The victim of hurtful or emotionally abusive behavior has a threshold. When they reach that threshold, their heart can seal permanently, never letting the hurtful person back in again.
In this episode, I help identify when your heart is sealed permanently. Before that happens, there’s always a chance to repair a relationship that’s been damaged. After that, however, the relationship may never get another chance.
A reader reached out to me, expressing deep affection for an emotionally abusive partner who is tormented by emotional pain yet fails to recognize the self-inflicted nature of this suffering. This person is detached from their children and has been unsuccessful in previous relationships, oblivious to being the common factor in these failures.
The partner’s upbringing with an alcoholic father, who was prone to anger, is a tragic underpinning to their nature. Despite their kind-heartedness, there’s a twisted element due to this past trauma.
The writer acknowledges their partner’s pain and history of abuse, which is now perpetuated through their actions. The challenge lies in addressing this behavior with the partner. The person who wrote is on the brink of ending the relationship unless significant progress is made.
Seeking therapy is a step they’re considering, though this person is unsure of their capacity to endure the current situation. They understand the difficulty of loving someone who struggles to reciprocate healthily, often stemming from unresolved trauma.
I recommend listening to an episode titled Is there an easy way to help someone understand they’re being emotionally abusive? which provides tools and communication strategies for such situations.
It’s crucial to distinguish between the partner’s past traumas and their present conduct. While acknowledging and not undermining the partner’s experiences, the focus should be on their current behavior.
Many of us have our own past struggles, varying in severity. Some may have fortunate backgrounds, having developed healthy boundaries, but this article is about those who use the trauma in their past to hurt others today.
People with unresolved trauma and suffering are a reality in relationships. Their PTSD and struggles are authentic, and while support and advice can be offered, the onus of healing rests with them. It’s essential to treat their behavior toward you separately to avoid conflating their past with your present experiences. Merging those two things will only lead to a stalemate, where no progress can be made.
Healing from the past is complex, as current behaviors are often deeply linked to past experiences and coping mechanisms. However, when one fails to recognize themselves as the common thread in their relational issues, outside help may be needed.
I myself have a history of being emotionally abusive to past partners and never realizing that I was the common denominator for all of my relationship failures. Through repeated painful endings and self-reflection, I finally healed and changed.
My own personal growth underscores the importance of confronting destructive patterns and the healing that must follow to prevent the continuous loss of meaningful connections.
Occasionally, we might not be able to discern the nature of a problem until it confronts us repeatedly. Then, an epiphany occurs: the problem is oneself.
This was a realization I had to come to. Had my relationships persisted, this awareness might have eluded me.
I’m not advocating for separation or divorce as the only solution. What I am suggesting is that sometimes, learning requires loss. If the relationship continues, one might not acknowledge the severity of their actions.
Long-time listeners of my show will recognize this sentiment. An emotionally abusive person may rationalize, “If my behavior were truly unacceptable, you wouldn’t stay.”
This places their partner in a quandary. Does it necessitate departure or a more drastic measure to catalyze change? In my view, dramatic actions are indeed necessary. They must recognize that their actions erode love and patience, which are finite. This revelation might be what prompts them to seek assistance.
Expressing your limits is crucial. Saying, “I cannot endure this any longer. Your actions continue to cause me pain,” specifies the ongoing harm. This is where detailing specific behaviors becomes essential. Instead of using the broad term ’emotional abuse,’ articulate the exact actions and their impact on your feelings.
For example, say, “When you do this, I feel hurt. Your words make me feel unloved or disrespected, especially in front of friends.” Specificity is key.
I may have touched on this in a previous episode, but it bears repeating:
Avoid labeling someone with a broad term like ‘abusive’ or ‘narcissistic.’ Instead, identify a particular behavior that causes pain or discomfort and communicate how it affects you—feeling hurt, unloved, disrespected, or embarrassed.
Of course, choose your battles wisely and ensure your safety when addressing these issues. If someone is dangerous, you might not be able to express yourself easily or at all.
Focusing on specific behaviors rather than general accusations is more productive. If you merely accuse someone of being abusive, they may deflect by labeling you the same. Labeling them can backfire, leaving you defending yourself instead of addressing the real issues. You want to cite concrete behaviors to foster a discussion about tangible issues.
