How To Break The Cycle of Emotional Abuse

28 Jun 2016

How do you break the cycle of emotional abuse? Especially when a big part of your self-worth is still invested with your abusive (ex) partner?

Over the years, the majority of abused women that I’ve worked with wanted to break the cycle of emotional abuse.  However they struggled to cut off contact with him, not least because they did not truly, wholeheartedly, want to be free of their emotionally abusive partner, or ex-partner, and  could not quite let go.

Letting go of the relationship was a big issue for them.  From a logical standpoint that makes no sense at all.

Suzie summed up perfectly the internal struggle that so many women face when she asked:

“What is the part of me that endlessly holds out hope?”

“What is that part of me that endlessly holds out the hope that he will grow up and not be a jerk?”

Suzie is no longer with her abusive partner. Nor has she been for quite a while.  However her Hopium Addiction persists. She longs to see her ex finally redeem himself.  (She longs to have a part in his redemption. It would be a small triumph of virtue over – what should we call it? – wrongheadedness?)

Susie is still in the habit of seeing this abusive man as somehow playing a central role in her life. She would be happy enough for the cycle of emotional abuse to fade off the scene. But she does NOT fully accept that it is her responsibility to break the cycle of emotional abuse, in her own life.

Why should it be so hard to cut the ties of an emotionally abusive relationship, and take ownership of breaking the cycle?

There are lots of possible answers.  It could have to do with Suzie not really daring to put herself at the center of her own world.  Or it could have to do with still according her abusive partner a power and authority that he never deserved.  It could even have to do with not knowing  how to define herself without him (and her relationship ‘story’) to fall back on.

How NOT to make the decision to break the cycle of emotional abuse

In the end, the only important thing is the simple fact; you remain enmeshed in an emotionally abusive relationship (whether or not your abuser is still on the scene) – until you make the decision to break the cycle of emotional abuse for yourself. By holding your partner accountable for himself, instead of:

  • Feeling sorry for him
  • Making excuses for him
  • Rehashing the sad story of What Might Have Been
  • Giving him endless second chances
  • Telling yourself the “I still love him” story (to justify prolonging the agony of some kind of connection with him) or
  • Lamenting his ‘potential’ (You are not an Emotional Talent Scout)

Women who are still enmeshed look to their abusive partner to free them.  If he will only stop calling, or doing whatever it is he does to remind her that his hooks still bite into her flesh, then she will be free. However, that is unlikely to happen. For as long as he can still have his bit of fun tugging on those hooks, he will continue to do so.  It goes with the territory.

When my divorce from my abusive husband finally came through, I wanted closure. (Prior to that point, I had done at least my fair share of mentally asking myself the time-honored question of emotionally abused women everywhere: “How could he?”)  But I had a strong sense that I needed to sever the last line of communication – on my side at any rate. So, I sent him a carefully crafted letter telling him that the connection between us was completely at an end.

Being really quite astute, as most abusive men are, he sensed that I meant O-V-E-R.  Since then, he has engaged in a little low level provocation and he has bided his time waiting, and plotting the day when he would…  I’m not even sure what: get his revenge, hit me hard emotionally, or whatever.  As he once said to one of our very few mutual friends: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that he has spent the years since the divorce plotting my comeuppance obsessively; I’m sure he hasn’t.  He has had other fish to fry. But it has been a nice idea for him to play with.   When the opportunity finally occurred he was readt and he found it in his…er heart to give a little twist the knife. (He’s not the man to have a problem with the notion that revenge is a dish best served cold.)

How did this pan out in reality?

He has been instrumental in creating a rift with someone that I love. Still that person has their own share of responsibility also for the rift; as do I.

So where am I going with this?

Do NOT get hooked back into the relationship

When this rift started I made a conscious decision that I was not going to be drawn back into any my the old stuff, including Poor Me Syndrome. I was definitely not going back into Victim Mode.  I did not break the cycle of emotional abuse ever to involve myself in it again. We can ascribe whatever meaning we choose to whatever happens (to us). I chose to believe that there was a gift in the situation, I simply had to find it.

I had a vision of my ex-husband standing with the end of a cord in his hand, jerking it very hard, because he believed that the other end was tied firmly round my throat.

I don’t have to tell you that the other end was once tied round my throat, in the same way that a similar cord may well have been tied round yours.

No way was I going to pick up ‘my’ end of that cord, the cord of emotional abuse.  That would have been suicide.

You cannot just pick up‘your’ end of that cord, and hope it will stay inert in your hand. It will coil itself around your throat, or whichever part of your anatomy it was ever attached to – or may still be attached to. You have only to touch that cord for it to develop a life of its own – a life that is intent on squeezing the life out of you.

Dramatic as this might sound, it is the truth.  If you do not break the cycle of emotional abuse for yourself that cycle will suffocate you, and deprive you of a future.

You do not break the cycle of emotional abuse by trying to be Little Miss Sweetness and Light, and hoping that your emotionally abusive (ex)partner will finally see the light you shine.  You break the cycle of emotional abuse by biting the bullet, accepting the ugliness (not tragedy but ugliness) of the relationship, walking away – and staying away.



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.

4 thoughts on “How To Break The Cycle of Emotional Abuse”

  1. Hey, I am struggling so very much. This article helped and made so much sense to Me. I screenshotted and highlighted what I guess are my mantras. I am still with my (ex) partner. I don’t know how to safely exit. But I am doing my research. And reading the things that confirm it. It’s so easy to blow it off and forgive. But I realise I am lacking happiness and respect. I am overwhelmed with sadness, anxiety and depression. I find myself rebelling and wanting to be a person again. Walking on egg shells and being afraid. To live. To be me. To be accepted. And I always thought abuse was being physically hurt. But my heart and head hurt so much. For a couple years now. And I don’t know what to do. This article helped me understand. And if you read this I hope it helps you understand.


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