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How to Rebuild Yourself After an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

By Sophia Stephens on Tuesday November 27th, 2018

Image: Unknown

Five Ways to Take Your Power Back

If I could describe the impact and aftermath of emotional abuse in one word, it would be invisible. Emotional abuse may leave no physical marks, but the depth of the scars and the weight of the pain creates a burden that people can’t see—or don’t want to.

According to Psychology Today’s Andrea Matthews, emotionally abusive tactics include constant criticism and/or control, verbal assault and/or abuse, shaming and/or belittling language, mind games, refusing to communicate at all, and isolation of the victim from supportive friends and family:

“I know what’s best for you. Your friends don’t care about you the way I do.”

“What are you talking about? I never said that. You’re making things up.”

“You won’t leave me…and I won’t let you if you tried.”

“You’d look more honest if you wore less makeup.”

The cycle of abuse, as developed by Dr. Lenore Walker and survivors, includes four stages—tension building, incident, reconciliation, and calm—that also apply to situations of emotional abuse.

Each stage works to hold the victim under the abuser’s control, and to keep them in a state of unreality where the victim is made to feel like they are not able to believe their own experience.

The anguish of being isolated, put down, and controlled by someone you love, work with, or share a personal relationship with carries immense consequences that can stay with the victim/survivor for years.

The invisibility effectOne word that describes the impact and aftermath of emotional abuse is invisible.

Depression, anxiety, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder are common among survivors of emotional abuse, and the healing process can be made even more difficult by lack of support or outright disbelief when victims come forward.

Your experience was valid—no matter how hard people try to take that away from you. You deserve to be heard, and to heal.

When an emotionally abusive relationship of any kind comes to an end, there is often a massive question that takes its place: “Now what?”  We decided to create our own answer. We spoke with survivors of emotional abuse and came up with the following:

1. Take your time.

In an emotionally abusive relationship, time is often used to tie your attention, affection, and efforts to the abuser. Time is power, and abusers will do everything they can to keep you from having it.

Whether you were not ‘allowed’ to hang out with a certain friend, told that your long-term dream was a waste of time, or otherwise constantly questioned, controlled, and/or gaslighted on the who, what, when, where, or why of how you spent your time, being out of that relationship can often feel more frightening than freeing—and that is completely normal.

“I went from the love of his life to a [complete] source of frustration and a burden. Every time I wanted to spend time with him, it would cause a fight,” said Eva of her past abusive relationship of three years.

“Threatening to leave me or actually leaving me for short periods of time were his way of asserting his power onto the relationship,” Eva continued. “If I wasn’t exactly how he wanted me to be, he would start threatening me in that way.”

Your abuser wants you to feel lost, scared, and alone, and like there is a massive hole in your life without them, but that is not the reality. It never was.

Controlling behaviourYour abuser wants you to feel lost, scared, and alone.

Your life is your own to live, and you can take as much time as you want, on what you want, who you want, and where, when, and how you want to do it.

While the consequences of abuse may impact your ability to act on these things, there is no time limit on healing.

Self-care on your own terms.

That slam poetry group you’ve always wanted to join, getting the pet you’ve wanted for years, or chasing that dream job across the country… use your time however you want.

2. Re-draw your boundaries.

Boundaries are an essential part of practicing love with yourself and others.

As explained by online counseling service 7 Cups, boundaries allow you to define your limits—where they begin, where they end, and the terms that apply as you interact with the people around you. Healthy boundaries are established through consistent communication that holds the people involved with accountability, compassion, and understanding.

“For me, healing meant recognizing that my needs matter and that they are my responsibility, and that I can choose who I surround myself with,” said Jordan, who was impacted by emotional abuse from her parents. “I knew that was the right choice for me, because I felt less stressed and angry, and had fresh mental space and time to surround myself with people who did support me.”

While Jordan still shares family ties with her parents, she has gradually been able to proactively make and enforce her own boundaries with physical distance and time away from them.

The importance of boundariesBoundaries are an essential part of practicing love with yourself and others.

It may not feel like it now, or for a long time, but the power is now back in your hands. It’s not going anywhere, and will be there whenever you are ready to redraw your boundaries.

The best part? It’s all about you.

3. Forgive yourself.

What the abuser did to you was wrong. You never deserved it. The guilt, shame, and fear are not where your energy belongs right now, or ever again.

