Heartbreak

What It's Like To Love Someone Who Has Been Emotionally Abused

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distressed woman

When your partner has experienced emotional abuse from their family or a past relationship, it can leave a lasting impact and invisible scars.

The old adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can't hurt me," is very inaccurate and unfounded for someone who has been abused.

What are the signs of emotional abuse?

Your partner has been emotionally abused when someone regularly belittles, dismisses, acts possessive and controlling, verbal threatens, is hypercritical, manipulates, humiliates, isolates you from others, withdraws affection, guilt trips, refuses to take responsibility for their actions, blames, calls you names (such as crazy), violates your space, and wants to monitor your actions and behaviors.

Infrequently, you may say or do something that fits into one of the above ideas, but emotional abuse happens consistently and continually, and is pervasive in a relationship.

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

How Emotional Abuse Affects Your Relationship

1. Trust issues

Since the people in your abused partner’s life were supposed to be trustworthy and care for them, but these people instead hurt them, it may be difficult to trust you (and others).

Due to emotional abuse, your partner may act guarded and cautious towards you, or be triggered easily by what you say. Your partner may feel more jumpy, on edge, and hypervigilant to your behavior and actions.

You may not give them any reason to act or behave in this way, but they are anticipating (from past relationships) that they will be hurt.

2. Feeling unworthy of love

Your partner may blame themselves for the abuse and, therefore, they may feel unlovable and not good enough.

3. Anxiety

They may display signs of anxiety, fear and nervousness in the relationship. During your conversations, they may experience their heart racing, palms getting sweaty, tightness in their body, and/or wanting to run away or fight with you.

4. Self-doubt

They might doubt themselves and their opinions and ideas because of how they were judged, questioned, criticized and made fun of in past relationships.

5. Self-sabotage

An abused partner usually fears that you will hurt them, so they might try to push you away or do things to sabotage the relationship to prove to themselves that they are unworthy of love.

6. Powerlessness

The abused partner may not know how to ask for what they want and need, and may feel powerless to do so. Your partner has not experienced a secure relationship with equanimity and fairness.

RELATED: 6 Heartbreaking Ways Emotional Abuse Changes You

How To Love Someone Who Has Been Emotionally Abused

As a couples counselor for over 10 years, working with many couples with one partner who has been emotionally abused, I like to say, “Take it slow.” Your partner needs to heal from the emotional abuse, and needs compassion and understanding.

Also, the abused partner needs patience and empathy on their journey to heal from unhealthy relationships, and learn how to create healthy and secure relationships.

Sometimes, your relationship may feel like a rollercoaster as healing from abuse occurs for your partner. Sometimes, the partner may feel loveable and want to be close, and other times the abused partner may push you away and feel confused.

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The abused partner needs to relearn what love is and how to accept it. They need to understand the patterns that were wired in their brain and body about love, trust, and caring, which created a sense of distrust and insecurity.

If you tell the abused partner to “Get over it and move on already,” this statement is not only harmful, but will usually slow down the healing process and create a lack of trust between the two of you.

The reason that this type of statement is so detrimental to the relationship is because it repeats the emotional abusive pattern of dismissiveness and embarrassing your partner for their feelings.

Sometimes, individual therapy is warranted to help the abused partner heal from the trauma of abuse and/or couples therapy to learn how to develop a healthy and happy relationship.

When you love someone who has experienced emotional abuse, you need to learn how it impacts the abused partner and how it will impact your relationship. This information will prepare you for a more successful and loving relationship — together.

RELATED: This Is The Side Of Emotional Abuse You Don't See

Lisa Rabinowitz, LCPC, is a licensed counselor in the states of Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Vermont, and Virginia. She is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist and PACT Level 3. If you want to learn more about the impact of emotional abuse on your relationship, contact her for a 20-minute free private consultation today.

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