by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

Backstory to this post:

This is one of several abuse articles I am republishing so that I can refer DV victims leaving or thinking of leaving abusive relationships. This has been pulled apart and made into parts of other posts and had a few different versions. If you know someone who may be in an abusive relationship, PLEASE get this to that person. Also there are part of this article that apply to many other people getting out of dysfunctional relationships where they were mistreated – the low self-esteem, the splitting etc. etc. Read it if you know anyone who is in an abusive or very dysfunctional relationship or just getting out. 

As I’ve said in other posts, I left an abusive relationship with 3 kids, no money, no job and nowhere to go. After working on myself and carrying the message to others, I found real love with a man who adored me and life was good. 

I found REAL LOVE after abusive relationships…and you (or someone you love) can too. You can read my story in the introduction to GPYB and our story in the back of GBOT and our story on RopeBurns and my story on the GPYP YouTube Channel. To go to any of that material, click on the GPYB Resources button at the end of this post.  Also check out the Voice of GPYB – the Mean Lady Talking podcast…available on any podcast app you have, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, etc. (click on the MLT link below). 

REMINDER: This is not just about abusive relationships. It’s about dysfunctional relationships, unhealthy relationships etc. Many times the symptoms are the SAME AS abusive relationships, but it hasn’t gotten that bad YET.   And abuse can be nasty name calling during an argument. Many times it’s things that you might not be labeling as abuse, but DV experts DO label it as abuse.  Mental and verbal abuse often has a deeper impact than physical abuse. 

The Abusive (or REALLY Dysfunctional) Relationship

Copyright © Susan J. Elliott

Abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, verbal and sexual. It can be but doesn’t have to be all 5. Just because someone isn’t hitting you doesn’t mean they are not abusive.

When I first wrote this article, I tried using the term “semi-abusive” so that people who were in bad relationships – but actual physical abuse wasn’t present – could still relate.  But I hesitate to use the words “semi-abusive” because abuse is abuse is abuse is abuse, but sometimes the writing is on the wall and someone can’t see it because they shy away from labeling their relationship as abusive.

One of the psychological tricks that a victim’s head plays is “It’s not that bad.” in the same way an alcoholic might instantly bristle at being called an alcoholic but might be able to wrap his or her head around “problem drinker.” So to avoid turning off the very people I try to help, I allow myself to call some relationships “semi-abusive” but it is like being semi-pregnant.

I was in abusive relationships from the time I was 13 until I was 30. That’s a long 17 years. I immediately gravitated, out of the box, to abusive boys then men (although I shudder to label an abusive male a “man” since he is nothing of the kind. A man who hits a woman is a coward – period / end of story.) I have come to feel, over the years, that any man who hits a woman or threatens a woman or even pretends to threaten…is not a man. And the solution is to leave. START PUTTING A PLAN INTO PLACE.

From a reader who works in DV. Please heed this advice!: The most lethal time for an abused person is when she/he is trying to leave the abuser. Have a plan and get back up! The news is full (seemingly) nice people whose partner was trying to leave and ended up dead. When in a domestically abusive situation, I say use universal precautions and assume anyone has the propensity for violence. See it everyday.

This is the national hotline and can refer people to help in their area.
http://www.thehotline.org/ They can help them with safety planning too.

Most of my relationships were physically abusive but all of them had a verbal component and all of them had criticism and control as a backstory.

The number one culprit was my lack of self-esteem. This is not a blame-the-victim mentality. Everyone is responsible for his or her own actions. Meaning, abusers are responsible for their abuse. However, without a willing victim, their abuse has nowhere to go. Later on I would learn “remove the victim” but for years I did not know to do this, that I could do this or how to do this. 

If you use the GPYB Power! Affirmations Booklet (available on this page or from the Resources page), this is MY process from beginning to end.  GPYB did not invent affirmations, but we teach them in such a way that is easy to follow and we categorize them in a unique way so that you know which affirmations to use when. 

I didn’t know that I didn’t know. When I say “willing,” it’s not that I had good sense and used my free will to choose to be in abusive relationships. It means I was willing because I DID NOT KNOW I could be treated any better and I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t causing the abuse by not doing things right. I also did not know that putting your hands on someone else was wrong. WRONG. WRONG.

