almost universal, it’s not helpful to recovery. When we minimise, we are more likely to self-blame and less likely to acknowledge the damage abuse has caused us or understand why we have responded as we have. Another issue is that if we minimise what has happened to us, others are likely to minimise our abuse too and may be inclined to feel less sympathetic. This is certainly the case with Sarah.

Self-blame for her abuse. ‘I was a coward and he had every right to be angry with me.’  Self-blame is such a common theme in female survivors of Domestic Abuse. There are many reasons for why self-blame is almost inevitable, but particularly so when she has made a decision she considers to be cowardly or in some way morally wrong.

One problem with self-blame is that when we judge our behaviour negatively, we tend to give the ‘green light’ for others to judge us negatively too.

Perhaps Sarah might have been judged by her family and friends for her affair in any case, but certainly her own self-blame would have further encouraged the blame of others.

Having an affair in the context of an abusive relationship is not uncommon. We, as humans have a huge need for love, compassion, security and affection from our intimate partner. When this need is not met, in Sarah’s case cruelly withheld, then in seeking out a basic human need outside of our relationship is arguably not morally wrong.

For good recovery, Sarah needs to fully understand the context of her behaviour with a view to developing some self-compassion. When she develops self-compassion, others will be more likely to feel compassionate towards her too.

The need for validation from others…..

For the remainder of this blog, please visit Sandra’s website.

Blog written by BWP Outreach Worker, Sandra Reddish.

Buy Sandra’s Books & Support BWP

Sandra hopes to reach thousands more women by sharing her wisdom in a her books One in Four Women and Beyond the Break-up, both of which are available on Amazon.

In these self-published books, Sandra shares her incredible knowledge of the vital steps to recovery for women who have been abused. Starting with their gaining a solid understanding of the complexity of abuse they’ve faced, and the perpetrator’s behaviour and moving onto understanding the issues facing survivors once the relationship ends.



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