Emotional abuse is the ultimate brainwashing technique. It often hides in the form of feigned helpfulness, generosity, compassion, and love. The perpetrator knows how to appear kind and caring while intertwining abusive behavior, causing their victim to become powerless.
Emotional abuse is a method of controlling, manipulating, belittling, and invalidating a person over time. It is often hard to spot in the moment as it can be seen as benign or even “normal” to most observers. But as this behavior is repeated time and time again, the insidious compound effect of this form of hidden abuse causes its victims to lose confidence in themselves, stop trusting in their own decisions, feel devalued and unimportant, and blame themselves for being the cause of, and sometimes even deserving, of the abusive behavior.
Important: If you’ve discovered that you are an emotionally abusive person and would like to change that about yourself, sign up for the life-changing Healed Being program over at healedbeing.com).
If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, I created the podcast Love and Abuse to help you navigate through the difficulties.
The purpose of emotional abuse is to control and change the victim so that the abuser doesn’t have to change, work on, or improve themselves (this article uses the terms “victim” and “abuser” for brevity and is not meant to label people as such). In fact, many abusive people don’t even believe they have a problem. By keeping the victim busy trying to fix themselves, it takes the focus off the abuser. If the abuser never looks at themselves, and they always get what they want from their victim, they will never change.
Since the perpetrator of abusive behavior is so good at keeping their victims focused on themselves, there is often no accountability for their behavior. The abuser doesn’t usually want to be vulnerable enough to look inward and do the personal growth work involved in healing. But as you’ll soon learn in this article, it is absolutely possible that an emotionally abusive person can heal and grow out of that bad behavior. But certain criteria need to be in place in order for it to happen.
Emotional abuse is really an umbrella term for labels such as psychological abuse, verbal abuse, narcissistic abuse, and more. There are also offshoots like religious abuse and financial abuse as well. Regardless of the label, they all work at disintegrating one’s emotional state. The victims of emotional abuse often report that they feel like they’re going crazy.
That’s not surprising since emotional abuse usually exists in the form of drip-fed emotional “poking” or “jabbing” meant to make the victim believe that the small, individual pokes aren’t harmful. But when someone pokes or jabs you in the same spot for months or years, and you aren’t even sure they’re doing it, you will slowly go crazy.
And on the way to “Crazy”, you’ll unknowingly let go of your self-worth, self-esteem, confidence, and any beliefs you had in your intelligence or abilities. Who you are will slowly dissolve and you will become a slave to your own feelings of worthlessness, uselessness, and the consistent guilt that you can’t do anything right. Ultimately, you will actually start to believe what the abuser is saying about you.
Whatever form emotional abuse comes in, the outcome is almost always the same:
The victim loses their power and becomes a shell of their former self.
I received a message from a victim of emotional abuse who told me she was tired of being blamed by ignorant people for getting herself into those types of relationships. She said she’d heard enough speakers and “gurus” tell her, and other emotional abuse survivors, that they chose to be victims, whether it was because they let their abusers get away with the behavior, or simply because they “attracted” the emotionally abusive person into their life.
She was angry. And she had a right to be.
Seemingly supportive and thoughtful people who wanted the best for her thought they were empowering her. In actuality, they were invalidating her experience. She’s heard more than once that it was something she was doing wrong and that she was responsible for allowing the emotionally abusive behavior into her life. She felt like the gurus were trying to convince her that she was broken in some way.
I’m sure she’s had to address many comments from people who weren’t fully informed of the depth and complexity of emotionally abusive behavior. Imagine trying to explain to others how someone is hurting you, but the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe you because they can’t see the bad behavior, even when you point it out. Or if they do see it, they might say, “Yeah, but that’s not so bad.”
It can be a very isolating and frustrating experience. Not only are you a victim of hurtful behavior from one person, but the people that are supposed to be your support system can’t justify your experiences in their minds so they start to suspect you’re nuts.
I wrote back a lengthy, supportive reply to that very frustrated woman letting her know that I completely understand where she’s coming from. She hadn’t yet listened to my podcast, Love and Abuse, so she may have thought I was also one of those ignorant people blaming the victim for their abuse.
Ten years ago, she would have been right.
Many people in abusive relationships will have supportive friends and family that don’t see the bad behavior of the abusive person. They will be entranced by the abuser’s charm, generosity, kindness, and charisma. These are all the external faces of an abusive person. To the outside world, they look like a saint.
I know this to be true because I used to be an emotional abuser.
It’s not something I proudly admit. In fact, I feel really bad about my behavior during that time of my life. But I remember being the person that used to charm my partner’s friends and family while being emotionally harmful at home.
Quite frankly, all of my partner’s friends and family loved me. They never witnessed the person she described to them. They only saw my generous nature, my sense of humor, my acceptance and open-mindedness, and my willingness to help out wherever and whenever they needed me.
Looking back at who I was, it’s easy to see why her friends were ignorant of who I really was at home. They couldn’t see in me what my partner saw. Because of that, I could do no wrong in their eyes.
Even though I didn’t exhibit the entire spectrum of abusive patterns, the behaviors I did do in my relationships over the years were very harmful to each of my partners.
After many years of healing, and also working with couples and individuals going through emotional abuse themselves, learning just how much psychological damage takes place in this type of dynamic, I hope you’ll agree with me that emotional abuse has to stop.
The destruction that happens to a person being exposed to emotional abuse so often goes unseen and un-believed because the victims have no visible scars. But the clues are there if you know what to look for. They’re in a person’s words and behaviors. And noticing the differences between who they used to be and who they are now is often a good place to start.
The first clue that someone is experiencing emotional abuse is usually a comment the abuse victim makes about how their partner got upset at something they said or did. You may first write this off as nothing but a typical relationship issue. However, upon closer inspection, if you sense a hint of guilt where none should be, or spot a glimmer of them taking the blame when there is no reason to do so, it may be a prompt for you to pay closer attention to any other signs that have been present such as:
- They used to feel good about themselves
- They spend a lot of time trying to make the other person happy
- They’re never sure where they stand in the relationship
- They analyze almost everything in the relationship
- They constantly look for approval from the other person
- They’ve lost their spark or passion for life
- They talk about their relationship constantly
The list goes on. In fact, I list two hundred signs of emotionally abusive behavior in a healing resource I created called The M.E.A.N Workbook on manipulation and emotional abuse. It helps the victim and abuser learn which specific behaviors are causing the difficulties in their relationship.
An emotionally abused person often cannot pinpoint the exact causes their partner (or friend or family member – fill in the blank with the appropriate person) is upset with them, but they will feel like they need to do whatever they can to make up for it.
The victim is usually convinced that they must have done something wrong because the abuser will play the victim well. The perpetrator of emotional abuse will trick a compassionate person to feel sorry for them so that they (the compassionate person) believe they hurt the abuser in some way and not the other way around.
Over time, the perception the victim takes on that they are to blame becomes amplified. As the weeks and months go by, the victim starts to doubt their own decisions and begins to walk on eggshells wondering how to be a better person. They will soon lose trust in their own instincts and will need to rely on the abuser more and more as their sense of self starts to erode.
The water gets hotter and the victim can’t feel the boil because they become convinced that they are solely responsible for turning up the heat, so they continue to focus on themselves trying to figure out exactly what they need to do to prove their love to the abuser. The victim seeks validation, wanting to be seen as worthy and wonderful in their partner’s eyes.
What’s really happening though isn’t that the victim is doing anything wrong, it’s that they are being manipulated into thinking they are. The emotional abuser learns with precision how to manipulate and control the other person so that they can’t figure out which way is up. It doesn’t happen overnight though, it happens over time.
One single act of control or manipulation isn’t seen as such, it is seen as “something we all do.”
At least, that’s how friends and family will put it. The victim of abuse will have one of those well-meaning friends say something like, “He got upset at you because you spent too much time with your mom? Aww, he sounds like he misses you! I could see me doing that to my partner too.”
A single moment such as this isn’t the problem. It is the repeated behaviors and patterns that compound over time, slowly disintegrating one’s self-worth and self-esteem, making the victim of such behavior have a hard time trying to figure out what’s happening, and making it very difficult to convince anyone else what’s going on in the relationship because they can’t figure it out themselves.
Emotional abuse is elusive and comes in many forms. But the worst, most insidious kind gets played out as tiny, seemingly innocent behaviors that, to the casual observer, appear to be “normal relationship issues”. The reality is that these behaviors are actually erosive psychological “stabs” cleverly crafted to look benign and make the victim feel as if they are doing it to themselves.
Emotional abusers persuade their victim (and everyone else outside the relationship) that the victim is the cause of all their own suffering and is also the reason the relationship is failing.
The abuser makes the victim look like the perpetrator of the problems.
The abuser will even go as far as to act completely calm and rational while their partner gets upset, looking like the irrational one to outside observers (and to themselves). And as the victim wears down from repeated abusive behavior, so do their defenses and logic. This is why so many victims can’t tell if they’re actually in an abusive relationship. Once logic is broken down and eradicated, it’s difficult to make sense of what’s happening.
If you’re curious if you or someone you care about is experiencing emotional abuse, just watch for personality changes over time. If you’re not trained to see the red flags of abusive behavior already, at least be observant of behavior that you can see.
For example, when someone you know goes from confident and sure of themselves, to doubtful and hesitant about making decisions (usually in just a few weeks or months, but it can happen over longer periods of time as well), it’s possible someone in their life is manipulating or trying to control them.
If they are always sharing how terrible of a person they are to their partner or that they keep messing up in the relationship, it may not be them at all. It could be the person behind the scenes filling their brain with false information.
The hardest part about learning to spot emotional abuse is that, often, the abusers will appear to be kind, caring, and generous. Because of that, it’s easy to be tricked by them. They show one face to the world and another at home. They seem authentic and genuine but become another person when they know no one is watching.
Like I said earlier, I used to be this way with my partners too. My bad behavior consisted of being highly judgmental about behaviors I didn’t agree with, withdrawing my emotions if I didn’t get what I wanted, and crafting my language in a way that made my partner feel guilty about herself (causing her to withdraw and feel like she didn’t matter).
And I did all of this in a way that made her believe that she was doing something wrong. She blamed herself for not being good enough instead of directing her anger or upset toward me. Unfortunately, I knew how to plant those deceptions in her head. It is behavior I regret, but I share this with you not only for complete transparency of my past, but to give you a unique perspective to help you understand the possible motives and behaviors of an emotionally abusive person.
I was controlling and manipulative with every woman in my life until my divorce. The end of my marriage is when I finally woke up and realized I needed to start focusing on healing myself instead of trying to change others.
When my wife wanted to split up, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It would hit most people that way of course, but this was especially painful because in that moment, I realized my entire life was a series of failed relationships that each ended with my partner leaving me. Every relationship I got into started off great, but over time my partners would become distant and eventually break it off with me.
During the separation from my wife, I made the conscious choice to figure out what was causing my partners to leave me all the time. I decided to focus on me for the first time in my life, and accept that I was the common denominator for all my relationship failures.
I believed marriage was supposed to last “forever”, so when my wife wanted to leave the relationship, it made me realize if I didn’t reflect on how I kept causing this, I’d never have a successful relationship. I had to figure out what I was doing wrong.
My wife left but we stayed in touch with the idea that perhaps we needed a little break. This thought did ease the pain a bit, but I was still scared. I needed to resolve this issue so it never happened again in this relationship or any other.
While she was gone, I had all the alone time I needed to search for answers. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to find them because I finally changed where I was looking. After so many years of pointing at other people as the cause of all my problems, I made the choice to search someplace I never had before…
Any other time of my life, I’d look at the people in my world and figure out what they were doing wrong and what they needed to do to change for me. I was convinced the cause of all my relationship challenges was in them, not me. I believed if they were upset at me about something I said or did, it was just their inability to acknowledge the flaws I saw in them. I “knew” I was right and that they needed to fix themselves.
It was so much easier looking outside myself for the answers to my relationship problems all those years. But when I decided to take responsibility and look inward instead, I discovered something I didn’t know was there:
A lack of boundaries.
That may not seem like an obvious connection to my bad behavior. After all, what do personal boundaries have to do with being emotionally abusive toward someone else?
The answer is that I was living in a world where I was afraid to ask for what I wanted. I carried around the fear of expressing myself or letting people know what behavior was acceptable and what wasn’t. I hated confrontation and didn’t want to be truthful with others because of my fear of the consequences.
Again, it might seem odd to connect a lack of boundaries with acting badly toward those you claim to love, but when you don’t have boundaries, you may choose to instead manipulate those around you. After all, if you can make others do what you want, you don’t even have to have boundaries!
And that was exactly what I did. Without the need for boundaries, I manipulated the people I loved to satisfy my wants and needs.
There is no point in knowing and enforcing your boundaries if you can just manipulate people to do anything you want. When you succeed at manipulation, everyone’s behavior is acceptable because you made them behave the way you wanted. You don’t need boundaries if you coerce others into compliance with your standards.
I’m not saying that those who don’t know and enforce their boundaries will become manipulative, but they are more likely to because of a fear of the consequences of honoring themselves.
If you don’t have boundaries, you develop other ways to get your needs met. And you may meet those needs by being manipulative and controlling, the primary components that make up emotionally abusive behavior.
A lack of boundaries was my downfall and the cause of the demise of every relationship I’ve ever been in.
I remember the day I made the connection between personal boundaries and emotional abuse. I was sitting in my bedroom one day, a few days after my wife moved out, and I was wondering how I kept messing up all of my relationships.
Then a thought came to me that changed everything. It was a realization that made my current and past relationship mistakes crystal clear and started my journey of healing. That realization was this:
If I’m so upset by the way my partner behaves, then why don’t I just honor myself and leave?
That may not sound so profound when you read it here, but in that moment, it was a revelation.
I saw the light! In the split second after I had that thought, I realized that during my marriage, every time I judged my wife and made her feel bad, it was really just an excuse and a distraction for me to not have to do something for myself. I knew making the effort to change myself would be too much for me to handle.
In other words, I was committed to this relationship no matter what. Even if that meant I had to control her behavior.
I needed to control behavior I couldn’t accept because that was all I knew how to do. And since the primary goal for every relationship I’ve ever been in was to keep the relationship at any cost, I did everything in my power to make sure they didn’t leave me.
I did that through deception, manipulation, and control. I wasn’t always awful of course. I had a lot of great qualities as a partner too. For instance, I was supportive, emotionally connected, liked to laugh, and encouraged my partners to follow their path in life. However, if they did something I didn’t want or accept for my life or what I wanted in a relationship, that’s when my alter ego showed its ugly face.
If she wanted to eat junk food or get a tattoo and I had a problem with those things (which I did back then), I would make her feel bad so that she would conform to the way I wanted her to be. That way, I didn’t have to leave the relationship. I still wanted to be with her, but I wanted to control her too.
Whatever she did that I didn’t like, I made it my responsibility, my duty, to change her so that she did the “right” thing. Her changing would serve me and only me. I knew if I could mold her into exactly what I wanted, I wouldn’t have to change myself. It was the epitome of selfish, narcissistic behavior.
Since I had no personal boundaries, I never asked for what I wanted nor did what I felt was right for me. I just manipulated and controlled my partners over the years so that I didn’t have to enforce boundaries that I never developed. It was the easy way out for me.
When I uttered those words, “If I’m so upset by my wife’s behavior, why don’t I just leave?“, my heart sank. I didn’t actually want to leave. I didn’t want to have to face the reality that I would have to end things, and that I would be alone.
I especially didn’t want to be the bad guy. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for ruining the relationship even though I was practically solely responsible for doing that very thing already. I wanted what I wanted regardless of her thoughts and feelings. But I chose to make her feel bad instead of being the bad guy. In hindsight, I can see how cowardly that was. I caused her to suffer so that I didn’t have to.
When I said, “…why don’t I just leave?” aloud to myself, I had to process those words. I never considered leaving anyone before. It just popped into my head. Those words were a challenge to my heart and mind because it meant that if I really want things to change, I’d have to change myself.
The words put me outside of my default behavior of manipulating to get what I want. It was the first time I chose to consider her emotional well-being.
I sat there pondering and reflecting on my marriage, trying to understand my behavior over the years. I thought, “Have I really never considered her well-being?”
And beyond that, I came to an even bigger realization: My bad behavior was actually hurting my wife.
I never got this before!
I never empathized with her or any of the people I’ve hurt over the years. I only acted selfishly. It didn’t matter to me what she wanted in those moments. When I was being manipulative and controlling, the only person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions that mattered to me were mine.
At other times, I’d be caring and loving. My empathy was fully active and I had a lot of great qualities that I believe most people would want in a partner. But if I didn’t like something she was doing, I turned off the empathy and pulled out my emotional daggers.
I was finally starting to understand the pain I was causing her, and also realizing what I’d done to her and every partner before her as well. For the first time, I put myself in her shoes and “tried on” my own behavior against myself. I asked myself, “If she were judging me, giving me disapproving looks, commenting on what I ate or how much I exercised, or withdrawing love and attention from me, how would that make me feel?”
After a few minutes of visualizing what this would be like, I felt like throwing up. For the first time, I accessed the pain that I was inflicting on her and all my partners throughout life. I felt awful.
‘Trying on’ being the victim of my own behavior, I felt unloved, unworthy, and unimportant to the one person who was supposed to love me the most and make me feel on top of the world. It was a horrible and lonely feeling and I finally understood how I made the people I was supposed to love feel.
When my divorce papers arrived making the dissolution of my marriage final, reality struck. Along with sadness, I felt like I would never meet anyone that loved me that much ever again. I believed she was my only chance at love and happiness. The end of my marriage felt like the end of the road for me.
But the end of the road always seems to have a side street of healing if you choose to take it. I had already started working on myself and understanding my behavior before that day, but I still had a lot of healing left to do to make sure I never acted that way again, whether I got into another relationship or not.
It was vital I healed from the fears I held on to for so many years. I needed to address, process, and heal from my fear of being alone and being rejected or abandoned.
I needed to work on my boundaries, figuring out what I will and won’t accept in life. I also needed to learn that relying on another person as my sole provider of love and happiness was the fastest way to drain that person of their energy and cause the relationship to disintegrate.
And finally, and probably most importantly, I needed to learn and practice acceptance.
If wanting to change someone comes from judgment, then supporting who they are and how they show up, even if you disagree with who they are and how they show up, is acceptance.
In fact, that understanding helped shape my new definition of love:
Love is supporting another person’s path to happiness, even if it means they are on a different path than you.
In my current relationship, my girlfriend told one of our mutual friends that she has never heard me judge her once. When she said that, I couldn’t believe it because that was never me. I was floored by her comment because after I did so much healing around the judgments and fears I carried for many years, I didn’t even realize how noticeable not judging someone actually was.
I didn’t make that connection because it hadn’t occurred to me how normal judgmental and other hurtful behavior can be. My heart grew warm when she said those words not only because it was a sweet thing for her to say, but it reminded me of how far I’d come.
