Healing from Emotional Abuse
Have you suffered from emotional abuse, psychological abuse, mental abuse, verbal abuse, or sexual abuse? Yes. Then you need to heal from your abuse.
As a professional therapist of 25+ years, I have worked with countless individuals seeking treatment for abuse related issues.
The following are many of the treatments I have provided for my clients who are suffering from emotional abuse, psychological abuse, mental abuse, verbal abuse, and sexual abuse.
Some of you may require professional guidance in addition to the suggestions provided below.
Abe Kass, MA RSW RMFT CCHT, the writer of this article, is a professional couple therapist for more than 25 years. Most of what you find on the internet about the 'healing from emotional abuse' is written by unqualified writers! You can TRUST the information on this page.
Here are the 7-steps to heal from emotional abuse:
1. Commit to these human rights:
My Personal Bill of Rights
1. I will not allow my partner to humiliate, shame, degrade, curse, or threaten me.
2. I will not allow my partner to intimidate, control, or force me to do something I don't want to do.
3. I will not allow my partner to trivialize my feelings, ideas, or values.
4. I will not accept my partner ignoring me.
5. I will not accept extreme selfishness from my partner to the point where he or she is dismissive of my legitimate needs and wants.
6. I will not allow my partner to isolate me from my family or friends.
7. I will not allow my partner to confiscate my belongings such as money, car keys, phone, or other property.
8. I will not allow my partner to behave in an extremely jealous and possessive way that impacts on my peace of mind, challenges my dignity, and restricts my freedom.
9. I will not allow my partner to touch me in a hostile way, threaten me with a fisted hand, or get very close to my face with his face, nor threaten me any other way.
10 I will not let my partner to hit me, push me, or throw things at me.
11. I will NOT REMAIN SILENT. I will explain my situation should I need help from others to free myself from being abused.
I suggest you copy this personal bill of rights and keep it with you at all times.
In addition, I suggest you read it several times a day so you will be reminded of your rights and that you need to take care of yourself.
Some of you may be able to share this Personal Bill of Rights with your partner as a guide so he or she can use it to stop being an abuser.
2. Emotional abuse has caused anxiety and depression
When a person is abused, anxiety is present because it is impossible for the victim to feel that he or she has control of his or her life when at any point the abuser can override what he or she wants or feels.
Nobody can withstand an ongoing barrage of criticism, expressions of anger, threats, or insults.
Anyone experiencing this aggression will have mental health problems. It is not a weakness, it is a natural reaction just like a physical assault causes an injury.
Over time, these feelings of helplessness caused by 'loss of control' can slip into acute anxiety, panic attacks, or depression.
Your depression is a natural reaction to living in fear, pain, and feelings of helplessness.
Unfortunately, many doctors and mental health professionals do not realize the full extent of how an abusive relationship injures a person's mental health. And because of this, ineffective treatments are often prescribed.
If you are being abused, taking pills or undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy will do little to restore your mental health, lost confidence, and unhappiness.
You need to deal with being abused in your marriage or committed relationship before you can make progress healing any residual anxiety or depression you may have.
Like a person who has his or her hand squeezed tightly in a vice, taking painkillers will do little to solve the problem. His or her hand must be freed from the vice, this is the only effective solution. So too with an abusive relationship. You either need to fix your relationship or get out of it.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you need to stop the abuse otherwise you will continue to suffer from mental health problems.
3. Emotional abuse has caused a weakening of my self-esteem and confidence
One of the hallmarks of mental health is strong self-esteem and confidence.
These character traits can only develop and exist when a person's social environment is imbued with respect, love, and sensitivity.
In a relationship frequently shattered by abuse, the necessary emotional ingredients to build and maintain healthy self-esteem and confidence are missing.
If a person endures emotional abuse over an extended period of time, specific long-term effects will take hold and alter the victim's character.
One of the common strategies abusers use is to degrade their victims and break their will and spirit.
The abuser hopes that a weak and insecure partner will not resist the tyranny he or she wishes to impose.
A victim repeatedly exposed to being degraded and shamed will naturally suffer a loss of confidence and self-esteem.
Emotional abuse is compared to brainwashing.
The abuser looks to alter what his or her partner knows about himself or herself and replace that information with 'other' information that gives the abuser more control.
Instead of 'lovable,' you are now 'unlovable.' Instead of 'capable,' you are now 'incapable.' Instead of 'smart,' you are 'stupid.' And so it goes...
At some point, you become so changed by the abuse you no longer recognize yourself!
Instead of being the strong, capable person you were in the past, and as others knew you to be, you are now passive, weak, and reclusive.
Self-esteem is often very localized. You may be very accomplished and respected in your chosen profession. In this niche, you may have healthy self-esteem and be very confident.
However, when it comes to family relationships, you are transformed into the opposite — unsure of yourself and weak.
Make a list of all the things you have accomplished, your talents, and what other people like about you.
Keep this list with you at all times.
Read it to yourself several times throughout the day. Doing so will remind you that you are a good person.
Nobody has to be perfect. Nobody is perfect.
In your own eyes you should be 'good enough' that you are proud of what you have done, you are doing, and you are optimistic about your future.
