Shifting My Thinking on the Journey to Overcoming Emotional Damage


psychological abuseI had to learn to shift my thinking in this process of overcoming the damage caused by emotional abuse. There were a few rather large shifts that I had to make in order to make progress and there was a process to shifting my thinking! It didn’t just happen overnight. 

Instead of trying to understand why ‘they’ didn’t like me or why ‘they’ didn’t love me and why I didn’t fit in and why ‘they’ treated me so badly and what was wrong with me, I started to try to understand why I kept trying.

 I started to ask myself new questions;

Although I had some suspicions that most of my relationships were not fair to me, deep down why did I believe I was the one that was wrong about everything ~ which kept me trying to fix me?  

Although I has some suspicions that there were some things my family was doing wrong, why was I so easily convinced that I was the problem in the relationship which also kept me trying to fix me?  

Why didn’t I expect to be treated the way they insisted that I treat them? 

Why did I accept such a one sided definition of love that so obviously had two very different sets of rules; a set for them and a set for me?

And as I started to ask myself different questions, I started to find different answers.

There were some levels to this process of healing from emotional damage. These levels are important to consider because each new discovery has a realization and a reaction. Very often it was the reaction to the realization that sent me backwards to the comfortable and familiar coping methods of compliance and obedience that no longer served me.

~As I began to realize that maybe I was not the biggest problem in the relationship and that perhaps there was something valid about my suspicions (labeled by others as feelings that were probably wrong) that I was always being ignored, shut up, discounted invalidated and disrespected  ~

~THEN I started to consider that perhaps I was spending too much time on thinking about how I could change me (believing that changing me would change the way they treated me) instead of thinking a bit more about the lack of equal value towards me and I started looking a little more closely at why I didn’t stand up to the ways that I was treated in a more proactive way. ~

~But as soon as I had that thought, the fear reaction came in. As soon as I seriously considered drawing a boundary, my ultimate fear of being cast away from my family without further consideration became what made me reject the thought about drawing that boundary. For years I was willing to go back to ‘trying to understand them’ and ‘trying to change me’ rather than face that fear of rejection. I was extremely afraid of the probability of their rejection as though my very life was at stake; so afraid that I was unwilling to look at truth and consider that continuing to put up with the way I was disregarded may have been worse than being rejected. When I look back on that today, that thought alone was telling. It revealed my own suspicions (what if they didn’t actually care if I was in their lives or not?) and in my still present childhood coping method I was doing everything I could not to face those suspicions.

The truth is that I was putting a ton of work into relationships with people that I knew deep down would dump me if I stood up to them and that was a horrifying realization. I had all those red flags and those warning signals telling me to comply and obey were overriding the belief that I deserved better than that. My fear of rejection was stronger than my desire to have mutually respectful relationships.

It all started in childhood when I believed that rejection is death ~ fear of rejection becomes a survival instinct.  Through that grid of understanding, it is understandable that we carry that fear of rejection from family forward with us. It is how we survived and how we coped with any kind of mistreatment as children.

My biggest fear was that if I refused to comply with their wishes and if I drew a boundary and stood up to them ~ then they would reject me. I was in that place for a while, sort of just hanging out between the longing for freedom and claiming my equal value by enforcing it in my relationships and the fear of being rejected if I did insist on being valued and respected.

But as I began to see the truth about that fear a deeper truth emerged; the deeper truth is that I was afraid of something that had already happened. Being disregarded as an equally valuable human being IS rejection.  It was through finally understanding that truth, that I was able to see things more clearly and draw self-supporting and self-valuing boundaries.

Please share your thoughts about shifting your thinking, reactions to realizations or any other thoughts you have about love and self-love, equal value, coping methods that no longer serve or coming out of the fog. I look forward to hearing from you. Remember that you may use any name you wish in the comment form and your email will not be shared. If you subscribe to comments, you must return to the blog if you wish to post an additional reply. (Replying in email will not go back to the blog post itself.)  

Exposing Truth, one snapshot at a time,

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


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286 response to "Shifting My Thinking on the Journey to Overcoming Emotional Damage"

  1. By: Janelle Andrews Posted: 20th February

    Hi, First time to your website Darlene and wow! Community! Thank you so much for providing a platform to connect with others who can relate. I’m recovering, but am pretty isolated where I live. One thing I’ve read repeatedly so far is to have a good support system, to not try and heal in a vacuum…so this is a great place to find. I’m from a dysfunctional family, and have recently begun to draw boundaries which instantly resulted in me being shut out of the family instantly.The hardest part for me now is forming new SAFE friendships but I realize this is very important. I’m wondering, does anyone know if there’s a place you can connect individually, like a pen pal or something? And curious to know how to find the latest post on this site, other than going to Facebook? Thanks again for listening and God bless you all.

