The Mirroring of Group Work helps Women leaving Abusive Long-term Relationships

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mended heartDivorcing after Decades in an Abusive Relationship involves complex grieving. There is deep regret for staying so long, shame for not recognizing the abuse earlier, confusion, and a deep sense of betrayal and rejection. Then there is the incredible stress of divorcing an abusive spouse who manipulates the legal system to further abuse and stalk their partner, even if the abusing partner asked for the separation. These are “difficult divorces,” known as contentious divorces in legal circles. There is deep grief over the long years spent in a painful relationship with little in the way of emotional nurturing. There is deep grief over having much less time to create a satisfying new life and doubt and fear about their ability to create a new relationship that is loving.

Many of the participants have voiced the fear that they were the only one who stayed in an abusive relationship so long. The mirror effect of group is highly effective in breaking down the shame, isolation, and confusion shared by members. Group members sometimes exclaim, “Are you sure you didn’t marry my husband?” Group members benefit by learning ways to cope with abusive behavior during and after the divorce. And group members increase compassion for themselves as they feel compassion for each other’s suffering.

Typically, the abuser has mental health issues – often a personality disorder. The  attachment issues of being abandoned, neglected, and abused at an early age fuel the persecutory behavior of the abuser during and after the divorce. People with personality disorders are deeply conflicted about attaching to another person. To the outside world the abuser may look very normal, but inside the relationship, the old terrors fuel abusive behavior. This is of course a sad, unfortunate situation for both parties and any children involved.

Unfortunately, people with personality disorders can be highly resistant to change. Because the abusive partner may look wonderful* to the outside world, the abused partner may not be believed when she* shares her difficulties. This further serves to isolate the abused partner. Inside emotionally abusive relationships, the abuse is relentless (although sometimes subtle) and abused partners can find themselves in a painful, isolating Catch-22.  Group breaks down the sense of isolation and helps heal the pain.

Group counseling can help members to see these patterns and break through the confusion and brain washing in ways that are hard to do through individual counseling alone, although a combination of individual and group counseling is ideal for healing. No longer confused, group members can see themselves more clearly, separate themselves from the abuse, and start reclaiming their worthiness and identity.

*Men can be in emotionally or otherwise abusive relationships too. Personality disorders are fairly common among men and women. I see men in my practice who are in emotionally abusive relationships. Sometimes, they join the Circle of Healing group. In some cases, both parties have personality disorders or other complex mental health issues.

*Wonderful: Under close examination, this perception by the abused partner often doesn’t hold out as the abuser often has friends that have serious issues, may have acquired a number of enemies, and be involved in unethical behavior. The abuser is perceived as wonderful by his/her group of friends, which the client sometimes shares and may lose in the divorce.


Devastation at Newtown: Change Begins with Grieving

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The loss of a young life is so devastating. We pour such work and love into parenting. Then, to have the gifts that that child held for the future vanish is heart wrenching. The only word I can think of to describe the death of a child by a senseless act of violence is “obscene” – something that should not be seen.

And yet it happened. It is in our awareness. While avoiding excessive trauma exposure regarding the murder of the children and adults at Newtown, it is also important to acknowledge the grief, pain & horror. It is a national tragedy that we live in a culture where we have both inadequate gun control & mental health care delivery that results in daily loss of life and frequent mass murders. As a culture, we have an opportunity to truly grieve the obscene loss of life at Newtown, & through grieving begin to transform. For, without doing the work of grieving the losses, without doing the work of resolving the trauma, Healing & Transformation cannot happen.

I am concerned that we are so focused on problem solving in response to the murder of the children that we don’t do the grieving. Resolutions to do something can trick the brain in thinking the problem is solved. The preoccupation with the horror can result in emotional numbing or be a distraction from deeper reflection. And the intent to change can serve the process of denial, averting attention from the distress caused by the losses. Focusing on resolution at the end of the grieving process is more likely to result in the kind of behaviors that result in real and lasting changes.

