Sometimes when the abuse stops a victim may know that they are physically safe yet their body still reacts as if the violence was continuing. It can feel as if there are miles in between knowing that you are safe and organically feeling that you are safe. In fact, the process of discovering what is truly safe can at times be unnerving and strange.
For instance, often when a survivor begins to form new non-violent relationships with friends, romantic partners or even a therapist, trusting these "safe" people can be confusing. I call it the waiting for the other shoe to drop phenomena. For those of you that have not heard of the "cycle of violence," it represents what often happens in a violent relationship. It's a three part cycle starting with the tension building phase and then moves into a violent episode and finally a honeymoon phase. Although this pattern was created originally to focus on intimate partner abuse it does apply to other relational abuse such as a child/parent.
A victim who experiences chronic abuse learns that an attack will always happen even if they don't know when. They begin to feel an anticipatory anxiety in the tension building phase. The anxiety of waiting for that attack to happen can be immense. Sometimes, the anxiety of waiting seems more painful than the actual anticipated attack. For the sole reason of relieving the anxiety a victim may even provoke a perceived perpetrator to get the attack over and done.
When the abuser is out of the picture and all abuse has stopped, a victim can continue to feel anticipatory anxiety towards someone even if logically they know that person is not abusive. They are in a continual period of waiting for an attack to happen. The body and mind have to begin to work together to understand that not everyone will hurt them and that the world can be a safe place.
This can be a long process but don't give up. If you were a victim of chronic physical and/or sexual abuse and find it hard to trust people I would encourage you to talk about the trust issues with a therapist, friends or family. Your work may be learning to tolerate and eventually overcome the anxiety of "waiting for an attack." Eventually you will learn that most people will not hurt you. By doing so, you will be able to develop meaningful attachments to others without fear.