What Happens to Emotionally Abused Women In Counselling

11 Aug 2015

sadwomanWhat happens to emotionally abused women in counselling is not always what you would expect. It would be hard to overstate the hopes of emotionally abused women who go into counselling and/or therapy.  Now, finally, they have found someone who will be in their corner and help and support them on their journey to recovery.

Sadly, that is not always what happens.  Especially, if the counselling emotionally abused women opt for, first off, is marital counselling with their emotionally abusive partner. In this case, one of two patterns will likely come into play.

The first one regards the woman’s emotionally abusive husband. Often he will agree to going along. There are two reasons why an emotionally abusive husband may do this.  First, the one that we women always forget: that agreeing is in his best interest.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but it absolutely is NOT. When you reach the point of insisting on marital therapy this is very much a last ditch stand.  You feel like you’ve reached the end of the line, However, because you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, you have to make this one last effort. 

 Mr Nasty is already doing the math. Splitting up with you is, he realises, inconvenient – in terms of losing his live-in maid, mother of his children, social secretary etc. More importantly, it stands to be expensive. Whereas going for counselling/therapy is relatively cheap.  If you’re not sure about this, just do the math:  it’s the difference between a few hundred (to a few thousand) dollars he stands to lose/pay in counselling, against ten, or ten hundred times that in a divorce court. All he needs to do to safeguard his precious assets is to go to therapy a few times and then back out.

The other reason why he agrees to go for counselling is that, if he’s half-way good at deceiving people, then he will be able to make you look like the bad one, or the mad one, or the sad one. Or all three. I’ve been on the receiving end of that approach myself, and spoken with many other women who have had the same experience.  What happens to emotionally abused women in counselling where the counsellor sides with their husband is that they end up feeling even more isolated, despairing, and powerless.  Being let down by a supposedly impartial counsellor is close to soul-destroying.

What happens to women in counselling without their Mr Nasty is somewhat different.  At the beginning it feels like such a blessed relief to have someone who will finally listen to you. Throughout your time with your emotionally abusive partner, either he hasn’t listened, or he has used what you say against you. So, it feels wonderful to talk, to have someone who holds the space for you.

It’s wonderful, too, to find someone who can fill in some of the blanks for you, who can validate your feelings by giving you labels that describe what’s happened to you. It’s reassuring to know that you never behaved the way you did because you were some kind of freak of nature, but because you have PTSD, or because he’s a Narcissist, or because you have various issues stemming back to your childhood.

But then what happens to emotionally abused women in counselling is that the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks on. You go, you talk about what’s happened to you, you revisit your labels, and things just plateau out. Your counsellor starts to point out to you where you are stuck – and either says, or implies, that you shouldn’t be. You really should be getting over it by now.

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You’re aware that you’ve come a long way.  But you’re not happy. You’ve also noticed that you now feel a different kind of stuck: the stuck of being in an ongoing relationship with that counsellor, with whom you’ve built a bond of trust and familiarity, and talking about your ‘stuff’ without really getting anywhere.  If anything, it’s making you feel worse.

At the start it was just wonderful to talk about it and learn that what happened to you really was significant, and damaging. But now it starts to feel as if talking about it only reinforces your victim story.  It’s like it takes you right back into it, when what you really want is answers to those nagging questions: “How do I ever get over this?”, “How do I rebuild my life? ‘How do I get to trust myself – and other people, again?

You don’t want to quit counselling because that was what got you out of the depths of the black hole you were in.  But, at the same time, you sense that there is sunshine, and a whole world above you, some place that you cannot reach.

What happens to emotionally abused women in counselling is simply that they are not given the tools and strategies they need to complete the job of healing.  They get more knowledgeable about what happened to them, but they don’t get a whole lot happier.  So they end up telling themselves – once again – that it ‘must be them’.  The ‘problem’ lies not with the counselling but with their own limitations.

That, I have to say is just not true. A good half of the women who end up working with me, either through my programs or 1 on 1, have gone as far as counselling will take them – which is not nearly far enough.  It’s not nearly far enough because they are left feeling, stuck, demoralised, and defeated. They know they’ve reached some kind of glass ceiling but they just don’t see a way round it, or through it.

What happens to women in counselling is that they end up believing that they’re stuck because of some internal, insurmountable limitation: they must be stuck because they can’t recover.

That drives me CRAZY.

I’ve worked with so many women who have ‘written themselves off’ and been written off by therapists.

But they weren’t ‘write-offs’.

They were simply women who need more tools, more faith in themselves, and more hope.

Because I’ve been there myself, I understand how important it is to have the support of someone who can hold that faith and hope for you, and offer you the support you need when you need it – as well as providing you with the powerful tools that will destroy those lingering beliefs about being broken, powerless, and worthless.

Nobody is ever a ‘write-off’ when they have the support they need.  What happens to emotionally abused women in counselling, most commonly, is that they get the ordinary level of commitment that is on offer rather than the exceptional level they need. That is the reason why they struggle.




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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