The emotionally abusive person doesn’t have to continue their bad behavior. They can change if they are willing to put in the work it takes to look inward instead of trying to find the fault in others. And it takes a lot of work because it isn’t only about stopping bad behavior, it’s about replacing bad behavior with healthy, supportive behavior that you actually want to do.
That’s why I made it imperative that I learned what boundaries were and how to enforce them. I wanted to make sure all of my decisions came from a place of honoring myself, not dishonoring someone else. I also worked on my fear of abandonment and fear of being alone. I traveled a long road of healing that I still travel today.
I’m a completely different person now than who I was, and I barely recognize that old me anymore. I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, but also aware that the old me may try to show up every now and then because of triggers I am unaware of.
The old me wants to judge and control the people I love. Fortunately, the new me prefers supporting other people’s happiness and allowing them to be whoever they want to be. This is the “me” I continually work on.
Whenever “old me” thoughts pop into my head, they are a reminder that there is always work to do. And just because I haven’t yet eradicated all of that toxic thinking doesn’t mean I’m that person anymore.
In fact, when an unhealthy thought comes into my mind, the first thing I say to myself is, “Wait, what is this? Where did this come from?” Then I stop whatever I’m doing and work on it. I dig into the origin of the thought and try to determine why I’m still carrying it around.
There are some things in life we are always working on healing in ourselves. The goal is to continue on that path until the challenge is no longer present. In other words, when you no longer feel the need to do the old, unhealthy behavior, you can put more time and energy into other areas of your life.
When you work on yourself and you’ve done some healing, you become more aware of what still needs work. You will be triggered by different events throughout life and, because of that, you may not even know you have these triggers until you are triggered.
In other words, twenty years could go by and you’ve done all the healing you can do, then suddenly something happens that never happened before (or hasn’t happened in a long time) and you end up repeating behavior that you thought was gone for good.
If this happens, be gentle on yourself.
You cannot possibly predict every scenario that will ever occur and you may never know what emotional triggers are still lingering inside you until the perfect stimulus comes along causing you to react. But until then, you can only do the best you can do.
The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this article conveyed a lot of anger in her message to me. She was tired of so-called smart people saying things to her that made her feel like she was to blame because they didn’t understand the breadth of emotional abuse. They didn’t get the insidious nature of the behavior and how it happens over a long period of time, which is why it’s so difficult to pinpoint any single incident as being “bad”.
She heard over and over again from friends, family members, and even professionals that perhaps she wasn’t seeing things clearly. They couldn’t see the abusive behavior behind the curtains so they simply chalked it up to her being too sensitive or blind to the kindness that everyone else saw in her partner.
She felt alone, misunderstood, and even blamed for something that was being done to her. You want to talk about crazymaking? This was a big component of it. She had nowhere to turn and very few people believed her.
This is why emotional abuse has to stop. The victims get blamed and the perpetrators walk away looking like they can do no wrong. If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s time to get very clear on the behaviors that are causing you to feel bad. Start to learn the terms of emotional abuse such as gaslighting, triangulation, emotional and narcissistic abuse, isolation, manipulation, stonewalling, silent treatment, and more.
Get familiar with the helpful terms you may need as well like “no contact” and “gray rock”. If you’ve talked to the person doing the bad behavior and it doesn’t stop, you need to be prepared to take steps to get away from it.
If you are the perpetrator of emotional abuse and you’d like to stop doing this behavior, please know that none of this was meant to position you as an awful person. Good people can do awful behavior, just as good people can stop doing awful behavior.
As I said previously, I was there so I understand what you might be going through. Just remember that I was able to heal from this, and so can you.
Both the abuser and the victim need to heal from emotional abuse. My healing took a lot of work. But it was worth it. My life changed dramatically. I’m happy now and no longer in a constantly triggered state (which was very tiring). Today I’m in the best relationship of my life. And it is the first time I have felt peaceful and calm in a relationship. Ever.
There is healing for both the victim and the abuser as long as both are willing to do whatever it takes to get there. It’s important to understand that you may not be able to get there together either. You may have to travel the healing path without the other person in your life.
It is very humbling and vulnerable to do it together, and it can be done, but not always. So if you want to work together on this, that’s great. Just remember that sometimes the abuse has created so much hurt and fear, and one’s defensive walls are so high, that there may be little healing until there’s been a break away from each other. The brain fog can lift faster when you are away from those who may have created it, helping you to think more clearly.
Sometimes, quite frankly, the victim may never want to return. If that’s the case, that is okay too. Remember that love is supporting the other person’s path to happiness, even if they are on a different path than you.
If someone’s path takes them away from you, it’s because they are honoring what’s right for them. Honoring someone honoring themselves is showing the deepest respect for that person. It is truly a loving thing to do.
Whether you are the victim or the abuser, remember your boundaries. The abuser needs to learn what their boundaries are so they focus on themselves, figuring out what they want and don’t want in their life, just as the victim needs to stand up for themselves and walk the road that’s best for them.
Not all relationships can be saved, but people can. People can elevate above emotional abuse on both sides. Both the victims and the perpetrators need to stand up and do what’s right for themselves. That means taking their focus off each other and learning what their boundaries are and how to honor them so that they can bring the best version of themselves into the world.
The victim can honor their boundaries by learning what emotionally abusive behavior is and how it works so that they can make informed decisions. The perpetrator can learn about and honor their boundaries by realizing the only person they can change is themselves.
Emotional abuse is futile behavior that only leads to hurt and sadness. Relationships never, ever improve because of emotional abuse, they only degrade and spiral into pain.
If you are the abuser, it’s time to let go of the fantasy that you can control or manipulate anyone into conforming to who you want them to be. People don’t like being controlled. They don’t like being made to feel bad. They love when others allow them to be exactly who they want to be. And they love those who support their happiness.
No matter which side of the fence you are on, you can get through this. There is healing and a path to freedom from abuse. And you deserve to be on that path. You are amazing.
For more information on how to identify toxic behavior and poisonous communication, tune into the Love and Abuse podcast.
If you would like to change your own emotionally abusive behavior, visit healedbeing.com to start your healing journey today.
All information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. Always seek the guidance of a medical or psychological professional before making any changes that could affect your physical or mental well-being.
I have been with my boyfriend for almost 3 years now and I am emotionally abusive. Growing up a lot of traumatic things happened to me. I was adopted from Russia at a very young age which resulted in Reactive attachment Disorder, my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 12( I am 21 now), and I was forced into the troubled teen industry for 5 years (13-18) because of my RAD.
My boyfriend is one of most supportive and accepting people I’ve ever met. He genuinely just wants me to be happy, especially after everything I have been through. It has become a pattern for me to yell and berate him when I am feeing frustrated, insecure, hurt, triggered, etc. I don’t want to treat him like this anymore.
I don’t want to break up with him, but I do feel bored with him a lot of the time, but I imagine that could change when I stop expecting so much from him.
I am very controlling however it is because I was controlled by others for so long. My parents sending me to treatment, staff in those treatment centers telling me what to do, I would have to ask a staff if I could go outside, paint my nails, use make up, have a snack, watch TV or a movie, or talk to one of my other friends in the center ( I was allowed no contact with anyone outside of the treatment center except my family twice a week: One 15 minute phone call being monitored by a staff and one 1 hour family therapy session a week.) , etc. They were allowed to say no. I was not allowed to even go on a walk to cool down or relax unless a staff agreed to go with me. We had specific meal times, outings, and at one of the centers I had a point card that if you didn’t make enough points you had to sit and write essays all night long and would lose even more points (this was called a consequence) if you tried to socialize or didn’t write a good enough essay. After I left that center it was later revealed by old staff there that it was rigged against you and that the staff would get in trouble if they weren’t giving out enough consequences. I had NO control. So it is very scary for me to think about that being taken away again.
I am on a waitlist to start seeing a therapist. I would see one at each treatment center but I would be ripped away from someone I shared my deepest insecurities, fears, and traumas with after a year, never talk to them again, and then would be told to do it all over again like it was nothing, I was being “treated’ for my abandonment and attachment issues!! I’m excited to finally work with a therapist long-term.
I do love him, like someone else commented, he is the introverted and the quiet type, he doesn’t want to stir the pot when I am having one of my break downs. I believe that makes it easy for me to continue to do it to him, however he has stood up for himself a few times, but when he does I just turn it back on him, “You need to have more patience with me” “You don’t know what I’m going through, your life has been a cake walk compared to mine.” He’s in a losing argument because I won’t let him win.
I don’t let him walk away, if he does I follow him because I get that abandonment feeling if he’s the one to walk away. He always tries to fix it and apologize after a fight because I make him feel like he’s the person doing something wrong when I’m the one who started calling him dumb and a loser or yelling at him out of nowhere.
I know it’s wrong, I’m in a very vicious cycle that I can’t seem to break out of. I really want to though, I want to feel happy and romantic and loving towards him. We have some really happy and cute moments that make me feel like I’m falling in love with him all over again. I know all he wants is for us to be happy too and would support me during the journey of working through this and getting past this.
I love him so much. Please offer any advice that you may have, I found your article really helpful and insightful. “Supporting another person’s path to happiness, even if it means they are on a different path than you.”
meant a lot to me because we have different interests but I’m not accepting of the interests that he has that are different from mine. I label it as weird or nerdy or annoying, which it’s not, I’m just controlling. The first step I’m going to take is to keep that in mind when he does something that doesn’t interest me. Instead of scold him, just let it roll off my shoulders and try to not let it bug me.
“I felt unloved, unworthy, and unimportant to the one person who was supposed to love me the most and make me feel on top of the world”.
Because of treatment, he is my first boyfriend and a lot of the time I forget that is my job to make him feel loved more than anyone else. I act selfishly and accept his love but don’t reciprocate it as much as I should. I’m used to only having to look out for myself for so long that it’s hard to do that for someone else. I wonder if we need to take a break so I can work on myself, but at the same time he gives me the space I need to do that, and if he’s not, all I have to do is ask and he gladly will.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this. I have one question for you:
Do you feel safe with him? I don’t mean do you feel unsafe around him, I mean, do you know for a fact that no matter what happens, he’ll have your back – He’ll protect you?
The reason I ask is quite often in the type of relationship you describe, the attacking or defensive person (you in this case) never feels safe enough to let her guard down and because of that, can’t feel relaxed around the person she loves.
I was like him many years ago. I was kind, caring, permissive, and really allowed my girlfriend to be harsh and aggressive toward me.
One day during one of her aggressive episodes, I had enough and told her to back off. I said it clearly and assertively. She stopped in her tracks and I think for the first time realized that I wouldn’t let her steamroll me.
Later, we both laughed about that and she said something that surprised me: “I’m so glad you did that. I’m glad to know you won’t let me steamroll you. I want to know I’m with someone that can handle himself.”
There were other incidents too that showed her that when she crosses the line, I’m going to put her in her place. She respects that about me – not because she thinks I’m a jerk or harsh or a tough guy, but that I’m showing up as someone who is secure in himself and is not willing to let her or anyone treat me like a doormat.
So that’s why I asked the question, “Do you feel safe with him?”
Do you feel like you can be the woman you want to be around him? If he is only defending himself, you may see that as a weakness. You may see it as, “Hey, you’re being mean. Stop it!” when maybe you want to hear, “You better back off bitch because you’ve crossed the line.”
I could be way off of course, but I know many people, often women but not always, that want to see this strength in their partner. They want to look up to their partner and admire them in some or many ways.
If you see him as weak, that may get you angry maybe for the sole purpose of trying to pull out his strength.
Again, I could be way off, but I wanted to present that as a consideration in case you’ve not explored this yet.
Thank you again for sharing. I’m glad you recognize behavior in yourself that could use some healing and growth. Yes, you probably have some work to do on yourself here too 😉
I came to basically the same realization you did, in pretty much the same way. It was after meeting with my therapist for only the second time. My therapist did what a good therapist does. He listened not necessarily to what I said, but how I said it. My therapist made me stop, think about how I said things, and say them again out loud. It was in that instant that I knew I am an unknowing emotional abuser. A whole lot of feelings flowed out of me and still are. I cannot even begin to process the amount of pain I caused my wife. After so many years of blaming her for actions she took, it dawned on me that I was blaming the wrong person. I am obviously a long way from becoming a better human, but I know the journey will be bumpy and painful. But worth it in the end. As far as my relationship, we are separated and that is a good thing. I sincerely hope we are able to reconcile, but also understand if we cannot. My situation has given what I need for now. The ability to come to terms with being alone and to focus on being the best father I can be.
It sounds like you are in the right place Jonathan. I expressed this very sentiment (focusing on yourself regardless if you stay together or not) in another comment below (see my reply to Shannon).
I can totally resonate with the feelings you are experiencing. It’s empathy squared. I think your realization and subsequent feelings and emotions about how you’ve been treating your wife is one of the main keys in healing.
Like I said to Shannon, your focus on yourself right now is going to be vital and will be the closest to any sliver of possible reconciliation that could occur. In other words, healing yourself will be what is convincing to anyone else, not convincing anyone else that you are changing, if that makes sense.
I appreciate you sharing all of this and I wish you much strength and healing on your journey.
I am in the exact same situation. Exactly. After 30 years of marriage I’m just now realizing the damage I’ve done.
Thank you for sharing this. The first step to healing is discovery, but it can also be a shock to your system (it was for me). You can start the healing process by staying focused on yourself and what you need to do.
There is no guarantee about the relationship, but as long as you’re healing and growing, you are not doing the behaviors you used to do. This does get noticed by those you’ve hurt. They may or may not trust what they see, but don’t let that take your focus off yourself.
I wish you much strength and healing through this. You can also get the first four lessons of my very effective and self-paced course for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change over at https://healedbeing.com. Thanks again for sharing.
I don’t know if I am the emotional abuser, or riding on the line of emotional abuse in my relationship. My partner is somewhat avoidant, I am somewhat anxious although mostly secure. His behaviour is sometimes really odd – things have to be on his time, he is not present so I often feel alone, asking him for help always ends up in drama if it’s not 100% convenient for him, he can be a brick wall if I confront him, etc. Whenever these things happen, I have no problem confronting him, explaining why I am upset, and that this can’t go on for me, but it’s up to him how he wants to proceed. The great thing is, he agrees with me and chooses to change his behaviour. But there were so many little or big weird things he did over the course of a year, so I ended up feeling like all I did was constantly judge and adjust him (only if he was willing). I really didn’t want to do that anymore, I felt exhausted and so hurt and rejected by him, and have finally drawn my boundary and ended things. However, does this mean that I was the emotional abuser for sticking with this for so long and not drawing a boundary sooner?
Hi Jessica. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
“Sticking with it” is not usually a component of emotionally abusive behavior, as far as trying to work things out.
Establishing boundaries sooner would have been a very good idea for sure. Once the boundary is established, you can enforce it if it’s violated. It makes the relationship easier believe it or not, because the other person can choose to violate your boundaries or not. If they do, they know there are consequences (assuming you are making sure there is accountability, which is important for this to work).
However, in the situation you describe, you got to a breaking point. There’s a big difference in what I talk about in the article and what you experienced.
In my marriage, I had boundaries but the way I tried to enforce them was by being manipulative and controlling.
In your relationship, you had boundaries but weren’t using manipulation or control, you were giving him a chance to honor your boundaries because you agreed upon a possible solution to the problems.
In my situation, I had sky high standards that my wife could never meet. In your situation, you had minimum standards like love and connection that he couldn’t meet.
Your expectations were reasonable and therefore it made sense that you always felt like you couldn’t get enough of the basic requirements of a loving partnership. Your expectations were made up of the basic components of a romantic relationship. Mine were made up of other components that were above and beyond the basics of any relationship.
The ground floor of a relationship is typically built on love, respect, trust, support and other important aspects. You didn’t even have a ground floor. The emotionally abusive person will often have a ground floor, then they want more and more. They want to control more aspects of the other person and the relationship, molding it to their standards and they are never satisfied with the ground floor components, if that makes sense.
In my marriage, I had a loving, supportive, respectful, and caring wife, so that ground floor was solid. I ruined it by wanting to control more aspects of her very identity – of who she was and how she behaved even though everything we needed was already established (that ground floor stuff).
I wrote most of this out as I was thinking out loud so I hope it makes sense. But from what you shared, you were not emotionally abusive. You were just trying to get those ground floor needs met and you gave him an opportunity to do so. He couldn’t do it so you had to draw the line. This is a healthy boundary. This is a necessary boundary because when you don’t get your basic needs met, you will starve and suffer. Same goes for the basic needs in a relationship.
I hope this multi-faceted reply is helpful. Thanks for helping me to clarify my thoughts here as well. 😉
Establishing boundaries late in the game is not usually emotionally abusive behavior either, though the emotionally abusive person doesn’The emotionally abusive person doesn’t often consider leaving as they just find ways to control or manipulate the person or circumstances so they don’t have to leave. There are many exceptions to this of course. But from what you describe, you were trying to make things work. It doesn’t sound like your behavior was abusive at all. It could have felt nitpicky and micromanaging, but it was in an effort to get your needs met.
It’s like being trapped inside your own body, watching someone else control and do or say bad things to the one person you love. Except you are completely in control of your own body and actions. Horrible words spill out of you mouth like projectile vomit, leaving the reminance of foul, bitter and sour taste on the tip of your tongue. You are shocked by them; experiencing them for the first time, as if they weren’t your own thoughts. They come from dark places, buried deep within your own mind. Your inner, rationale voice screams out for you to stop. You know what you are doing is wrong; you don’t want to say the things that you are saying. You feel like you are being puppeteered, every word filled with regret and guilt. Your true self and thoughts feel like they are being stuffed down; trapped inside a monster; a monster that you can not face in the mirror. Your inner voice pleads for them to run; to escape from the demon that resurfaces past traumas and thoughts, which have no place in the real world. You are the monster, you choose to sit ideally by while it projects your insecurities onto your loved one, as a means of protection. You convince yourself that it is the only way to survive, while inflicting the same pain and trauma that was once inflicted upon you. You try to put yourself in their shoes; trying to remember how it felt when it was done to you, but all you feel is a sickening numbness. A blank memory that leaves you feeling empty and unsure. Please let me go, I don’t want to be apart of your anger and destruction anymore
Thank you so much for sharing this. It is a true account of what can happen to those who know they’re being hurtful and want to stop but can’t. There’s a point of no return almost. There’s healing that’s needed for sure and hopefully you are on a healing path.
Thank you again. I wish you much strength through this.
Yes. This story resonates so directly, only I’ve just realized that my reactions were/are not justifiable. I always felt, as the wounded one, my angry words and hurtful jabs were/are their fault…and one day they may see it. I’m so taken back. Thank you for your words.
