Healing from emotional abuse is difficult. Period.
If you have just left an emotionally abusive relationship (or are thinking of leaving) then you realize that your life has been turned upside down. Your confidence has been battered. You have been on a continuous emotional roller-coaster for a long time. You are exhausted. You may have difficulty thinking and making decisions. You have been led to believe that you are worthless, unlovable, bad, stupid, inferior or a host of other things and you can't seem to make sense of what exactly went on.
You have difficulty trusting others and you may not even trust yourself. You don't know what you want any more (apart from all the pain to stop!). You choose one thing and 5 minutes into it you realize it's not doing it for you. So you switch to something else. But that is no better. There is a pervasive anxiety in your life, a fear that something bad will happen and you can't seem to get rid of it.
You may have left the relationship thinking that that would be the end of it. But, no! The abuser is still hounding you, pulling on your heart strings. Sometimes promising you the sun, moon and stars and sometimes threatening you with all sorts of nastiness. This can be excruciating! Part of you is drawn very strongly to go back. Another part of you knows that you must not. The internal struggle makes you feel that you are going crazy!
Even if you are not pestered by the abuser, you can't stop thinking about him or her. You have alternating memories of really nice times, and horrible moments. Your emotions are all over the place, loving and hating your ex partner at the same time. You want them back but you can't stand the thought of them touching you. You need to know what they are up to but it sickens you when you look at their social media accounts.
On top of all this, you have read stuff on the internet telling you how to deal with these things. Set boundaries, confront them, don't allow them to define you and even forgive the abuser, you are told. Sever all ties. Be yourself, make your own decisions, take care of yourself. Stop looking for others approval. Understand that you are not the problem. Let go of resentment and release the anger.
You realize that you don't know how to do half of these things and the other half is impossible to do. You just can't seem to mentally or physically do them. You feel bad because you can't manage. This puts more pressure on you. You may think and feel that maybe the abuser was right about you, after all. The fact that you are having such problems seems to be evidence that what the abuser said about you is true. Maybe you are the problem.
I mentioned that these things occur around the time of the breakup of the relationship. In many cases, a victim can live like this for years. Even with therapy for the depression, post traumatic stress disorder, relationship issues, trust issues, sleep problems and so on, the victim is unable to get the abuser out of their head, nightmares continue and the victim continues to suffer in many ways.
Some people for one reason or another decide at some stage that they are going to forget all about it, ignore it and not deal with it. This approach never works. The effects are too profound to just ignore it and move on.
In order to answer this question, we need to look at what exactly happens in an abusive relationship. Understanding the dynamics between the abuser and the victim is essential to being able to undo the damage because the situation is very different from normal healthy relationships.
I don't believe for a moment that anybody goes out looking for an abusive relationship. If you knew what you were really getting into at the start of your relationship, you would have run a mile, right!?! So in order to start a relationship an abuser has to disguise himself or herself initially. They hide their true nature and their abusive characteristics from the victim. They do this by assessing the potential target very quickly, working out what the targets wants, needs, desires, fears, weaknesses and strengths are. They then create a persona that would be the ideal partner for the target.
This relationship could be an intimate relationship, it could be in a work situation, a social situation, in a sports club, in a chess club. It could even be a relationship with another person in a support group situation, where neither is the leader but both people are supposed to be there looking for support! The abuser basically pretends to be exactly who and what the target needs at that particular point in their lives. If the target needs company because they are alone in a new city for whatever reason, the abuser offers that. If the target wants a shoulder to cry on because they are coming out of a bad relationship, the abuser provides that. If the target is looking for answers, be they religious, spiritual, involving personal growth, the abuser duly obliges. If the target is looking for work, or money or help of another kind, the abuser promises exactly that.
It is very common that when a person first meets an abuser there is an odd feeling, a sense that something is wrong. Some even feel disgust or revulsion. However, when the abuser gets talking, things quickly change. They can be charming, witty, intelligent, kind considerate, friendly and most importantly, they are offering what the target wants and needs at that time. The abuser makes friends quickly, using compliments and flattery to make the target feel good, revealing things about their private life to create a sense of being open and vulnerable themselves as well as announcing that they have the same interests and desires and other things in common with the target. We like people who have the same tastes as ourselves so this new person seems to be ticking all the boxes in terms of being someone who we could spend time with.
