Cycle of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship and How to Break It

Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Young, talented, beautiful, sweet, and naive Paula meets charming Gregory. Soon they were married and moved to live in Paula’s home in London. Every time Gregory sneaks into their sealed attic via an empty apartment next door in an attempt to steal Paula’s aunt’s expensive pieces of jewelry — The real reason he married her in the first place. 

Home alone Paula, hears sounds, sees the gaslight dim and brightens, notices missing items, and complains to Gregory. Gregory tells Paula she imagines things. He convinces her she is unwell and kleptomaniac. Hiding his belongings in her purse and convincing her she stole it. 

Paula begins to doubt her sanity and memory. Gregory plans to have Paula believe she is going mad to have her sent to a mental home for an extended period — giving him power of attorney over her and the freedom to search for the jewels uninterrupted.

That was the plot of the classical 1944 movie entitled ‘Gaslight‘— a typical example of Narcissistic Emotional Abuse.

What is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is any act that involves name-calling, gaslighting, isolation, humiliation, threatening, ignoring, and withholding affection. The abuser aims to make the victim afraid, have self-doubt, and low-self esteem. The abuser gains control and manipulates the victim to gain some benefit.

Cycle of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship

Like other forms of abuse, emotional abuse takes the form of a cycle. The cycle of emotional abuse occurs in 4 phases.

#1.Tension Building

In the first phase of Emotional abuse, the abuser feels powerless due to many stressors. Financial, family, or personal problems make the abuser feel irritated, taking out the frustration on you. By this stage, you already know trouble is looming, so you begin to try to please them by being cautious not to offend them.

#2. Incident 

In this phase, the abuser finally launches an attack on you, either by verbal abuse, manipulation, threats, blaming. You may start to think you caused or made them behave as they did to you.

#3. Reconciliation

During this phase of Emotional abuse, the abuser apologizes and admits their wrong. The abuser will beg for forgiveness, promising to change. Often this is done to manipulate you into tolerating their behavior. Abusers rarely change.

#4. Calm

In this phase of emotional abuse, you feel that your ‘relationship’ has been restored. And you are now back to the way things were until another tension-building phase starts all over again. And the cycle continues to repeat.

Narcissistic Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Being in a relationship with a narcissist feels like a roller coaster ride that never ends. One minute you feel like the person is your soulmate, and the next moment you are confused, thinking, “what the fuck?” The narcissist’s goal is to gain absolute control over you and everything you could ever have to offer.

 They do this by manipulating their partners into self-doubt and confusion through calculated behaviors. They want to make you think you are delusional to gain control and continue exploiting you. Yikes! I know that doesn’t sound nice. There are 3 phases to the cycle of narcissistic abuse; idealization, devaluation, and rejection.

#1. Idealization

Everything is rose petals and candle lights at this phase — the honeymoon phase. This phase begins your relationship with the narcissist — the ‘perfect,’ ‘too good to be true’ person you just met. The narcissist will bath you with so much ‘love,’ attention, and ‘affection.’ Expensive gifts and vacations, 10-star restaurant dates, marriage conversations, meeting their family — everything is moving sweetly and so damn fast. Okay, so you are in ‘love?’

#2. Devaluation (wait, wait, wait; what the hell is going on?)

The curtains start to close; meaning, the show is over. The narcissist begins to devalue you. They put you down and abuse you. Expect behaviors such as gaslighting, criticizing, one-upping, negative remarks about your looks, making you beg for affection or sex, name-calling, preventing you from working to earn money, threatening………ahh, the list is long.

#3. Rejection (bye babe, you did this to yourself.)

You already guessed it; the narcissist discards you. It happens when the narcissist can no longer get enough supply of attention, love, care, praise, and any other thing they were benefiting from you. (Insert rolling eyes emoji) Right before the narcissist ends the relationship, common behaviors in this phase include rage, anger, contempt. 

