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Recovering From Emotional Abuse

Marissa Katrin Maldonado Nov 22, 2019
When we think about abuse within a relationship or family most of us conjure up images of black eyes or broken bones. Physical abuse is often obvious, with the overt signs of harm on full display.
Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is stealthy. The couple or family may appear, at least on the outside, to be perfectly normal. Its invisibility is what makes emotional abuse so insidious—unless you witness the cruel behavior firsthand it seems implausible.
At the heart of emotional abuse is a desire to control the other person through words and actions that demean them, attempt to isolate them, and keep them compliant through intimidation.

While the wounds and scars are not apparent to the casual observer, the damage to self-worth can be devastating to the victim.
Often the victim happens to have a passive personality, someone who avoids conflicts or confrontations. The abuser seeks out these types of people, knowing they will be able to manipulate them and keep them under their thumb.

A narcissist, someone with clinically defined narcissistic personality disorder is almost always emotionally abusive.
The victim may also be a minor child whose parent is emotionally abusive to them on a regular basis. These children are exposed to emotional harm that can cause deep psychological wounds that last a lifetime. They may have been told since they were small children that they are worthless, stupid, or ugly.
What makes this emotional abuse more despicable is the fact that the child is unable to extricate themselves from the abusive parent, at least not easily as child protective services would need to become involved.
There are actions to take that can begin the process of detaching from these types of dysfunctional and harmful relationships. It is critical to do so, as the emotional abuse is sometimes a precursor to physical abuse.
Recovering from emotional abuse, and the trauma it can cause, is a process that takes time. However, with the help of a gifted therapist it is possible to overcome the damage left by someone who was emotionally abusive, and to reclaim a healthy sense of self.

What is Emotional Abuse?

There is some confusion about what exactly constitutes emotional abuse. Some have broadened the definition in ways that detracts from the true essence of emotional abuse. Emotion is not the occasional angry outbursts all humans display from time to time.
These scenes are more of a venting of emotion based on the situation at hand. There is no agenda involved as is the case with emotional abuse, instead it is a situational expression of frustration or anger.

Emotional abuse is quite different. It involves an ongoing pattern of humiliating, condescension that is bent on breaking the spirit of the victim.
By breaking the person down with continual berating comments and mind games, withholding affection or a constant barrage of curse words, the victim becomes a passive host from which the perpetrator feeds to accomplish whatever their goal is through intimidation.
An important aspect of identifying emotional abuse is its similarity to the abuse cycle for physical or domestic abuse. After the victim has had his or her fill of the ongoing abuse, they decide to get out.

The abuser then swoops in with various romantic displays to woo the victim to stay in it.
The victim believes and trusts the abuser, only to find him or her soon return to the same abusive actions. This pattern holds true for both emotional and physical abuse.

Different Forms of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can exist in several different forms. The essence of each form of emotional abuse revolves around controlling the victim through various actions such as:
Humiliation. To humiliate the victim the abuser will resort to publicly embarrassing or criticizing the victim among family, friends, coworkers, or perfect strangers.

By constant put downs and criticism the abuser attempts to weaken the victim’s will and feelings of self-worth, making the victim more dependent on them.
Control. The abuser takes control over the relationship dynamic through various means, such as withholding affection, ignoring the person, stalking them, checking their emails and text messages and hiding their car keys.

They may demand to be in complete control of their plans, making all decisions, and controlling the family finances.
Verbal abuse. The abuser will engage in continual verbal assaults, hurling curse words at them, calling them names, picking fights in public, and making patronizing comments towards them both privately or in public.

The goal is to reduce the victim’s self-confidence and self-esteem through insults.
Shaming. Anytime something goes awry in the relationship or family the abuser shames and blames the victim. This keeps the victim off balance and confused. Gaslighting, or the act of playing psychological games to keep the victim feeling ashamed and confused is often employed.
Isolation. Another tactic that emotional abuse has in common in domestic abuse is isolating the victim. The abuser becomes the be all and end all of the victim’s existence, and discourages any time spent with friends or family.

Again, the goal is to obtain total control over the victim, so if they can hide the abuse from others it can continue.

How to Break Free from an Emotionally Abusive Situation

No adult should remain in a relationship with someone who emotionally abuses them. There is no viable hope for the abuser to change his or her ways. They are mentally ill and disordered, which drives the abusive behavior.
They will lash out and resist if their victim takes steps to leave, however this is not out of love for the victim. They do not want to lose the victim because the victim supplies them with a sense of worth, albeit achieved in a sick and twisted manner. Some steps to take to break free include:
Confide in someone. First, the victim should confide in a close friend or relative who can potentially offer them a safe place to stay while transitioning out of the abusive relationship.
Planning. Take time to make a solid exit plan. This might include putting money away where he or she will not find it. Meet with a professional, such as a social worker or crisis center, who can help you obtain housing.
Get help. Having a therapist in your corner while going through the process of recovering from emotional abuse is extremely important.

The therapist can guide you through the steps of detaching from the abuser, as well as helping to build you back up once out of the abusive relationship.

Recovering from Emotional Abuse

Once free from the clutches of the emotional abuser it is common to feel ambiguous about leaving them. This is often out of fear of the unknown, of being alone, or financial concerns.

This is normal. The abuser had been breaking the victim down for a long period of time, leaving them feeling insecure and lacking confidence in themselves.
To reclaim a healthy sense of self-worth after detaching from the abuse it is necessary to engage in some self-care. Recovering from emotional abuse takes patience and time as the victim learns to love themselves.
Working on themselves through a therapist is an essential aspect of recovery and offers the individual a new roadmap for building and maintaining healthy relationships. Learning how to set healthy boundaries, and to be consistent in enforcing them, is an excellent tool to access for all future relationships.
Psychotherapy: Following a relationship with an emotional abuser there may be symptoms of depression or anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an excellent form of therapy for former victims of emotional abuse.
Cognitive behavioral therapy near me offers guidelines for changing the way triggers or stressors are responded to, and teaches empowering, self-affirming thinking. If there was trauma involved, prolonged exposure therapy and EMDR are both helpful in slowly reducing the impact of the residual trauma caused by the abuser.
Support groups: People who survived emotionally abusive relationships benefit from gathering together and discussing their personal experiences. They find strength to persevere through these interactions, as well as a safe place to share feelings of fear, confusion, or self-doubt.
Holistic self-care: After being made to feel inferior and worthless for so long, it is important to place some attention on to one’s own needs. During recovery it is helpful to plan at least one self-care activity per week.
Scheduling self-care into the weekly routine sends a message to oneself that they are valued and worthy of some special attention and care. Holistic therapies might include massage, aromatherapy, enjoying a day spa, getting a manicure or facial, or spending quiet time in meditation.
There is hope for someone who survives an abusive relationship. Recovery will involve learning healthy relating skills, taking care of oneself, and building a new life separate from the abuser.