Thanks so much for sharing this. You sound like you are in the place I was. I wish you much healing and strength for whatever you’re going through right now.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have on and off emotionally abused my now fiancee for 6 plus years(accusing of cheating), I am only now realising the gravity of the situation as she has decided to cancel our wedding which was due to happen in a few months. I feel a deep sense of guilt and shame and have started going to counselling. We have 2 young kids together and I feel like I have let them down by my past actions. She is saying even though I have started counselling and have tried to demonstrate a change, that she doesn’t love me in a romantic way any more. She says she wants to stay with me for a while and see if the feelings come back but has bluntly said she’s not sure if the damage has been done and its too late. I feel like I’m living in limbo feeling ashamed and guilty, no affection from her as she views me as a friend at the moment. I don’t know what to do other than keep demonstrating that I have changed this time. I love her so much and can’t bear to think of losing her.
Thanks so much for sharing this Shannon. One of the most important steps you need to take right now is support how she feels about you either way. If she doesn’t love you anymore, say “I completely understand” and support that. If she says she might need time, “I completely understand.”
The reason is because your focus needs to be on YOU and what you need to do to heal. If you spend the majority of the time trying to prove to her that you are changing, then you are no longer focused on you.
In a long-term relationship, many emotional abusers spend the majority of their time trying to coerce, convince, manipulate and lie to the person they love. So when the EA realizes their behavior is bad and hurtful and they want to change, doing whatever you can to convince that same person that you are changing is exactly the same to them. More words and more empty promises, even if you are actually changing and not deceiving at all. The victim of emotional abuse has lost their trust and cannot be convinced unless it comes from within them, not out of you.
The only way to convince anyone you’ve changed is by focusing on you and making you the most important person that needs the most help regardless if you stay together or not. This is the hardest part of the journey for the emotionally abusive person and many cannot do this. They think it’s more important to talk to their loved one and convince them how much they’ve changed. But the loved one has heard it all before. They don’t want words. They want to see with their own eyes the changes going on without being told to look. They want to be able to convince themselves with no outside help that they can now start to trust again.
Many former emotional abusers that are trying to repair the relationship fail. Not because they haven’t changed, but because the work they are doing on themselves seems to have no effect on their relationships. Many EAs will work on themselves for the sole purpose of fixing their relationship instead of healing themselves. Because of that, they lose the relationship.
The emotional abuser’s journey is all about self-focus and self-reflection and healing the self regardless of the status of the relationship. Seriously. It has to take priority OVER the relationship. If you stay focused on her and proving anything to her, you will lose her.
When you focus on yourself and you are committed, and she sees that you are committed, I believe that’s the only chance you have at saving anything, if there’s anything left to save.
And even with that, it’s not certain. And this is where the true test of healing comes into play: When the emotionally abusive person is on a healing path, and they are committed to that path, they are willing to do whatever it takes to heal EVEN IF IT MEANS LOSING THE RELATIONSHIP.
Yes, it’s that important. And if you make it not that important, she will start to see the desperation and the fear come out of you that you are going to lose her. And that will very likely drive her away because manipulation and control come from a place of desperation and fear.
I know this is tough. The path is scary. And the end doesn’t always mean “the end”. But continue to work on yourself as if your own life depended on it (not hers, not your kids, no one else) because emotionally speaking, it does. Your life will change and the old emotional triggers that once set you off will dissipate and ever disappear. When that happens, those you love won’t even recognize you anymore. And that is a good thing, because that old you is what got you into this mess in the first place.
I wish you much strength and healing on your journey. Also, you can get the first four lessons of my very effective and self-paced course for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change over at https://healedbeing.com to help you with your healing journey.
Thank you so much for this article. I have been reading and researching emotional abuse since my partner said that I was emotionally abusive and said I was a narcissist. I’ve struggled with accepting this, however I still want to make efforts to address it because I want to be a better person overall, whether I’m with this partner or not.
I understand that I struggle with a lot of self doubt and self esteem issues, that I admit I sometimes project onto him, questioning his fidelity, reacting to perceived situations rather than talking them out, or making accusations in those conversations rather than just asking questions to get answers, or not believing those answers. And on the flip side, I have asked my partner plainly “If you’re unhappy with how I am, why not just leave”, to which he seems to take offense to. I recently stated that I was possibly just not fit to be with anyone at all, because we are constantly arguing around the same topics (the role my self-esteem plays out in our relationship dynamic), and I also feel as though my efforts are futile or unseen. The silliest part of it all is that I’m a couples therapist. Le’sigh.
I have a friend who fears I’m the one being emotionally abused and manipulated, and sometimes I feel that way too. I feel as though my partner fits the descriptions of being an emotional abuser, manipulative, narcissist, with the failed past relationships to go along with it. However, he has gloated in argument that all of his exes would take him back, so it can’t be anything that he’s doing. So I guess, I’m trying to figure that out, so I can really get myself on track with being a better human being. I’m not sure if finding out if I’m the “victim” or “abuser” will make much of a difference. Any suggestions to help with this step?
Thanks for sharing here. The good news is you’re probably not a narcissist. I suppose it’s possible you have narcissistic tendencies. But a narcissist doesn’t care what other people think and doesn’t make efforts to be a better person so you’re probably in the clear there. Also, narcissists don’t have self-esteem issues.
From what you stated here, I might even venture to guess that you are not even displaying narcissistic tendencies either. So what you’re experiencing sure seems like it’s the other way around. Perhaps your friends are right.
A healthy, loving partner isn’t going to tell you that their exes would take them back. That comment is meant to hurt you and make you feel unsafe and insecure in the relationship so that you’ll try harder to please them (something emotional abusers and narcs often do).
If you’re questioning his fidelity, to be honest, you may want to look into that a little more – covertly if you ask me. Read my article on infidelity here: https://theoverwhelmedbrain.com/infidelity/
Do NOT ignore your intuition/instincts when it comes to things like this. Unless you’re telling me you were a jealous, suspicious person before getting into this relationship, you should probably seek closure on this issue by finding out what you can so that you can either choose to not trust him 100% or trust him 100%.
If you don’t get closure, you stay in a painful rut of not knowing and continuously thinking something is off but never being able to put all the pieces together.
Narcs/emotional abusers take advantage of people with low self-esteem and low self-worth. It allows them to get away with a lot more because all they have to do is make you think you did something wrong. This will keep you focused on yourself.
Listen to this very important episode for more on that:
Your question to him about why doesn’t he just leave is valid and smart. It puts the responsibility back on him to make decisions for his life instead of him trying to make you the problem. Abusive people don’t like that. They don’t want to be seen as responsible for any of the “bad” decisions, only the good ones. Instead of asking that question, maybe it’s time to be a bit more direct: “Since I never show up the way you want me to show up, it seems I am unable to change. I guess it’s up to you if you want to stay with someone you know won’t change.” Or something like that.
Of course, the same could be asked of you: If you know he will never change, would you stick around?
You might ask how could I know? The truth is, all you can know is what you’ve seen so far. If it hasn’t gotten better, it won’t get better. That’s why it’s important to make decisions based on what has happened than on what you hope will happen.
My bottom line is that no matter how your partner shows up, focus on you and what you want for your life. But do so knowing that the way things are today will be exactly the way they are tomorrow. Don’t rely on the hope that things will change, rely on what you’ve already witnessed to be true. Your history is what should help you decide your future, not your wish for a different future.
That might mean accountability. Right now, you say you’re probably not fit to be with anyone, but without following through on that, that veiled “threat” is pointless. It’s like saying, “I shouldn’t drive that car” then you get in that car and drive. There’s no point in saying anything you don’t follow up on otherwise it reinforces in the other person that you really don’t mean it.
So be careful with your words and if you really think you shouldn’t be together, it might be time to take some time apart. Separating doesn’t mean it’s over, it’s just a reset. During that time, you can think without anyone else’s influence on you.
Totally up to you what you do of course. My perspective on situations like this is that when a person seems to be hurtful and they aren’t going through any changes or healing, and they aren’t taking steps to leave a situation they are clearly unhappy with, then it’s up to the other person to take action for both of them. That may be you deciding what to do with your life and doing it. Or him changing his mind and taking the next step. Since your words seem to indicate he’ll never do that, any changes that will happen will likely fall on you.
I’d recommend listening to anything I created on self-worth and self-esteem first of all (use the search bar at theoverwhelmedbrain.com) and also, these episodes of Love and Abuse may be helpful:
https://loveandabuse.com/when-you-love-the-emotional-abuser-so-much-you-wont-leave/ (I’m not suggesting leaving or staying, it’s just something you may get some value from)
And these articles on The Overwhelmed Brain:
I wish you much strength and healing through this.
Thanks for this incredible article. I feel like it is my ultimate lifeline right now. My partner just split up with me (very suddenly) and called me an emotional abuser. In fact, I suspect they’ve read this very article given what they said. I can see this now – even just a few days ago I was blaming their behaviour, but I can finally see how I was unintentionally controlling them. And it hurts. It hurts to have lost someone who I could have very easily spent the rest of my life with. They have just blocked me on everything so we can begin our healing journeys. They have said there is no going back, and I know I need to respect that and allow them all to pursue their own path. However, I can’t remove the idea from my head that in a few months, we’ll both be healed and can retry. I know this is unhealthy, but given how much they did love me, I can’t help but wish. Do you have any advice? Thank you.
Thanks for sharing this. I know, I’ve been there. It’s so hard when you are completely locked out of their life. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that full healing is harder to achieve when the goal is to get back together. That is hard to hear because the goal for most people in your situation is to heal and get back together. But with a plan like that, healing doesn’t always happen fully. It can for sure. You can get back together and work through things, but often the same triggers are there and the healing goes a lot slower.
One of the steps I took during my healing journey was asking myself, “If she died making it impossible to reconnect with her, what would I do then?”
The answer gives you insight on what steps you really want to take for your life. Grieving is the obvious first answer, but what about after that? Would you find someone else? Would you move? Would you take up a hobby? Would you go on a healing journey?
Healing happens when you dedicate yourself to it and focus on it. When there’s another person on your mind and you just want to return to that person, you can trick yourself into thinking you are healing (or have healed).
Is that true for everyone? I don’t think so. But keeping the goal of wanting to return to the relationship can hinder the healing process. With that said, I know it’s impossible right now to think like that. Of course you want the relationship back! I did every time myself. It’s a matter of knowing how your behavior affected them and realizing they need to be away from you because you have work to do.
I know it’s hard to think that way. I don’t even like telling you to do so because I realize that may be off your radar. And I also realize that you may be open to it being completely over as well. If that’s the case, that’s a healthy perspective. The reason it’s healthy to adopt that it could be over is because if you returned, you might not have made the changes that need to be made in order for the relationship to succeed. A successful reconciliation almost always involves becoming someone you weren’t before so that when you get back together, you aren’t that person ever again.
I hope you have a chance to sign up for Healed Being and you’ll get the first four lessons free. It is a very effective and self-paced course I created for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change. Head over to https://healedbeing.com. It might be helpful to you.I never see the end of a relationship as forever. It could be yes, but the end of a relationship sometimes has to happen for both to move on and into new versions of themselves. Then, you can meet again as those new people if you are both on board with it. If your partner really wants you back, they’re going to keep you in mind and eventually open the door again to test the waters. If that’s the case, and you’ve done some healing, you may find success there.
If however they never open the door, then waiting for them to do so is more of a delay to what really needs healing in you. There’s a lot more to say on this, but please tune into my episodes on obsessive thoughts here:
I’m not saying you’re obsessive at all, it’s just that we can find ourselves not able to get someone out of our mind after a breakup and that can prevent healing from happening.
If your partner read this article, then they also know you can heal. They will know there’s a chance. And unless they’ve closed their heart off completely, you never know when they’ll open the door. But I don’t recommend waiting for the door to open because that’s when you find yourself in a rut never able to find happiness because you’re always waiting for something that may never be.
I wish you much strength and healing going forward no matter what!
Thank you so much for writing so honestly about your experiences being an abuser. I fear I’m in an incredibly abusive relationship and I honestly have no idea where to begin to stop these patterns.
Basically I abuse my boyfriend emotionally. When we get into arguments, I turn off my compassion and empathy and go full-blown into manipulation and self entitlement. I’m fully aware of how destructive, toxic and dangerous my behaviour is, and how much it’s hurting my partner, but my toxicity is so strong in the moment that I feel I can’t stop/ control myself. I speak to him like utter dirt, even though he does and continues to do everything he possibly can for me.
After every argument, we talk about how abusive things are, but nothing is changing. I believe I know where all of this behaviour stems from. I grew up being abused by my mum (physically and emotionally), my mum and dad were physically and emotionally abusive to each other, I grew up around drugs and alcoholism. My family are confrontational and excessive worriers, which I feel explain my behaviours and need for “control”. I’m so terrified of being “out of control” that things have to be done my way, otherwise how can I guarantee it’s safe?
I’ve honestly found finding resources for these problems incredibly difficult. I can’t afford therapy privately and I’m currently on a wait list that’s up to 3 years. I’m devastated and terrified of losing this relationship and my partner because he truly is a great, great guy. I know I need to heal, and I want to be different. I harbour all of my anger towards myself and project it onto my partner, then when I do that and make the connection of my behaviour to the people who’ve abused me (family members), I get even madder and disgusted that I have become the very people who destroyed me. My feelings escalate further when I see how desolately hurting my boyfriend is, he really has become a shell of his former self. I’m also finding it hard to forgive myself for my behaviour towards him because when he was younger, he was bullied, and I swore I’d never be someone who would hurt him, and yet that isn’t the case. Would you have any advice on how to deal with that, on both sides? Me allowing forgiveness, and my partner healing from further abuse?
Would you have any advice on things couples can do to start healing/ altering behaviour? Any recommendations of books or resources that can be helpful – either for the abuser/ the abused/ or both?
I’m also curious. My partner is quiet and introverted, whereas when I’m angry, I’m loud, confrontation and aggressive. So I don’t necessarily fit the Bill of “textbook abuser”. Even throughout our arguments, I tell him how abusive I’m being and that he should leave (which I know is abuse). Would you have any advice on being able to find calm in the quiet? When my partner is quiet, it only furthers my fury and irritation (and I know this is a reflection of me, because he isn’t feeding into my toxicity and I’m not getting the “buzz” off the response.
Sorry to maybe have put such a discombobulated message across.
Thanks for sharing this. Sorry you are experiencing all of this. I highly recommend you both listen to my podcast Love and Abuse at loveandabuse.com. You will learn quite a bit about the behaviors and the responses that are needed from the victim of the abuse so that perhaps there can be some healing.
My first guess from the very little you’ve shared about your lives (you shared a lot, but it’s still only a sliver I’m sure) is that your boyfriend doesn’t stand up to you and “back you off” so to speak. And because of that, you feel unsafe around him because if he can’t stand up to you, how can he stand up for you? How can you trust someone that doesn’t seem to have the courage or strength to tell you to back off and stop disrespecting him?
I have no idea if that’s the case, it’s just the first thing that came to mind because this is quite often what happens when there is a quiet, meek person with an intense person such as yourself. I’m just guessing and trying not to label either of you, but that is my initial thought. The aggressor is usually aggressive because they fear losing control or being attacked or whatever.
The meek is usually quiet and submissive because they fear being attacked as well, but they’d rather give up control in order not to stir the pot so to speak. In other words, your boyfriend doesn’t want to confront you because he doesn’t want to make things worse. What often happens however is that when the meek one starts to stand up for himself and show the aggressor that their behavior is not acceptable and they better back off or else, the aggressor will sense a strength in that person that gives them (the aggressor) a comfort, even if at a subconscious level.
If however him standing up for himself makes you even louder and more attacking, and he has no choice but to be louder and more bold himself, it might not end up okay or it might. It all depends how far he is willing to go and if you will eventually back down once you sense his power.
If he stood up and spoke in a loud voice, “I’m sick of you yelling at me. Sit down, shut up and never, ever talk to me that way again!” What would you do then? Would you hurt him? Would you back off in surprise? How would you feel?
There’s so much more to explore here, but in my experience the aggressor often wants someone to take care of things so they don’t have to. The aggressor is usually aggressive because they believe if they don’t take care of things, no one else will. And when there’s a more submissive partner, they appreciate the leadership and strength in the aggressive person because they haven’t been able to access their own power. But when they do, when they finally take a stand for their own life, the aggressor will often see that as a very attractive and comforting quality and won’t feel like they need to control anything.
I don’t know if this is helpful, but it sounds like you really want some sort of structure that you can trust in your life. With a submissive person, it’s hard to feel safe because they don’t show up as offering that strong support system, even though I believe your boyfriend probably loves and supports you very much, but not in a way you feel free to let go. When you feel safe enough to let go and let someone else take charge once in a while, it can calm the aggression and make you feel like you can let go some more. It can free you from the need to control because you’ll feel like someone else not only has things under control, but also has your back.
Everything I said here may not apply to either of you but if it does, if everything I said here seems to resonate with you, tell your boyfriend you want to see strength and him honoring his boundaries and to not let you yell at him anymore. You may not have to do anything but get a taste of his power to know that he is willing not only to fight for his own integrity, but protect himself from anyone, even you, from ever taking it away.
One who honors their own boundaries is a very attractive and secure quality. In this article I talk about the abuser needing to learn that. But the victim needs to do that more than anyone because they are the ones experiencing boundary violations.
I wish you much strength and healing through this.
You’ve spoken in length about your journey. It’s powerful definitely. I’ve just recently left an emotional, psychological, verbal coward and bully. Happens to be female. Happens in same sex relationships. What I didn’t see you talk about and may have missed if you did, is what about your wife that you left behind? The one that divorced you?
Alcoholics and drug addicts go back to the people they hurt tremendously in their addictions, accept full responsibility and talk to their victims. In the hopes of providing some healing for both people. I wonder if you understand the wound/a you have left your past victims and partners with can be so deeply entrenched that they still at a price long after you have gone. I do not know you, I really feel it’s worth asking you that because these are the facts about abuse and the victims left behind to clean up the carnage.
Thanks so much for your comment Evans! My wife moved on to meet someone who seems to be a wonderful, fun and supportive person. We stayed connected in social media for a while and chatted back and forth a few times afterward, but soon stopped connecting so she could focus on her life and I could focus on mine.
My situation was a little different than some who leave emotionally abusive relationships. My wife saw the changes in me before we separated and liked what she saw. But since she had already fallen out of love with me, she didn’t want to stay in the relationship. However she cared for me very much and wanted me to be happy. I cared for her too and wanted the same for her. So our parting, as painful as it was, was also healing for both of us.
I remember one of the last comments I made to her. It went something like “I just want to apologize for what I put you through. I take responsibility for my behavior. You deserve to be happy.” So to your point, I think a conversation with the person that you hurt, and an apology and taking responsibility, is one of the biggest steps you can do to aid in their healing process (and yours).
Many victims of emotional abuse take so many emotional wounds with them after they leave the abusive relationship. What you’re saying is true that the abuser needs to understand the wounds they inflicted on their partners over the years. In fact, this very article was found by a former girlfriend of mine and she told me it was a great gift to her. I was humbled and surprised because I didn’t realize just how much my words would affect her. So again, to your point, it was something that was healing for her to read.
