Escaping an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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(Photo credit: Hayley Bouchard)

This post was originally published about a year ago on a site called Silence, Cupcake, which has since closed. Therefore I’ve decided to republish the piece here:

Have you ever been in a relationship, where your partner made you feel like you were going crazy? Eroded your sense of reality and made you doubt your own judgement?

I have.

This type of manipulative behaviour is known as Gaslighting, and is a form of emotional and psychological abuse.

“Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality. This is done by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual giving up on the part of the other person.”

– Robert Stern in The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life

This destructive tactic takes its name from a movie, from 1944, named Gaslight, in which the husband attempts to get his wife’s jewellery by having her declared insane. He makes her insane, by making the gas lights flicker on and off. When she asks him about it, he tells her she’s crazy, the lights aren’t flickering at all.

Examples of Gaslighting Behaviour

  • Telling you, you’re overreacting or being “too sensitive” (when you’re only reacting the way any normal person would)
  • Telling you, s/he didn’t say something (when you clearly remember they did)
  • Accusing you, of being a drama queen (when they created the drama)
  • Saying, you’re imagining things (when you’re not)
  • Continuously changing the ‘rules of the game’ – one day s/he likes one thing, the next day they hate it (and don’t you know they’ve always despised it).

Read more about Gaslighting: Have You Been a Victim of Gaslighting? and Are you being Gaslighted?

Examples of Other Forms of Psychological/Emotional Abuse

Of course Gaslighting is just one tactic in the arsenal of weapons that a psychological/emotional abuser can make use of. Other tactics might include:

  • Name-calling
  • Threats (both of physical harm and threatening to break your things etc.)
  • Putting you down
  • Yelling
  • Physically intimidating you (following you around, standing really close to you)
  • Humiliating you
  • Gives you the “silent treatment”
  • Excessive criticism
  • Manipulative apologies (apologises profusely, tell you they realize they’ve made a mistake. However, nothing changes and the next day, or a few hours later, everything is back to normal).


Your Inner Thoughts and Feelings

Your Partner’s Belittling Behavior

Do you:

  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
Does your partner:

  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • Your Partner’s Violent Behavior or Threats
  • Your Partner’s Controlling Behavior
Does your partner:

  • have a bad and unpredictable temper?
Does your partner:

  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • hurt you, or threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • force you to have sex?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • destroy your belongings?
  • constantly check up on you?

Source: Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

You can read much more about psychological and emotional abuse here: Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships and Sophisticated Abuse – Rooted In Being.

My Abusive Relationship

He never hit me. But at times I wished he would, because at least then I’d know his behaviour was wrong. With emotional abuse it’s all different shades of grey, and with the Gaslighting component it’s so easy to lose trust in your own judgement.

Princess, he’d call me, but not as a term of endearment. No, if I’d dare state a preference he disagreed with (say, suggest we watch a different movie, or have something else for dinner), he’d speak to me sarcastically: “Well we must do whatever the Princess wants. Everything has to be however you want it.”

Of course that wasn’t true, rather the opposite. I’m very accommodating and have a huge sense of justice. He knew that, and he used it against me.

He would flat out deny he had said something, making me paranoid and causing me to save every single text, email and chat conversation to be able to go back and prove what he had said. In which case he’d tell me that I was being “difficult” or “overreacting”.

I would be interrogated over every text, and I was so scared of receiving a message from any male acquaintances because of the interrogation, which I would be subjected to afterwards. (Of course this did not mean he didn’t have female friends. Double standards were the norm for so many areas of our relationship).

Yelling, swearing, giving me the silent treatment. Punching holes in the walls. Threatening to break my laptop.

Or the times when I would take a bath to have a break from it all, have a moment of quiet and peace, and he would pick the lock to the bathroom and stand over me. Yelling at me. Rarely have I ever felt so vulnerable, as I did lying in the bathtub with him towering over me.

Why Would Anyone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?

Atada - Tied

Source: NeoGaboX

Great question!

Reading about abusive relationships you might wonder, why would anyone ever put up with such atrocious treatment? Especially a smart, capable and intelligent woman.

The thing is, these relationships don’t begin like this. In the beginning they’re wonderful. You’ll be treated so well, and then slowly, slowly he or she will begin to crawl under your skin.

A sarcastic comment here, a degrading remark there. Questioning your behaviour and your reactions, telling you, you are overreacting or being too sensitive.

Slowly you begin to lose yourself. Lose your trust in yourself and in your own judgement. You start to believe they’re right. Besides, they tells you how much they love you. How no one could ever love you as much as they do.

You live for the good times. Try to believe it, when they say they’ll change.

And after all, maybe you are overreacting. Maybe you are being too sensitive. Maybe you should be more understanding.

And so you try. You try to understand, you try to shut down your feelings so you won’t “overreact” or be accused of being “too sensitive”.

But it’s never enough. It only gets worse, and soon you are forgetting who you are, and what you wanted. You distance yourself from your friends and family, because you are ashamed, but you don’t know what to do.

You begin to go inside of yourself during the abusive episodes. Solely focusing on breathing.


How I Escaped

mer girl

Source: Sara B.

So how do you escape?

It might take more than one try.

It did for me.

That’s okay.

In the end, it was a mix of an escalation of his behaviour and finding out that he had been emotionally (and probably physically) cheating on me, that gave me the push I needed to finally leave him.

The biggest turning point came the night I spent sleeping on the living room floor, with the dog – because I “preferred the dog over him”. That night I swore to myself that I wouldn’t come back, and I told my best friend to promise, she wouldn’t let me go back.

Finding out about his emotional (and probably physical) infidelity just sealed the deal.

Still, it wasn’t easy. Giving up on something you’ve invested so much time, money and emotions in.

But getting through this, has taught me a lot about how resilient and strong I really am. It has taught me so much about the importance of trusting myself, and my own judgement and never letting go of that.

How You Can Leave an Abusive Relationship

The first and most important step is to stay safe. The end of a relationship is the most dangerous time, as the abuse might turn physical (if it isn’t already). You can read much more here: Help for Abused & Battered Women: Protecting Yourself and Escaping from Domestic Violence

Begin listening to yourself.

Treat yourself with kindness and compassion.

Take small steps to regain your sense of self, to figure out what you want and how to get there.

Forgive yourself when you fail.

Accept support from those who love you.

Ask for help.

Educate yourself. Learn about abusive relationships. Emotional, physical, psychological abuse. Gaslighting. Learn about your options and the resources available to you.

Don’t give up.

Always remember that you are worthy of being treated right. You deserve to be in a loving relationship.

This is not your fault.

Are you, or have you, or someone you know, been in an abusive relationship? How did you get out of it? Please share your story, if you want to, or any words of advice you might have.

If you liked this post, or think someone else might benefit from it, please consider sharing it.


  1. Very important topic, Becky! All three relationships I had before Peter were emotionally abusive (in different ways), and it eroded my sense of self quite a bit. Peter has made that experience as well, so we both know how hard it is to escape from that. I’m very happy you made it as well! 🙂



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  2. Click to Empower – What to Say When You Think Someone is Being Abused | Prayers and Promises
  3. My Stepdad Emotionally Abused Me - The Good Mother Project
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