Why Emotional Abuse Leaves You Feeling Hopeless

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by Annie Kaszina on February 9, 2016

The real reason why emotional abuse leaves you feeling hopelessEmotional abuse leaves you feeling hopeless.  It’s blindingly obvious.  I have yet to meet a single emotionally abused woman who hasn’t experienced intense feelings of hopelessness.  And yet nobody actually recognizes how profoundly those feelings affect them.

Certainly, emotional abuse does strange things to the victim’s brain.

I’m not going to try to blind you with science here.  Not only am I supremely unqualified to do so, but it’s not my way.

Give a person a scientific truth, and they can hold it up as proof of what is: “You see! This is why I can’t help behaving like this!   But get them to have that “Holy moly! I’ve been doing that!” response, and something profound shifts inside them.

A dear client of mine told me this week: “I can now turn something acutely painful into something hysterically funny.”  With every Holy Moly moment she has, she becomes able to fall about laughing at something  that previously caused her immense pain – something that once drove her to despair.  That something has been neutralized by her laughter so that it has lost its power to hurt, humiliate, and trouble her.

Emotional abuse will plunge you deeper and deeper into a world of toxic emotions.   Try thinking of yourself as a lobster, your relationship as a pot full of water, and your emotional abuser as the ‘cook’ who gradually turns up the heat under you: that’s a fair working description of how it all works.

Emotional abuse leaves you feeling hopeless.

A lobster sitting in a gradually heating pot, with its claws securely tired, is powerless. There is nothing that lobster can do to change the situation. If it had the power of introspection – which I gather it has not – it would probably reach the conclusion that its situation was hopeless.

Would the lobster take the opportunity to berate itself, and tell itself that it was hopeless?

Probably not.

Therein lies a major difference between our metaphorical lobster and an abused woman.

Nobody likes to feel powerless.

Nobody likes to feel powerless.  The act of owning responsibility – for something that is not actually your fault – is an attempt to feel less powerless in a difficult situation.

Powerlessness and hopelessness, you might argue are not the same thing.  I would agree.

Hopelessness is one rung further down the ladder of despair.  Powerlessness means you lack the capacity to affect an outcome: hopelessness means that even the hope of things changing is gone.

That is all part of an emotional abuser’s grand design.  Emotional abuse leaves you feeling hopeless because that is exactly what it is designed to do.  An abuser does not want you to pick yourself up and get on with your life.  Ever.  Not even if he does.

Your hopelessness marks you out as his territory forever after – as he sees it. It means, from his point of view, that you will always be there for him to poke and prod and have his kind of fun with, whenever he feels like it.  (Yes, that’s weird and twisted, but that is who he is.)

He teaches you that helpless is who you are and your – immutable – human condition.

As usual, he lies. Unfortunately, when you’ve been steeped in Mr Nasty induced hopelessness for any length of time, it comes to feel inevitable; ‘normal’ even for you, anyway.  Like someone I was talking to last week.

Her emotionally abusive partner has worked through the standard checklist:

  • Humiliating and diminishing her
  • Telling her she’d be nothing without him
  • Making her financially dependent
  • Telling her how worthless she is
  • Holding himself out as her only possible salvation
  • Reminding her how lucky she is to have him in the first place
  • Threatening to leave

By the time I spoke with her she was up to her eyeballs in hopelessness.

How can you tell?

Over time, I’ve come to realise that, here too, there is a standard checklist:

  • Terrified about the future
  • Feeling financially destitute
  • Envisioning living all alone, in a garret, with no money
  • Not seeing a way forward
  • In ‘decision overwhelm’ – trying to find answers to too many problems to soon, when just getting out of bed in the morning is a big deal
  • Paralysed by anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

When I managed to shift her focus from what she thought was her fate, to the reality of who she is – but had forgotten – a very different scenario emerged. She has skills – albeit slightly rusty skills – that have enabled her to earn a healthy living in the past.  She has rights that she hasn’t even taken into consideration. She has a good brain – albeit a brain that’s been mothballed during her years with her emotional abuser.  She has her health. She has a sense of humor – which can be a lifejacket.

So, what is her biggest problem?

Her most objectionable problem may well be her Mr Nasty.

However, her biggest problem is the beliefs and the mind-set that are currently driving her crazy.  Fortunately, there is a simple system any woman can learn to shed that dross, so she can reconnect with her strengths, her vision and, above all, the hope and faith that will allow her to rebuild her life.

Emotional abuse leaves you feeling helpless, because that is precisely what it is designed to you. But that helplessness is only a feeling.  It’s never too late to learn how you can replace helplessness with the feelings that will empower you to create a wonderful life for yourself.

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