Out of all the things that you deserve, self-forgiveness is towards the top of the list.

While emotional abuse is a defined form of domestic violence, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, people still hesitate to believe or support survivors.

“When it’s been with people who didn’t know him, everyone has been incredibly loving and supportive,” said Eva of the experiences she’s had telling others of what she went through from her abusive ex-partner.

“However, when I talk about it to people who knew us together, though they completely agree that it was toxic and horrible and I was being manipulated, they seem to get very uneasy around the use of the word abuse,” she added. “It’s almost as if my experiences are missing something for them to consider it abuse, or they are just uncomfortable with the word.”

Abuse in any form is never your fault. It doesn’t matter who the person was. It doesn’t matter how they got into your life. It doesn’t matter how long the relationship was. It doesn’t matter why you stayed.

None of that matters, but here’s what does: You made it through. You survived. You’re free. You did it.

4. Knowledge is power.

Trying to make sense of the abuse, and what to do after, seems like a difficult task on the good days, and entirely impossible on the bad ones.

After however long you were forced to only know and understand the world through the abuser’s perspective, it is absolutely normal to experience confusion—even fear—over where to start.

You made it throughYou made it through. You survived. You’re free. You did it.

For many, therapy can also be a powerful tool: “With therapy I learned to ask for help and take breaks when I needed them,” said Katie, who was affected five years ago by an emotionally abusive friendship.

In the process of confronting the abuser and their actions, Katie lost her best friend of 18 years. “When I was able to talk about what happened without crying or having an attack, I knew I was starting to really heal,” Katie added.

Depending on the available resources in your area, there may be relevant workshops, classes, or seminars you can attend. A quick search online can turn up local organizations, communities, support groups, and more.

If resources are difficult to access or you are unable to get to in-person courses for any reason, the Internet is your friend.

There are thousands of articles on everything from defining emotional abuse, to what to know on how to love again after emotional abuse, to the why and how of moving on from sites like BetterHelpLove Is RespectThe Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, and more.

From creating healthy boundaries to conflict resolution techniques, there is a class or article out there waiting for you—and the knowledge you gain from it will be yet another tool in your arsenal.

5. Take back your story.

People who emotionally abuse others often force false narratives onto the victim to justify the abuse. This often places the abuser as always being right, and the victim as having no authority or say on what the abuser says or does, except to affirm their perspective and decision-making.

You are lovedYou are loved and you are not alone.

Abusive false narratives can sound like a lot of different things. Among the many types of lies abusers tell their victims, the receiving partner may be told they are incapable of living their life without the abuser, that they are ‘damaged goods’ in some way, or that nobody else will love them.

This is also a form of gaslighting—the abuser is attempting to change your reality by altering how you see yourself. The conflicting emotions from being told a false, harmful story about yourself from someone that you trust or love can be heavily damaging, and with long-lasting effects.

After an emotionally abusive relationship, the lies that the abuser told you about you may continue to affect the way that you see yourself.

When the abuser is safely and securely out of your life, it’s your opportunity to take back your story. The undoing of the abuser’s lies and manipulations through your self-actualization can feel like an awakening, but can also be very emotionally difficult to process.

Rebuilding your story is a highly personal step, and you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to—including going public with your story, or sharing it at all. Regardless of where you take your story from here, all the choices are yours now.

Emotional abuse and its consequences are difficult to heal from. You are rebuilding yourself from the aftermath of months, years, or decades of harm, and it is very common to feel like you’re struggling, because you are. You were abused, and that is what abuse does.

Healing is not linear, and the process can take months, years, or decades. Everyone heals on their own time.

Your journey can take on many different directions as you address each part of your situation, and there are resources available at each and every step of the way.

Above all, know that you are loved, and that you are not alone.

 

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14 Responses to How to Rebuild Yourself After an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

  1. I’ve been free from my abuser for 8 years. But I still feel like anything I do that in anyway confirms his opinion of me is him winning. For instance, he and his family are perfectionists, narcissists, when it comes to having a perfectly kept house. I do not. So he constantly told me that I wasn’t a real woman and no one would want me because of that (among other things). So I have a very difficult time cleaning my house because I feel like he is winning. It’s almost as if I’m rebelling. But I’m disgusted with my house. It’s an ongoing inner conflict. And I can’t seem to overcome it.