The problem is that much of what comes out of the abuser's mouth is exaggeration, misrepresentation, distortion and outright lies. The character they portray themselves to be does not actually exist. It is fabricated in the moment to fool and deceive. So from the word go, the relationship is based on lies and deception. The emotions and feelings of the target are genuine enough, but they have been elicited through the manipulations of the abuser.
The abuser keeps this up for a while. Long enough to sweep the victim off their feet. The victim cannot believe that they have met someone so fantastic. This new person in their life seems to be the person of their dreams, providing everything they need, treating them like they have never been treated before, making them feel special, different, unique.
There may be warnings from family and friends but the victim (because now they are no longer potential targets, they are now victims) is so enamored, so in love, even so euphoric that they no longer have any sense of problems or danger. The victim brushes off any concerns saying that if the family member or friend only knew this magical person like they (the victim) did, they would understand.
This first impression the abuser creates in the victim is very significant. The abusers know that first impressions count and that it is very often difficult to change them, especially one that creates euphoria. This honeymoon period also becomes a reference point for the victim later on.
This honeymoon period continues as long as is needed for the abuser to know that they have control over the victim. That's what an abusive relationship is all about, of course, control.
At some point the victim commits in a big way to the relationship. It could be moving in together, which often happens very quickly in abusive relationships. After all, who wouldn't want to live with their perfect partner, their soul mate? It could be an engagement or even marriage or a pregnancy. It could be that the victim and abuser move to another city together away from the victim's friends and family.
Then the bad behavior starts. The first time it happens it is excused by the victim. After all the partner is perfect but must be tired or having a bad day. It could happen to anyone.
The bad behavior continues. It can be subtle at first, remarks that make fun of the victim in some way, then blaming the victim for not being able to take a joke. But then it gets more serious. But somehow the abuser always has an excuse or a justification for doing it.
The good times get less and less. The bad times get more frequent and start to last longer. During the bad times, the victim longs for the good times, remembering how good things were at the start. The victim thinks about what they can do and say so that the abuser is in good form so that there can be good times again. (The victim does not realize that the partner is an abuser at this stage.) The victim's decision making already revolves around the abuser.
Remember the victim is already heavily committed at this stage and leaving is not something that is considered as a viable option. We have difficulty admitting that we have made mistakes and to be able to see that the partner is an abuser is too big a leap for most victims at this stage. The belief that they are a great person is still very strong. And besides the victim's personality is being shaped and molded.
The abuser is now exerting control over all aspects of the victim's life. The abuser is controlling the person's behavior. There is typically a system of rewards and punishments in place where the victim is punished for doing things the abuser does not want. There may be a whole range of punishments, withdrawal, shouting, criticisms, insults, humiliation and threats. When the victim does do what the abuser wants, there may or may not be 'rewards'. These can be gifts, compliments or being allowed out with friends. Sometimes not having an argument is even used as a reward. The victim feels that they have had a good day if the abuser has not shouted at them!
The abuser is also controlling the emotions of the victims. They know how exactly to make the victim feel fantastic. They also know how to push their buttons, oftentimes in the most cruel and hurtful ways. The victim is then kept off balance because they have so many ups and downs even in one day. The unpredictability of the abuser keeps them on their toes because they never know what's coming next or even in what mood the abuser is going to arrive home. The decision making of the victim is also influenced through the emotions. If the victim knows that the abuser will be upset if they do something, they will often decide not to do it. The victim is also driven to make decisions to do things that will please the abuser, and therefore make the life of the victim somewhat more pleasant.
The abuser also shapes the thinking of the victim, He or she will criticize the opinions of the victim, ridicule their ideas, belittle their desires and dreams and generally make the victim feel awful for not agreeing all the time with the abuser. You can read this article about emotional abuse signs for more examples of how specifically this is done.
All this adds up to a major change in the personality of the victim. The victim's own personality is basically unfrozen, changes are made and these changes are frozen in place as a new, but false personality. This pseudopersonality is imposed on the victim by the abuser because it is the type of personality the abuser wants the victim to have.
The pseudopersonality is basically programmed to believe what the abuser says, to do what the abuser wants and to put the wants and needs of the abuser first. Remember that thing about the abusive relationship being all about control? This is what it looks like.
The pseudopersonality is also programmed to be heavily dependent on the manipulator. It needs to check with the boss before doing anything, it has to run decisions by the boss to make sure they are acceptable and the pseudopersonality is even programmed to check with the boss to know if it is being good or bad. In many cases the identity of the victim is so blended with the identity of the abuser that the victim even needs the abuser to know who they are.
