None of us ever plan to get into an abusive relationship, yet often those of us who were emotionally abused as children, find ourselves falling into similar circumstances when we are adults. We do this because it is what we know. We have difficulty knowing and admitting the truth about what is really happening to us. We've been so beaten down that we see ourselves as stupid, ugly, worthless.
In my own case, I was an emotionally, physically, and sexually abused child. My mother, the woman I depended on for life, the woman I loved and trusted to take care of me, seemed to take great satisfaction in belittling me. 'You're no good, and you're never going to amount to anything.' Or, when I brought a boyfriend home, it was, 'You don't want to be with her. She's going to be nothing but a fat old drunk like her father.' She hated my dad, and she hated me because I was born. I not only looked just like my dad, but back in the days I was growing up, women didn't leave their marriages. They stayed together for the sake of the children. And, we all know that that is not necessarily what is the best.
So, as a young woman, I fell into one abusive relationship after another. My first was an alcoholic like my dad who refused to work. Not only did he belittle me, but we ended up losing everything, including the relationship. The second was to a sex addict. His abuse was different, but it was emotional abuse nonetheless. He'd stay out all night long for days on end with other women. I put up with that for a few years. I didn't think I deserved better. Afterwards there was a short relationship with another alcoholic who gave me a ring for Christmas and stole it back the next day. Then came my ex who was probably the most abusive of all, and I put up with it for almost fifteen years. His abuse was both physical and emotional, and he really had me beaten down.
The core element in abusive relationships is that there is a power imbalance between a controlling tyrant and the oppressed partner; One person has power over another. In addition, the symptoms and effects of abusive relationships between adults are similar to those for abused children. The most notable signs are:
--A sense of isolation and humiliation. Our abusers only have control when they are able to keep us down and thwart our efforts at seeking support. Our abuser usually can come up with a myriad of reasons why we shouldn't spend time with our family or friends.
--It's always the victim's fault. They made them do it. If you ask an abuser, he will never say that anything is his fault. Abusers are masters at denying, minimizing, and blaming the victim, and they know how to do it in such a way that they make themselves look like the victim. In addition, this 'blame the victim' approach that encourages self-blame in victims, and the 'true' victim actually believes that it is all their fault.
--Abusers are known to resort to threats to get their partners to do what they want, and although the emotional abuser usually will not resort to physical abuse, they will often use threats of violence to get their way. They've been know to threaten their partners and children with physical violence. Some even promise to kill themselves if the victim tries to get out of the relationship. My first alcoholic beau called me not too long after our breakup to tell me that he was going to kill himself if I didn't go back with him. My response? 'Go ahead.' Two months later he was living with another woman.
--The Abuser has to be in charge...all of the time. The victim is treated as nothing more than one of their possessions, and therefore, is of no value to the abuser other than their ability to do the abuser's bidding. The abuser believes that the personal rewards he derives from the exchange are too little when compared to what he is giving in the relationship. Name-calling, shaming, yelling, and instilling fear are all ways that abusers gain control the actions of their partners.
Fortunately, society is now beginning to recognize emotional abuse as being every bit as damaging as physical abuse--emotionally and psychologically. It eats away at your very core. Bruises heal, but emotional abuse can be with one for their entire life. I'm 65 years old today, yet, there are still times I can hear those voices telling me that I will never amount to anything.
Those of us who have lived through emotional abuse know how damaging the experience may be. Moreso, the pattern may be hard to break with the cycle spanning several generations. Women who become involved in relationships like this may be duplicating the patterns of their own mothers and fathers or other adults in their families. The first step in breaking free from the cycle of emotional abuse is recognising that your situation is abusive and acknowledging that it is happening. It is only when you are able to acknowledge it that you can get the help that you need.
Breaking free is one thing, but rebuilding the self is another. In my own case, it took years of counselling before I was able to overcome my feelings of helplessness. I cannot stress enough the importance of seeking out a professional that will assist you. Participate in support recovery groups for people who shared your situation. This was tremendously helpful for me, and I participated in one for over a year. Focus on the future and set goals for yourself.
This rebuilding process may take some time, so be prepared. Be Give yourself time to heal before beginning a new relationship. I see it all too often with my clients, and it, too, is a vicious cycle. The woman bases her worth on being with a man so she jumps into a relationship. The man wines and dines her, and before she knows it, she is madly in love. The problem is, she's done no work on the self so her esteem is still low. Sadly, she either finds herself in the same kind of relationship, and the cycle continues.National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) orTTY 1−800−787−3224.