After the end of my relationship, I found myself faced with a difficult task of healing. I didn’t know how to heal properly after an emotionally abusive relationship. There was so much information published about how to determine if you were in one and that validated the situation, but I couldn’t find a whole lot of help or guidance on what to do once you were out. I called about twenty-five therapists, most of which had Ph.D.s, and asked if they had a method for how to properly heal from an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship. I couldn’t get any concrete answers besides talking it out and the passing of time. There may be many out there who would have had a different answer, but those I could get on the phone did not. I continued to search for someone who would offer me more than talking it out. I knew the value of talking it out, but I could do that with my friends and family and had done a lot of that. I also knew that if the saying “Time heals all wounds” were really true there wouldn’t be so many bitter, wounded, sad, or angry people in the world, because after a certain amount of time their wounds would simply heal. I thought there must be something more than praying, self-care, and talk therapy to undo the damage done to my mind, heart, and soul.
I finally found a male therapist who directed me to another therapist promising me that she had a technique to heal properly. He said she will take your story and reframe it and he motioned with his hands like he was holding a frame and he turned the frame 180 degrees. I thought that sounded interesting and was my best bet. I also found a support group in the area at a local church.
Twelve visits later I had cried a lot and shared a lot of my painful story. I asked her what else I could do to heal and she said we are doing it. That it’s time and talking through the emotions. But still, I didn’t feel it was enough. There must be a more proactive approach to healing.
I searched for book after book and finally found one that impressed me with a plan. Mars and Venus Starting Over by John Gray, Ph.D. He warns the reader that after a broken heart the danger is that you won’t heal properly. He states that time alone won’t heal wounds. The author compares the healing of the heart to healing a broken bone and gives three real steps to follow. For the bone you get help, reset the bone, and protect it by giving it time to heal in a cast. For the heart he says similarly get help, grieve the loss, and become whole before getting involved again. He further explains when you’re wounded you require the support of others. You need people to spend time with who know what you’re going through. Gray explains that women benefit from being heard and men benefit from hearing from others who are in pain. I say there are men who would also benefit from being heard and women who would benefit from listening, not necessarily based on gender, but rather personality preferences. Either way, the need for a support group for hearing or expressing pain and grief is vital.
An interesting suggestion Gray makes is remembering the past and evoking the love you shared. He also claims experiencing it again and feeling gratitude will help you heal. “Your heart is filled with the love it needs to heal itself. It’s hard to do this when feeling rejected or betrayed but that’s how you reset the heart,” John Gray says. He goes on to say how your heart cannot open to another if it’s closed to someone from the past. So the key is to open it back up to the one in the past so that you can heal it.
This is the exact opposite of what we're usually told to do. We think we should focus on the negative aspects of the relationship and how we were wronged so that we’re angry or disgusted with them and we can get over them that way. We never try to recall all the best memories. Gray is reminding us that the great times have to be recalled to bring up our feelings of loss so that we can truly grieve the love we’ve lost. The different feelings will come in waves and at different speeds. It’s normal for the feelings to lag behind the mind. We’re tempted to find relief in escaping the feelings of loss though. And by avoiding and resisting the painful feelings we bypass the healing process. We can even avoid certain ones and process others, which is not a complete healing cycle. If we only process certain ones we are not processing all of them and we are in danger of never loving again.
He further explains when we’re in a committed relationship it becomes our primary source of love. That’s why losing this most important source breaks us down leaving us painfully broken. It leaves us helpless and without a primary source of love. We have to realize the love, attachment, and dependence we had for our partners made us stop needing our general need for love and rather a need for love from our particular partners. We are attached to their love. So when we lose that love that we’ve shifted to need from the one person, we feel as though we can’t have love again. We’re attached. So the process we must go through is to release our attachment and open up to receiving love from others again. This is the heart reset! And we let go and we’re not depending on our partner anymore. This is when the emptiness disappears.
