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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Abuse Recovery: Defining the Terms of Engagement

yoyoWhen involved with an abuser it it very common to get caught up in his or her “game” where you end up constantly responding and reacting to the madness, and you find yourself doing it automatically, without even thinking. Before you know it, you realize you are on the end of someone else’s psychological yo-yo, going up and down with his or her moods.

You discover that you have been trained to constantly scan the emotional horizon of your loved one, trying to figure out your next step based on your best assessment of your loved one’s mood or potential reaction.

Why not learn how to change things up a bit, so that you are not merely reacting and responding, but rather, are in control of the rules; or at minimum you can be in control of your self?  After all, who made the other person in charge of every encounter?

As an adult in recovery, trying to figure out how to change the dynamics of the relationship proves to be challenging. Many people advise you to “go no contact.”  This advice is often short-sighted and not adhered to.  Is there another way to navigate a relationship with an emotional abuser, addict, or manipulator without going completely “no contact?”  I believe there is.

I have observed that narcissistic types like to blame other people for the problems (the irony.)  Being blamed tends to cause the other person to feel defensive.  Since abusers and narcissists love to project their negativity on to others, their interactions tend to engender adverse emotions.  This is by design, and will not be fixed. The best approach for dealing with these people is to be armed with knowledge and a plan.

The typical approach to dealing with difficult people involves two words:  “boundaries” and “detachment.”  While these terms are not pleasant to think about, they do contain a lot of much needed power for you if you really do want to disentangle yourself from the craziness your loved one brings.

A good way to set boundaries is to start out with defining your “bottom line behaviors.” Remember, boundaries are about your behaviors, not the other person’s.  Here is an example of a bottom line behavior you could establish for yourself: “I will not engage in conversations when I feel defensive.”  This would transfer into a boundary.  If you find yourself in an interaction with anyone and notice you are feeling defensive, you can make a conscious choice not to react or even respond and find a way to kindly excuse yourself.

After all, why on earth should you have to defend yourself in the first place to anyone?  No matter what you do, people who are hell bent on making you bad will use any means to do so. Try not to get caught up in their game of, “You’re the bad guy!”

This ability to set boundaries involves both awareness and making self-affirming choices.  First of all, you must learn to be aware of your feelings. Second, you must make a conscious choice to behave in alignment with your boundaries.

The second tool to use when dealing with your difficult loved one is detachment. Detachment is similar to disengagement. You must learn to disengage from the emotional quagmire that your crazy maker brings.  This means you must emotionally remove yourself from involvement and learn to not be committed to a particular outcome.

Remind yourself to stop being a participant in the “dance” of insanity that has become so familiar to everyone involved.

Detachment requires practice.  Do not expect it to be easy and do not expect yourself to do it perfectly.  It is hard to detach from difficult people because, together, you have masterfully developed a negative pattern of relating.  The good news is, that you can change this negative pattern by removing yourself from the interaction.

Think of yourself as a fish and the other person as the fisherman.  He or she will inevitably send you a hook.  The hook usually comes in the form of an invitation to interact in a typical crazy making encounter. Your fishhookloved one may use a guilt trip or some other sort of manipulation. He or she may attack you, pout, imply, or in some other way hook you with some emotional “bait.”

Remember, just because you get invited to a party, it is your choice as to whether or not you attend. Simply make the conscious choice to respond (at least mentally) when invited to your difficult person’s “party,” with a subtle, yet firm, “No.”

Remember – It is better to be the subject of your own life, than the object of someone else’s.

I love using music therapy to help me heal.  Enjoy this great song for self-empowerment:

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Abuse Recovery: Defining the Terms of Engagement

Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California ( Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach -


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2017). Abuse Recovery: Defining the Terms of Engagement. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 25, 2020, from