Death by One Thousand Cuts

“Death by one thousand cuts” is described as, a form of torture and human execution which was utilized in China (between 900 to 1905). It entailed the strategic cutting (described as slicing) of the tortured toward a lingering and pending death. I recently heard this phrase in reference to the loss of relationship caused by the slow whittling away of the speaker’s sense of self and safety in that relationship. It was a painful and heartbreaking story to hear and one which, sadly, myself and some of you may relate to.

While I won’t share another’s story, this seemed a poignant description of the process of losing oneself in a relationship to another’s wants or needs. A relationship in which the other “partner” engaged in serial boundary crossing and appeared to have no real investment in partnership. Or, the investment may have been (or is) at a minimum self-serving. At the extreme (as in the ancient technique) the other may have utilized intentional efforts to harm. Most serial boundary violators work very hard to build a narrative in which they had no other choice but to cross multiple boundaries. They in essence see themselves as “the” victim.

Sometimes it seems the only result (after such a profound loss of self) is a well of painful questions, a deep desire to understand, and a genuine need (that can only be understood in time) to resurrect one’s sense of self and safety. In truth (and dependent on many factors’ including one’s specific experience, self-concept, ability to cope and perspective build, length of time the relationship lasted, and frequency of assaults to sense of self and safety) this may take a very long time. It most certainly will be a very individual and needed process.

Often one has been so vested in making the other satisfied or making him or her happy, they have not seen the harm that has come to them. This can be a painful reality once it has surfaced and can generally only begin once distance from the relationship has occurred.

The questions that seem to be asked most often include, how could my person do this to me? Did they stop loving me and why? Am I worthy of being loved? Why didn’t I see? Why don’t they care what they have done to me or how I am doing? Did I ever mean anything to them? And many more.

The questions that might serve one better, on their path to recovery, is asking what is wrong with the other person? What allowed them to inflict the “one thousand cuts”? Do they lack empathy? Are they personality disordered? Is narcissism or sociopathy part of the psychological make-up? One mistake is feasible, but a repeated willingness to harm implies a deeper-rooted issue that extends far beyond selfishness.

There are many possibilities, and in truth a person (any person) will only cross a boundary if they are willing to cross it. There was nothing the speaker, you, or I did to make that happen. The willingness to harm by proxy or intention (when knowingly engaging is untrustworthy behavior) rests squarely on the offenders’ shoulders. It is his or hers to hold. They may not (hold it) but you don’t have too either.

While relational dynamics exists, it is not the reason one crosses boundaries. And, while both people have learning to do; the change in behavior needed by a serial boundary crosser must be done by them. You can only ask them to stop and set your own boundaries. You can’t make them, and you most certainly cannot do this for them.  

But, the speaker, you, and I can do our work. The result, of engaging in this work, can be a better understanding of self. Understanding what caused you not to see will be an important part of this process. For those that did see and stayed (or are currently staying) it will be important to understand what kept you or keeps you there? What is the need underneath this for you? Is codependency at the root and, if so, there is a roadmap to recovery.

The truth is, we all want to matter (especially to the person we chose). This innate longing is a research based human need. Having a sense of belonging makes navigating the larger world more manageable. When it has been shaken the world seems less kind and more challenging.

What I hope will become very clear is it takes willingness to see the mistreatment, it takes courage to leave or to begin the process of leaving, and it takes determination to find or rebuild yourself. But you can. You owe it to you. You are worth this journey in finding and rebuilding. It will take time. There will be tears, anger, grief, sadness and much more. But it will move, and in time you will see the person you are without the pain of what you have endured. You will see you, full of strength, and truth.

As always, I appreciate you and welcome (and look forward to) your thoughts and insights. I do want to add that if you or someone you love is in the midst of managing a serial offender, it takes time to know what to do and it takes a great deal of strength to navigate this on a day-to-day basis. Encourage them to seek support (or seek support) and, most of all, be gentle and patient with them or you. It is not easy to uproot a life and move away from what you believed was possible.

My deepest care and respect to each of you.

Resources follow:

Copyright Protected Material: © 2020 LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW. All rights reserved. Written content on this blog (Perspective on Trauma) is the property of the author LaDonna Remy, MSW, LICSW. Any unauthorized use or duplication without written permission of the author/ owner of this web log is prohibited. Excerpts or quotes may be shared in the event the author is fully cited with reference and direction to this blog.

Professional Disclaimer: It is important to recognize that all information contained in the Perspective on Trauma Blog is informational. It is not intended to provide advice, assessment, treatment, or diagnosis. Content is not intended as a substitute for clinical care. It is not possible to provide informed care through web content, or to engage in an informed treatment relationship within this format. If you or a loved one need support; it is important that you access this care from your own (specifically assigned) health care provider.

Agreement of Use: In consideration for your use of and access to the Perspective on Trauma Blog, you agree that LaDonna Remy MSW, LICSW is not liable to you for any action or non-action you may take in reliance upon information from the Perspective on Trauma blog. As noted, it is not possible to provide informed (personalized care) through blog content. In the event, support is needed it is your responsibility to seek care from your own health-care provider.

National Hotlines: 
Treatment Referral Helpline: (1-877-726-4727)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (1-800-273-8255)

Photo: Image found on Pixabay


Behary, Wendy and Young, Jeffery.  2013. Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self Absorbed. New Harbinger Publications.

Bernstein, Albert. 2012. Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry. McGraw – Hill.

Priebe, Heidi. 2016. This is Me Letting Go. (Audio Book). Create Space Independent Publisher.