Needless to say I was so thankful to find this book! I had to share this with you because you might be in a similar situation and won’t know how to target a real healing process. I highly recommend this book and am thrilled it’s available. I’m surprised that every one of those twenty-five therapists I called didn’t at least say to me that there is an important method to healing the heart and to come to them for the steps. Isn’t this the single most important thing a relationship therapist has to offer? I’ve used this book and the steps in it and it has sped up my healing process tremendously. Mars and Venus Starting Over. The only thing missing would be more specifics on emotional abuse healing, but I felt this was helpful all around. I'll be checking in to read your comment so check back in for my response and do keep in touch.
Lastly, how do you know when you are healed? Gray says, "Once we can remember our lost loved one without pain we know we are healed."
I’m always skeptical when big news about a break up, pairing up, or other breaking news is announced at the same time an actor’s movie is released. The timing always seems like it is strategically planned for publicity. Now I’m thinking it may be coincidence. When I reached out to Kinetic Content and FYI to share what I’ve decided after a period of laying low, they let me know that Seven Year Switch is coming back for season two and casting has begun. I immediately thought the timing was nuts, and I’m sure you will too. So with the announcement of the return of the show that is still changing my life, I have an update of my own.
It’s going to take a while to rebuild my life, but the first step I’m taking is to separate from CW. It’s time to focus on my healing and take special care of myself, and I’m looking to God for strength and courage. I wish I could say that I’m happy at last, but this is the saddest thing I’ve ever had to do. I have hope for future happiness, and for those who want to follow along, I’ll continue to share my journey. Unfortunately, the deep emotional pain from a relationship of this nature doesn’t magically end when the relationship does. I’m taking the first step toward healing though, and although I feel extra fragile lately, I also feel an inner-strength rising within me like never before.
Love and compassion for CW remains in my heart even as I say goodbye. I needed to become aware of the real cause of my emotional anguish and diminishing self-esteem that had taken over during the course of our relationship, before I could move on. Now that I’ve done the work of understanding it all, I’m able to make the best decision for my life and health. To stay in the marriage would have destroyed my heart and soul, and would eventually kill my spirit completely. That is no way to live. I did everything in my power to save the marriage and there was nothing else I could do. Seven Year Switch provided the third party perspective I needed, which was vital to sort through my confusion and cognitive dissonance. I’m thankful the opportunity arose at the right moment, and allowed me time and space to step away, hear my own thoughts without competing voices, and reconnect with my spirit.
It’s impossible to grasp what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone who can’t deeply feel for you or have true empathy unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone, but at the same time I feel grateful to have learned about it sooner than later. I didn’t realize there were so many people with this backward way of relating, and how nearly impossible it is to change their internal wiring and help them learn to meet human needs for connection and emotional intimacy. Now I know better how to recognize the signs and protect my compassionate and giving heart from future damage.
It’s important to point out that those who are wired in this backwards way internally are often unaware of the destruction they are causing others. They are simply behaving in the only way they know how to behave in order to survive from their point of view. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it can help you not take it personally.
There are a lot of good memories and fun times also, and although I feel sorry for the loss of my relationship, I’m confident there is no other option for me. It took me a while to sort through everything and research the psychology behind it all, but that was my necessary process to get to today and this first step toward freedom from emotional trauma. These days are strangely mixed with sadness and a life and death sort of urgency. I literally feel like two people sometimes. One half of me is distraught and wants to keep working on the relationship and never give up, while the wiser part of me is keeping the other half at bay and taking charge to save her life. The wiser side of me has learned about trauma bonding and that is how I know that I should not listen to that part of me that wants to reconnect. It’s tricky. But I’m staying the course. I need your support and I’ll try to document the process in hopes that others going through similar change can find comfort in my words.
Taking this step toward freedom is the most challenging thing I’ve faced to date. The fear of the unknown can be crippling at times, and the sudden rush of uncontrollable tears and gut wrenching cries out of nowhere knock the wind out of me. But then I sit in my pain knowing this is part of the process and I have to tread through it to get to the other side. I am starting my life over and the last several years feel like a loss of valuable time and energy. But in other aspects, I know the lessons I’ve learned and the darkness I’ve endured will propel me to something God has been orchestrating for me all along. It’s walking in faith and trusting He has my future planned out that gives me strength to move forward. I had nowhere else to look and feel but down for so long, that I’m permanently fixing my gaze upward and feeling higher up each day.