I did not know, at the age of 30, that it doesn’t matter what you do, no one has the right to put their hands on you. I HAD NO IDEA. I did not know because I thought everything was my fault. I had been raised in an abusive environment and was told that I basically made my mother crazy. Even when I was in therapy in my 30s I attempted to confront her about it and her answer was “You were not the easiest kid to raise.”

Oh really? Let me introduce you to 3 not the easiest kids to raise: my three sons. Not easy kids to raise yet not abused by me and not juvenile delinquents. You can raise difficult kids with rules and limits and without abusing them. And they grow up to be wonderful, non-abusing men. IMAGINE THAT!

But I didn’t know that back then. I blamed my abuse on myself. I obviously made everyone do everything. When I got into therapy, my therapist said, “Wow. You’re so powerful! How come you can’t make them stop doing things?” Uh…hmmm…dunno.

Without that mentality on the part of the victim, abuse has nowhere to go.

And abusers keep that mentality going by blaming you for everything. The MoAB blamed me for things he said I was thinking when I was thinking nothing of the sort. I was defending thoughts I didn’t have. How crazy is that?  When I became an attorney I was taught that it’s almost impossible to prove a negative, but in my first marriage that is exactly what I was trying to prove day in and day out. I wasn’t thinking that…I wasn’t doing that…that was not my intention….I honestly didn’t see that…I didn’t know ….I I I I. I, yi, yi. 

Once I tried to show him I was a “good wife” and I waxed the floors. When he came home he said I purposely left streaks on them so he would never again ask me to do it. I begged him to SEE that I was trying and I had no intention of leaving streaks on the floor (I couldn’t even SEE the streaks until he pointed one or two small ones out and I had waxed the floors in FIVE large rooms and he found one or two pale streaks). But I stood there, like a dope, begging him to give me SOME CREDIT for the floor and begging him to BELIEVE that I did it out of the goodness of my heart.

I never REACHED, “Wait a minute. You’re such an ahole to even bring up those streaks and for telling me what my intentions are.” I had been in “on the defensive” mode my whole life. I had no idea how to switch gears and question this behavior on HIS part. It never occurred to me that perhaps this was unacceptable.

The thing is that you become so CONSUMED with trying to convince the abuser that you are not whatever way, you overlook the fact that he or she is a psycho. That’s part of the dance. You also SPLIT all the time – you hold onto the good parts of the abusive partner and ignore or rationalize/justify/blame yourself for the bad. If you don’t know about splitting, read about it below. 

But this drive to be the perfect partner and gain their approval ONCE AND FOR ALL is very very exhausting. You become driven to prove to this person that you are a good and gentle and loving person who would never think or do anything of the sort. Your life becomes one on the defense so you never get to jump over to the offense and wonder what the hell he or she is doing. It’s all about you and how IF ONLY you were less or more or taller or shorter or older or younger or cleaner or neater or thrifty or friendly or not shy or want so much or expect so much or look in the direction of others or not do this or more do more or that or born on a Tuesday or cranky when it’s raining or moody or perturbed or WHATEVER excuse explains why you are abused or criticized or not cared about.

It makes as much sense as saying, “How can I care about someone who wears yellow on Tuesdays? I’m sorry but I can’t.”

But those are the messages and the CRAZINESS of the messages that we receive. I’m sorry oh-unworthy-one, but it’s your fault I act like a complete and utter crazy person. It’s not me, it was that wearing-yellow-on-Tuesday thing you do…I mean who can live with that? If you just straightened up and wore the appropriate colors, I would not be such an insane person.

And we buy it. We run around and eradicate all the yellow from our lives. And next Tuesday we wear pink but that’s wrong too and then black and purple and blue and orange and they’re all wrong too and then the day comes when the abuser says, “You’re so stupid you don’t even wear yellow on Tuesdays.” WHAT? Wait, I thought yellow on Tuesdays was bad. It’s not? Oh let me run right out and get some yellow. There must be something wrong with my hearing or something wrong with my head. So you put the yellow back. And of course it’s “I TOLD YOU that yellow on Tuesdays is NEVER appropriate!!! You just do this to make me miserable!!!” I talked on a radio show about “gaslighting” and this is part of that.

And so it goes….

You cannot win. You will not win. The goal is for you never to win. And you can just FORGET that any of your reasonings or any of your “yes, but you said…….” or “I was only………” or “I thought…………” is going anywhere.

