How to leave an emotionally abusive partner

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by Annie Kaszina on April 12, 2016

How to leave an emotionally abusive partner is something most abuse sufferers do not think through carefully enough. Rather, they spend painful months and years wondering what they can do to move on from all the awfulness, and how they can possibly stay-  instead of thinking about how to leave an emotionally partner safely and well. 

What gets in the way 

It’s hard – if not impossible – to see the relationship for what it really is when you are in it.  Women often tell themselves something along the lines of it being a good relationship which has taken a wrong turn – or else, their abusive partner has taken a wrong turn.  Either way, that kind of thinking totally wrong-foots them.  It’s hard to leave an emotionally abusive partner when a part of you sees him as a good man temporarily gone bad.

Guilt, guilt and more guilt.

Emotional abusers are brilliant at programming guilt into their partners. Name any topic that remotely connects to the life an emotionally abused woman has with her partner and, at some level, she will feel guilty about it:

  • His behavior – well maybe if she hadn’t done X, Y or Z, he wouldn’t have said and done those horrible things.
  • The children – who she should be able to shield from the horrible, ugly reality.
  • The relationship – which is her responsibility to tend and water, like some super-sickly plant
  • What people will think –  because people who haven’t the first idea what life is like for her and have done diddly-squat to help and support her may well be patronizing and dismissive.  Or worse.
  • Abandoning a man who, deep down, needs her quite what for it’s hard to know, since he totally disregards her anyway, using her simply as a form of concierge/housekeeper service. But so many women cling, at some level, to the belief that an emotionally abusive partner needs them; even if he doesn’t know he needs them!
  • Letting the side down – even more improbable but terribly true. Having married for love, and for life, it feels like a betrayal of everything she has ever held dear to walk away. 

Fear, fear, and more fear 

Never underestimate the anxiety women feel about how to leave an emotionally abusive partner, and what comes after for them.. Emotional abusers train their prey to fear.  So, the woman who wants to leave an emotionally abusive partner is afraid of:

  • The past
  • The present
  • The future
  • Never finding someone that ‘wonderful ‘again
  • Becoming an outcast
  • Staying a lonely, unloved outcast for the rest of her life
  • Being poor forever after. An emotionally abusive partner has held himself up as the capable, sane, worthwhile one for so long that an emotionally abused woman fears the world will confirm Mr Nasty’s view of her  – and deprive her financially, accordingly.
  • Never being happy again – not that she ever was happy with Mr Nasty, once he’d hooked her in. In fact, he enrolled her in a PhD course in Unhappiness.
  • Doing life for herself – because she has forgotten she was a perfectly capable, adult woman before he appeared.
  • Being disliked by Everyone – because the whole world thinks just like Mr Nasty allegedly.

Extreme self-dislike 

What I know for sure is this: women who struggle to know how to leave an emotionally abusive partner have suffered so much long-term emotional abuse that have no idea just how beastly they are to themselves.  Emotional abuse from their partner has become so normal that they hardly notice it and – worse still – replicate the same negativity in the way they think and talk about themselves.

This negativity pervades their thinking so profoundly that they don’t even notice it.  It’s too big a topic to go right into here, but pointers to that negative thinking include weasel phrases like:

  • “I know it sounds stupid but…”
  • “You’re probably thinking … and you’d be right.”
  • “I know I shouldn’t feel like this…”

and many more besides – often starting with: “I know…” 

That routine, unconscious beastliness towards themselves makes it very, very hard for them to commit to supporting, nurturing and motivating themselves, as well as thinking clearly about how to leave an emotionally abusive partner.

It takes all their energy just to keep themselves … I would say afloat, but that wouldn’t be right.  The correct term is: ‘from going under.

How to leave an emotionally abusive partner: action steps 

  • Consider leaving an emotionally abusive husband as a project. All projects need planning and organization.  You need to have an idea of what you want to achieve and the various steps and strategies that will get you to where you want to go. If you were taking a holiday, you wouldn’t just say “”Mexico” or “Italy” or “Europe”.  You’d have some clear idea of the various things you would need to do to make that happen. Knowing you need to leave an emotionally abusive partner is a frame of mind, it’s not – yet – an action plan.
  • Break it down into small manageable steps. People always say: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Tiresome as that old adage may be, it deserves thinking about.  In fact, let’s home in on just one building, the Colisseum.  That sure as hell wasn’t built in a day: there was just too much to do; planning, organization, putting together a suitable workforce.  Few women plan sufficiently, or think deeply about the kind of external help they will need.  That makes things much, much harder.
  • Have clear guidelines about when, how, and even how much you will communicate with your emotionally abusive partner as you go through the process. As you already know – albeit not consciously – an emotionally abusive man expands to fill the space available. The more headspace you give him, the crazier you’ll feel.
  • Get the right support. Don’t be like most abuse victims who over-rely on the wrong kind of support – and end up being abused by the people who should be supporting them.
  • Make your safety – physical, emotional, and financial – the top of your priorities list.  When you don’t prioritize yourself don’t be surprised that nobody else does either.
  • Take care of yourself through the process. You need to eat, sleep, relax, find support, and have quality of life throughout the process.  If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, nothing much will change. You have to start prioritizing yourself right away – or else, you may never do it.

If you are in an emotionally abusive relationship and you are unhappy, take comfort from this: you will leave.  It is going to happen.  The real question is how long can you bear to delay the inevitable.

Please share this article on social media so it can reach more of the women who need to understand about how emotional abuse plays out in a life.  And if you, personally, need someone to guide you through the process of leaving, get in contact.

Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

Annie Kaszina


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