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heal yourself after emotional abuse

Trying to work as hard as you can to fix things you didn’t break is exhausting and demoralizing. The first step to healing from emotional or narcissistic abuse is to realize you’re in it.

The path to repairing the relationship is for the perpetrator to discover that they are being abusive and to care enough about you to want to change.

Transcript follows

My goal here is to give you as much information as possible, so you are armed, and I know that sounds kind of aggressive. That’s not what I mean. I mean:

  • Armed with knowledge
  • Armed with skills
  • Armed with experience
  • and Armed with wisdom

That way, when you are in any type of situation, relationship, or conversation with someone who doesn’t have your best interest in mind, you need to know about it, and you need to be prepared to deal with it.

Otherwise, you get conned. You get duped into liking these people. And though it’s okay to like people, liking them, trusting them, following them and believing in them, when they’re really just playing a game with your mind, can be devastating.

Not all of them know they’re playing a game. I work with people who didn’t know they were playing the game. I was one of those people that was playing a game when I was married.

The game is manipulating, being emotionally abusive, being verbally abusive, and helping to crazy-make or gaslight. When I was married, I judged my wife and I was hypercritical. I showed her that everything was her fault. I guilted her into making changes that I wanted her to make.

I know that there are people that listen to this podcast and read these articles that are the victims of this behavior. I also know that some of those same people, even more and more lately, are perpetrators of this behavior.

If you’re a perpetrator of this behavior, like I was, then I want you to know that if you’re listening to this show or reading the articles and you actually want to change, then you’re an okay person. You’re a good person; you’re an empathetic person. You want to change because you care.

If you want to change because you care, that shows you’re not a complete narcissist. It shows that you’re not a complete sociopath. It shows that you actually want people in your life to be happy when they’re near or around you.

You may not be able to access that all the time. You may access very self-centered interests, like having your own best interest in mind, regardless of any other person’s best interest. When you have that approach to people, that’s when you create problems.

You create toxic relationships, toxic communication, or what I like to say: poisonous communication. You poison communication; you poison relationships, when you introduce elements of higher self-interest that harms other people.

I’m all about high self-interest. I believe that you need to do things in your best interest without harming other people. That’s the caveat though – you can’t go around harming other people. And again, like I said, I know there are different types of people listening. You may be one that experiences the negative side of all of this, and you may be the one that also perpetrates it. You could be both.

There are people out there that write to me, that are both sides of this. They write, “I am the victim of this, and I found that I also do it.” That’s what The M.E.A.N. Workbook sometimes reveals. One partner will fill it out and they’ll have this big score, and then the other partner will fill it out, and they’ll have a big score too. Usually it’s like half as much, but they’re still symptoms, they’re still signs.

I’ll get emails from people that say, “You know, I took this, and I scored this really high score, but then my partner took this. He or she also got this score and it made me realize some of the things I was doing in the relationship. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the abuser; I don’t want to be the perpetrator. So, what do I do? How can I fix this?”

They don’t ask exactly that way, but that’s the big picture. People writing to me, telling me,” I do this too.”

There is one episode/article here on this website entitled, “Are You the Manipulative One?“, so look for that one if you’re curious about that. It can and does happen, because emotional abuse can cover a wide array of behaviors.

My definition of emotional abuse is when you make someone else feel bad about themselves.

If I make you feel bad about yourself, that is a form of abusing you emotionally. Even though abuse is a strong word and is often used in the context of physical violence, it’s still an appropriate word, because once your emotions are abused, you can be a wreck. You can really fall apart; you can disintegrate. It just feels like you are diminishing; you’re dissolving.

When you have that feeling, it is the feeling of being used and abused. It is losing your power; it is losing your sense of self-worth and self-identity. When you’re in that space, it’s hard to recover. It’s almost harder to recover, and this I hear this a lot, emotionally than it is physically. Our body heals faster than our emotions do. Wounded emotions can last for years and years.

If you feel negatively about something, if someone criticizes you, I guarantee you can bring up that criticism in a snap. You can bring it up to the forefront of your mind and have it available, and feel those same emotions all over again.

Then suddenly, the rest of your day is crap and you don’t feel good because you remember that one time that one person said this, or those many times that that one person said those things, and you can’t get it out of your psyche.

That’s what emotional abuse does; it continues to wear you down, because even though it could have happened once or over a series of years, it amplifies every time you recall it.

The emotion is still connected to the memory.

