Never is there physical abuse without emotional abuse, but unfortunately the reverse isn't always true. During my first job as a therapist with a domestic violence organization, more than one of my clients said that they actually prefer the physical violence to the emotional violence, because at least physical bruises heal. Of course, it is more difficult to realize if your relationship is emotionally abusive than if it is physically abusive. Physical attacks are impossible to ignore, but verbal and emotional ones are harder to identify.
I can relate to this because I was also in an emotionally abusive relationship and it never occurred to me that that's what it was until years later. I didn't have a good enough sense of what behavior I should tolerate and what boundaries I should set, and so I didn't know I was being abused.
My boyfriend and I were smart, attractive and well-educated. But no matter what my life looked like on the outside, I desperately wanted to be loved and so I endured him ignoring me and treating me like I didn't even matter. I wasn't good enough to be invited to his brother's wedding even though we had been together for two years, but I was good enough for sex whenever he would visit. There was no reason for him to change his behavior because he got everything he wanted, when he wanted it. The harsh reality I have to face was that I let him get away with it every time.
I was lucky that he never proposed and that our lives diverged naturally. I don't think I would have been able to see the destructive pattern I was part of without distance and time. It took me a couple of more years, and a hard break-up with a man I did want to marry to see what I needed to do in order to be in a healthy, loving relationship. There is a reason for the expression, "no one else can love you until you love yourself."
No one deserves to be emotionally abused, but, if you are part of an emotionally abusive relationship, you have a role in it. That doesn't mean you deserve to be treated badly, but it does mean that you allow it. You are so desperate to be loved that you accept behavior that is not loving. Loving behavior is respectful and kind and makes room for your voice and your feelings. But you have to be willing to exercise your voice and honor your feelings. That is the key to breaking through the shackles of emotional abuse and setting yourself on the path to healthy relationships.
Looking for love and acceptance from someone else is impossible if you cannot find it in yourself first. I learned that if the worst thing that happened to me was that I would be on my own, I would be OK. I learned that my feelings and my voice mattered as much as anyone else's. Once I embraced those two beliefs, I was able to love and be loved in a healthy, mature relationship.
It is only when you are completely comfortable being alone that you are ready to be with someone else. Until then, you are susceptible to emotional abuse.
Let me know if you have ever experienced these issues in your relationship and if you think these suggestions would be helpful. Lesli@balancedfamily.com
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