Thank you for bringing this to light. I agree that when the emotionally abusive person does the healing and realizes how they’ve hurt those they’ve loved that perhaps they can reach out, take responsibility, and apologize.
I don’t talk about that too much because there are more extreme cases of emotional (and even physical abuse) where the victim does not want to hear from the abuser ever again. Some even go full no contact and that disconnect is part of their healing.
Also, some abusers haven’t healed to the point where they can reach out without expectation. In other words, some abusers/former abusers might have a tiny expectation that if they apologize and take responsibility that perhaps their ex will take them back. That makes the apology less authentic because of the agenda.
Again, it’s a tricky situation sometimes but I agree that it can be a very good step for many that left relationships on somewhat equitable terms.
Thanks again for your comment. I hope this helps to clarify things a bit.
Thank you for writing back. It was actually me that was being abused and is being abused. I ended the relationship very recently and have asked her to move out. She is still abusing me with no regard to me whatsoever. If I was not a good person with caring for others I’d kick her out onto the streets. I am actually very tempted as each day goes by. The fact that someone can sit there in the same room as you who has utterly destroyed you, laugh, smile and everything is right in their world is beyond me. Its just further abuse. Anyway, your site has taught me a lot. Thank you for doing all the immensely tough and hard work on yourself and you continue to do on yourself to have become a better person in life.
Yes, thank you for having the ability to put it so succinctly and effectively. It helped calm a lot of anxiety running through my mind. I have recently woken up to my reality of being an emotional abuser and gaslighting to not only my loved one, but all my emotional relationships, family included. I always had a nagging at the back of my mind that something just wasn’t right the whole time but never being able to push it into the right thought process until recently. Like you as well I pushed until my wife couldn’t sacrifice her mental well being anymore for me which has been huge for her and her own recovery and personal confidence. Since my realization I am trying my best to not myself be crushed by the emotions and damage I only now get to see and feel. It’s like 20 years of pain and emotion striking all at once. This article has made me feel like I may be able to actually find help that can bring upon the change to really be the person I always thought I was or hoped I was without the gaslighting and emotional abuse. I just hope I can bring upon the right changes to mend any of my damage I caused in all my relations. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them. My only wish is that this had a little bit more on how to get the right help for this.
Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve lost all of my important relationships because of my past behavior but since I’ve learned so much about the pain I brought into those relationships and how awful a person I was, I no longer do that behavior and no longer feel the need to do it.
It is a journey and it sounds like you are off to a painful, but promising start. There is more coming. I hope you get a chance to sign up for Healed Being and you’ll get the first four lessons free. It is a very effective and self-paced course I created for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change. Go to https://healedbeing.com. It might be helpful to you.I know what you mean about it hitting you like a ton of bricks. When I learned that my behavior was abusive, it was shocking, painful, and made my sick to my stomach. And I say that knowing my partners over the years had it worse than that.
There are specific steps you need to take to continue your healing path and make your relationships safe and healthy from this point on. You may have lost people in your life, but you don’t have to lose anymore. Sign up above and stay tuned for more. The journey is challenging, but it is very doable and you will get there.
Hi, thanks for this, you opened my eyes, my last girlfriend called me an emotional abuser and I understood she was right… One question.. what should I do if she keeps making me feel not important and loved by cancelling or postponing most of our dates?I don’t want to be controlling or manipulative.. I think she was doing it because I was always available for her…
This is just one of the cases where I was feeling unloved or unwanted of course.m
Thanks for sharing this. There’s a difference that will be important for you to note, and that is the difference between someone canceling a date and someone purposefully trying to make you feel unloved or unwanted.
It’s possible that’s her intention, but it may not be. Perhaps she just wants to make you angry for what you put her through? Or, maybe they’re all legitimate cancelations and she means nothing personal.
It really doesn’t matter why she’s doing it, what matters is if you want to continue allowing that behavior in your life. You have to look inside yourself and ask if you want someone in your life that constantly cancels on you. If you don’t like it, tell her it bothers you that she keeps canceling. Tell her it makes you feel hurt or disrespected or however you feel. You can even tell her it makes you feel unloved. These “I feel” statements are about your feelings and not focused on her behavior.
If instead you choose to focus on her behavior and what she needs to do to change, then you are riding the line of control and manipulation. When you keep your focus on yourself and how you feel, you then make decisions that are right for you.
In other words, ask yourself if you want someone that mistreats you. If the answer is no, then why continue to be with someone that mistreats you? Again, it doesn’t mean you can’t share how you feel, but try to avoid telling her what to do. It’s better to tell her how you feel and let her decide if she’s going to change her behavior.
If she chooses not to change and says something like, “I have lots of appointments and have to change my schedule a lot” then it’s back on you to decide if you want to be with someone who does that. If she won’t change after you share with her how you feel, then she has made her choice. This means you now have a choice to make: Stay connected but don’t complain when she cancels, or make a choice to not be with her anymore. The only other choice is to stay connected to her and continue complaining and feeling hurt, which as you know won’t go well.
The point is to accept others as they are, share how you feel with them, and let them choose to change or not. If they choose not to, the next step is up to you. But don’t try to change anyone even if you don’t like their behavior. If you really are healing from being emotionally abusive, letting others be who they are, even if you don’t like their behavior, is one of the biggest steps toward healing.
I hope this helps.
I used to be this person. And then, I took a very similar journey. But I took a wrong turn. I found myself working on me and ended up pregnant with a very abusive man. And I believed that I deserved it because of what I had done. Until it became much worse than anything I had done. And he became physically abusive to me and our 2 month old in front of my other children. He is making those same changes himself now. And I am so scared, because I know it is possible to make those changes, as I have been there and done that. But is it possible with physical abuse? I wish I could pick your brain.
Thanks for sharing this. When people become physically abusive, it can be for a number of reasons. But even if they can change, that’s not even the point. The focus needs to be on what you will allow into your life. If you have values that tell you that physical abuse is intolerable and you will never allow that into your life, then that is your guidance.
Don’t rely on hope for your guidance or wishing or praying because that doesn’t address your personal and relationship values and boundaries. In other words, I want you to be very, very clear on what you will and won’t accept in a relationship.
For most couples, physical abuse is a violation of a relationship and personal boundary. Therefore when it happens, they do not want to be with that person anymore.
Same goes for cheating. Many people in relationships say that if their partner cheats, the relationship will be over. That is the value and the boundary they set for themselves. They guide themselves using their own values and boundaries.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should never give someone a second chance. Cheating for example. Many couples survive the affair then decide to try and work things out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But there need to be rules and accountability when it comes to this kind of stuff.
A rule might be: If you ever talk to that person again or get on any dating app again, I’m leaving for good.
Then if the person cheats again, the partner leaves for good. They do exactly what they said they were going to do. Full accountability.
Same with abuse, though you have to be careful here. Was the physical abuse grabbing your arm and letting go and walking away because they know they might hurt you? Or did they punch or kick you? There’s a big difference even though both are still physical abuse. But IF was something like grabbing your arm and letting go, you MAY think about a second chance but the rules would have to be very clear to never touch you in anger again. And if they do, you are gone for good. And you stick to your word. No more chances.
I say this with much trepidation because many physical abusers tend to ramp UP the abuse, not down. Once they know they haven’t lost you from hurting you once and that you’ll come back, they are very likely going to do it again unless they have gone through extensive therapy, realizing they needed help (self-realized, not forced to go because you wanted them to. They need to know they need help and seek it on their own whether you are together or not).
Physical abuse is a different animal and is often THE line that once crossed, most people don’t return to.
So I can’t tell you that a physical abuser will change because I could be wrong and you could be severely hurt or worse. But I will say that if you do decide to return to someone who physically hurt you, you have to have a contingency plan in place – one that he doesn’t know about so that you will find safety fast. And you have to have the rules in place too – ones that he DOES know about so that if he violates them, you provide accountability.
There are often no second chances with physical abuse. But if you decide to go that route, make sure you never give a third chance.
Disclaimer: Returning to a physically abusive person may actually cause you injury or death. There are some cases where the initial physical abuse was minor, but that still doesn’t mean it wasn’t a dangerous situation. Always plan carefully and give yourself a safe path away from one who has abused you in the past.
Thank you for sharing your story and giving some clarity and hope to abusers and their victims.
Thank you for your comment here Tiffany. I appreciate your words.
Thank you for this article. I am going through a simlar situation right now. I been reflecting my past actions with the way I handled my realtionships with people on social media and how I was incredibly toxic and emotially abusive.
From intreacting with women in a creepy and uncomfortable way (mainly frliting with them, being obessive around them and pushing the idea of wanting them to be my girlfriend), making a lot of sexist remarks and jokes that would make people uncomfortable, being a bully towards those who disagreed with me and my stance in the world, mainpulated my friends for my own pleaure, shutting down those who wanted to speak out about my toxic behavior, and being hypocritical on my own word with wanting to end this abusive behavior only to endorse that same abusive behavior myself.
The worst part of it is that I got away with it untill it was it was time to come clean about what I did. Because of it, I lost nearly everything. My friends, my voice, my credibility, my platform, basically everything. It took me awhile to understand the root of my problem and the qoute “if you’re using twitter as an dating app, then youre using it wrong.” really got to the root of it all and why I was an absuive mainpulative person towards everyone.
I was really using social media as a means to get a girlfriend, not build meaningful realtionships. I was alowing my dark twisted fantasies that I put on a mask to trick everyone I was a kind person just to get what I “wanted”. But overtime, I realized I had what I wanted all this time. Not a girlfriend, but a sense of community and great and trusted friends around me where I can be open with who I am and share the things I loved with other people and treat them with respect. I didn’t realize it untill it was too late and I’m ashmed that I became emotionally abusive to not only towards the women I frlit with and were uncomfortable, but to all of my friends who loved and cared for me and pushing/using them for my own lustful pleaure.
This is pretty much my rock bottom period of my life. But I’m actively working my best to climb up that rock bottom to make things right not only to everyone I have hurt by my emtional abuse, but for myself. I have been seeking threapy, talking to close friends and family about what I’m going through, seeking God closer than I ever had before, educating myself about these issues, and working through apologizing to not only the vicitms, but everyone else who I pushed aside and used for my own toxic fantasies. As learning how to treat everyone as equals.
It has not been an easy jounrey so far, but I’m pushing thorugh to not fall into that rabbit hole again now I have seen the whole affect of everything I did, while also carring some of the same postive traits I always have with me but with a new perspective on life.
I have been reflecting on my past actions with the way I handled my relationships with people on social media and how I was incredibly toxic and emotionally abusive.
From interacting with women in a creepy and uncomfortable way (mainly flirting with them, being obsessive around them, and pushing the idea of wanting them to be my girlfriend), making a lot of sexist remarks and jokes that would make people uncomfortable, being a bully towards those who disagreed with me and my stance in the world, manipulated my friends for my own pleasure, shutting down those who wanted to speak out about my toxic behavior, and being hypocritical on my own word with wanting to end this abusive behavior only to endorse that same abusive behavior myself.
The worst part of it is that I got away with it until it was time to come clean about what I did. Because of it, I lost nearly everything. My friends, my voice, my credibility, my platform, basically everything. It took me a while to understand the root of my problem and the quote “if you’re using Twitter as a dating app, then you’re using it wrong.” really got to the root of it all and why I was an abusive manipulative person towards everyone.
I was really using social media as a means to get a girlfriend, not build meaningful relationships. I was allowing my dark twisted fantasies that I put on a mask to trick everyone I was a kind person just to get what I “wanted”. But over time, I realized I had what I wanted all this time. Not a girlfriend, but a sense of community and great and trusted friends around me where I can be open with who I am and share the things I loved with other people, and treat them with respect. I didn’t realize it until it was too late and I’m ashamed that I became emotionally abusive not only towards the women I flirt with and were uncomfortable with but to all of my friends who loved and cared for me and pushing/using them for my own lustful pleasure.
This is pretty much my rock bottom period of my life. But I’m actively working my best to climb up that rock bottom to make things right not only to everyone I have hurt by my emotional abuse but for myself. I have been seeking therapy, talking to close friends and family about what I’m going through, seeking God closer than I ever had before, educating myself about these issues, and working through apologizing to not only the victims but everyone else who I pushed aside and used for my own toxic fantasies. As learning how to treat everyone as equals.
It has not been an easy journey so far, but I’m pushing through to not fall into that rabbit hole again now I have seen the whole effect of everything I did, while also caring some of the same positive traits I always have with me but with a new perspective on life.
Love that you shared this here Haydn. Thank you so much. In my twenties, I was inappropriate toward a coworker and made her feel uncomfortable around me. Back then, I kept pursuing, but looking back I realized how awful I made her life. I didn’t know these things. It was lust, it was driven and unempathic. It never took her feelings into account. So I can relate to some of what you shared.
All you can do now is what you’re doing now: Eating humble pie, admitting your faults, apologizing to those that will listen, and accepting other people’s judgments toward and about you.
One of the most healing statements I learned to say when I was going through my journey was, “You’re right. Everything you said about me is right on and I’m sorry. I was awful and you did not deserve to be treated that way.”
No defensive comments. No, “But, but…” I just wanted to let them know they were right and I was wrong. If the conversation continued, of course I’d tell them I am working on healing my old ways, but I didn’t get into that unless necessary.
So again, thank you for sharing this and I’m so glad you discovered this behavior about yourself. Your life is probably changing already. And the added weight of who you used to be is probably shedding by the day.
Thank you so much. That stuff you said about, “you’re right and I was wrong” and never taking her feelings into account, is exactly the mentality I need for when I finally get the chance to apologize to the people I have wronged in the past, and even if they don’t accept the apology, at least I want to leave them with something a little positive and wanting to show them that I’m taking all the steps I need to change for the better. Thank you.
I think you are spot on in your attitude and approach. When you apologize and let them be, the ball is in their court. They can accept your apology and be okay with it, or they can choose not to accept it, but either way you’ve done your part and that’s all you can do. Sounds like you on a very good path my friend. Thanks again for sharing here.
You’re welcome. I hope they go well whenever I get the chance to apologize. I don’t wait longer than it needs to be. But this is indeed the first step of healing.
I’m so so confused right now and would love to hear your thoughts as I don’t know if I am an abuser or an abusee. I had an intense ‘thing’ not a relationship spanning around 2-3 months with someone I work with. We only met in person twice but we did have regular work calls/meetings (over camera).
It started with her pursuing and messaging me constantly. I kept my cool at the start and played things slowly. After our first meeting things got intense quickly and we got quite close to each other emotionally (talking most of the day at work). I was/am dealing with depression with now (intensified due to lockdown) and initially she showed signs of understanding this and caring etc. I always did my best to not show this depression too much but eventually I was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the messaging and all the attention she was needing from me. After we first met she said she didn’t think i was ready for a relationship as she sensed a lot of fear inside of me but expressed how much she liked me and she wanted to proceed with no pressure on either of us.
As all the messaging continues I start to sense she gets a bit ‘off’ and I start to sense she’s playing some games with me seeing if she can get a rise out of me & I retort with playing these games myself. It got to the point where I wanted it to end because it was so stressful. I reached breaking point one morning so I called her on the phone and addressed her comment of;’I don’t think you’re ready’. She tried giving me tips on how to cure depression (very whimsical statements) and I began to open up to her and tell her it’s something i’ve had most of my life and that it takes me time to open up and trust someone, but that I did trust her. After we get off the phone she sends me a long message, ending it stating that she can’t be with someone who she has to ‘limit how much she likes them because we’re not at the same stage’.
I send her a long message opening up as to why I find it hard to show love but I really want to change. From here she gives me a long explanation of how she views love and sees it everywhere around us. She states she’d like to have a friendship/relationship with me in the future. At this point I accept we’re not a good match and leave it. I message her saying it’s all ok and I understand and given we work together i’m still here if she needs any help with anything.
I was distraught at this stage that I’d met a stunning girl who really cares for me and I decided to go into therapy. I start therapy and she messages me and I tell her I’m doing this therapy and she pretty much says she’s been so worried about me and that ‘she’s not going anywhere’. The next day I message her in the morning telling her how much her support means to me and I appreciate it; at this point I was trying to show her appreciation as she always made me feel like i was not showing her enough. The next morning I get a message saying that she cannot be with me whilst i’m doing therapy and working on myself but that she loves me and maybe in the future we could have something. Again she knows how much stuff from the past and emotion i’m going through as i’m dealing with a lot of trudging up childhood abuse etc and she decides to end things a 2nd time, ok.
So i’m going through therapy now for 2 weeks and she starts messaging me again. I keep things cool and agree to get her to come and visit me. She comes to visit me and we have the most amazing time ever which ended in my bed (we skipped going to dinner) where we were just holding each other and loving each other really and making out. On the way home she was sending me songs, telling me she was in heaven when she was with me etc.
The day after I hear nothing from her and then send her a cool song in the early evening, she doesn’t respond until the next day (which she’s never done). Then I wait a day and message her something and she ignores it but responds to me the next day in an annoyed fashion. And pretty much asks me what I think this is? She then goes onto say that she needs so much more from a person and that she was doing as I wasn’t doing it for her..just completely out the blue like this. I try and ask her what she does want and i’ll try to give it to her. But she says she doesn’t have the energy to explain what a ‘relationship’ is to someone. Again I accept this and move on.
One week later before the break up for christmas holidays she sends me a message saying that she’s sorry for how she ended things so abruptly and wants to tell me how lovely i am and that that day we spent together was very dear to her and wished me a happy christmas. That evening I sent her a long message, pretty much telling her how special she was to me and I was sorry I couldn’t make her feel special. That evening she called me up crying saying how much she loved me and I told her I love her too. She said she was sorry for how she had treated me but she was angry because God had sent her an ’emotionally unavailable man’.
The next day we are speaking and I send her a long message telling her that essentially I have been through a lot but I love her and that’s what matters and say to her let us either be together or we cannot do this in between dance anymore, as she had ended things and broken up so many times. She essentially said no, saying even though she had desires to be with me and loved me so much that she was moving ‘towards the light’ and she has such a ‘permeating sense of joy in life’ and needed someone who was on that level. She said she was sorry to end this and said she hoped I did not feel inadequate. I responded to her saying we should have some space.
Over christmas she sent me 2 presents (which were ordered before our last communication) and I messaged her to say thank you and she responded saying no problem but it was short. I sent her presents as well and got no thank you. On new years day I messaged her to say happy new year and she again responded shortly and then blocked me afterwards.
Of course there’s so much more to this but I kept in the most salient points. I’m very lost. Did I abuse her at all? I know I was a bit ‘colder’ at times with her but I just am in general and I really made a big effort. She asked me to open up and every time I did she backed away, ended things abruptly and always gave me the impression she was just out of reach.
