Recovering from an Abusive Relationship
Emotional abuse may not leave any physical marks, but the weight of the pain and the depth of the scars create burdens that other people can’t see—or choose not to. Emotional abuse tactics include criticism, control, verbal attacks, shaming, belittling language, mind games, refusal to communicate, and isolating the victim from possible support from family and friends.
The cycle of abuse—including emotional abuse— includes four stages:
- Tension building
Each of these stages traps the victim under the control of the abuser and holds the victim in a state of unreality in which the victim is made to feel as though they can not trust their own experiences.
The anguish of being controlled, put down, and isolated by somebody you share a personal relationship with involves significant consequences that stay with victims for years. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common among abuse survivors. The healing process can be complicated by outright disbelief or a lack of support when victims speak out.
You deserve to be heard. Your experience was valid. It’s time to heal. When an abusive relationship ends, the victim must face the question, “Now what?” Here are some answers to that complex question.
- Take your time.
Time is power. Time is often used in an abusive relationship to bind your affection, attention, and energy to the abuser. Abusers do all they can do to keep their victims from having power. But being out of an abusive relationship may feel more formidable than freeing. That’s totally normal.
Your abuser wanted you to feel alone, scared, and lost, and now you may feel as though there’s a hole in your life now without them. However, that’s not the reality now, and it never was.
Your life is yours to live. You can spend however much time you want on doing whatever you want. The results of abuse may have a significant impact on your ability to act on this. So, rest assured. Healing has no time limit.
- Set or reset your boundaries.
Boundaries are essential to loving both yourself and others. Boundaries let you define your limits on how you interact with others. Healthy boundaries require consistent communication. They set the levels of understanding, compassion, and accountability expected in the relationship.
Healing means recognizing that your needs do matter, and they’re your responsibility. You can choose who you surround yourself with. Your stress and anger will be reduced, you’ll have fresh mental time and space to surround yourself with people who support you.
The power is in your hands, and it isn’t going anywhere. So, it will be there when you’re ready to set or reset your boundaries.
- Forgive yourself.
Out of everything you deserve, forgiving yourself tops of the list. How your abuser treated you was wrong. You didn’t deserve it. You should not focus your energy on the fear, shame, and guilt over the situation in the present or in the future.
People may completely agree that your relationship was toxic and horrible and you were being manipulated, but they may get uneasy regarding the use of the word “abuse.”
Any form of abuse was not your fault. It doesn’t matter who the abuser was, how he or she entered your life, how long the relationship lasted, or why you stayed. Here’s what matters: You made it. You survived it. You’re free.
- Knowledge is power.
Available resources in your area will likely include relevant classes, seminars, or workshops you can attend. From conflict resolution techniques to creating healthy boundaries, there’s information waiting out there for you to discover.
A quick search will turn up other resources, such as local or online therapists, support groups, communities, organizations, and more. For many victims of abuse, therapy can be a powerful tool. Therapy can help you learn to ask for help and to take breaks when you need them.
- Take your story back.
Abusers often force their victims to accept false narratives to justify their abuse. This is the abuser’s attempt to always appear “right,” leaving the victim no voice or authority regarding what the abuser does or says except to affirm them.
There are many types of abusive false narratives. The abuser may tell the victim he or she isn’t capable of living without the abuser, that they’re “damaged goods,” or that nobody else could love them. Or, the abusers may attempt to change the victims’ reality by altering how they see themselves.
Constantly hearing a harmful, false narrative about yourself from somebody you love and trust can cause serious, long-lasting damage. But even after an abusive relationship ends, the lies your abuser told you about yourself may go on affecting the way you perceive yourself.
When the abuser is out of your life, take the opportunity to reclaim your narrative. Undoing the abuser’s manipulations and lies through can feel like an awakening. But can also be difficult to process emotionally.
Taking your story back is a very personal process. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, including sharing your experience. No matter where your story goes next, all of the choices are yours.
It’s difficult to heal from abuse and its consequences. You’re rebuilding yourself after months, years, or decades of harm. It’s normal to feel as though you’re struggling. You are. That’s what abuse does.
Don’t expect your healing to be linear. Each person will heal on his or her own timeline. The process can take months, years, or decades.
Your journey may go in different directions as you face each aspect of your situation. Resources are available every step of the way. So, know that you’re loved. You’re not alone.