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.
You may have seen the recent #METOO campaign; it is shocking just how many people have experienced sexual harassment, assault and abuse both as adults and children. Experiences include being raped, harassed on the street, assaulted, grabbed, groped, forced to perform sex acts against their will and flashed*.
They all include someone – a friend, relative, partner or stranger – who is, or tries to be, sexual with you when you don’t want to be sexual with them.
It is entirely normal for people who have experienced sexual trauma to have a range of reactions, including post-traumatic stress reactions such as flashbacks and panic attacks, as well as feelings of anger, rage, disgust, shame and self/body-hatred. You may also feel entirely numb, or doubt that your experience ‘counts’ as sexual abuse or assault.
It can be very hard to speak to people around you, as they may have their own reactions to hearing about what happened to you. It is common for survivors to be met with misunderstanding, denial, anger, sadness and a wish that the other could have protected you / can fix it.
Their understandable reactions often only serve to intensify the feeling that one should not speak about these things. This can leave you feeling isolated and more ashamed (even though you likely have absolutely nothing to feel ashamed of).
A trained and skilled professional can be a useful ally when you’re healing from rape, sexual assault and abuse. Please do get in touch if you would like some support.
*please note that the list is not in order of severity, I don’t want to categorise experiences of abuse in that way. If you have experienced something on the list, or something that I have not covered (it is not meant to be an exhaustive list), then however you feel – or don’t feel – about it is valid and real and completely understandable.