This summer, I believed with all my heart that I had finally found the love of my life. Not just my soulmate, but my twin flame. He and I seemed perfect for one another.
We shared a love for nature, a connection with animals, and a desire to travel the world. We were both INFJs, intrigued by hypnosis, and wanted a monogamous relationship together.
When red flags began to present themselves, I assumed my significant other had the best of intentions and initially turned a blind eye to it. As I began to notice more and more patterns, I started doing research online.
That period of search and discovery led up to how I eventually came to terms with the depressing reality that I had been deeply invested in an emotionally abusive relationship.
This post outlines much of what I have learned about emotional abuse. Had I known the warning signs sooner, maybe things would have turned out differently. By sharing this information below, I hope it can shed light on the subject for somebody else who may also be experiencing any/all of the acts listed below.
What Are the Signs of Emotional Abuse
Sometimes emotional abuse can be so subtle that you do not even realize you are being emotionally, mentally, or verbally abused by someone’s words or actions. There are no visible bruises and to an outsider, victims may seem perfectly fine.
The damage should never be overlooked or underestimated.
How Bad Can “Abuse” Really Be If It Is So Subtle?
Emotional abuse can undermine your dignity and leave you vulnerable and defenseless. Being bullied by the person who is closest to you whom you love and trust dearly can be one of the most difficult things to make sense of.
It can erode one’s sense of self-esteem to a life-threatening extent.
The scariest part is that there can be little-to-no indication that anything bad is ever even happening to the people who are closest to the victims. Most abuse happens discreetly behind closed doors.
Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse
Signs of emotional abuse as described by Verywell Mind:
One sign of emotional abuse is if the other person places unrealistic expectations on you. Potential examples of this include:
- Making unreasonable demands
- Expecting you to put everything aside to meet their needs
- Demanding you spend most/all of your time together
- Being dissatisfied no matter how hard you try or how much you give
- Criticizing you for not completing tasks according to their standards
- Expecting you to share their opinions (having a different opinion is not well tolerated)
- Demanding specific dates & times when discussing things that upset you and if unable to recall the specific details, dismissing them as if the event must never have happened
Another concerning sign that someone may be emotionally abusive is if they invalidate you. Some examples of invalidation include:
- Undermining, dismissing, or distorting your feelings
- Refusing to accept your feeling by trying to define how you should feel
- Requiring you to explain how you feel over and over
- Accusing you of being “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” or “crazy”
- Refusing to acknowledge or accept your opinions or ideas as valid
- Dismissing your requests, wants, and needs as ridiculous or unmerited
- Accusing you of being selfish, needy, attention-seeking, or materialistic if you express your wants or needs (as if the expectation is that you should not have any wants or needs other than the abuser)
Emotionally abusive people tend to create chaos. Some examples of this red flag include:
- Stirring up arguments for the sake of arguing
- Making confusing and contradictory statements (AKA crazy-making)
- Having drastic mood changes
- Nitpicking about your clothing, hair, job, etc.
- Behaving erratically and unpredictably causing the victim to feel he/she is “walking on eggshells”
USING EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL
If someone attempts to use emotions against you, this is a sign of emotional abuse. Examples of emotional blackmail include:
- Manipulating/controlling you to make you feel guilty; guilt-tripping you
- Humiliating you in public or in private
- Using your fears, values, or other sensitive topics to control you
- Exaggerating your flaws and pointing them out in order to detract from taking responsibility for one’s own poor choices or mistakes
- Denying an event that took place or lying about it
- Punishing you by withholding affection; giving you the silent treatment
People who are emotionally abusive often act superior or entitled. Things to look out for in relation to emotional abuse include:
- Treating you like you are inferior
- Blaming you for their own mistakes and shortcomings
- Doubting you constantly and trying to prove you wrong
- Joking at your expense
- Telling you that your opinions and values are stupid, illogical, or nonsensical
- Talking down on you in a condescending tone
- Using sarcasm while interacting with you
- Acting like they are always right, know what is best, and are smarter than you
ATTEMPTS TO CONTROL AND ISOLATE
Emotionally abusive people will attempt to isolate and control you. Some examples of this type of abuse include:
- Controlling who you see or spend time with (including friends and family)
- Monitoring you digitally (texts, social media, email, etc.)
