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

Photo: Getty Images
woman standing in desert in brown coat

Physical abuse always comes with emotional abuse, but unfortunately, the reverse isn't always true.

At my first job as a therapist, I worked with a domestic violence organization. During my time there, more than one of my clients said that they actually prefer physical violence to emotional violence, because at least physical bruises heal. 

RELATED: 3 Under-The-Radar Types Of Abusive Relationships To Watch Out For

Of course, it is more difficult to realize that you're in an emotionally abusive relationship rather than a physically abusive one. Physical attacks are impossible to ignore, but verbal and emotional ones are harder to identify as emotional scars are silent and hidden.

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 wasn't aware of the fact that I was being abused, nor did I have the tools to learn how to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship.

My boyfriend and I were smart, attractive, and well-educated. But no matter what my life looked like on the outside, on the inside I desperately wanted to be loved. This led me to endure being ignored and being treated like I didn't matter. What I wanted and felt didn't matter. 

I wasn't good enough to be invited to his brother's wedding even though we had been together for two years, but when it came to sex, suddenly I was good enough. 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. And I shouldn't have. 

RELATED: 6 Heartbreaking Ways Emotional Abuse Changes You

But there is a way to learn how to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship and escape an emotional abuser: You MUST listen to your inner voice.

I was lucky that he never proposed and that our lives diverged naturally. Had we stayed together, I don't think I would have been able to see the toxic relationship I was in without distance and time. It took a hard breakup with a man I did want to marry to see what I needed to do in order to be in a healthy, loving relationship.

It took me a couple of more years after that to move forward. 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 because you're mistaking it for love. Maybe you even think this sort of behavior is the closest to the love you'll feel. Loving behavior is respectful and kind and makes room for your voice and your feelings.

But you have to be willing to use your voice and honor your feelings. That is the key to breaking through the shackles of emotional abuse and setting yourself free. That is the key to setting yourself on the path to healthy relationships.

RELATED: Am I Emotionally Abusive? How To Know If The Abuser In Your Relationship Is You

Looking for love and acceptance from someone else is impossible if you cannot find it in yourself first. When you love yourself, you know what sort of behaviors you should not tolerate and what boundaries should be set for yourself.

You know what sort of treatment you truly deserve from your partner. I learned that if the worst thing that happened to me was that I would end up 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 was the loving relationship that I deserved.

It is only when you are completely comfortable being alone and loving yourself that you are ready to be with someone else. Until then, you are susceptible to emotional abuse. You are vulnerable to looking for love in all the wrong places.

RELATED: 7 Ways People Who Have Been In A Emotionally Abusive Relationship Love Differently

Lesli Doares is a therapist, coach, and the founder of Foundations Coaching, a practical alternative for couples worldwide looking to improve their marriage without traditional therapy.