  2. By: Amber Posted: 17th February

    Darlene, how surprising to revisit this page after seeing your FB post today, and then see that the last comment was from me. At that time I was two years into the process and now, almost four. Rereading what I wrote in 2015 I could see I had made progress then, but so much more in the following two years. One thing I still need to address is that though I am standing up for myself much more, there are a few people that I get an intense feeling of fear when I think of confronting them. I tried to break down what these people have in common ( all women) and I realize that they are the ones most similar to my mother. I could not stand up to my mother as a child because she not only had all the power, but she was also physically and emotionally abusive. Any time I did something she considered wrong there were harsh consequences. I remember how hard she would slap me when I was only four. I would crouch by a wall and cover my head as her hands would be flying at my face smacking each side. I didn’t even have to misbehave to get her angry, she could just be in a bad mood and just saying something to her could set her off. I used to look at myself like I had been a coward shrinking away from her. Now I realize this four year old, who was me, had been terrified and used the only resources I had at that age to just try to survive those punishments. I think the fear I feel today with aggressive and volatile women comes straight from that fear as a four year old that 1) I might not survive the physical punishment and 2) that if I said anything or protested in any way, the punishment would get worse and therefore less chance of getting through it. While I know that these people who I feel the fear with now would not do anything physical ( and if they did I have options now) there is still the fear that standing up to them will bring about severe consequences. Actually, I have had to deal with consequences from this type of women such as smear campaigns, social isolation ( being rejected by the group) and character assassination. I feel like I just have to get past this hurdle where I can feel confident that I can get through this kind of backlash if I stand up to these “mother-like” monster women.
    Darlene, I haven’t been on here as much lately but my journey has continued. I will never forget my STARTING place almost four years ago. It was the day I first discovered your blog. Once again, thanks for your great work!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 18th February

      Hi Amber!
      Great to hear from you! Gosh time flies doesn’t it?
      These are such great comments, such a great summary on looking back. Thanks for the update!
      Hugs, Darlene

  3. By: Denine Taylor Posted: 17th February

    Excellent! They have already rejected you or they wouldn’t be belittling and devaluing you. So true! And we know it, so we going right into trying to prove our worth. It’s all a trap!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 18th February

      Hi Denine,
      Welcome to EFB!
      Thanks for sharing
      hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Amber Posted: 10th April

    Darlene, I read this particular article almost two years ago when I first came to EFB. I remember feeling sort of a stunned surprise. A question that went through my mind was what does she mean by “why I kept trying” because if course I kept trying. Something was obviously wrong with me because people treated me different from others, disrespected me and had different standards for me than themselves and other people. So, of course, it must be me. Yes, that was my thinking two years ago. I never entertained the possibility that maybe the problem lay somewhere else outside of me.
    But it DID get me thinking. Was there something I had missed? Could I really have been taking blame and responsibility for things that were not my fault at all? Could I really be worth as much as these other people who always acted superior? Did I have the same rights and same value as them? Why was I treated as some sort of servant to them? For the first time in my life I realized I could question what I had automatically accepted for so many years.
    I too came to realize that a lot of what I did ( compliance, doing everyone’s bidding, not standing up for myself) was because I deeply feared rejection. It came to the point where nothing mattered more than trying to be accepted. My comfort, my rights, my needs – I pushed all of that aside in order to not offend anyone because the fear of rejection was so strong. Nothing was more important to me than being accepted by these people, people who were not nice to me and used me to their advantage. I had attributed their treatment to whatever it was that was wrong with me and thought that because I was different it meant I had to do a lot more than others to be accepted.
    I reread this article for the first time in almost two years. And I see it from a completely different angle now. Because I’ve done so much work over the past two years, I realized that I see this differently because I have shifted my thinking over these many months of work. I still get that fear feeling now when I’m about to stand up for myself, but now I know where it is coming from. And I’m starting to be able to talk myself through it. I value my rights and needs now so I realize that, yes, sometimes someone is going to get offended or angry when I take a stand. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s becoming less and less important to have to be liked by everyone. I dumped the idea of trying to change myself to gain acceptance by someone. I also realized that the people who are really worth being friends with are he ones that I don’t need to do a dance for. They accept me for who I am and the relationships are a two way street.
    Thanks once again for all you do. Reading this again today made me realize just how far I did come in two years. Your work, your book, and the wonderful people on here have all been a part of my journey. There’s still work to be done and I’m going to keep pushing forward. Xoxo Amber