- Accusing you of cheating and being jealous of outside relationships
- Taking/hiding your car or house keys
- Demanding to know your location at all times (tracking you with GPS)
- Treating you like a possession or property
- Criticizing or making fun of your friends, family, and coworkers
- Using jealousy and envy as a sign of love and to keep you from being with others
- Moving in together to make the victim feel trapped and unable to escape
- Coercing you into spending all your time together
- Controlling your finances
You can read other warning signs of emotional abuse here.
Types of Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can take so many different forms.
Here is a short list of some of the ways emotional abuse can manifest in a toxic relationship:
- Accusations of cheating
- Signs of jealousy and possessiveness
- Constant checking in
- Constantly arguing about topics
- Lies and manipulation
- Shaming or blaming
- Crying and guilt-tripping.
- Silent treatment
- Trivializing other person’s needs/concerns
- Withholding affection/attention
- Threatening to leave the relationship if you do something they don’t like.
HealthLine goes into great detail about the different types of emotional abuse.
Here is a PDF containing a list of red flags to watch out for.
Is Emotional Abuse Considered Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence (AKA intimate partner violence AKA IPV) is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. People of any gender, sexuality, age, or race can be a victim and/or a perpetrator of domestic violence. That includes behaviors that either physically harm, intimidate, manipulate, control a partner, or otherwise force them to behave in ways they don’t want to, including through physical violence, threats, emotional abuse, or financial control.
How to Seek Help For Emotional Abuse
There is a free resource for anyone who believes they may be experiencing any type of domestic violence or emotional abuse. You can dial 800-799-7233 to reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
This hotline runs 24/7/365.
Everyone deserves a relationship free from domestic violence. Whenever you decide you are ready, you can give the hotline a call and someone will answer to listen and offer confidential support. There can be a wait time depending on when you call so try to plan accordingly.
You can also text START to 88788.
Why Do Victims Miss Their Abuser?
It turns out this is one of the most commonly asked questions from abuse victims.
How can someone possibly miss someone who mistreated them?
Logic tells us one thing, yet our heart tells us another.
Why Victims Stay
It is easy to feel like you are losing your mind while facing such irrefutable evidence of abuse, yet miring in sadness missing the person you thought you had grown to love and know.
This relates back to what is known as a trauma bond.
7 Stages of Trauma Bonding
Let’s dive deeper into what forms such a powerful trauma bond between a victim and a perpetrator, as explained by ChoosingTherapy.com
CLICK ON ANY STEP TO LEARN MORE ABOUT IT
- The sudden and intense attempt to create a “we” in the relationship through high praise and excessive flattery.
- Preys on the victim’s emotions, deep hopes, desires, and dreams.
- This causes the victim to let their guard down and trust the abuser’s intentions.
- Fosters positive feelings between the perpetrator and victim.
- The abuser will purposefully test the victim’s trust and dependency on them usually leading to the victim feeling guilty for questioning their partner.
- Doubts are expected in a healthy relationship.
- When confronting the abuser at this stage, you may get a lot of flack for questioning them.
- In trauma bonds, the idea that you can trust your abuser is an illusion.
- Once they have your trust, abusers pick apart some of your qualities identifying them as insignificant or problematic.
- The criticism may feel sudden if it follows shortly after the love bombing stage.
- The criticism phase is most noticeable during intense arguments or disagreements.
- Victims may begin to think thoughts like:
- Wow, he loves me even though I messed up.
- You are right, I’m sorry for questioning you.
- You want what’s best for me, so okay.
- This back-and-forth dance of harsh criticism and over-apologizing is the glue forming the trauma bond.
- These tactics make victims question their reality and perception.
- This can trigger “reactive abuse” from the target if they feel compelled to fight back.
- The target of the abuse may start giving in to avoid conflict.
