What makes it so hard to recover from emotional abuse?

28 Nov 2017

 “It’s so hard to recover from emotional abuse.”

“What makes it so hard to recover from emotional abuse?” writes Cate.  “He’s gone, but I still can’t laugh, smile or find joy. What is wrong with me?

I need some advice on how to handle this craziness that happens when they finally leave your life. You’re forced to deal with yourself and your emotions but you don’t even know where to start.  I thought the happiness would come right back when he was gone and it hasn’t.  I still feel terrible.”

Now, logically, Cate “shouldn’t” have that problem, should she?  Mr Nasty, the emotional abuser who has blighted her life for so long finally takes himself out of her misery. Since he triggered so much misery and he has now gone, that “should” be cause for celebration.  Cate  “should” find it easy to recover from emotional abuse, shouldn’t it?

Except, as you know to your cost, NOTHING is every easy when it comes to emotional abuse.  Least of all, apparently, how you move forward.

Mr Nasty may depart the scene. However, he made sure to leave a mountain of misery in his wake.

According to popular wisdom – which is rarely terribly wise – your wounds “should” just heal and your trauma “should” vanish.  In fact, you “should” be ready to hurl yourself, in short order, headlong into your next, radiantly happy relationship.

Unfortunately, that vision of the trifling importance of your wounds is utterly WRONG. It is, also, profoundly insensitive.

Once the thorn – or, more correctly, thornbush – in your side has departed, your feelings do not just  “sort themselves out” for various reasons.

Your life will not naturally fall into place

1)  The now departed thornbush in your side has left you with a few persistent – nasty – infections. Until you heal those infections, it will be very hard to recover from emotional abuse.  There is a huge difference between getting on with your life as a member of the Walking Wounded, and making a full recovery.  Unfortunately, my experience of women in recovery is that they cannot really conceive of ever moving on from the Walking Wounded category.

2)  Repeated trauma at the hands of Mr Nasty (whether or not he has laid a finger on you) reprograms the way you think, and the way you feel – about yourself and the world. Chances are, you don’t value yourself highly and you see the world as a hostile place – to you, at least.

3)  Then you have to take into account your emotional abuser’s intention: he wanted to leave a lasting legacy of unhappiness and damage behind him.  To the best of his ability, he has done just what he set out to do.  The Nasty Motto is,, “Gone but not forgotten.”

4) You have to understand that your psyche is NOT a bath tub.  When he left, he may have pulled the plug out. However, that did not mean that,

  1. a) All the dirty, scummy water just drains away. (That man is a genius at blockages.)
    b) The tub itself suddenly looks pristine.

All in all, Mr Nasty leaves a nasty imprint on your psyche.  That is why it is so hard to recover from emotional abuse.

Being with an emotionally abusive partner changes the way you see yourself and the world

The net results of being with Mr Nasty are:

1)     You lose not just self-worth, but your entire sense of who you are as a decent, independent human being.

2)    He creates a new – toxic –“Normal “ for you.  His toxic vision has become your Normal.  That remains so whether you are with him or without him.

An emotional abuser sets himself up as your worst enemy.  His specialist subject is teaching you to do his “job” for him – by becoming your own worst enemy.

Chances are, he will reappear, at times, to reinforce his own “good” work.  If you think of him as some kind of unpleasant meal that keeps repeating on you, you probably won’t go far wrong.  I’m not suggesting that you will be an obsession for him – I certainly hope not.  However, he is highly unlikely to resist the opportunity to take a pot-shot at you, whenever he can.

That’s one aspect of the problem.  The other is even more important, and that is how you – unintentionally – keep his nastiness alive inside you.

One thing common to ALL the emotionally abused women I have ever worked with is the way they judge, punish, and hate themselves.

Every emotionally abused woman I have ever met gives herself a hard time – the whole time. She does so on autopilot.  Without being aware that she does so.  That’s what happens when an emotional abuser’s toxicity becomes your “Normal”.

The worst part of it is having no idea how costly that “Normal” is in terms of your quality of life.

Abusive “Normality”

To give you a thumbnail sketch of how abusive “Normality” works:

  • You feel weak and helpless; so you let other people – not just your emotionally abusive partner –  tell you what you should think and do.
  • You feel worthless; so you set the bar very low for yourself.  That leads to underachievement – which, in turn, reinforces those damaging beliefs about yourself.  That feeling of worthlessness translates into either not working, or earning (far) less than your skills and abilities would dictate – if only you were near the top of your game.
  • You feel unlovable.  That is likely what led you to settle for crumbs of emotion, and bad relationships in the first place. Feeling unlovable makes it very hard to recover from emotional abuse.
  • You feel hopeless; so you dismiss the prospect of things getting much better in the future. This can also lead you to remember the past with your emotional abuser as rosier than it actually was.
  • You feel paralysed by fear and anxiety; so you lack the energy and drive you need in order to transform things.
  • You see your emotional abuser as the norm.  So you tell yourself that the whole world thinks and behaves like he does.
  • You feel like a victim; so you spend her time reliving the awful things that you have been through.  Victimhood is a prison.  The price of leaving it is letting go of your victim story so that you can embrace your true worth and gifts.

On top of all of that, most emotionally abused women were actually trained to abuse in their family of origin.

With all of that going on, no wonder that it is so hard to recover from emotional abuse.

Hard does not mean impossible

However, saying that it so hard to recover from emotional abuse is not the same as saying “it can’t happen”.  It absolutely can happen.  Every week I watch clients make that shift from Victim to strong, empowered women who believe in their own worth.  As a result their income, self-worth, and quality of life skyrocket.

That shift does not happen, magically, of its own accord.  The bad feeling trance that Mr Nasty has left you in, has WAY too much momentum for that.

Shift happens when you do the work to transform your mind-set.  That work doesn’t have to be difficult, or slow, or painful.  It is simply a matter of taking the right steps, in the right order, with the right support

Your emotionally abusive husband triggered some pretty toxic emotional states in you – or, more accurately, he left you with a whole minefield of toxic emotional states to navigate your way through.

You can learn to clear those mines safely.

That’s what emotional abuse recovery is about.

It’s the best way to handle an emotionally abusive partner leaving, or staying, or trying to have his cake and eat it.

See the good in yourself

What makes it so hard to recover from emotional abuse is not seeing the good in yourself.  It’s never too late to learn to believe in yourself. That may be a whole new undertaking, however it is perfectly viable.  No matter how hard that may seem right now, you CAN learn to love, trust and believe in yourself.  As you start to do that, you will soon start to discover that it does not have to be so hard to recover from emotional abuse.

You CAN 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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