Triggering messages in post-separation abuse

Are you triggered by his communications?

A common issue in post-separation abuse is that women are often ‘triggered’ by text or email exchanges with their former partner who is still seeking to abuse them.

The ideal situation once the relationship with an abusive man has ended, is to walk away and never communicate with him again. It’s often, but not always, the sharing of children that forces women to have ongoing communication with their abuser.

With written communications by text, WhatsApp, email or letter, women are often seriously ‘triggered’ to be fearful and anxious.

The words might be overtly hostile and angry, or sometimes more calculatingly covert and subtle. On occasions the written communications might be perfectly polite and reasonable – abusive men are highly practiced at turning the abuse on and off, the intermittency a deliberate attempt to confuse. And even when there is no hostility in the message, just the notification ping that a message has arrived can induce fear and panic in the survivor before the message is even opened.

Mia’s story

“My phone was like an unexploded bomb waiting to be detonated. Not knowing quite when his messages might arrive induced in me a weary, apprehensive anticipation. Sometimes I’d silence it, but I’d feel forced to check, just in case it was my elderly mother needing assistance. I felt tempted to smash it, but I knew that wouldn’t solve the problem either.

“When I heard the ping of a text, my body would be flooded with panic. My heart would race and my palms would feel sweaty. Often his messages would be innocuous, but I’d read his words as anxiously as if he was being hostile. Just the reminder of him triggered intense feelings in me that immediately transported me back to past times when I lived in constant fear. Following a message from him, I would feel the need to ‘bury’ it immediately by messaging 6 of my friends to say ‘how are you?’ just so that I couldn’t see his name on the first page of my WhatsApp screen.

“I felt physically safe since we’d separated, my sister dealt with handing over the children, but my phone was destroying my life and I had no idea how to eliminate his continued toxic influence.”

Mia’s experience is very common in the women I support. Whether the communications are openly hostile, sarcastic, blaming or even non-offensive, women regularly suffer a huge amount of anxiety when dealing with such messages in the context of post-separation abuse.   Even when the messages aren’t hostile, just the reminder of him can trigger a very strong emotional response that can take all day or even longer to recover from. When ‘nice’ messages are sent amongst the hostile ones, women can feel conflicted and begin questioning if he really was abusive – this can lead to self-blame.

There is much that can be done to lessen the negative impact for women. These are some of the strategies that have helped women that I support:

Remember that you control your emotions, not him. 

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

Blog written by BWP Outreach Worker, Sandra Reddish.

Sandra hopes to reach thousands more women by sharing her wisdom in a new book One in Four Women,  which is now for sale on Amazon. In the self-published book, 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 perpetrator’s behaviour.

You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.

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