If, after expressing how certain actions hurt you, the person does not alter their behavior, it may be time to accept that they are aware of the pain they cause but choose to continue.
Behavior change is the first step in transforming an emotionally abusive relationship, as I teach in Healed Being. Whether it is yelling or giving the silent treatment, the harmful behavior must cease. It may be challenging for someone accustomed to these patterns, but it is an important first step for healing to begin.
It is extremely challenging to change behaviors that have been a part of one’s identity for nearly their entire life, but it is necessary. Believe me, when the survival of a relationship is contingent upon change, you will watch for those changes closely.
Without such change, it could indicate that the person may not be invested in salvaging the relationship or does not believe that you will make them accountable. However, an individual who has been emotionally abusive must recognize the need to halt their harmful behaviors, as accountability can be quite painful.
Regrettably, individuals often do not accept responsibility for the consequences, which is a facet of the emotionally abusive cycle. When you take steps that benefit and honor yourself, which are intrinsically healthy, an emotionally abusive person may criticize and blame you for purportedly negative actions.
Yet, by setting boundaries and honoring your needs, you are imparting a lesson to the abuser on how to treat you with respect and love in a wholesome manner. This self-respect is a gift not only to oneself but also to the abuser, demonstrating how to establish healthy interactions.
Many require this gift at times. They must understand your boundaries and what you hold dear. While they should always be aware of this, occasional reminders can be beneficial. By communicating your boundaries and expectations, you provide them with an opportunity to cease their damaging behavior.
A person who truly loves you will strive to stop actions that cause you pain and conflict with your values. If the harmful behavior persists, it indicates a conscious choice to inflict pain. To the person in such a situation, after you have conveyed the specifics of what causes you distress and identified the abusive actions, and if the individual still fails to amend their ways, what should be done?
It is vital to separate their behavior toward you from their own traumas, which they may have to address with a professional who is not embroiled in the abusive dynamics of the relationship. They could take the self-help route as well like books, videos, reflection, meditation, and journaling. However, professional guidance may be necessary if self-help does not foster change.
There is help for the offenders, so there’s no excuse. I, myself, offer a comprehensive program designed to assist those who are emotionally abusive. I never push it on anyone, nor do I suggest that victims encourage abusers to pursue it.
The decision to cease abusive behavior must originate from the abuser themselves. They need to address their personal issues and put an end to their harmful actions. The decision needs to come from within them. If someone tells them to get help, they may not be invested or take it seriously.
The primary step for the abusive person is to stop causing pain to those they claim to care about and to demonstrate their love and support in a healthy manner.
Emotional abuse is often selfish and controlling. It often originates from past trauma and inadequate coping strategies developed in childhood. As adults, these individuals must learn to process their experiences from an adult perspective, not through the lens of their childhood self.
Emotionally abusive individuals unconsciously rely on outdated childhood coping mechanisms, which are ineffective and unhealthy in adulthood. These mechanisms were developed for self-preservation and are not suited for mature relationships.
To foster growth and healthier interactions, it is crucial for individuals to reevaluate and evolve beyond these childhood coping strategies. If an abusive person wishes to avoid vulnerability, and they wish to prevent tears, and refrain from expressing themselves or confronting anything too profound or painful, then they will often resort to old childhood coping mechanisms as their default. This is their habitual response when faced with challenging situations.
Should they persist in causing you pain by continuing harmful behaviors toward you, the final step in this process is to accept this reality. It is a harsh truth. If you have pointed out the specific behaviors that cause hurt and they don’t stop… It can be hard to accept this reality when you have invested a lot into the relationship.
We tend to commit deeply to people we care about, so we try to salvage the relationship when it’s in trouble. We want to work through difficulties and see the good in our partners, recalling that there used to be better times, but if these efforts are unreciprocated, then the person standing before you now is the person they are today. That is their present manifestation.
This is likely who they have been since you met. Yet previously, they had the capacity to restrain it. They had the choice to do so because it is uncommon for a relationship to continue if emotional abuse is evident from the start.
When it happens immediately, it’s a signal to depart. When one recognizes abusive behavior and finds it intolerable, the decision to leave becomes apparent. Yet, many emotionally abusive individuals do not reveal their true nature initially. They present their best selves, which suggests that, in most cases, their behavior is a matter of choice.
