How Therapy Can Help When Someone Abuses You

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 15, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Debra Halseth, LCSW

Content note: This article contains an extensive discussion of abuse and other potentially sensitive topics. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact one of the following hotlines.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: Call 1-800-422-4453
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: Call 1-800-656-4673 or use the webchat option.

When someone abuses you, you might feel alone and hopeless. After all, it’s tough to manage your life and your emotions when you’re living with someone who shows such little regard for your mental and physical wellbeing. It would probably be a relief to find that there is someone available who can help you deal with these issues and make decisions that will benefit you now and in the future. A therapist can be that person, and here’s how therapy can help people who face many different types of abuse.

Offers You Compassion And Emotional Support

Gain Clarity About The Trauma Of An Abusive Relationship

One of the first things you might notice in therapy is that your counselor is compassionate and supportive. And emotional support may be something you’ve lacked for a long time. They listen non judgmentally while you talk about problems like emotional abuse and physical abuse. As you discuss what’s happening in your life and how you feel about it, you might feel a sense of relief and hopefulness at times that you haven’t felt since the abuse started.

Teaches You About The Types Of Abuse You’re Experiencing

Sometimes, it helps to know more about what the different types of abuse are, why they happen, and what can occur as a result. Here are several types of abuse your counselor might tell you about:

Emotional abuse – When someone abuses you emotionally, they engage in behaviors that cause you psychological harm. Also called psychological abuse, this type of abuse may include criticizing you, humiliating you, threatening you, or blaming you. The abuser seeks power over you and gets it through intimidation and other tactics.

Sexual abuse – According to the American Psychological Association, sexual abuse includes any unwanted sexual activity that someone forces on you physically, by threatening you, or by taking advantage of you at a time when you’re unable to give consent.

Physical abuse – Being abused physically means that someone is intentionally hurting you through bodily contact. It may include slapping, punching, kicking, or another painful contact. If you’re experiencing physical abuse, it’s critical to get help right away and get away from the danger.

Verbal abuse – Most people have arguments from time to time. But in emotionally abusive relationships, arguments escalate into abusive behavior. When someone is calling you names, verbally attacking you, ignoring what you said, or insisting that their perspective is the only one that matters, they’re verbally abusing you.

Helps You Recognize Signs Of Abuse

When you’re involved in an abusive relationship, it might be hard to sort out what is abuse and what is normal behavior. And it makes sense that you would be confused. You may have a deep attachment to your abuser, and it’s hard to think that they might be doing things to hurt or control you. But you need to understand what’s abusive before you can overcome it. Your therapist can teach you how to recognize a wide range of abuses that might be occurring. For example, you might be able to identify emotional abuse from any of the following categories:

  • Bullying
  • Threatening
  • Name calling
  • Controlling what you wear or where you go
  • Controlling your money
  • Isolating you from friends and family

Helps You Identify Your Emotions About The Abuse

One thing that is common to many people who experience emotional abuse is that they don’t recognize what happened to them as abuse. One study that explored this phenomenon concluded that there seemed to be a connection between being emotionally abused and having a hard time identifying emotions. So, even after you learn to recognize the outward signs of abuse, you still might need help identifying the feelings that come up because of the abuse. Your counselor can help you with this by providing you a safe environment and encouraging you to think about and express your feelings.

Gives You Psychological Tools To Manage Your Emotions And Stress

Emotional abuse can leave you feeling many different distressing emotions. And, it’s incredibly stressful to be in an abusive situation. That’s why it’s helpful to work with a therapist who can give you psychological tools for protecting your emotional wellbeing. They can teach you stress management techniques to use, whether you stay in the relationship or leave it. As you learn to manage your emotions and your stress more effectively, you become emotionally healthier and less likely to accept the abuse.

