When you think of trauma you probably think of trauma associated with physical and sexual abuse. But what about trauma resulting from emotional abuse?
A lesser-known and talked about subject is emotional or psychological trauma. This is also known as verbal or emotional abuse.
Although physical abuse can leave visible marks on the outside of the body, emotional abuse scars the mind. It changes who a person is long-term.
Once someone has experienced psychological abuse, their lives are never the same.
I’m not saying that emotional about is more deadly than physical or sexual abuse.
All abuse is horrible and equally devastating. But other abuse like physical or domestic violence rarely starts out of the blue.
There are signs of psychological abuse before the physical abuse begins.
Psychological abuse is rarely talked about altogether. Many believe that once the emotional abuse stops, the person moves on and recovers.
But many survivors are left with hauntings of past abuse that affects their lives long after the abuse stops.
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Lasting Effects Of Emotional Abuse
Little or no memories
The mind is a funny thing. Science is yet to fully understand how the brain works especially when it comes to memories.
When someone experiences emotional distress for a significant period of time, their memory will begin to fade or block out memories.
When a specific trauma is experienced, the brain will actually begin to forget pieces or the whole event as a whole.
While you know you suffered a traumatic event, sometimes the mind won’t allow you to remember the details of the event.
Other people remember only glimpses or bits and pieces of an event.
There is a reason you may experience memory loss related to emotional trauma and/or abuse.
According to Northwestern Medicine, suppressed memories are a memory loss process called state-dependent learning. This learning process occurs when the brain creates a memory from a particular mood.
Those memories are then unable to be retrieved when in a conscious state.
In other words, your brain will forget trauma on purpose!
If you’ve experienced emotional abuse for some time, you will slowly grow feelings of mistrust toward pretty much everyone.
Although it may be wise to keep your heart guarded to protect yourself from future abuse or mistreatment, you may still mistrust those closest to you who deserve and earned trust.
It’s hard to move on from emotional scars inflicted by someone you once cared for and loved.
Typically, emotional abuse occurs at the hands of someone closest to you like a family member, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
Once someone betrays your trust by mistreating you, you’re forever fearful of getting abused again. This leads to a constant suspiciousness of everyone you encounter in life.
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Anxiety and panic attacks
Anxiety and panic attacks happen with both short and long-term abuse. Anxiety is a mental disorder that sneaks up on you.
You don’t suddenly wake up one day and realize you’re suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
Instead, you don’t know you have anxiety until it starts negatively affecting your life.
Whether you remember your emotional trauma or not, not working through the trauma leads to anxiety and panic attacks.
Don’t worry you’re not alone in this.
If you follow this blog at all, you’ll know I’m really honest about living with anxiety and occasional panic attacks.
Over the years my anxiety has only increased. Yes, I manage it with medication and self-help techniques like exercise, but it’s still present in my daily life.
I’ll be the first to admit that my anxiety is caused by past emotional abuse.
Honestly, I try and suppress the worst memories on purpose. I’d rather forget them altogether because they cause that much pain.
But I know if I forget about the memories and not work through them, they sneak up on me and create panic attacks.
Yes, the emotional trauma you have suffered can lead to chronic pain issues along with headaches.
When you experience anxiety related to past trauma it puts your body into a fight-or-flight response causing the nervous system to be on constant high alert.
In actual dangerous situations, this response is a natural way to keep yourself safe. But when you’re feeling the response related to the memories of past trauma, anxiety and/or panic attacks occur.
If your nervous system is in constant overdrive, you will feel always on edge… Anticipating something bad will happen at any moment.
Self-destructive behaviors are any behavior someone does that causes harm to themselves.
Such examples of self-destructive tendencies include…
While many people tend to think of others who engage in self-destructive behavior as having an “addictive personality,” this dismisses the person’s underlying issues that cause the behavior.
I do think some people do have addictive personalities that cause them to seek out destructive behavior for the thrill of it.
But then some indulge in destructive behavior…
-To escape the memories of their past trauma
-To feel something other than being “numb”
-As a way of punishing themselves
-To cover up feelings of guilt
-Because unconsciously believe they not worth anything
These self-destructive behaviors are one of the most devastating lasting effects of emotional abuse because the tendencies can span years.
