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Forgiving an Emotional Abuser: How to Pick Up the Pieces

Emotional abuse can leave deep scars, affecting mental and emotional well-being. Navigating the path to healing requires self-awareness, resilience, and a willingness to forgive. In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of forgiving emotional abuse and how it can contribute to personal growth and recovery.

Defining Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that aims to control, manipulate, or undermine the emotional well-being of another person. It can manifest in various forms, including verbal attacks, manipulation, isolation, and intimidation.

What Are The 5 Cycles of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is a form of mistreatment that involves manipulating and controlling someone through psychological means. While there may not be a universally agreed-upon set of “cycles” for emotional abuse, patterns often emerge in abusive relationships. The five common phases are:

  1. Tension-Building Phase
  2. Incident Phase
  3. Reconciliation Phase
  4. Calm Phase
  5. Planning Phase

Tension-Building Phase

The tension-building phase is marked by a gradual increase in tension and stress in the relationship. Communication – both verbal and non-verbal – becomes trained and the victim of abuse feels like they are walking on eggshells to try to avoid conflict.

As this occurs, the abusive partner may become more irritable and especially critical of their partner during this phase.

Incident or Acute Phase

This is the point at which the actual abusive behavior occurs. This can include verbal abuse such as yelling and scalding insults, emotional abuse such as gaslighting, manipulating, or cheating, physical abuse that inflicts pain on a victim, and sometimes, the victims are even sexually abused at the hands of their partner.

The emotionally abusive partner enjoys the control and power that inflicting all the pain they can on their partner gives them. The victim, on the other hand, feels a deep sense of fear, guilt, and sometimes even shame that might come with blaming themselves for getting involved with an abusive partner in the first place, although this is never the victim’s fault.

This can cause the victim to feel powerlessness during this phase, or feel a deep sense of confusion as the partner they initially fell in love with changes before their eyes. They might try to justify the abusive behavior because they can’t believe their partner could harm them in some way. They might try to find glimpses of their original partner, the one whom they knew to be kind and gentle at the beginning of their relationship.

It’s important to note that not all abusive relationships follow this exact pattern, and the intensity and duration of each phase can vary. Additionally, the cycle may not always be linear, and different elements of the cycle may overlap or repeat in different ways.

Reconciliation or “Honeymoon” Phase

After the abusive incident comes to a head, the abuser may show remorse and apologize for their behavior, often promising to change. They might suddenly be very open with their feelings in the relationship, exhibiting kindness, compassion, affection, guilt, and remorse. This adds to the confusion that the victim has because it gives them a sense of hope and confirms that those glimpses of tenderness in their partner that they originally fell for are still there, making it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship.

The victim may choose to believe that their abuser has genuinely changed and might choose to forgive their partner and ignore their pain and hurt feelings for the sake of forgiveness and healing. This can cause the abused to choose to ignore the truth of how wrong their abuser’s behavior was to save a marriage, for example.

Calm or Respite Phase

During this phase, the relationship may appear to be stable and calm. The abuser has ceased their abusive behavior temporarily and this can provide a sense of relief for the victim. Most of the time this period is short-lived, as the tension begins to build again, restarting the cycle.

Fantasy or Planning Phase

The final phase is the fantasy or planning phase, which is when the abuser might begin to plan their next incident of abuse. This can start again with manipulation tactics and strategies to control the victim. Often, the abuser will then choose to gaslight the abused as a way to minimize their cruel behavior and confuse their victim further. This restarts the cycle once again back into the tension-building phase.

It’s important to note that not all abusive relationships follow this exact pattern, and the intensity and duration of each phase can vary. Additionally, the cycle may not always be linear, and different elements of the cycle may overlap or repeat in different ways.

Related: Understanding The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle

The Impact of an Abusive Relationship

It’s fair to say that any dynamic between two individuals where this abusive behavior exists is an abusive relationship. An abusive person is often created – as unfortunate as it is – by abusive parents. Abusive behavior can breed more abusive behavior, which makes escaping emotional abuse an extremely difficult process.

Individuals who were emotionally abused might become an abusive person themselves, whether that is an emotionally abusive partner or an abusive parent. If they do not become an abusive person they might seek out an emotionally abusive relationship to subconsciously heal from the trauma of that abusive relationship.

As you can see, the cycle of abuse can be relentless, which makes escaping an abusive situation feel impossible.

Emotional abuse can have severe consequences on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, high blood pressure, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recognizing the signs and acknowledging the impact of emotional abuse is the first step toward healing.

