Ask Surly Amy: Emotional Abuse

Without going into too much detail, character limit I am struggling with some issues dealing with emotional abuse in my life. All the help that I’ve been able to find, though, has to do with getting right with Jesus, and the old chestnut, “God loves you, so why can’t you love yourself?”Are there any resources that someone who is not down with God can use to help him heal emotional wounds that have been inflicted on him for 4 decades? Or as Atheists are we just OK, and don’t need help? Maybe we’re all emotionless robots and therefore can’t be damaged emotionally?


Dear Anthony,

First of all, I highly recommend you go and get some professional counseling from a doctor. I would recommend you find a psychiatrist first and then have them refer you to a counselor or psychologist.

Emotional abuse is as serious as physical abuse and you definitely need to seek professional care. Seeking out a psychiatrist should help you bypass all the religious mumbo jumbo you have been hearing as you can explain your situation to them up front and tell them that you have special needs and specifically do not want to be referred to a religious counselor or organization. A psychiatrist can also give you an evaluation which may help in deciding which counselor or therapist is best in terms of your specific needs and let you know if any medication may help you.

It is difficult to navigate the waters when looking for a decent therapist in the secular community on your own and we have touched on that topic in an earlier Ask Surly Amy post. If you don’t find a secular-minded therapist at first, do not give up until you do find one. It is extremely important that you find professional care after 40 years of abuse.

In regards to atheists being, “emotionless robots” that can’t be damaged. Well, I am going to assume that was meant as a joke. Obviously, there is nothing different between an atheist and a religious person in those terms. We are all just mushy, fleshy, mammals that are chock-full of emotions. We all need love and understanding and we all can be damaged by abuse.

I wish you the best in your healing process.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I have also been the victim of emotional abuse, but “luckily” it came from my father and so it was easier to escape when I was an adult and could support myself financially. For me, it has been helpful to talk to the other members of my family that were also abused, my mom and my brothers. It’s sort of like a built-in support group. It’s harder when some of the victims are still close to the abuser though, and you can’t force someone else to leave abuse because they have to make that choice themselves.

    But abusers rarely target just one person. If you can find others that have been abused, you might be able to rely on each other for support (in addition to professional care).

  2. I am also a victim of emotional/mental abuse, and like catgirl, I was abused by my father.

    You should remember that there are a lot of people like you; you are not alone. It’s even possible to heal from it, though it’s not easy, and it takes a lot of time. Professional therapy has really helped me, and I highly recommend it.

    I don’t know what your situation is like, but in my case, I had to stop talking to my abuser, for my own sanity. He absolutely refused to believe that anything was wrong, and if I had a problem it was clearly my fault, not his. Unfortunately, this also means that I don’t see much of his side of the family, either because they don’t believe me, or they don’t want to go against my father. So, what I’m trying to say is maybe you can leave your abuser, although it’s not easy, and you will have to make sacrifices.

    But please, get therapy. Try different therapists, if one isn’t working out. I know it’s very expensive, and I don’t mean to sound glib, but we’re talking about you — please find a way to pay for it. You are worth the effort.

  3. I was emotionally abused during a 25 year marriage; I manifested all sorts of physical symptoms that eventually disappeared when I dealt with them through therapy and also by not denying my emotions. The abuse drove me to seek comfort in whatever new age mumbo-jumbo I came across, and into a deep depression. Only when I accepted the depression, got on an antidepressant and went to therapy, did I grow a backbone and get out of that sorry ass marriage.

    Hang in there Anthony, you’ll come through this and feel like a new, whole person.

  4. When it comes to picking a therapist it’s good to remember that many therapists that are really into woo, or highly value faith, and spiritual stuff; so I’d make sure I vetted any potential therapist about their own views on religion. If your insurance allows I might try and find a well recommended psychologist to see given they will have more training, education and are often more up to date on current research into effective treatment methods and techniques. Years of emotional abuse can often take a long time to overcome and get past. One practical technique I heard recommended involves taking steps to live your life in a different manner than when the abuse was staking place. In other words, if the emotional abuse caused social isolation work on finding supportive social environments and experiences that can help develop new perceptions. A good therapist should be able to help you find suitable strategies, plans and realistic goals to help improve your mental health; and if they don’t find another one!

