Emotional abuse and substance abuse have a complex and oftentimes co-occurring relationship.
In fact, 40-60% of domestic violence cases are suspected to have either been exacerbated by or stemmed directly from situations involving substance abuse. And since physical abuse is typically (if not always) accompanied by some form of emotional abuse, it stands to reason that drug use is directly responsible for emotional damage in a relationship as well.
Beyond illicit substances typically being directly involved in incidences of this type of psychological abuse, victims are at an especially high risk of developing mental disorders like depression and anxiety which have been shown to be linked with substance use disorders.
And while this underreported but still highly damaging type of mental abuse can be a particularly powerful cause for substance abuse, there are ways to overcome it without resorting to illicit drugs.
Below, we’ve put together 11 tips on how to cope with emotional abuse, from educating yourself on what it is and building up a support network to standing up for yourself and finally moving on from an abusive relationship.
It may be hard to imagine right now but you can live an abuse-free life. And most importantly, you deserve to.
1. Familiarize Yourself with What Constitutes Emotional Abuse
Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse is the first step to overcoming it. Emotional abuse is a continued pattern of behavior which may include incessant criticism, manipulation, shaming, and bullying.
This type of abuse can come in the form of direct insults and personal attacks but subtler forms like passive aggressive belittling and manipulation can be just as destructive.
No matter what type of emotional abuse you may be experiencing, the important thing to recognize is that these are tactics used to make you feel worthless and make the abuser feel better about themselves.
2. Recognize the Qualities of a Healthy Relationship
Still not sure if you are in an abusive relationship? That’s okay. Many people have a hard time recognizing the signs, either because they aren’t sure of what constitutes abuse or (as is typically the case with substance addiction) they are simply in a state of denial.
One of the best emotional abuse tests is comparing the qualities of your relationship with that of a healthy one. Here a few characteristics of what a healthy relationship looks like:
- You and your partner can both deal with conflicts without threats or despair
- You and your partner do not lash out upon receiving criticism
- You and your partner can say “no” to certain requests
- You and your partner openly express feelings
- You and your partner willingly and shamelessly share your needs
If none of these characteristics describe your relationship, you may be the victim of emotional abuse.
3. Know That It Is Not Okay
Once you’ve identified emotional abuse signs in your relationship, it’s important to recognize that this type of behavior is not okay. Many victims find themselves making excuses for their partner’s abusive actions. They may say to themselves that they deserve to be treated this way, that they had it coming, or they may have convinced themselves that they are too in love to do anything about it.
But no one, in any situation, deserves to be subjected to any form of physical or emotional abuse at any time. Recognizing that fact is one of the first steps in stopping the behavior entirely.
4. Understand That Abuse Is a Cycle
Much like the cycle of addiction, emotional abuse as well as physical abuse can be perpetuated over and over again in a cyclical fashion that consists of four distinct phases: tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm.
During the tension phase, the relationship is especially strained, resulting in a communication breakdown and fear building. Eventually, these tensions explode in an actual incident that can involve blaming, arguing, intimidation, and threatening.
Afterwards, the abuser will apologize but may still blame the victim or trivialize the incident. The final phase is often referred to as the honeymoon phase when all problems are forgotten.
Of course, just like with addiction, the tension soon begins to build again and consequently the cycle is restarted. Consequently, even if you’re in the honeymoon phase now, it’s likely only a matter of time before the cycle begins again.
5. Reach Out to Family and Friends
Building up your support network is one of the best ways to combat the harmful effects of emotional abuse. In addition to giving you an outlet and letting you experience the company of people you enjoy being around, interacting with others can also help give you a better perspective on what constitutes a healthy relationship.
What’s more, social connections can be miracle workers for breaking the self-destructive thought processes that result from isolation and loneliness—a few typical symptoms of emotional abuse.
6. Seek the Guidance of a Professional
If you are feeling especially lost or if you even just need to know you aren’t going crazy, there are a variety of resources you can use to help you plan out your next steps.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline, for example, provides 24/7 support for any type of domestic abuse and can be reached at 1-800-799-7233.
7. Stand Up for Yourself
After identifying the signs of emotional abuse in your relationship and building up your support network, the next step is to start enacting some change. The best way to do that is to stand up for yourself.
Start by pointing out what kinds of behaviors you don’t think are appropriate. Set boundaries such as “I’ll listen to feedback but I won’t tolerate personal attacks” or “I am not okay with you calling me those names.”
An emotional abuser depends on your allowance of being talked down to in order for them to feel better about themselves. If you show them that you are willing to stand up for yourself, you may be surprised at how quickly the dynamic of the relationship can change.
8. Be Confident
That leads to the next tip: be confident. This one is likely to be quite hard to master at first but, over time, you’ll find your confidence will build bit by bit. What’s more, you have the upper hand of knowing their behavior is inappropriate, not yours.
Maintain eye contact, keep an even tone of voice, and try as hard as you can to keep your emotions from getting the best of you. If you act confident in the face of their emotional abuse and keep your cool, it’ll be harder for your abuser to stand up to you.
9. Prepare Yourself with Reasons Why Their Behavior Is Not Appropriate
Keeping in line with the past few tips, try to prepare yourself for confrontations with the reasons why their actions and words are simply not okay.
Tell them what constitutes a healthy relationship and how his or her words don’t fall in line with a respectful partnership. Let them know that their comments are hurtful and if they continue with this type of behavior then they’re causing a toxic relationship that’s destined to fail.
And most importantly, tell them that people who actually care for each other do not go out of their way to hurt one another.
If they aren’t willing to live up to these standards, it’s time to start thinking about leaving the relationship.
10. Know That It’s Not Your Fault
If you’ve decided to end your relationship and have cut all ties with your past abuser, you may still be harboring feelings of wanting to return to them. Did you make a mistake? What if there isn’t anyone else out there for you? What if you don’t deserve anyone better?
While such thoughts are normal in situations like these, they couldn’t be any further from the truth. Emotional abuse is a disorder of the abuser, not the victim. As such, you cannot blame yourself for what has happened.
And while it may be impossible to imagine right now, forgiving your abuser can be one of the most healing decisions you can ever make.
11. Find Things That Make You Happy
Overcoming your past emotional abuse can take a considerable amount of self-maintenance effort on your part. Occupying your time with favorite activities and pouring yourself into social relationships that may have been neglected are great ways to keep you busy and to keep you happy.
Try to limit your exposure to people who either make you question your decision or have a negative attitude. Staying positive is one of the best ways to recover from emotional abuse. In fact, think of this new time in your life as a kind of rehabilitation and follow the 7 habits of happy people in recovery.
You Can Overcome Emotional Abuse
By using these tips, you can learn to overcome emotional abuse and either mend the relationship you’re in or move on to a healthier one.
No one deserves to be abused and no one should have to resort to substance abuse to cope with its effects either.
American Society of Addiction Medicine (2014, October). Intimate Partner Violence and Co-Occurring Substance Abuse/Addiction. Retrieved from http://www.asam.org/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction
Davenport, Barrie (2017). 30 Signs of Emotional Abuse. Retrieved from http://liveboldandbloom.com/11/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (n.d). Statistics. Retrieved from http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2016, March). Types of Trauma and Violence. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence/types