Helps You Choose The Most Helpful Thoughts

The problem with emotional abuse is not just what happens to you. It’s also what you think about what happens. And, it’s what you think about yourself and the person who abuses you. Sometimes, negative thought patterns can keep you stuck in a cycle of ongoing emotional abuse. But through cognitive behavioral therapy and other psychological techniques, your therapist can help you learn how to identify negative thoughts, evaluate them, decide whether it’s time to change them, and, if so, to adopt more helpful thoughts.

Teaches You Assertiveness

Abusers typically use emotional abuse to take control of the person they’re abusing. After a while, you might find yourself letting them have their way without questioning it. You might even accept their hurtful words and behaviors, especially if you feel you deserve the abuse in some way. However, by learning how to stand up for yourself in an assertive way, you can improve your mental health and be better equipped to make any changes you decide to make.

Improves Your Self-Esteem

Gain Clarity About The Trauma Of An Abusive Relationship

Being subjected to emotional abuse for any length of time can wear down your self-esteem. You could end up blaming yourself for the abuser’s actions and feeling like they wouldn’t hurt you if you didn’t deserve it. You might start thinking that all the criticism and anger they throw at you is justified. Through therapy, though, you can rediscover your strengths and positive attributes. You can begin to see yourself as a worthwhile person again until you realize that you don’t deserve to be treated that way at all.

Helps You Deal With Past Traumas

Sometimes, the emotional abuse you’re trying to get over happened in the past, maybe even when you were a child. Whether the abuse is still going on or not, past traumas can have a profound negative impact on your life. Your psychologist or counselor can help you uncover old memories, recognize and express your emotions about them, and assist you in the healing process.

Guides You In Creating A Safety Plan

If you’re experiencing physical abuse, you need to know what to do in case it escalates to an emergency. Your therapist can help you make a safety plan with practical steps to take if you need to leave immediately. They can point you towards community resources for people who are being abused, as well.

Offers Treatment For Related Mental Health Issues

Living with emotional abuse can lead to or exacerbate many mental health conditions. So, if you’re in therapy for help with an abusive relationship, it might be useful to know that your counselor can also help you with the mental health concerns that might come up. Some of these conditions might include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Insomnia or other sleeping problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

Empowers You To Make Decisions About What To Do Next

Once you recognize how you’re being abused and the negative impact it’s having on your life, you will probably want to make some changes. But if the person abusing you has been controlling you for some time, it might be hard to decide what to do next. Or, if you’re financially or otherwise dependent on your abuser, it might be frightening to think of making changes. But the only way to improve your situation may be to do something different, whether that’s leaving the relationship, getting more support, or finding some other type of solution. Your counselor won’t make the decisions for you, but they can help you determine what your options are and weigh each one carefully for yourself. Then, they can encourage you to do what you think is best for you and support you in whatever decisions you make.

Prepares You For Healthier Relationships In The Future

After you’ve dealt with the abuse, there’s one more thing you might need to address in therapy. That is, you may not know, or you may have forgotten what a healthy relationship looks like. Your therapist can give you insight into healthy relationships. They can guide you as you think about what you want in a new relationship. And, they can help you develop a healthier communication style. Then, when you’re ready to move on, you can avoid abusive relationships the next time.

How To Start Therapy When You’ve Been Abused

Starting therapy during or after abuse can feel like an overwhelming task. It’s natural to be a little hesitant when your world is in such turmoil. But many people who felt the same way have found that therapy saved their life and their sanity.

If you’re experiencing physical abuse or worry that your abuser might start physically abusing you, you must get help right away. That might mean seeking help at a domestic violence shelter or talking to a counselor in your community.

In any case, one of the most important things you need to do is make sure your therapy is private. You can get private therapy online at BetterHelp from licensed counselors who are experienced in helping people who have been abused. You can have therapy from home or wherever you are and at a time that is right for you.

Therapy indeed has a wide range of benefits for someone who is being abused. So, if you decide it’s time to improve your situation, it might be the right time to talk to a counselor about it. Then, you can get your life back and rebuild it in whatever way you choose.

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