Feeling this way will contribute to strong and healthy self-esteem.
4. Emotional abuse has reduced my feelings of safety
The cornerstone of every healthy relationship is feeling safe when you are with your partner.
Sadly, feeling safe in an abusive relationship is NOT possible.
Being put down, criticized, insulted, threatened, and more are the weapons that are used to coerce the victim of abuse.
Under such circumstances it is impossible to feel safe.
Fuelling most expressions of abuse is anger. Anger evokes fear in its recipient. Fear and feeling unsafe go hand in hand.
Anger is expressed in many different ways. It can be bombastic and aggressive, or it can be hidden in sarcastic jokes, the refusals to talk, and everything in between.
As a victim of abuse, fear of your abuser has seized your mind and left you mentally paralyzed when you are in his or her presence.
Likely you fear your abuser coming home; the critical comments; the threats; the rejection.
It is understandable why you feel unsafe while at the same time you feel trapped not knowing how to avoid these terrifying attacks.
Safety is a human right; a God-given right — and we are all entitled to it freely and unconditionally.
Feeling unsafe in an abusive relationship is a given.
You need to either find a way to get your partner to stop abusing you or you need to end your relationship with him or her. There is no other way to feel safe.
Solve your emotional abuse problem, and you will once again feel safe!
5. Emotional abuse destroys your trust of others
You were born trusting!
However, if someone hurts you repeatedly and shows no remorse... how can you then continue to trust them?
Trust is necessary for every healthy and successful relationship.
Relentless emotional attacks without remorse is an everyday occurrence in emotionally abusive, verbally abusive, psychologically abusive, sexually abusive, and mentally abusive relationships.
When somebody disrespects you, criticizes you, disregards your feelings, how can you trust them?
How can you trust someone who has so little regard for your well-being?
The victim experiences the abuser as a person not to be trusted, which is often then extrapolated into the belief that 'no one can be trusted.'
When this occurs, the victim's isolation is expanded to all spheres of his or her life.
Not being able to trust anyone can cause the victim to feel extremely alone and trapped.
Because of not being able to trust others, it is not uncommon for a victim of emotional, verbal, sexual, mental, or psychological abuse to fear reaching out to others for help — and so he or she doesn't.
This makes it difficult for a victim to get outside help as needed.
Understanding how abuse has eroded your trust will help you compensate for a 'trust deficiency'.
Remind yourself that not trusting your abuser is logical, it makes sense. However, you can trust others and you should do so.
You can trust others to be your friend, provide professional services, help you as needed and be a confidant.
Take a piece of paper, and in the middle of the page draw a line from top to bottom.
List the people you cannot trust on the left side and list the people you can trust on the right side.
Hopefully, there will only be one person on the left side and that is your abuser. On the right side will be a long lists of names.
With everyone on the right side, try to maintain a good and trusting relationship.
This is a good antidote to a 'trust deficiency' you may have as a result of the abuse you have been suffering from.
6. Emotional abuse has destroyed my feelings of love for my partner
Love... forget about it!
If you are being abused, there can be no love.
I don't need to tell you how important love is to a relationship... it is everything. You know that.
It was because of love you agreed to join together with a 'stranger,' with the feelings and hope that you could build a loving and happy life together.
Abusive relationships have no love... they only have fear and disappointment.
Emotional abuse is bad relationship chemistry!
If the abuse ends, it is possible to recover the love over time...maybe.
The mind has a talent for holding on to negative memories. It is possible to recover from emotional abuse and feel loving toward your partner, but is is not guaranteed.
Love is like a delicate flower, it needs to be taken care of. Taking care of love is the best way to ensure it stays healthy and strong. On the other hand, abuse crushes love!
If emotional abuse has caused your love to wither, know that you are running out of time to solve your abuse problem before it becomes too late to change things around for the better.
Once an egg falls and smashes, it can never be put together again — often the same is true for love.
The sooner you can solve your emotional abuse problem, the sooner you can get to work to see if you can rekindle the feelings of love you once had.
Upon recovering from emotional abuse, seek ways to enhance your relationship and rekindle your love for each other.
The following are some examples of what you and your partner can do together that will create positive feelings, memories, and a happy future:
- Learn a new hobby such as playing tennis
- Go on trips
- Go out to eat (you and your partner, without other couples, or with the kids)
- Go to a movie
- Exercise together
- Go to a class or lecture
- Watch a movie or TV
- Play board games
- Participate in religious activities
- Cook together
- Organize a party or family gathering
- Give each other massages
- Take turns reading a book out loud
- Go shopping
- Go for walks
- Work as a team on home improvement
- The possibilities are endless…
7. Emotional abuse has destroyed my desire for sex with my partner
Sexual desire has physical and emotional components.
When emotional abuse enters a relationship, the sexual nature of the relationship may become strained, even though physical attraction remains present.
This is in part due to the broken trust between the victim and the abuser, as sexual acts involve trust between two caring partners.
If your marriage or a committed relationship has been marred by abuse, there will be no intimacy, and probably your relationship will be sexless — unless sex is being forced, which is abuse.