Add a sexual aspect to the relationship and the abuser is controlling all aspects of a person's life. This obviously has profound and powerful effects on the victim. Victims describe losing themselves in the relationship. Friends and family members say they hardly recognize the victim since starting in the relationship. The victims are changed at their very core by the abusers.
The abuser becomes the life purpose of the victim. The whole life of the victim revolves around the abuser, taking care of them, fulfilling their needs, making their lives comfortable, doing the things the abuser does not want to do and all at the expense of the victim.
The victims are unable to express themselves, they are unable to criticize the abusers, they cannot make their own decisions, the world they are living in gets smaller and smaller. All because they are programmed this way. And to add insult to injury, the abuser typically criticizes and insults the victim for being this way!
It often seems to the victim that the abuser is right because they do, indeed, have low self esteem, they do have problems deciding anything, they do seem to be depressed, anxious, hopeless, unmotivated, looking to the abuser for approval and so on. The victim still cannot see that it was the abuser who did this to them because their thinking is so distorted at this stage.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to think that the abuser is superior, more intelligent, wiser, more worldly than the victim and that the abuser is a nice person who is actually looking after the victim. This is very twisted but this is actually what happens.
The beliefs about the abuser are often so strong that the pseudopersonality denies the reality of their situation in order to keep these beliefs intact. And besides, the abuser is also redefining what things mean for the victim. Those frequent calls from the abuser mean that the abuser cares. (It's control, they want to know what you are doing every minute.) If the victim doesn't answer the abuser's phone calls straight away, it upsets the abuser because they say that they worry that the victim may be sick or injured. This pushes the victim to even run to grab the phone when they know it's the abuser. It's really because the abuser doesn't want to be kept waiting. Of course, they have no problem keeping the victim waiting!
This is another aspect of emotional abuse, the fact that there is one set of rules for the victim and another set for the abuser. And the abuser sets all the rules. Not only that, but the abuser changes the rules whenever they like and they don't notify the victim in advance either. This means that the victim finds themselves in trouble for having broken rules without even realizing there was a rule. This is very destructive for the victims.
Learn about the characteristics of a controlling parent.
A high percentage of emotional and physical abusers are psychopaths and narcissists. If you didn't already know this, don't panic! Psychopaths are not just serial killers and serial rapists.
A psychopath is a person who has a personality disorder. This shows up as a lack of conscience, a lack of empathy for others and a huge ego. This means that they never feel bad about anything they do because they don’t experience guilt, embarrassment, remorse, fear or any of the socializing emotions. The big ego means that they consider themselves superior beings that are entitled to special treatment.
These are also known as sociopaths, also some people differentiate between psychopaths and sociopaths.
A narcissist also has a personality disorder who are similar to psychopaths but these types crave adoration and praise. They need to be the center of attention and they typically consider that they should be living a much grander life than they actually are.
Psychopaths can be quite narcissistic and a narcissistic who is quite psychopathic is often called a malignant narcissist, but don’t get caught up in the terminology. The important thing is that they all lack a conscience and their motivation is power and domination over others. They all use destructive mind control techniques to manipulate others, to remove their independence and influence their decision making and free will. They all destroy their victim's personality in order to impose characteristics on the victim that causes the victims to behave the way the abusers want.
In terms of healing from emotional abuse it's not necessary to have a specific diagnosis and the manipulators probably wouldn’t agree to being assessed anyway. This is not a mental illness, it is a personality disorder. Psychopaths and narcissists are legally treated as being responsible for their actions, (unlike schizophrenics who hear voices directing them to do things). These types know the difference between right and wrong, They just don't care! Of note here, they do know what they are doing. They deliberately and purposefully set out to control and dominate others.
They don't necessarily think in terms of pseudopersonalities, of course. The pseudopersonality is a way of describing the changes that occur in mind control situations in a way that is useful to explain to people what happens. It is a way to allow people to understand what was done to them.
The pseudopersonality never totally destroys the real personality, it simply represses and dominates it. The internal struggles that victims have, both during the manipulation and later when they are healing from emotional abuse, can be explained by the pseudopersonality. One part of the person may want to leave the relationship but another part cannot imagine life without the abuser. This is the battle between the real personality and the pseudopersonality. Obviously, while the pseudopersonality is very strong and dominant, it's programming to stay with the manipulator wins out and the person is unable to leave the abusive situation. Not until the real personality cannot stand what is going on any longer does the person have the fortitude to get up and leave. And even then, it's incredibly difficult to do so and not to return.
