7 Steps To Healing From Emotional Abuse
You finally did it.
You ended it.
You left your abuser after years of manipulation, verbal assaults, control, and unkindness.
You had the courage to say, “Enough is enough,” and make the excruciating decision to say goodbye to this person you once loved, maybe even still love in spite of everything.
Part of you feels exhilarated. You are free — free from walking on eggshells, feeling anxious in your own home, spending night after night wondering what you should do.
Your life is now your own.
But another part of you, maybe even the bigger part, feels devastated. All of your hopes and dreams about this relationship have crumbled to dust. Nothing is ever going to change with this person, and you know it.
Your psyche, your self-esteem, and even your sense of who you are have been shattered by the person who was supposed to love and cherish you the most.
Maybe you beat yourself up over how you could have fallen for this manipulator in the first place. Why didn't you see it? How could you have stayed so long?
Maybe your heart aches from missing him or her, remembering the good times you had together — good memories that suddenly monopolize your thoughts now that you've decided to end things.
There are so many emotions, thoughts, and memories swirling around in your head that you don't know what is real, what is true, and what is right for you.
Healing From Emotional Abuse
Whatever triggered you to finally leave your abuser, you knew on some rational level that things between you and your partner were very wrong.
You knew that no matter how smart, attractive, and charming this person could be, there was another side of him or her that was completely unacceptable and harmful.
- People who love you don't constantly call you names and yell at you.
- People who love you don't try to control your every thought and action.
- People who love you don't try to make you think you're crazy.
- People who love you don't do the hurtful things your partner did on a daily basis.
Even though you're out of the relationship, you are still left holding the bag of unresolved feelings, fears, mindsets, and even mental illnesses.
How can you sort through all of the baggage to come out on the other side as a healthy, whole, confident person ready to find real and intimate love again?
Let's first look at some of the ways your emotionally abusive relationship might have impacted you.
You feel numb and hopeless.
Because you've spent so many years protecting your emotions, you may have cut yourself off from them.
You just can't feel anything. Even though you know you have reason to feel happy and liberated, you just can't muster up any emotion.
It seems like you are an observer of life right now rather than a participant.
If you do feel something, it's just a sense of hopelessness and despair. Your relationship is over, and it feels like there is nothing more for you.
You feel like damaged goods, especially if your abuser consistently disparaged and criticized you.
You need lots of reinforcement and approval.
After years of feeling not good enough, you still have a sense that you don't measure up. You try to make up for this low self-esteem by being a people pleaser or over-achiever.
You long for the acceptance, love, and approval that you never got in your love relationship, and you seek it with the other people in your life, often blurring your own boundaries and ignoring your needs.
You just don't have the confidence to stand on your own two feet, without your abuser, and say, “I like myself. I am good just the way I am.” It's hard for you to be compassionate and patient with yourself.
You feel deeply resentful and sometimes uncontrollably angry.
You're mad at your abuser, and you're mad at yourself. How could he or she have done this to you after all of the time, energy, and love you put into the relationship?
Why couldn't your partner just step up and change?
You also question how you could have done this to yourself. Allowing yourself to be treated this way feels deeply shameful. You just can't believe you didn't see what was happening earlier on.
You might also feel angry at your parents who may have been emotional abusers themselves and set the stage for you to be attracted to this type of partner.
Why didn't they protect you and care for you in a way that helped you make better choices as an adult?
Or you could feel resentment toward family and friends who didn't see what was happening and come to your rescue.
You've lost your identity.
You knew yourself before you got involved with your abuser.
Maybe you were a strong, happy, capable person. But now you don't even recognize the person looking back at you in the mirror.
Years of emotional abuse have stripped away your sense of self. You are left with the unattractive shell of a person your partner defined for you with his or her ugly words and insults.
If your partner told you how to think, what to believe, and how to feel, you're at a loss. You no longer have a puppeteer managing these for you. So how do you recreate a new you or find your old self again?
You feel anxious and depressed.
The emotional abuse has taken its toll on your mental health.
While you were in the midst of the abusive relationship, somehow you were able to hold it together for your own survival and for your kids.
But now you are out, and your walls are coming down. All of the emotional energy you spent trying to manage the relationship has drained out of you, and you simply can no longer cope.
Maybe you continue to feel on high alert and anxious, which could be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It feels like you've just left a war zone, with all of the bad memories and fears doing battle in your psyche.
Or you might have sunk into a dark place where you want to pull the covers over your head and cry all day. The emotional pain you've been stuffing down for years is finally seeping out in the form of depression and unbearable sadness.
You've lost your trust and fear falling in love again (or you date too quickly).
Right now, the idea of getting involved with someone again makes you run away screaming. How can you trust anyone when you thought you knew your partner, but you were so wrong?
If your partner was manipulative and constantly tried to make you question your own judgment, you wonder if all people are capable of these toxic behaviors.
You wonder how you'll ever be able to tell a healthy, mature love partner from another toxic manipulator. Rather than take a chance, you'd rather just step out of the game.