- Rather than exiting the relationship, targets may question if they truly are to blame.
- There are many possible reasons why an abused person cannot easily leave.
- Through a trauma bond, there is a progressive loss of self.
- Victims may not seem like their usual selves due to the loss of their own identity/boundaries.
- Potential for a total loss of confidence and even suicidal ideations.
- In a trauma bond, the stages can be cyclical.
- After the conflict, there may be a cool down or honeymoon period.
- Conversely, abusers may shut down and become avoidant.
- If the target is falsely given the sense that they have control by winning back the abuser, they may believe that the abuser must really love them, reinforcing the idea that the victim is to blame.
8 SIGNS IT IS A TRAUMA BOND, NOT LOVE
The cycle described in the video above is linked to Stockholm Syndrome which describes the psychology behind why victims frequently develop positive feelings toward their captors/abusers over time.
When It’s Good, It’s So Good.
LifeIsLoveSchool explains that intermittent reinforcement is a sneaky strategy that abusers may use to seize control in romantic relationships.
Psychologist B. F. Skinner discovered that instead of rewarding a rat each time it presses a lever, he could get the rat to push more enthusiastically by doling out treats intermittently.
Here is some scientific research on the five cycles of emotional abuse: codification and treatment of an invisible malignancy.
Alternatively, this graphic shows a simplified version of the cycle of abuse:
Toxic Phases: Love Bombing to Leaving
There are three phases that occur in a toxic or abusive relationship.
- When you start dating someone, you may be showered with gifts, compliments, and attention; you may feel pressured to commit too quickly. This behavior is called idealizing, or “love bombing.”
- Love bombing is different from the intense beginning phase of a healthy relationship. The intent of idealizing is to get you hooked so they can begin the devaluing stage of the relationship. In the idealizing stage, you can do no wrong. In the devaluing stage, you can do no right.
- In this third stage, the toxic partner may suddenly leave the relationship after finding a new partner, they may wager the relationship itself in order to get you to do what they want, they may hold the relationship hostage as a means of overstepping the victim’s boundaries, or you may even discover the abusive person had multiple partners during the relationship all while accusing the victim of cheating. After breaking up, it is recommended not to return to the partner. Oftentimes, these relationships will only become increasingly dysfunctional.
The Sweet Memories
Euphoric recall is the recalling of past events or people in a positive light while forgetting or ignoring the negative aspects. It is a cognitive distortion of the mind convincing you of something that is not true.
Euphoric recall is the reason why so many victims find themselves unable to resist the temptation to return to their abuser.
To overcome this mental obstacle, professionals suggest composing a “He’s not so great list” and reading it daily as a prophylactic. Rereading it whenever you are tempted to contact your ex.
Statements like, “My abuser put me down daily” or “My abuser isolated me from friends and family” can help you remember why you needed to leave in the first place.
Fear of Replacement
Some victims may feel hesitant to leave the abuser because they fear they will be quickly replaced and the new couple will live happily ever after while the victim is all alone. This scenario can become a victim’s worst nightmare come true.
To the victim, it proves that he or she was not good enough.
“It must be my fault,” the victim will think to themselves. “If I were just a bit smarter, richer, thinner, etc. then maybe I could have made it work.”
Self-Help Tip: Educate yourself on the cycle of violence, its inevitable nature of ever-escalating violence, and ever-shorter honeymoon periods.
You must accept the fact that the abuser will likely be someone who enters and exits through many relationships in their lifetime. Each relationship will likely fail and self-destruct for a similar reason.
The abuser will find a vulnerable replacement and proceed to woo the new person. You should not wonder about how your ex is doing. The new couple may be in the love-bombing phase of the cycle, but it will not last.
Focus on healing yourself and learning from the experience so you do not find yourself trapped in an abusive relationship again.
But They Promised…
Future faking is a term for when a person lies or falsely promises something about a possible future to get what they want in the present.
This can be something like promising to buy a house together, get married, have kids, etc.
The abuser will promise the victim whatever the victim’s deepest dream may be. The empty promise keeps the victim easy to control in the present.