Someone can be trapped in a cycle of drug abuse because they still have not recovered or healed from the psychological trauma that was inflicted upon them.
Feeling out of body
Feeling like you are detached from your body is also known as derealization or depersonalization disorder. The disorder itself is marked by periods of feeling like you’re living in a dream.
Some people actually feel as though they are staring at themselves outside their own body.
There’s no known cause to the disorder, but those who’ve experienced emotional abuse are more likely to have the disorder.
Although this is an official disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 you can still experience many of the symptoms of depersonalization/derealization.
You can experience the symptoms of the disorder when any sort of traumatic memories are triggered.
No one really knows why someone as feelings of derealization, but it could be a way for the mind to escape the pain caused by emotional abuse.
Loss of self
If you’ve experienced any significant amount of emotional abuse… The longer the abuse goes on, the more you tend to lose yourself. Why?
The hallmark traits of emotional abuse include victim-blaming, name-calling, insults, and control.
Combine all these traits together and overtime every aspect of your life is being controlled by someone else.
The dreams you once had for your life are now not allowed to come true because you’ve been made to feel worthless about yourself…
The friends you loved being with you hardly see anymore… Even the way you look and speak is being questioned and ridiculed.
After a while of this continual emotional abuse, you believe everything that’s said about you.
It’s almost like you’re living in a shell of yourself with no individuality left. You’re simply whatever the abuser wants or accuses you of being.
Even years after the abuse, you’re still trying to find the real you. Not what someone has told you who you are.
Many people tend to believe that flashbacks only happen with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of combat/war. But flashbacks can happen to anyone who has experienced a particularly traumatic event.
This includes car accidents, sexual assaults, rapes, physical abuse, and more.
For those who’ve suffered emotional abuse, they can still experience nightmares or flashbacks, but maybe not to the same intensity.
For instance, certain word combinations when someone is speaking to you will trigger a haunting memory of being screamed at that escalated to a physical fight.
Feelings of shame or worthlessness
Feeling ashamed of yourself or feeling like your worthless or never good enough for anything lasts well after you escape the psychological abuse.
When you’re told your not good enough or worthless for so long, you mind begins to believe it.
Name calling, criticism, mocking, and more wear down your self-esteem after a while. It’s hard to rebuild confidence after so much belittling.
Unfortunately, that’s what an abuser wants you to feel… Worthless.
Although only the abuser truly known the motivation behind his/her actions for making you feel worthless there are some common reasons why:
-He/she wants to wreck your confidence in order to rebuild you in their image of what they think you should be
-He/she reflects his/her insecurities on you (Example: The abuser feels “stupid,” therefore insults revolved around your lack of intelligence)
-He/she wants to control every aspect of your life including how you think
-He/she wants to convince you you’re worthless that way you don’t have the confidence to leave the relationship
While these are just suspicions of why the abuse wants you to feel ashamed, whatever the reason is…
The truth is the emotional abuse works long after it ends because you’re still trying to shake off those feelings of shame and worthlessness about yourself.
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There is a cycle of abuse and it happens with emotional abuse as well.
There’s the tension building phase where the abuser insults, yells, withdrawals affection, etc. Then there’s the explosion when a fight occurs verbally or physically were the victim wants to leave the relationship.
Finally, the honeymoon phase occurs when the abuser apologizes, says he/she will change.
During the honeymoon phase, the abuser stops the insults, threats, and more and returned to being the person you fell in love with.
The best version of themselves.
Unfortunately, it never lasts and slowly the abuser begins to throw out slight insults and belittling comments as tension slowly builds again to move into the explosive phase.
After multiple runs through the cycle of abuse you tend to get use to the cycle and suspect what is coming with it. This may make you feel hopeless about your relationship ever changing.
But does this same hopeless feeling continue on after the abuse stops?
YES! Those who have suffered past trauma from mental abuse can feel hopeless about future relationships, events, and life in general.
And it all stems from the emotional abuse cycle of the past.
