Being in a relationship with someone who is alternately cruel and loving can be incredibly confusing.
Abuse often manifests as an experience of a loved one as being repeatedly critical, demeaning, controlling and cruel. Sometimes they are physically or sexually aggressive or violent, but not always.
You are often blamed for the problems in the relationship; for example, you may be told that you are ‘crazy’, ‘oversensitive’ or that you have an ‘anger problem’ as a way to invalidate your normal, human response to being treated badly.
Obviously, those around us are human, and may do and say hurtful things every so often. Emotional abuse is different; it is a consistent pattern of behaviour, and it can usually be understood as instrumental (which is not necessarily the same as conscious). This means that it is often an attempt to gain and maintain a position of power or invulnerability in the relationship.
Any kind of abuse can have profound and far-reaching effects. It often not only disrupts our relationship with ourselves, but emotional abuse in a past relationship can also affect how we experience our non-abusive relationships in the present. It can leave us mistrustful, hearing criticism when none was intended, confused, isolated, or simply not showing our authentic self to others.
The first step towards recovery is often realising that, no matter what we may have been told, we are not the problem.
As well as this, healing frequently seems to happen in relationship with another. A friend, therapist, a new partner, an internet group; we are simply treated better and we internalise this. Treating ourselves lovingly also has a deep and profound healing effect, as we internalise the kindnesses that we show to ourselves too.
If you are struggling to work out whether a relationship was abusive, it can help to have a skilled, trained professional unpick the experience with you. And if you find that you are struggling to cope with a difficult relationship, or heal from a difficult experience, therapy and counselling may well help you move forward or regain your balance.
I have extensive experience in unpicking abusive dynamics and supporting women in healing from toxic and traumatic relationships with friends, families, and intimate partners.
If you would like to book a session to talk more, please do get in touch.