Post-Separation Emotional Abuse: How To Protect Yourself

Post-Separation Emotional Abuse: How To Protect Yourself

Abusers often believe they are ‘entitled’ to their victims; this is why few are happy to simply sit back and let their partner walk away from the relationship. In the most harrowing cases, this can result in serious physical harm as ‘punishment’ for leaving the abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse can occur during a relationship and in the post-separation phase. An emotional abuser may actually increase the level of abuse at the end of a relationship, in an attempt to intimidate or manipulate the victim into returning.

The victim may not be aware they are being emotionally abused, so it is fundamental to know the most common warning signs of this type of abuse. Recognising what is going on is the first step towards protecting yourself.

The four signs and five cycles of emotional abuse

It is important to note that a single incident does not necessarily mean a relationship is abusive. Overall, domestic abuse in a relationship is characterised by an ongoing pattern of behaviour. If what is described below occurs on a regular basis, a pattern of abuse has been established.

The four signs of post-separation abuse are:

  1. Criticism and other belittling comments: An emotionally abusive partner may subject their victim to criticism or belittling comments, both in private and in public settings.
  2. Isolation: Emotionally abusive partners may attempt to isolate the victim from their friends, family, and other support networks.
  3. Gaslighting: This is a tactic used by emotional abusers to manipulate and distort the truth, making the victim doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and experience.
  4. Threats and intimidation: Emotional abusers may use threats, intimidation, or other forms of coercion to maintain control over their victims.

The five cycles of emotional abuse, as listed in Sarakay Smullens’ “Five Cycles of Emotional Abuse: Codification and Treatment of an Invisible Malignancy”, are:

  1. Enmeshment
  2. Extreme overprotection and overindulgence
  3. Complete neglect
  4. Rage
  5. Rejection/abandonment

The abuser going from being completely absorbed with their partner, overly protective of their partner and showering them with praise, to being entirely neglectful and easily angered, can leave many victims of domestic abuse reeling. It’s easy for that victim to believe that they did something wrong to deserve this change in attitude. But the truth is that no one deserves emotional abuse, neither during nor after a relationship.


After leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, the victim will likely feel that they have a lot of rebuilding work to do – whether that be in relationships with family, building up self-esteem or developing a sense of self-worth. Ongoing contact with the abuser can undermine that progress and feed an ongoing cycle of abuse.

Common forms of emotional abuse after separation include harassment, guilt-tripping, stalking, and various forms of intimidation. If there are children involved, the abuser may use them as a means to manipulate and control their victim, for example by refusing to allow access to them, or by trying to turn them against their other parent – this is known as parental alienation.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from post-separation emotional abuse?

  • Seek support: This can be easier said than done for anyone who has just come out of a deeply isolating relationship, as an emotional abuser will often take steps to remove their victim’s support network. If it isn’t possible to reach out to friends or family members, a domestic violence hotline or a family solicitor can provide professional support.
  • Limit contact: The less contact a victim has with their abuser, the fewer opportunities the abuser has to continue their abuse. An abusive ex-partner may use many tactics to initiate conversations or visits, but it is vital to avoid contact as much as possible. It’s important to set clear boundaries and enforce them. This may include blocking their number, changing your own number, and communicating only through a lawyer or a trusted third party.
  • Keep a record: Preserve any texts or voice messages, emails, or other types of communications in which your former partner is emotionally abusive. This evidence can be used to support any future applications you may make to the courts to protect yourself.
  • Take care of yourself: Abuse of any kind takes a heavy toll on victims, often leaving them to deal with self-esteem issues, anxiety, guilt, and even PTSD. Professional counselling or therapy is an important first step towards rebuilding your confidence and beginning to heal from the damage dealt by your abuser.

If you’re experiencing post-separation abuse, our family solicitors can provide confidential legal support. Please contact us to discuss your situation with our knowledgeable, friendly, and empathetic team.

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