  5. By: kelly Posted: 22nd October

    Hi Darlene,
    I have never thought of that in comment in the context you pointed out, and it is clear to me what you are saying. Again, I am so very glad that you have made the journey, and are willing to share your experiences. What I am more impressed with is the fact that when you moderate anything, it “sounds” so loving, full of empathy, and true to your heart.
    The way that I found your site, I googled why an adult sibling would treat family like gum on their shoe….and here I find ALL this information, and trust me, I need to read these posts, so I can grow as an empathetic human, and never take for granted that everyone had the upbringing I was blessed with.
    Keep up the great forward motion that you have achieved and let others benefit from. Respectfully and with a much broader mindset, Kelly

  6. By: kelly Posted: 21st October

    Hello All,
    Has anyone noticed on their road to recovery that ALL excuses only sound good to the one making them? I have learned so much here, and am learning daily how to treat my own kids, who are grown, as I should have been treating them ALL ALONG. Thanks for this site Darlene

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 21st October

      Hi Kelly
      Yes, they sound good to the one who is ‘brainwashed’ by them and to the one making the excuse.
      That is awesome that you are applying this stuff in your relationships with your own kids!
      hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Lee Posted: 3rd September

    I no longer fear rejection, I EXPECT it. Every lousy day. So, I give up.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 3rd September

      Hi Lee
      This site is all about turning all that around! Glad you are here,
      hugs, Darlene

  8. By: Erin Klak Posted: 8th July


    I am so grateful to have found EmergingFromBroken. I thank you so much. I am an almost 40 year old woman and I have been in a 10 year string of abusive relationships. These relationships have ranged from violently abusive (with my 8 year old daughter’s father) to an extremely covert emotional abuser who managed to convince my entire family and his and all of my friends that I am crazy, to another verbally and emotionally abusive man that I just left on July 4th. I have been struggling for so long with this, and sometimes it feels like I AM crazy.

    My family has told me that I am the abusive one. That I am the one who is abusing everyone around me by not admitting to my sickened mental state due to years of abuse and neglect. They believe now that I have formed abusive behaviors, and that I just won’t admit to this fact.

    I was sexually abused by my best friend from 1st grade all the way through 8th grade. I was also sexually abused by my natural father. All of this happened right under my mom and step dad’s nose. They never even knew until I told them. When I did tell them, they cut of visits with these people for a while but then sent me right back as though everything would be okay from there. It wasn’t ok and the abuse continued, and my parents continued to ignore it.

    I don’t remember my mom or step dad ever really being present. I don’t remember ever being held by my mom, I honestly don’t even think I remember her telling me that she loved me. I remember feeling like I was a child she never wanted.

    It wasn’t until recently, that I realized that my mother’s neglect IS in fact, abuse. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how much her treatment of me has effected my self esteem and the choices that I’ve made. I was never even valuable enough to her for her to tell me that no one should touch me like my friend did and like my dad did. I was never even valuable enough for her to peak into my bedroom and see what was happening to me when my friend and I were “playing”. My mother not only didn’t pay attention, but when I brought it to her attention, she never validated my feelings. She sent me to all the psychologists that she was supposed to and sent me to lots of other people to talk to, but SHE never sat down with me and told me how valuable I was to her and that what happened was not ok and was not my fault.

    I am a mother now, and I can tell you that I laugh with my daughter every single day. Even with all the Hell we’ve gone through with these men in my life, my daughter and I have a beautiful relationship. I have learned through my own motherhood, exactly what being a mother truly is. I have learned what it is to protect your baby, no matter how overwhelming (financially and otherwise) the odds seem to be, no matter how lonely it may feel, no matter how draining it might be. My daughter deserves my full presence in her life, no matter what. I am trying very hard to be the mother that I didn’t have, and I suppose that I will have to fill the role of the father that neither my daughter or I have had as well.

    Now with this last one, I am going to just try to do this on my own. I need some time to heal, and time to really focus on her and I. It’s frightening because I am almost 40, I have not finished my education and have no real job, or help with child care. I would rather step out into the unknown though than to have my daughter grow up with the uncertainty and insanity of abuse.