In other words, we may inadvertently undermine the intentions we have of effecting change. As difficult as it is to honestly acknowledge the pain, horror, anxiety, and sadness – without the awareness of the emotional distress, the psyche is not sufficiently informed to effect meaningful behavioral change. Without deep soul searching, this terrible event will fade into history with other terrible events, another media event until the next terrible, and often preventable, event happens. Moreover, we “forget” these events happen daily. The number of homicides in 2009 in the U.S. by firearms was 11,493. The number of suicides by firearms totaled 18,735. Countries with stricter gun laws have a fraction of the deaths by firearms. In half of all domestic violence cases, the abuser was depressed.

We can do better. And paradoxically, it starts with grieving.

Viewing your Life through Kindsight

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There are two ways to ask yourself “What did I learn?” One way is ask, “Did I make a “technical” error and how can I prevent that same mistake in the future?” Much practical change & positive growth can come out of this approach.

You will get more satisfaction out of the change & growth if you also ask the second way: Is there was anything from that past experience that I didn’t get that I still want now? And how can I bring it into my life now? The second way also heals old hurts, (including trauma) at a deep level. This way also helps your set a new goal based on an authentic desire. You will be more likely to maniifest your new goal if it involves a state of being like love, joy, power, serenity, clarity, peace, freedom, wholeness, value, intelligence, courage, presence, openness, aliveness, etc.)

Sometimes we miss a window of opportunity for a specific kind of result. For example, there are time and training limited windows of opportunity to become a concert pianist, Olympic athlete, or celebrate 50 years of marriage, or even staying married to a specific person. If you figure out what you wanted to experience as a result of achieving that goal, you will be able to set a new goal that is obtainable now.

Part of desire to achieve the goal may be the pleasure derived from participation in the event. Using the example of being a concert pianist, it maybe the pleasure of music itself or the experience of expressing yourself musically. You may not have enjoyed the performer aspects at all. If you do enjoy performing, then there may be alternative venues where you can play. Most importantly, where does playing music “take you?” For example, you may experience deep joy, power, vitality, wholeness, peace, or some other quality that feels transcendent.

If you use the experience of regret over choices made that will make it improbable that you will ever celebrate a 50th anniversary, ask yourself, “What did I want out of that experience?” You may find that you wanted security, and been dismayed that the relationships increased insecurity emotionally, physically, or economically. Instead of looking outside of yourself for security, you may need to find ways of being more secure in yourself. You may also need to come to terms with the reality that nothing is permanently secure in life. Developing inner strength to cope with the reality of impermanence in life and a faith in the ways you are able to protect and provide for yourself may become the new goals.

Another possibility is that you desired the experienced of devoted love. While this may trigger some grief about love(s) lost, it also creates a stirring awakening of the opportunities that are still available to you. As you pursue the goal of developing a committed relationship with another person, you may find that the first task in achieving the form of the goal is to actively devote yourself to being more loving to yourself, to learning to tolerate vulnerability, or to being more committed to the gifts that you have to offer.

Viewing Your Life through “Kindsight” allows you to put the past to rest through self-compassion and asking deeper questions about what you truly desire. It avoids the ego traps inherent in focusing on any specific form of a goal by focusing on states of being. And it all starts with self-compassion.

©2012 Noreen Wedman

Liberating Valentine’s Day

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from being a “Couples Only” Holiday

Valentines Day Hearts in a HeartWho says Valentine’s Day has to be just for couples? I loved Valentine’s Day as a child because everyone gave everyone else a Valentine’s Day card and there was just a tantalizing possibility of a flirtation. Why not make Valentine’s Day a day of celebrating love in all forms? Even, if one is in a partner relationship, the “ship” just might not be in the best “shape” on February 14. With all of the above in mind, I made a list of suggestions to make Valentine’s Day Happier for Everyone.

