Posted by: Donna Cunningham | June 3, 2010

How to Deal with Emotional Abuse

 Originally posted on WikiHow at  How to Deal with Emotional Abuse – wikiHow

 originated by: Christine Godwin, Ben Rubenstein, Andy Landen, and Brigitta M.

Emotional abuse comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s years worth of a boyfriend or girlfriend, Husband or Wife wearing you down; sometimes, it’s a romantic entanglement that takes a turn into this dangerous territory; it can even come in school under a dominating teacher; or at work under a bad boss. Whatever abuse you have suffered, you can begin to overcome the effects you’ve suffered today. For the purposes of keeping things clear in this article, we will alternate between genders in the steps.

This article is best suited for adults in relationships where there is still room for choice. However, If you’re afraid for your immediate safety, call 911. For help and advice on escaping an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224.


  1. Realize that you cannot change your partner, only your reaction to him or her. You can attempt to show your partner how damaging these behaviors are and how they are affecting you, and hope your partner will agree that you are being badly damaged. You can hope your partner will then make the decision to change, but ultimately you cannot force change. Your partner must recognize it and decide to end the behavior on his or her own.
  2. Set new, reasonable terms for the relationship with clear and consistently implemented consequences. Decide (ideally together, but if that isn’t possible, decide for yourself) that you’re going to learn a new way of being in this relationship. Abuse most often exists because the spiritual/emotional weakness of the abuser demands the exercise of control over others (you) to give him or her a feeling of emotional security. Read that again, because it’s important: Abuse really starts because of insecurity or trust issues with the abuser. It is most often enabled by (1) the victim’s inability or failure to recognize the abusive behavior or (2) powerlessness of the victim, as in the case of a child enduring the emotional abuse of a parent. In adult relationships, ultimately, neither partner understands a healthy way to diffuse abuse and to respect each other or themselves. Establish that, effective immediately, all interactions will be honorable, and will specifically and especially exclude: name calling, character attacks/judgments, raised voices, spitting, throwing objects, etc. and that if either partner breaks the agreement, then separation will immediately be imposed until mutual respect is restored. Be prepared to accept that this may never happen, especially in advanced stages of abuse, and that your commitment to a healthy, respectful relationship may result in the termination of this abusive one.
  3. Set boundaries. Abuse, in general, is an issue of disrespect that usually involves trespass upon individual equality and freedom due to unclear or poorly-defined boundaries. If you are on the receiving end of abuse, it’s up to you to set up clear, reasonable boundaries for an honorable relationship and to consistently stick to them. Let your partner know that you now recognize your responsibility in allowing the disrespect in the past, but that this era has now come to an end. Recognize the damage incurred by the previous era and establish a commitment to obtaining the support needed to forgive and restore the peace and strength necessary for mutual respect in all of your future relationships.
  4. Develop emotional intelligence. In cases of abuse, both partners are often unknowingly suppressing important emotions. Receivers of abuse are often uncomfortable expressing authentic, respectful anger, which is necessary to establish boundaries. Abusers are often expressing fear, not anger, when abusing. It is the “fight” fear response that is coming through (as in “Fight or Flight”), and in order to end abuse, both partners must be willing to learn new ways of feeling and expressing their true emotions to end the pattern of blaming, shaming, and punishing. Express your deepest and strongest feelings only in forums where they will receive the fullest respect and support, such as a diary, a blog, a group of very close friends or trusted family members, a professional and respectful psychologist (best by referral only), etc.
  5. Understand the dynamics of relationship. Some relationships are formed on physical attraction only, some on repeating past patterns learned from a parent; some are not of our choosing (as with a parent). Whether you are working out childhood issues on your partner, or simply repeating learned behaviors, it’s important to understand that not many relationships are formed in the realm of intellect and emotion. Some remain largely unformed, others change over time. In a perfect world, relationships would be our highest learning playground. Perhaps the one we’re with has the most to teach us, and often triggers the most extreme emotional responses. If you feel that it’s safe to stay and learn with your partner, then take a good look at the dynamics playing out which have something to teach you. If you don’t feel safe enough to stay, but need to end it, then reflect back on what you might learn about the relationship patterns that were in place. The learning may be about valuing yourself, unwinding old traumas, or expressing emotions healthfully.
  6. Source your safety. It’s easy to think that your partner is in charge of your safety depending on his or her behavior, but this is not true. You are the only one who can create safety for yourself. You do this by making choices. You have an innate navigational system within yourself that allows you to make decisions which feel right for you, and which will keep you safe and happy. When you learn to pay attention to your instincts, you will know which choices are life affirming, and which ones will drain you of your energy or create chaos.
  7. Get some coaching or professional help. Find a relationship coach or mental health professional who can help you with this issue. It is possible for both partners to unwind emotional abuse if they choose to. Finding a great support system, preferably one that utilizes a holistic, no-blame approach to healing domestic violence will create the healthiest and most successful environment for learning and healing.
  8. Know when to say goodbye. Sometimes, relationships are just wrong and cannot be saved. For your sake, and for the sake of your mental health, try hard to recognize as early as possible whether or not this relationship is even worth working on. The reason we date before marriage is to discover whether or not we are compatible. We thwart that process when we refuse to see that being treated poorly by another adult is unacceptable. If you are unhappy in your relationship, and have been for longer than half the time you have been together, leave. (Example: You have been unhappy for more than two years, but you have only been together for three years.) //
  • Choose to see yourself and your partner as good people who may, at this time, not know a healthy way to relate to one another. The stress of being in abusive relationships creates hyper-sensitivity. Learning how to relate to one another in a healthier manner may mean there is hope for the relationship. Remember, both parties need to make a concerted effort for true improvement to be made. The abuser may need private sessions without you there. You may need private sessions without your abuser there. Simply make a commitment to yourself to learn what it is you need to know to create a loving, healthy, vibrant relationship. Blaming yourself or others is optional and only keeps the dynamic of punishment going.
  • In some cases, the abuse is so severe or the abuser so unwilling to change that you just need to get out, and get out now. If you have tried to stop the abuse repeatedly without effect, or if your partner is abusing you physically as well, get out. Leave the house, do not say where you can be found, and talk to a professional counselor.