    • I totally understand where you are coming from. My partner ex partner used to constantly critique me about the same thing, and I found myself rebelling in response, because even if I did clean the house spotless he always had to find something I missed.

      My advice to you is to let go – not easy I know. Just remember, it’s been 8 years, he literally is no longer in your life. Whether you clean your house or not, he has absolutely no hold over your life and decisions anymore. You are the one in control. You have the power. Grasp it with both hands and revel in it. He is no longer ‘winning’ because you are free of him. Take control of your life! Pay someone to come clean for a few hours a week to get you on track. Stop making yourself unhappy to rebel against someone who is no longer around. Go see a therapist. It’ll do you no good to continue to have your choices dictated by some dickhead who tried to ruin you. I wish you luck and hope you are doing well now.

  2. I’ve been free from my abuser for 8 years. But I still feel like anything I do that in anyway confirms his opinion of me is him winning. For instance, he and his family are perfectionists, narcissists, when it comes to having a perfectly kept house. I do not. So he constantly told me that I wasn’t a real woman and no one would want me because of that (among other things). So I have a very difficult time cleaning my house because I feel like he is winning. It’s almost as if I’m rebelling. But I’m disgusted with my house. It’s an ongoing inner conflict. And I can’t seem to overcome it.

    • My advice for you is to get help from the internet, when i had a big divorce problem with my hubby i got in contact with Dr Amigo the online love spell healer and he restored my marriage back on track and today i am happy again. for more info. about him just type on your Google search engine ”Dr Amigo the real online spell caster” i assure you of better answers and results to your findings thanks. For more review of his wonderful articles Google his name as Dr Amigo the online spell caster.

  3. I asked my abuser to leave after he called me a bitch for throwing out a cup and then later, breaking our pics when I asked to see his phone and questioned him about a conversation he stated that he would tell me about. I ended up cut. After a week of no communication, he changed his profile pic and our status. I texted him and told him do not put anything bad about me on FB. He flipped the whole story on me and said that I was crazy and bi polar and that I was the abuser and kept him away from his family. The sad part is, his family believes and defends him although I am not the only one who abused. Now, he told me he doesn’t want me to stop contacting him and blocked me from everything. The way he is trying to do me hurts. I am crying daily at work and everytime I thnk I am okay, I keep crying. He was very abusive to me in the past and currently has a warrant for harming me back in 2017.I am so distraught and don’t know if this gets better.

  4. My abuser whom I had a year long relationship with is using the legal system to inflict psychological attacks. Despite him being charged and sentenced for assault with a blunt force instrument on me and I successfully getting a protection order against him (which he is opposing so I’ll see his ugly face yet again in court) he can still accuse me of having antisocial personality disorder, being a liar, irresponsible, abusive, all the things I jokingly say he was inspired to write down when he looked at himself in the mirror and decided it was me, yetthere is nothing I can do at a legal point of view because his message is sent between our lawyers. He is trying to destabilize me after I’ve moved on. In the meantime, I have written some books, got one traditionally published, to get my mind back to normal. I want to say that things will get better and sing Kumbaya, but sometimes certain abusers just can’t leave you be, they’re set out to abuse you for the sick joy of it. I’m barely keeping my head above the water as he claims my property. I’m just sooo glad he never stayed longer or I would have lost my house.

  5. I’m sitting here on the couch, surrounded by my stuff thrown in garbage bags and my partner wants me out. This will be the 4 th time in 10 years that he’s thrown me out, taken my credit cards, calling me every name in the book. He knows my triggers and weaknesses but still pushes me. I lost it yesterday and screamed and cried like a madwoman. I threw my water bottle at the door and cracked it and that was it… I shouldn’t have. But we always have these insane blowups and then make up. Im scared to leave, part of me still loves him, the old story, when it’s good, it’s amazing, but the bad is horrendous…I feel like I’ve finally totally and completely lost my mind. I don’t feel like myself any more. The energy and life has been sucked out of me. I’m so sad.

