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The emotionally abusive relationship can be a battle. In fact, it can be a series of battles that wear you down and eventually wear you out. But at what point are you so worn out that you do something different?

Some toxic relationships last for decades and there is no end in sight. There’s a point in time when something has to change, or nothing ever will. And that can be a hard pill to swallow. 

Some relationship battles repeat over and over again, making you feel drained and powerless. Many battles start and end with your personal boundaries. Most of the listeners of my show are dealing with some form of abusive situation.

Abusive people also listen to my show, Love and Abuse.

(Please note I don’t like categorizing anyone as a “victim” or “abuser,” I only do so for brevity. These labels help me to discuss the subject more efficiently.)

There are people on both sides of the abusive relationship. Some are the ones doing the hurtful behavior, while others are on the receiving end. The good news is that some abusers want to change. The bad news is that some use what they hear on my show against those they hurt.

I once had a listener whose husband used the show’s content against her. He even left negative reviews for the show. It’s challenging to hear that I’m ruining someone’s marriage when my intention is to help both parties.

When I was an emotionally abusive person in past relationships, I would have reacted the same way. I believed I was right and didn’t want anyone telling me otherwise. This mindset is problematic when you’re with someone who gives you no room to be right.

The Bigger Picture in a Relationship Defines its Course

In most healthy relationships, both people should be open to being wrong. Both should stand up for themselves and remember the bigger picture. The most important thing about any relationship is to focus on the bigger picture.

For me, the bigger picture is making sure my partner is happy, and that we stay emotionally connected.

Both parties of a relationship need to agree on what the bigger picture is. If one person’s idea of the bigger picture is to control the other, the relationship won’t work. It becomes a lopsided seesaw that will eventually tip over.

When one person has power over you, it drains you. This is the foundation of an emotionally abusive relationship. The first step is to be aware of your personal boundaries. Ask yourself, “If a stranger did this to me, how would I feel?” That’s how you discover your boundaries.

In a balanced, healthy relationship, you can speak about boundary violations. The other person should apologize and avoid repeating the behavior. Unfortunately, many people listening to this show don’t have that simplicity in their relationships.

If you’re in a situation where the same hurtful behaviors repeat over and over, it’s time to take action. Each violation weakens you and takes away your power. You have to be tough on yourself and recognize when your boundaries are continually violated.

I understand the hope that one day, the other person will change. But sometimes, you have to be the one to initiate that change. You can’t let the cycle of abuse continue indefinitely. It has to start with you.

So, be aware of your boundaries, stand up for yourself, and remember the bigger picture. If the relationship is causing you more pain than happiness, it might be time to reevaluate. After all, the ultimate goal is for both parties to be happy and fulfilled.

Having a healthy conversation is crucial. It’s a mentally healthy dialogue, an emotionally intelligent one. You express your inner feelings, and so do they. You may still disagree, but that’s okay.

You might say, “I feel that you were disrespectful.”

They might respond, “I wasn’t disrespectful.”

That’s an invalidation. But perhaps they genuinely believe they weren’t disrespectful. In that case, you can reply, “It felt disrespectful to me, and I’m letting you know.”

Your feelings are your own, and no one can argue with your perception. However, an emotionally abusive person will try to argue with your perception and beliefs. They’ll find ways to make you question yourself, to confuse you into a compliant or submissive state. This is how they maintain their power.

Struggling to keep your power

This is why it’s important to pick your battles. If you find yourself in the same conflict repeatedly, take note of what’s happening in your mind. Be specific about when you feel powerless or drained. Recognize the moment you feel out of control, as this will help you understand when and why the battle starts.

You may not understand the issue immediately, but as you continue to observe your emotional state, you’ll gain clarity. Ask yourself, “What was I thinking? Did I feel powerless?” These are signs of a power drain, and you need to be aware of what’s happening during these exchanges.

If you’re not careful, you’ll surrender control to them. That’s how they maintain their power over you. It’s easier for them to abuse you if you’re already in a powerless state. When you defend yourself, they’ll find ways to take even more power from you. They’ll escalate the situation until you submit or give in.

