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Why Closure Is So Difficult After Emotional Abuse

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

One of the most difficult aspects of leaving an emotionally abusive person is there is often no closure. Few people really understand what it’s like to survive a psychological abuser. An abuser may claim they don’t understand your point of view, but they often will never attempt to try. In addition to spending the entire relationship feeling misunderstood and shut down, the survivor of an emotional abuser must pass through a firewall of gaslighting, manipulation and character assassination when they leave. They may use whatever resources they have to attack you, whether that’s your own friends, family, finances or children. Abusive people may twist reality to make their victims look like abusers and themselves look like the victim. Additionally, escaping an abusive person almost always means losing others who enabled the abuse or who became toxic by proxy.

All of this results in a deep longing for the survivor to be understood. Survivors will often feel a variety of symptoms, including extreme frustration, confusion, anxiety and hypervigilance. They often fear they are going “crazy.” Not only is their self-esteem destroyed, a survivor may worry they can no longer trust their own thoughts. They may go over every interaction with the abuser looking for clues to when or how they might’ve caused the poor treatment. They might feel guilt or shame that they weren’t “enough” for the abuser. Perhaps they don’t understand how someone could seemingly love them one minute, and completely disregard them the next.

Not only is this form of abuse devastating to experience, but it often takes much longer to process and heal. Because an abuser often does not apologize or take responsibility for their behavior, it takes much longer for their victim to get the closure they need to understand what happened, heal and move on.

Survivors desperately need people who get it, can help them verify the facts and empathize with how devastating it is to experience emotional abuse. As a fellow abuse survivor, I’m here to tell you surviving emotional and psychological abuse makes you a freaking warrior.

Survivors are true heroes. To escape the abuse, they had to take a giant leap into the unknown. Often, they had to walk away from everything they once knew. Often, the only ones they had to lean on were themselves. They were willing to put everything on the line to be free from abuse. Often, taking these steps put them at risk for further harm. Survivors often don’t give themselves nearly as much credit as they deserve, but they are walking miracles.

But on most days, survivors don’t feel miraculous. They are sad, hurt, confused, angry and long for closure they may never get. Due to trauma bonding, many will even miss their abusers. Due to gaslighting, many doubt their own experience, even when it was pure hell.

When a survivor feels this way, it’s time to shift focus. Understanding and closure from an abusive person will often never happen, so it’s important to feed that need in other ways. The more a survivor can find and surround themselves with people who understand psychological abuse, the better. Trauma-informed therapists and trauma recovery coaches get it. Group therapy and online communities help to reinforce and validate the experience. The key is this: Whenever a survivor feels the urge to want or need anything from their former abuser, they must turn it around and meet the need through a supportive, safe person or community.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly worn down, I just need to hear someone speak kindly to me. When it’s not logistically possible to call on a close friend, I listen to guided meditations. Audibly hearing another person’s voice speak loving and encouraging words can go a long way to drown out the abuser’s voice in my head.

Psychological abuse is a relational trauma, and the pathway to heal is through healthy relationships. Finding and establishing those relationships after trauma doesn’t always happen overnight, but every little step toward them helps. Not everyone will understand your trauma. The ones you want and need to understand may not. But there are many people who do, including the many communities here on The Mighty, and we are waiting for you with open arms.

Getty image by BartekSzewczyk

Originally published: September 23, 2021
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