A quote about emotional abuse and coercion.

Healing from Emotional Abuse: A Journey to Self-Resilience and Recovery

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you were emotionally abused, you know just how difficult it is to break free from it. Emotional abuse is a form of manipulation where the abuser seeks to control the victim’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

As a life and business coach, I want to support your healing journey. That’s why we will be discussing the following topics:

  • Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse
  • How you can maintain a calm and composed attitude around your abuser
  • Why you must drop the fantasy that your abuser will love the new and improved version of you
  • How to prioritize your self-care

With these topics in mind, let’s dive into the first one which is how to recognize emotionally abusive behavior.

Recognize Signs of Emotional Abuse

If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing emotional abuse, it’s crucial to learn to recognize it and start healing.

It is unfortunate that many of us may be unaware of the signs of emotional abuse, as we may have grown up in dysfunctional families where this behavior has become the norm.

Emotional abuse can manifest in two forms: overt, which is obvious, and covert, which can be more difficult to detect. Therefore, it is critical to recognize these signs to protect oneself and loved ones from becoming victims.

Emotional abuse is the most subtle to detect, yet it can yield significant emotional and eventually physical pain. Symptoms such as migraines, irritable bowels, and immune system issues may arise from emotional abuse.

Overt Emotional Abuse

The overtly emotional abuser won’t hesitate in making hurtful comments that demean your worth and confidence. They may say hurtful comments like:

Your opinion is worthless to me right now.

I can’t believe you would say something so terrible.

Why can’t you do anything right?

I never had problems like this until I met you.

Why would ask you for anything of importance?

During emotional abuse, the abuser has malicious intent to make you feel fearful, sad, and discouraged. Therefore, they may use your past and any other forms of vulnerability to degrade you. 

The cost of abuse

Studies have proven that this type of abuse can cause extremely damaging effects on ones self-esteem and result in trauma.

Moreover, an abuser of this kind may use tactics like threatening to take away financial support or critical areas of assistance, which can threaten your sense of safety and security. These tactics can leave you feeling powerless and distressed.

Next, let’s talk about covert emotional abuse. In my opinion, covert abuse is more insulting and insidious as it gaslights the victim into believing incorrect things, which causes them to question their own perception of reality.

A quote about emotional abuse and coercion.

Covert or Passive-Agressive Emotional Abuse

It is important to understand that passive-aggressive behavior isn’t just limited to overtly threatening or insulting words.

People who are passive-aggressive may seem pleasant or amicable, but underneath that façade, they may be struggling with intense feelings of anger, resentment, and hostility that often simmer beneath the surface.

Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of their behavior and understand that just because they are not overtly threatening, it doesn’t mean that their actions are healthy or normal. Below are are common signs of passive aggressive behavior.

Signs of passive aggressive behavior 
  • Sarcasm (Saying the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny. I call this “barbed humor”)
    • It’s okay if you don’t like me. Not everyone has good taste.”
    • “If had a dollar for every smart thing you say. I’ll be poor.”
  • Backhanded compliments (a remark which seems to be an insult but could also be understood as a compliment)
    • Your haircut makes your nose look smaller.
    • It’s really difficult to underestimate you.
  • Communicates with vague or unclear language
    • Oh yes! Come by sometime next week
    • Talking about dogs makes me feel sad
  • Finds ways to avoid commitments
    • Cancels or no-shows on appointments
    • Fails to deliver on their promises
  • Abruptly leaves conversations 
  • Uses condemning language
    • (Insert group) can’t possibly understand (Insert group)
    • (Insert group) always complain

What is interesting about the list above is that a passive-aggressive or covert emotional abuser may not even be aware of this behavior! They may have grown up around this type of abuse and thought it was normal communication. While backhanded and sarcastic comments may seem normal to the abuser, it can take its toll on your self-esteem and sense of identity.

Being around any abuser, let alone an emotional abuser, is unnerving. Take heart; in the next section, we will discuss how you can stay composed and calm during emotional abuse.
Two black silhouettes with a white background and the words " emotional abuse."

Keep a calm and composed attitude around your abuser

When you are around someone who takes pride in making you feel bad, it is natural to want to avoid them, fight back (verbally or physically), or retreat emotionally. However, while those instincts are natural, they are not healthy.

If you have to interact with someone who is prone to emotionally abusive behavior, recognize that their words are not the truth. Emotionally abusive people are only replicating the same dysfunctional dynamics that they had with their role models (e.g. family, teachers, church). This is all part of their pain-filled life script.

When dealing with anyone who is emotionally disabled, the best tactic is to not add fuel to the fire, meaning that you do not need to engage in vitriolic conversations. However, if there is an issue of safety (financial, physical) or security for yourself or others, you need to respond. 