Not only ISN’T it going anywhere, but the GOAL is for it not to go anywhere. The only rule is that the rules constantly change. The only constant is that you can’t win. The only goal is to keep you off your pins and trying hard to please someone who cannot be pleased. The GOAL is to keep you twisted up in knots and everything is your fault. So there.


Every narcissitic control freak needs their scapegoat. There is always a Something upsetting/frustrating happened and we need someone to blame. You’re it.


you’re always it.

And you get into the same mindset.

Something happened and someone has to be blamed.

No one can deal with the fact that sometimes shit happens.

I was always blamed for things I had nothing to do with and TO THIS DAY I have an excuse at the ready if something goes wrong somewhere. But over the past 15 years I’ve stopped sharing those thoughts with anyone. I no longer have a knee jerk defensive reaction to things going wrong. And I don’t make excuses when it is my fault things went wrong. It’s more like an explanation if it needs one. Most times it doesn’t. It took a long time because I was the scapegoat in my adoptive family. A role I continued to play because I didn’t know what other role to play.

He said things that made no sense and blamed me for not understanding the nonsense or he would act like I was a nut for questioning anything or not understanding why this thing that made no sense should happen now (this is a technique known as gaslighting).  Read my post on it HERE

I believed him when he said the abuse and serial cheating was my fault. If only I had done x, y and z…he wouldn’t do that. BALONEY. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. I actually whined to my therapist that I had created a monster and she said, “You cannot create a monster who doesn’t want to be created.” It was a DUH moment if I ever had one.

In healthy relationships blame and castigation have no place. People automatically take responsibility for their own stuff and everyone recognizes that stuff happens. In abusive relationships, whenever something goes wrong, someone is to blame and there will be hell to pay. Whether you’re actually responsible or not.  I go over this in the Healthy Communication section of Getting Back Out There and in the GPYP Workbook. 

As it says in Getting Back Out There, there are ways to communicate and ways to NOT communicate. Before your next relationship, you must learn them and you must commit to walking if any of the dysfunctional communication happens and your partner refuses to change it. (When I counsel couples, the most common issue is communication.) Sometimes a person is willing to change their communication and sometimes they are not. If they are not, it’s time to LEAVE.


The abused sees the abuser as two different people: the one who swept her off her feet (the real him) and the one who is an abusive bastard (not the real him).

BOTH personalities are him. You cannot pick and choose. You simply cannot. It is difficult and sometimes IMPOSSIBLE to understand how this person who did such sweet and wonderful things and seemed to truly and sincerely love you has turned into this abusive jerk.

BUT they will never change. They will try to woe you back or keep you from leaving by trying to give you the classic “Abuser’s Remorse” spiel where they (sometimes) cry and promise to change and they REALIZE things will be horrible if you are not there.

And it’s what you want to hear so you sop it up…until next time when it’s your fault again. Why YES the abuser WANTED to change, but you wrecked the whole thing by being whatever way caused the abuse to surface again. REPEAT AFTER ME: IT WILL NOT CHANGE. NOT NOW AND NOT EVER.

Stop trying to understand it. Just accept it. He IS an abusive jerk and that sweet person, whether it was real or to rope you in is gone forever. When he gets abuser’s remorse, the old him is not coming back…it’s just a ploy to keep you in his control.

I beat my head against that wall forever…thinking of my ex…when we were going out and the sweet and wonderful things he did. Were they real? Who knows? Who cares? They matter not when he is swinging wildly between abusing, cheating, and abuser’s remorse to rope me back in.

After a while I had to see that the romanticized fantasy I had of him was just that: a fantasy. Even if it had been real at one time, it was no longer and it was NEVER coming back.

Stop splitting. Stop being in denial when he is “normal”. The abuse will be back.  Read the splitting post HERE.


My ex called me every name in the book including ones (yes plural) that I would never repeat. He called me names in front of my children and not only didn’t I like it because it was degrading but he was their role model. I didn’t want to have sons who would grow up and use these disgusting phrases.

But after we broke up I banned the word bitch from my house. It was not to be used ever by anyone at any time. I have a list of “don’t ever say these words if you want to live” and of course the n word and the c word and a few other choice ones (mostly racist, homophobic and sexist garbage words) are on there. When I put the word bitch on there it was a personal standard-raising thing..

