It Wasn't Your Fault: How To Heal The Shame Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Photo: getty
young woman recovers in the sun, looking hopeful
Heartbreak

Healing from emotional abuse can be challenging but very much possible.

One of the hardest types of abuse to recognize is emotional abuse, especially when you’re in the thick of it and even when people close to you point it out. The shame that results from having been in an emotionally abusive situation can run deep, and sometimes even feel insurmountable. 

Any relationship can be emotionally abusive, whether it's between friends, co-workers, family, or couples who are dating, engaged, or married.

Once you recognize that you're in an emotionally abusive relationship, getting out of it can also be difficult.

You may rationalize that it’s not really thaaaaat bad and they can be nice at times. Or that they're just going through a hard time right now and you should be more supportive and understanding.

But there is hope. 

As ashamed as you may have felt — or even how you feel now — it's not your fault that someone else chose to be emotionally abusive toward you.

RELATED: 21 Signs You're In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

The common thread with an emotionally abusive relationship is that you feel disrespected, dismissed, bullied, worthless, and/or confused.

You feel trapped and doubt your perception of reality. You’re silenced, devalued, and discredited. Your self-esteem plummets.

The cycle can be subtle or obvious and repeats over and over again. Sometimes, it’s a precursor to physical abuse.

For many reasons, getting out of an abusive relationship can take a while and be very challenging. Once you're out of the relationship, you’re likely to feel mixed emotions.

On the one hand, you may feel relieved that you ended the relationship. On the other hand, you also may feel guilty for doing so, especially if they accuse you of abandoning them.

And even more than guilt, you may feel shame — deep shame — for being in the relationship for as long as you were. And, for remaining in the relationship even when you had doubts.

Deep shame is very unpleasant and painful. It targets your very essence. Your identity. Shame contaminates your sense of self and your worth. It cuts deep.

In spite of all the associated challenges, healing shame from an emotionally abusive relationship is possible. And well worth the effort.

Otherwise, the shame spiral continues and pervades different aspects of life.

Once you recognize it, healing from emotional abuse is the next step.

Here are 5 ways to start healing from emotional abuse and ending the shame that is hurting you today.

1. Be aware of the feeling of shame.

Identify it. You may know you're feeling it, but not necessarily. In order to work on shame, identifying it is the first step.

Shame, especially untreated shame, is associated with lots of mental health problems, including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse — and even affects our physical health.

2. Develop some self-compassion.

Far from being a woo-woo touchy-feely concept, self-compassion is a strong component of resilience. This means that you're responding to your own pain as you would to the pain of someone dear to you.

Put your hand on your heart and say the same sort of reassuring, comforting words you would say to a loved one. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror when practicing this exercise. And say it like you mean it.

Self-compassion is truly the antidote to shame.

RELATED: How I Saved Myself From An Emotionally Abusive Man — And You Can, Too

3. Be mindful of how you’re feeling in your relationships.

In your relationships at work, with family, friends, and acquaintances, notice how you feel about yourself.

How do they treat you? How do you feel about who you are when spending time with them and afterward?

Tune into your emotions and, perhaps, even into body sensations that could provide clues.

Limit your time with people with whom you feel disparaged, dismissed, or devalued.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

Spend more time with people whose vibe aligns with yours — people who you feel get you, you find yourself naturally enjoying their company, and wanting to see them again.

4. Consider meeting with a therapist.

You may be tempted to build a wall and push people away. Doing so, though, will only cause you to feel more alone.

Instead, meet with a therapist and discuss how you feel. You may develop insight to help you stop participating in emotionally abusive relationships.

And most importantly you will learn important insights about yourself that will help you to cultivate healthier relationships.

5. Forgive yourself.

Self-forgiveness and shame can’t co-exist. The more you heal your shame, the more clarity you will have in understanding the why’s and how’s of the emotionally abusive relationship.

Shame is treatable, no matter where it comes from or how long you've felt it.

Healing is vital; shame serves no purpose other than to cause suffering.

The more silent you are about your shame, the more intense the shame will become.

Blaming yourself for emotional abuse in your relationship will only intensify the shame and increase the ongoing likelihood of being on the receiving end of emotional abuse.

You deserve better, even if the starting place is one of pain and suffering.

RELATED: If He Does These 7 Things, He's Silently Abusing You

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a highly renowned clinical psychologist in the Boston area. Her passion is to help people see their own light, and for them to then let that light radiate contentment and joy to those around them. To contact her or to learn more about the services she offers, contact her on her website or send her an email.