How to Overcome Emotional Abuse

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Apr 13, 2022
  • 7 min read
portrait of a millennial woman tired of problems suffering from mental abuse

The sad thing about emotional abuse is that it often comes from the people you love the most. Whether you suffer from emotional abuse in a marriage or from parents and possibly even siblings, the devastating effects are the same.

Unfortunately, over time, emotional abuse will erode a person’s sense of self-worth, leaving them unable to trust themselves at all. While this in itself can cause major issues in all spheres of life, there are far more serious consequences to consider as well.

Emotional abuse can lead to mental health conditions, which, in turn, are linked to physical health conditions. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of abuse in the long term, so read on to learn all you need to know.  

How to Recognize Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse isn’t always easy to pinpoint, especially if you’re caught up in the thick of it. Due to the fact that the abuser has calculatedly chipped away at the victim’s self-esteem, it becomes second nature for the victim to doubt their own perceptions.

Thoughts such as “Disagreements are normal in relationships” or “I deserved criticism because I messed up” can undermine the severity of the situation. However, just because the abuse is not physical, that doesn’t make it commonplace or acceptable!

Doubting one’s reality is a far cry from healthy, but this is exactly what begins to happen for victims of emotional abuse. What’s more, it often starts out “mild” and gets progressively worse over time.

Unlike disagreements in healthy relationships, emotional abuse is intentionally used as a form of control and domination.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

Abusive individuals often play on the emotions of victims in order to covertly manipulate them. In other words, if a person is being emotionally abused, they are subtly subjected to criticism or blame – specifically designed to embarrass and shame them.

Often, victims are encouraged to slowly isolate themselves from friends or family, leaving them at the mercy of the abuser without a support network. All in all, a relationship can be defined as emotionally abusive when a consistent pattern of verbal bullying occurs.

There are as many types of emotional abuse as there are abusers, but here are a few things to look out for:

Unrealistic or irrational expectations

  • Constantly dissatisfied with your efforts
  • Unreasonable demands of your time and energy
  • Inability to accept opinions that differ from their own
  • Harsh criticism for not meeting absurdly high standards

Invalidating your thoughts and feelings

  • Distorting, undermining, or dismissing you constantly
  • Inability to understand or accept your emotions
  • Asking you to explain yourself repeatedly
  • Calling you too sensitive, crazy, or overly emotional
  • Dismissing your needs and wants as absurd
  • Insinuating that you do not have a logical perception

Erratic and unpredictable behavior

  • Displaying drastic changes in mood
  • Making contradictory statements
  • Nit-picking at everything you do or don’t do

Using emotional blackmail to make you feel bad

  • Humiliating you intentionally, in private or in public
  • Manipulating you with your own fears, compassion, or values
  • Pointing out your flaws or exaggerating them
  • Denying or lying about events that took place
  • Giving the silent treatment or withholding affection

Acting superior all the time

  • Treating you as though you are inferior to them, being condescending
  • Placing blame on you for their own mistakes or flaws
  • Doubting all you have to say and frequently trying to prove you wrong
  • Informing you that your thoughts, ideas, values, or opinions don’t make sense
  • Using sarcasm or making jokes at your own expense
  • Adopting an attitude of being more intelligent and always thinking they know what is right

Controlling and isolating you

  • Trying to control who you spend time with, including family and friends
  • Monitoring your texts, social media, or emails regularly
  • Accusing you of infidelity and displaying jealousy
  • Hiding or taking your car keys from you
  • Demanding they know your whereabouts at all times, tracking you digitally
  • Treating you as though you are a possession
  • Making fun of or criticizing all of the other people in your life
  • Controlling finances

Although emotional abuse is most common in romantic relationships, millions of people around the globe suffer from the words and actions of their families. At times it might even be best to distance yourself from your father or mother for the sake of your mental health.

However, this is easier said than done, especially if you are financially dependent on your abuser. For this reason, a great number of victims want to know how to stop emotional abuse, but the truth is you cannot control the actions of another person.

It isn’t your fault if you’re being emotionally abused, and you can’t simply stop it from happening. That being said, there are many steps that can be taken to help you cope with emotional abuse if you are currently being abused.

How to Deal With Emotional Abuse in the Here and Now

No matter how long you’ve been involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, at some point, you’re bound to start believing that there is something wrong with you. The truth is that you are not to blame, and your abuser is the one with the problem.

The following tips can help you to deal with emotional abuse, but in serious cases, your best option is probably to leave for good.

Step 1: Acknowledge the abuse

The first step towards making a change in any area of life is to recognize that a problem needs to be dealt with. If you have identified aspects of emotional abuse in one of your relationships, it is important to acknowledge it.

As difficult as it may be to see your loved ones in a tainted light, you need to be honest with yourself to take back control of your life. Both in-person and online therapy can help with this, and if you’re looking to make a change, you can do so right here.

Step 2: Put yourself first

Ignoring the consequences of emotional abuse can take a serious toll on not only your mental health but your physical health as well. You need to let go of your desire to please your emotional abuser – no matter who they are.

Instead, tend to your own needs and take actions that affirm your sense of self more positively. This could be as simple as getting a good night’s rest and eating healthy, nutritious meals. You could also try using affirmations to boost your self-esteem.