If you are to have a healthy and satisfying sexual love-life, you need to have a healthy and satisfying emotional relationship that includes safety, trust, friendship, and love.
Stop the abuse that's going on in your relationship.
There is no other way around it. When there are rocks in your relationship, the rocks are typically found in the bed.
If your partner complains of the lack of sexual intimacy, explain to him or her that every type of abuse is a sexual killer.
When the abuse stops, and you have healed from the abuse, and your relationship has recovered from the abuse, only then is there an opportunity to restore the sexual intimacy that you and your partner once had. And even with this, it can take a long time until the recovery is fully complete.
True story: How Janet found healing from emotional abuse
In their family home, Janet never experienced nor saw the kind of emotional abuse she was now experiencing married to Eric.
His constant criticizing, extreme anger blowups and insults had destroyed her self-esteem and were a painful example of spousal abuse.
Finally, she had enough.
She told Eric that if they didn't go for help, she was going to leave. She told him she was no longer willing to live with his anger outbursts.
Reluctantly Eric agreed to go for marriage therapy.
Fortunately, the therapist was good.
The therapist explained to Eric how wrong domestic violence against women was and how his extreme anger outburst were eroding his wife's natural healthy self-esteem.
The therapist also told Janet that if she felt physically unsafe, she should call the police.
After Eric got over his embarrassment of having his pattern of anger outbursts exposed to another person, he rose to the challenge and committed himself to treat his wife respectfully.
Eric was smart, and upon reflection he realized how horrible and wrong his behavior had been.
The therapist gave Eric anger management worksheets to help him learn anger management.
Janet reported to their marriage therapist several weeks later that Eric had completely transformed himself and was now behaving respectfully, kindly, and was more patient.
However, she told the therapist she was still fearful of her husband and had a hard time speaking up and letting Eric know what her needs were and how she felt about things.
The marriage therapist was insightful and understood that after years of abuse, Janet's self-esteem had suffered and was now very low.
After explaining this to Janet, she gave her the following three suggestions:
1. Make a list of your positive attributes and your achievements, then review them several times each day.
2. Each day write a paragraph of what you would like to hear from your husband. At a quiet moment in the evening, hand him the paper and ask him to read the paragraph out loud to you. He should repeat this three times.
3. Each day give yourself a treat. Maybe it is taking some quiet time and reading a book, or calling a friend, or buying something special to eat. Tell yourself the reason you are treating yourself is that you are good, and you are on the road to achieving many great things.
Jane worked on building her self-esteem.
She went from being a broken and emotionally abused woman to finding her inner strength.
She became much more outgoing, connected with old friends, and felt empowered to set goals and to achieve them.
Best of all, she was no longer afraid to speak with Eric.
If your partner, who has abused you, can participate in your healing, this is a very helpful because it gives him or her an opportunity to do penitence and help undo the damage that he or she has caused.
If your partner helps you heal, it makes it much easier for you to forgive him or her for the abusive relationship and then for the two of you to move forward and live a great life together as a happy couple.
* * *
Make the necessary changes so your marriage or committed relationship is healthy and so you can live with dignity, freedom, and respect.
To succeed at this, the decision to free yourself from relationship abuse must be yours!
No one can solve your abuse problems unless you are a full participant! This is why solving your emotional abuse problem must start with you!
Slow and steady progress towards a more respectful life with your partner is definitely worth the effort, time, and sometimes money spent to pay for therapy.
To be silent is what your abuser wants!
Don't cooperate and unintentionally allow the abuser to continue his or her abusive behavior!
If needed, speak with trusted family members, close friends, authorities, or trained relationship specialists so you can get the help you need to stop the abuse.
There is no need to feel shame identifying and reporting abuse; you did nothing wrong!
One good place to locate a trained and certified relationship specialist is: American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
If there is violence — hitting, pushing, etc. — you need to separate immediately from your abusive partner.
The decision to return and live together should be made only after you are certain the violence will not reoccur.
Note: If you are currently being assaulted, call your local police.
Get essential information on how to heal from emotional abuse!
Recovering from emotional abuse requires expert guidance.
Let me help! — Abe Kass, MA, RSW, RMFT (author of this article)
Both books (one written and one an audiobook) will both give you powerful tools to help you free yourself from emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, and sexual abuse.
The 15 Essential Facts Victims of Emotional Abuse Need to Know is an easy read.
It will give you professional guidance to build a better marriage or committed relationship, how to help your abusive partner, what to do if improving your relationship fails, and if so what are your reasonable options and where to find help.
Assertive Behavior Audiobook — Feel strong, be strong, and get what your want is an audiobook that uses the power of your mind to learn powerful ways to communicate with your abusive partner to stop the abuse.
Many verbal abuse, psychological abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse situations can be best managed by speaking to the abuser clearly, pointedly and truthfully.
This is called 'assertive communication'.
Purchase this professional guide on how to free yourself from emotional abuse using assertive words.
(Note: Assertive communication is a powerful tool to stop the abuse. However, it is not right for every situation. If you find speaking assertively does not help or it makes your situation worse, discontinue use and seek appropriate professional guidance.)