Please note: Entries within this blog may contain references to instances of domestic abuse, dating abuse, sexual assault, abuse or harassment. At all times, Break the Cycle encourages readers to take whatever precautions necessary to protect themselves emotionally and psychologically.  If you would like to speak with an advocate, please contact a 24/7 peer advocate at 866-331-9474  or text “loveis” to 22522.

Leaving an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Actress and singer Jennifer Lopez recently admitted she’s been in an emotionally abusive relationship in the past.

“I’ve never gotten a black eye or a busted lip, but I’ve felt abused in one way or another: mentally, emotionally, verbally,” Lopez writes in a new memoir, True Love. Sadly, J.Lo proves that not only does abuse come in many forms, but that thankfully, people in emotionally abusive relationships can leave, even if they don’t feel like it’s possible.

While all abuse involves issues of power and control, emotional abuse gets underneath a victim’s skin and makes them second guess themselves. Perhaps their partner would ask simple questions like, “maybe you should eat something lighter,” or, “I don’t know if that sweater suits you.” And by taking these suggestions at face value, they believe they’re just listening and pleasing their partner.

But as time goes on, if these suggestions aren’t followed, they become angry or childish, looking for ways to manipulate their partner into doing what they want. The abuser uses threats, like “I’m going to leave you if you don’t do this,” or plays on how they’re undesirable with something like, “I’m the only one that loves you anyway.” It can get to the point where the victim feels as though the abuser’s opinions are right: no one loves them, there is something wrong with them, and so on.

Remember, this is all based on control. An abuser wants to feel good about themselves, so they may project their own feelings of powerlessness on their partner or try to ensure they are never rejected themselves. But those feelings are their feelings and are not necessarily rooted in truth.

So how can someone in an emotionally abusive relationship take control back? It starts by setting boundaries with their partner, explaining how they’re open to hearing concerns, but it’s not okay to be attacked. Moreover, what’s now off the table? What is considered okay to do, and what crosses the line? Consider personal values, desires, and needs when discussing what can and cannot be done. If they cannot meet these reasonable expectations, then it’s time to move on.

Breaking up can be very scary, especially for someone who’s been suffering from abuse. Reaching out to someone who can offer support will help in the long run, as they can be there during this difficult time. They can also help victims remember what it used to be like before the relationship, and how they are worth and lovable. Whether it’s family or friends, having a place to go and money or a job in place will also provide much needed support. Furthermore, it’s important to connect with themselves again and work on undoing the damage.

At the end of the day, love is not controlling. It’s not about trying to change a person, but rather about celebrating that person. Everyone deserves a healthy relationship! If you have questions about leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, call 1-866-331-9474.