The pseudopersonality is imposed upon the victim without their knowledge or consent. The victim is typically not aware of the changes they are being put through. It is a process that occurs over time and the three stages, unfreezing, changing and refreezing are not separate and distinct. The abuser may be chipping away at the victim's personality on a regular basis even as they are installing the new one. All that criticism, insulting, mocking and degradation, often several times a day, means that the victim's personality is being destroyed and kept that way on a regular basis. There may be so much of these things that it becomes 'normalized' for the victim. This means that the victim no longer recognizes it as emotional abuse. It becomes 'just the way life is'. It may take someone from outside to remind the victim that it is actually abuse.
At the same time as the degradation of their personality, the new personality is being reinforced in very powerful ways. One of these powerful ways is repetition. Studies have shown that if three people tell you something, you are very likely to believe it. However, if one person tells you the same thing three times, it actually has almost the same effect. Just think about that for a moment. How often have you heard the same things coming out of the mouth of your abuser? The same things, daily, or every couple of days, for months, or even years...
So the pseudopersonality is forced on you, using a multitude of very powerful and profound influence techniques, over years. It affects your thinking, your emotions, your beliefs, your identity and even your beliefs about your identity. And remember that these beliefs are typically much stronger than normal beliefs. They have been reinforced over and over until you forget that they are actually beliefs and you act as though they are the reality that you are living in, as if they are facts and this is the way the world is.
For this reason lots of the advice about what should be done in healing from emotional abuse doesn't work. You can try simply changing your habits and beliefs but because the beliefs imposed by the abuser are more profound and stronger, the changes you try and make don't last. Or you get a blend of things that is still unsatisfactory. Or you keep slipping back every now and then into the 'old ways'.
You can't hope to find yourself, or build your self esteem, or do things that are good for you while the pseudopersonality is still in place. The decision making, the needs and the desires of the pseudopersonality have everything to do with the abuser and nothing to do with you. Many victims who still have a pseudopersonality say that they no longer know what they like or don't like or what gives them pleasure. Of course, they don't. Anything that comes to mind is tainted by the pseudopersonality, which, in effect is a clone of the psychopath. The pseudopersonality shares many of the beliefs, ideas and opinions and even behaviors of the psychopath. This is why some victims ask themselves if perhaps they are an abuser or a psychopath. They realize they are thinking or doing some of the things that their psychopathic or narcissistic abuser did and they don't know how to distinguish any longer what is really theirs and what has been imposed on them.
Many of the approaches to healing from emotional abuse simply don’t go deep enough into unraveling the process of abuse. Writing about the situation or speaking about what happened over and over often simply pushes the victim to repeatedly relive the abusive situations. It doesn't change anything. This is why many people spend years healing from emotional abuse. There are some groups where people have been attending for 10 or 15 years or more.
There are several difficulties with healing from emotional abuse. Once a person has a pseudopersonality, they are very vulnerable to the next psychopath or narcissist they meet. I don’t believe that victims attract narcissists, but rather what happens is that the manipulator recognizes that the person has been traumatized before and the manipulator then goes after that person knowing that they will be an easy target. This may seem like a subtle distinction, or even playing with words, but it is a very important difference in terms of healing from emotional abuse.
Anyway, the point is that many emotional abuse victims end up being recruited into cults. The victim is looking for help in healing from emotional abuse and a friend or associate invites them along to their group because this friend believes that their group has the answer to everything (and their own pseudopersonality is programmed to recruit new members!). The emotional abuse victim goes along because they are desperate. Because they do not understand manipulation, magical thinking or mind control, they get sucked in. After all, this new group seems very welcoming, makes them feel good about themselves and promises relief from the suffering, i.e., exactly what they need in this moment... (Sound familiar??)
A second thing that I have noticed is that when a person starts into a particular process of healing from emotional abuse, they tend to stick to it and find it very hard to change to something else that might be better, even if the process they have doing has been going on for many years. It seems that, if they believe that the process is helping them and the process allows them to feel good every now and then, combined with the knowledge that they are working on themselves, this is enough to make them feel that it's worth continuing along the same path, even if the reality is that ten or eleven years into it they are still having nightmares, trust issues, emotional problems and can't even hold down a job.