I’m hoping that what I write about on this site and talk about in my podcast, and through your own personal growth and development and / or therapy, coaching or self-help, including watching videos, listening to other podcasts, reading books, talking to your best friend, talking to trusted family members, whatever you do to help you change how you feel today about what happened in the past. I hope everything you do to heal yourself helps you change the emotion you feel today about what happened in the past. Then perhaps you can move forward without feeling like you do.

Depending on what’s emotionally triggering for you, if you remember what “that” person said to you and take it personally, and you don’t see it as a deficiency in them, but instead accept it as a deficiency in you, then you carry it with you.

My goal in my life, when someone tries to make me feel bad about myself, is to remember that they wouldn’t have done that had they not had it in them in the first place. Which means they are carrying something negative inside of them that makes them say and do hurtful things.

That doesn’t mean I give them a break. That doesn’t mean I say, “Oh poor them, they must be suffering too.” I have that in the back of my mind, because I’m still a compassionate person, and I still know that there’s truth to that. There’s absolute truth to that, but it doesn’t mean I should stick around and let it happen to me. This is where the difference in the divergence can take place among a lot of people.

Some people will stick around because they’re compassionate, because they’re empathetic, because they know the other person is in pain. Other people will not stick around, because they’re compassionate to themselves, because they’re empathetic to themselves.

They don’t want to be in pain because they care about themselves enough to get away from that hurtful person. Yes, hurt people hurt people, abused people abuse people, and neglected people abuse people, and all kinds of people abuse people. It doesn’t mean you have to take it, it just means you have to acknowledge it and validate it in yourself, then make the next best decision for yourself.

I’m not saying you have to leave, because there are a lot of relationships that go through this realization, this discovery, that there’s emotional abuse going on: “Hey, am I making you feel bad about yourself? Whoops, I didn’t mean to do that. I feel bad about that. I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m going to change; I’m going to work on myself.”

And when the partner says the same thing, there’s a good chance the difficulties in the relationship can be worked out.

But if the person who knows he or she is being emotionally abusive says something along the lines of, “Well, you know, I want you to feel bad about yourself. I don’t like admitting that, but that’s what’s happening here. I want you to feel bad about yourself. To do that, I’ll often spend my time and energy proving that I’m right and you’re wrong because that will make you feel bad about yourself, and so that you’ll back off.”

There are things that we do for a particular reason, for self-protection, for gaining love and attention when we can’t get it, all in an effort to get the relationship that we really want. We can approach a relationship, any type of relationship, and say, “This is what I want from the relationship,” and when we don’t get it, we might manipulate to get it. We might do something or say something in an effort to guilt the other person into giving it to us or make them realize that what they’re doing is wrong.  They might think in so many words, “I’m going to manipulate you, so you’ll do the right thing; so you’ll give me the relationship that I want with you. “

When we have these realizations and we discover these qualities about ourselves, these behaviors that we’re doing, we suddenly realize that it’s not right. It’s not helpful. We don’t want to coerce another person to like us or love us. We don’t want to manipulate.

Or at least, most of us don’t want to manipulate another person to give us the relationship that we would rather have with them.

We want them to want it.

We want them to want to love us or to like us, to want us to be happy, just like we hope that our partners, our friends, and our family want us to be happy and love when we spend time with them.

We want to see them in a positive light. We want people to show up in a certain way. And when they don’t, some of us turn to manipulation and coercion and emotional abuse.

Some of us already have that in us.

I’m not saying that because you’re not showing up in a certain way, or they’re not showing up in a certain way, that emotional abuse is automatic. Some of us bring that into the relationship.

Before I had any type of romantic relationship, I brought that into my relationships. The relationships didn’t develop it in me, it was already in me. I was already judgmental; I was already possessive and jealous way back then. I was already a lot of things that I only recognized years later and didn’t like in myself and knew I had to change.

I didn’t like that about myself because I was hurting my partner. I was losing relationships, good relationships.

Upon taking responsibility that I was the cause of the loss of these relationships, even if they did things that hurt the relationship too, still taking a step back into yourself and saying,” I am the cause of this.” When you’re the perpetrator, when you’re the emotional abuser, when you realize you are doing things to hurt this person, you’re going to take a step back and take responsibility for yourself, and take responsibility for your actions, your behaviors, so that you don’t cause this person any more harm. When you can do that, that’s when real change takes place.

There is more information about these changes in the article, “Have They Really Changed? Or Are They Faking it? Learning to Differentiate Between True Change and Acting.” That’s what the episode/article of Love and Abuse was about. Have they really changed? Or are they faking it? How can you tell?

