“Why  is it so hard to recover from emotional abuse?”

30 Jan 2018

“Why is it so hard to recover from emotional abuse?” clients often ask.  “Why can’t I just get over it and move on?” Not for the first time, there is no “just” about it.

Getting over the trauma of living with an emotional abuser, or Narcissist, is a big deal.  On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be rocket science.   Rather, it is something that will take you on an – ultimately – massively rewarding learning curve.  In this article, we’ll explore the 6 things that make it so hard to recover from emotional abuse.

Living, as we do, in a “quick fix” society, we struggle to make sense of why it is so hard to recover from emotional abuse.  It should be possible – shouldn’t it? – to take medication, meet someone new, and put all the torment behind  you.  That’s what happens in the movies, right?

Unfortunately, movies distort rather than distil human life.  Especially the romantic ones.

We may live in a throwaway society but our emotions don’t work that way.  Human beings crave love and validation.  We long for a sense of emotional safety.  We desperately want to come home – especially if our childhood home was NOT an emotionally safe haven. That leads us to,

#1 Childhood experience creates expectation  

Of all the things that make it so hard to recover from emotional abuse, this one is key.

Most people who end up with an emotionally abusive or Narcissistic intimate partner already have been traumatized by at least one similarly flawed key figure in childhood.  Hence the difficulty in spotting and responding swiftly and appropriately to red flags.

By the same token, you stay long after we would have done better to leave – because you are already skilled at minimizing the importance of the hurts and humiliations that abusers inflict on you.

#2 Being around a Narcissist or emotional abuser blunts your thinking.

The Narcissist or emotional abuser does everything he can to ensure that you can’t think straight. It serves his purpose to have you wandering around in a fog of confusion about why you are so much less lovable than anyone else.  That makes the journey back from emotional abuse far harder than it needs to be.

#3 The black and white world.

The abuser or Narcissist quickly co-opts you into his black and world. His schtick goes approximately, “Join me, and we will be the worthy ones together against an unworthy world.” That’s appealing.  However, before long that schtick changes to, “I embody everything that is good.  You are not remotely worthy of me.  You are the black to my white.”

Seemingly an abuser believes that black-white garbage.  Sadly, he makes sure you believe it, too.

Who would not be scared to go it alone in the abuser’s black and white world – when you feel you cannot escape the dark side?

Besides, if he is a good guy – and a very deep, primal part of you doesn’t doubt it – what the hell must the monsters be like?

#4  You need him to validate you. 

Never underestimate the cunning of the Narcissist and emotional abuser.

Clients often tell me that other therapists have labelled them “addicted “to their abuser.  I simply do not buy that diagnosis.  Any diagnosis that serves to get the therapist off the hook but does not help the client to

  1. a) feel better and
  2. b) move forward

does not get my vote of confidence.

#5 Starving for validation

Rather, as I see it, the victim of the Narcissist and emotional abuser is starving for validation. By doing all they can to ensure that you are unable to give yourself that validation, they have rendered you massively dependent on them.  More correctly, they have fostered hsaaive co-dependency.

“Codependency” is often seen as a dirty word.  That is not how I am using it.  Who needs more negative judgment than they have already received?

Instead, I want you to think about  co-dependency in terms of queuing at a standpipe for water.  If you have been led to believe that that standpipe is your only source of water, you have no choice. What else can you do?

Similarly, when we are casting about blindly for the support to recover, who else do we turn to but the people who abuse our vulnerability?  That, too, makes it incredibly hard to recover from emotional abuse.

There are plenty of decent, compassionate people around – as well as people who are on their own healing journey.  However, when you most need them, somehow you end up opening up to the ones who just cannot resist kicking a vulnerable woman when she is down.

#6 Preparation, preparation, preparation

When you decide to bite the bullet and leave, you face a thousand pressing, practical problems, including

  • shame,
  • the children and
  • how to make ends meet.

Your emotional abuser or Narcissist has made sure that your confidence is at rock bottom.  You may also have been out of the workforce for a while.

Anxiety is a dangerous counselor

The temptation is to focus on all of these external problems that have to be solved – and, no doubt about it, they do have to be solved.  However, the very worst time to attempt to make a good decision is when you are feeling terrible about yourself and your world.  Anxiety is NOT a wise counselor.  As many people find to their cost, anxiety is a downright dangerous counselor.

Every decision that I have made that has come back to haunt me – including the decision to marry the wasband (and emigrate with him) came about when I was quaking in my boots about something. The opposite also holds true.

Why S. found it so hard to recover from emotional abuse

S., a lovely client of mine,  decided to work with me soon after separating from her abusive husband.  For her, that was a big risk.  Money was short, she had no work, or any marketable skills, her community were judging her, her family of origin were not exactly supportive, plus she felt horribly guilty as regards her children.

She needed to make big decisions quick smart about,

  • Moving from the family home.
  • Whether to go for a job or take a training.
  • How to limit the impact of divorce on her children.
  • How to handle her ex – who was doing his best to grind her self-worth into the dust.
  • How to handle her community and friends.
  • Finances.

The power of self-worth

Together, what he worked on, mostly, was S. Each session would start with her telling me that she was anxious about one of her external problems.

We acknowledged the very real grounds she had for concern. Then we worked on her rebuilding her self-worth and acknowledging all the personal qualities and resources that she didn’t even know she had.

Our work together was not a long process.  However, that work was enough to shift her focus from the Problems-That-Have-To-Be-Solved-But-I-Don’t-Know-Where-To-Start to becoming the resourceful person who makes good, constructive decisions. That shift in focus certainly paid dividends.

Transformation starts with you

Focusing on herself first has proved transformational for S.  She has done a wonderful job by her children.  They are all happy, secure and well adjusted – despite a difficult, manipulative father. She has managed to co-parent effectively with her tiresome – now – ex.  He no longer has the power to drive her crazy. She is surrounded by supportive friends, community and family. She took the time to discover the appropriate career path for her, and do the training.  She now has an expanding business doing what she loves.  Plus, she has a new home of her own that she loves, as well as a new partner who cherishes her and the children.  She has never looked and felt better.

All of that happened because she started with the one place where she could effect powerful change – herself.

Why it’s so hard to recover from emotional abuse

What makes it so hard to recover from emotional abuse is this, you can’t change your world if you are struggling with a deep sense of your own unworthiness.  Especially, if you are still trying to rewrite the painful experiences of the past. Change needs to begin with you.

What makes it so hard to recover from emotional abuse is the belief that you need to define yourself in terms of your experience at the hands of “your” emotional abuser or Narcissist.  Don’t do it.  These horrors are people who happened to you.  They do not define who you are.  If you fell down and broke your leg.  You wouldn’t spend the rest of your life saying, “I am my broken leg.”  You might say, “I once broke my leg.  It wasn’t a nice and even today that leg can play up.”   The best –in fact, the only worthwhile  –revenge/response to that past awfulness is to discover how much more you really are than your toxic partner ever predicted.


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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