Thank you for reaching out with your question to The BetterHelp Platform. It is encouraging to hear that you have been able to 'let go' of the person! So, I hear that you are now wanting to know how to 'let go and heal from the emotional aftermath.
Emotional abuse is extremely painful, but you can heal and live your best life yet.
Healing From Emotional Abuse
There is hope to heal from the pain emotional abuse creates.
You are not alone in your journey. Like you, many people have experienced emotional abuse and have found healing and meaningful connections in healthy relationships.
Below are 5 steps to help you in your healing process.
STEP 1:Acknowledge the Abuse
Thinking about and accepting your past abuse as a real event can be very difficult to do but it’s the first step to healing from your experiences.
Many people find it difficult to acknowledge their past abuse. This can sometimes be due to a belief that says “I’m shameful for having been abused” OR “What I experienced really wasn’t all that bad”. Other times people repress their past abuse with the hope that if they don’t acknowledge it, it will go away.
One thing can be sure, the longer your emotional pain from abuse is allowed to remain unacknowledged, the more negative impacts it will produce in your life.
As you begin to acknowledge your abuse for what it was, you will also begin to take back personal power over your life.
When you decide to engage with your old wounds, be aware that it’s normal to feel the same emotions you felt at the time of your abuse. These painful feelings have remained inside you and will only be healed when you accept and move through them.
STEP 2:Change Negative Thought Patterns
Emotional abusers alter your experience of reality by telling you lies about yourself and about the world until you accept their explanation of reality over your own. After enough time, you begin to accept these messages which affect the way you see yourself. These unhealthy thoughts can become the voice in your head (your self-talk) that tells you exactly what your abuser told you.
As you begin to process your past abuse, one way you can begin healing is by challenging your self-talk and dispensing with the negative thinking patterns you find there.
Below is a list of unhealthy, negative thought patterns that people who have been emotionally abused often experience.
Some negative thinking patterns you may be reinforcing are:
Black and White Thinking: “I either get it right or I’m a failure”
Over-generalization: “All men are like this”
Disqualifying the Positive: “Nothing good ever happens to me”, “I can’t ever do anything right”
Unrealistic Expectations: “I shouldn’t make mistakes”
Name Calling: “I’m so stupid”
Self-Blame: “It’s all my fault”
Catastrophizing: “I won’t be able to figure out how to do anything without my partner,, then I’ll be hungry and homeless”
Should Statements: “I should be further along by now”
Emotional Reasoning: “I feel guilty, I must be a terrible person”
Personalization: “He’s upset because I’m a terrible girlfriend”
False Permanence: “Things are going to stay this bad forever”
Magical Thinking: “If I were skinnier, my partner wouldn’t have cheated”
Negative thinking patterns have been linked to anxiety, depression, and feelings of shame, guilt, and blame.
These types of messages will retain their grip on your life and mind until you begin calling them out for what they are and replacing them with new and healthier patterns of thinking.
STEP 3:Engage in Self Care
Many of the suggestions below may seem trivial but they are extremely important to your healing process. When you begin to take care of your needs, you will have more energy, support, and nutrients to overcome the struggles you’re facing.
Here are a few practical ways to begin the process of regaining power over your life:
EMBRACE MORE OF YOUR WANTS AND DESIRES
Many victims of abuse recall that their only purpose was to keep their abuser satisfied.
You may have forgotten likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, etc. To begin the process of healing from your emotional abuse you will need to rediscover who you used to be and who you want to become.
Start Small: Do something you love. Ask yourself what you have been wanting to do. Have you been wanting to join a bowling team, go to a painting class, or take up underwater basket weaving? DO IT! And after that, do something else you have wanted to do. This is your time to reclaim your mind and life.
Oftentimes, people who have experienced emotional abuse can carry excessive shame when it comes to being their authentic selves.
MAKE YOUR PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS A PRIORITY
Part of the healing process from emotional abuse is caring for yourself. When in an abusive relationship you can quickly lose sight of what a healthy, normal lifestyle should look like.
Loss of self-esteem is one of the hallmark consequences of emotional abuse victims because they are led to believe they don’t matter or they aren’t valuable. We take care of the people who matter to us. When you take care of your needs, you will begin to develop the belief that you matter.
Treat yourself like you’re valuable and you will begin to feel like you’re valuable too.
GET YOURSELF MOVING
Begin by asking yourself what type of exercise would you enjoy most? Remember, whatever you decide to do is entirely up to you, so do something you love.
Exercise releases endorphins in your brain. These endorphins are often referred to as your brain’s “happy drugs”. They are responsible for regulating your mood. Doing aerobic exercises for as little as 90 minutes each week can help to reduce your risk of depression and help you sleep better.
When you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, your focus is always on the other person. Not only this, but the intense emotions in these volatile relationships can also lead you to eat in unhealthy ways and amounts. When you begin to eat right, you will find that your body has the nutrients it needs to better regulate your energy levels and emotions.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
There is no better way to keep yourself from making progress than being exhausted all the time. Try some of the following:
Creating a routine gives you more control over your life (And enough sleep). Create a habit of going to sleep at the same time each evening, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep, and then waking up at the same time each morning.
Create a relaxing evening routine that helps you wind down (What helps you relax?). Over time, your brain will associate this evening ritual with sleep and you will begin falling asleep faster.
Exercising during the day will help you be sufficiently tired in the evening.
Don’t use electronics before bed.
Be sure your room is sufficiently dark.