There are, however, exceptions. I differentiate between the conscious manipulator and the unconscious manipulator. The former intentionally inflicts harm, fully aware of their actions, while the latter may cause pain without intent, reacting impulsively.
This does not make them inherently malevolent. Often, what begins as a promising relationship with positive interactions can devolve as one person becomes more at ease, lowers their guard, and begins to react in unexpectedly harmful ways.
In a romantic relationship, for instance, one might find themselves in love with someone who, over the first several months or even years, seemed wonderful. Yet, as negative behaviors emerge, they become difficult to ignore.
Despite this, because they have treated you well in the past, you may question if the issue lies with you. You assume responsibility, feel guilty, and observe as their behavior worsens. Despite your deep investment and commitment to the relationship, you remain, hoping for change, or perhaps you consider altering your behavior to foster a happier bond.
However, you cannot transform them; they are who they are, and maybe they always have been, but they were simply choosing to behave differently at the relationship’s outset. They may have been concealing their true selves, presenting an illusion of perfection that fades once the initial bliss subsides.
When you start to observe these troubling behaviors after the honeymoon phase, you must realize that if these traits exist within them, they will eventually surface.
Regarding the person who wrote the email, you must reach an acceptance of how he treats you and decide whether you will continue to allow it. This is not to assign blame to the victim or to imply fault for enduring such circumstances. We all have our reasons for staying, and sometimes we have no choice due to our resources or life situation and must endure until we can reach a better place.
It is vital to recognize that once the emotionally abusive person is aware of the pain they cause, but they still do not cease behaving that way, you must accept that they will not change.
With this acceptance, you are positioned to make the best decision for yourself. That may involve planning an exit, declaring your limits, or taking actions such as sleeping separately or seeking refuge with a relative. If you do not come to terms with the unlikelihood of change, you risk remaining in a stagnant, harmful situation, waiting for a transformation that the evidence suggests will not occur.
I understand that this may be hard to read for the person who wrote the message or anyone else in a similar situation. If you’re in a relationship like this, please know I recognize the difficulty you’re experiencing. Also, remember the most critical point that I’ll emphasize once again:
Make sure you distinguish his pain, trauma, and suffering from your own.
You face your own unique challenges and must address them within you, just as he must confront his own within himself. Your struggle needs to be centered on how he treats you; hence, that is what you need to focus on.
I must point out that you are not his therapist, coach, or guide. You provide a support system, offering emotional support, care, and assistance through certain situations. However, dealing with emotional trauma, PTSD, and emotional triggers is not your role.
I say this with respect and love: it is not your responsibility, and you should not be burdened with it, as you have your matters to attend to.
Even if you were completely healed and you were actually a therapist who is able to separate your emotional baggage from his and be fully present with him —ready to listen and accept judgmental statements about yourself, allowing him to share openly without facing your objections or rejections—only then might it be plausible to assume a therapeutic role. Still, that is a tough thing to do and requires a unique set of skills.
Some people do possess the capability to provide this kind of support. I have managed to do this myself in my relationship. However, in the context of an emotionally abusive relationship, when one person tries to support the other, the situation can deteriorate swiftly, potentially exacerbating the issues because both individuals are grappling with their personal struggles.
It’s very challenging to be there for someone else when you are contending with your own issues.
This is not to say it’s impossible, but it is exceedingly difficult, especially within the confines of a romantic or close relationship, where personal issues become entangled.
When you intertwine your challenges with the other person’s, the result can be a toxic mixture that may harm the relationship and even inflict lasting damage on both parties, as it’s impossible to be sufficient for yourself and another person simultaneously.
The individual who wrote is undoubtedly in a difficult position, as are many others. This article aims to convey the unvarnished truth. While that’s always my approach, it’s imperative to grasp what overcoming such challenges might entail.
If you lack the resources to make the necessary significant changes immediately and aspire to make such changes, planning may be required. You may need to take time to gather your resources and plan your next decision.
There are instances when you must come to terms with the fact that there’s nothing you can do about the situation, which is a form of acceptance. Upon reaching this realization, you may find that different decisions must be made for your well-being and for those you love.
I hope this has been helpful. Share this with others who might benefit.