1. It’s a great day to love yourself better.
2. Make a list of positive things that people have said about you (and keep it for future reference and to make additions).
3. Pamper yourself. Schedule a massage, Reiki session, or spa visit.
4. Make a list of 5 things that you enjoy doing, but routinely deny yourself. Then do as many as you can fit in on that day.
5. Engage in a creative activity: draw, paint, sew, build something, sing, play music…
6. If single and looking, send a Happy Valentine’s Day wish to the people that you have been admiring on the Internet.
7. Contact people who have touched your heart and wish them a lovely day and share something that you have appreciated about them.
8. Gather your single friends together and have a dinner. On one of my more memorable Valentine’s days, one of my female friends reserved a room at a nice sushi restaurant for her female friends and asked us to bring something to read on the subject of love.
9. Do something unconventional, like go for a hike with your partner or with friends, to break through the expectations surrounding V-day.
10. If you have specific wishes, discuss them ahead of time and make plans. Waiting too late invites disappointment. It is almost impossible to get reservations at a decent restaurant the day before, much less on, Valentine’s Day.
11. If you are breaking up or have broken up with someone who is abusive to you or who is not good for you, you risk reopening the door by sending a Valentine’s day greeting. If they are dangerous to you, consider the words of my friend Jim McGregor, who wrote in “I Love You Enough to Let You Go” (a pamphlet on recovering from codependency), “I love you enough to never see you again.”
12. Consider make it an ecologically friendly holiday. I found a lot of sites just by searching “green Valentine’s Day.”
13. Make room for practicing random acts of kindness on Valentine’s Day.
14. If the whole idea of Valentine’s Day annoys you, consider volunteering. The earth and the people on it need a lot of  love.

Sometimes, it is not possible to have a Happy Valentine’s Day, so give yourself permission to have a day of solace, and cry, if it helps.

© 2009-2013 Noreen Wedman

Some Thoughts on Forgiveness

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 Some Thoughts on Forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is not about condoning the abusive behavior, but rather setting yourself free from it and acknowledging that we all make mistakes.
  • Forgiveness is not about “making nice,” going along to get along, or not making waves.
  • Forgiveness sometimes comes in bits & pieces and sometimes in big chunks. When it comes in big chunks, it can be exhilarating.
  • Forgiveness comes after doing grief work, after feeling your feelings of anger, pain, sadness, and betrayal.
  • Forgiveness comes after you have processed your feelings. Otherwise, how can you know what you are forgiving? Instant forgiveness is often a self-deceptive ploy to escape feeling our feelings. The situation and our feelings will continue to cause problems unless faced.
  • Forgiveness is better done after holding the abuser accountable & they have made amends, especially if you are still in a relationship with them. Otherwise, the abuser will think that s/he is being let off the hook and will have no incentive to change. Holding someone accountable is an act of love/respect. It is not the same as punishment.
  • Forgiving and forgetting are natural consequences of doing the grief work and of holding someone accountable.
  • When people do not change, it doesn’t mean that you don’t forgive them if you sever or limit a relationship with an emotionally, physically, sexually, or economically dangerous person. It can be a rational, sanity preserving, quality-of-life sustaining action, based on an honest appraisal of the situation.
  • Forgiveness may sometimes mean realizing that the abuser is an emotionally compromised person, whose violence emanates from a combination of factors: distorted life perspective, compromised brain function, selfishness, and/or persistent fear and related anger. A combination of all these factors is probably an indicator of early childhood abandonment and abuse without sufficient ameliorative factors.
  • It is most important that you forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, it will be hard to forgive others. You will remain chained to the pain. It is important to make amends to yourself.
  • Some actions may not be forgivable. It is important to find a way to free yourself from bitterness and live the fullest possible life that you can, given your situation.
  • Forgiveness is FREEing! Forgiveness frees up energy and intellectual powers to create something new in your life; to live more fully.
  • Why? Forgiveness feels better. The tension of resentment that you feel in your body will dissolve. The energy that you spent in resentment, anger, loathing, and bitterness is free to be directed in the present. Qualities like Serenity, Love, Value, Truth, Wholeness, Truth, Contentment, Discernment, Compassion, Clarity, Intelligence, Courage, Joy, Openness, Freedom, Power, and Peace have more room to emerge.

Ho’oponopono: Forgiveness Ritual

I suggest that you practice this one with yourself first. Listen to it once a day or several times a week. You may want to “hug yourself” while listening or singing along with one of the versions. (Thank you, Elizabeth Dunham, MFT, for the idea of adding hugging oneself). The process of forgiveness of others can bring up powerful feelings, I suggest starting with less traumatic situations.