One of the ways to tell is when they do step back into themselves and take responsibility, and say, “Wow, I just realized how much I’m hurting you. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want you to be hurt, I feel bad that I’m hurting you.” Then you finally see changes that you like, you finally see changes that are improving the relationship.

That’s why I never say you need to leave that person. I’ll never say that because everyone deserves a chance. We just have to know what’s happening in the relationship. If it’s a romantic relationship, do we want to leave or not? Is there a chance that this can be repaired? If it’s a friend or a family member, typically family is a high second when it comes to the types of relationships I’m talking about. Do we want them in our life anymore? Do they really mean what they’re doing? Are they going through such a hard time that they have no control in their life, and they’re taking it out on us?

Again, these excuses, these reasons might be real, but we can’t just turn on our full compassion for someone else without turning it on for ourselves first, First and foremost, I have to be compassionate toward me and then I’ll be compassionate towards you. We’ll see if this works out because you have to do the same. You have to be compassionate toward you.

This is what I was saying earlier, that some people walk around with this in them. I walked around for a long time with a lot of judgments and a lot of hyper-criticalness and jealousy and possessiveness and other things that I’m not proud of. It took many breakups for me to step back and take responsibility and realize that I didn’t have enough self-compassion.

I didn’t have enough self-worth.

 I didn’t have enough self-esteem.

I was trying to squeeze it out of other people like blood from a stone. I was trying to squeeze it out of them.

See me as worthy.

See me as significant. I’m going to manipulate you into seeing me as significant.

I’m going to coerce you into making you believe I’m right. I’m going to guilt you into believing that I’m right.

That wears you down. That just continues to diminish you, disintegrate you, invalidate you, and it makes you feel awful. Especially the guilt stuff. That guilt stuff is so prevalent in these relationships with emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and narcissistic abuse -all the emotionally abusive labels that you hear about. Almost all of them contain some sort of guilt.

It’s terrible for empathetic people, sensitive, caring, kind people to be made to feel guilty, because that forces them to continue to stay in a bad situation. It forces you to stay in a bad situation, because you turn on your empathy for someone else out of guilt instead of amplifying your empathy for yourself and realizing you’re exposing yourself to this continuous guilting. You’ve got to get out of that guilting. You’ve got to look at what you’re going through and what you’re exposing yourself to and start to call it out.

This may or may not be the best advice depending on who you’re with and who you’re talking about, but when someone tries to guilt me, I will call them out.

I will ask, “Are you trying to make me feel guilty?” And I want to find out what they say. If they say, “Well, absolutely, yes, you should feel guilty because it’s your fault.” If they say that I’ll probably say, “So, you want me to feel guilty instead of having a good conversation about this in which we come to some sort of resolution?”

That question might be hard to come up with in the moment when you’re triggered, and you’re feeling defensive, and you’re feeling hurt. I know it’s not easy to come up with these questions and these thoughts as you’re going through it.

What happens is that it gets easier. It does get easier because as soon as you realize how worthy and important and valuable you are, not to that person just in general, but you are worthy, significant and valuable and lovable, and worthy of an amazing relationship.

It’s just that they can’t see that, and they don’t understand that because they probably don’t know what that looks like. They may not have been shown that or even if they were, they developed some belief that changed along the way and changed their perception or whatever, it doesn’t matter.

Right now, when you believe all of this about yourself – all the positive, good things about yourself, and you know that all the positive and good things are true, then you’ll stop accepting bad behavior. You’ll notice bad behavior.

You’ll see the red flags of bad behavior, and you’ll take a step back and say, “Wait, wait, wait, what are you doing right now? I mean, seriously, what? What are you doing right now? I mean, what you just said to me? Sounds like you want me to feel bad about myself. It sounds like you want me to feel guilty as if it gives you some sort of pleasure. Is that what you want?”

I’m not saying that these questions will work, because with some people, they’re so crappy and clever that they’ll still turn it around on you. Of course, I want you to feel guilty, because you are. You should feel bad for how you treated me, you should feel bad for what you said to the kids, you should feel bad about x, y, z.

They’re going to turn it around on you, but that’s not the point. The point is you make this realization in yourself; you look back at you, not what they’re saying. You look back at you and realize, wow, this person is doing this to me. No matter what they say, they’re very convincing.

Some of them are very convincing, which is why we get stuck in these relationships. If you believe them and choose not to believe yourself, choose not to see yourself as worthy and significant and important and valuable and lovable, then you fall into the trap. Then you’re stuck in that trap.

As soon as you turn that around and you realize I am amazing, I am a good catch, I don’t deserve this type of treatment. If you embrace that and embody that and really absorb it into your system and know it’s true, then you’ll start to notice this behavior in other people.