I work with her still and to be honest I was fine but recently I’ve been so hurt over this and I don’t know what to do. I keep wanting to label her behaviour as ‘bad’ but then her words were so full of love that it just tears me up inside. I’ve tried to forget her words and look at her actions but it’s so hard to distinguish. I’m so so confused by her actions. I by no means brought my best self to this arrangement but I really am trying to improve myself.
This doesn’t sound like abuse on either side. If anything, I would say there are challenges because of your depression and her inability to make a decision about the relationship (at least at first). If you’re depressed, you may be dealing with self-esteem and self-worth issues. You may have some repressed sadness or anger that hasn’t come out yet. There may be a number of reasons for your depression but what you relayed here is not abusive in the least. There may be some codependence but not intentional or unintentional abusive behavior.
I was depressed when I met the woman who would become my wife. She loved me as your friend loved you. She wanted to be with me as well, but one night she said she couldn’t stay with me any longer because I needed to work on my depression. She was a bright, happy and highly spirited woman and here she was with someone who brought her energy down. I was a drain. Yes, you may be a drain to her. But please don’t take that the wrong way. It’s not your personality or you, it’s the depression and what it does to you and those around you. It needs to be treated, absolutely. And once it’s treated and you feel good almost every day, perhaps then she or anyone else may be ready to be in a relationship with you.
In my situation, her telling me she was leaving was exactly what I needed because it shook me up so much that I decided I was no longer going to let depression run my life. It sounds like you are there too. Sometimes good people that leave us do us the biggest favor because it helps us learn that we have stuff to work on. Those people actually WANT to be in our lives, but they don’t want to compromise themselves in the process.
I brought my wife down with my depression. She wanted to laugh and play and I needed her to be in my space with me because I couldn’t be in her space with her. It wasn’t working for her and that made perfect sense. If I was happy and lively but I had to tone down who I was just to be in a relationship, it would be very difficult. That’s not saying there aren’t compromises in relationships. It just means that sometimes people need to heal and grow to become the best version of themselves before they get into a relationship.
Your focus on yourself is excellent. Her focus on herself is also excellent. She may have been so conflicted inside. When she’s with you and things are great, they’re really great. When things aren’t great, maybe they were just too hard for her to adopt in her life.
If she’s a vibrant, energized person, it would be difficult for her to be with someone dealing with depression. But it sounds like she really thinks you’re amazing, and her keeping to herself at this time sounds like exactly what’s needed for both of you. This is a good thing. It’s good that she finally decided what to do and it’s good that you are doing everything you can for yourself.
If you still see her, thank her. Let her know that she is absolutely right and that you need to focus on yourself and will continue to do so. Not for her, for you. And perhaps one day you will connect again in the future as the new person you are becoming. But until then, you are grateful you met and you are also grateful she made the hard choices she made to travel her own path. Then leave her be. That’s my opinion, choose to take it or not. 😉
I wish you the best with this! Thanks so much for sharing.
Hi there, thank you so much for the article. I am humbled by your vulnerability and healing journey.
I struggle to understand whether I am emotionally abusive, being emotionally abused, or if we are both abusing each other (if that’s even possible?). My husband and I have a cycle that goes like this: I communicate a boundary to my husband (e.g., I am okay with you doing whatever, just please be honest with me because I need to trust you), my husband agrees to honour my boundary, he does not honour my boundary (e.g. he hides an emotional affair), I get triggered and yell at him – I used to call him names but I stopped bc I knew it was abusive, afterward I feel shame and regret and apologize then commit to bettering myself and ask if he is willing to change (e.g. stop lying), he says yes but doesnt change the behaviour, when I find out I get triggered and yell and tell him I want to end our marriage, afterward I feel shame and regret and ask him to continue working on our marriage, repeat
It is at the point that I have been diagnosed with PTSD from my relationship. My husband probably also has some trauma from when I was abusive. I am trying to figure out if I am being abusive and your article definitely resonates with me. I can be manipulative and very judgmental especially when I am triggered by whatever problematic behaviour
We are at a crossroads now where he is planning to leave me. I have a strong belief that marriage is for life and so I am considering whether I can change my behaviour to save our marriage by being non-judgmental and accepting of his behaviour. He says he understands his issues and plans to change but not with me, which hurts even more.
I’m trying to accept whatever he chooses to do but also want our marriage to work and I communicate that to him as well. We have 3 kids so I am doing whatever I can to keep our family together but need this cycle to stop. I need some stability so I can heal as I have been trying to do since I realized I needed to change myself (about 1 year ago).
Is there a way for me to save my marriage by changing my behaviour? For me the biggest issue I have is the lying, my husband does it a lot – should I just accept it and stop requiring he be honest with me?
Thank you so much for sharing this Janelle. Let me get this off my chest right away: When you get angry that your partner violates boundaries that you have both agreed it, it is perfectly justified and you have nothing to apologize about! In fact, you apologizing about getting upset at his violation of agreed upon boundaries negates your boundaries! So I highly recommend you don’t apologize for justified upset.
Yes, your name calling is justified. Your anger is justified. This is not abuse, this is a legitimate emotion that you are feeling and have every right to feel and be angry at him about. If he has an emotional affair and lies to you about it, there are two relationship boundary violations right there. If you feel that he is a lying bastard then he is a lying bastard. That is your right. He broke the rules and your emotional response makes perfect sense under the circumstances! So I don’t see this as abuse or even “reactive abuse” because your reaction was a normal reaction that most people would have given the circumstances.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I also had the belief that marriage was for life. But since my marriage ended and I went through a lot of healing, I’ve updated that belief that marriage can only exist if both are following the rules of the relationship and are working on things together. If one person is violating the rules, then there is no more relationship. Until the rules are followed, the relationship doesn’t exist; hence, there is no marriage. If your husband lies and has emotional affairs, then he has violated the marriage contract whether you believe in marriage or not. The problem is, you can’t hold a marriage together when one person refuses to abide by the marriage contract.
I never look at saving a marriage as a goal. I look at doing what’s best for you and if the marriage survives during the process of healing you, you end up bringing the best version of yourself into the marriage. The challenge is that BOTH of you have to work on yourselves in order for a marriage to be saved. This means that he would also need to do some hard reflecting on his own behavior and choose to make changes for himself so that he becomes the best version of himself as well.
Be careful about placing marriage over your relationship values. What I mean by that is be careful not to invest all of your emotional energy in the concept of a lifetime commitment with someone who hasn’t met the initial values you hold close to your heart. If your relationship values include trust and honesty and those aren’t being met, then you will never be happy and your marriage won’t survive. And if it did survive, you’d be miserable because you never met your core relationship values.
It’s like if you were job hunting and one of your career values was that you wanted weekends off to spend with your kids, but you got a job where everything about it was great but you had to work all weekend, you would likely NEVER be happy there. Good pay, good benefits, nice atmosphere, no time with kids. You would likely be miserable.
That’s how relationship values work as well. List your values for a relationship (i.e. trust, respect, attraction, laughing, quality time, honesty, etc) and when you’re done with your list, put them in order from the most important to less important. Then compare your current relationship to that list. Are you highest values met? If you met a new person and they didn’t meet these top values, would you date them?
I know marriage is important to you, but remember what makes a marriage. I see marriage as full cooperation and teamwork to build something beautiful together. I see it as being able to be honest with one another even if the truth is painful and sharing experiences and being faithful. I see it as wanting the other person to be happy so you do whatever you can to make that happen.
When those things aren’t present, the criteria for a marriage isn’t met. At that point, it’s just a legal thing. I know that might sound harsh, but I hope you see my reply as tough love because I want you to make the right decisions for you based on what is best for you. I’m not saying you can’t work things out eventually. Separation and even divorce don’t always mean the end of a relationship. Some people meet up again as new people because they learn so much about themselves and want to try again. And some people can stay together and heal through the challenges. In my experience, I’ve seen when there’s separation, there’s time and space to consider everything without the influence of someone else in your life. Sometimes that’s necessary.
My final thought is to tell you to make sure not to compromise your own relationship values to save a marriage that actually violates those values. Your direct question regarding changing your behavior and just accepting who he is… I’ll give you a direct answer: Don’t change who you are. Your reactions are normal and justified. Don’t apologize for who you are. He should be crawling back to you with his tail between his legs begging for forgiveness.
That’s my take on this. I appreciate you sharing all of this. Thank you and I wish you much strength and healing for whatever the future may bring.
how do you know where to draw the line with this? my boyfriend cheated on me and then consistently lied to me. i became extremely controlling and paranoid as a result. other things cropped up such as him joining a dating app and in the end he left me because i was too insecure- and i was. there wasn’t anything he could do that would make me leave- id constantly want to talk it out and come to an agreement but looking back on it, that agreement would ONLY ever be in my favour. i felt like he’d lost the right to have an opinion on things that came to other females because i couldn’t trust him. the goal posts constantly moved because he’d say he agreed and understood and it was reasonable but then in the next argument he’d throw it at me and say he felt controlled. i felt frustrated and angry and shocked and sad every single time because i thought we’d both agreed on something and then i realised actually we hadn’t. i tried to coax the truth out of him so many times and sat him down and asked him to be honest about what he needed, for example in female friendships – i hated the thought of him going for dinner with this girl one on one. i didn’t mind group situations but i hated the thought of 1 on 1 stuff. it ended up with me literally spelling out almost rules of what’s ok and what’s not because i got so so confused every time we spoke that i ended up having no clue where the line was drawn.
i feel so so awful and guilty. looking back on it, i manipulated him to no end. i’m so good with words and i can easily persuade someone to see my point of view. i used that over him – even when i was encouraging honest conversation, i probably still couldn’t handle the outcome if it wasn’t what i wanted.
i felt like i’d never asked for any of this. and in my mind loyalty is such a strong thing to me. it’s so important to me in a relationship that they have strong morals when it comes to loyalty. he didnt have this – but instead of leaving once i realised this, i stayed. i wrote essay after essay trying to change him, trying to make him understand the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, the truth and a lie.
i’d feel resentment because i’d feel like i was raising him like he was a child. id get so annoyed because i could
not understand how i was having to spell out the very basics of a relationship and literally have to almost coax the truth out of him about everythign and anything.
he was also physically and mentally abusive in many ways. he would use the most hurtful and lowest things that had happened to me in my life against me in an augment – he wasn’t safe. everything about him was unsafe. he’d go into fits of rage. he’d gaslight me. and i’d turn into a detective. why didn’t i just leave?
and it is controlling, i’d go through his social accounts, his friends accounts; looking for things to prove he was cheating. why didn’t i just leave?
i felt like the victim the whole entire time. i felt like all i wanted was a happy healthy relationship where there was nothing dodgy going on, no lying, no deciet. the reality was i was never ever going to get that from this person, but instead of accepting that, i clung on and hoped they’d change. as a result i became the worst version of myself possible- a manipulator. it never came from a place of wanting to control, it only came from a place of not wanting to get hurt. but i guess after reading this i can understand that it IS those differences in opinion that hurt me. if they think one thing is ok but i don’t – when that thing happens, it hurts me. how do i get out of that?
i’m so sad that this is what i’ve become and i can’t bare the guilt of carrying around that i’ve potentially really truly damaged or upset someone. i feel like even now i’m playing the victim, but i do mean what i say.
Thank you for sharing all of this. First and foremost, I hope you read my article on infidelity. If you didn’t, it’s important that you do to understand where both of you probably were after the affair. Here it is: https://theoverwhelmedbrain.com/infidelity/
Second, you said it yourself, you couldn’t trust him. If there was trust, would any of your other behavior exist? My guess is no. And you had a very good reason to be distrusting! One who lies easily and does it over and over again has proven that a lie is like a breath. It can come out easily and effortlessly, and you have no idea what truth is when it comes to people like that. Because of that, you may never have been able to trust him. And I’m willing to be he didn’t do the right things to prove to you that he wasn’t lying after the affair became known.
In other words, trust has to be rebuilt by filling in all the gaps of knowledge and all the unsolved mysteries. One who is remorseful and regrets their cheating is going to open up his or her life to their partner. As soon as their partner has a worry about a one on one dinner, the remorseful cheater is going to say, “I don’t want you to feel that way at all, I completely understand. Come with me. Let’s do this together” or “If this bothers you at all, I’m not going. I don’t want to take a chance and screw up what we have together.”
They make you and the relationship a priority and they do everything they can to live in a glass house so you can see everything because they know they screwed up bad and the only way to heal a relationship, if it can be healed, is to open up their life and provide anything and everything their partner wants to know about. This is often how trust is rebuilt.
It may not happen in some cases. Maybe the hurt is too great and you still can’t get past that time they cheated no matter how remorseful and guilty they feel, no matter how open they are, no matter what they do or say, sometimes you can’t get past their betrayal.
Your behavior likely stems from mistrust. If you can’t trust someone, you’re going to turn into what you call a manipulator. But remember Reactive Abuse comes with the territory of an affair in a relationship. He cheated and lied about it, and probably lied about other things too (since it seems to come easy to him). I’m thinking you caught him? Typically, the caught cheater who lies about it for a long period of time (months or longer) finds that it gets easier and easier to live two separate li(v)es and are prone to cheating with more than one person.
I don’t say that to make you feel worse, I say it to tell you that if the only reason he stopped cheating was because you caught him, then that was the only reason he stopped cheating! And that reveals a lot about who they are a lot more than the cheater who regrets their behavior, comes forward, and admits it on their own. I’m not saying every cheater who got caught is like this, but it is more common than not.
If he didn’t get caught but decided to come forward and admit these things to you, then you still have a right to act as you did. The cheater needs to know that s/he is under high scrutiny and must follow every micro rule you make because they screwed up so bad that they’re going to want to make things right so they will follow your rules, even some of the “crazy” ones if they want to save the relationship.
This really depends on how long ago the cheating was as well. If it was within a year, then he should not be complaining and should feel very lucky you stayed to try to heal together. I typically see a relationship heal from cheating in about a year or under time. If it goes longer, then something needs to change. Again, my infidelity article will talk about the duration of time needed to heal for both people.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. The reason you didn’t leave was probably because you really believed if the relationship could survive this, you might have a decent life together. But you had a battle going on inside yourself. You had anger and you had hope and anger was winning more often! But again, I emphasize if you don’t have trust, this is where it all stems. You can’t feel safe without trust. And without a feeling of safety, you are more likely to set up the rules and be vigilant and “manipulative” in order to get what you want.
What you wanted was perfectly reasonable! You wanted someone who had integrity. That’s really not much to ask for. But it looks like you weren’t getting that comfortable feeling from him. He probably wasn’t meeting your criteria of what a remorseful, honest person does. And because of that, you were likely being gaslighted that lead to your behaviors.
Yes, you may have some healing to do as well but again, some people have the capability of driving the other person so crazy that they’ll do behavior that makes them look nuts. It sounds like that might have happened here.
Grateful you expressed here. Thank you Emelie.
Thank you Paul for this post and also for your Love and Abuse podcast.
It has been so very helpful to me.
I still love the person I dated and I’m not in contact with him now. He treated me terribly in the relationship but he was a good person. This was so very confusing to me.
Other blogs and articles on this topic seem to miss this aspect. You didn’t realise what you were doing was wrong and you were capable of change. Reading what you have to say brings me a lot of peace.
I am grateful for your comment here Anne. Thank you so much. I think it’s easy to love some people but hate their behavior. And sometimes hard to differentiate between the two. My former partners and eventually my wife did me the biggest favor by taking away the one thing I never wanted to lose: Them. But if they didn’t leave, I wouldn’t have learned. I view their decision to leave as a gift to me (and them of course) because it was the impetus I needed to start focusing on myself to heal and not others to change. You have given the person you were with a gift and an opportunity to look within. Hopefully they will and find healing. I wish you much strength through your healing as well.
Man. What an incredible & insightful article this has been.
I broke up with someone a few years back, and she was able to call me out on my emotionally abusive behavior. Few days after the breakup, I started to realise that there had been a pattern to all my relationships before this and they all had a way of going down the same road. My fear of abandonment had been so crippling that I would use any means to just hold onto the relationship, even if it meant destroying the person I was with. This would often start a terrible cycle of guilt & shame in me because I was hurting the only person that I cared about so deeply and yet that would all just pile up to me causing more damage. Over the years, I’ve begun to realise that I had been suffering myself too, that there were things buried deep inside of me that i needed to recognize and heal from. I started going to a therapist, she helped me to recognize these very patterns. It was overwhelming at first because I had started to believe that I was some kind of monster and there was no going back from here, but the path to healing is often slow & you just need to have patience to keep at it. The triggers are still there, but I think I’ve been better at just taking a step back to understand them & where they come from rather than projecting them onto the other person.
Your article helps, and gives me hope. So thank you for that 🙂
I am so grateful you shared this here. There is definitely a path out of the suffering and the feelings you are having. Took me a while to figure it out, but once I did, my entire life changed. The relationship I’m in now is like night and day from the rest of them because of who I became. It sounds like you’re on your way to some amazing changes yourself.
Thanks again for sharing this here. Very inspirational.
Thank you for putting in the energy to frame this topic in a positive way. I’ve never read an article with so much vulnerability and positive growth. Finishing this article and reading all the comments made me feel more whole as a human. Probably helps that its hitting so close to home right now.
A recent and sudden realization that my partner was emotionally abusing me led to my breaking point; ending our romantic relationship. Even though I know they couldn’t be in a relationship in this vulnerable period, I want to be a part of their recovery. Not all aspects of our relationship had these types of behavior, but key parts did. To me, this duality meant that their unintentionally toxic behaviors and self destructive coping strategies were the problem, not that they were consciously making a choice to constrain my quality of life. For me, this is the distinction that makes my choice to stay my own. There are still plenty of healthy and supportive parts of our relationship.
Initially, they struggled to find resources for identifying those behaviors and determine why they were triggered. Nearly every resource out there is for the victim, which I can appreciate as a victim. Except, I still love them, even though they’ve failed me as a partner. What I need from them is make sure they put daily effort into not repeating this cycle. You’ve outlined some tools above, and I’m so glad (in my case) that they had the courage to accept what they’ve done and forgive themselves while also taking accountability. Afterwards, they found your article. Our discussions over the last week had already led to the profound epiphany that enabled me to see them as capable of change and empathy. This type of recovery resource was difficult for us to find, so it happened naturally for us. But based on stories from places like… reddit, paint a much more emotionally disconnected view of the situation. Which, I guess is to be expected. There was also a disturbing lack of success stories, but I think even fewer people are discussing their abusive traits or progress after they’ve started recovery. But, as you’ve noted the recovery is not fast or eaay.
The boundaries that I needed are neatly reflected above through your own experiences, and I agree that it will vary wildly with the people involved and specific circumstances. I came to those conclusions before I had read this article or all of the comments. I had to process those feelings instead, so thanks for that!
As both a current victim and recovered emotional abuser, vulnerability and honesty are my best tools. Both of us are already active in individual therapy, and are choosing to focus on healing without an expectation of a romantic relationship. I’ll be following up on the links in the article as well as the podcast. Your story is going to help others choose to save their own lives, and the lives of those around them. The faster we can break these cycles, the less of a hold they have IMHO.
