Healing From Emotional Abuse

Healing From Emotional Abuse Psychology Fanatic article header image
Healing From Emotional Abuse. Psychology Fanatic
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When engulfed in the pain and trauma of an emotionally abusive relationship, escape appears as the only necessary step for recovery.  We focus on the brightness at the end of the tunnel as we plan our release from the hell of broken dreams. Most find that the shimmering light is only a mirage. The prolonged trauma leaves a significant stain on our souls, continuing to cripple our happiness. The disappointment of reality, sadly, drives many back into the chaos of abuse. However, healing from emotional abuse is possible. We can live and love again.

No one deserves to be abused—emotionally or physically. No matter what our childhood experience, personality flaws, or weaknesses abuse serves no purpose other than exploiting, manipulating and suffocating suffocating joy out of life. Life in toxic environments becomes one long nightmare.

​Emotional intelligence is damaged in high stress environments, retarding further expansion. Escape, often the necessary first step for recovery, overwhelms the longtime prisoner with the weighty demands of emotional survival in new complex environments. The abuse has taken its toll and purposeful steps towards recovery are required for healing to begin.

Abusive Relationships Difficult to Leave

Abusive partners often play the roll of a damaging narcotic in addiction. Although an abusive relationship is psychologically damaging, we often find comfort in the familiarity. When the new life appears away from an abuser out-matches resources, the victim often returns to the poison. They justify the foolishness, soothing the craziness with thoughts such as, “this time will be different,” or “(s)he really loves me.”

​Just like the years of manipulation in the relationship, abusive partners continue to manipulate after the escape. Promises, emotions and threats are the likely tools. Truths are blurred, resolutions weakened and promise of a magical change titillating. Fool’s gold sparkles.

“When the new life out-matches our resources, we return to the poison that originally damaged our souls.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Studies support the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship. Once abuse begins, it is unclear how to best leave. Unfortunately many victims after attempting to end the relationship return to the abuser one or more times. Yael Lahav wrote “although the decision to leave a violent partner may seem obvious choice given the negative consequences of intimate partner violence, ending an abusive relationship appears to be extremely complicated and to require several attempts (2023).

Lack of Empathy and Abuse

While many abusers can articulate their sadness and loneliness, they often lack empathy. They completely ignore the damage and hurt, unphased by the severity of the impact from their abuse. This is the waving red flag that nothing has changed. Although “I’m sorry” and “forgive me” may litter their frantic pleas, the heartfelt empathy for your experience is missing. The words lay hollow against the backdrop of selfishness. Jumping in and out of these relationships prolongs healing and motivates manipulative actions to force a return to the dark world of a non-existent self.

Healing from these noxious and toxic people doesn’t occur through escape alone. We must take purposeful action. to heal from emotional abuse. The healing, also, can’t be done in the privacy of our own homes. We need help.

We must surround ourselves with strong, positive influences. Not necessarily another relationship. Often a quick jump into another intimate romance magnifies the hurt. We still are suffering from emotional blindness, unable to see the magnitude of the complexity. Another hawk quickly swoops in and deprives us of self-discovery, taking advantage of weakness, and imposing their stronger will.

Important Steps to Take to Aid Healing

Seek Social Support

​Churches, groups, classes, and of course therapy are all helpful during the initial months of healing. They provide support as we get our lives back on track, discovering hidden aspects of our inner lives. We need to reset the balance—a new homeostatic norm. Years of chaos and unpredictable collisions confuses reality, disabling normal wisdom that flows from feelings.

​The dysregulated system easily misses obvious signs of abuse in potential new partners. The romance blinds logic and leaves the crippled heart ripe for another round of abuse. Like a fractured leg is incapable of full function, even after the bone is set and bandaged, so is our emotional lives. We need time to heal from emotional abuse before placing the weight of another stormy romance on the shaky limbs of recovering emotions and a dysregulated systems.

Dr. Sue Johnson teaches that “emotional connection is crucial to healing. In fact, trauma experts overwhelmingly agree that the best predictor of the impact of any trauma is not the severity of the event, but whether we can seek and take comfort from others” (validate our experience, and receive from their strength to regulate the pain. In psychology, we refer to this as dyadic regulation. Connections provide a steroidal boost to our wound, igniting growth and repair of damaged tissue. We need someone to see and share our hurt, not left alone to suffer. Robert J. Waldinger, and marc Schulz wrote that “the thrill of connection happens both for the person being seen and the person doing the seeing” (2023).

Allow Time for Healing

We must be patient and kind to ourselves during healing. If we continue to belittle ourselves, or ignore the magnitude of our feelings, we perpetuate the wounds. We must forgive ourselves for the failed relationship, for continuing to stay despite signs of harm, for lack of strengths to protect our wellness. Our harshness and judgments often are simply symptoms of abuse. Our brains incorporate the harsh realities of the environment. We treat ourselves with the nastiness that once intruded from the outer world. The years of poison lace our new escape. It will take time to detoxify. The abuser treated us with hate long enough, why must we continue with self hate?

Self Care

Healing from emotional abuse requires a tremendous amount of self-care. Typically, during the throes of abuse, we neglect the self—becoming a non-entity only serving the needs of a narcissistic partner. We must counter the years of neglect, learning new habits, dismissing negative feelings (guilt) that surround any attempts of self-kindness. We are worthy of kindness. Healthy environments provide the mental hygiene necessary to heal.

​We must engage in activities that nourish our souls, rebuilding confidence. We must regain the appreciation for ourselves, noticing the beauty living inside. Self-nourishing behavior is circular and cumulative. Our capacity to appreciate and protect well-being increases when we purposely provide compassionate attention to our weary soul.

Ideas for self-care:

  • spend time in nature
  • go out with some friends
  • treat yourself to something you always wanted
  • join an exercise class (yoga, spinning, dance, etc…)
  • meditation or mindfulness practices


After leaving an abusive relationship, before starting another romance is the time to reflect and learn from the experience. Here we can gain perspective from the progression of abuse. Early in relationships, the abusive partner is difficult to identify. Everyone is on their best behavior. This is a little frightening. Will this new person in my life remain loving and kind or will, with time, turn into a tyrant? Boundaries create a protective barrier. They protect but they also teach. If we set boundaries that a new partner fails to respect, then a warning signal should ring loud.

Adelyn Birch in her book Boundaries after a pathological relationship wrote that “boundaries, combined with your experience and knowledge, can help you avoid becoming involved in another abusive relationship.” She continues, explaining “if you start setting verbal boundaries with a dangerous person, they will see it as a challenge they need to defeat” (2014).

We can recover. We can enjoy the beauties of a flourishing life despite the extended derailment of development from abuse. Life can bloom once again. The dreams we fostered as a child may bless our new life as we move forward with added wisdom and purposeful healing. 

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Birch, Adelyn (2014). Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship.

Johnson, Sue (2008). Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Waldinger, Robert J.; Schulz. Marc (2023). The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Simon & Schuster.

Lahav, Yael (2023). Hyper-Sensitivity to the Perpetrator and the Likelihood of Returning to Abusive Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence: Concerned with the Study and Treatment of Victims and Perpetrators of Physical and Sexual Violence,38(1-2), 1815-1841.

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