What Are The 7 Signs of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that involves manipulating, controlling, and undermining the well-being of another person. Here are seven signs that may indicate emotional abuse:

1) Constant Criticism

2) Isolation

3) Manipulation

4) Withholding Affection

5) Constant Monitoring

6) Undermining Achievements

7) Explosive Anger

Constant Criticism

The abuser consistently belittles, humiliates, or insults the victim. This can be done privately or publicly, eroding the victim’s self-esteem over time.


The abuser may try to isolate the victim from friends, family, or support networks. This isolation can make it harder for the victim to seek help or realize the extent of the abuse.


Emotional abusers often use manipulative tactics to control their victims. This can include guilt-tripping, gaslighting (making the victim doubt their perception or sanity), or playing mind games.

Withholding Affection

The abuser may withhold love, affection, or emotional support as a way of maintaining control. This can create a sense of dependency and fear of abandonment in the victim.

Constant Monitoring

The abuser may excessively monitor the victim’s activities, both online and offline, leading to a lack of privacy. This can contribute to a feeling of being constantly watched or controlled.

Undermining Achievements

Emotional abusers may undermine the victim’s successes or accomplishments, minimizing their achievements and creating a sense of inadequacy. This can contribute to a cycle of self-doubt.

Explosive Anger

The abuser may have unpredictable and intense outbursts of anger, which can be frightening for the victim. This creates an atmosphere of fear and anxiety within the relationship.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a powerful tool in the journey toward healing from emotional abuse. It does not condone the abuser’s actions but releases the victim from the emotional burden they carry. By forgiving, individuals can regain control over their emotions and move forward with their lives.

What Are The Stages of Healing From Emotional Abuse?

Healing from emotional abuse is a complex and individual process that may vary from person to person. It’s important to note that seeking support from friends, family, and mental health professionals is crucial during this journey. While the stages of healing may not be linear, here are some common stages that individuals may go through.

Acknowledgment and Awareness

Recognizing and acknowledging that the relationship was emotionally abusive is the first step. This may involve overcoming denial and understanding the impact of the abuse on your well-being

Acceptance of Reality

Acceptance involves coming to terms with the fact that the abuse happened and recognizing that it was not your fault. It involves letting go of self-blame and understanding that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries is a crucial part of healing. This involves identifying and communicating your needs and limits, as well as learning to say no to behavior that is not acceptable.

Seeking Support

Connecting with a support system is essential. This can include friends, family, support groups, or mental health professionals who can provide validation, empathy, and guidance throughout the healing process.


Prioritizing self-care is vital for healing. This may involve activities that bring joy, relaxation, and a sense of well-being. Taking care of your physical and mental health is an important aspect of recovery.

Therapy and Counseling

Professional therapy or counseling for abuse can be immensely beneficial. A therapist can help you process the emotions associated with the abuse, develop coping strategies, and work through any lingering trauma.

Rebuilding Self-Esteem

Emotional abuse often damages self-esteem. Rebuilding self-worth involves recognizing your strengths, focusing on positive qualities, and challenging negative self-perceptions.

Learning and Growth

Using the experience as an opportunity for personal growth is a powerful aspect of healing. This may involve learning from the past, developing resilience, and making positive changes in your life.

Forgiveness of Yourself

Forgiveness is a personal choice and may not apply to every situation. However, forgiving yourself for any perceived mistakes or staying in an abusive relationship is a significant step in the healing process.

Moving Forward

Healing from emotional abuse is about moving forward with your life. This may involve setting new goals, cultivating healthy relationships, and creating a fulfilling and positive future.

Remember that healing is a process, and there may be setbacks along the way. Patience, self-compassion, and ongoing support are essential components of the journey toward recovery from emotional abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling, consider reaching out to mental health professionals for assistance and guidance.

Building Resilience

Forgiveness is not a one-time event but a continuous process. Building resilience is crucial for maintaining emotional well-being in the face of ongoing challenges. This involves developing healthy coping mechanisms, setting boundaries, and cultivating a positive support system.

Breaking the Cycle

Forgiveness plays a pivotal role in breaking the cycle of abuse. Holding onto anger and resentment can perpetuate negative patterns of behavior, impacting relationships and overall well-being. By forgiving, individuals can empower themselves to create healthier relationships and break free from the emotional chains of the past.

Forgiving and Moving On from an Abusive Partner

In conclusion, forgiving an abusive partner and their emotional abuse is a transformative journey toward healing and personal growth. It empowers survivors to reclaim control over their lives, break free from the chains of the past, and build healthier, more fulfilling futures. If you or someone you know is struggling with the aftermath of emotional abuse, remember that forgiveness is a powerful step toward a brighter tomorrow.

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