Rock on, you’re my favorite person today, flaws included.
I am grateful, humbled, and honored by your comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this here. I think vulnerability and honesty have been and still are two of the most important components of my healing as well.
Also, always turning the focus back on myself whenever an old abusive pattern starts to sneak into my mind, instead of focusing on those around me (which is part of my vulnerability and honesty for sure).
Thank you again. I wish you much healing and strength through your situation.
Hi I want to stop being emotionally abusive, I am a teenager and I am suffering through a break up, Me and my ex broke up last October 2020 and now that some time has passed, I reflected in my own actions and I think I am an abuser. The guilt, regret and shame is eating me.
I used to call him names every time we had an argument, I used to bring him down through my offensive jokes, I used to yell at him and made him think that every problem we had is his fault, I rarely compliment him when we’re together, I shut down his emotions and I didn’t listen to him everytime he says that I am hurting his feelings, I gaslighted him, I am not sure if this is physically abusive but I ocassionally scratch his arms whenever I get angry at him and I would pinch him, I slapped him once when we were yelling at each other. I talked bad at him when we were together. I would always say mean things whenever we had arguments in the past. I prioritized other people than him.That was my first true relationship and I don’t know what to do right now.
He was a good person, treats me good, never said shit about me even when we broke up, never invalidated my feelings and would always help me to boost my self esteem. Never cheated, never manipulated me and loved me from the bottom of his heart and now I got time to reflect on myself and I am really regretting my actions in the past a lot.
I came here to ask for advice on how to stop being emotionally abusive so that in my future relationships, I am sure that I will not do it again? What scares me the most is I am conciously aware that all through out the relationship is I’ve always hurt him and made him cry and it seems like I couldn’t just stop. I am afraid that I might have some serious undiagnosed mental issues and I have no enough money to hire a psychiatrist or psychologist. Please help me.
Thanks so much for sharing here. One, give yourself some major credit for spotting this in you. At 17, there was no way anyone could convince me that I was being emotionally abusive toward my girlfriend, but I was. But if someone showed me video of what I did and explained to me how it was hurtful, I STILL wouldn’t have gotten it. So that’s a huge step for you to take before you even reach the age of 18. To recognize behavior in yourself like that and want to change it is just something most teenagers don’t do. I’m very impressed by you.
Two, you may have a lot of pent up anger or upset either toward yourself or someone else in your life or your past. It will be very beneficial to look up my episodes on emotional triggers (just search for “trigger” (without quotes) in the search bar of theoverwhelmedbrain.com and you’ll find quite a few episodes and articles).
Emotional triggers are when you get triggered by someone else’s behavior and you act in ways like you describe but there are many ways people can react because of their triggers. I think it’s SO important for you to understand where they come from in you. I cannot diagnose you, but you sound pretty darn sane enough to me to not only reflect on your behavior and want to change it, but also humble enough to admit you’ve done things you regret. That’s huge!
Again, way beyond your years. Some people don’t get that until they’re about 30 years older than you. And some people never get it, they just keep behaving in ways that hurt them and others and think it’s other people’s fault for relationships ending.
Three, after you listen to my episodes on emotional triggers, read the article I wrote called “Stupid Questions That Lead to Healing” This will give you some tools for when you get triggered so that you know where to direct the negativity next time. Almost always, today’s anger and upset isn’t about the person we are with, it’s about what happened with others in the past.
I spent a long time blaming others when in reality I hated my stepfather. But I didn’t want to admit I hated my stepfather for a long time. Actually, I didn’t know I hated him until I was in my late 30s. One night during a time when I thought I was going to lose my relationship, suddenly I started crying and fell to my knees yelling how much I hated him. It was a total surprise to me! Where the hell did that come from? But after it came out, it was the start of a healing journey that never would have happened had it not been for a moment where I allowed myself to hate.
I never allowed myself to hate anyone. I thought it was a sign of a bad person to hate someone else. But when I finally allowed it and all the hate came up and out of me, something else happened: I stopped hating him. I didn’t try to stop hating him, the hate just disappeared. I thought, all this time I’ve been holding on to hate and not letting myself hate but the moment I let myself hate it disappears? WTF? It was strange and liberating.
Sometimes we hold on to crap we don’t need to hold on to. We just have to identify it and make sure it’s directed at the right people or at least not directed at the people that don’t deserve it. For example, when you called him names, I’m willing to bet there was someone in your past (or even someone in your life right now) that you want to call names and perhaps hurt(?). If that’s the case, you are likely lashing out at those you love because you never got a chance to lash out at those that really deserved it. Or, you never got closure from someone’s bad behavior toward you.
There could be many reasons you lash you. Parents were restrictive, neglectful, hurtful or abusive. Or you witnessed someone being abusive toward someone they love and you picked it up as how you should behave toward others. It’s worth reflecting on when the behaviors you describe started and who they are really about.
Four, apologize to him if you are still in touch. And make it a no-strings-attached apology. Don’t seek forgiveness, only convey your apology. That’s it. Something as simple as:
“There are so many things I did to you that I regret. I am just now realizing how harmful I was and I want to tell you I’m sorry. You don’t have to respond to this but please know I feel awful that I was hurtful and also know that you didn’t deserve any of it. I have started working on myself. I wish you the most amazing life. I’m so glad I was a part of it.”
Or whatever YOU want to say. But keep it brief and don’t try to hook him in for a reply. Just let him be. He may or may not reply. If he replies and wants to talk, that’s fine. But don’t go seeking anything from him. Allow him to make decisions that are right for him. You may or may not ever talk again, but the most important step you can take is to continue working on yourself.
Finally, five, sign up for Healed Being and get the first four lessons free. Healed Being is a very effective and self-paced course I created for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change. Go to https://healedbeing.com. It is going to give you tools you will need to start the healing process. I describe many processes and exercises you can do, along with giving you things to reflect on.
You’re closer to healing than you think. To know ALL of this about yourself and see your behavior so clearly, you have already made a giant leap. You’re going to get through this.
With your ex, he will get through it too. Young adults are super resilient and what you think and feel now isn’t at all what you think and feel a year or five years down the road. So many things are happening and coming at you, so be gentle with yourself.
You’re going to slip up here and there and that’s okay. Triggers are sometimes buried deep. But you’re going to make it through this and you’re going to feel so free of what you’ve been holding on to for so long. You’ll feel lighter and a lot happier on the other side.
Thank you again for sharing here. I have a feeling there are a lot of people in your very situation that needed to read this. I wish you much strength and healing as you move through this.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate this. I am afraid he might not be able to forgive and would probably resent me forever because I think I did him really wrong. I apologized and he didn’t reply but I understand him. I just want to move forward and to not carry all these baggage to my future relationships. I am in a toxic household, my dad were physically abusing us when we were younger and he never said sorry, he talked badly to us whenever we make a little mistake and would always belittle me. I never had the chance to say to him that I was hurt and his words affected my self esteem. I feel like I was neglected. I am not using this as an excuse but I feel like I adapted his toxic behavior and I projected it to my ex. I feel really terrible and I am struggling to find compassion to my self. It seems like I won’t be able to forgive myself for causing a good person a lot of damage.
Think of forgiveness and apologies as gifts. You give the gift of your apology. The gift has no strings attached. When you care about someone, you give gifts without expectation. You gave the gift of your apology. Whether that gift is accepted or not doesn’t matter because you did your part. Whether the apology is forgiven or not doesn’t matter because the most important part, your apology, has been given.
He may or may not forgive you and that’s okay. That just means he needs time to heal and process. Don’t seek forgiveness, only concentrate that you’ve done all you can after the fact. Apologizing is the best you can do and sometimes the only thing you can do. You’ve hit the ball into his court and when you allow someone to keep the ball or hit it back is part of caring for them. In other words, if he chooses to forgive or not is up to him and when you support his choice, that is a very caring act.
Forgiving yourself may take time but you’re right, it is the next step. There are times in your past where you were hurt and probably never felt like you had anyone around to help or support you. I walk you through an inner child process in this episode:
I highly recommend you listen to it because it will be very helpful to you. Unfortunately, some of the caretakers in our life didn’t show up the way they needed them to show up. Because of that, we have to almost parent ourselves into rebuilding that self-worth and self-esteem. It sucks that they couldn’t be there in a healthier way, but the process I talk about in the episode should be helpful to you.
This will pass. You will get beyond this. Remember at 17, EVERYTHING is heightened and exaggerated. Everything feels like it’s never going to get better. I remember I thought every time someone broke up with me it was the end of the world. But really, the world didn’t end and I healed. You will heal. Be gentle on yourself because right now, you don’t have all the tools you learn throughout life to deal with stuff like this when it happens.
You’ve discovered something you don’t like about yourself so you’ll work on changing it so that part of you heals and improves. There’s no doubt in my mind you will heal because of your acknowledgment of it and your desire to change. It’s gonna happen. It may not be today or tomorrow, but maybe by next week. Or maybe it will take months. But be patient. With your ex, you’ve apologized and now it’s time to wish him well and start focusing on yourself so that no matter who you’re in a relationship with next they get the most improved version of you.
I am really thankful that you shared your experiences with me and I would probably treasure this article forever because it really helped me to reflect on myself more. This article gave me hope that I can change and even though it seems like there’s no light in the end of the tunnel, reading your article and your reply to my comment gives me a lot of hope and encouragement to save and change myself and my future relationships. I really wish you the best and I hope you’re well. Thank you so much this really means a lot to me.
Thank you for your words. I appreciate you.
Hey I came across your article which made me realize I am emotionally abusive. My ex and I broke up at the beginning of December and officially moved separately mid February. She was staying somewhere else even before the move out. We still of course talked even up until last week. I was so confused and couldn’t understand why she saw the relationship so negatively. I feel as though the emotional abuse is a generational curse as my family and I have not been so easy on the words. I am committed to breaking this cycle and becoming a better person for myself and her.
Unfortunately, she has said she doesn’t want the relationship and only has negative things to say about it. She says she is still very angry. I am afraid I have done everything wrong after the breakup. I didn’t implement no contact and we have talked up until 6days ago. I am afraid I cannot save this and I want to. I read countless articles including yours. Many saying no contact is important, not begging, gifting, and popping up. I HAVE DONE IT ALL. I read this can be a turn off and no contact is for them to miss you. In the mist she did say she was still in love and there was no one else. Her self esteem has been brought down in the relationship and it shouldn’t take her leaving for me to realize. She has also said a relationship shouldn’t be this hard which we all know relationships take hard work. This is all a result of the emotional abuse. I have sincerely apologized to her many times.
It has only been a week since we last talked and I am losing it as I have the entire time. I have sent extremely long emotional messages which I also read could be overwhelming.Every conversation leads to talking about the bad. I really want to be a better me and of course rekindle our relationship. I feel as though I shouldn’t have to hold in my feelings but it appears I have to. Your article also made me realize triggers that lead to emotional abuse which I have acknowledged. I am committed to making this work. PLEASE HELP! WHAT DO I DO after I have done everything during the break up process that I shouldn’t have?
Thanks for sharing Kay. Sorry you are struggling with this. One of the most important steps to take after a breakup where you have been the emotionally abusive person is to focus on yourself and not the other person. You know this, I can tell, from your comment here. But you may have the reasons for this all wrong. One reason is that the victim of emotional abuse is so used to being convinced and coerced that your focus on her feels like more convincing and coercing. It is showing her that you really don’t think you need help because all you want is to have her back in your life. Someone who knows they need help and knows they are harmful stops putting their attention on the person that they were harming. That means you turn that focus back on to yourself and work on your healing. The problem with most emotionally abusive people is that they have so much fear about losing the person they love that they forego the healing and just want the person.
Healing has to take place. And sometimes that means it has to take place without the person that was a victim of the hurtful behavior. It took several failed relationships for me to learn this. Finally, when my marriage ended, I got it. I spend most of my breakups trying to convince them to come back to me because I loved them so much and I knew we could work things out. But they had experienced all talk and no action for the entire relationship so why would that convincing be any different than before. You can only cry wolf so much until someone is tired of hearing it and realizes that you’ll always be the same person until you stop focusing on them.
This isn’t easy. I know this from own past. I was like you in many ways. I sent long, kind, supportive messages and everything else to show my love for them. The problem with that is they witnesses no healing, they only saw me as trying to convince them that all will be well if we’re back together again. That doesn’t work at all. The victim knows you too well to fall for that. You may be 100% serious about healing, but your actions and your focus on her show otherwise. Healing is a personal thing that doesn’t involve the other person. It is completely about you for you, no matter what relationship you end up in. Healing involves working on fear of rejection and abandonment. It means facing the fear of being alone and knowing that the fear is the issue. Emotional abuse almost always comes from fear. If you have fear, you act from fear. This is what can create emotionally abusive behavior. That’s why it’s important to work on the fear and start to heal what’s missing in you before you try to fill what’s missing by taking it from someone else. Another person cannot be the thing that fills the fear in you, you have to do that.
I know this is nothing that you want to hear because I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it when I was where you are now. I wanted to hear how to make her come back to me. But doing that wouldn’t have changed a thing. It would have been a temporary high that dissolved into emotional abuse after a few days or weeks again. What healed me was knowing for a fact that I would never be with the person I loved again. That doesn’t mean it’s true, it just meant I had to accept it as true so that I could finally stop focusing on her and start focusing on me and what I needed to become the best version of myself before stepping into this or any other relationship again. It was painful, and it was healing.
When we rely on other people as our sole source of happiness, we drain them. We can be the nicest, most supportive people and those we love will feel drained being around us because of our controlling or manipulative behaviors – even when we think we’re being nice. I used to guilt the women in my life to do what I wanted them to do. They got sick of it. No one wants to feel guilted into doing what you want them to do. They want to feel free to be themselves. The secret to a happy relationship is to allow the other person to be themselves and honor their decisions, even if you disagree with their decisions.
That is also true in a breakup. When you honor someone’s decision to break up, you show them more love and support than they’ve probably ever experienced. It’s showing them that you want them to be happy no matter what, even if that means they’ll be happier without you. When you come to place inside you, that’s when people want to be near you and with you. I want to be surrounded by people that honor my decisions just like you do. When you honor someone’s decisions and they don’t align with yours, that may or may not make a relationship, but what it does make is someone who feels loved without any strings attached. It’s honoring and respecting someone at the deepest level.
Took me 30 years to learn that. I had to learn to honor my partner where ever they were in life and be okay with decisions they made for themselves, even if I didn’t like their decisions. I learned that if I really don’t like someone’s behavior, it’s not up to me to change that behavior, it’s up to me to express that I don’t like it and for them to choose to change it or not. If they don’t, I STILL honor their choice, then I make a choice for myself to determine if I accept their choice or I don’t. If I accept their choice, then I love them and be okay with their decision. I don’t give them any grief. If I can’t accept their choice or their behavior, then I make the decision to most likely leave the relationship. Not that I want to! I would certainly talk to them about it first, but I’m not here to change anyone, I’m only here to honor what I want for myself.
When you show up as honoring other people being themselves, they want to be with you. That’s just how it work.
This is a process and you will make it through it. But you have to understand that anyone that feels like a victim of hurtful behavior has lost trust. That’s why self-focus shows them that you aren’t here to convince them anymore, you’re here to create the best version of yourself. This means you actually have to work on yourself even if you don’t have the relationship.
I hope you get a chance to sign up for Healed Being and you’ll get the first four lessons free. It is a very effective and self-paced course I created for the emotionally abusive person that wants to change. Go to https://healedbeing.com. It might be helpful to you.
Also, read my other article on judgment in relationships. I get more into everything I talked about above.
Right now you’re in the thick of it where all you want to hear is how to get back together. I get that! And if you want a chance at this relationship, which it does sound like there is a chance because of what you said, you have to follow my lead here because I’ve messed up in every way but know the way back to myself and I want you to get back to yourself as well. Being comfortable in your own skin whether you are alone or with someone else should be the goal. The only goal shouldn’t be getting back together, that does not lead to relationship longevity.
One final thing: You said no contact helps them miss you. That should not be your goal. That can be a manipulation and that’s one behavior you don’t want to introduce ever again. You never want to make them miss you. The goal of no contact for the victim of hurtful behavior is to get clarity and be away from the person that had a negative influence on them. One someone is out of your life for a few weeks or months, you start to get clarity and can make better decisions for yourself. Yes, no contact has a side effect of making you miss someone, but there’s more to it than that.
No contact for the emotionally abusive person should always be about everything I talked about here: Focus on yourself, not them. If you continue focusing on yourself, you won’t heal. You’ll just keep believing that happiness comes from them. It feels that way, but it drains them like I said. No contact for the hurtful person is a golden opportunity to heal. If this relationship is meant to be, it will survive while you focus on what you need to do for you. That means reflection, listening to podcasts, reading articles, seeking therapy, whatever you have access to, take advantage of it. You will hurt because she isn’t in your life, but when you come out on the other side, you will no longer carry some of the old fears. And that is a very attractive quality.
You can do this. I hope this helps and I wish you much strength and healing.
Hi, I have a question about no contact during the separation and focusing on my self. What if I work hard towards the healing and found out I am ok without her in my life?
Asa, that absolutely happens sometimes. In fact, being okay without someone is the preferred goal. If you’re okay as an individual, then you bring that okay self into a relationship with someone else that is okay with themselves, you can have a very healthy relationship.
If during your healing you learn that perhaps you are not compatible with your current partner, it’s probably because your dysfunctions or toxic behavior fed off each other in some way. i.e. When you got angry, she submitted and treated you nicer. Or, when you got upset or sad, she got doted on you trying to make you feel better. OR, maybe when you got upset, she got upset back and that was what you wanted to happen at some unconscious level so that you could point to her and call her the “bad guy”.
There are dozens of ways dysfunctions and toxic behavior can feed off or compliment each other. But once you heal, and you are no longer consciously or unconsciously doing behaviors to elicit behaviors from the other person, you may find that they no longer need to play the role they played.
My point is, yes, you can learn that the person you thought you wanted to be in a relationship with is not really the person you want. When my marriage ended, I didn’t want it to. It was painful and I was miserable. But after a few months of healing and reflecting, I realized there were a lot of incompatibilities that I never thought about. We just didn’t fit together in a lot of ways. What I thought I wanted wasn’t really what I wanted.
Now that I’ve done a lot of healing, if that person came back into my life, I would have no desire to reconnect in a romantic way. She is an amazing person but we are simply not compatible in ways that matter to the heart.
If you figure out that this relationship really doesn’t work for you anymore, be honest with yourself. Imagine life without her. Do you feel okay? Do you feel good? We are not all destined to be in relationships with specific people. We think we are getting into them, but things change.
When you heal, you usually release a lot of old habits and unhealthy patterns. They made up who you are. Healing from being emotionally abusive literally changes who you are, so I am not surprised when someone says, “I don’t think this relationship is right for me anymore.”