4 SUGGESTIONS TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FUTURE FAKING
TheMindJournal has excellent advice on how to protect yourself from future faking.
- Take things slowly.
- Do not rush entering into a relationship after a first date.
- Set your standards higher.
- Instead of wanting someone of a particular charm, style, or persona, aim to go deeper. Look for a partner who shows respect, and integrity, and prioritizes the relationship.
- Hold them to their word.
- If they make a promise, hold them accountable. Expect follow-through.
- Stay in the real world.
- There are people who believe finding “the one” is magical. Healthy love is based on two emotionally mature people equally invested in creating a relationship together. It isn’t magical; communicating face-to-face is needed to resolve issues.
Is Your Partner a Narcissist?
Narcissism is poor socialization. The act of taking an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance. In psychology, it involves selfishness, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration.
Clinically, it is considered a defense against extreme feelings of vulnerability, of not being good enough, stemming from a difficult childhood involving some type of neglect/abuse. In other words, socialization.
It is important to remember that narcissism (narcissistic personality disorder) is actually quite rare.
People absolutely love to armchair diagnose their ex as a narcissist. The thing is that people who chronically accuse others of being narcissists are frequently narcissistic themselves. In any case, everyone engages in narcissistic compensatory behaviors from time to time.
Without a professional evaluation, it is impossible to say for sure.
ARE THEY A NARCISSIST OR DO THEY HAVE REJECTION-SENSITIVE DYSPHORIA?
On Loveful Mind, Lindsay Soberano-Wilson, a teacher of students diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), explains that her students do not take kindly to negative criticism.
While narcissistic behavior and abuse are real and must not be minimized, she says she can see why some may mistake rejection-sensitive dysphoria for narcissism.
Rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short and failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.
Note: RSD is not a recognized mental health condition listed within the DSM-5, so therefore RSD has no set of empirically quantifiable criteria for an official diagnosis. However, ADHD is & does.
Since living with ADHD can be challenging and may even go undiagnosed, many individuals suffer through these symptoms in silence.
HOW NARCISSISTS MAY RESPOND TO ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE
Many narcissists practice gaslighting which involves sowing doubt and confusion into their victim’s mind by distorting reality. They may make false accusations, state that you are gaslighting them, or even that you are emotionally abusing them!
Flipping the switch so they are made out to be the victim. Rarely if ever will you receive an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing from a narcissist.
When I brought up feeling emotionally abused, my ex ghosted me the next day and never spoke to me again after that night. It’s a textbook behavior as explained by Dr. Ramani, a clinical psychologist from Los Angeles who specializes in narcissism.
Are Abusers Self-Aware of Their Abusive Behaviors?
Abusive people definitely DO NOT enter into a relationship and think to themselves, “Yeah, I’m going to present myself as a nice person, then slowly isolate, emotionally manipulate, and abuse my partner.”
Many abusers believe that their feelings are reality.
This is sometimes reinforced through the practice of triangulation.
Triangulation is the practice of involving a third party (Person C) when person A has some boundary that Person B does not want to respect.
Convincing them of any alternative truth would shatter their perception of what is.
This is no easy feat. If it can be done, it typically requires professional therapy and a willingness to look at things from a different perspective that may conflict with deeply-rooted views of their own world.
With abusers, if they feel hurt, you hurt them and therefore you are wrong and they are right. This is true even if all you did to “hurt” them was an attempt to enforce a reasonable boundary.
Abusers are not trying to be abusive, so much as they are reacting to their own emotional states and protecting their own feelings at the cost of others.
How I Realized I Was In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship
How I Realized I Was in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship
My Experience (Highlighting Abuse)
While my relationship with my partner only lasted four months, it honestly felt like four years. Things happened so quickly. In hindsight, the speed at which the relationship moved was a red flag in itself.
- We entered into a relationship 1 week after our first date
- We moved in together almost 2 months later
The relationship began in July with VERY intense love-bombing.
The truth is, I didn’t know any of the warning signs of emotional abuse. None of them. In October, I started looking them up and learning. I was reading articles on the internet and watching YouTube videos daily trying to make sense of my experience.
