The message of emotional abuse is often “You never do anything right.” The reverberations of this message may cause you to set the bar too high on what counts as progress in recovering from the effects of emotional abuse.
Healing isn’t a task you have to be perfect at, nor a race that only has one finish line. Healing is a process. Here are ten steps to healing from emotional abuse to help guide you through the process.
Step 1: Moving Beyond Blame. Instead of seeking blame, I encourage people to seek understanding. Blame continues to fan the fires of anger, bitterness, and resentment, but too often you’re the one burned. Understanding can provide you with a protective barrier of insight.
Step 2: Forgiveness. So often, people think that forgiveness is a gift given only to the person who did wrong. But, forgiveness is also a gift to the person who was wronged. When you fail to grant forgiveness, you chain yourself to that act or pattern of pain. You allow that pain to continue to hurt you. Forgiving someone does not mean forgetting what that person did. Forgiveness shows your willingness to create the possibility of a fresh start.
Step 3: Reclaiming Personal Power. Emotional abuse is a practice designed to convince you with words, actions, and ideas that you are powerless and without rights. This is a lie; you have both rights and power. You have the right not to be emotionally abused. Reclaiming your personal power, however, isn’t just finding a way to say “yes” to the things you really want. It is also finding a way to say “no” to the things other people really want from or for you, even if those things are good.
Step 4: Avoiding Conflicts. Being in a relationship with an emotionally abusive person means you are constantly engaged in a battle of wills at some level. These battles invariably involve conflict. Being intentional about reducing conflicts is not capitulating or giving in. Rather, it is proactively managing the relationship and protecting your boundaries. In this way, you show love and affection to the other person without sacrificing yourself.
Step 5: Addressing Hurts. Understanding and forgiving wounds from your past will not keep you from being hurt in the present or the future. If you have been emotionally abused, you will want to develop different and healthier ways of dealing with pain than what you’ve done previously. To better understand action steps that address hurts, learn more here.
Step 6: Maintaining Healthy Relationships. To maintain a healthy relationship, you need to have one in the first place. If you’ve suffered from emotional abuse, you’ve experienced a negative and hurtful relationship. The best way to maintain a healthy relationship is to become healthy yourself. Consider that the relationship you need to spend the most time and energy on is the one you have with yourself. Healthy people tend to attract healthy people.
Step 7: Healthy Communication. Because so much of emotional abuse has to do with how one person communicates with another, developing healthy communication is important. Don’t assume you know everything, and approach others with gentleness and openness. Manage your emotions, but don’t be afraid to give your opinion and perspective. It’s also critical to allow others to share their opinions, and work to find common ground.
Step 8: Discovering Gifts and Talents. Emotional abuse seeks to rob you of a sense of self, so you are easier to manipulate and control. Because of this, you may have learned not to trust yourself or consider yourself valuable or worthwhile. In order to discover your gifts and talents, you may need to turn off the old messages of worthlessness and imperfection. Instead, you should listen to what God has to say about who you are. He gave you your gifts so you could use them for your good and for the good of others.
Step 9: Solving Problems. Those who have had their self-esteem battered by emotional abuse can have difficulty dealing with problems because of the potential for conflict. Either they refuse to stand their ground and give in, or they turn every conflict into a do-or-die battleground of “This time I’ll win!” As you look to resolve problems, be clear on your boundaries, open to solutions, accept that life is not fair, and forgive yourself and others.
Moving beyond the past and recapturing the present takes time and requires being intentional about the journey. During this process, you may doubt you’ll ever get to your destination. Recognizing your progress is an important final step, one that gives you momentum to keep moving forward toward healing.