Women singing a version of Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual:

 Men singing updated version of Hawaiian Forgiveness Ritual:

Whenever intense feelings arise, remember to use the practice of breathing deeply and noticing physical sensations and emotions that arise.


©Noreen Wedman 2011

Reclaiming Positive Emotions

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Reclaiming Yourself through Reclaiming Positive Emotional States

Focusing on any positive feeling state helps shifts the Focus on the Negative that tends to be a legacy from highly stressed family systems (with addicted, emotionally abusive, and/or mentally ill parents). When focusing on the negative becomes a habit over time, we can lose touch with what it is like to feel okay in our own bodies. You can reverse this habit by spending some time each day focusing on some positive emotional state by remembering times you felt that emotion.*

Since we tend to experience feelings that we most recently felt, making a conscious effort to remember a feeling state will increase the likelihood that you will experience this emotion again soon. This habit will create a self-fulfilling prophesy effect that is positive because it subconsciously shifts behaviors. The first time I tried this experiment for myself, I felt the stresses of life were crowding out feeling loving and being loved, so I retrieved memories of different types of love with different people. The next day I found that more people were smiling at me. Then I realized that I had been smiling more than usual, so of course, more people were smiling back!

Are you willing to try the experiment? What emotion haven’t you felt in a while or what emotion would you like to feel more frequently? Even if you can only imagine glimpses of this emotional state, that is sufficient. Spend at least 5 minutes or more in solitude remembering what it is like to feel this feeling. Actively pull up a memory or memories of feeling this emotion. I think that just before sleeping is a good time for the positive feelings to be “incubated.” Keep repeating this experiment until you have ready access to this emotion as appropriate, i.e. courage when you need courage, serenity when engaged in your daily routines, joy in response to life’s splendors, etc.

*Note that this exercise is not meant to be used as a substitute for experiencing painful feeling in response to painful events – the goal is ready access to all your feelings as needed. For more tips on Healing from Emotionally Abusive Relationships, order the workbook:

©Noreen Wedman 2011

Treating Depression as a Wake-up Call

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Treating Mild to Moderate Depression

Even mild depression needs to be taken seriously. Since Depression can lead to subsequent depressions and since depression can lead to suicide, it’s important to start counteracting the loss of zest for life as soon as you notice Symptoms: Seek a professional consultation immediately to determine the underlying cause of your depression and take the following steps.

Non Pharmacological Treatment for Depression: (1) Move! Do something, even if it’s walking around the block. Exercise breaks down stress chemicals & boosts neurotransmitters that make you feel good. (2) Meditate or do yoga. Being still & breathing deeply slowly shifts things. (3) Eat Healthy & Include Protein in each meal & snacks. Food affects your Mood. (4) Avoid foods that can lead to sugar crashes & mood swings like sugar, coffee, excessive tea drinking, & excess salt. (5) Avoid Addictive chemicals, including Alcohol and marijuana (depressants). (6) Monitor Self-Talk, depression likes to talk trash, so take it out. (7) Problem Solve: Make a list of 3 goals every day and do them. (8) Call friends. Women Stress Manage by Tending & Befriending. (9) Consult your naturopath about supplements. There are a lot of new supplements designed to assist with mood regulation, but it is important that you use one that suits your needs so that you don’t wind up feeling worse.

If you have trouble doing the first 9 steps or don’t experience relief from doing them, see a psychiatrist or prescribing psychiatric nurse for a diagnosis and prescription. Depression due to bipolar disorder is treated differently than major depression. Depression can develop in reaction to severe or chronic excess stress of any kind. The source of the stress can be from a number of sources, including chronic pain, economic stress, physical illnesses, old traumas that have not resolved – posttraumatic stress disorder, intense grief, emotionally abusive relationships, poor stress management, etc. Diseases of the endocrine system also tend to cause depression and should be ruled out by seeing a doctor or naturopath.

Reducing the source of the stress is a key to healing depression without relapsing again. It is important to identify and treat the underlying cause. An important step in treating any depression is getting an assessment of the underlying cause.

