How do you deal with setbacks?

10 Sep 2013

setbacksmallHow do you deal with setbacks?  

Having a relationship with an emotionally abusive man means that you’ve had plenty of setbacks to deal with: including rejection, humiliation, criticism, blame, accusation, being made to feel worthless and unlovable, and much more besides. But what I want you to focus on specifically is: how do you deal with what you’ve been through?  

Abusive men come and – with a bit of luck – they go: sooner or later, either you leave them, or they find someone else to move on to.  

When you’ve live with someone who sees you as The Enemy, and treats you accordingly, you live most of your life under siege.  

How can that not color the way you see the world, and your place in it?  

Living with an emotionally abusive man teaches you to process everything you see and everything you experience through the lens of how an emotionally abusive partner behaves. So, you expect the World to treat you the way Mr Nasty has treated you.  

As an emotionally abused woman, you expect to be made to feel inadequate, unimportant, and unworthy.  

You’re not stupid. Your head knows that you are not any of these things. It knows that: 

  • you are as good as the next woman,
  • you’ve got a lot going for you
  • you deserve good things to happen to you  

Sadly, that’s not what really counts. What really counts is what goes on at emotional GHQ – that is, the message you keep getting from your feelings.  

Unfortunately, that message is far from good: your feelings are still regurgitating Mr Nasty’s stock-in-trade, emotionally abusive bile. That, plus a few more toxic notions you learned from parents, siblings, and educators, even before Mr Nasty appeared in your life.  

toxic materialsmall

That message is all about your shortcomings: past, present, and future. That message serves as the backdrop to your life, and whatever happens to you.  

Which brings us back to how you deal with setbacks.  

The setbacks you experience, inevitably, play out against the backdrop of these “shortcomings”.  

What does this mean in practice?  

It mean that something comes along that stops Life going the way you’d like it go to. So, your preferred path of least resistance is suddenly blocked off.  

What needs to happen at that point is that you need to reassess – as in: “Bother! I thought that this was open to me, and now I find that it’s closed to me. What shall I do, instead?  

But a bit of backstory-telling starts to creep in, as in: “This has happened to me before. So many times. Why does it keep happening to me? Clearly, I’m not good enough.  

Now, you’re back on familiar territory, aren’t you?  

You’re right back there in the familiar feelings of rejection, unworthiness, (self-)blame, humiliation etc. 

At this point, your mind will do its bit to confirm your feelings, by pointing out other occasions when you met with that same kind of rejection, and drew from it the same message that you were not good enough to experience anything better than that.  

To put it in a nutshell, the automatic, knee-jerk reaction of all emotionally abused women is to deal with setbacks in the familiar way: by rubbing salt in your wounds. Mr Nasty has spent so long accustoming you to having salted rubbed in your wounds, that it has come to feel inevitable. It’s all part of the punitive normality of Abuse World.  

The next stage comes when a part of you realizes that what you’re doing is absolutely NOT helpful. So, then what do you do? Most likely you give yourself a hard time for feeling bad. 


That’s how you get to go round in ever-decreasing circles.  

That’s why you can spend a lot of your time feeling like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back – or one step forward, and two steps back.  

Either way, it’s a waste of your time and energy.  

Setbacks come along, for everyone. They’re just hurdles. Hurdles we need to jump over.  

The picture that flashes through my mind is of a steeple-chasing horse. There wouldn’t be too many steeple-chasing competitions if horses galloped towards a hurdle, and then thought to themselves:  

ZPsteeplechasingsmallBother! Another obstacle in my path. Why does it always happen to me? Clearly, I’m not good enough. Even if I get over this hurdle, there’ll only ever be another one, and another one. I can’t be doing with this. Maybe I should just never get out of my horse-box.”  

I believe that ‘dumb animals’ are a lot less dumb than they’re cracked out up to be. Or maybe they’re more intuitive, and pragmatic, than we are. They don’t waste their time on the “Could’a, Should’a, Would’a”s. For them, hurdles are tthere to be jumped over, not agonized over.  

Life bears certain similarities to steeple-chasing. Maybe we need to learn a thing or two from horses about how to do it. 


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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