I thought I was so happy, dating the person I was surely going to marry. After looking high and low, I was convinced I finally met my perfect match. Yet at the same time, my anxiety was at one of the worst points it has ever been in my life and I was made to feel like I was messing up constantly left and right.
I was being accused of cheating in situations where I did not feel I was doing anything of the sort. I was watching smear campaigns take place daily where my reputation was tarnished in front of family and friends.
My rights to privacy were nullified as I was forced to give access to my phone. My personal belongings were searched and monitored. Everything from my closets and drawers to my virtual messages and digital files. Digital spying was the norm.
I was misled to believe sharing my phone’s GPS location with my partner was for my own safety while driving. In reality, I quickly realized my GPS location was constantly being checked and monitored for other purposes.
Through character assassination, I was made to feel I “always” or “never” behaved in a certain type of way. These types of absolute statements were used to make unfair assertions about me.
I experienced public embarrassment when texts to my partner were shown to others without my knowledge. I started to feel like he was almost trying to turn others against me.
My concerns about feeling emotionally abused (which I oftentimes understated as a feeling of being treated “unfairly”) were constantly dismissed.
I can identify at least 3 instances of times where the relationship was held hostage with threats of breaking up if I didn’t do what was being asked of me to comply.
Somehow I was accused of gaslighting, but I think that was in and of itself, me being gaslit.
It was not unusual to end the night with me being lectured about the ‘problems’ in our relationship and how I should be doing more to resolve the problems, build trust, and eliminate “the noise.”
Money was borrowed and most of it was never repaid. I lent the money knowing I may never get it back, but in my heart, I believed he would stick to his word. He reassured me he would. The relationship was more solid at the time so I had little reason to doubt him.
I paid for him to travel overseas with me because I thought it would be a romantic trip together. I didn’t understand back then that it was in part to monitor and control what I was doing and who I was with when I would have otherwise been too far away from him.
He would have frequent outbursts perfectly timed to result in me needing to cancel plans involving friends and family to resolve sudden major conflicts. It was like he purposefully wanted to keep me from socializing with others.
Unpredictability was the behavioral norm. I never knew which version of him I was going to get. We could end one night on a high note and somehow we would still start the next day feeling like we took one step forward and ten steps back.
I justified the unsteady relationship to myself by saying, “When things are good, they’re great. But when they’re not, they’re real bad.”
By far, some of the most painful behaviors were the constant threats of walking out. (This is actually how the final breakup ended – he simply vanished without saying a word while I was at work the day before my father was having heart surgery.)
When addressing any sort of conflict, I was met with constant stonewalling. If he was unhappy with me, he would dehumanize me by refusing to make eye contact with me. When I asked him not to, he did it anyway.
If circumstances got frustrating, he would retreat to the basement and avoid opportunities to converse about our issues. It was the constant silent treatment. He never approached me first and when I finally approached him (each time), the main problem was always “how long it took me to go down to see him,” and that I didn’t make him feel like a priority because I didn’t go down to the basement fast enough. Never mind the detail that he locked himself away in the basement over and over to avoid me and shut down communication.
Jealousy was real. He even owned up to it and admitted he was. He thought it was normal and healthy, but it was anything but that.
At times, he’d even get upset that I didn’t act more jealous when other men approached him! (For context, this applied in ordinary, everyday conversational contexts with total strangers. Don’t think it was about men hitting on either of us.) I was not threatened or insecure by these exchanges and yet I was told “it didn’t feel good” to see I was so relaxed about those interactions.
My willingness to interact and converse with people (being friendly) turned into constant accusations of cheating. Even with random insignificant exchanges with strangers who I did not have even a basic connection with, yet I was supposedly having an affair with them.
The guilt-tripping was intense and led me to do a lot of things that I felt uncomfortable with but felt pressured to comply with in hopes of salvaging the relationship. I felt the expectations were unrealistic and some of the expectations were moving targets that I never could reach the standards of.
