Career Advice - A Community Blog

Erik Larson writes about the job market, resume improvement, and career advice

How to Escape a Toxic Environment

Written by Erik Larson, Community Blogger | Dec 16, 2017 5:55 AM

Escaping a toxic home environment can be terrifying. Even after weeks, months, or even years of being victimized, it can be difficult to take that first step. When you're ready to move forward with your plans, you want to know that you're prepared for what life is going to look like in your new reality.

1. Know the Signs of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence seems easy enough to recognize at first glance. After all, you'd know if you were getting hit, right? Sometimes, however, domestic violence isn't that simple--and recognizing the early signs of domestic violence can help get you out of a bad situation before it gets worse. Common signs include:

  • A spouse who deliberately separates you from other relationships, especially those with family and once-close friends.
  • Lying about your relationship to others, especially if your lies have recently increased in frequency.
  • Your spouse isn't taking responsibility for their actions, and they don't care if they make you upset.
  • You're genuinely unhappy in your marriage and can't seem to remember the good times. You may find yourself crying with increased frequency.
  • Interactions with your spouse are always unpleasant and often leave you feeling as though he or she is "mean."
  • You find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid making them "unhappy."

2. Create a Plan

There are times when you have to escape a toxic environment on the run, with little forewarning. Other times, however, you're lucky enough to have time to create a plan. Think through:

  • Where you're going to go. Can you afford an apartment or hotel? Are there shelters in your area that have room for you--not to mention resources you can take advantage of to help you start your new life?
  • What you need to take with you. This is more complicated when you have kids! You'll need clothing, materials for work, and other basic necessities to help you get started. If you have a chance, it can be useful to start packing these items slowly over time. It's even better if you can quietly store things at a friend's house.
  • What are you going to do for money? If you have time to plan your escape, setting aside a little money here and there--in cash or in a bank account that can't be accessed by your spouse--is a great way to be sure that you will have the resources you need when you're ready to leave.
  • What are your goals? Where would you like to be a year after you leave? Setting solid goals will help you navigate the road to getting there.

3. Hire an Attorney

If you've been a victim of domestic violence or your former spouse has attempted to levy domestic violence charges against you, as attorney Nicholas Wooldridge notes, "Domestic violence is not a charge you can easily dismiss." It has far-reaching consequences in both of your lives--and that means that you need an attorney to help defend you effectively. Whether you're issuing an accusation or you've been accused, it's important that you work with an attorney to be sure that your needs are being taken into consideration. 

4. Plan for Your Feelings 

Letting go of someone you care about is always a challenge--and in many cases, you may still care for your spouse or partner. It's all right to have those feelings! The trick is to remind yourself that you deserve better, understand that your partner is unlikely to change, and give yourself permission to mourn. Just like the end of any relationship, leaving a toxic spouse behind is going to hurt. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it; it just means that you'll need to give yourself time. 

5. Enlist a Support System

Leaving a toxic relationship is hard enough. You don't have to do it alone! From friends who will help you move your possessions to friends who will let you cry on your shoulder when things get tough, it's important to have a support system in place. If you're lucky enough to have a friend who will let you crash in their spare room while you try to get yourself back together, it can make it much easier to adapt to your new life. Even if you don't, however, know who you can call to talk you out of it when you think you might want to go back; who you can call when you've had a bad day; and who you can spend time with when you're simply lonely. If you don't have a support system in place already, working with a local shelter--even if you don't have to stay there--can be a great way to build the support and friendships you need during a difficult time. 

If you're trapped in an abusive or toxic environment, leaving may be a struggle. Over time, however, you'll realize that it was the best thing you could do for yourself or your children--and these steps will make it easier.

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