You can read more here about how long it takes to recover from a narcissistic relationship.
To get rid of the pseudopersonality, you have to know how it was put in place. This means a process of education about influence, mind control, psychopathy, narcissism and even cults. The same techniques are used in cults as in a one to one intimate relationship. In fact, cult experts talk about an emotionally abusive relationship as a cultic relationship.
Understanding what techniques were used against you, why the manipulator used those techniques with you, what effects they had on your thinking, your emotions and your decision making is fundamental to realizing how someone could have so much control over you.
And it's very important to recognize just how much control the abuser did have. This is not a pleasant realization by any means. It's one of the reasons that 'going it alone' while healing from emotional abuse is almost impossible. It’s very difficult for a person to admit to themselves just how manipulated they were or how much leverage the abuser had over them. It often takes an outsider to point this out in a way that the individual can recognize it for themselves.
For example, victims work on themselves to convince themselves that it was not their fault, that the abuser was the problem. At the same time they say things such as, "I allowed them to treat me that way", "I made some bad decisions in the relationship" and "I should have left sooner." They don't see the contradiction in what they are saying. This is in part because their thinking is distorted, the thinking of the pseudopersonality is programmed not to be able to see the contradictions of the situation. (This can be very distressing to family members who can see as plain as day the contradictions but even when they point them out to the victim, the victim is unable to recognize it.)
Admitting that all your decisions were influenced to one degree or another by the manipulator is a huge step. It's distressing, frustrating, shameful, rage inducing, debilitating and embarrassing. Most people are unable to get there on their own, whatever they may say about it.
Learning the difference between the different types of influences such as advertising, propaganda and destructive mind control is also an important part of undoing the damage. This allows you to recognize when someone is using an influence technique that is healthy for all concerned or whether it is being used in a destructive mind control environment. This is invaluable not just in healing from emotional abuse but also in not getting caught again in the future.
There are several influence techniques that are used all over the planet but they work outside of our awareness. This makes them particularly powerful because if you are not conscious of them you can't resist mentally. You can read here how a psychopath or narcissist can do you a favor (even without your asking!) and then take advantage of the sense of obligation it creates in you. These things may seem trivial, but when you understand how exactly they work, and more specifically how they were used against you, the effects of them wear off.
The more you understand the subtleties of mind control, the more you understand how the pseudopersonality was put in place and maintained there. And as you come to realize what was done to you, the effects of these tactics and techniques wear off, the pseudopersonality disappears and your real personality is allowed to take over once again.
The intrusive thoughts stop, the dependency on the manipulator goes away and you learn to start making your own decisions again. All the tension and fear, guilt and anger subside. You have time and space in your head to think. The abuser is finally out of your head and out of your life. If you do think of him or her for any reason, the thought lasts a couple of seconds, there is little, if any, emotion attached to it, you turn around and focus on something else and the thought of them is gone... And you get to take pleasure again in the little things of everyday life. That's what a good recovery should be like.
Some of these ideas may seem a bit strong and some people might even be irritated or annoyed or feel defensive on reading them. But the more I work with clients the more I see them to be valid and true. True in the sense that they are a useful way to think about what happens in order to both assess victims as well as help the victims understand what was done to them.
This is the single most useful thing you can do if you are healing from emotional abuse. Help from family, friends and an expert in mind control. Your family and friends are not experts and while they can help you in many ways they may often say things that upset you simply because they do not understand what you are going through or what you went through.
You need to be able to express what happened to you to someone who does not criticize or blame you for what happened. But that's not enough, you also need new information about your situation so that when you think about things from the past you can review them through the lens of mind control and manipulation so that they take on a different meaning and you understand them in a different way. This is an education process, it is not an emotional control program. Be wary of anyone who offers to help you manage your emotions. Remember that you have already had enough of that!
Find someone who specifically understands mind control, psychopathy and narcissism. Therapists who don’t understand these issues may do more harm than good. An expert in this field will help you avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls, will speed up your healing from emotional abuse, saving you time, effort, money and heartache.
The process of healing from emotional abuse is definitely not easy, at times it may even feel worse than when you were in the abusive situation. It takes time and effort. But it is always worth it. They say the best revenge is taking back control of your life. Well, you have to get rid of the pseudopersonality fully to do that.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?