  • If you choose to end an abusive relationship, be sure to have a good support system in place, and pay attention to all of the choices you need to make to stay safe.
  • Do all the reasonable things you can to create a good relationship before you leave, and allow your partner the same opportunities so that there remains no unresolved business, and no internal blame on yourself for destroying a commitment which could have been repaired.
  • Remember that unless you are an under-age child dealing with an abusive parent, you can leave whenever you feel like it. No one will blame you for leaving an abusive person and getting yourself to physical and mental safety.
    • However, if the abuse stems or originates in your immediate family, it is best to notify and let other members of your family know, and deal with the matter appropriately.
  • Own any responsibility that is yours in the abuse, and recognize that these elements will likely carry into future relationships unless they are repaired on your part in the current relationship first.

 Originally posted on WikiHow at  How to Deal with Emotional Abuse – wikiHow

 originated by: Christine Godwin, Ben Rubenstein, Andy Landen, and Brigitta M.


  1. It’d be nice if you could put the link for the article here. Also, the term “guest post” is really a misnomer, since you’re basically taking freely licensed content and adding it to your site, as opposed to having someone from wikiHow write this specifically for your site. I think if you wanted to do a proper attribution for the wikiHow articles on your site (and I’m noticing that there are several) you have to list the title of the article, the original authors and then mention the license that wikiHow uses. As someone who has been a volunteer editor and administrator with wikiHow for four and a half years, I know that’s what most people in the wikiHow community who write this content would prefer.

    • Hi, Nicole, Please note that the links to all the authors listed on the original wiki article are preserved here at the very top of the article.

      Perhaps you did not understand that they are links because WordPress does not put an underline under links, just a contrasting color (brown type for links vs. blue type for regular text are the default colors on this site). Some of the older Wikis on this site are from an era when Wiki articles were anonymous and did not list the author, otherwise I would have given the names.

      When I posted the title onto the title for this post it did not translate to a link, so now I’ve added it in the body of the article. I always use the title from Wikihow.

      I’m frightfully sorry if “guest post” is not an adequate term, but I don’t get what you’re saying is the politically correct way to say it. Please type for me the exact wording I am supposed to use.

      Furthermore, I was not aware that WikiHow has a license or that it was required to reproduce it, as I’ve never seen it on any of the articles. Nor did I see any links to a page about licensing when I revisited WkiHow just now. Where is it given and what is the precise wording for that?

      I posted a very long article about ebook piracy on Wikihow about a year ago. At that point there was no way for me to be listed as author or to be given any credit whatsoever. I did it as a service, as I wanted to spare my fellow authors the trial and error process of how to deal with the problem I had been struggling with. It was about what to do, step by step, if your ebooks are pirated by those free ebook sites.

      Ironically, several months later, a pirated version of the article was featured word for word as one of the wikiHows of the day, and someone else claimed authorship. Donna

    • Nicole,

      For the record, I don’t think Donna breached any etiquette here. It seems to me like you want to gripe and split hairs when she made sure to properly acknowledge:

      1) That it was from WikiHow
      2) That the authors were properly credited

      She made no allusion to it being specifically endorsed by the article writers and I, as a reader, did not take this post to mean that they had sanctioned its use on this site.