I was pressured to permanently block people on social media who I did not view as anything more than friends. My support network was progressively being taken away little by little. I was told unfollowing said people was insufficient because then they’d “still have access to me.” Clean slate- block all of them.
When I confronted him about the abuse, he denied the abuse and got quite angry with me.
Through triangulation, he told me he talked with his best friend and immediate family members about what I thought and “they did not like it one bit” stating they did not agree that he was emotionally abusing me at all. I cannot state whether what he told me these people said was actually true or not.
I made a long 12-page PDF document with links to articles explaining why I felt the things he was telling me to do seemed unfair and beyond what I was comfortable doing. The response?
“Wow! If you put this much effort into actually doing the things I asked of you, we wouldn’t be having these problems!”
There was goading and blaming. Suddenly, I was being told I have been the abusive one.
I tried explaining how upset I was feeling with everything that had been taking place and all of my emotions were trivialized. There was never validation.
In fact, the invalidation was extreme. My boundaries were not respected. Over time, I began to notice that my needs didn’t seem to matter very much.
Whenever things went wrong, I was to blame 100% for all of the bad.
Never once did I ever receive any type of apology. He took no accountability.
Simultaneously, I was constantly told my actions were the problem and told, “You take no accountability,” over and over and over again.
Unsure of what to do, I decided to contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. I was denied support and he told me that I shouldn’t be calling them and I shouldn’t even be feeling that way. He’d say, “If you would just do what I am asking, we would be okay!” I was told to, “stop bringing other people into the relationship.”
When I explained I needed the hotline’s help and that talking to them was beneficial for me, the response was that I wasn’t even calling the “right hotline” and that the Domestic Abuse Hotline was for “actual abuse” (invalidation) and I should be using another hotline like “the Crisis hotline.”
During our disagreements, he would talk over me and interrupt me constantly. I could never get a word in edgewise. Many times he would over-talk me to the point of confusion where I couldn’t even finish my thought because he derailed my train of thought.
I confirmed my relationship was abusive when my partner left me (moved out of my house) without saying goodbye to me or my family the night before my father was scheduled to have heart surgery. If my partner cared about my emotional well-being, he wouldn’t have left me when I was at my lowest point.
24 hours beforehand, we fought because I stuck firm to my assertions that I felt he was emotionally and verbally abusing me. As if he realized I was onto him to the point of no return because he could no longer control me through his abusive tactics, he mysteriously exited my life the next day and deleted all proof of our relationship (interestingly enough, even our text conversations.)
Prior to our breakup:
I proposed doing couples counseling together and this request was dismissed.
Instead of meeting me halfway by trying it, he signed up for individual therapy so he could control the conversation with the therapist and exclude me from the conversation.
I proposed calling the National Domestic Abuse Hotline together at the same time and this option was not agreed to.
So that’s that.
In hindsight, I don’t know how I allowed so much to go wrong here. While this story clearly is highlighting all of the abuse that took place and probably makes the relationship sound awful, it wasn’t so. If that were the case, I would have ended it long ago. The problem was that this stuff was mixed in with a lot of great stuff. I thought I was in love, after all.
The abuse also escalated over time. From beginning to end, the relationship was only 4 months long. In the beginning, I tried to dismiss the “small” things to focus on the good.
The first 2 months were great, but the second 2 months… not so much.
It breaks my heart that this happened. I went from believing I found my soulmate and the perfect match to wondering how someone could mistreat me so badly and why I tolerated it for as long as I had.
I hope I can repair the damage done between me and my parents.
I also want to thank my sister, my supportive family, and my awesome friends for their ongoing support and love throughout all of this. I would like to apologize for not being as present on my blog as I would have liked to have been. It was hard to give attention to my passions during such a troubling time.
This BuzzFeed article shares incidents of how other people realized they were in emotionally abusive relationships.
Can You Fix an Emotionally Abusive Relationship?
Abusive relationships are not equal partnerships where both parties have equal rights and equal power because abusers always need to be in control and maintain a one-upmanship stance. If they sense the balance of power is shifting, they will do something to re-establish their control.
