04/18/2012 12:32 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2012

How I Escaped My Emotionally Abusive Spouse

Emotional abuse is used to control a spouse through manipulation, degradation, humiliation, brainwashing and intimidation. The abuser systematically erodes the victim's self-confidence and self-trust with the use of these tactics under the often belittling guise of "one who knows better than you". Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence that cripples your ability to think independently and robs you of self-esteem. While divorce seems like the obvious choice, it's not so easy for the victim for this reason: emotional abusers won't let go.

It often takes a courageous person to seek outside help to validate that they are, in fact, being emotionally abused. Unfortunately, getting the victim to identify their spouse as an emotional abuser is only half the problem. The other half is trying to end the marriage. The minute the victim pursues independence, the abuser will say and do anything to maintain the status quo. This is simply because the abuser thrives on controlling the victim and they will resort to whatever means possible to regain their power.

However, despite this fact, I have found there are ways a victim can become successful in achieving freedom. Here are some suggestions that worked for me in my relationship:

Become empowered. One of your best defenses is to grow independent of your abusive spouse. To do this, you may need to seek help and support from psychotherapists and other experienced professionals. They will not only help you see the truth about your situation, but they will help guide you in rebuilding your self-esteem and self-trust. A good counselor will also teach you self-help techniques that will help you to begin thinking for yourself in a way that is supportive for you. Through these regular sessions, you'll gain the empowerment you need that will ensure that you never allow yourself to be abused again.

Involve your local law enforcement. They are available to help protect you. Research your state and local laws on obtaining a restraining order. In my state, for example, a restraining order is given if you "are in fear of your safety". How much more fearful can you be at this point, right? Don't end with the restraining order, though. Talk openly and honestly with the authorities about your situation. Let them know you are serious about getting away from this person. Also, ask them to refer you to a domestic violence advocate or to help you find other resources. In addition to the physical protection I required, my local police were incredibly helpful with this. I think of them as my guardian angels on earth. One warning: don't ever contact the police asking for help and protection only to turn around and stay in the relationship. It's likely they won't take you seriously the next time around.

Pray. Okay, this one's not so practical. But it works! It's my personal favorite because it really worked for me. I would pray every day that my children and I would be safe from all types of harm when I was going through my divorce. Even though I had protection from the local police and was becoming independent and empowered thanks to help from my counselor, I was still afraid of my soon-to-be-ex. He was doing and saying stupid and potentially harmful things to gain back the control he had lost. This was starting to have a detrimental effect on our children. Since I had done everything in my power I felt I could do, I turned to a higher power for greater protection. And my prayers were answered... many times over.

If you're judging everything you think, say and do according to how your spouse will react, you may have a problem. Victims of emotional abuse are often fearful of being met with painful disapproval, anger and rage by their spouse. Victims find it nearly impossible to make a decision without approval from their spouse. They lack confidence and have little or no belief in themselves from being constantly criticized, insulted and devalued by the abuser. If you think this sounds familiar, consider seeking help right away.