That shows that you are letting go of attachments and not dependent on someone else for your happiness. You are finding inner peace and worth inside instead of outside yourself.
I’m not saying go ahead and be alone. I’m saying be okay being alone and if you want to reconnect with her and try out the relationship as your new self, BE that new self with her and see if you’re compatible. Or, if you figured out that she is no longer your type because you’ve changed, it’s time to decide what you really want and move in that direction.
When you change, your likes and dislikes and your taste can change as well. It just happens as you learn more about yourself. Some people realize the reasons they got together in the first place aren’t the same reasons to stay together. It’s certainly a personal decision. I wish you the best in making the right decision for you.
Thanks for this article – this really resonated with me as there are many “echos” that relate to my marriage of 20 years. I love my wife dearly however for the majority of our marriage I’ve been an emotional abuser – my hair trigger defence mechanism means I’m quick to anger and this has caused countless serious arguments…all caused by me. It’s caused a huge amount of emotional pain for my wife – not only by being on the receiving end of my anger/angry, vicious words but also in me breaking countless promises of “I will change”. I’ll go through a few days (and very occasionally weeks) where I’m on my “best behaviour”…and then it’s another broken promise, another argument and we’re back to square one.
Over the years the intensity and the life cycle of the argument has diminished – the “red mist” clears sooner and I become aware of my anger and emotional abuse and try to apologise…however as I’ve apologised and made promises so many times I’ve exhausted the meaning of words like “I’m sorry” and “I promise I’ll change”….and understandably my long suffering wife has had enough (in fact I feel she’s had enough for quite some time)…divorce has been mentioned many times over the last couple of years and our marriage is hanging by a thread. I can’t say enough how disgusted and ashamed I am of my behaviour (I suffer from depression and have thought of suicide a number of times) and I’ve built my whole life around my marriage…and I don’t know what I’m going to do if we divorce. Taking all of this into account this also makes my continued behaviour of reverting to anger and emotional abuse even more astounding – why can’t I change?
It’s shameful that it’s only now that I feel that I’m trying to really follow through on changing this pattern and I feel it may already be too late (a few days ago there was another argument which I feel was the final “straw that broke the camel’s back” of our marriage – I’ve never seen my wife be so serious about wanting a divorce and being so hurt/wishing we’d never met/wanting to have walked away many years ago when this pattern of emotional abuse first started. I’ve signed up for your online course and am working through the first lesson however I feel this may be “too little, too late” and that my marriage is likely to be over and I’ll lose both my wife and also my best friend.
It’s never too little too late for you. But yes, your relationship may not recover. But please don’t let that stop you from doing what you’re doing right now: Working on yourself.
I’m not saying that because it’s motivational or supposed to make you feel better about yourself, I’m saying it because if you truly focus on yourself and stop paying so much attention to your wife, your relationship will have no choice but to change. What I mean is that emotionally abusive people tend to stay so focused on other people and what they’re doing or not doing and what they’re saying and not saying, but by doing that, it activates your compulsion to control or get angry.
You may be so focused on her because by controlling her or getting angry with her, it’s your way of keeping her in your life. Meaning, you might believe that by keeping the proverbial leash on her, you are assuring her existence in your life.
Unfortunately, as you have learned, that is the exact opposite that happens. I learned that I was constantly focused on my wife and what she said, did, ate and who she talked to. I never focused on myself, it was all about her, and because of that, I became a micromanager of her behavior.
Imagine someone doing that to you? That may be why you feel shame because you know how much you’ve hurt her and made her feel by your behavior. But the good news and the bad news is she is still there and she is almost gone, The good news being because she is still there, she is trying like hell to find a way to love you and be with you but you keep making it hard for her. The bad news is that her heart, once it’s closed, is almost impossible to open back up.
But I tell you to work on yourself because like you said, all your words about change and apologies are meaningless now. You are right about that. You have to stop focusing on her and trying to convince her and trying to show her you’re changing. Your focus needs to be so much on you that she will want to try to figure out what you’re doing with your time if you’re not being hurtful to her. And when she finds out what you’re doing, she will be surprised to learn that you really are working on yourself.
That is the glimmer of hope for the victim of emotional abuse who really wants to love you but is too afraid to open her heart. She wants so badly for you to be the good guy like you were so many times and maybe so many years ago. But the “bad” guy is in there too and that guy needs your help and healing.
Sometimes just telling her something like, “there’s a part of me I’m ashamed of and hurts you. I realize this now.” is a good start. Being vulnerable and humble around her is a good follow-up. And letting her be right even when you know she’s wrong is a big step into letting go of your pride and ego so that she knows that you aren’t about wanting to control or upset her anymore, is a major step toward healing both of you.
The relationship may or may not be salvaged, but if you stay focused on working on YOU instead of the relationship, it will at least give her enough breathing room to reconnect with herself so that she can start to see that perhaps you really are serious and you really do want to change.
There’s SO much more I get into over in the Healed Being course, so I’m glad you are in there. Stay tuned for the lesson on Focus. It’s coming if you don’t already have it.
Thanks so much for sharing this. I wish you much strength and healing.
This blog was what I needed. Me and my fiancee (engaged for 1 and a half years, together for a total of almost 7 years) separated a back in October of 2020 and I was doing some healing and realized I would gaslight and invalidate her feelings. We had a closure talk and I wanted space. My brother in law died (which who i was close with and was the last person he talked to and 1st person that found him after he past) and i reverted to asking advice from my ex to get some kind of response. I blew up and backtracked all that progress.
I read this and I feel better now. Maybe not about the death, but about how I can improve and really learn to love myself. Thank you for this.
I appreciate you sharing this. Thank you. I do hope you are able to heal and come to a more peaceful place inside yourself.
I have been married for what would have been 7 years in August. He has a daughter from A previous marriage who I’ve been in her life since she was 12 and now is a junior in college. She is one of the most important people in my life. I just left my husband because of his emotional abuse. He went into rehab 3 years ago for alcoholism which I thought was the cause of the emotional abuse. Things were great for 2 years after or so I thought. He is still sober to this day. We were in the middle of selling my childhood home that we had been living in since we were married to be able to help my mom with her health issues when I decided I wanted a divorce. When I confronted my husband about the emotional abuse he said he had no idea he was doing that. This time of separation while waiting on the divorce to be final has made me realize that Even though I can’t stay married to him the way things were I also don’t want him completely out of my life either after almost 7 years married and nine years together. I am meeting him tomorrow for coffee to talk to him and explore the possibility of us both getting counseling help together and separately. Even though he emotionally abused me in our marriage I also know that that wasn’t the only problem and that there are things I need to work on to and try and fix and I was also emotionally abused by my stepfather growing up. Sorry this is so long but your article really spoke to me and compelled me to write this. So thank you for sharing your journey and I wish you much success in the future.
Thank you so much for sharing this Melissa. There are many good people that do bad behavior and it sounds like if what your husband is saying is true (he didn’t know he was doing it), there’s a good chance that as he learns about his own hurtful ways, he can heal and change.
I appreciate your words and wish you much strength and healing through this. It sounds like you are getting along better and now that you are out of the relationship, you’ve both had time to think about things and reflect. The counseling route, both separate and together is a great idea.
If you start reconciling, my only piece of advice is to make sure nothing goes under the radar. If you see an orange flag, bring it up. Talk about it. Have a real conversation on it. If you’re both healing, you’re both going to want to address these things as they come up. Regardless of what I say, it sounds like you’re on a good path either way.
Thank you again – so glad you commented here. I appreciate your words!
Thanks so much for these posts Paul. Today I begin my own journey (finally after 67 years) at healing — and hopefully changing myself for the better. Your writing is invaluable.
I appreciate you sharing this here Pete. Thank you. I love that you are starting this journey. Age does not matter because we have emotions and relationships all of our lives. So yes, it would have been great to start earlier, but sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you discover what you need to know.
I wish you much strength and healing through this.
After 15 years I realized I was being emotionally, psychologically and financially abused. For the past 2 years I’ve been trying get him to stop. He goes back and worth on if he agrees that he’s abusing me. At the times when he agrees he’s abusive, he says he wants to change he tells to write down all the ways he abuses me so he can stop. I feel like he should be more proactive and do the research himself and when he does he will easily recognize his own abusive ways. This task would cause me extreme stress. Firstly it’s hard to put into words much less a list form of what’s happening. Secondly I fear his denial of my written words. Thirdly I have a feeling that it will be used against me in some way (unfounded fear? Maybe.) I’m not really sure how to navigate this. Any advice?
Hi Lainey, I’m sorry to tell you this, but what I’m reading here is all delay, delay, delay. I used to say, “I’m working on it” all the time when I was being awful. I believed I wanted to change. I had intentions on changing. I thought about it all the time. But all “I’m working on it” really meant was that I didn’t really have to change, I just had to make her believe it was happening in the background.
I believed that as long as she was still in the relationship, then I had years to work on my stuff. It didn’t matter how long it took, as long as I could continue to “work on it.”
After my marriage ended, I realized “Oh, so I should have taken this seriously! I should have taken massive steps toward change. I should have stopped focusing on her and wanting her to change and started focusing on myself and not only admit that I was hurtful and toxic, but that I needed immediate help right away.”
But I only realized that after she left. This is accountability. When the emotionally abusive person doesn’t think there is accountability for their actions, they are less likely, if at all, going to change.
With “the list” you are referring to, that’s a nice thought but the problem is emotional abuse is usually the result of a compound effect of a number of micro behaviors that build up to create a miserable environment. In this episode of Love and Abuse, I explain what I mean by that. A lot of emotional abuse is hard to spot in the moment because it’s part of a bigger picture. You can tell someone, “He makes me feel guilty when I get off the phone with my best friend” and they might say, “Oh, he’s probably just insecure. Just assure him that he’s still the light of your life.” But if he does that every time, and it’s part of the bigger picture of other behaviors that make you feel like you’re in a constant state of guilt or feeling responsible for everything bad in the relationship, other people are not going to understand. They’re not going to see the big picture that’s happening. That’s why emotional abuse can be so hard to pinpoint.
The M.E.A.N. Workbook is actually what pinpoints the abusive behavior if he wants a list. That pretty much sums up what he’ll need to work on.
Let me share this though. Once he gets the list, I would be quite surprised if he changed. You’re absolutely right about one thing: He needs to be proactive. He needs to take this seriously, as if he just discovered that toxic waste was poisoning the town and he was the only person that could do anything about it. He is the only one that can purchase the equipment and get the hazmat team down there to remove it.
But asking the townsfolk to write down their list of ailments so that he can work on each symptom one by one… not a good idea. He needs to tackle the source of the issue. He needs to admit that he’s hurting you and it has to hurt him that he’s doing it. When it hurts you that you’re hurting someone else, you take massive steps toward healing so you stop hurting them. You seek therapy. You find support. I have a program called Healed Being he can join. BUT, he has to want to change so bad that it becomes the most important thing in his life. It has to become more almost more important than the relationship because the relationship will crash and burn unless he makes healing a priority.
I used to delay all the time. I really felt like I could just keep working on it and she’d never leave. But she did. And I “worked on it” for years. I should have taken bigger, bolder steps. I should have been proactive. But the only thing that has worked for many emotional abusers is the real threat of loss – it’s accountability. When they know the relationship will end unless they stop hurting you, it can be the incentive they need to finally start the healing process.
I’m not saying you have to threaten the end of the relationship. I’m saying that he needs to know you’re serious enough to consider other options unless he does the work he needs to do. If he doesn’t know how he’s hurting you, don’t make a list, tell him, “When you do X, it hurts. So please stop doing that.” X is whatever he does. Even if what he does is make you feel guilty. You may not know exactly what he did to do that, but saying, “I don’t like when you make me feel guilty” should be enough for him to reflect on his behavior and make changes. If he can’t figure out how he’s doing it, he needs to find the help he needs to change.
My concern is that he may not really believe he has a problem. I didn’t believe I did until she left. Then it opened my eyes. Let’s hope he learns before you have to make a bigger decision like that.
Listen to the Love and Abuse podcast at a minimum. You’re going to learn how to identify hurtful behavior and learn how to respond so that you keep your power. When he can’t take your power anymore, he will either get worse or get better. If he really wants to change, he will get better. But again, you’re right, it’s up to him to do all the work. And when he does, you’ll see someone you’ve never seen before, which is a good thing because he needs to become someone he may never have been in his life!
Thanks for sharing this. I wish you much strength through this period.
Hi. I’ve read through this entire thread. I’m sorry there are so many people in this situation. Your post is very helpful. It took my therapist to point out that my husband of 26 years has been emotional abusive to me. Really threw me. I’m still trying to grapple with it. He would do things like punch walls or throw things when he gets mad. Not often, but it was traumatizing to me and our kids. Throughout the years, we learned to tiptoe around his moods. If something wasn’t going his way we didn’t know if he would blow up or take it in stride. He always blamed it on his stressful job. Now we moved to a different state and my youngest (16 year old son) is at home with us. My husband’s job is much better and he says how fortunate he is to have so much more free time. Should be less stressful but he still acts out. He yells at me if I make him mad. For example, we were at a friend’s house on July 4th and it was 11pm. My son asked me how much longer we could stay because he wanted to swim with his friends. I told him to relax and just have fun. He knows Dad might get mad because it’s late. When my husband saw he was swimming he told him to get out and we were leaving. I told him no we are staying and I could drive him back if he was tired. He threw a fit and made me and my son feel terrible. He went for a walk then came back and said we could stay. It’s things like this. We have been walking on eggshells for many years. I finally told him I’ve had enough and I need help to deal with him. We are both in therapy. He won’t leave me alone now. He wants to talk about his past trauma all the time. I know he had a tough childhood but I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I told him he needs to focus on himself to heal. He still turns things around on me and tells me about his sacrifices for our family and what I also need to work on. I’m at a loss. How do I tell him he’s been abusive and he needs to accept that and work on himself? Thank you for reading this through.
I went through the same thing as a kid, up until I was about twenty. We all walked on eggshells around my stepfather. Getting out of that environment changed my life. Not saying you have to leave. If he really is improving, then he needs to continue that path and perhaps someday there will be a better situation for all of you. However, what you said is true: He needs to focus on himself to heal. This is something I talk about in my Healed Being program as abuse involves focusing on someone else and wanting to control or change them. In your case, he wants you to see that he is self-sacrificing and a martyr, perhaps to continue to have power over you(?) If he isn’t abusive anymore, he may be trying to fulfill some unmet need to fill his self-worth. Could be a number of things, but I understand you’re in a difficult situation. I think the comment, “I want you to continue working on yourself, but when you tell me about all the sacrifices you’ve made, it makes me think you want me to feel bad for you, as if we should view you as a martyr or saint. I love that you are healing, but we have all made sacrifices and we all make sacrifices all the time. This is not just about you, it’s about all the work we do as a family to get through this. If you spend your time telling me what I need to work on, then you are not healing, you are trying to control or change me which is emotional abuse. We all need to work on our own stuff and I find you much more attractive when you’re working on your stuff and you let me work on mine. I will keep working on my stuff and stay on this personal growth journey but I need you to do the same.”
I realize this isn’t likely going to fix any problems (and you don’t have to use any of my words above, it’s just a suggestion), but there’s a point where you just have to say, “I love you and I want us to get through this, but the more you tell me what I need to do, the less attractive you appear to me” or something like that. Show that there is loss in his life if he exhibits certain behaviors.
Ask him it’s too difficult for you to process your own past and trauma when he’s also sharing his with you. Tell him it’s important to you that he shares that stuff in therapy and you cannot process what he shares with you because that’s his personal journey and you have too much of your own past to focus on. Plus, you are doing your best to see the best in him and don’t want to be clouded. Maybe someday when you are both in a healthy place you can share this stuff, but right now, you need some space while you’re both working on healing.
I know this is a tough place to be, but you know as well as I do that the breaking point can be reached and you will have had enough. Applaud him for him efforts but discourage him from continuing to share with you what should be shared in therapy alone. There are many reasons why your partner should not be your therapist, and this is one of them.
I wish you much strength and healing through this!
Thank you so much. Your thoughts and words are extremely helpful.
This is the best article yet I’ve seen from the abuser’s persective. Question: how lax would you say your parents/environment were on disciplining you? The mind-set and attitude you describe of narcissism and selfishness suggest a childhood where discipline and consequences were not implmented by your parents. I commend your growth. It seems the solution was facing down a major life consequence for your behaviors (divorce) followed by therapy. Do you have any comment on how your parents raised (or did not raise) you? Any thoughts on Why you never grew out of the emotional mind-set of a toddler? Where do you think the entitlement to control your partner, to view him/her as an object to satisify all your needs at all costs came from? The cure for your abusive ways was a facing down a major consequence. Do you wonder if lack of consequences throughout your life (especially childhood) is what CAUSED your abusive attitudes?
Thanks fore your words. I appreciate you taking the time to share this and to ask these questions. I’ll do my best to answer in the order you asked:
1. How lax were my parents or environment as far as discipline? My mom did not really discipline me at all. For the most part, I was a good kid. Though, I did get to do pretty much anything I wanted. My stepfather didn’t discipline me at all. He was either drunk most of the time, or just stayed out of the role of disciplinarian. My father however was a fair disciplinarian. A big kid himself at most times, but if I got in trouble, I’d hear about it from him. But again, I was a pretty decent kid so I can only remember getting in trouble like two or three times. I would say I had a lot more freedoms than most children and teenagers growing up.
2 & 3. Any comments on how my parents raised me? Any thoughts to why I never grew out of the emotional mindset of a toddler? My mom did her best to shield us kid from the dangerous alcoholic in the family. She was the people-pleaser and put on a smile no matter what. I became a super responsible people pleaser myself because of her role modeling. I also became highly judgmental of those who didn’t meet my standards (hence much of my emotionally abusive past). I wouldn’t say I had the mindset of a toddler, but, “entitled” seems to fit for sure. I felt like I deserved better and that my romantic partners should show up for me in a way that pleased me, regardless of how they felt about it. If they didn’t, I would guilt trip them and make them feel bad.
My coping skills sucked back then because I really didn’t have any. My parents did they best they could and my primary role model, my mom, really had only a few coping skills: denial, avoidance, diversion, and neutralizing every stressful situation. I was an excellent employee, always go along with everyone and did everything without complaining, but a terrible partner in some ways and a great partner in others. The terrible part always overrides the great part though. So, my only comment on how my parents raised me, mainly my mom, is that she was doing what she could to survive. I learned how to survive and developed beliefs and coping mechanisms in childhood that turned out to be dysfunctions in my adult life. My stepfather was someone I respected and feared and hated and loved at at the same time. I know that messed with my upbringing as well. If someone had taught me how to cope (express myself, express my boundaries around safe people, say No when I meant no (again, around safe people), and become more accepting and less judgmental, things might have been different. But I don’t fault my parents for that – it’s something they didn’t know how to teach, let alone apply to themselves. My mom was a notorious “yes” person.