As a result of this imbalance, it is not possible to have a healthy relationship.
ChangeMyRelationship.com explains it is critical to recognize that the abuser does not operate from the same perspective as a healthy person in wanting to fix the relationship.
There is a lack of concern that the relationship is unhealthy, hurtful, and broken. As a result, you must recognize the following truths:
- The abuser does not want to achieve understanding or resolve issues.
- The abuser does not want to treat you with respect.
- The abuser does not want to hear your opinions, feelings, and thoughts.
You must recognize this reality. If you do not, you will continue to try to explain how you feel and what you need in hopes that the abuser will finally understand and change. This keeps you stuck in the relationship, tolerating the abuse, and focused on figuring out how to explain yourself in a way that the abuser will finally understand.
It is wasted emotional energy that would be better spent on getting yourself strong enough to set better boundaries in the future.
How to Respond to Emotional Abuse
I have learned that there are a lot of ways people can respond to abuse in their relationships.
The way in which you choose to respond needs to be thought about carefully. You do not want to escalate the abuse. Safety should always come first, especially if you are dealing with an element of physical abuse. Physical violence can quickly escalate if you try to leave.
When you finally take a stand in an abusive relationship, it often signals to the abuser that they are losing control and they will respond by escalating the abuse to re-establish their power over you. In cases of emotional abuse, abusers may behave as sycophants and exercise the kiss-up & kick-down effect to gain the trust of your closest connections. This can leave you feeling misunderstood and alone.
Coming up with an exit plan is a good idea. In the meantime, you can try these strategies until you are able to exit the relationship:
- Leave your room/house temporarily.
- Do what you can to calm things down rather than argue/escalate conflicts.
- Do not try to defend yourself. It doesn’t work and makes you appear even more guilty. The abuser has a knack for manipulation and will probably make you doubt yourself if given the chance.
- Don’t share your feelings in hopes that the abuser will suddenly understand.
- Don’t be vulnerable in hopes that the abuser will see you are hurt and stop.
- Do not be weak.
- Protect yourself.
- Do whatever you must to take care of yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
- Learn how to detach from the abuser by recognizing that it isn’t about you.
- Validate yourself. Speak your truth.
- Seek others who will listen and validate you so you can begin to trust your own feelings.
- Work on building your self-esteem to be able to set proper boundaries.
- Speak to the abuse using simple sentences. “I won’t talk to you if you’re speaking to me like this.”
- Learn about abuse tactics.
Experiencing abuse is never your fault, and you don’t have to live with it.
This PDF designed by Alberta Family Violence Prevention can help you plan your exit from an abusive relationship.
Beware of Hoovering
Hoovering, a term coined after the “Hoover” vacuum, refers to a manipulation tactic used to “suck” victims back into toxic relationship cycles.
Is it possible that abusive partners can change and learn from their mistakes to become better people? Yes, it is possible. Unfortunately, it’s very VERY rare and extremely unlikely. If it does happen, it will probably take a long time and a lot of therapy to achieve this type of healing.
Further Reading on Domestic Violence
Last year, the domestic violence case between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie made headlines worldwide when warning signs of domestic abuse were ignored and omitted beyond the critical point where unlawful things were able to take place unnoticed.
After watching the police bodycam footage and learning more about their conflicts, I began to notice really disturbing signs and patterns of domestic violence in their relationship. Brian seemed so normal to the untrained eye. Charismatic and charming. Of course, we know now about what ultimately happened.
The Laundrie & Petito relationship demonstrated classic signs of abuse which authorities failed to respond to. The fact that neither Brian nor Gabby remain here to tell their story points to the importance of how vital it is to address all forms of domestic abuse rapidly, professionally, and with support systems in place.
Resources for Victims/Survivors
If you stay, you will do more, love more, try harder, and jump higher, but most likely nothing will ever be good enough. The abuse will always escalate; your health will deteriorate from the emotional toll.
Forgive yourself; you did the best you can with the knowledge you had at the time. The abuser taught you a lesson about yourself. Now it is time to learn and let go.
