Emotionally abusive relationships are those that leave you feeling hurt, afraid, confused and doubting yourself. They wear on your self-worth and for some, take a heavy psychological toll. Maybe this is a relationship with your boss, a friend, partner, or family member. Physical violence, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse have been strongly researched and are widely understood in society. In this blog, I will identify some of the more obscure facets of emotional abuse in adult relationships, and the first steps to recovery.
Emotional abuse undercuts a person’s foundational self-confidence and love of self and replaces them with confusion about self-worth, value, justice, mercy, and love. First it is important to understand the mechanisms which emotionally abusive people use. The abusive partner knows how to manipulate your emotions not prioritizing you, humiliating and ignoring you, criticizing or insulting you, or threatening to withdraw their love.
They may convince you to go against your integrity, then manipulate the shame/guilt you feel afterward. They do not respect your boundaries of space, time, or your emotional experience. They may lure your attention to their complaining, talking about others, or questioning of your character. You may feel compelled to help them, give them advice that they really don't want to hear, serve them, or defend your honor.
If you have chosen to react, the abuser has won. They have invoked an emotional reaction out of you that they hone in on. You feel responsible, to blame and worthless. This is their goal, because, once you feel this way, you will also believe, "At least I have someone in my life, it's better than no one."
If you seek the acceptance you need from the one that made you doubt your worthiness to begin with, then you have entered the cycle of abusive dependence. These longing feelings you experience become confused with love or feelings of affection. It is not love, but a manipulation of your need to feel loved and accepted. Feeling frequent highs and lows in a relationship is a sign of abuse.
The healing process begins when you recognize the signs of emotional abuse. This is key. If you do not know emotional abuse is taking place, you will likely justify it. You might say, "they are going through a hard time... they have had a rough childhood...they need me... I know they love me because...they were so great in the beginning." You have become what the abuser wants you to be - an enabler of their abuse. In the end, you are the one left with a wound that needs healing.
Once you recognize that you are in a psychologically and emotionally abusive relationship, the first step is to leave or limit your interactions if you can't. The healing process begins when you start directing your energy on rebuilding yourself and forming healthy relationships, rather than protecting yourself from further abuse. This is the most difficult step and much easier said than done.
The abusive cycle can take a powerful hold. Your ability to break away hinges on being able to avoid "hoovering" (being sucked back into the relationship,) the psychological effects of abuse, and accessing your inner strengths and support system.
Once you have left an unhealthy relationship, you are likely to feel worse before you feel better. You may experience prolonged feelings of missing the person and abandonment, ie. complicated grief. You will not only have to grieve the person that you were attached to, but your own sense of self-worth and value that was lost in the relationship.
If you are experiencing grief or believe you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship, please feel free to click the contact page and send me a message. I provide phone and in person consultations. My office is a safe space where you will be listened to and supported as you work through the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors you may be experiencing. Meanwhile, you will benefit and feel relief as you learn tools such as mindfulness, relaxation, boundary setting, and deflection. These tools will prove to be very valuable as they will prevent you from falling into traps that counteract your healing.
I am so often surprised and astounded with the resiliency of human beings. I have listed additional resources below, aside from professional counseling, that are available to assist in recovery.
Each of us deserve to feel valued in relationships. It is a worthwhile journey to self-love, but it takes time, support, and hard work. Recovery is not only possible, it is probable.
Sending warmth and love to all my readers. Please feel free to respond or send me questions or comments.
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