How to heal from an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship?
September 24, 2023 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, I had to recently end an eleven-year relationship with a guy who was five years older and for the past five years the relationship went sour and he became so negative, critical, rude, unsupportive, and would emotionally and verbally abuse me for years on end. What can I do to heal from this without therapy for now? I cannot afford therapy at the moment even with a sliding scale as a student (really on a tight budget as I had to use all my savings pretty much towards my tuition for my graduate studies).

What are some things I can do to heal from the years of emotional and verbal abuse and constant criticisms and putdowns without therapy until the New Year? I feel so emotionally drained and it was such a taxing relationship--he withheld intimacy for years because he said he could not be attracted to me until I got better or improved myself. My self-esteem is ruined and shot because of him and he even said if we break up no one will date you because you are a disaster and a mess. He blames me for everything and the failed relationship due to my anxieties, not cleaning enough, and not having a good enough work ethic, but I think I am slowly improving and come a long way with getting into a prestigious university programme, on a board, starting a podcast, and got some papers published and creative writing pieces published as well, but he only sees the negatives and not the accomplishments.

I am so drained from him that I need to move forward and on and work on healing emotionally from all this, but without therapy for now due to my finances and budget at the moment. I think in the New Year I want to try to date women for a change as I always found women more attractive than men but repressed it for a long time. I just feel like I am worthless because of him and nothing was ever good enough, and nothing ever will be, and that I will end up alone, like he stated, because of my problems. I am considering medication maybe, but I am not sure, I do suffer from anxiety due to being premature, but I have a feeling this relationship made it worse.
posted by RearWindow to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Write a goodbye letter to the self you were forced to be when you were with him... I imagine you became a shell of your self. It's hard to all of a sudden regain our footing when we are free from an abusive partner.

And write a hello letter to the person you wish to become (your core self and essence that was lost) now that you have gained your strength to be free from the abuse.

Do a small ritual that is meaningful for you daily, if you can. Examples: Drink a cup of tea or coffee. Greet the morning light. Take a walk and notice any "glimmers" joyful small moments (the opposite of triggers). Soak in any nature that you can (notice anything close to home or out your window) or in your neighborhood.

Write a manifesto/pact of care for yourself. How you deserve to be cared for unconditionally. And that the first person to do that is you.

Light a candle.

Hold your heart, notice your heartbeat and thank yourself for being you.

Thank yourself for being strong.
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 6:34 PM on September 24 [13 favorites]

Apologies for not directly answering the question, but since you mentioned being a student: you likely have access to mental health services with a therapist at a student counselling center, at no additional cost beyond your current tuition and fees? That is, no doubt there are exceptions and your university could be one of them, but every university I know of with graduate programs has a counselling center for students; so if it’s not something you’ve looked into yet, it would be worth checking on. Wait times can be a significant issue, of course, so answers to this question would still be quite helpful and relevant even if this is an option for you.
posted by eviemath at 6:35 PM on September 24 [27 favorites]

I wonder whether there is a domestic violence resource center near you that might have free group therapy.

I’d add “ending a relationship with someone who demeaned you constantly” to your list of recent accomplishments by the way. It is not easy.
posted by eirias at 6:35 PM on September 24 [14 favorites]

I know you're not making a decision whether or not to leave him, but one of the best books I've read on living with/deciding to leave a narcissist is Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving A Relationship with a Narcissist
by Ramani S. Durvasula Ph.D. It's available on Amazon.

I have survived this very situation, and the emotional scars are slow to heal. I bit the financial bullet and stayed in therapy (after he blew out of it because he felt it was making him look bad) until the therapist and I agreed that I no longer needed it. How I wish I'd had this book! My children would have ended up far healthier.

Blessings on you as you heal. Believe me, it's not you.
posted by summerstorm at 7:40 PM on September 24 [5 favorites]

Reading Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft was highly helpful to me in understanding and getting over an abusive relationship.

When I read it, I legit had a thought for a moment that maybe my ex had read it and used it as a playbook, but he doesn't read. Ha.

I think for me the hardest part of healing for me was understanding why my ex would do the things he did. Reading about the tactics and the reasons/goals behind them really helped me to let go of a lot of the lingering doubt and confusion.
posted by CleverClover at 8:19 PM on September 24 [7 favorites]

Reading Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft was highly helpful to me in understanding and getting over an abusive relationship.

And it can be found online to read free of charge.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:26 AM on September 25 [7 favorites]

I have found journaling incredibly helpful for processing my emotions. You can answer questions like, "How did I get here?" "Where do I go now?" "What is the best version of myself I can be in the future?" Partly it is about getting the emotions and thoughts outside your head and on the paper. Partly it is about setting time aside regularly to consider your thoughts and emotions then LITERALLY closing the book and moving on with your day. Partly it is about having a record so you can look back later to see how far you have come. For me, it also keeps the rumination in control because my hand gets tired of writing, I have to move on with my day, etc. so it keeps the processing time-limited.
posted by eleslie at 1:58 AM on September 25 [3 favorites]

Hugs to you, and I’m so glad you got out. In addition to the excellent suggestions to seek out your local domestic violence center and to read “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft, I’d also suggest reading “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans.