4. Where do I think the entitlement to control my partner and to view her as an object to satisfy all my needs at all costs came from? There are some presuppositions in that question that I don’t necessarily agree with, though I can see how it may appear that way to an outside observer. I adored my partners, almost too much. I doted on them. I worshipped them sometimes. And, when they did something I didn’t like, I made them feel like crap. So I wouldn’t say I treated them as objects and I wasn’t satisfying my needs at all costs. But there were many times I disregarded their feelings so that I would get what I wanted. I don’t disagree with the word entitlement though. I think that’s a great description of me at that time. If I could talk to my former self, I’d ask him, “What makes you so special that you should get what you want even if it hurts her? Why are you being such an ass? Don’t you care about her feelings? Don’t you want her to feel loved? You’re treating her like dirt!” It’d be interesting. Perhaps that’s the kind of discipline I need.
I do know that if any of my partners said, “If you treat me like that again, I’m leaving” I would have straightened up right away because then the threat of being alone (something I feared) would have been worse than not getting what I wanted. I’m not putting it on them to do that, I just realized later on if I had known how seriously hurt they were that they were falling out of love with me and wanting to leave, I think I would have made different choices. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’d be healed. It just means I’d stop doing the bad behavior. I might have still carried around the emotional triggers and swallowed anger and sadness all the time.
As far as where I believe the “entitlement to control” them came from, I didn’t see it as control back then. I see it clearly now. But, I used guilt a lot. If I could make them feel guilty, I believed their compassion would kick in and feel bad for hurting me, then they’d change. I’m not quite sure about where the dots connect there. Did I learn to make others feel guilty because my mom hated my stepfather and said awful things about him all the time? Did I learn to use guilt as a child (likely) because I noticed I got attention when I was sad? That is something I may look into. Since I’ve stopped the behavior, I haven’t really dove into it. It’s an interesting question though, worth exploring further.
5. Do I wonder if the lack of consequences in life, especially childhood, caused my abusive attitude? I think that’s a big part of it. I would say it was more in my adult relationships though. If I had met women that didn’t take any crap (like the girl I’m with now 😉 ) I think I would have learned a lot faster. I don’t think a lack of consequences in childhood had too much to do with it, but I am open to being wrong about that. It was when I started acting badly in my adult relationships when I should have had consequences but didn’t. If after the first or second bad behavior my partner said, “Try that again and you’ll be sorry” I definitely would have cowered down in fear and thought twice about doing something “bad” again. I quote the word bad because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know behaviors were bad until the big consequences of them leaving me happened. That’s when my lessons happened. In childhood, I wasn’t acting badly, I was just coping. The problem was that I took my childhood coping mechanisms into my adult relationship. That’s when I changed from surviving to being the emotionally dangerous one. That’s when I needed the discipline. I needed better coping skills in childhood and discipline in adulthood. That’s my theory. 😉
I hope this answers your question. Thanks again for comment.
The abusive behaviors and mind-set mimic a toddler’s emotional development. Suggesting your parents did not successfully “raise” you out of that stage. Was there no parental disciplne for poor, selfish behaviors? Interesting that the cure for abusers is Consequences with a capital C. It’s as it they’ve been waiting for a Parent from the sky to mete out a consequence for a lifetime of poor behaviors. Parents, do your job…or else a therapist has to do it for you later on (after years of misery and suffering for many).
It would be interesting to hear from an abuser how they were raised. If they ever faced consequences for their behavior? Or if they simply got away with it (as seems to be the case). Were your parents negligent? Clueless? Tuned out? Too busy? Or worse did they spoil you? Did you have it too easy?
Ah, I understand the “toddler’s mindset” comment a bit more clearly now. Perhaps that’s true! Perhaps there was no discipline for selfishness. Though, I was extremely generous in my relationships so I’m not sure how or if that applies. I was more covert than overt. I was kind, generous, supportive, thoughtful, and a whole bunch of good stuff. But the bad stuff was when I believed I was going to be hurt or disappointed, so I’d act in ways that made sure I didn’t get disappointed before that happened. It never worked, and I never learned that it wasn’t working so I kept doing it, but I was certainly “getting away with it”.
I think what you said has merit, and I think it can happen other ways as well. I grew up in an alcoholic household and all the kids were scared and hoping nothing would happen. We found ways to cope that didn’t necessarily serve us in our later years. I knew what I didn’t want for a partner and instead of honoring myself and choosing to be without them, I tried to change them. I think my mom did that with my stepfather for as long as they were together. Perhaps that explains a lot!
I have done research on emotional abuse for more than 10 years because I thought I may be going through it, and I needed to know exactly what it was. For me, emotional abuse is extremely awful because my emotional scars stay with me, and every once in a while they creep up on me in the sense that there are times when I remember something painful that happened, and just thinking about it starts hurting me again. I’ve never been physically abused, so I can’t compare which is worse, but I know that being reminded by my mind of emotional pain that I went through is crippling at times. I was emotionally abused by 2 of my immediate family members. I was never emotionally abused by someone I was in a relationship with because since I’ve studied emotional abuse and I know what it is, I won’t ever allow anyone else to do it to me. Since I went through emotional abuse, I’ve decided not to be naive and too trusting when I meet people. They have to earn my trust. I’m so glad that I have someone in my life that I can trust.
That is a fantastic way to go through life. It’s not paranoid, it’s awareness and protecting yourself from those who may not have your best interest in mind. I look at life with healthy skepticism and it keeps me safe from bad situations – most of the time. I think when we open the doors and trust people implicitly and right away, we also open the door to any possibility. Sometimes we don’t get what we want. And I’d rather err on the side of caution than be caught off guard. Trust slowly, love slowly, then when it’s right, it all clicks into place. Thanks so much for sharing this here.
I’m so grateful for this article, thank you. My husband left me very suddenly in June, 2 days before our wedding anniversary. We had had a few weeks apart as he was struggling with him mental health and wanted time on his own. I saw him the evening before and even had plans booked for our anniversary until he walked out leaving me a letter explaining everything he was unhappy with and basically saying I had emotionally abused him. I’m still in shock about it to be honest because I’ve never intentionally tried to hurt him.. I love him so much..but this has helped me see that it doesn’t have to be intentional. Is that true?
He has suggested that I’m a narcissist though which I am struggling with because when I research it all I can think is that is not me.. I genuinely care about him and worry about him daily..
Anyway, since the day he left he has refused to talk to me let alone see me. I have found this incredibly difficult as in my eyes, marriage is about working through issues you come across.. I never even got the chance to talk about any of this with him, he just piled the blame and left. He is pushing a divorce which is completely breaking me but I’ve asked to speak in person with a counseller and he won’t even do that to gain any closure. I’m at the point where there Is nothing I can do and it completely breaks my heart. He cut me off so abruptly leaving me and also our dog which he hasnt even wanted to see. I just wish he had spoken up and I had known and had the opportunity to work things out..
Just to mention too, when he left, he moved to a flat locally but wouldn’t tell anyone where, not even his parents. He has largely cut them off as well as our mutual friends. Part of me thinks this is all mental health related as it appeared in the beginning of the year but then whenever I research that specifically it always points to the fact the abuser will try and make them feel they are mentally unwell or blame mental health?! I feel like whatever I think is wrong.
It’s unfair when someone chooses not to speak up and tell their partner they want the hurtful behavior to stop. If you don’t know that you’re hurting them, there’s not much you can do. The problem for most victims of emotional abuse is that they will try to talk to the person hurting them, but the conversation usually gets turned around or twisted in a way to make the victim feel like the attacker (in some but not all cases). The victim soon realizes they can’t talk to the abusive person because there’s no way to convey the message without being the bad guy. This is why it seems for many emotionally abusive people the only way they will finally get the point is when the victim leaves. It is the ultimate (and sometimes only) accountability that some people need in order to fully understand the impact their behavior has had on someone.
I didn’t get it for many years through many partners. In every relationship, my partner left me. It wasn’t until my wife left that I finally got it. I finally realized how my behavior was disintegrating the love and connection and making them feel like no matter what they did it was never good enough. My wife really tried to get me to stop, and it still wasn’t enough. I was still triggered and being hurtful. Near the end, I finally got it, but it was too late.
If he won’t talk to you, it’s very likely a form of self-protection. I’m going to assume he’s an empathetic, kind, generous, supportive person and, because of those positive qualities, he probably doesn’t often honor his boundaries telling you to back off or standing up for himself. I could be way off on that, but I see that a lot: A person who doesn’t honor their boundaries with a person that steps all over boundaries. The person who doesn’t honor their boundaries eventually leaves because they aren’t too skilled (or just afraid) in not only identifying hurtful behavior, but telling someone to stop it or else.
He may have isolated himself so that no one could find him when you asked others where he was. Sure, there could be mental health issues. But again, it could also be him not knowing any other way to feel safe so he took extreme measures.
That doesn’t mean you’re a monster or a narcissist (sometimes one in the same!), but if you have a dominant or assertive personality, it may have been too much for him to handle. Again, it’s a matter of him learning boundaries. I have a feeling if he said to you, “You better back off or else,” you’d probably find that somewhat assuring. It would mean that you could see him as perhaps your protector if you ever needed him. I see this in many romantic relationships. Partner 1, who is more assertive, wants to have their partner (Partner 2) be assertive too so that they (Partner 1) can feel safe enough to let their guard down and relax, knowing they are with a secure person. This is a guess too. I could be way off.
My take on if you’re a narcissist or not is that narcissists don’t want to know and don’t care if they are a narcissist. They blame their problems on everyone else and nothing is their fault or their responsibility. Your reflection on what happened isn’t something narcissists typically do either. They really don’t care. You may have narc tendencies however, where you feel your wants and desires are more important than his, and that may have caused you to be emotionally abusive toward him.
I talk more about all of this in the Healed Being program so I recommend at least signing up for the four free lessons. Otherwise, from this point forward, it’s going to be important you support every step he wants to take. This is so counterintuitive but your support of the steps he’s taking now, even filing for divorce, will show him that you are no longer going to exert any type of control over him.
Victims that have left abusive relationships need to know they are no longer going to face hurtful behavior, manipulation, or control of any sort. If you try to talk him out of it, he’ll likely take it as more of the same from the relationship where he may have been swayed before, afraid to say no or whatever, but this is his moment to regain his power and he’s taking steps to do so.
You’re not going to be happy with these steps because they are going feel like they are against you. But the reality is, the steps he is taking will be FOR him, which is all he’s trying to do: Get his life back where he feels he’s in control of it again.
So you have some hard stuff coming up. But stay humble, stay supportive, and let him know that even though this isn’t what you want, you’ll honor the path he needs to take. Like I said, counterintuitive, but remember this: People want to be with people that support them.
If you are anything but supportive, it will only work against you as it reinforces what he already believes about you – that you will never change. I can see that you have already started changing, but it’s going to take a lot more for him to see it as well.
I wish you much strength and healing as you go through this. Thanks for sharing this challenging situation.
I’ve been listening to your podcasts since June and have gone through the archives, as well. Everything you say resonates with me, especially the loss of who I once was.
My emotional abusive husband physically assaulted me on Thanksgiving, 2021. I left with only the most needed and items and my pets to stay with a kind friend. I went no contact for 2 months. I enrolled in therapy to work on my own codependency to help me heal myself.
I saw my husband this week to discuss divorce and make plans to collect my remaining belongings from the house.
Seeing him from the perspective of someone who is trying to heal and honor herself was enlightening. I brought with me the strong boundaries I once had. He said he didn’t realize he was abusive. I told him he needs to do a deep dive to see what he can do to help himself.
I sent him the links to your website and program and hope he wants to learn how to change his life for him. Not me.
Thank you for all you do.
Thanks so much for sharing this. Sorry you had to go through it. It sounds like you’re on a healing path, so that’s excellent. As far as his path, he may be right. He may not have known he was being abusive. After the physical abuse however, I’m sure that was a wake up call for both of you. Things need to change. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself. He really has to want to change in order for any material, therapy, or other resource can help him.
You’re right, he has to want to change for him, not you or anyone else. The challenge for many abusive people is that deep down, they don’t believe they’re wrong which is why they might continue doing behavior that hurts others. Hopefully he has realized just how much damage he has done over the years and he chooses a path of healing. It’s a very humbling, vulnerable, and scary path to take, but it can be done.
I wish you much strength and healing going forward.
Hit by a freight train of realization yesterday, when my husband said he preferred not be around me, because he is either being put down or he’s anticipating the next moment that I will snap, again. I believe he’s tried to tell me this before, but I HEARD him this time…for whatever reason. I’m in shock, I feel a sadness I’ve not felt before and I hope that it’s not too late to heal our relationship – If he, and I’m sure others I’m close to will hang around to see and hopefully believe the changed path I am embarking on (first step), today.
I won’t lie, you have a difficult journey ahead of you. But if there’s still love in the relationship, there’s a chance. The best way to healing at this point is humbleness and the realization that he is probably at a heightened awareness of any behavior that seems controlling or hurtful. The victim of emotional abuse will feel like you’ve betrayed their trust and broken the boundaries of the relationship. Because of that, giving them space to be angry and right is often helpful to rebuild trust. Again, it will be difficult but as long as the hurtful behavior stops and they haven’t closed their heart completely, there is a chance at rebuilding the relationship. Stay strong for yourself because healing requires a lot of self-focus (don’t convince anyone you’re working on yourself, just work on yourself).
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and trauma bond. Unfortunately, due to the way he’s hurt me, my own unhealed childhood trauma and not knowing how to put boundaries up (he still ignored them regardless), I would react horribly and I feel bad. The kind of things he often did was stonewalling, calling me names like “child, crazy fucking bitch”, putting up a poker face during communication over our conflict, focused on me raising my voice or tone (not yelling) instead of the issue, constantly blamed me as the perpetrator of it all and I was forced to apologize all the time, expected me and only me to change fast, threatened break ups and abandoned me constantly, punishments, made me sign a contract over my behavior, sent me to my room to calm down, blamed his own reactions on me even when he was hangry (hungry + angry), expected me to walk on eggshells so I can behave better, and much more! I was always worried about the next fight that would happen as my emotions were never acknowledged, heard, and understood. I couldn’t express my emotions as he wanted me to suppress them. He wanted a strong woman that would be calm and not express her emotions at all, but just say what was bothering her and the solution only. Don’t even bother explaining how or why you’re feeling that way because he never wanted to hear, or he would listen but the things he did would still happen again. But how could anyone be calm when he still put the blame on me even if I suppressed my emotions and said things calmly? No matter how I stood up to defend myself in a calm and communicative way it would almost end 90% my fault. I have had so many heart to heart talks with him regarding him being vulnerable with his emotions, taking ownership of his behavior, being more communicative, compassionate, understanding. He’d often call them rants and only wanted to hear the solutions yet he provided none. I really believed it was all my fault because of my childhood trauma. Is it really possible for an abuser to meet a cool, calm, collected woman who only puts her boundaries up as a solution (without explaining each other’s sides/triggers, or understanding each other)? Is that sustainable or healthy? Is that possible or realistic with what he wants?
So sorry you went through that. No, the answer is a big No. With someone like that, you can’t show up in ANY way that satisfies them. They aren’t looking for submission, they are looking for perfection. And even if you were perfect, you would not be good enough. There will always be something else you’re doing wrong or not doing enough of or whatever. He believes full compliance is the key to his happiness, but that’s the biggest problem here: HIS happiness. He doesn’t care about you or your feelings. He only cares about someone doing everything he wants and only what he wants.
Even if you were calm, cool, and collected, are you supposed to never disagree with him? This is a very lopsided relationship. He knows he’s right and knows you’re wrong. He says you need to be fixed because he’s perfect. He takes no responsibility for his behavior and expects you to read his mind and do exactly what he needs you to do. This sounds more like slavery or, at a minimum, a parent-child relationship.
Most abusers want to keep their power over you. They don’t want you to stand up for yourself. If you do, you might call them out as the controlling manipulator they are, then they’d lose their power. The only time I see them cave in is when there’s a real threat of you leaving. Most of them suddenly become a different person when they realize their behavior will actually drive you away. They keep doing the bad behavior because you haven’t left. They see there is no accountability for their behavior so they keep doing it. Your tears are not accountability. You feeling sad or bad is not accountability. But your departure? That’s when they are hit in the face with the reality that what they’re doing has consequences.
What you described is not a relationship, it’s oppression. And I hope you are not currently experiencing that! Thank you so much for sharing this. I hope you are in a better situation today.
I am an emotional abusive person. I was in deny for a long time. I grew up in a really mentally abusive household, and I think it’s the reasons why I am like that.
The person I made suffering the most stopped talking to me years ago, as they should of course. They pointed out that my actions was wrong before leaving, but I didn’t realize they were right. I was in deny for many years…
I will never be able to apology.
I want to change, I dont want to hurt anyone anymore.
I never wanted to hurt anyone, in fact. I didnt realize that what i was doing is really wrong and hurtful. I was so scared of abandonment, it made me a terrible person. I was so jealouse, scared.. i would control everything, who they talked to, where they were, what they were doing etc…
It really became uncontrollable.
I couldnt handle my emotions, so I would say hurtful / manipulative / abusive things…
Looking back then I can’t even recognize myself in those acts. Yes, it’s me… or it was me. I just see myself as a monster now. How can someone acts like that? I don’t know but I did.. But I never wanted to hurt.
I don’t believe I deserve anything now. I don’t think I cant deserve to be happy. I would punish myself now, stoping eating, dont go outside etc… I don’t sleep correctly, I can say that it haunt me.
I felt this same way in my teens and twenties. I don’t know if you are younger or older, but I do know I once felt this way (hopeless, like I was a monster) and that those feelings went away when I decided to change how I treated others. I was always jealous and possessive. I was controlling and critical of people I loved. I lost so many good relationships. I was in my forties when I realized that something needed to change. My marriage was ending and it was the first time I realized that I was responsible for all my relationship failures.
Once you take responsibility for your behaviors, you have the ability to change. You can and will heal because you want life to get better. It really, really sucks feeling the need to control or manipulate others. When we do these behaviors, it’s almost always something we learned when we were younger. Either someone did them and you picked them up, or you developed coping mechanisms that don’t work anymore. They might have at the time, but when you grew up, they can be toxic.
I don’t know if you signed up for the first four lessons at healedbeing.com, but I’d recommend that. I walk you through and out of this type of behavior. Or, if you don’t join that program, at a minimum, listen to The Overwhelmed Brain podcast so that you can start creating healthier patterns of behavior. My episodes on personal boundaries, jealousy, self-worth and self-esteem. I went through the healing process and everything I know is in my podcast and the Healed Being program. There is a way out of this misery.
We’ve hurt people we loved, but we can start fresh and be someone different from this point on. Sometimes when we heal, we can even apologize to those we’ve hurt, if we are still in touch. And if not, paying it forward serves those you know today and meet in the future.
Thanks so much for sharing this. I know it’s tough, but I found a way through this and you will too. Stay strong.