I told every man I dated, you call me a name ONCE and I’m gone. From the day I left my first husband until this one, no man called me a name. No man said F you and every one of them was respectful even in a heated argument.

These standards became ROCK SOLID and they are after years of withering verbal abuse. I simply have no tolerance for it. I don’t explain it and I don’t let people tell me why it’s unreasonable. Standards. Again. Gotta have em.

And I don’t care if you don’t like them or think they’re ridiculous or whatever. It is what it is. Get used to it or get out.

Don’t put your standards up to a vote. No one gets to tell you that your standards are too high.

Words do hurt and they do degrade and they do humiliate and to think that someone who is supposed to love you could ever call you a name let alone a horrible name, is unthinkable.

Someone asked if a relationship was abusive does that mean there was no love. Well, you tell me. You might “feel” something but I would bet dollars to donuts, it’s addictive dysfunction and not real love. Abusive relationships tend to be lived in the highest high (esp makeup sex) and lowest low (non-stop abuse). Is that love? Not really.

Love is an action but it is also what you don’t do. Michael never called me a name. He never called me stupid or an idiot or incompetent or controlling or naggy or anything that is a negative label. It doesn’t fly with me. The first word would be the last one.

For years I listened to name calling and malicious teasing. When I was obviously hurt it was “oh you know I don’t mean it” or “I was just angry” or “I was just joking…” or “I was just…” Well I was just leaving. Good bye.

Verbal abuse or verbal put downs have NO PLACE in a loving relationship. None.  Again, see the Healthy Communication part of Getting Back Out There and the workbook. 


There is a lot of jealousy, a lot of false accusations and a lot of control by way of those accusations. Again, proving that you’re not doing what you’re not doing. Threats of reprisals. Threats against coworkers or friends because they “know” he’s looking at you.  My ex cheated on me while blaming me for cheating on him, which I wasn’t. I’ve done podcasts on “Let me see your phone…” that kind of control is absolutely unacceptable. Don’t allow it. 

Trying to control someone’s anger who is completely out of control is impossible.

The Dance That Partners Do In Abusive Relationships

Drama is the name of the game in abusive relationships. Keeping everything swirling on the outside so that two inadequate people with major issues and problems in their backgrounds DO NOT have to look inside. Again, is this LOVE? I don’t think so.

The abused is just as addicted as the abuser (sometimes more). Get help.


Abusive relationships are codependent relationships. By virtue of the lack of boundaries and the inability of people to understand that YOUR RIGHT TO SWING YOUR ARM ENDS AT THE TIP OF MY NOSE.

Boundaries are MISSING in abusive relationships whether its verbal, emotional or physical abuse. MISSING.

No one knows “You begin and end somewhere and I begin and end somewhere else.” No one knows this.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you are a raging codependent. Get help.


Even if there is no substance abuse or alcohol abuse there is addiction present. The dance of anger comes from chaos addiction, drama addiction and love addiction. Being addicted to the low of the abuse and the high of makeup sex. Keeping everything swirling on the outside to avoid the emptiness on the inside.  The “passion” in makeup sex MUST be present otherwise you’d never stay. 

Robin Norwood talks about “good sex in bad relationships.” It’s crazy sex in a crazy situation and it keeps you planted there like a hostage victim.  The chaos on the outside causes the “swing from the chandelier” type of sex to serve as a relief valve. You’re empty when alone and suffering when together.  Both partners get the release from the sex – that they both get high from. The cycle continues. 

Misplaced Sympathy

The abused has sympathy for the abuser. WHAT? Yes, the abused doesn’t want to hurt him, thinks of herself as a nice person a good person a loving person and he will see that one day.

Guess what? No he will not. He is a narcissistic JERK who is self-centered and his only interest in you is control and sex. That’s it. Move along. Nothing to see here.

He’s never going to get it. He’s never going to COME TO HIS SENSES. It doesn’t matter how much you FEEL SORRY FOR HIM. Stop it and put your emotional energy into you and your children. RUN AWAY FROM THIS LOSER.

The ENEMY of Abusive Relationships:

Leaving: I always suggest leaving. yes I know it’s hard, but it’s the thing to do. I’ve heard every excuse in the book and as someone who left with 3 kids and no job…I don’t exactly buy any of them. GET OUT.