Wishing you strength, clarity, and healing.
posted by edithkeeler at 2:14 AM on September 25

Here are some self compassion practices that may help! Maybe schedule them weekly like you might therapy?

I think journaling can be useful too because you pay a bit more attention to the unconscious narratives that are running in your mind - which are often critical.

This may be a bit out there, but I started to imagine that my negative self talk was a separate being (in my case a snake), and I started to talk to her when she was being especially vocal. I ask what she needs, or what she’s trying to tell me, or gently say, “nope, that’s not what we’re doing right now. Me & my snake are becoming friends!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 4:31 AM on September 25 [5 favorites]

Whenever I start on a woodworking project, I make up a materials list and a time estimate. Experience has taught me to + 20% materials and x 3 the time. Keep moving forward with your excellent life but be sure to allow yourself a lot longer to “heal” than you might be estimating now.
posted by brachiopod at 4:33 AM on September 25 [3 favorites]

collect scattered thoughts about the bad relationship on paper, and on a daily or weekly basis, make a ritual around burning them. this can be both powerfully cathartic, and also tacit permission to let those thoughts and the relationship go.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on September 25 [4 favorites]

Good for you getting out. That's really hard and you should be very proud of yourself.

I have found so much good advice over at Captain Awkward. You can search the archives for questions about breakups, abusive relationships and/or recovering from relationships specifically. It is so, so helpful to know that you're not alone, and every time someone writes in with a crappy relationship they're trying to leave or have just left, the comments are full of people being like "that was me 3 years ago, leaving was super hard, but life is so much better now".

Some preliminary studies have suggested that playing Tetris can help with PTSD symptoms and intrusive thoughts--it's most effective if done right after the traumatic incident, but it might be worth a shot for you.

You can work on getting your nervous system back into regulation and at least calming the fight-or-flight body response even if you can't see a therapist right now. YMMV, but free/cheap things that help for me include Lofi mixes with pretty screens on YouTube, hot showers or baths with nice-smelling soap, setting up a cozy reading corner with pillows and a throw I already have, defaulting to kid-style treats like a cup of hot chocolate or putting a stuffed animal next to me, going for a walk around the block. I side-eye when people push yoga for big mental health stuff, but if you were already curious about it, I think this is a really good YouTube channel (with programs for anxiety specifically). One of these things isn't generally enough but if I layer them it can help when I'm struggling. Best of luck to you.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 4:27 PM on September 25 [4 favorites]

So many great options here. You can also consider a therapy workbook while you wait to be able to afford therapy. There are a lot of CBT workbooks specifically and they can be helpful for anxiety and depression. You should be able to find on Amazon, the library, and at used bookstores.
posted by jeoc at 2:25 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]

I'm so glad you hear you got yourself out of that terrible, toxic situation. I'm sorry you experienced someone treating you that way. It will get better with time and healing, and you will recognize your own worth again even after just beginning to heal. Getting yourself away from that relationship is *already* you starting the healing process. Wonderfully done, you incredible, strong, and resilient human.

I've found the YouTube channel Crappy Childhood Fairy to be an absolute godsend. Anna Runkle (who runs the channel) is not a therapist, however she's been healing and working on herself for over 28 years, and her content is some of the most helpful I've encountered.
posted by Jangatroo at 8:41 AM on September 27 [1 favorite]

One book that helped me after a relationship of constant criticism was Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. Maybe it's available via your university library, or interlibrary loan.

I am slowly improving and come a long way with getting into a prestigious university programme, on a board, starting a podcast, and got some papers published and creative writing pieces published as well, but he only sees the negatives and not the accomplishments

The toxic mindset from my previous relationship infected both him and me, and it was: am I objectively awesome? Am I doing awesome things, have I done awesome things, am I seen as awesome by awesome people? Or replace awesome with cool, prestigious, smart, beautiful, talented, accomplished, or, as the case may be, lovable.

The opposite of that toxic mindset would be unconditional love. Or maybe "unconditional positive regard." Learning how to treat oneself that way can be a long, long process. What has helped me is curating the other relationships in my life, however big or small, to use your examples, maybe professors and classmates at university I choose to work closely with, fellow board members, podcast guests, writing group members, whoever it might be. And looking at how much time I spend with people who are constantly analyzing who and what is worthy, and sitting there right beside them analyzing and objectifying and optimizing, or people whose demeanor is gentle and supportive regardless. Imagine a golden retriever.

I want to try to date women for a change as I always found women more attractive than men but repressed it for a long time

Just wanted to say I read this in your question, and this internet stranger supports you.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:34 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]

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