What will happen is they will try to chip away at all that is good about you, whether knowingly or unknowingly, whether consciously or subconsciously. What they’re doing when they make you feel bad about yourself, when they guilt you, when they make you feel less worthy or less important, is that they’re trying to chip away everything that’s true about you.

I’ve seen this truth over and over and over again. One of the first questions I ask many of my clients is, “When you got into the relationship, who were you then?” Their answer is always different from who they are now. Always. I’ve not run into one that said, “I am the exact same person. I came into this relationship happy and healthy and having a positive outlook in the world, and I’m still that same person.

If you’re still that same person, you’re probably not in an emotionally abusive relationship. The answer I usually get is,” Oh, no, I walked into the relationship as this person and now I am a shell of my former self.” That’s the most common description. Maybe not those exact words every time, but that’s such a common description of what happens when you’re with someone who continues to chip away at the truth of who you are.

I want you to remember that the truth of who you are is true. 

I want you to remember that who you are inside and what you believe about yourself is what creates the emotionally abusive situation.

If you do really believe all these positive aspects of yourself, if you know it through and through, then when you see someone mistreating you, first of all, it’s easier to spot.

Second of all, you won’t stand for it. You’ll put your hand up and say, “Wait, that’s not right. You are supposed to want me to be happy. A loving, caring person that you claim to be, is supposed to want me to be happy, not want me to feel bad. That’s not an equal partnership. That’s not a loving friend. That’s not a caring family member. Why would you want me to feel bad?”

Of course, that doesn’t always lead to the best conversation, but it doesn’t matter. Where I’d like you to be is more stable in knowing who you are without someone else changing your mind about who you are.

If you’re the victim of any type of abusive or coercive or manipulative behavior, remember that you’re still in there. The person who walked into the relationship, the person that was once young and free and feeling good and trusting in your own decisions and feeling really good in yourself is still in there.

If you’ve never felt that, it is in there, because you wouldn’t have the desire to feel that way if it wasn’t. Even if you don’t remember because it was so long ago, it’s still in there and it wants to come out. It wants to be there inside you, with you, and express to the world.

If you’re the perpetrator of the emotional abuse, the manipulation, the coercion, the control, and you’re listening to this now, knowing that something needs to change, in order for life to go forward, in order for you to feel better in yourself.

I know when I was emotionally abusive, I felt awful a lot. You’d never know it, but I did. I felt really awful. I was walking around in a continued emotionally triggered state. I was just waiting for behavior to trigger me, and I was already triggered. I was always sensitive to behaviors that triggered me. As soon as she did behaviors that triggered me, I came out with some sort of emotionally abusive response. Be it guilting her, judging her, criticizing her, giving her that look, being silent, withholding love, all of the things I’m absolutely not proud that I did.

I feel bad but have learned so much since that marriage so many years ago. I realized that I didn’t want to be that person. If you’re the perpetrator, and I don’t even like using that word, but if you are doing this behavior, and you don’t want to be that person, then you are a good person, you really are.

We just need to get that out. We just need to get past this hurdle that is causing the selfish behavior and get you in touch with your empathy, your compassion, and make those your motivating and driving forces instead of anything else that makes you believe that you need to protect yourself or that you need to change the world around you instead of adapting to it.

We need to get you to a point where you accept the people in your life for who they are and what they do. The best gift you can give to anyone is to let them be who they are. Even if you disagree with it, even if you don’t like it, because it’s not their fault that you don’t like who they are and it’s not your fault that you don’t like it. It is your fault when you hold who they are against them and choose to make them feel bad for who they are.

That doesn’t feel very good, and if you’re doing this behavior, it’s time to move out of that type of behavior and support the people in your life in ways they’ve never experienced from you.

My final point is that no matter who you are, if you care about other people, just focus on wanting to support their happiness.

That’s how I define love – wanting to support someone else’s happiness or someone else’s path to happiness.

 When you support their happiness, they’re going to support yours. If you find that they’re not supporting your path to happiness, it might not be the best relationship, or you might need help. You might need to seek out couples’ therapy or you might need to talk to someone together.

If you zoom out of the relationship and you look at one person and you see their behavior is only supporting the other person’s happiness, and the other person’s behavior is only supporting the other person’s happiness, usually you will have a very mutually beneficial relationship. This is a relationship that grows together and wants to be with each other, that will make compromises and even sacrifices sometimes, because the other person wants to be happy.

Never use those sacrifices to guilt the other person. Never use those compromises to guilt the other person. That’s when things start going downhill.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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