      Why would anyone bother writing something for WikiHow and submitting it as a “public service” if they or others are then going to turn around and object to others using the article for that which it was intended – to raise awareness about abuse in relationships. It just seems kind of petty to me when Donna clearly recognizes the importance of such an issue, as she has a MSW herself and spent years doing social work before she became an astrologer. Obviously she’s on the same side, so why grouse about it when she did her best to properly credit WikiHow and those involved in the writing of the article?

      • What you said! Thanks, Alethea. I could speculate on her chart placements, but she wouldn’t get it because when I looked at her bio, astrology wasn’t even mentioned, so I think this was just a drive by gripe. Donna

  2. Also, it looks like most of the related article titles taken directly from wikiHow, but when I click on them I end up visiting an empty page.

  3. I’d like to read “How to Forgive an Abusive Parent”, but get a file not found error when I click the link. Your articles are always very insightful, thanks.

    • I get the same file and error message, so I don’t know what the article says. However, I have learned that too many people confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Forgiveness is the absence of revenge and vengeance (behaviors) against the other who harmed you. Letting go of the desire to retaliate and healing yourself is forgiveness. Reconciliation is not often possible because it requires truthfullness and atonement regarding the abuse.

    • Not my article and I never claimed it was, but that’s why I reprinted it, as it was meant to be a service, since I know many of my readers have dealt with abusive relationships. Since there seems to be a glitch of some kind on the links to other Wiki articles that I cannot fix, I have removed them. We seem to have a little Uranus in Aries energy going on here today. Donna

  4. I think the one thing that was not really touched upon in this wonderful article – is the power trip. Much is said about fear and not anger of the abuser.

    As a victim from childhood and also as adult, I know what mind games can be played. Much of this is about control, yes the anger comes from fear of losing control of the victim, but a lot can just come from pure vengence of the purpetrator

    If there is a mental issue involved, no way will the abuser take responsibility – it will always be your fault – even if you try to walk away, they wont let you go, they wont let you win.

    To forgive an abuser comes from within yourself – dont expect that they will come round to your way of thinking just because you are doing the decent thing.

    Yes, it is very important when you walk away to have a support system in place – it could save your life

  5. Wonderful discussion Donna. This subject matter is something a lot of people don’t want to talk about or even bring to the forefront of their consciousness.

    I’ve worked with a lot of people who were victims of child sexual abuse. As adults they push their abuse to the back of their minds because they don’t want to think about it and it happened when they were children. They think, “I’m over it, or it was a long time ago.”

    Your discussion provides an excellent opportunity to shake out those bones in the closet and talk about the effects of abuse. If it’s not addressed it will effect their lives forever. But it’s not an easy thing to do and we would rather not have to deal with it.

    I encourage your readers who experienced childhood sexual or physical abuse to apply the principles discussed in the article. Those feelings don’t go away with time or with age. So often children feel like it was their fault or they are “damaged goods.” It’s not true, but it can effect their lives forever if they don’t take control over it.

    Thank you Donna for having the Chutzpah to bring up subjects that cut to the core.

    • Thank you, Terri, It’s been a subject I worked with for a long time as a therapist and an astrologer. My book, Healing Pluto Problems, published back in the 1980s, had a chapter about it, and believe me at that time, it was not a welcome subject. I always say that my role in astrology is that of a trailblazer/trouble maker. Donna

  6. Just wanted to say Thank you. Surprised to find this post, since it wasn’t related to Astrology. But since today a dominant transit is Mars opposition Neptune, I thought it was appropriate. Difficult subject matter- very good advice.

    • Hi, Ellen, I’m surprised that you’re surprised, since this blog is an astrology and self-help blog, but you’re probably new here. I have a dual background in social work (MSW) and astrology, so my brand of astrology is psychologically-oriented and takes a problem-solving approach. Donna

  7. In my own life, I was very upset when, 3 years ago, I found myself in an abusive career situation. (Coincidentally, Saturn was right on top of my Sun and Mercury). Before things got from bad to worse, I noticed that the dynamic in the workplace wasn’t different from how it was in my family of origin, and I didn’t know what to do to change it. I went to some very tough therapy, which helped me see that I could only change my own actions. The boundaries part was foreign to me at that time.

    The abuse got so bad that I internalized it and it hurt my health. After a while, I thought no amount of money or having nice things could ever replace peace of mind or having a job where I hated showing up. I bailed, and it was like a job waited for me elsewhere.

    I felt like what was so upsetting was that I found my family dynamic was almost replicated in my professional life, and yes, there was abuse there, too. It wasn’t until I walked away and then tried to do better elsewhere that things seemed to change for me…

  8. Men who threaten to take away the kids are engaging in post separation violence. It is common for batterers to threaten to take children away from the battered woman by proving her to be an unfit mother. For this reason, some lawyers advise women not to tell courts or mediators about child abuse or domestic abuse because, by doing so, they risk losing custody to the alleged abuser!

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