False belief #1: I’m just being overly sensitive.

If I had a dollar for every emotional abuse survivor and codependent who thinks they need to be tougher or less sensitive. Man oh man.

The reason we believe we are being overly sensitive is:

  • Society tells us we should just ‘tough out’ things like depression, anxiety and invisible abuse (like emotional abuse and neglect),
  • Our Abuser tells us we are too sensitive or that they were ‘just kidding’ or that we ‘can’t deal with the truth’.

Perspective Shift:

Imagine that what is being said or done to you, is being done or said to your best friend (even if you don’t have one). What would you think of the pattern of behavior in that light?

Often, we are more objective when it comes to other people. Research has shown that women are better able to stand up for the rights of others over ourselves. Thus, in externalizing the experience, we can gain a more objective view, and become more likely to stand up against abusive behavior.

False belief #2: I’m bad.

This is an unconscious belief held by many survivors. We believe we are evil, bad or damned. By extension, we believe we deserve the abuse, or that we can never have happiness and love.

As survivors, we believe we are bad for three primary reasons:

  • The abuser tells us as much (repeatedly),
  • We engage in behaviors that are ‘bad’ (like drinking too much, hurting ourselves, being cruel to others). These actions are actually a normal side effect of being an abuse survivor. However, the survivor internalizes them as character flaws, which only perpetuates the problem behaviors.
  • The system/society tells us we are bad. When we are in the thick of struggling with trauma, abuse and codependency, we can come into contact with the law or with health care. This is when we start to receive labels. Again, we internalize these labels and believe they are absolute and unchangeable.

Perspective Shift:

In insane situations, it is normal to act in insane ways to survive. Read that again. Solve the situation, and you can be different.

False belief #3: I can’t.

A huge piece of emotional abuse is control. Abusers lead us to believe that we are inadequate or incapable of surviving without them.

For myself, I remember feeling helpless. I remember constantly doubting myself and my own judgment. After years of this, I became so unfamiliar with my own judgment process I had to relearn it. To overcome emotional abuse, we must be empowered beyond ‘I can’t’.

There are 5 main steps in moving past I can’t:

  • Learn. Often ‘I can’t’ means I don’t know. Unfortunately, with survivors, often I don’t know means I don’t know myself. I remember when I went to buy my first computer. I had been so controlled in such decisions that I was completely overwhelmed and terrified- of buying a computer!! I was positive that I would mess it up and the abuser would be proven correct. However, even things as simple as buying a computer are learned. We can do research, and build our confidence in our choices.
  • Go in knowing that trial and error are normal. Guess what? The first computer I bought was dead in the box. It was my worst nightmare! But once it happened, I realized that it really wasn’t that bad. I went out and bought a different computer, and here we are 4 years later.
  • Take a small step. The computer was a small step I could take to limit the control of the other person. I was building up my own resources to decrease my dependence. It wasn’t big, or dramatic. But it was a first step that I could point to and say ‘I did that’.
  • Don’t consult. Most of us are so used to being controlled that we actually go and consult our abuser regarding our decisions. We do this as a way to waylay their anger later. If it is safe for you, don’t do this. It will cause you a great deal of stress, but it will also give you a sense of pride that you can make your own choices.
  • Practice. For the first year in my healing journey, I actually had to practice making decisions for myself. I would ask myself, ‘what do I want for lunch?’ or ‘what do I want to do next?’ This sounds ridiculous, but I honestly never bothered to ask myself previously. As survivors and especially as codependents, we become so used to ignoring our wants and needs in an effort to maintain peace or to make the other person happy. We simply stop making decisions based on what we want.
False belief #4: They’ll die/suffer/hurt themselves without me.

People who are emotionally abusive are manipulative. One of the primary tools they use in this manipulation is your love for them.

Thus, an often-heard refrain is ‘you’re trying to hurt me’ or ‘if you do that, I’ll die/kill myself/etc.’ The survivor believes this to be true, and worse, they believe it would be their fault.

Perspective shift:

What another adult person does is their own responsibility.  Check in with yourself whether their threats are an exaggeration. If you honestly fear the person will harm themselves, it may be time for emergency support.

False belief #5: If I were better.

Perfectionism is extremely common in people who’ve experienced emotional abuse. Why? Because we believe if we can be ‘perfect enough’ then we will finally stop the emotional abuse.

We don’t know we are doing it. It isn’t conscious. But it is harmful nevertheless because there is no perfect enough.

Further, no person should have to be perfect to deserve not to be ridiculed and called down.

Perspective Shift:

Consciously list what would be required for you to be perfect enough for the emotional abuse to stop. Would you have to be 50 lbs lighter? Or make millions of dollars? Or give up your career? Would you have to be a completely different person?

When we look at what we would have to do to be ‘perfect enough’, we can start to see objectively just how ridiculous these expectations really are.

Next steps

These are just a few of the false beliefs we must uncover, and overturn. Beliefs frame our outlook on the world- this is why it is so important to check in with them, and to change them. 

Need help? Check out the ‘Rules’ unit of the Re.Build. program. It is all about changing our negative beliefs. 

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash



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