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After Emotional Abuse: Do the Side-Effects Ever Disappear?

After emotional abuse, or rather, after I left my abusive husband, I hoped the effects of abuse would disappear. Magically. Without any work from me.

Those hopeful feelings minimized the difficulty of coping with life and relationships after emotional abuse. The intelligent part of me knew that after emotional abuse it would take time to recover from the emotional trauma and regain my mental health.

Alas, the intelligent part of me was correct.

Mental Changes After Emotional Abuse

During domestic violence and abuse, victims, by and large, become people they no longer like. When someone you think you love spews hatred like buckshot, it is natural to retaliate against the abuse. Unfortunately, self-defense can get nasty.

Defending yourself in unhealthy ways can become habit. Not only can that habit spill over to innocent people (like your children), but those unhealthy habitual thoughts integrate themselves into your brain – they become your new thoughts. In that way, you become someone you do not like.

At one point during my emotionally abusive marriage I wrote:

The abuse is bad, but the things I’ve allowed to change in my mind and heart are horrid. 

That thought started my recovery from domestic violence. I had not left the marriage yet, but with that statement, I took one giant, healthy mental step forward. The understanding I gained was that I, not my abuser, have the power to change and create how I think, feel and act. I’d given my power to change to him. I needed to take it back.

allowed my abuser’s negative thoughts to infiltrate my brain during the emotional abuse. Now it was up to me to deny their ability to dominate me. I had to change my thoughts so I could be who I wanted to be.

My Recovery at 2 Years, 8 Months After Emotional Abuse

After emotional abuse is out of your life, rapid healing begins. Then it slows down a bit and you wonder if this is as good as it gets. It isn't. Read this.

Patricia Evans, author of several books about verbal abuse, offers a *list of symptoms abuse victims may suffer. Here’s a look at that list along with my experience in recovering from them.

A verbal abuse victim often . . .

  • distrusts their spontaneity and suffers a loss of enthusiasm

My enthusiasm for my future returned around three months after emotional abuse was in the rear-view mirror. My spontaneity took a little longer because I believed he had spies watching me. I kept it low-key so the spies would have nothing to tell him.

  • lives in a perpetually in a ready, on-guard state

If you suffer PTSD, this symptom will take time to conquer. For me, eventually, after realizing the spies were phantoms implanted in my head, I learned how to relax. I began to trust the peace I created in my home after leaving emotional abuse.

  • wonders about how they are coming across

Soon after emotional abuse ended, I discovered that he was the only person who misunderstood what I said or misinterpreted my behaviors. Every new person I met understood me perfectly. Now I’m writing a blog that hopefully you understand, too.

  • thinks and feels that something is wrong with her

Within the first year, I realized that I am not as damaged as I thought. Yes, I have issues to work through, but everyone does (except for my ex who still loves himself just as he is). I am at peace with myself and my point in recovery from emotional abuse.

  • soul-searches and reviews incidents in hope of determining “what went wrong”

I don’t do this anymore. I am able to go through entire days without thinking about my ex or how things could have been. I could go longer without thinking of him, but we have children together and there is contact.

  • hears only her internalized critical voice

The hardest after emotional abuse, for me, is separating my internal nag from his criticisms of me. I sometimes ask myself, “Kellie, is this what he told you?” If it is, I banish the thought without question. Hell, sometimes I banish my internal nag too. Feels good!

  • suffers from anxiety or fear of being crazy

I am sane. I do not doubt my sanity any longer – not for one second. The anxiety associated with the fear that I might be crazy is gone. After emotional abuse ends, meaning I have a home that doesn’t include him, the distance lets me see very clearly who is crazy. Not me.

  • wishes she was not the way she is – “too sensitive”, etc.

I am perfectly me. Sometimes a person’s statement or word choice will sting because they are similar to my abuser’s words. Sometimes I overreact. But the people I choose to have in my life are safe; I can tell them exactly what I’m feeling and they respond to me with love. The more I let myself trust them, the less often I feel those stings.

  • is hesitant to accept her perceptions

Now my perceptions are the most important ones to me. I realize that the way I perceive things may not be complete, so I ask people what they meant when they said or did something. I do not try to read their minds. I listen to their explanations. I can tell whether they’re lying or not in time by watching what they do.

  • tends to live in the future – “everything will be great when/after”, etc.

I do look forward to future events (like graduation and moving to Austin), but I do my best to make now great, too. Life flows, and it feels good to be in the flow instead of predicting what will happen when or after emotional abuse occurs.

  • has a distrust of future relationships

I once thought I was unlovable and couldn’t be a great friend because he didn’t love me and he didn’t want my friendship. After all of that emotional abuse, it is taking some time to trust my perceptions of other people. I’m relearning how to listen to my gut feeling about someone; not perfect yet, but looking forward to testing it.

Is Complete Recovery Possible After Emotional Abuse?

I believe we can conquer all of these horrible side-effects after emotional abuse is out of our lives. Some effects will take more time than others. Trusting myself seems to be at the core of it all.