  5. I can’t emphasize the value of a trained and recommended psychologist enough.

    Yes, it will seem expensive up-front. But the long term value from the tools you can expect to be given will be easily worth it.

    Personally, I can recommended CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Did wonders for me when I was in university, gave me the tools to straighten a lot of my shit out.

    And to bang the atheist drum a bit, I think I ultimately found the worldview of naturalistic atheism to be very beneficial.

    If who I am bothers me – well, who I am is the function of my brain and body, each of which are plastic and malleable. Therefore, true and lasting change is very possible. All it requires is the means, effort, and time.

    A psychologist will be able to provide the means.

    The time and effort of course will have to be the subject’s.

    Best of luck.

  6. Thank you for the responses so far, they’ve been helpful. I should let you know that I’m way ahead of you on the therapy thing, though. I’ve been seeing one for about a month now. I’m in Canada, and mental health is covered by the Province, so money is fortunately not an issue. He came recommended by my sister, who went through the same thing as I when we were kids.
    The relationship that I was in (I have since broken it), didn’t allow me to have much contact with my own family. She would get jealous, and was once even physically violent because I had stayed the night at my father’s place, about an hour from where we lived. I had done this because it was more convenient for him, but she seemed to take it as a personal insult. That was when I decided it had to end (about a year ago) but it took till now to screw up the courage to make the change.
    My dad understands what he and my (deceased) mother did to my sister and I, and the three of us are mending as a family. That, all by itself is one of the greatest feelings in as long as I can remember, having been isolated from them for so long.
    I’ve been living my life trying to please others for long enough… it’s finally my turn. I don’t have any delusions about the road that I’m on being a short one. Indeed, it’s a long and treacherous journey that I’ve started, and it is only just beginning. But even the longest journey starts with a single step.
    Again, thank you
    PS: Of course the “emotionless robot” thing was a joke. I threw it in there in disgust because of what I had been reading about getting one’s “spirit” right and all that. I’m starting to realize more and more that if you’re an Atheist, you’re less of a person in the eyes of most. And that sucks.

  7. Anthony

    Congratulations on taking the steps that you have. It sounds as though you’re already doing the main things I would have recommended from my experience.

    It does get better.

  8. Hey Amy,
    Skeptics should know that the psychiatry industry is very unregulated. A prospective patient should be careful to inquire into the shrink’s credentials and philosophy to weed out pseudo scientists. You should meet with them and conduct an interview before signing on. Don’t answer any personal questions until you feel comfortable (maybe this sounds like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to be assertive when you’re emotionally abused and depressed).

    Additionally, some psychologists can be irresponsible when prescribing medication, which can be extremely dangerous, so you need to be proactive and make sure that you take your time to get to know and evaluate your doc and research any meds before you take them. This is powerful stuff, so take them only as prescribed.

    Hope that helps! -Q

    1. That’s not entirely true. For one thing psychologists can not even prescribe medication. I think there are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe but only if they have post-doctoral masters degree or equivalent in clinical psychopharmacology and again that is only I think in New Mexico and another state. That’s why I recommend a psychiatrist first, they are MD’s. As for weeding out pseudoscientists and people with odd beliefs, yes, unfortunately we have to do that with everyone we encounter, even with MD’s.

  9. UPDATE:

    I am making a huge change in my life. I got in touch with an old friend (he moved away about 6 years ago) and we talked about what was going on in my life, and how screwed up I am. I didn’t know it but it seems that he was in the same place I was when he left here and moved.
    He said that he had to go and do something, and that he would call me back in a couple of hours. Well, that something was buying me a one-way ticket to Calgary! He wants me to come and visit, and hopefully stay with him, as he finds himself suddenly without a roommate.
    It’s scary, but it’s a good scary, kinda like opening night jitters!

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