If you are engaged with someone who poses a risk through their words, you have no choice but to respond. Below are some words to say when you must confront an emotional abuser.

How to confront an emotional abuser

“What you are saying is serious, and we need to discuss it.” 

Use their exact words, “I can tell you are upset. Am I correct?”

(pause and listen to their words).

“I understand your feelings and what you said. However, using those words is unhelpful because of the legal, financial or moral consequences if you carry out your threat. Are you prepared for the consequences?”

Again, use this when you have no other choice, but to confront an emotional abuser. Otherwise, don’t take the bait! In the next section, we will talk about how engaging with an abuser from an energy of uncontrolled rage helps nobody, especially you.

Don’t take the bait!

One of the most important things to keep in mind as you start learning about emotional abuse is not to get baited into prolonged, uncontrolled anger. 

It’s easy to get swept up in the moment and lash out at your abuser, but doing so can often make the situation worse.

Abusers, for better or worse, are emotionally disabled people who use maladaptive coping strategies to feel validated through controlling and manipulating others. They get their power from people with weak minds who are fixated in unproductive anger.

Once your abuser knows that you feel pain from their behavior, they will keep pushing your buttons because it reminds them of their power over you. 

To an abuser, some attention is better than none at all

I think about an old passive-aggressive boss I had when I worked for the government. He relished being overly critical of people, especially those he disliked, including me.

I’ll never forget the moment when I had a joint meeting with him and another manager, and I said in anger and rage, “But he did it! He was wrong!”

At that moment, I saw my old boss flash a smile. My boss was empowered to continue to mistreat me because he knew it hurt me emotionally.

People want attention in all forms, and for some people, any attention, even negative attention, is worth it.

As you read this message, you might be thinking, “Denise, you don’t know him or her. They can change with help.” Maybe they can. In the next section, we will discuss why, for the sake of your sanity, you need to let go of the fantasy that your behavior will improve your emotional abuser.

Drop the fantasy that your abuser will love the new and improved version of you

Another important piece of advice is acknowledging that your abuser (which is most often a friend or loved one) may not accept the new and healthier version of yourself. This can be a challenging truth to accept, but it is an essential part of the healing process.

Family, friends, or colleagues who exhibit emotionally abusive patterns may feel uncomfortable with the new, confident you. They were accustomed to the fearful, anxious, and paranoid version of you and are now intimidated by the significant shift in your demeanor and behaviors.

As a result, they may try to lure you back into your old routine, remind you of your past mistakes, and point out all the ways life has been unfair to you. They do this because they want the old version of you back. Do not fall into their trap! You are worth more than that. Stay strong and seek support if you need it.

Speaking of support, the best and most important support you will need as you exit from the damaging influence of an abuser is self-care. The next section will discuss some basic ways you can prioritize your self-care.

Prioritize your self-care

Traumatized children often go the extra mile to meet the needs of others. This is a compensatory tactic that allows them to give others what they didn’t receive while growing up. As a result, these individuals, as adults, are prone to being taken advantage of, especially in relationships.

If you can relate to the statement above, know that your strength shouldn’t just be exerted to help others. You need to put yourself first and focus on your personal growth.

Self-care is not just about taking bubble baths and going to the spa. It is about:

  • knowing when to rest,
  • being clear about your boundaries,
  • creating an environment that restores, not depletes your energy,
  • and engaging in activities that encourage, motivate, and inspire you.

This article explores practical ways you can take care of your emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.

Final thoughts

Healing from emotional abuse can be an incredibly challenging and harrowing experience. The road to recovery can take years, and even just a single month of disparaging and demeaning comments can leave deep and lasting scars on a person’s psyche. 

It’s important to remember that regardless of the form your abuse may have taken or how deeply it impacted you, seeking out resources and support is a crucial first step toward healing. Taking the time to focus on yourself and your own needs can help you to accelerate the healing process and find a sense of inner peace.

Reach out for help if you need it

If you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath of emotional abuse, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here to listen, offer guidance, and provide the support you need to move forward.

Additionally, you may find it helpful to check out this episode from my podcast, where I discuss some of the common challenges faced by survivors of emotional abuse and offer some valuable insights and advice. Simply click the link to tune in, or press the play button below and let’s start exploring the path to healing together.


The information in this article is for informational purposes only. No material in this article or website is to be a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read from me or anyone else online.

Also, this article is not designed to diagnose or treat you or anyone with a suspected mental health illness. Please, if you need help, seek appropriate help from a lawyer, health care provider or law enforcement officer.