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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

Excerpted from Beverly Engel's The Emotionally Abused Woman

In the past, you may have tended to draw emotional abusers to you like bees
to honey. As you let go more and more of your victim mentality, you will not
find untrustworthy people so attractive, and, interestingly enough, they will also not find you attractive. Gaining insight into your particular pattern and making the connections between your past and your present have helped you understand yourself and your motives better. However, because the unconscious drive to repeat the past is so compelling, you cannot expect to change overnight. You will need to be vigilant so that you can short-circuit your old patterns as they reappear.

Take Time to Get to Know People

All too often we get involved with others before we have had a chance to
really get to know them. You cannot love someone you do not know. You can
be in love with a fantasy or with who you think this person is, but you
cannot be in love with the real person. Only over time, through observing the
person in all kinds of situations and in all kinds of moods, can you truly
learn about him. Don't give away your heart immediately, only to have it
broken again.

Since you probably know the type of abuser you are likely to be attracted to, be on guard for this type of person in particular. Even though you know the
patter, you will still find yourself drawn to the same abusive type. If you
find yourself enormously attracted to someone right away, beware! This person
is probably the same type of abusive person you have known all your life.
Protect your heart and feelings by taking the time to find out before you
become involved, whether a person is a healthy choice for you as a friend or

Curbing Your Urge to Merge

Those who were emotionally abused tend to "bare their souls" to others right away, very often as a way of capturing the other person's attention. Try developing more balance in your life. Emotionally abused women tend to go to extremes. We alternate between wanting to spend all our time with someone and not wanting to see this person at all. If your tendency is to want to spend all your time with a new friend or lover, pull yourself away long
enough to regain a sense of yourself.

Make Sure You're Not Just Afraid of Being Alone

In the past you may have been so afraid of being alone that you would have done anything--and often did--to avoid it. Note too that all of us have
particular times or circumstances when we are susceptible to getting involved
with someone (for example, many people get lonely around the holidays and
look for someone to spend them with). Be aware of your own susceptible times
so that you can protect yourself.

Give Up Your Fantasy of the Knight on the White Horse

If you keep looking for someone to take care of you, you will continue to
attract people who are overcontrolling and critical and you will continue to
be abused. No one can rescue you or save you from yourself. You must begin
to meet your own needs, relying on yourself for the nurturing you need.

How to Spot an Abuser

The following behaviors and personality characteristics are common among emotional abusers. These are warning signs, red flags that the person may be more likely to be abusive. Not every abuser will have every characteristic, of course, but if the person you are considering getting involved with has many of these characteristics, you have reason to be concerned:

  • Poor impulse control

  • Low self-esteem

  • Selfishness and narcissism

  • Needy and demanding (of your time/attention, etc.)

  • Poor social skills (difficulty developing adult social and sexual

  • Alcohol abuse; drug addiction

  • History of being abusive

  • History of mental illness

  • Dependent personality (unable to support self financially or emotionally)

  • Antisocial behavior (plays by own set of rules)

  • Need to feel powerful and in control

  • Aggressive, demanding

  • Preoccupied with sex

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