This may not be new information for many people. But the frequency of these power-draining battles is why you keep losing your strength. When you experience a power drain once, and it happens again, you’re more likely to remain powerless. You’ll feel like you can’t make decisions or take control of your life.

Being aware of these power drains is crucial. The first time it happens, make a mental note. This will help you recognize future instances and hopefully prevent them. But stopping someone who has spent their life mastering these tactics is challenging. They’ve learned these power games from their past experiences, perhaps as coping mechanisms during their youth.

These tactics may have worked when they were children, but they’re unhealthy in adult relationships. They push their challenges onto you instead of dealing with them themselves.

When you feel your power being drained, note it in your mind. Pretend it’s the first time this has happened to help you identify the components that caused you to feel drained. Try to understand what triggered you, whether it’s something they said or a look they gave you. These power drains accumulate over time, so you need to be aware of them.

Your power drain is your early warning system. It’s when you’re trying to protect yourself and you’re feeling vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from the numerous battles you’ve faced. What do you do when you’re hurt? What’s your response to a power drain? For many, the answer is, “I can’t do anything.”

Doing nothing shows the other person that they can get away with it. They don’t consider the bigger picture of a happy relationship; they’re focused on maintaining their power. Your emotional reactions aren’t enough to make them stop. They need to experience loss – something so impactful that it forces them to change.

Your sadness or confusion isn’t enough for them to feel this loss. They see you returning for more, so they don’t perceive a problem. The issue is that there’s not enough loss in their life to make them stop their behavior. They need to feel the impact of their actions, to experience what it’s like to not get what they want.

This often leads to feelings of low self-worth and unimportance. You may think, “Shouldn’t I be enough?” But your worthiness isn’t the issue. It’s about their need to maintain power over you. They won’t change unless they experience significant loss, something that disrupts their sense of control.

It’s crucial to be aware of your emotional state and to take steps to protect your power. Only then can you hope to shift the balance and create a healthier relationship dynamic. It’s not about how lovable, important, attractive, or intelligent you are. It’s all about control.

An Emotionally Abusive Person Will Avoid Pain by Pushing it on to Others

The issue lies in the emotional abuser’s inability to handle their own emotional baggage. They don’t want to be vulnerable, especially with you (probably the closest person in their life). They try to avoid exposing themselves emotionally because being vulnerable is too scary for them.

To protect themselves, they jump into self-defense mode, which triggers abusive behaviors. This is why bullies exist. They push people away to avoid confronting their own insecurities and fears.

Emotionally abusive people have a lot going on inside. They either don’t want to deal with it or believe they shouldn’t have to. They push their emotional struggles onto you through abusive behavior. Many of them think they’re right. They’ll insist that their way is the correct way without having a genuine conversation.

This might not be new information for many. But it’s crucial to understand that this dynamic persists in relationships where one person never experiences significant loss. A loss so impactful it forces them to change their behavior.

What does this mean for the person being abused? Sometimes, leaving is the only way to get the message across. It could also mean spending a few days away from them, not calling or texting, essentially ghosting them for a short period.

I’m not saying you should do this, but it’s important to understand what they need to lose to change their behavior. If they don’t feel the impact of loss, they’ll likely never stop their abusive actions. No matter how much they’ve seen you hurt or cry, if they don’t stop, then they don’t understand what loss feels like. Someone else has to show them the consequences of their actions. This is all about accountability.

Accepting this reality is hard. You might think, “This person will never change.”

It’s liberating to accept this because then you stop wasting energy looking for a different version of them. The person you see today is who they are today. They could change tomorrow, but that’s irrelevant. Make your decisions based on your current experience.

If you’re in a recurring cycle of hurtful behavior, you become a shell of your former self. You lose the strength to stand up for yourself or make beneficial decisions. Sometimes, saying “Enough is enough” is all it takes. But you have to prove it, and you have to pick your battles wisely.

Every victim of emotional abuse has a threshold. If you’re continuously tapped on the forehead, eventually, you’ll say, “Stop it.”

