Breaking Free: A Journey with Clare

22 April 2021

This series tells fictional stories using made-up names of the journey people experience through counselling. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience every client’s story is unique; what remains the same is our desire to helping you with who you want to be.

At the start

When Clare arrived for counselling she was in the middle of a divorce. Her marriage of 15 years had ended.  She had nothing –no job, no money, no home – and was caring for a teenage son on her own.

As she told her story, she began to reveal some of the trauma she’d been through. When they were dating her husband had loved and adored her, poured out gifts to her, been everything she sought and longed for. Stability, strength, love, appreciation… they married after a year, and he changed overnight.  She found herself, desperately doing all she could to please him and keep him happy, walking on eggshells constantly.  Occasionally, that wonderful, loving man would be back – and then disappear again all too soon.


During the counselling sessions, we were able to make sense of her experience which rings true for others in domestic abuse relationships:

  • He mirrored her: listening to her desires, hopes and dreams he became all that she wanted.
  • He love-bombed her: he was more than she expected. He showered her with gifts and told her “you’re my everything.”
  • After their marriage, she went through what we call ‘trauma bonding’. On the rollercoaster between the highs and the lows, she would desperately seek the high, doing all she could to bring the loving husband back to her
  • He isolated her: he said she didn’t need to work, he would look after her. He was cruel to her friends, so they didn’t come round anymore. He “took care” of all the money, controlling every penny.
  • He gaslighted her: he convinced her that she was crazy, that she was making things up – and she began to doubt herself.

For Clare, naming these behaviours was a revelation. She began to see his powerful and controlling behaviour and realise that she had been in a domestic abuse relationship.

Breaking Free

As we broke down what had happened over 15 years, we drew a timeline of what she had endured.  Once Clare began to see it and understand it, she could begin to accept it. Once she accepted it, she could begin to let it go. It didn’t need to define her today.

We began to look at her strengths. She was a survivor. She persevered. She was brave.

We also looked at who she was, and who she wanted to be. She was a people pleaser, but she didn’t want to be that anymore. She wanted to learn to trust herself again.

Claire began to develop and practice ways of listening toherself and making her own choices in relationships, which led to a growing confidence in herself.

Ending well

Clare unpacked her life in our counselling room and as we came to the end of her sessions, we repacked her bags with the things she wanted to keep. She left behind everything she didn’t want: the past is always with us, but all the power of the past – its lies, its behaviours and its oppression – was released.

At Relate, we are always clear how many sessions a client has with a counsellor; this was really important for Clare to know. So that at her last session, Clare left free from the trauma of her past relationship, and free to be who she wanted to be.

We often think of domestic abuse relationships as being physically violent, but they are not always like that. Check out this helpful chart for the eight signs that can help you diagnose abuse in a relationship.

You may recognise some of what we have covered here and suspect that your relationship is abusive; you may, like Clare, be leaving an abusive relationship or perhaps feel like you’re carrying the baggage round with you from a past relationship. Wherever you are in your journey, you can book counselling with us. Please get in touch today – we’d love to share your journey to freedom. 

This story was told by Debbie, a Relate counsellor specialising in mental health.

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