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Andrea Anderson Polk’s Blog

Clinically Practiced, Biblically Informed

  • Writer's pictureAndrea Anderson Polk

Abusive Relationships: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Abusive Relationships: Death by a Thousand Cuts

What happens when you are in an abusive relationship? The impact isn’t realized for many people until the damage has been done. As you will see, there are several reasons for this.

In a previous post, we discussed 10 questions to identify if you are in a toxic relationship. Toxic relationships occur when the relationship has become chronically painful and/or one-sided. The three most common scenarios occurs when:

  • People take advantage of another person’s generosity, empathy, and kindness to the point of exhaustion. The relationships lack reciprocity because the relationship is no longer mutually loving.

  • You are meeting someone’s else’s needs (emotional, sexual, financial, mental, physical) and they are not meeting those needs for you. Essentially, you are doing all the giving.

  • The relationship becomes too painful.

Due to their caring and compassionate nature many attract people who drain them mentally and use them emotionally. Having a toxic relationship occurs when one person does all the taking and the other person allows the pain to continue. There exist long-term experiences of feeling misunderstood, not accepted, and doing everything possible to save the relationship at the cost of losing themselves.

When does a toxic relationship become an abusive relationship?

The toxic relationship becomes abusive when a person has allowed someone else to alter their reality when they are repeatedly being lied to, gaslighted, and manipulated. Over time, the abused person experiences a deep-seated shame in their soul falsely believing something is wrong with them.

5 signs of an abusive relationship:

  1. They want to control, deceive, and manipulate you.

  2. They become intense and hurtful if you try to set boundaries, have a voice, express your needs, or make room for yourself in the relationship.

  3. They shift the blame, accuse, belittle, and criticize you.

  4. They seek to isolate you and over time, you realize you've lost connection to those close to you.

  5. Over time they changed and are not the person they said they were.

An abused person has likely gone through months, or even years, of feeling hurt, rejected, abandoned, afraid, or belittled by the person before their suffering becomes too painful and overwhelming. Their reality becomes severely distorted as they are continually deceived leaving them feeling crazy while simultaneously losing connection to the truth of their core self and their circumstances.

Many of my clients in clinical practice who are in emotionally abusive relationships tell me it would be easier if the person hit them or had an affair because the pain would be visible. In cases of emotional abuse, the pain is invisible to others and even to themselves.

Toxic relationships exist on a spectrum, with some forms more damaging and severe than others, such as abuse. Being in a relationship where emotional, verbal, or spiritual abuse is present establishes a pattern. It feels like death by a thousand cuts, namely, painful moments that take pieces of your soul and bring that pain into your life again and again.

Abusive relationships leave you with a haunting confusion and immense suffering as they invade your life. At the beginning stage of the relationship, the person aims to deceive you by disguising their true self to use and take advantage of you. They secretly plan their agenda to harm you and monopolize your time and energy.

An abusive relationship is characterized by a person demonstrating deception, manipulation, and control, where the other person intentionally harms another person. Abuse comes in many forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and spiritual.

Abuse can produce a painful, crazy-making feeling in which the person being abused falsely believes they are overreacting, selfish, difficult to be with, too sensitive, ungrateful, and a failure at relationships.

When these lies are repeated often by the abuser, the victim eventually comes to believe them.

People who abuse others can be masters of adopting various disguises to hide their true nature and lure the other person into developing a relationship with them. They are highly intelligent, seeking to exploit weaknesses and vulnerabilities. At the beginning of the relationship, the abusive person can be incredibly kind and charming, but their deceptive nature slowly turns their kindness and eagerness into manipulation and control. It might feel good at first to feel important and special: someone pursues you, shows a strong interest in you and your life, and desires so much of your time. But after a while, you start to feel used, lied to, and taken advantage of.

Ultimately the relationship revolves around them, and they want you all to themselves.

The relationship is not mutual and reciprocal; it is one-sided and draining. You are doing all the work to please them and make them happy, yet they are consistently unsatisfied, and you are wounded in the process.

Deep down, you believe the lie that you are too much or not enough.

The abusive person becomes intense if you try to set boundaries, have a voice, express your needs, and make room for yourself in the relationship. They can shift blame, accuse, and criticize. Over time, you feel severely confused and hurt and become increasingly isolated; your reality alters.

One of the reasons people feel such self-doubt when they are in an abusive relationship is because an abusive person does not manifest abusive tendencies all the time. They can go for long periods without manifesting any abusive behaviors toward you. That is due mainly to the fact that they want to keep you engaged in the relationship.

At times you feel better than anyone else, and you feel lower than anyone else at other times. When they feel triggered by you pushing one of their hidden buttons, you are blindsided and shocked by their toxic behavior when it comes to the surface again. They can tend to quietly keep a record of your wrongs and wait for the opportune moment to punish you.

Abuse feels like death by a thousand cuts, painful moments that take pieces of your soul and bring that pain into your life again and again.

An abusive relationship slowly erodes your sense of self and thwarts your purpose.

As a counselor, I have worked with many individuals and couples where abuse is present in the relationship. At times, abusers are unlikely to seek counseling because they may not want to believe that anything is wrong with them. If they seek counseling, following through with counseling is also difficult for these individuals because they can become defensive and question the counsel they are given by therapists who want to help.

I have found that these individuals become extremely upset and disappointed when they are not given the answers or the solutions they seek, or the special treatment they deeply believe they deserve. For this reason, it has been my experience that they tend to jump from counselor to counselor, hoping the next advice from a counselor will align with their behavior.

Based on my clinical experience, when they seek counseling, it is more often for other symptoms such as substance abuse, infidelity, a work crisis, depression, or anxiety. The problem occurs in the relationship when the person is unwilling to be accountable for their abusive behavior and do the necessary work to change their actions.

To repair such a relationship, it is essential that a person in an abusive relationship breaks the silence of their suffering and seeks help. The abusive person must be equally willing to pursue help and do the work necessary to overcome their toxic behavior patterns, so they do not continue to hurt their spouse or friend.

In the next post, I’ll share a story of how one abused person was able to identify he was being abused for the first time.


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Andrea Anderson Polk is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified, registered clinical supervisor, and certified professional coach. She has a private practice in Northern Virginia with nearly 20 years of clinical experience helping hundreds of clients on their healing journey.

She is driven by a deep calling to help ambitious women of faith experience healing and breakthrough so they can live each day with peace and purpose. 

Andrea believes healing happens through relationship. The wounds that occur in a relationship must be healed in a relationship. Andrea invites you into a life-altering relationship.

Work with Andrea one-one- by contacting her here.


Andrea has spent her career studying the human experience and has developed a fascinating analogy that compares cuckoo birds, nature’s master manipulator and imposter, to situations and relationships that leave us feeling drained, confused, lost, and empty. Her new book, The Cuckoo Syndrome, helps us fend off the cuckoos, the unhealthy relationships, toxic thinking, and self-sabotaging behaviors in our life that never truly satisfy the deep longings of our souls and the desires of our hearts. 

Andrea’s clinically proven, innovative method helps us recover the lost pieces of ourselves, discover meaning in suffering, and transform our pain into purpose by teaching us to uncover the truth of who we are and who God is so we can be healed and live free. 

Purchase the book Andrea’s clients call “a life-changing breakthrough” for yourself and the people you care about today.

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If you….

Feel internal pressure to do all things well. 

Tend to neglect your needs to please others and search for validation.

Continually attract toxic or one-sided relationships leaving you drained. 

Want to build a life that is unashamedly true to who you are and what you want.


Then…this is the time to reclaim your JOY, ENERGY, AND TIME so you can live each day with peace and purpose!


Curious to know how?

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