You have a limit, and you need to allow yourself to reach it. Many victims stay in a rut, never allowing themselves to reach empowerment or their threshold. They hold onto hope, resilience, and forgiveness, which keeps them in a powerless state.

If you’ve been hurt more than five times, you’ve already passed your threshold but didn’t allow yourself to get there. This isn’t your fault; it’s what happens to an abused mind. You become tolerant and forgiving, and your threshold point gets bypassed.

The abused mind will continue to endure hurt because it’s not life-threatening. I don’t like talking this way, but sometimes, you need to be pushed to your threshold. You might think, “It’s not enough to kill me, so I’ll continue being hurt by this.”

I want you to recognize when you feel this power drain so you can start thinking differently about your next step. Instead of accepting what’s happening and hoping it changes tomorrow, say to yourself, “This is who they are. I expect nothing less and nothing more. They will never change. Because I know they will never change, I won’t look for anything more than the way they show up. When they hurt me again, I expect it. I don’t like it, I don’t want it to happen, but it’s my new normal.”

I don’t want you to like this new normal. I don’t want you to be tolerant or resilient. I want you to accept the facts. Make sure you see the facts clearly. Accept what’s happening as real and unchanging.

For Most Emotionally Abusive People, Change is a Choice

For those listening who have engaged in abusive behavior, I know you can change. I know you can show up differently. Deep down inside, you care. Sometimes, you care so much that you want to control how happiness comes into your life.

You want to control how people love you and how you love people. I’ve been there; I’m speaking from experience. I know what it’s like to love someone so much that you inadvertently push them away with your bad behavior. You try to get a loving connection out of them by doing things that push them away. It’s an irony that we do this to someone we care about.

We go for what we want in a controlling, manipulative, or hurtful way, and we end up getting the opposite of what we want.

For example, I used to be very possessive and jealous. I didn’t want my partners to go somewhere without me because I feared they might find someone better than me. I pushed my fear of loneliness onto them by being controlling and manipulative.

That’s what they would experience with me. I would get possessive and jealous, and I would do things to make sure they stayed in my life. I don’t like to admit it, but that’s what happened.

When I started to transform and heal myself, I learned it’s better to support and even encourage what I used to fear. I began doing the opposite of what I used to do. I started encouraging my partners to go out with their friends and family. I stopped telling them to text me when they got there. I started doing the exact opposite of the behavior that pushed them away.

By doing the opposite behavior, they felt closer to me. They wanted to spend more time with me. It didn’t make sense because I was so used to trying to control who they saw and how often they went out. All that did was push them away.

By doing the opposite of what I used to do, something I feared, they wanted to be with me more. That blew my mind. I thought my fear would manifest into reality. I thought they would leave me or find someone else. But what really happened was they felt more safe, more comfortable, more intimate, and more connected with me than ever.

Why is that? The reason is because when you allow someone to be themselves and make their own decisions, they feel loved. And people love to be around people who support them being themselves. That’s the bottom line.

People love to be around people who support them and their decisions.

The relationship should be balanced. It should be a give-and-take.

So, to conclude, I want to talk about accountability. The person who doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything wrong sees that as a free pass to do it again. They think, “Well, it didn’t hurt you enough to leave, so it’s not bad enough for me to change my behavior.”

It’s like when kids and even animals push limits. They find out where those limits are. If there are no repercussions, they’ll keep pushing. That’s why it’s important to put a number in your head. Define a threshold. How many times does it take before you say enough is enough?

Come up with a number that you find unacceptable if they go beyond it. Then, think about what you would do or say to create a consequence. You may not be able to apply this in your relationship, but it’s a way to start thinking differently. If you don’t think in terms of stopping points, it will never stop.

When you change how you think, other ideas come to mind. If you’re stuck in hoping and wishing someone changes, you’re just stuck. But when you change how you think, new thoughts and solutions start to appear. It can take a while, but with practice, it can become the new way you make decisions that are right not only for you, but for everyone involved.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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