Below are some different relaxing activities you can do before going to sleep:
Put on some calming music or sounds of rainstorms, the ocean, etc.
Do 3 minutes of deep breathing
Do 5 minutes of mindfulness exercises
Read a book
Dim the lights
Drink bedtime tea
3. CREATE HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS AND ALLOW OTHERS TO SUPPORT YOU
Friends, family, and faith communities can support you as you work through difficult situations (even if you don’t feel comfortable sharing with them).
While you never have to do anything you don’t want to do, it can be very helpful to find one or two trusted friends or family members who will listen without judgment and offer the empathy and compassion you need to heal.
If this isn’t an option, we suggest you think about joining a support group with other people who have been through traumatic and abusive situations.
Abusive relationships break down your trust in other people and keeps you isolated.
Remaining socially isolated can keep you feeling down and dependent on unhealthy relationships.
It is also common for individuals who receive constant criticism, judgment, and rejection from past abusers to experience feelings of unsafety in social relationships or a fear of being negatively evaluated and rejected by others.
If social isolation has crept up on you, it’s time to reconnect.
Healthy relationships have been linked to an increased sense of worth and belonging and decreased stress. Not only this but engaging in healthy relationships also increases the release of those happy neurotransmitters called dopamine, giving you feelings of happiness and fulfillment.
Consider doing the following:
Go to lunch with a friend you have spoken to in a while.
Invite a family member you enjoy to a movie.
Say yes to an invitation when your feelings are telling you to stay home.
Engage in a social hobby to meet new people.
Don’t rush yourself, healing can take some time
Be patient and empathetic with yourself as you heal. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel confused, scared, tense, angry, or any other emotions that come up.
These feelings are a normal part of the healing process and there is no rush to get past them. They are yours and it’s okay to sit with them and experience them. Having and experiencing painful feelings doesn’t make you anything except courageous.
STEP 4:Set Boundaries
Asserting your boundaries when in an emotionally abusive relationship can often antagonize abusers and escalate tension in the relationship. This happens because abusers don’t want you to have control of your life. The more control you begin to take back, the more they begin to feel out of control and chaotic.
Learning how to implement and assert healthy boundaries between you and other people is a necessary step in your journey to retake control over your life
WHAT IS A BOUNDARY?
Healthy boundaries are indicators that let you and others know when they are crossing over from their space into your space. Just like the fence with a gate in your front yard or your front door, some people should be allowed in and some people shouldn’t.
People who are being abused often have no boundaries and are completely enmeshed with their abusers.
After people have been hurt, they can often erect impenetrable boundaries that keep EVERYONE out.
Both of these are unhealthy.
Healthy boundaries allow the right people in and keep the wrong people out.
Boundaries also let you and everyone else know where YOU begin and where YOU end; what areas of your life are under your control and which are not.
Below is a list of everything that should be within your boundaries, and therefore under YOUR control.
Healthy boundaries give you control over these areas and allow you to recognize when others are attempting to take your control from you.
In addition, healthy boundaries let you know when others are holding you responsible for areas you are not responsible for: their thoughts, emotions, attitudes, choices, and behaviors.
When you have healthy boundaries, you should notice these changes:
You won’t need to defend yourself: You don’t need to defend yourself for anything within your boundaries or feel guilty for having your own needs, wants, or desires. This is as ridiculous as defending what things you keep in your house to your neighbor. It’s not their house and so it’s not their business.
You won’t take it personally: When someone has a problem with what’s within your boundaries, it’s exactly that, their problem. If an abuser doesn’t like the way you act, think, or feel or hold you responsible for how THEY think, act or feel, this is also their problem, not yours. These things have nothing to do with you so you should not feel ashamed, guilty or anything else about it.
You won’t try to make them understand: Trying to make other people understand and approve of what is within your boundaries is like trying to explain to your neighbor why it’s okay for you to love that ugly brown couch you’ve had since college. If that couch is in YOUR living room, the only person’s approval you need is your own!
STEP 5: Know When to Seek Help
Knowledge is power.
Emotional abusers want you to depend on them to determine who you are and how you should see the world. The more knowledge you have, the more power you will have to get your life back under your control.
While working through past and present abuse and the emotional trauma it brings into your life is a difficult process, there are many resources and avenues available to help you along the way.
“You don’t have to wait until the house is falling apart to fix the windows” is true.
Therapy can be a helpful resource for you no matter where in the healing process you find yourself.
Here is a list of indicators that may be helpful to you when considering if it’s time to seek professional help.
You have got over the breakup but not the emotions:
Your feelings are too powerful to face alone, and you want help to process.
Your past trauma is too much to handle alone.
You think you may be depressed.
You feel afraid or anxious often.
You’re experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, or your startle easily.
You find that you’re not able to manage your day-to-day responsibilities.
You’re having problems sleeping
You have been using mood-altering substances to cope.
Consider the steps outlined above and you will be well on your way to healing from the wounds of emotional abuse.
There is hope for you!
Is Complete Recovery Possible After Emotional Abuse?
I believe we can conquer all of these horrible side-effects after emotional abuse is out of our lives. Some effects will take more time than others. Trusting myself seems to be at the core of it all.
You may not be done healing, but you will completely heal. You will completely trust myself. It will be sooner rather than later. It can happen for you, too. I would urge you to seek support with this from a trusted source, perhaps that is by you seeking mental health therapy where you can get some guidance on how to recover back to healthy.
Recovery is possible! I wish you the best of luck in your journey.