Again: an urgent reminder from a DV specialist: Have a safety plan in place first. The most lethal time for an abused person is when she/he is trying to leave the abuser. Have a plan and get back up! The news is full (seemingly) nice people whose partner was trying to leave and ended up dead. When in a domestically abusive situation, I say use universal precautions and assume anyone has the propensity for violence. See it everyday. Call the NATIONAL ABUSE HOTLINE. In the US it is 800-799-SAFE please memorize this number. In the UK it is 0808 2000 247 They will help you develop a safety plan to leave.

I know I was so angry the night I left I could have killed my ex. But in other situations he could have killed me. He was screaming that I was not taking his children. I think he got out of my way because I almost ran him over with the car.

I also had an ex boyfriend who tried to kill me on 3 separate occasions after I left him. One night he laid in wait for me and as I headed up my street he ran in front of my car. The next thing I knew he was in my car telling me to drive. When we got on the highway he tried to take the wheel and crash us, saying, “If I can’t have you, no one can.”

These people are psychos. STAY SAFE.

Then these are the enemies of the abusive or very dysfunctional relationship:

The GPYB Program The GPYB Program is about working out the bad (grief, family of origin issues, low self-esteem, boredom, loneliness, confusion etc.) and working in the good (good self-esteem, NC, a life second to none, having good boundaries).  Follow the program through BOTH books and the workbook and you will be better in a short period of time!  Click the button below that says “How to Use The Books and the Workbook to do the work) Join us in the Facebook group and have a wonderful support system.  

Self-esteem: people who have it won’t tolerate abuse. Get the GPYB Power! Affirmations booklet (or do the exercises in the GPYP Workbook) and get your self-esteem in place!

Boundaries: people who have them won’t be abused.  The GPYB program takes most of its boundaries concepts from Melody Beattie’s books (Mostly Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency) and a few other books on boundaries. Be sure to use the Personal Bill of Rights Affirmations created by the GPYB program to commit to your boundaries. Use the Boundaries exercises in the GPYP workbook and the Power! Affirmations  – Personal Bill of Rights Affirmations. Get some boundaries today.

No Contact.  The concept of No Contact or NC originated with the GPYP program. My therapist had me go NC in 1990 and I’ve been singing its praises and encouraging it in clients since 1995. That’s 25 years.  I didn’t make it up and I don’t know if my therapist did, but many credit GPYB with popularizing it and there are NC articles by me, on the internet, from 2005 when I brought GPYP back (it was in hiatus for 5 years while I went to law school and worked 90 hours a week in my first 2 years of law practice).   Though many don’t credit GPYP with NC, this is where it began. The Rules of Disengagement in the GPYB book make it clear: NC changes your life, changes the dynamics and gives you the peace of mind and physical and mental space to learn and grow.  NC is the NUMBER ONE tool of GPYB.

OBSERVATION: GPYB is BIG on Observation. Do not rush to judgment on first dates or even the first few dates. Listen to the MLT podcast about holding back judgment and about questioning people who are new in your life. If you don’t rush to judgment, observe carefully (OFF THE PHONE!) and take your time, you will be able to figure out exactly who a person is. But the BEST defense is a good OFFENSE: healthy, know how to be alone, know how to be discerning, and good self-esteem will keep these disordered people AWAY!  Go to the GPYB Resources button and order the workbook for the comprehensive discussion and observation exercises. Building Your Life  As I’ve said many times, a bad relationship narrows your life scope and a good one broadens it.  A good relationship is both a springboard to your life (hobbies, interests, friends) and a shelter in the storm.  Healthy people are attracted to healthy people.  Water seeks its own level. To truly attract the right person, you need to BE the right person. To do that, you must build a good solid life and not give it up when a relationship comes along.  Read THIS POST about building your life, and then BUILD IT. 

Therapy: people who are in it can get to the reasons why they’re in abusive relationships. Get some.

12 step programs: if you have issues like codependency, substance or alcohol abuse (yours or someone elses), love addiction, sex addiction etc etc etc get to the 12 step program that you need. Get names, get numbers, get a sponsor. Get help.

Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood: READ IT.

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie: READ IT.

Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: Susan Forward: READ IT.


I am living proof that there is life, a good life, a GREAT life, after abusive relationships.

I was happily married to a man who loves me…but only because I loved myself first. (To hear “My Story” from abuse victim to finding the most loving husband in the world HERE

Get out, work on yourself, love yourself and watch life happen.



Copyright © Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author


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