After ending the relationship, the narcissist may either marry or pursue another relationship the next week or come back for you to start the emotional abuse cycle all over again, and again, and again for as long as you permit it. And yeah, expect the narcissist to blame you for everything that ever went wrong in the relationship.

How to Break the Cycle of Emotional Abuse

Breaking the cycle of emotional abuse is difficult . If you don’t have the same determination, Tom has when chasing Jerry, you probably may never make it out. Emotional Abuse, like other abuse, fucks up your brain chemistry. Deep down in your appendix, you know that this person is no good for you, but somehow you sit around hoping things would go back to honeymoon again. “Oh, she is just having a bad time. I need to endure this for her. She would come around later.”

I know. It’s difficult to believe that the same person who treated you so well is now acting like you are no shit. It’s important to understand that people can act like they love you for many other reasons besides actually loving you. And the fact that you are in an emotionally abusive relationship is proof that they never loved you from the start. The whole honeymoon thing you had was all part of the plot. Besides, If they didn’t treat you like the princess or prince of Kukuna when they met you, would you have agreed to enter into a relationship with them in the first place? 

Probably Not. Love and abuse can never exist together. It’s like asking Tom and Jerry to live together in peace. Once there is true love, abuse cannot exist. And if you are being abused, it means there was no true love in the first place. So start believing actions, not words, and never judge people based on their past behavior but rather the present. So if he is treating you like you aren’t shit, please believe him and move the fuck on. Don’t make excuses. 

Here are a few tips to help you:

#1. Document it

Anytime your spouse or whoever is abusing you says something emotionally abusive, write it down! (Insert shocked face emoji) Go back and read that again. Write it the fuck down! Please don’t write it down in front of the person. (Insert rolling eyes emoji) Excuse yourself and find a private place to write it down. Always have a small notepad and pen with you, and if you can keep a recording device on you, that’s fine also. 

Then go back to read what you have written down. You may be surprised to see how emotionally abused you are finally. Realizing that would give you the strength to move on. Plus, your records may come in handy in a future court case; make sure to save it in your email and delete every trace of it from elsewhere. I want to believe they don’t have access to your email, debit card, or credit card. Oh shit! Well, change the damn password.

#2. Don’t React (Play Dead)

Unless the idea of being a puppet in the hands of your abuser is particularly appealing to you, then you don’t need to react to their abusive behavior. Don’t give off an emotional reaction; it’s like pouring gasoline on the fire. Most abusers love to have you react emotionally; they enjoy it; that’s what they want. Learn to control your emotions. Play dead. 

The more you return their abuse with yelling, insults, crying, worrying, or trying to appease them, the more they will continue pushing your buttons. It’s a control thing. You can call them out in a calm, fantastic voice later. This tip is handy if you have to be around the abuser, at least for some time before you move on cause you need to.

#3. Find A Support System

When you are being emotionally abused, you may lose your ability to reason and make good decisions. Your abuser may call you stupid, and you may think it’s attractive until a friend or family member helps you reset your brain. They may also offer you the help and support you need to leave. 


Emotional abuse can affect you for your whole life. Take this form of abuse very seriously. It can make you depressed, give up on your career, or worse yet, you may take your own life. So do not entertain it in any form. Break the cycle of emotional abuse today. Document it, don’t react, find support, unfriend, block, delete and leave. There are billions of people globally; you will find people who will treat you with love, trust, care, and respect. Find them and stick with them.

Cycle of Emotional Abuse FAQS

How Do You Recover From Emotional Abuse?

Get to know what emotional abuse is, identify the hallmarks of a healthy relationship. Leave the abusive relationship, reach out to family and friends, get professional help.

What's Worse Physical or Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse. The effects of emotional abuse could even be worse.

How Does Past Emotional Abuse Affect Future Relationships?

People who have been abused find it difficult to trust people in future relationships. They may also subconsciously seek out abusive relationships in the future.

Is Lying a Form of Emotional Abuse?

Lying is a form of emotional abuse that makes the victim doubt their reality; helping the abuser to avoid responsibility.

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