    I’m finding that it is very difficult to trust myself right now. virtually every single person who has ever said the words “I love you” to me, from my parents, to all these men, to almost every single one of my friends, has walked away from me, saying that I’m crazy and that I need mental help. The thing is …. I’m not crazy. I’ve been abused.

    I’m finding that to truly honor the commitment that I made to myself that my daughter would not grow up with abuse or neglect is not only easier said than done, but it is an extremely lonely road to walk.

    Since July 4th, I have found myself feeling utterly alone. I have absolutely no support system that doesn’t include abusive people for my daughter and I. It’s the most terrifying feeling. Sometimes I find myself wanting to fall into old patterns and just go running home. I tell myself, “At least I know what to expect.” I know now though that my daughter and I would not be welcome, even if we did try to go home. Unless of course, I would admit to my mother that I was crazy, and unjust in my reasoning for keeping myself and my daughter away from them.

    I know better than to think that it would be a good choice for us. So here we go… walking this road together, my daughter and I. Lonely as it is, I know that we will find support along our way. True support, not crazy making, conditional support.

    I am truly grateful to be able to read your posts here, they are enlightening and they help me stay focused on the real questions that I should be asking myself. I have been so conditioned to accept full responsibility for every awful thing that’s happened to me that sometimes it’s easy for me to do the work of trivializing my experiences for the people who’ve abused me. It’s so easy for me to doubt that my experiences were “really that bad”. I’ve been told so many times that I don’t have it so bad…. that I should just keep my mouth shut….

    So thank you for giving voice to some of the questions that I should be asking myself. Thank you for giving voice to some of the feelings that I couldn’t understand. Thank you for your beautiful spirit, and for helping so many to remember that their spirit has value too.


    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 11th July

      Hi Erin!
      Welcome to EFB! Thank you for your wonderful validations!
      Thank you for sharing some of your story here too. YES it is possible to break out of all that conditioning! I am glad that my writing is resonating with you!
      (Please excuse my late reply, I try really hard to welcome all the new people but it gets increasingly harder.)
      I am glad you are here.
      hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Light Posted: 8th June

    Hi Janice!

    I’m glad you found my post helpful. I like your idea about volunteering at the shelter – it sounds comforting to be around all of the animals and your care will matter very much to them. And it’s good to hear that you have a good psychologist (not easy to find!) and a compassionate doctor.

    I know what you mean about one-sided relationships. They can be so draining and aggravating. My relationships have changed over the past couple of years…I’ve lost a few relationships, even with family members, and it’s going to take time to build a new “family” but I am very happy with my mutual friendships.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  10. By: Janice Posted: 8th June

    Hi Light,
    I am so grateful for your response to my post, and for your empathy. I think you’re right about still having some “fire” inside me. It’s just that all the adversities happening in a short span of time has left me in a daze. After Hope died I had to go to the ER because I was dehydrated and my magnesium levels were so low that I couldn’t stop my whole body from shaking. I did find a good psychologist, and I will be seeing my doctor this week. He has always been compassionate with me. It’s hard for me to make friends outside of the professional community. I’m trying to change from being a people pleaser to one who won’t settle for a one-sided relationship. I’ve let people take advantage of me all my life because I wanted their friendship so desperately. I guess that’s why animals mean so much to me. I wish I had the money to care for another pet. But the expenses of staying in my dad’s house are too much. Maybe I will volunteer at an animal shelter–the one where I found Hope and was able to rescue her from living on the streets. Maybe opening up to hurting and abandoned animals will help me deal with my grief and the unknown future ahead of me. At least I will feel needed and that my life is not a waste of time. I will try to take small steps. Thank you, Light. I am glad I read your post. I know the battle will continue, but I will also take a chance on reaching out to those on this forum.
    Many thanks.

  11. By: Light Posted: 8th June

    Hi Janice,

    Sorry to hear you are so down. I know personally how debilitating chronic illness can be, and how it contributes to loneliness and depression. It IS very isolating – that’s a normal response. The loss of a beloved pet sounds so hard too…

    Have you tried the phone numbers that Darlene and I mentioned to you? (Posts 255 and 257). There are people you can reach out to in the comfort of your home – a step toward more socializing and getting help. Is your physician someone you can confide in and ask for help? I recently just asked my physician if I could come in once a month to help me get through a rough patch and my dr. knows I have little support and was very agreeable. And/or as Darlene suggested would you consider calling your local social services dept., your local hospital or health department and ask for help. If you reach out just a little, even though it is hard, it may be just enough for you to get a toehold toward feeling better. As much as you miss Hope, would you consider getting another animal companion…”Faith”? It’s so good to hear that you took a stand with your sister – it sounds like you still have some fire energy in you.

