The aftereffects of living under abuse are long and complicated. It’s a bit like a brain tumor that has wrapped itself around the brainstem and all throughout your skull. There’s not just one easy way to undo all that’s been done. There’s no off switch. One of my bosses several years ago told me this in my annual job review: “You rush to make decisions, and then you second-guess yourself to the point of sometimes undoing the entire thing. You might want to look into that.” I spent well over fifteen years second-guessing myself.
I believe this happened for two reasons. First of all, what I thought was my reality was not my reality, for most of my adulthood. So, that totally threw me off base as you might imagine. And secondly, I was told things that made me question myself, like that I was out of my mind or my behavior would be understandable if I were mentally ill. Frankly, and I seriously mean this, I have no idea how I got myself dressed every day, let alone how I raised two children, wrote some books, kept my home looking somewhat decent, traveled to some third-world countries or held down a job. Because I was ninety-five percent emotional mess/five percent functioning adult. It was exhausting and I didn’t know if I were coming or going most of the time.
So now I’m on the other side of it, other than a few tiny blips on the screen that still come up. (And I sit there stunned and thrown back a few years and forget that I’m a grown-up who can think and talk.) But on this other side – the healing side – I have taken two steps in working through all of the leftover emotional baggage.
First, I asked for a lot of advice. It’s important for me to run what I’m thinking by another person (or twenty) who I believe are in their right minds. But here’s the thing. I’m asking for so much less than I used to. I went for years only asking for advice in small bursts. I was like the mouse in those old cartoons that saw a piece of cheese in the middle of the floor and took its chances running out to get it before the cat noticed. I’d ask for counsel, grab it, run back to my hole, try to implement it, it wouldn’t work, I’d stay in the hole for a couple more years, then try it all again. Until I really asked for advice and then asked for it every day, many times a day, until I felt more steady. And now, now I ask for it maybe once a week. And no longer from like twenty people, but usually from just a couple. Scripture points to the importance and wisdom in surrounding yourself with good counsel, and it only makes sense that someone who thinks she’s an idiot might benefit from asking others for their opinions. You won’t always have to ask for a ton of advice; just until you get your emotional feet back on the ground. Don’t beat yourself up for having to do this…it’s normal, it makes sense, and it will help you get better.
And secondly, I’ve been deprogramming myself. I have done some exercises where I listed off all the bad things anyone has ever said to me, and I’ve replaced them with truth and with Scripture. (Example: “You’re a lying ass” to “Best as I can tell, I tell the truth almost all of the time! And, I’m not an ass.”.) But I’m also reading as much as I can on the subject of emotional and verbal abuse so that I can recognize what it was in my past, be aware of its long-lasting consequences in my life, be able to notice it immediately in the future, and desperately try to learn how to handle it better/differently than I have been up to this point.
Emotional abuse is insidious. It can wreak havoc with who God created us to be. And it can linger. But God wants us free from all of this. Words that have pierced our souls were not words that came from the mouth of God and I believe our hearts were not created to be able to withstand them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can ruin a person. If you were in that place, expect it to take time before you feel like yourself again. Expect to have to do some work in the healing process. But also expect God to show up and restore you.
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. -Proverbs 16:24-
If this post encouraged you, you would benefit from MarriageMethods (if still married) or Heartbreak to Hope (if separated or divorced.) And if you’ve ever wanted to take MARRIAGE METHODS or HEARTBREAK TO HOPE but didn’t think you could afford them, now you can with PAY WHAT YOU CAN!
MARRIAGE METHODS: https://bit.ly/marriage-methods-pwyc
HEARTBREAK TO HOPE: https://bit.ly/Heartbreak-to-Hope-pwyc
Amen Elizabeth! I have done the same thing since I got out of my emotionally and verbally abusive marriage 11 years ago. Healing. Reading lots of books, and when I saw those red flags in people I would get them out of my life quickly or set immediate boundaries with them.
In my current marriage, unfortunately, my step kids have been emotionally and verbally abusive to me and as a step mom setting boundaries with step children can lead to having a difficult relationship with them! It has almost led to our divorce several times because I will not tolerate being abused by anyone.
Thankfully the Lord moved them all out of our home just recently and they don’t have a lot to do with us unless they want something so I don’t have to put up with them very much right now.
I don’t understand why they are that way because my husband is not. All I can think of is that it is due to peer influence and what influence their mom has had on them.
This was a great topic to share!!!!
I lived with emotional abuse for many, many years. This is such a good starting place and I especially endorse the replacing of lies with truth – so much value in that!
Thank you, Missy! -Elisabeth
Wow! Another transformational truth. The healing takes work and is often painful, but it is SO WORTH receiving the healing God offers! He brings people, books, blog posts….whatever is needed to our hearts and minds to heal our brokenness. How I praise Him for that!!
Yes, Kim, our healing takes work and time (and patience). God is so good to us. -Elisabeth
H was emotionally abusive in the beginning ofour marriage. Even though he has gotten so much better about not tearing me down, he rarely acknowledges my feelings. Every so often he will tell me God job on something.
I’m thankful that things are better but I’m finding it difficult to heal from the past. I feel like I’m on a shaky middle ground that can give at any second. Things are not bad anymore. But they’re not good either.
Shannon, I’m so sorry. That in between is a different kind of painful. Do things that make you healthy: stay close to Christ, seek counseling, spend time with girlfriends who build you up, help someone in need, make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically. All of this will work together to help you feel stronger. -Elisabeth
Thanks so much for this post! I have done this: talk to 20+ people, mainly to validate to myself that I was not, am not crazy. I only for a few minutes now feel crazy when I have to read an email my stbx has sent my attorney. I know I am sane and yet he still has the ability to make me go round the same old tree. I guess being on the crazy train for over 25 years I should expect it to take some time to get completely off and stop boarding at all!
San, yes…the good part is that as time goes by…we can tell what’s crazy and what’s not a bit quicker. I promise. -Elisabeth
Once again, you hit the nail on the head. I actually hadn’t thought about my “indecisiveness” having anything to do with my previous experience with verbal/emotional abuse (he always made be feel SO stupid). I thought I just had no good ideas about anything (currently re trying to decorate my new house)…so I always feel like I have to get advice from everyone because I feel I can’t do “creative” things on my own–and that I would most certainly screw it up and my house would look ugly and tacky. But, the light bulb came on when you talked about needing to get advice from 20 people for everything. That’s me. So, I’m going to just step out there, and assume I’m not THAT un-creative or THAT stupid, and go do some shopping for my new house. Thanks for always encouraging us!
Outstanding post Elisabeth! One of the most excellent I’ve read on emotional abuse and what it does to us. I love your advise on getting advise :). Blessings!
Oh Beth! Thank you so much for this!!! I needed it!!
Thank you for this. It has been 7 years since my divorce and I’m still learning and healing. I was just thinking the other day that this is a long process. Thank you for validating that.
Wow….this message arrived in my email yesterday but I didn’t read it until this morning. And bam….it is so on target. I was second guessing myself when I woke up today and was ready to undo the whole thing, the whole decision I had made a couple of days ago. And I have done this over and over through the years. I have been recognizing this somewhat in my life but the way you put this into words is very clarifying.. Thank you very much for sharing your life and experience with us.