An emotional abuser’s behaviour stems from a need for power and control, and is often an expression of some deep-seated difficulty he’s unable to deal with. The abuser breaks his partner down slowly and subtly. For example, he might encourage you to keep your cellphone on at all times, or start fetching you from work. You believe it’s because he cares about your safety, but it forms part of his strategy to control you. By surreptitiously discouraging you from working or seeing friends and family, he cuts you off from your support system. Often, as the relationship progresses, abusive partners repeat confidence-diminishing comments such as, ‘You won’t get anyone else if you leave me,’ and, ‘You won’t survive out there without me.’ Over time, you start believing him.

Take back the power

The first step towards empowering yourself is to break your silence. Talk about it to someone, a helpline counsellor or someone you trust. Counselling helps build up your self-esteem again; you have to believe in yourself to be able to move on.

It’s essential to accept that your partner is responsible for his behaviour – not you – and to move away from the relationship as soon as possible. It’s also important to take responsibility for the situation: go for individual or couple therapy, or join a support group. And remember, domestic violence legislation is there to protect you: if necessary, a protection order can be obtained from a court.


Does your partner…
* Insult you or ridicule your beliefs?
* Criticise you and make you feel stupid or worthless?
* Humiliate you in public or private?
* Ignore you?
* Intimidate or harass you?
* Behave in an excessively jealous or possessive way?
* Punish you by withholding affection?
* Frequently lie to you?
* Have sudden mood swings?
* Make you feel uncomfortable when you’re alone with him or her?
* Try to isolate you from your friends and your family?
* Try to stop you from going out to work?
* Threaten to kill you, leave you or throw you out of his house?
* Threaten to commit suicide if you leave him or don’t do exactly as he wants?
* If even one of these applies to your partner, you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.



Talking and accessing your anger are the keys to healing from childhood sexual abuse. When old anger is suppressed, it’s often expressed as depression and anxiety. That’s why drawing out your anger towards a perpetrator can be so empowering. Fearful of others discovering their secret, most abuse survivors spend their lives pushing potential friends and confidantes away. Sadly, a survivor can’t count on support when she discloses her past or confronts her family – but talking about it is the only way forward. Through therapy, particularly a combination of individual and group work, you can rebuild your self-esteem and learn to trust in yourself again. Only then can you reclaim your life.

Don’t see what happened in your past as a life sentence. It’s absolutely possible for those who were sexually abused as children to lead normal lives. You’re not destined to remain a victim. Of course, it’s not easy and there are implications for your adult relationships, but they can be worked through.