Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Domestic Violence

Self-Compassion: A Must for Survivors of Intimate Partner Abuse

By processing the trauma, survivors can regain agency and strength.

Key points

  • Survivors of intimate partner abuse experience a decline in confidence and self-worth.
  • Recovery is about recognizing the abuse endured, the depth of one's suffering, and finding self-compassion.
  • Mourning the self and the many losses brings a return of well-being and agency.
Source: pexels-pixabay

As a significant other in an intimate relationship with an abusive partner, it’s inevitable that you will eventually experience a decline in the sense of well-being. Feelings of self-worth can slide as trepidation is felt around the partner who was expected to be kind and loving and now intimidates and degrades.

The profound changes that occur embody trauma and many losses. In recovery, a survivor of intimate partner abuse develops self-compassion as they recognize their suffering—self-compassion and mourning the losses that help them move through healing to love and care for themselves.

Survivors of Intimate Partner Abuse

Intimate partner abuse is devastating to those who experience it. You can come to feel entrapped in the relationship rather than participating as an equal partner. You may start out expecting the latter but insidiously over time coercive tactics show up in your partner’s behavior that are often undetected at first.

Still, you can become deeply and traumatically affected. Eventually, as a recipient of coercive abuse, you will no longer feel like yourself. You can become anxious, depressed, feel incompetent, lose the capacity to trust your own perception and blame yourself for problems in the relationship.

In my recovery groups for women with controlling partners, we start by examining coercive tactics that are or have been at play in their relationships and identifying their hidden injuries. For example, degradation and humiliation is a common and powerful abuse tactic that attacks your character, strengths, and sense of self.

When you’re ridiculed over and over by an intimate partner, you can internalize the hurtful, false accusations as negative beliefs about yourself. Enduring these hurtful assaults and negative beliefs can lead to feeling immense shame and damage to your self-esteem, creating a deep wounding experience.

With a coercive partner who needs to have all the power in the relationship, the partner’s strengths are then perceived as threatening and can become the target of abuse.

One example is a woman, I’ll call her Grace, in her 40s, who reported to her group,

“I remember learning in high school that I am gifted intellectually. This has always been important to my self-esteem. Lately, I have felt so stupid and incompetent that I gave up my law practice.”

Grace endured nightly sessions, usually at dinner with her spouse, targeting her intellect—by questioning, interrogating, and devaluing her thinking and ideas. When she was filled with self-doubt, lost trust in her perception, and no longer felt confident, she gave up the one thing she said she truly enjoyed.

Recognizing One's Suffering and Developing Self-Compassion

“Mourning for the self is about not only understanding what we have been through but feeling for ourselves. The consequences of our traumas are huge. Years of life may have been compromised by false beliefs that we were not good enough or worthy of being loved.” (Hendal, 2021.)

Many women who come to my recovery groups have endured the abuse and pain of a coercive partner over time—could be 10, 20, 30 years. They come with different stories to tell but share the same saga. They learn about the coercive tactics unique to their experience, the types of psychological injuries they create, and the trauma symptoms they carry in their heart and body as a result.

In their recovery, they come to understand the painful negative beliefs that they internalized were a result of their partner’s degrading false accusations. This recognition is powerful in bringing forth relief, sadness, and grief about the breadth of their suffering and the time now lost.

Through recovery, the women gain clarity, relief in coming to deeply know they’re not responsible for their partner’s abuse, compassion for themselves, and agency where they can now take back the lost parts of themselves.



Hendel, H.J. 2021. "Why Mourning for the Self Is a Necessary Part of Healing." Psychology Today Post.

More from Carol A. Lambert, MSW
More from Psychology Today