Step 3: Create boundaries

Creating firm boundaries means telling your abuser that they are not allowed to yell at you or insult you in any way. Of course, they may not listen to you, so it is a better idea to attach a consequence or ultimatum to this as well.

For example, let them know that if they call you names or are rude to you, you will no longer speak to them, and you will leave the room. Be absolutely sure to follow through on these consequences, and in time, they may learn to respect you more.

Step 4: You cannot change your abuser

As much as you may love the person who is abusing you emotionally, you simply have to accept that you cannot change them. This step is one of the hardest, but it will help you understand that you are not at fault.

You cannot control the actions of other people, including the words that come out of their mouths. It isn’t possible to change another person by acting differently, and at the end of the day, being abusive is a choice. All you can do is choose to respond in the way that benefits you most.

Step 5: Try to avoid engaging

If your abuser attempts to begin an argument with you, no matter what they say, it’s best to not engage. Even if they insult you, do not take the time to defend yourself, and instead, simply walk away.

Likewise, if they are acting jealous, do not attempt to explain yourself to them or try to calm them down. Don’t apologize for something you didn’t do! Engaging with an emotionally abusive person is only going to cause more pain, because they’re irrational!

Step 6: Forge a support network

Even if it is difficult or embarrassing to open up to the people in your life about your hardships, sometimes talking about your experiences can help. It is always beneficial to spend as much time with your loved ones as possible.

However, if you’ve been isolated from all your loved ones, this step is easier said than done. In this case, it’s probably a good idea to seek out online therapy, where you will be able to talk to a trained counselor daily at a fraction of the price for in-person counseling.

Step 7: Create an exit strategy

You’ll soon be able to tell if your emotional abuser is going to change their ways or not. How long you decide to give them is a personal choice, but don’t wait too long at the expense of your health and happiness.

Every emotionally abusive relationship is different, so exit plans will vary from person to person. It’s a good idea to talk about your strategy to someone you trust, whether that is a loved one or a therapist.

Step 8: Be careful

Emotional abuse often leads to physical abuse, and if you’ve seen signs of uncontrolled rage, the time to jump ship is now. Be wary of escalating the situation during an exit, as your leaving is bound to destabilize the abuser.

Make sure you have a strategy in place before you leave, and try to exit while they are not at home! You’ll need to know you have somewhere to go and hide while you get back on your feet, so be sure to let the people in your life know what’s going on.

How to Heal From Past Emotional Abuse

If you’re wondering how to overcome trauma from emotional abuse, know that true healing can only begin once the abuse has stopped. Also, know that if your relationship was a “romantic” one, it is recommended to take some time to heal before starting a new love affair.

If you have suffered from continuous emotional abuse over months or years, you might find yourself struggling with a number of alarming symptoms. Most of these are similar in nature to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and include:

  • Unstable moods
  • Unpleasant memories or flashbacks
  • Feeling worthless, helpless, or lonely
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Insomnia and/or night terror
  • Unexplained pain which could lead to chronic pain
  • Muscle tensions which could lead to hypertension
  • Rapid pounding heartbeat
  • Hypervigilance and jumpiness
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Increased sense of shame, fear, and confusion

Unfortunately, experiencing emotional abuse (or abuse of any kind) can lead people to become overly suspicious of others. This may, in turn, cause people to push away wonderful new healthy relationships.

As a result, you may find yourself in a string of toxic, emotionally abusive relationships because you grow to become familiar with being treated badly. Familiarity can provide a false sense of normalcy, which perpetuates the cycle of toxic relationships.

If you have experienced emotional abuse long-term, it is common to develop mental illnesses, including:

How to Overcome Emotional Abuse

If you are currently being emotionally abused, there is an 8-step process (see above) that can be followed to exit the relationship. However, it is only possible to recover fully from emotional abuse once the abuse has stopped.

That being said, therapy is an important stepping stone on the path to healing, as a psychologist can help guide you through the process. Your therapist can help you understand the steps that need to be taken and to deal with any challenges that might be waiting.

A psychologist will also help you stop focusing on the needs of your abuser and instead prioritize yourself. These days, you can choose from in-person psychotherapy or online counseling. Online therapy has several more advantages that make it the go-to choice for millions globally.

For starters, the practice is more cost-effective, meaning that you can attend more sessions and pay less. Online therapy is also useful if you wish to remain completely anonymous or if you have a hectic schedule.

You can save time by not traveling to your sessions, and you can also enjoy private online therapy from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you may be). That said, both methods of counseling (online or face-to-face) hold a high degree of value.

Concluding Thoughts on Overcoming Emotional Abuse

All in all, emotional abuse can happen to anyone, and it isn’t your fault if you’ve been emotionally abused. However, if your abuser isn’t changing, it is up to you to find a way out, which is more easily done with the help of a trained therapist.

There are many different faces of emotional abuse, each as insidious as the last. At the end of the day, all forms of emotional abuse are equally damaging and can lead to a serious decline in mental and physical health.

In-person therapy, as well as online therapy, are both good options for recovering from emotional abuse, especially if you have been isolated from your support network. Don’t wait for things to get any worse, reach out today and get in touch with our amazing therapists right here.

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