In my last post, I shared some of what writer and life coach Natalie Hoffman had to say about warning signs of emotional abuse in her interview with Stacy Brookman, who put together the Emotional Abuse Recovery and Resilience Summit. In part 2, I’ll share Natalie’s thoughts on what to do if you’re already in an emotionally abusive relationship, and what a healthy relationship looks like (hint: it’s very different!)

So what to do if you are already involved in an emotionally abusive relationship? Hoffman has come up with an excellent metaphor of a ladder with red hot rungs coming out of a huge pit of fire. It is not easy and it’s very painful, but necessary to hang in there to get to the top. She listed what each of the rungs symbolizes and goes into more detail on her own website, FlyingFreeNow.com:

1. Fear
2. Trying to get your partner to change
3. Grief
4. Not being taken seriously
5. Separation
6. Filing for divorce
7. Being kicked out of certain social circles
8. Children suffering
9. Suffering alone
10. Having health problems

Bear in mind that it can take years to get out of a toxic relationship!

Another question many people have is, “How does an abuser find or set up a potential target?”

Hoffman claims that we so much want to believe something, especially that a person loves us, that we only choose to see what fits with that belief, and we conveniently ignore what doesn’t.

Abusers thrive on creating a reality which matches what we are looking for. They will first look for someone who is a people pleaser, specifically someone very caring and empathic who will cater to their needs. Many targets also tend to feel guilty when standing up for their own needs.

The abuser will then look for what a target is insecure about and what she is most invested in, and then will use this against her. Once he feels she’s fully invested in the relationship, and this usually occurs after having sex, he will then feel free to start offending her, and will closely observe her reactions to his offenses.

If she calls him out, he will immediately accuse her of being harsh, angry, and making a big deal out of nothing. If she remains in the relationship, he will cause her to begin a journey of self-doubt and self-loathing, keeping her off balance to control her behaviors through his own mind games.

As an important contrast, we should be able to see exactly what a healthy relationship looks like instead. Hoffman cites a list provided by Dr. John Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. It is an extensive list and I again have tried to summarize these into basic questions we should be asking ourselves to determine if another person is just right for us, in both the short and long-term.

1. Do we enjoy doing small activities together?

2. Do I look forward to spending time with my partner together?

3. At the end of the day, is my partner glad to see me?

4. Is my partner usually interested in my views?

5. Do I really enjoy discussing things with my partner?

6. Is my partner one of my best friends?

7. When we go out together, does time usually pass quickly?

8. Does my partner learn a lot from me, even when we disagree?

9. Does my partner make me feel like what I say really counts?

10. Does my partner want me to be influential in the relationship?

11. Does my partner think I have a lot of common sense?

12. Does my partner believe in lots of give and take in our discussions?

13. Does my partner basically think I’m a great help as a problem solver?

14. Does my partner try to listen respectfully, even when we disagree?

15. Do I feel confident that we can resolve most issues between us?

16. Are we good at taking breaks when we need them?

17. Are my attempts to resolve conflict during our discussions usually effective?

18. Can we discuss our differences with respect?

19. Does my partner express appreciation for the nice things that I do?

20. Is our relationship romantic and passionate?

21. Does my partner regularly tell me “I love you”?

22. Does my partner regularly express respect and admiration toward me?

23. Can we talk about sex easily?

24. Does my partner court me sexually?

25. Do we touch each other tenderly a fair amount?

26. When I get sick, do I feel loved and taken care of by my partner?

27. Does my partner support what I see as my mission in life?

28. Does my partner value my accomplishments?

29. Does my partner honor the personal goals that I set for myself that are separate from the relationship?

Finally, Hoffman says that if the answer to a lot of these questions is “no,” then we should seriously consider that we are probably not in a healthy, loving relationship.

For more information on the excellent content from this summit, please go to emotionalabusesummit.com.