Stout Martha. 2006. The Sociopath Next Door. The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us. Broadway Books.

29 thoughts on “Death by One Thousand Cuts

  1. LaDonna, this is the best yet most succinct explanations of this type of relationship psychological dilemma I have read yet! Thank YOU!
    In particular, “repeated willingness to harm implies a deeper-rooted issue that extends far beyond selfishness” and “ both people have learning to do; the change in behavior needed by a serial boundary crosser must be done by them. You can only ask them to stop and set your own boundaries. You can’t make them, and you most certainly cannot do this for them.”
    I have experienced this. Thankfully, I did get out, and learn my lessons.
    May I reblog your profoundly informative article?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sheila, thank you for the lovely compliment and sharing. It does take time, courage, and strength. I am glad you have moved away from the relationship. And, yes it is perfectly fine to share my writing. (Thank you for asking ). I hope you have a wonderful Sunday ahead. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it does (and did for me, twice). Unfortunately, I went back to my abusive, narcissistic addict spouse after 4 years (because it seemed he had made real changes), only to find myself ensnared again! It took courage, a plan, and newfound strength to leave the second time, but I did! And it fortified my resolve to be my own whole person without needing to FIX anyone else.
        The good news for me, is that when I did get my sh*t together, I attracted the love of my life!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am so very glad Sheila. I think we always want to believe in them and what we thought was true. I appreciate your thoughts and sharing your experience. It is helpful for those in the midst of this to see a genuine example or finding self and happiness. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is another very thoughtful and insightful post, LaDonna.

    It’s often sad to see when a relationship is starting to fall apart and/or when that is caused by one person taking the other for granted and as you said, inflicting the slow and painful death of one thousand cuts.

    You give a lot of good reasons for why a person may not want to leave such a volatile relationship – comfort, complacency, guilt, kids involved, los self esteem perhaps, are other reasons that may come to mind.

    But taking the first step to acknowledge that something is wrong and to find the courage to leave or to at least demand a change is a big one.

    In the end, that’s why boundaries are so so important. Enjoy your weekend and take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such an important point for the inflicted person to recovery, I cannot emphasise it better “is asking what is wrong with the other person? What allowed them to inflict the “one thousand cuts”?” So important for the person suffering to know that it’s not on them. Great advice and encouragement LaDonna, thank you for sharing 🌸💕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well explained, LaDonna, although I’d never heard the expression. I, too, was in a relationship in which my partner hurt me repeatedly. During the course of 15 years, I walked away from him many times, only to reunite afterwards. The last time I left him, I moved away. I thought about him every day for years after. It took me a very long time to see why I allowed the relationship to continue. It all boiled down to self-esteem. I’m grateful the realization congealed, and that part of my life is over. Thanks for this post. 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your words and sharing your experience Lisa. It is a painful realization and truly takes time to recover from. I am glad you are happy and free of that pain.

      I hope you have a wonderful rest of your Sunday💗

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my gosh LaDonna, thanks so much for sharing this informative piece about “cutting/slicing” which I saw on TV a few years ago that some young girls were doing it to themselves. This type of self-injury was because they were dealing with feelings that seem too monumental to bear. It’s like they were punishing themselves because of situations involving other people that they think they can’t change.

    It’s so sad really because one slip near a major artery can be tragic. WOW, I hope individuals dealing with such a crisis will find the help and therapy they need to get through this state of unhappiness and dread. Your message is one to truly think about, because it is so easy to judge. Have a FANtabulous week ahead my friend. 🥰💖😘🦋😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kym. Your point regarding self harm is well noted. And, I think that is a form of boundary crossing with self. I am hopeful
      It is recognized early and those who suffer can find a place to be understood and supported. I work with many young people and young adults who struggle in this area and genuine support is needed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you LaDonna for all that you do to help those who are dealing with the struggles and challenges of these conditions many of us are not well-versed in or even aware of. Thank you for the information you provide to make us aware that there are more individuals suffering in silence than we can imagine. We have our work cut out for us don’t we? I appreciate you and all you do my friend. 🙏🏼

        Have yourself a FANtabulous day! 🌞💖😊

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Your articles are always so wonderfully articulated and insightful, LaDonna. This one reminds me of my previous marriage, not because either of us were intentional serial offenders in the realm of boundary crossing, more that, we didn’t really know another way. While the relationship stayed in this pattern, we continued as we knew how to. When I began to dive deeper into myself, and receive outside guidance, things began to change, and pretty quickly the marriage ended. It is so helpful to step outside of the patterns we have, whatever they are, so we can see clearly what is happening. When we are in the midst of the event, we cannot see, even when we want to. Anyway, this is a lovely write, and a deep pleasure, as always to read you and reflect upon your insightful work. Have a lovely coming week, my friend. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Death by one thousand cuts”–oh my goodness, how horrific, and yet this happens. While I have not been in such a challenging relationship in this lifetime, I am thinking right now of the one thousand cuts we can give ourselves during this short journey on earth. Learning to heal, forgive and integrate those self-inflicted “cuts” can be some tough work. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Death by a thousand cuts. I’ve seen this in action. My research lead me to believe that this might be the result of someone struggling with OCD of thought. The person in question would allow some small trigger to grow and spiral out of control in his mind until he had no other outlet but to blame and victimize those closest to them. This type of illness is often associated with extreme jealousy and controlling nature. It seems to be a cousin to the situation you were describing. Thanks for sharing, the information was very helpful. Hugs, C

    Liked by 1 person

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