Where to Find Support for Domestic Abuse
The Domestic Violence Hotline
Emotional Abuse Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741
SUPPORT GROUPS & ORGANIZATIONS
The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness Education and Action
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Why Does He Do That?
by Lundy Bancroft
by Dr. Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Codependent No More
by Melody Beattie
Living With a New Partner After Abuse
Abuse can leave people with trauma. Victims may experience depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and require therapy after such an extreme experience.
This article may be able to help you navigate how to move forward after abuse.
Hi Rocky, I read the email you sent out before Thanksgiving and I couldn’t believe what you’d been going through. I wanted to take my time to read your post and tapped on many of the links. There are a lot of great resources you’ve shared here. I am sorry you’ve been a victim of manipulation abuse, and so on. I admire you so much for posting the preamble to all of this education that is directly connected to you. It takes a lot of courage and a man of great value and integrity to put themselves out there like this. You may help more people with this post than you will ever know. Take care!
Hi David, thanks for your comment. It’s a sad story for me and I’m still working through a lot of it. As far as the information goes, I hope this article will reach the people who need it most. I know I turned to Google in search of answers when I didn’t know why certain things were happening within my relationship. By putting this out there, I hope Google will allow me to return the favor to others.
Hi Rocky. I found your article while searching up therapists for emotional abuse and your blog is amazing and I really like it! I would like to thank you for being so brave sharing your relationship story like this. I want to say what a well-written and organized resource this is that you’ve put together. Second, I am so sorry that you went through all of that. I hate that it lasted as long as it did, but also glad that it didn’t last any longer! What an unfair and shitty situation he put you in. How are you doing?
Thank you for your comment, Reza. I hope the resources I’ve shared in this post were helpful to you. Also, I am doing well, thank you for asking. I am still sad and confused over the breakup, but I remind myself on a daily basis that the way I was being treated wasn’t something I should have tolerated for as long as I had. I miss the good times though.
Hi Rocky. I just want to apologize for the delay, I normally read your blog posts once I get emailed but I saw the link to this post when I saw the email you sent out about your new puppy! (Congratulations by the way! Bentley is precious!) Anyhow, I think this is one of your best blog posts ever. As a professional blogger myself, you nailed the balance of visuals, writing formats, images, videos, links, and infographics here. Well done. Your experience being emotionally abused certainly does not sound easy… but somehow you spoke rationally and logically about a really prominent and important topic. I could see this blog post helping so many people out. I will share this on every platform I am on and I may even pass it along to some journalists and prominent bloggers I work with. I hope you don’t mind. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Hi Jennifer, thanks for stopping by and reading my posts. I appreciate you being here and for saying those kind things about my blog. I hope you found this resource valuable. I would greatly appreciate you sharing with others! Thank you for the support.
I felt your story here… I was in a emotionally abusive relationship for far too long and you did a wonderful job here of defining, explaining, showing examples, etc. Wonderful resources here as well. One thing you might add is to check for local shelters – they can provide a world of hope. I am glad you are out of that situation… stay strong, you are worth so much more!
Thank you so much for saying that Leigha about the blog post. I’ve gone ahead and added in your suggestion to my resource section at the end. I appreciate the contribution!! I’m so sorry to hear you were in an emotionally abusive relationship too. It really messes with your head. I’m a little over one-month out and still working through so much. I truly appreciate your encouragement and support. 🙂
You are welcome. It takes time to work through… you will get there and be stronger!
Rocky, I found your blog on Google while looking up signs of narcissistic abuse becuase of a fight I had with my boyfriend last week. I can’t say thank you enough for sharing this information about the warning signs. I was appalled by what you’ve gone through in your last relationship. You are strong for what you have shared here. It helped open my eyes to what I am involved in. Be happy your ex left when he did. I hope he spared you from a lifetime of fighting.
I am happy the blog post was able to help. It is not easy figuring out what’s real and what’s not when someone is manipulating, controlling, and gaslighting you. I wish nothing but clarity for you as you figure out what steps to take next. Best of luck.