Lack of concentration
Along with being a common symptom of depression, a lack of concentration is often due to extreme stress. And let’s face it…
Emotional trauma is a form of extreme stress.
You’re constantly feel as though you’re “walking on “eggshells” with your abuser.
While the emotional trauma in your life may be far from gone, the lingering feelings of high stress are still there.
You now find yourself in a frustrating position when you’re trying to concentrate on a task and find yourself reliving horrible memories.
Not always can you help yourself and not always are the triggered memories of abuse preventable.
“Numb” is a feeling where you don’t feel anything. You don’t cry, feel anger, or frustration. You simply feel nothing related to your past trauma.
Although sometimes it may be acceptable to numb your feelings in order to feel your emotions in control.
Numbing emotions will only make it harder to heal from the past abuse. But there’s an even darker side to numbing emotions.
When you numb emotions about past mental abuse, you may be more susceptible to future abuse. This is because you’re “numb” to the signs of emotional abuse.
Therefore, you may find yourself in another abusive relationship because that’s simply what you’re use to.
This lasting effect of emotional trauma is one of the biggest I struggle with to this day.
Irritability and anxiety are best friends. I feel like you can’t have one without the other. Why?
Because when anxiety is at its highest, you can become irritable very quickly.
I don’t mean to be quick-tempered with friends and family, but when I am on the verge of a panic attack, I’m trying to slow my breathing and change my thought process away from what I’m anxious about.
It’s hard to do that when someone is talking to you, completely obvious to my rise in anxiety. Then again, I’m pretty good at hiding anxiety.
I hide my anxiety because how can I tell someone the reason I have anxiety/panic attack is because something triggered my memory of a flashback of past emotional abuse?
For someone who’s never suffered any abuse, it seems ridiculous to them. But some things in life in life are hard to get over.
Although many of the effects of emotional trauma on this list are depression symptoms alone, I feel that each need to be highlighted because they’re more than just a symptom of depression. Plus, not everyone gets depression.
Some get lack of concentration or acquire a destructive behavior without other depression symptoms.
Depression is a complex disorder. No one person experiences the same symptoms, let alone the same reason for the depression.
But past abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional all increase the likelihood of receiving a depression diagnosis.
If you experience depression due to past emotional trauma, know that you’re not alone.
While your life moves forward, the mind still remembers the scars emotional trauma inflicted on you.
In the words of Rose Kennedy~ “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain, In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
Years after I ended a relationship with someone, an acquaintance asked me about the relationship and why we broke up.
My response: “We broke up because he was mentally abusive.”
The acquaintance response: “But he didn’t hit you did he?”
This response shows you the depth of misunderstand people have toward emotional abuse.
I wasn’t being overly dramatic with my response, I was being honest. No, he did not hit me because I left the relationship fearing eventually he would hit me.
So I left before he had a chance to!
Just because someone doesn’t have bruises and scars, doesn’t mean they were not abused.
Emotional abuse always occurs before physical abuse in a relationship. There are signs of emotional abuse present if you are able to recognize the signs.
Normally, you don’t see those abuse signs until you’ve already lost yourself in the relationship.
Emotional abuse is just as horrible as every other type of abuse. All abuse types are terrible and no one deserves to be abused.
The effects of abuse and emotional trauma continue on long after the abuse stops.
It’s been over 7 years since I left an emotionally abusive relationship. Almost 7 of those years I’ve been married, and I still feel at times I’m trapped in a mental hell of everything he said and did to me.
Abuse changes you. I use to have hopes and aspirations for my future.
But when you’re in an abusive relationship, those dreams are crushed because the abuser tells you you’re “too stupid for that job,” or “you aren’t allowed to make more money than him”. Looking back…
Who knows how my life would have turned out if I’d never been in that relationship.
I can’t go back and change the past. I can only move forward and try to slowly rebuild my self-worth and focus on being the best version of myself whether anyone accepts it or not.
If you have any of the above lasting effects from emotional abuse, know that you’re not alone!
I still have much of these lasting side effects. While many will try and diminish your emotional pain because the abuse didn’t come with bruises and scars…
The psychological pain is still very real and present. You deserve to be listened to about the emotional trauma you experienced.