Or it's possible you jump in too quickly, desperate to find someone who treats you with love, kindness, and respect — only to be attracted to same abusive type of person.
There's no question that your emotionally abusive relationship has taken a toll on you, but you don't have to suffer with the after-effects forever.
You can heal from emotional abuse and move on to become a happy, self-assured person who knows how to choose a better, kinder, more mature partner next time.
Here are some positive, practical actions you can take to accelerate the healing process:
1. Listen to your head, not your heart.
As you know, it is possible to love someone and know they are bad for you at the same time.
Your heart might be telling you how you should give him one more chance. Your heart might trigger memories of all of the good times you had with her. Your heart might compel you to pick up the phone and see how your ex is doing because you miss him so much.
All of those feelings are powerful and compelling. You've spent years with this person, and it really hurts to be separated from them. Some nights you can hardly bear it. He or she is like a drug, and you need another hit.
But the rational part of you knows without a doubt that you did the right thing. You need to be away from this abusive person who has done so much damage to you.
If you go back to this person, you'll never have a chance for real love with someone else.
Your daily mantra should be this: “Listen to my head, not my heart.”
On days when your heart is breaking, phone a friend for an intervention, and have them remind you of all the reasons you left.
2. Allow yourself to go through the stages.
Ending a relationship is almost like experiencing a death. You must go through the stages of grief and emotions in order to heal.
If you are feeling emotionally frozen right now, that's okay. Just be with that for a while. You can't force yourself to feel, and eventually your feelings will return.
If you feel hopeless, remind yourself that you have reason for feeling this way because your abuser left you vulnerable. At the same time, you can remind yourself that healing will happen and that you do have things to look forward to even if you don't believe it right now.
Keep a journal to write down your feelings. But also write down your hopes and dreams, what you want for your life moving forward, and your ideas on how you can begin again.
Even if you can't act on these things right away, they will stoke the tiny sparks of hope within you.
3. Work out your anger in constructive ways.
It is perfectly normal to feel anger and resentment about the experiences you just survived. It's normal to want to lash out at your abuser and to feel angry at yourself.
But funnel that anger in a productive way so that you don't add more angst to your life by making a knee-jerk decision (like keying your ex's car for example).
Write about your feelings in your journal. Punch your pillow. Start running or take up another aerobic exercise that helps you work off the rage.
If you can't manage the anger, and you see you're taking it out on your kids, friends, or family, then go meet with a psychotherapist who can help you vent your feelings without harming yourself or others.
4. Do something to build your self-esteem.
Your self-esteem has taken a huge hit, and it may feel impossible to like yourself again or believe you are a worthy person.
You can work on rebuilding your self-esteem by taking action and accomplishing small goals. Maybe you decide to declutter your house, take an art class, or volunteer somewhere.
Perhaps you go out and get a job (if you've been staying at home with your abuser), or you learn how to meditate, which has so many mental and physical benefits.
You don't have to take on a huge goal, but do something that will give you a small sense of triumph and hope.
Be sure to reconnect with friends and family and start socializing with them again. You need a support system and people who make you feel loved and happy.
5. Reexamine your values, opinions, and beliefs.
If your abuser stole your identity by demanding you acquiesce to his or her views, then you'll need to revisit all of your values, opinions, and beliefs to make them your own.
Ask yourself . . .
- What are your core values?
- What is your philosophy about money, raising the kids, where you live, etc.?
- What are your spiritual or religious beliefs?
- What are your political opinions?
- What movies or TV shows do you like?
- Who do you want to socialize with?
- Where do you like to eat?
Look at any area of your life where your abuser made all of the decisions, and come up with your own point of view or preferences.
Try to enjoy the freedom of redefining what you want for your life and how you want to live it.
6. Treat anxiety and depression quickly.
If you recognize the symptoms of these mental health issues in yourself, take action quickly before you sink further into despair.
Anxiety, PTSD, and depression are all highly treatable, but often when you feel so bad, you don't have the energy to pick up the phone and call a doctor or psychologist.
But do it anyway, or ask a friend to help you find someone. The longer you let it go, the worse you will feel. You can't treat these illnesses on your own, and you don't want to put your life on hold for any longer than you have to.
7. Heal, learn, and grow before dating.
You have suffered a tremendous blow to your psyche and self-esteem by living through an emotionally abusive relationship.
Most people who come out of this kind of relationship aren't ready to jump back in the saddle with a new relationship right away.
You don't want to find yourself in the same abusive situation or possibly get involved with the right person when you are emotionally unavailable and grieving.
Before you look for love again, make sure you love and like yourself. Make sure you know what a healthy relationship looks like and how you can spot an emotional abuser who might initially be charming and kind.
Examine your own behaviors and reactions in your previous relationship to see where you might need to grow and change.
As much as you want to find the right person, you also want to BE the right person so the relationship is healthy and balanced.
Acknowledge and congratulate yourself for having the courage and strength to end a bad relationship with a toxic person. But remember that you have some work to do and healing to endure.
Allow yourself plenty of time to deal with all of the leftover baggage so that you can move on with life and hopefully find love again.