I wish our marriage could have been what I thought it was. But it absolutely wasn’t.
I filed for divorce. It was the hardest day of my life.
How is this a benefit to us? That we’ve tread waters so deep and intrepid we came so close to drowning ourselves, and we’re still here. We’re still alive. Picking up the pieces and angry that we were sucked in by an emotional vampire. Let’s just begin by taking it as a compliment that we were chosen. That something about our empathetic gift and compassionate kindhearted personality was a treasure. If it was such a treasure to one of the emptiest souls on earth, how much more of a treasure should it be to us? I venture to say very much more! So thank you, EPPs of the world, for teaching us exactly who we don’t want to be. And thank you for reminding us that we are worthwhile and our intuitive and sensitive nature is to be cherished as a rare and precious gift. Now that we’ve encountered evil in human form, we have the knowledge to navigate life in a much more profoundly wise way. Where we once had good boundaries, we now have exceptional boundaries. Where we once tolerated a little bit of toxic behavior here, a little there, we have the awareness to eradicate all forms of toxic connections in every aspect of our lives. The opportunity to walk through life in a 50% fraudulent loving relationship has tapped us into the inner workings of the spiritual world that not everybody is privy to. We now have antennas that alert us to every possible dark intention. At whatever point you are in your life, this is the right time for change. This is the time to shed our old selves and the innocence that went along with it. We were not naive or innocent in a childlike way before encountering the EPP, we were only “innocent” in that we could not have imagined a walking human evil being outside of a thriller film or an epic imaginary fairy tale we’ve heard our whole lives. After this innocence or lack of awareness is shed, we see and know fully what people who choose to live in darkness are capable of. It’s probably happened to each and every one of us who are gathering now by someone close to us we trusted implicitly. Before my EPP, I had no idea there was something so horrific possible disguised in a loving facade. After my EPP, I am certain there is no sense of being alone that could come anywhere close to the loneliness of the EPPs black hole non-love. To live a life alone and in service of other people would be far more rewarding any day. During my EPP, I came face to face with what it truly is to be alone. It is not depression as is generally experienced by the clinically depressed person. This type of emptiness goes much further into hell. A victim of an EPP must have first coined the phrase, “I’ve been to hell and back.” For when you’re lonely, you still have hope and light and life inside your soul. When you’re alone with an EPP, your spirit is snuffed out and the void you feel is dangerously close to death.
You think back to all the decisions you thought you were making together as a team and realize your spouse didn’t have your best interest at heart. You remember the day you had a big crisis or loss and you needed emotional support more than ever, but your spouse couldn’t provide it for you. You made excuses that they must not realize the severity, or they have so much on their plate with work, and you try to deal with the pain and suffering alone. You had no emotional support during the most difficult days of your life thus far, and you unwittingly allowed an abusive person to give half the input toward decisions that will affect you forever.
You remember all the times you were fearlessly vulnerable with them. You freely shared your most intimate thoughts, but they ended up using those against you later to secretly hurt you and tear you down. All those times you got sick, and you’ve never had such constant health problems, and they calmly reply to your outcries with, “It’s because you take things so personally and you’re too sensitive.” Or “its normal to have increasing health problems as you get older.” On top of the physical suffering, which is difficult enough, you have emotional, mental, and psychological suffering because of an abusive spouse who minimizes your suffering and blames the effects of their abuse on you. It’s never about how you’re emotionally traumatized by them, causing your immune system to all but vanish.