Treating Complex, Resistent Depression due to Childhood Abuse and/or Neglect

Healing depression related to childhood abuse and/or neglect is more complicated, tends to be of greater duration & subject to relapse, which causes greater damage to the mindbody. Due to these factors, it is Important to find a therapist trained in a variety of trauma specific therapies and to stick with a program of recovery for a sustained length of time. Adult child abuse victims often leave counseling prematurely. Knowing that it takes sustained effort can prevent impatience with the process that leads to despair or dropping out because you start to feel better. Just because you are feeling better does not necessarily mean that the underlying issues are resolved.

Treating Moderate to Severe Depression

If you have Moderate to Severe Depression, consult your doctor about medication. There is medical evidence that SSRIs (class of anti-depressants related to Prozac) help regenerate a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which shrinks in volume when depressed. Taking the drugs will help you recover the energy and the desire to adopt the above mental health regimen. As you feel better, you can gradually phase out the medication with the guidance of your doctor. Abruptly ending medication complicates the healing process. Research has shown that the best overall treatment for depression is a combination of therapy and medication.

The sooner you begin recovery, the better prognosis for long-term health and overall well-being. Most age related disease is stress related disease. I believe that treating depression comprehensively can put you on a track for life-time health.

©Noreen Wedman 2011

Losing Your Cool with Your Teenager Too Often

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This post is in response to Worthless Teenagers and the Parents Who Make Them

Parents who Emotionally Abuse to the extent described by the teenager in “Worthless” have severe psychological problems like personality disorders and/or chemical dependency. Sometimes the style of emotional abuse is more subtle, but every bit as relentless. Inside, many of these parents are terrified hurt children who cope with their own fears of powerlessness, helplessness, and lack of self-worth by projecting onto others and by trying to have control and power over others instead of themselves. They can’t parent effectively because they haven’t grown up yet themselves and haven’t taken responsibility for their own healing.

Instead of taking a position against abuse, like many survivors of childhood abuse do, some may have subconsciously aligned with their abuser. Most abusive people have their own histories of childhood abuse and/or abandonment. They often do not remember their own abuse due to the age at which they were abused and/or to the psychological phenomenon of dissociation, by which the brain blanks out upsetting memories.

In addition, the age at which they were abused affected the development of their brain. Due to new imaging technology, we now know that the brains of people with borderline personality disorder have different sized amygdalae, which probably contributes to intensity and frequency of triggering that they experience.

All of the above factors contribute to the development of personality disorders.

My heart really goes out to the teenagers like the one in “Worthless.” She is in the worst position because both parents are abusive. It is going to take a lot of effort for her to recover. Having one loving, relatively emotionally stable parent who is loving and supportive can counteract a lot of the damage done by the out-of-control abusing parent. This is also true for involved grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends. Even teachers can have a significant impact through words of encouragement and being supportive of a troubled teen’s talents.

ARE YOU A TEENAGER WITH A PARENT WHO YELLS AT YOU or CONSTANTLY PUTS YOU DOWN or CALLS YOU NAMES? It you are an adult or a teenager that has experienced this level of emotional violence, please know that it is not your fault. Also, please contact a counselor or other trustworthy adult. There are a number of books written on the subject of Verbal Abuse and Bullying. I have written a workbook on Healing from Verbal Abuse for Adults and older teens who have had Emotionally Abusive childhoods:

IF YOU ARE A PARENT who recognized your behavior, there is help available. While you may be overcome with feelings of shame or guilt or be tempted to deny your reality, DON’T. There are reasons for why you have these issues and there is help available. It will take a lot of courage and a good dose of humility.

 If you are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, seek treatment: SAMHSA; AA; NA, MA; or SOS. But don’t stop there. If you are emotionally abusive, get a good assessment. Then find a counselor who specializes in working with your issues.

If you have a personality disorder (which I prefer to conceptualize as complex PTSD – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) find a counselor who specializes in working with personality disorders. Sometimes there are other psychological issues involved like bipolar disorder or cognitive processing disorders. Sometimes a combination of Aspergers and narcissistic traits looks like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but isn’t and the therapy is different. Other resources include National Alliance on Mental Illness; Support for family members and partners of people with Borderline Personality Disorder; and NPD Family.

