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If you’re living with someone who is abusive, there are ways to manage the situation while also staying safe.
Dealing with a person who is abusive can be stressful, overwhelming, and devastating.
In situations of abuse, it can be tempting to try to appease the person who’s hurting you. You may change things about yourself, walk on eggshells, or become hypervigilant to their needs.
But is this the right strategy?
Abuse in any form is not healthy, and it may be time to consider leaving. Having a solid plan in place can be the key to managing this difficult situation.
Dealing with an abusive situation can be challenging. If leaving immediately isn’t an option, there are things you can do in the meantime to stay safe until you can leave.
- setting boundaries
- educating yourself on abuse
- reaching out to a therapist
- telling loved ones what’s happening
- discreetly documenting everything that’s happened
- creating an exit plan
Try to do so carefully to avoid detection. People who behave abusively may sense that something has changed in the dynamic, which can in turn make matters worse.
What if I feel physically unsafe?
If things have escalated and you’re afraid for your physical safety, try to get to a safe place immediately, then call 911 or reach out to a loved one.
If you have an exit plan, consider using it as soon as possible. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has a tool to help you create a safety plan.
If you’re in a situation that’s escalating, try to defuse the person’s behavior before it gets any more out of hand.
Try to stay calm
Remember that you’re not responsible for how they’re behaving. You haven’t done anything to deserve this. This has everything to do with them, not you, so try to stay calm.
“Attempt to keep your emotions calm,” says Ariel Landrum, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Reseda, California.
“Try to resist the urge to internalize the critical statements being made about you, as well as refuse to provide emotional fuel for the fire” she says. “Try to take a deep breath and attempt to speak in an even tone.”
Try to avoid engaging emotionally
Those who engage in abusive behavior may be trying to get a rise out of you because it gives them permission to continue doing hurtful things. Try not to take the bait.
Instead, you can try to:
- set boundaries, like saying, “If you keep talking to me that way, I won’t respond”
- maintain a neutral facial expression
- assert confidence with your body language
Try to move to safety
It’s not always possible to avoid serious conflict. In this case, it’s a good idea to try to put physical distance between you and the abuser or bring in reinforcements, if at all possible.
“While maintaining eye contact, attempt to shift the conversation into an area of the room where an exit is available and can be taken when needed,” says Landrum.
In some cases, maintaining eye contact may be challenging or uncomfortable. It might also
If they’re attempting to start an argument, call a third party, she adds. “This may prevent them from escalating and focus on the problem and solutions by the third party to fix it.”
While it depends on your situation, Dena DiNardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, advises trying not to confront them in the middle of a heated exchange.
“The outcome of confronting an abuser could be positive, if they’re open to learning more about themselves, potentially doing some work in therapy, and are invested in the relationship with the person who’s confronting them,” she says.
DiNardo adds that if the person is none of these things and “they have trouble with serious or persistent mental health conditions and/or have difficulties with substance use, a positive outcome may not be likely.”
Instead, an abuser may:
- avoid responsibility
- become defensive
- deny the problem
- shift the blame to you
If you confront the person abusing you, it could lead to increased verbal abuse, physical abuse, and threats to you or others, says Melissa Zawisza, a licensed clinical social worker in Dallas.
“If children witness the abuse, they may intervene to try and stop them,” she adds. “If the abuse is taking place in front of other family members or friends, it could result in violence towards them.”
Right now, your goal might be to stay safe, not win the argument or be right. But that doesn’t mean you have to endure abusive behavior, either.
There’s a careful balance. Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider.
- call 911, if you’re in immediate danger
- work with a therapist
- contact a hotline or local shelter
- strengthen your support network
- attempt to keep interactions in public areas
- reflect on why you want to stay connected to this person
- provoke or criticize them
- become reactive abusive (respond by lashing out in anger)
- threaten to leave in the moment, which could escalate the situation
- try to appease or reason with them
- confront them when you’re alone
That last one is especially important, says Landrum. She points out that someone who acts in an abusive way may thrive on power and control.
“Direct confrontation is a very visible shift in power and control,” she says. “If you’re in a safe place, have allies that can be present during the confrontation, and you’re able to continue to maintain safety, then the direct confrontation could lead to an intervention-style change.”
However, she adds, this is rare. The person has to want to change for themselves, not just for you. Try to be cautious, stay safe, and keep your friends close.
Living in an abusive situation can be difficult. There are times when it may seem like there’s no hope. But there is.
There are things you can do to help get through this. It might be a good idea to:
- strengthen ties with your community
- create a solid, exit plan
- learn more about abuse
- continue to gather helpful resources
Remember to try to take it one day at a time and consider leaning on others for emotional support.
“You’re not alone,” Zawisza stresses. “There are several places for support for you and others impacted by domestic violence. It can take a lot of healing, and it won’t happen overnight.”
When you leave an abusive situation, your community can be key to helping you rebuild. You may find it useful to attend Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) or another type of support group.
For immediate support, try these resources:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- National Dating Abuse Hotline
- Pathways to Safety International
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- Casa de Esperanza (Spanish-speaking hotline)
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
- The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
- National LGBTQ Task Force