Healing from Emotional Abuse

It is normal to want connection and a companion in this life journey.  However, connections with others are deeply compromised and broken by emotional abuse.

It is generally easier to process leaving someone who is physically violent, but emotional abuse is more insidious.  In fact, you may feel like you have been run-over by a car after an emotionally draining fight. You want love and comfort, and often accept it from the very one who ran you over with words and unchecked rage or cold disdain.

If you grew up in an abusive environment, you might have been even more anxious to find love in this world, sadly often gravitating to what you knew growing up.

How do you break this cycle and heal?

You stop worrying about healing the relationship and put your focus on healing yourself. You also stop caring about the abuser and how broken-hearted he or she claims to be without you. This is hard for caring people because you want to keep caring and giving love, but you must recognize when you are being manipulated.

Victim Identity:  Once, when someone called me a battered woman, I flinched. I do not like a victim identity; rather, I prefer to put the focus on who did the battering, and focus on my own strength and ability to walk away and heal.  Jackson Katz talks about how men who batter women and children have been erased from the discussion with a simple explanation.

Sentence One:  John beat Mary.

Sentence Two:  Mary was beaten by John.

Sentence Three:  Mary is a battered woman.

You can substitute emotional abuse for physical abuse in the sentence, and still see how the focus is on Mary in that last sentence. Like Katz, I don’t think victims should be ignored, but abusers should not be written out of the scenario.

John, the abuser, is not even in the final sentence, and now, Mary’s entire identity has become “battered woman.”  Maybe Mary is highly successful despite the abuse in her relationship and should be given credit for her ability to thrive, despite a toxic home environment. Maybe Mary is a scientist, professor, marketing director, author, a mother, an aunt, or even an award-winning water skier.  Her identity is complex and multifaceted. This scenario might have occurred in only one year of her life.

Leslie Morgan Steiner wrote the memoir Crazy Love and details the actions of her abusive first husband who held a gun to her head and beat her savagely.  She clearly articulates the pattern of isolation and fear evident in highly abusive relationships.  I was glad to hear her voice in the public sphere. She is a Harvard graduate, and she is not who many people might envision as a survivor of domestic violence.  To me, she looks like she could have survived that level of abuse because I know that looks, race, gender, and education don’t protect a person from abuse.  Money helps people escape from it instead of staying trapped, but money is usually part of the control an abuser uses.

Sure, there is a part of everyone who is abused who feels so broken by life that they can’t fight for the divinity of their own life. However, the person harming an already broken or depressed person should be clearly seen for who they are–an abuser.

Healing:  Emotional, physical, or sexual, abuse clearly takes a toll on one’s life, so how does a person begin to heal from an abusive relationship?

They get counseling, and they don’t try to “make it work” with an abuser.

Rarely does an abuser change, but when they do they take their behavior seriously.  They enter a program of accountability and therapy of their own, not couple’s counseling.

They don’t believe the beautiful stories the abuser makes up about how he or she will change.

It is important not to be in that relationship or be in denial that the relationship will work.  Abusers must work on themselves because they want to be different in their future, not to save the relationship.

The person who has suffered abuse needs to create many small, happy, pleasant moments to start replacing the pain and fear they have survived.

Nature can be healing.  Friendships can be healing.  Support groups can be healing.  Here are a few more suggestions.

Self-care is vital.

I write a lot about self-love, and the most difficult moments in life require us to find ways to love ourselves even more.  If a child was harmed, wouldn’t we simply be tender with this child until he or she returned to happiness and warily began to trust the world again?  Why don’t we do that with ourselves?  Why not be very tender and loving with ourselves until we get stronger?

Work on getting stronger by reading and learning more about patterns of codependency and abuse. Learn new behaviors.

Believe that a force greater than you can send you much love and healing.

I remember crying in my car before work about a moment of abuse that I survived, and out of nowhere, a great healing force descended into my life. In a span of five minutes, I went from feeling incredibly wounded to alive, whole, vital, and deeply loved. I couldn’t even hardly remember the situation in my past after that moment.  Love cleared that moment so completely that it was as if it didn’t exist.

I wish that kind of healing for everyone who has suffered abuse of any kind.  There are so many healing modalities worth considering.  Everything from Emotion Code to Psych K to Tapping may help you release trauma on various levels of your being.   There are many practices to consider in your personal healing process.  Most of all, it is important to believe that you can heal, and the world will bring you ways to heal that will work best for you.  This healing will happen because of your own innate ability to heal.

Emotional abuse is trickier than physical abuse because people tend to stay in these situations longer.  When someone hits you, you know you have an immediate issue to address.  Getting away from that person seems more logical than the emotional abuser who can appear to love you deeply, but then hurt you just as deeply.

People mistakenly think that for every high there is an equal low.  They are wrong though.  There are relationships where abuse of any kind does not exist. It is important to hold on to that idea and be strong enough to be alone rather than to stay somewhere where you are loved and then occasionally tortured emotionally. Know that you can heal and escape from that nonsense.  You can love the light in someone from afar, but you can also be completely done with someone’s abusive behavior.

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Tricia Barker

Tricia Barker experienced a profound near-death experience during her senior year of college, and this experience guided her to teach overseas, in public schools, and at the college level. National Geographic and A&E’s I Survived: Beyond and Back covered Tricia’s story. Currently, Tricia teaches English and Creative Writing at a beautiful community college in Fort Worth, Texas. Tricia’s memoir in-progress, Healed, chronicles the moment of her accident, her near-death experience, and other moments of trauma that affect many women. The book focuses on being of service to the world as one way to heal from trauma. Tricia’s poetry has been featured in The Binnacle, The Paterson Literary Review, and The Midwest Quarterly.


  1. I really enjoyed your blog. Thank you for sharing.As you discussed I liked and enjoyed. I feel like the best way to overcome abuse so to avoid thinking about them too deeply. But yes that memories of these events are painful .

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