Emotional Abuse is something that is increasingly getting more attention in the mainstream media. You may have read about how the United Kingdom recently put in place laws now protecting survivors of emotional (psychological) abuse, categorizing it as just as destructive as physical domestic violence. The US seems to be a bit slow on the bandwagon but hopefully as awareness and dialogs happen they too will come around. Regardless of what you know or think you know, survivors of emotional abuse don’t have a lot of options currently. Without the presence of physical violence in many cases, it leaves your loved one stuck in a dangerous situation. No physical violence means many domestic violence shelters will not accept them. No physical violence means that often they cannot turn to the police for protection. Which also means there can be no order of protection/restraining order issued against the abuser. So your loved one is left out in the cold by a system that is supposed to help protect them.
Have no doubt, emotional abuse wounds in your loved one are there and open but unlike situations where physical violence is present, there are no overt physical signs of the abuse. Since those wounds are hidden, your loved one is very raw, and their sensitivity is off the charts. They are forever on edge after being in a constant and prolonged period of flight or fright. Imagine the floor of your home covered in millions of raw eggs, and you are constantly walking but trying to avoid breaking one. When you do break one, it’s nothing but a huge mess and so hard to clean up. That is how it’s been for your loved one for some time now. Never really knowing what they will say to set off their partner or another family member. It’s a horrible way to have to live.
So here are ten very simple things you can do to that will help your loved one feel supported.
1. Understand that chances are you will not know what has taken place.
Unless you have personally experienced emotional abuse, it’s very hard to comprehend the depths of hell they have just endured. Believe me when I say they are as confused as to what just happened as you are.
2. Be an excellent listener.
Sometimes all they need is someone just to listen. The best thing you can say to them is “I don’t even know what to say, but I do know I can listen.” And then do just that, listen for as long as it takes for them to feel heard. Listen as they rehash things over and over again. Listen as they question everything and everyone around them.
3. Give them lots of hugs.
Your loved one is has been through hell and the healing and calming benefits of a hug is one of the kindest and gentlest things you can do for them. Plus you can never have too many hugs!
4. Genuinely ask how they are doing and be prepared to hear the same answer over and over again.
Odds are things with your loved one are going to be anything but remotely fun for quite some time. Just accept that. There will be good days, but unfortunately in the beginning those days are few and far between and fleeting moments at best. Psychological abuse has done a number on your loved one. They are questioning themselves, replaying conversations over and over again in their head. They are wondering what they could have done wrong. These experiences are cognitive dissonance, and it’s bane of every survivor’s existence. It will cause them to go back and forth, up and down like a tennis match at Wimbledon. But eventually it will pass. Something with finally resonate and things will click in place and eventually you will notice many more good days than bad. The key is to reserve your judgment for the next episode of Judge Judy instead of your loved one. It’s a long road back from hell.
5. Throw any idea of a timeline that they should be “over it” out the window and then run that mental schedule over with a car.
Yep I said it, run it over with a car and crush it because unlike any other relationship that they have had in the past, this one is far different and will take much longer than expected to heal. Remember, those wounds are not visible, so progress is hard to measure for anyone other than them. The key ingredient here is for you to have a truckload of patience; they will decide their timeline for healing. If it seems that I’m being overly dramatic with this one, I am. But this is the one area that I hear over and over where survivors don’t feel supported by those around them. This particular area is where my friends didn’t know how to help me, and it’s the one area the drove that final wedge between us. You will hit a certain point and what I just said will make sense.
6. Respect their need for solitude and quiet.
Survivors of emotional abuse have spent untold hours being yelled at, berated, lied to, talked at, put down and a hundred other things that would fill a whole page, but once out many find the noise of the world too overwhelming. Frazzled nerves leave them jumpy and on edge. Many spent all their free time with just one person due to the abuse isolating them from friends and family. In some extreme cases, they may have been spending every waking minute with the abuser. The need for a quiet environment and for some alone time to sort their feelings is healthy. So, when then they repeatedly say no to invitations out, please don’t take that personally or see it as a bad thing. Large amounts of people and excess noise overwhelm them, and to be perfectly blunt, a lot of survivors are incapable of making small talk at that point. Just respect their decision, but continue to ask. It’s nice to know that their company is wanted after all people want to be wanted.
7. Give them even more hugs.
Because again hugs have healing properties and let the recipient know they are cared for and supported. Hugs have been proven to reduce anxiety and stress. Everyone needs hugs!
8. Be willing to sit in silence with them.
Piggybacking off #6, be ready just to sit and say nothing. If you both want to stare at a TV, great! If you are seated in a quiet park somewhere, realize that there does not need to be a constant conversation. Just your presence and company are enough. Sometimes all they need is someone who is just there, and in those moments silence is golden.
9. Don’t just tell them that you love them every chance you get, show them through your actions.
The old phrase “Actions speak louder than words” is of fundamental importance here to healing for your loved one. Having just come from a relationship where words were hollow and held no meaning, the abusers actions were opposite of their words. Consistency in your actions is vital to help your loved one regain a sense of what is genuine and correct. Show them through your actions that you do love them. Do you know their love language? If so speak to them in their love language, if not that’s okay. Just make sure the words you say are consistent with your actions.
10. Realize and acknowledge that you cannot fix the situation.
Yep, this pretty much sums it up. Unfortunately, there is not anything you can do to fix the situation. Here is where #2 comes back into play. After being told what to do, what to wear, how to think, what to like and not like, survivors just need someone who doesn’t try to fix or change anything about them. I know this one is actually kind of hard because you don’t like to see your loved one hurting, and you just want to be helpful, but this is another essential one. One way their abuser hurt them most was with “helpful” suggestions disguised as put downs. So it’s best just to just not offer any unsolicited advice.
This list is obviously not the do all end all, but survivors of psychological abuse often lose touch with very well meaning family and friends due to misunderstandings. I know your heart and intentions are in the right place, after all you have just taken the time to read this. But often what you think is helpful is having the opposite effect, and adding to more stress and chaos to your already overburdened loved one.
If you would like to have a more in-depth understanding of what your loved one has been through I recommend the books Without Conscience by Dr. Robert Hare and The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. Also, the Facebook pages After Narcissistic Abuse- There is Light, Life & Love, and Psychopath Free. Both pages have excellent information available to survivors of psychological abuse.