    • Have you got family or friends (not mutual friends your abuser is pally with) you can go and stay with? This person sounds like he has antisocial personality disorder e.g. narcissism personality disorder, sociopathy, pyscopathy, borderline. They elicit a bad response from their victims so they can point the finger and say you’re the crazy one. You acted out by throwing the water bottle because he drove you beyond your limit by saying that you were this and that or accused you of this and that. You, Margaret, are in an abusive situation, you need to get out and you need to block all contact with this loser. This is his power and control game to make him feel oh so important, so that when you beg him or give into his wants he gives you his dick for a reward. It will all feel lovey, dovey until he treats you like shit again, but you know this already because he doesn’t want therapy, he’ll song his virtues and he’ll blame you for everything that goes wrong in his miserable, sorry was life. The ups and downs in this toxic relation incites a roller coaster of emotions. This is actually an indication that you are trauma bonded to your abuser whereby hormones wreak havoc with your body. Overtime, if you havent already suffered these complaints (I bet you are), your mental health and then your physical health will break down. Please read up on trauma bonding as this will explain the reason why you need to return to that toxic person…their reward is sex (on their terms), and this induces feel good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, which give you a drug-like euphoria making you addicted to this loser. Please, Margaret, get out and stay away from this man; you have a lot of good to give to this world, don’t waste anymore of your precious life with this control-freak……

      • Thank you…for saying what I needed to hear. I left today. Me and my cat. I have a friends place for a week and then I’m going to drive across the country to my home, my family and friends. I have never been that honest because I feel like an idiot. I go back to him time and time again. I got a secret credit card so I’m not so scared…I guess I put it out there. I’ve never cried so much in 2 days, I felt like I was dying. If it was a friend, I’d be telling her to leave… now I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Which is whatever I want. He threw me out, told me he was done. Told me to grow up while I sobbed like a baby. I can understand why that would be annoying…then said if I walk out of his life, I’ll never see him again. I know better, just so hard. And hard to follow through but your response is empowering me, I thank you so much for taking the time. Never thought I’d be that woman, I’m very strong-willed. But I’m a shell of what I used to be. I’m going to read up on trauma bonding now. Thank you!

        • Congratulations, Margaret, on your brave step. Do a lot of email research on these behaviours and the writers of these sites will recommend “No Contact” that means blocking the loser’s phone number, his email account and the hard part not associating with people who support him. He will now work harder to get you so that IF you go back he has won and will treat you more terribly. It’s going to be a hard road at first but I tell you Margaret the tide will turn and you’ll be super strong and will wonder why you spent all this time with that jack ass. You deserve a medal for leaving, I wish more people could summon the strength to do what you have done, so awesome work. 🙂

    • Margaret, I’m so worried for you after reading your comment. Please take care, and no matter what don’t ever go back to that guy. I completely understand how you feel and I have lived through something similar. There is only one way: Keep going through it… It will hurt like hell, but day by day, step by step, you will find your way back to you. Enjoy that at least the power is YOURS now. I want to recommend you to read this book: “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. It absolutely safed my mental health, and first of all started me on the road to understanding what had happened to me, how I had been manipulaled and broken down to become just a shadow of myself. I send you so much love and wishes for your healing and protection!

  6. I left my abuser 2 days ago. He physically restrained me to keep me from leaving and purposefully hurt my dog in the process of trying to keep me around. I spend 6 years with him and he ruined my life. He maxed out all of my credit cards, made me think that I was the crazy one, and even used my Emotional Support Dog to manipulate me. He insisted on going with me to family gatherings, and then would complain about the food and when we would leave he would have only mean things to say about my family, who was always very nice and welcoming to him. He keeps emailing me and trying to tell me that he loves me but I know that if he really loved me he wouldn’t have abused me. I have spent the last two days trying to figure out what to do with my life and my time. I take care of myself, allow myself to heal as much as possible, and take care of my precious dog. I am planning to live in my car, which will be a major improvement considering my situation over the last 6 years. I look forward to someday being okay with myself and loving myself as much as he claimed he loved me.

  7. My husband of 37 years just decided to call our marriage over..
    i worked ,paid the bills while he saved his money..
    i know now that he was an emotional abuser cutting me off family and friends for years he belittled me saying things like
    ‘nobody would have you’calling me names, throwing things at me and cheating on me…he never even used to wish me a happy birthday in all those years but when it was his, he expected a celebration… but now as of last week i have legally separated from him and feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, our children feel better too, they had been telling me to leave… he took everything only left me half the house cause
    i do not have the funds to fight him in court…but thats ok.. i work and
    i have my health thats what is important.

  8. Once he is gone do you need to forgive him in order to heal and move on.? He is now deceased and everyone tells me they hope I can forgive him. I’m not sure that is possible

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