There are the long conversations explaining what empathy is to what seems to be a hollow shell of a person. It doesn’t make sense how they seemed to be empathetic and providing emotional support while dating, and then not be able to during marriage. You ask yourself how could they have had empathy when you met and then lose it later? The strange thing is that they’ve mastered how to mimic or intellectualize empathy enough to fool you during the early stages of a relationship. Once you’re committed and they feel they’ve got you for life, they don’t try so hard to fake empathy. This faking of empathy becomes all to clear during the hardest blows of life, when unfortunately it is needed the most. This is about the time that you sense something is gravely wrong.
Verbal abuse is not something that is brought on by the victim. This is not an issue that speaking up and calling out the behavior will resolve. “Finding your voice” will not make them respect your boundaries. You can shout, you can cry, you can whisper, you can talk at a normal level, and the abuser is still going to abuse. An abuser lacks empathy. Because they lack empathy, the God-given buffer to cruelty, there is nothing stopping them from abusing you to get what they desire. You can set limits and boundaries like a real pro, but an emotional abuser won’t respect them. They can’t.
There has to be education, for women especially, since this problem of abuse seems to come up mostly with women, so this horrible and damaging abuse doesn’t continue. I would never have considered "abuse" as one of my relationship issues due to emotional/verbal abuse's sometimes elusive, underhanded nature. How is it possible that a college-educated woman would not be able to recognize the more subtle forms of verbal abuse? It took being gradually beaten down, to a fraction of the woman I am, over several years, to finally discover the books that would explain my unequal, relational dynamic. Knowing about covert abuse earlier could have prevented deep emotional anguish, trauma, psychological damage, and loss of self-esteem.
Covert control and verbal abuse have to stop going on undetected. Until it is identified there is no way to stop the abuse. When you don’t know what is happening to you, you cannot get help! This is why awareness for young girls especially is so important. Does your teenage daughter, sister, cousin, friend, or relative know what covert control tactics and covert verbal abuse are? I think we do a decent job on awareness of overt and more obvious abuse, but there is a softer side to abuse that is sneaky and manipulative. I’m afraid we don’t talk enough about this extremely damaging, deceitful behavior.
I took a list of some common signs of emotional abuse from this web site link below. An abuser doesn’t necessarily employ all of these tactics, but may use certain ones and not others. A deeper understanding of more covert tactics of verbal abusers can be found in Patricia Evan’s book The Verbally Abusive Relationship.
For example, when I tell my husband that I feel like I have to keep my feelings in to keep him from becoming angry, he often says he has to do the same thing for me. It makes me think we’re both doing the same thing for each other, and there must not be anything wrong with our relationship. I tell him on other occasions that sometimes his negative energy rubs off on me, making me feel on edge. He says he has to walk on eggshells around me also and that he can never do anything right. I shift my focus on trying not to make him feel he doesn’t do anything right. This is a controlling tactic called countering that Patricia Evans explains in her book Controlling People. Once you’ve been acted upon and blamed for the very wrong you were standing up against, you feel like you’re the difficult one.
In specific circumstances, not doing switch therapy could be the most devastating missed opportunity for the marriage. If there are harmful behaviors that go unchecked in a relationship, they can ultimately destroy it. There are therapists who counsel couples for years and never get a look into the true dynamic of a relationship behind closed doors. What if there’s a habit in the relationship that never comes up because you’re unable to name it? For example, you can say, “we fight too much.” The therapist can help you feel better reminding you all couples deal with the same issues. But with expert eyes that watch an organic confrontation, the “fight” takes on a new definition. It’s not just a fight like most couples have. There’s something else. What process exists in traditional therapy to get down to the real arguments that happen in the kitchen late at night? Who will uncover the unseen psychological boundary violations?
Think of how many of us grew up in families that taught us ways of relating that we had no clue were so damaging. Sometimes it takes us a lifetime to figure out these issues from our early years and stop projecting them onto our loved ones. With so much to learn about our spouse and ourselves before we can even hope to flourish in a marriage, there should be more education and preparation to get us off to a decent start. There are certain cases where you can’t rely on personal growth at a day-to-day pace. There are times when something radical is needed to intervene. Seven Year Switch is not for everyone, but certain marriages all over the world could largely benefit from this rare and unconventional process of change.