    Hope you write back 🙂

    (((HUGS))) Light

  12. By: Janice Posted: 8th June

    I am in a very similar position, Light. Two months ago I had to make the decision to not allow my animal companion suffer and I stayed with her to the end. I didn’t feel so alone having her. Now I am totally alone, unable to work, getting older, and have been abandoned by my family in my time of greatest need. I have been told I need to socialize more to help reduce the severe depression. But it’s hard for me to explain the emotional pain of walking into the house and not seeing my beloved pet anymore. I have lost motivation to interact with others. All I see ahead of me is loneliness. I took a stand with my sister who found new freedom in trying to control and bully me after my dad had a stroke and she moved him to a nursing home near her. She is not hurting for money, to say the least, yet she hollered at me when I asked her for financial help with the house bills–a house that is in my dad’s name and Medicare is allowing me to live in it because I’m on disability. I’m on a waiting list for subsidized housing. All these adversities are affecting me physically. I have a small hemorrhage behind my left retina, most likely from high blood pressure. The other day I went blind in my right eye for two minutes. Another sign of something serious. I am just so tired of suffering. It never seems to let up so that I can stabilize. Now, being totally alone may be what causes me to give up any hope for the present and future. I don’t like to end on a negative note, but I don’t have anything to live for, or purpose in life.

  13. By: Susan Posted: 8th June

    Wow, just followed a quote from FB and then found this article. I realise it’s pretty old and I admit I haven’t read all the comments but it is soooooooooo on point for me right now.

    I won’t bore you with all the details and it would take forever to do so anyway, but suffice to say I have been questioning lately whether I really am some kind of awful monster. Why else would my family treat me so badly?

    My friends all tell me I am a kind, caring, lovely person. But I feel that I can’t really be any of those things or my family wouldn’t treat me so badly. If I try to stand up for myself they tell me I am bitter and old and twisted. Surely they know me better than my friends? After all, they’re the people who’ve had to live with me.

    And I can’t bear the thought that maybe they just don’t really love me at all. So I stay, and I do whatever it takes to help me keep pretending that they do love me because if they don’t, what else do I have that is worth living for?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 8th June

      Hi Susan
      WElcome to emerging from broken!
      When family treats one of their own badly, it is never the fault of the child. There is so much in this site about how I took my life back from all that. I thought it was me as well. I thought “majority rules” and how can they all be wrong but the truth is that they were. Looking at the truth about what love really is played a huge part in setting me free from the dysfunction that defined me.
      Glad you are here!
      Thanks for sharing!
      hugs, Darlene
      p.s. although this is an old post, there are active current discussions on the home page. I hope you will join us there.

  14. By: Marie Posted: 2nd March

    I have just broken free from my ‘family’ and it felt very scary and uncertain at the beginning but as the weeks go by I don’t miss any of them, the drama, the unspoken truth, I have reported my abuser and the response from my parents was to knock on his door and ‘warn him’ that their shameful exitence of a daughter has finally broken the silence, I am in my 40ss and this happened through my teenage years when i babysat for this horrible human being. The family refused to believe me and my mums response was that ‘it would kill her sister’ if she found out, when i was raped at 19 i got the same response from my ‘mother’ as i knew the person who did it. She said ‘they are our friends you cannot tell about this’. I ended up having to give up my baby and was sent to a mum and baby home shamed and an outcast. Then recently I confronted my parents about the abuse i endured by my uncle and my fathers response was ‘your behavior was apalling at that age!’I was 12 and a runaway as a neighbor had abused me systematically from the age of 8-12, then my uncle took over. How nice to be blamed for all this! I felt like a burden on my family. The relief now of breaking free is amazing! I am a good mum to my 3 kids but it took years of domestic violence and escaping that, to ending up in an emotionally abusive relationship after that, but i broke free from both and will not look at a man after what happened to me. I have the support of an amazing therapist who would see the toxicity of my so called family, and i was ready to face the fact that no matter what i said or did my voice would never be heard. Thanks for this great website I can relate so much to things you say, i thought i was the only one but now i see that is not true, Thank you so much XXXXXX

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