I know that it is scary to consider, but You and your family will all benefit if you seek help.

©Noreen Wedman 2011

Facing the Shadow

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sydney-vivid-lights-festivalFacing one’s shadow psychologically is a good thing. Yet we fear facing a period of rough emotional weather. (And indeed, intense trauma is sometimes best dealt with in small manageable packets using somatic therapy.) Pretending the shadow isn’t there is SO tempting, but it doesn’t make it go away. Stuffing uncomfortable emotions and thoughts has costs: depression, PTSD, binge eating, emotional explosions, physical violence, ennui, avoidance…Facing the darkness is where the creative energy lies. Darkness will create. The level of awareness that you meet it with will determine whether what is created is beneficial or not.

Facing the shadow is the place where shift happens. “Embracing the darkness” is a technique that I use that relies on the same elements of the mind that creates dreams. The technique relies solely on the discomfiting sensory-related imagery (rather than thoughts) that emerge in connection with a disturbing memory or dream. Transformation happens by becoming “one with that image” – by “embracing” what one fears until images of transformation appear in the mind’s eye. The fogs lifts, a rainbow appears, a child sings sweetly, the scent of flowers perfumes the imagination.

Why does this work? I suspect that it works for several reasons. The amygdala (the part of the brain connected with the flight, fight or freeze response) “thinks” in symbols & sensory images, not words. The amygdala has immediate access to regions of the brain connected with touch, sight, hearing, and smell. It houses the emotional memory system. “Embracing the Darkness” also uses the principles of desensitization used to treat phobias by facing fears while in a state of relaxation. By using the “language” of the amygdala, the emotional charge around frightening and disturbing memories may be discharged and transformed. This month, I invite you to try this technique for an introductory session of $75.

There are other ways to face one’s darkness: Trying new things that are a little scary, pushing at the edge of your comfort zone, recording dreams, writing stream of conscious thoughts daily, and processing a painful memory that has surfaced with your counselor. I use a technique called “the Dive” to process painful memories, including recent situations. The Dive incorporates aspects of Focusing, Traumatic Renegotiation, the Enneagram, Somatic experiencing, and depth Psychology. A current experience is processed and a related early memory is processed, resolving the current and the old unfinished business, leaving one more present and relaxed. The goal is greater access to essential states of being: more peaceful, joyful, loving, serene, empowered, wise, intuitive, valued, Courageous, or greater ability to commit. Paradoxically, this shift comes from facing inner darkness.

Relief in Identifying an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

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Having words for what is being experienced in an emotionally abusive relationship is inherently empowering and validating. Many people in emotionally abusive relationships have the experience of trying to explain what is happening to them and not feeling understood because they do not have words to describe what is happening. In addition, the degree to which they are being emotionally abused is so far above what is normal that they may appear as if they are exaggerating when they are not.  To assist others in identifying Emotional abuse and communicating what they are experiencing, I have compiled a list of types of Verbal and Emotional Abuse.

Discovering words for what has happened to you infers that someone else has experienced the same thing and that along brings relief. You are not making this up. Having a name for your experience of emotional abuse helps you sort out which issues belong to the abuser (and which issues are yours), confront the invalidation of the emotionally abusive person, and elicit support from others.

The article, “How to Recognize an Emotionally Abusive Relationship,” provides an excellent list on how to recognize the signs of whether you are in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship. To their list, I have added these signs:

  • Changes from treating you well early in the relationship to treating you poorly once the relationship has progressed to an increased level of commitment;
  • Relentless pursuit and stalking when you end the relationship;
  • The abuser implies, “I can do it better,” but the abuser doesn’t offer help or criticizes you even more.

Sometimes how we are raised leaves us with blind spots in recognizing emotional abuse. For example, if you grew up in a verbally abusive home, you may think that it’s normal. In addition, emotionally abusive relationships erode self-esteem, confidence, and are confusing. Being able to recognize the signs of an emotionally abusive relationship is a big step toward healing.