Recovering from an abusive relationship

Though widespread, domestic violence and abuse is often hidden and it can be difficult for victims to identify and understand that it is occurring in their relationship. One of the most complex forms of abuse to identify is emotional or psychological abuse. Although this form of abuse can often be paired with physical violence as it allows the abuser to maintain power and control in a relationship, it can also appear on its own. Due to the nature of emotional abuse, we sometimes fail to detect it at first as it is insidious, yet it can impact on one’s self esteem, independence, identity, mood, social engagement/relationships, career, and can ultimately lead individuals to become so disenfranchised, that they begin to blame themselves for their partner’s abusive responses and behaviours towards them. As a result, this can lead to the victim experiencing a wide variety of mental health issues such as symptoms of anxiety and depression, and feeling trapped in their relationship.

Signs to look out for and different types of emotional abuse:

  • Verbal- yelling, insulting or swearing at someone
  • Rejection- pretending not to notice someone’s presence, conversation or value
  • Put downs- name calling, public embarrassment, calling someone stupid, blaming them for everything
  • Being afraid- causing someone to feel afraid, intimidated or threatened
  • Isolation- limiting freedom of movement, stopping someone from contacting other people (like friends or family)
  • Money- controlling someone’s money, withholding money, preventing someone from working, stealing or taking money
  • Bullying-purposely and repeatedly saying or doing hurtful things to someone

(Taken from: Reachout)

It can take time to heal emotional scars, and for many, it is not until we are out of a relationship that we realise the full gravity of the impact the emotional and psychological abuse has had.

5 steps to help yourself recover from an abusive and controlling relationship.

  1. Allow yourself the time and space to heal, don’t rush: The emotional toll these relationships take on an individual is huge. You may even feel as if you don’t know yourself anymore, or like you are starting your life all over again. Often when our self-esteem and character is chipped away at in these relationships, it can take a long time to rediscover all the little parts of oneself, begin to piece them back together and work towards recovery. There may also be practical issues to address such as housing, finances, employment, keeping yourself safe or arrangements for your children.
  2. Surround yourself with support: Connect with a Counsellor or Psychologist to help you explore and manage the emotional pain. It is common for individuals to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression in these situations. Reaching out for help can be difficult but talking about your experience with trusted friends, family members and a mental health professional means you are not alone and you do not have to deal with things by yourself. Through sharing with others and asking for support, many people report feeling a sense of relief and validation that what was occurring secretly in the relationship was not ok, and begin the long process of working towards letting go of self blame.
  3. Allow your creativity to flow: Engaging in creative processes allows our mind to sit safely with, process, and express emotions. These cathartic activities encourage healing through expression of emotions. You may like to consider journaling, painting, using adult colouring in books based on Mindfulness principles, listening to or playing music, knitting, drawing, pottery, cake decorating. Importantly…don’t let the idea that you may or may not have artistic capabilities hold you back, this creative process is about providing a vehicle for expression of your emotions, not necessarily making a work of art to hang on your wall.
  4. Find routine when ready: Keeping a consistent daily routine as much as we can allows us to feel a sense of normality and can decrease the experience of symptoms of anxiety and depression. For some it may take some time before feeling ready to re-instate routine and that is ok too. It is especially important to try to avoid over eating, over-sleeping, drugs and alcohol.
  5. Focus on self compassion: Nurturing and taking care of yourself from the inside out during or after the breakdown of an abusive relationship means that you are now prioritising and valuing YOU! This can take some practice but by starting to treat ourselves with kindness and self compassion we develop a new attitude towards ourselves and our worth. This can lead to the rebuilding of our self esteem, our identity and our inner strength, hence allowing us to interact with ourselves and others in more meaningful ways.  (Please click on the following links for tips and information about how to start putting your needs first: Self Compassion 1 Self Compassion 2)

If you would like to take the first step towards seeking therapeutic support, or would like some information about appointments to pass on to a loved one, please feel free to contact the practice on 8361 7008.

Alyce Mayman, Counsellor and Psychotherapist

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