My recent post Are You Being Emotionally Abused? seemed to strike a nerve with a lot of people. That means that many of you are experiencing emotional abuse in their relationships. This is (sadly) not surprising to me, in my line of work. But hopefully, it’s a comfort to realize that you’re not alone in this. It’s not your fault, and it’s not okay.
So now that you’ve acknowledged the abuse, what should you do? Here are the first steps.1) Don’t allow your partner to minimize/discount/invalidate your feelings.
That’s what emotional abuse is, to a large extent: It’s your partner privileging their feelings over yours. And when confronted, he/she is likely to go to there first: “You’re wrong”, “you’re crazy”, “you’re overreacting”, “If you didn’t do x, then I wouldn’t do y.”
But it’s all just a way of shifting the blame from them to you. And maybe sometimes you’ve allowed that because you haven’t been certain enough of your own perspective. Now’s the time to get completely clear in your own mind.
2) Talk to other people about the abuse.
An abuser’s m.o. is to isolate the victim. So you might find you don’t have many people to reach out to, that you’ve gotten far away from friends and family.
Now’s the time to reconnect. You can explain the reason you were distant, which you can recognize now. Most people will forgive you, if they’re the kind of people you want to have in your corner.
3) Seek out domestic violence resources.
Often people who are only being psychologically and emotionally abused think of themselves are very different from the people who are being physically abused. This distinction might feel like it protects the self-esteem: “I would never let my partner put his/her hands on me.” But emotional abuse degrades the self-esteem, and making this artificial distinction in domestic violence between the emotional and the physical actually just keeps you putting up with something you shouldn’t.
Does it really need to progress to the physical before you’ll protect yourself, for real?
4) Carefully consider whether your partner is capable of change.
If you’ve already confronted the person numerous times and he/she has made excuses for the behavior or blamed you and is clearly unwilling to take an accountability, then change is impossible. However, if your partner does recognize that the behavior is wrong and damaging but is having trouble with self-control, there’s much more hope. You’d then need to figure out if couples therapy is what’s needed, or individual therapy for the abuser. You might also need individual therapy yourself to deal with the impact of the abuse on how you see yourself, your partner, and the relationship.
5) If you believe that your partner will definitely continue abusing you, then you need to marshal resources and find an exit strategy.
You might be financially dependent on that person (which could have been by design–again, part of the control aspect, that the abuser is maintaining the upper hand.) In that case, you’ll have a whole host of considerations. This is why you want to be back in touch with family and friends who could potentially help, either by letting you stay with them, loaning money, connecting you with an attorney, putting out feelers to help you find a job, or giving much-needed moral support. Domestic violence resources are also invaluable in this regard.
If there are children involved and you’re hesitating to disrupt their lives, that’s certainly understandable. You need to weigh the potential damage being done to them by witnessing the abuse directly (that can impact how they view their parents and themselves, how they’ll behave in future relationships, etc.)
Or if they’re not seeing the abuse, remember that they’re still seeing its impact on you. You probably aren’t at your best when you’re feeling beaten down. It takes its toll on your energy and your mental health. Your children deserve to see you as a strong, healthy vital person. You deserve to feel that way, too.
I’ll be appearing soon at Litquake.