Domestic abuse, sensitivity and healing

Walking on eggshells, feeling anxious, confused, scared, depressed, overwhelmed, deflated, isolated, useless, diminished, defeated, loss of confidence, continually doubting yourself, sense of hopelessness and feeling ashamed  - the list can go on.


Domestic abuse is a difficult subject to think about, let alone talk about. Many still see domestic abuse as purely physical. Abuse comes in many other forms; mental, emotional, spiritual, coercive, manipulative, controlling, financial, narcissistic and it is very often quite subtle to begin with. On the Women’s Aid website, they state:

Coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic abuse and has been a specific criminal offence since the end of 2015. Coercive control is defined in statutory guidance as, “a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.”

Victims are regularly put down, shouted at, called names, humiliated, intimidated, insulted and devalued. They are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the abusers' life, there is very little responsibility from the abuser themselves. The abuser is then likely to try and convince everyone else that there is a problem with the victim, that they are unstable in some way.

There is generally a cycle of abuse: The tension builds, the abuser acts out, they will then apologise and possibly make excuses for their behaviour, promise that it won’t happen again, perhaps ‘treat’ the victim to a meal out or an item of clothing. There will then be periods of calm before they find something else to accuse, blame or control the victim with.

Narcissistic abuse can include excessive control, denial and trivialisation, and gaslighting – a form of psychological abuse that involves making the victim question their reality, memories and perceptions of their sanity. This causes the victim to feel anxious, confused and unable to trust themselves. 

Narcissists tend to be attracted to empaths. Kind, generous, agreeable and forgiving people who aim to be supportive and compassionate. Empaths are very caring individuals who tend to put others' needs before their own; they find caring and giving second nature, whereas a narcissist is unable to feel empathy for another. (Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, being able to put yourself in another’s shoes). The empath will try and see the good in the narcissist and can lose themselves as they internalise the abuse and blame themselves.

Many empaths, people who are highly sensitive to the energies around them (not every empathic person is an empath), find themselves in a relationship with a narcissist, 

Abusers very often come across as nice, considerate and caring individuals. Many abusers project this image as a form of control, making the victim appear to be the one with a problem. Further isolation ensues as others cannot see the problem.

So once recognised, why would someone stay in an abusive relationship? 

FEAR. Fear of what will happen if they leave, because the perpetrator has threatened to cause harm on many occasions. Fear of where to go; because they have been told that they have nowhere to go or that no one will believe them. Fear of what to do; because they have been told that they’re useless, that they can’t or won’t survive without the abuser. Fear of the future; because they have lost sight of who they are, and what they have to offer because they’ve come to believe through the abuse that they’re nothing. Fear ultimately controls what the victim does, or doesn’t, do.

And there is hope. With the right help and support a victim becomes a survivor. By healing from the trauma, learning why they found themselves in this type of relationship and learning how to be in the world in a way that supports and validates them, they learn that they can heal and move on in life. They learn that they are good enough. They learn how to live again and choose better partners in future.

Many years ago I was on the receiving end of domestic abuse. It took me three attempts to get out. It was when the police involved the Southern Domestic Abuse Service and a room became available at a women’s refuge that I was able to leave. Refuges are available for those referred to the service; those deemed to be victims of abuse.

I am also sensitive; an empath and a HSP (highly sensitive person) my absolute strength once I recognised my innate trait and what it meant. Having experienced many difficult times in my life, it is those moments that have shaped me to be the therapist I am

I have helped men and women who have been on the receiving end of psychological abuse and many of those have also been sensitive in one way or another. 

Not for those in the acute stage, I help individuals understand how they landed up with the wrong partners (because we don't want to get caught out again), help them heal and move on from their past.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liss GU33 & Petersfield GU32
Written by Helen Gibbs, MBACP, Accr. Adv. EFTi practitioner
Liss GU33 & Petersfield GU32

I am a counsellor and coach and I combine these with Emotional Freedom Technique, commonly known as tapping - a highly effective therapy to heal trauma quickly and painlessly. A part of my work is helping people see how their thoughts affect their life and how to make the necessary changes.

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