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Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Updated on March 13, 2015
Defeated body language is the most frequently visible sign of emotional abuse.
Defeated body language is the most frequently visible sign of emotional abuse. | Source

How the Cycle of Emotional Abuse Often Begins

While the cycle of emotional abuse often begins in childhood and carries through a person's entire life as they move through different relationships - at least until the problem is recognized and addressed, it can begin at any stage of life.

Once a victim, always a victim?

While a pattern of being victimized can develop, it is not a foregone conclusion. For many, the pattern begins when, as a child, we end up caring for alcoholic or drug-addicted parents.

  • The cycle that forms is, in itself, called codependency, and once it starts, it is a hard cycle to break.

As adults, the cycle can begin by tolerating it when our partners do something soul-crushing within the relationship and we tolerate it. Once we tolerate it the first time, a pattern quickly develops.

  • An emotionally abused person emerges as a fully-fledged codependent, trying to behave just so in order to get the straying partner to behave and to be the kind, loving partner we thought we were getting in the first place.
  • The thing is, if you're dealing with an adult, they are what they are, and the emotionally abused person ends up physically ill from tolerating the bad behavior.

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While not as frequently reported, men can be victims of emotional abuse, too.
While not as frequently reported, men can be victims of emotional abuse, too.
While not as frequently reported, men can be victims of emotional abuse, too. | Source

Identifying Emotional Abuse

Because it leaves no physical signs, emotional abuse is easily overlooked. Very few people call the police or go to the hospital because their spouse got drunk again or said something cruel - unless physical violence is part of their domestic situation.

The signs of emotional abuse are subtle

  • You might notice someone is with a person you consider a jerk or a loser, and wonder why.
  • You might notice someone's body language seems to lack confidence.
  • You might notice someone gaining or rapidly dropping weight.
  • You might, if you talk to the victim, notice they make an awful lot of excuses for their partner.
  • You might also notice the victim brings the conversation back to the abuser pretty frequently; they can tel you a lot about what the other person did, said, and thinks, but can't express much about their own feelings or state their own opinions.
  • Doctors might begin to notice a pattern of constant health complaints with no clear reason. That's right, putting up with the constant unhappiness that comes with emotional abuse can break you physically as well as emotionally.

Finding Help for the Emotionally Abused

One common symptom of emotional abuse is that the bully separates the victim from friends and family. This means the victim often feels alone and completely trapped - and that trapped feeling is what paralyzes the victim and makes it so hard to escape or imagine living a healthy life.

  • Counseling: If able to recognize the problem and in a position to safely go to counseling, it can help the victim grow stronger. A good counselor opens the (hypothetical) door to let the victim see the relationship through another pair of eyes. The self-reflection associated with counseling lets the victim recognize the source of the problem and guides victims through the process of healing.
  • Websites: There are many, many websites devoted to providing information on identifying and recovering from emotional abuse. If the bully watches closely, visiting websites can be a way to find information without attracting attention before you're ready to deal with the drama of being told you're crazy - which - by the way - is also emotional abuse.
  • Books: There are a number of excellent books on the market, both in paperback and ebook form, that can help you give a name to your pain and help you begin to grow stronger and heal. I would like to share the one that jump-started my own path to recovery, Why Women Pick Losers and Jerks by Jim Hedges.
  • Shelters: If you have concerns that the emotional abuse could escalate to physical abuse, find a safe place, whether with family and friends or at a shelter for the abused. Never put yourself at risk.

Learn to Embrace Peace of Mind

As you move out of an emotionally abusive relationship, it is common - normal - to stay stuck in the negative feelings that held you down for so long.

The way experts say human nature works is, we go along in life at a baseline level - what's normal for each of us - then if a good thing happens, we're happy for a short burst, an hour or two, then we go back to normal.

It isn't that simple if something negative happens, though, and this is why escaping emotional abuse is so hard. With something negative, we're going along at our normal baseline, then something negative happens to drop us into a pit of unhappiness and stress, and wwe don't ever come back to our normal baseline. That pit of unhappiness and stress becomes our new baseline.

It takes conscious effort and personal action to reach a more positive, happier baseline and make it our new normal. How to Be Positive talks more about this phenomenon of human nature and provides tips on how to embrace positivity.


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    • daydreamer13 profile image


      3 years ago

      That's very inspirational. I'm sorry to hear about your past but I'm proud that you escaped. You are amazing!

    • profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I have dealt with it, it turned into a recurring pattern for me once it started - hard to recognize - hard to break out of - but once something opened my eyes, it was amazing to me that I didn't see it sooner. At first I thought of it as "all those wasted years" - but now I think of it as a valuable, valuable learning experience that I can hopefully use as a foundation to build something that helps others.

    • daydreamer13 profile image


      3 years ago

      This is very well written and informative. Have you dealt with this personally?


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