Freedom from emotional abuse

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me..."


Anyone who has suffered the crippling effects of emotional abuse may tend to disagree.

Name-calling, manipulation, and criticism can lead you to doubt yourself and to even lose the very sense of who you are. Victims of emotional abuse often develop feelings of low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The trauma of emotional abuse can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Often, the victims of emotional abuse will turn their negative feelings inward, and they will come to feel worthless, not good enough, or turn to self-loathing. They may start to feel that they must be a bad person and that they do not deserve any better than to be treated that way. As the victim becomes more and more vulnerable and fragile, the abuser is able to inflict ever heavier abuse on them, and the cycle continues.

It is often very difficult for a victim of emotional abuse to see that they are being abused. Because the abuser is generally someone very familiar to the victim, the manipulative abusive behaviour creates a very confusing atmosphere for the victim. The victim will often feel very confused feelings. They may love and feel strong feelings for the abuser and even attempt to protect the abuser, because of the overwhelming effect of the manipulation.

Victims are often manipulated into being isolated from others who could potentially help them. The controlling emotional abuser’s intention is to make their victim as vulnerable and isolated as possible, in order that they are at the total mercy of the abuser. Any potential support system for the victim is eliminated, and the victim is alone with their abuser, with no one else to turn to.

Signs of emotional abuse

So, how do you recognise that you are a victim of emotional abuse? How do you seek help when your lines of positive emotional support have been cut off?

Signs that you are being emotionally abused may include:

  • they constantly put their needs over yours
  • they constantly criticise you and put you down
  • they aren’t willing to accept your feelings
  • they regularly dismiss your needs as being 'selfish' or 'needy'
  • they don’t respect your opinions, or just dismiss them
  • they regularly create arguments and disruption
  • their unpredictability makes you 'tread carefully' around them
  • they regularly highlight your flaws and mistakes
  • they punish you by withholding affection
  • they regularly use sarcasm with you and make jokes at your expense
  • they patronise you and talk down to you
  • they attempt to control who you see and when you see them
  • they spy on your social media, email, phone, and texts
  • they treat you like their possession
  • they accuse you of infidelity
  • they take control of the finances
  • they want to be with you all of the time
  • they try to stretch your boundaries and make unreasonable demands of you
  • interactions with them regularly lead to you feeling confused, misunderstood, anxious, depressed, worthless, or frustrated

If you feel that you can relate to several of these factors, you may well be a victim of emotional abuse. It is important to remember that it is not your fault. It doesn’t mean you are weak, or stupid. Absolutely anyone can be the victim of emotional abuse, and the important thing is that now that you have recognised that it is happening, you can do something about it.

You have the power to get your life back and to regain control over yourself and your emotions. You deserve to be free and happy.

Looking after yourself

Concentrate on looking after yourself. Good self-care can help you to start the process of connecting back to yourself and feeling like yourself again. When you have lost some or even all of the sense of who you are, any activity that helps you to remember who you are can be extremely powerful. This can be something as simple as taking a nice hot bath, a walk-in your favourite place, or maybe enjoying a favourite film, TV show, or music album.

Build back your support network. As you become aware of how the abuser was using manipulative techniques to isolate you from other people, you will start to want those people around you again. These are the people who can help you to rebuild your life and to be yourself again.

It is not easy and not always possible to totally cut the abuser out of your life. However, it is the best long-term hope for recovery if you can do it. With the help of supportive people, you will be able to start to look at practical and realistic ways that you can distance yourself, or work towards completely cutting the abuser out of your life.

Counselling can help you to restore the sense of self that you have lost. Through exploring and processing what you have been through, you can start to connect back to who you are and to feel like yourself again.

Counselling can help you to set boundaries within your relationships and to recognise and put into action exactly what you are willing to tolerate from others. It will help you build your sense of self-respect and self-esteem.

There is a bright future on the other side of emotional abuse. With help and support, you can rediscover your strength and rebuild your life.

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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Darlington, County Durham, DL1
Written by Ryan Grey, BA (Hons), MBACP
Darlington, County Durham, DL1

I am an Integrative Counsellor in Private Practice in Darlington, County Durham.

I counsel clients with a range of emotional and mental health issues and I continually update my skills and knowledge through training, supervision and reading of books, journals and research. I also learn continuously from my clients, as I reflect on my practise.

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