I’m not done healing, but I will completely heal. I will completely trust myself. It will be sooner rather than later. It can happen for you, too.

See “Do the effects of abuse change you permanently?”


*Evans, P. (1996). The verbally abusive relationship: how to recognize it and how to respond (Expanded 2nd ed.). Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media Corporation.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

47 thoughts on “After Emotional Abuse: Do the Side-Effects Ever Disappear?”

  1. It’s been 2 years since my split from my husband going through the divorce now. I am single handedly raising my 3 year old daughter. I spent 10 years with him emotional abuse thankful it never got to physical. But after two years I haven’t even begun to heal. Whenever I finally feel ready to move on I see him with his new fiance and his two new kids in the store. It’s not love I feel anymore once he was gone the denial lifted. Now it’s fear an anxiety. I’m not sure I’ll ever cope. His new fiance will approach me like I’m her friend and hell stand there eyeballing me and my daughter not speaking his look alone caused a panic attack it lasts for hours after the meeting. For months I felt safe and happy moving on but the last two days we’ve crashed into one another and it just brings all those bad memories back and I have to fight my inner demons all over again trying to claw my way out of that dark space in my head.

  2. I was married to a woman for 24(!!??) years who was extremely emotionally abusive. I stayed with her because we had children and I felt it was important for the children to have two parents, and because I naively thought if I was nice enough to her, she would gradually come around. So this being abused thing also can happen to a guy.

    Instead, she got nuttier with time. She would stop talking with me for days, and I rarely knew why. If we had intimacy once a month, I considered myself lucky, and even then, it was something she did because she felt she had a religious obligation to have sex, not because she wanted to be close.

    When our youngest turned 13 she went uber bonkers, accused me of having an affair and secret bank accounts. Thank God I gave her a divorce and am now remarried to a woman who loves me. I was awarded full custody of the younger children.

    It was like those 24 years with the first one I was never married. We’ve been married for 12 years and still feel like newlyweds. It is really a blessing. And our children, each of whom has had counseling to help cope with their mother’s strangeness, are doing fine, thank God.

    And the first wife? Gets nuttier by the year. She has cut off all communication with our children save one, and she spends her time harassing people on the telephone. And she still creeps me out, even though she lives 7,000 miles away.

  3. I feel like Im dying inside and what scares me most is being unhappy for 20 years is way to long to dream or believe I can or will be able to welcome with open arms and embrace life as I did one day a long time a go. MY body is in motion but my heart and soul are rolled up in a ball in the depth of where we go to protect what ever we many have left but am I really breathing?

  4. I have tears running down my face having just read your article. I went to a women’s centre appointment and told them everything and they confirmed it was emotional abuse when I finally asked my husband to leave the marital home after a very lonely unhappy 19 year marriage and told him I was fed up of his affairs lies and emotional abuse he told me I was insane and did not know truth from reality and lots of other things too numerous to mention……. I believed him! I told him about my appointments and he said they only thought my husband was emotionally abusive based on what I had told them and that there is two sides to every story. He often says that one day he will tell my family and friends what I am really like and that our children are already beginning to realise…… I began to believe I was bad and had done something wrong…. Your article felt like you was writing about me, so accurate, thank you

  5. I’ve been with a verbal abuser for 13 years. I’ve experienced everything mentioned in this article. The thing that stuck out to me is the part about abusers convincing the abused that they can’t make it without them. Another thing mentioned in the article is how the abuse has changed me to the point that I am someone I don’t recognize and do not like. It has made me act almost as badly as him at times. When I have talked to him and explained that I think we’re better off apart, he tells me I’m like my mother (married 7 times) and that I want to leave at any sign of trouble (even though he’s the one who used to tell me to get out over any little thing that made him mad). I’ve raised his daughters, and sacrificed attention I could’ve been giving my son and myself for all these years. I feel crazy most of the time. Two of his daughters have moved out because they can’t take his constant criticism. I’m afraid to leave because I know I will begin grieving over the time I lost, the way I’ve betrayed myself for allowing this to happen to me for years, and the unanswerable “why”. He has mellowed out over the years, (especially after watching me have a nervous breakdown) but I’m still not happy and I feel like I need to get away to heal.

  6. Saw this article by chance online. Thanks for your advice and all the others’ sharing. It helps a lot to know that I’m not alone in this kind of horrific experience. I was in love with a classmate for 4 years, but we never dated. He’s verbally abusive, often calling nasty names and trashing everything I did. He would call me “fat”, “annoying as hell”, “shallow”, “superficial”, “stupid” and many more, Even if I was one of the best students in my school, and got a loving family, I still felt complete worthless. We separated since graduation and he was dating one of my friends. I once confronted him about he lying that he never wanted to date her. He said this was all my fault of being too gullible and annoying.

    After I left, he contacted me once or twice, especially when he knew I was struggling on the professional side. He preyed on my vulnerability, my constant desire for his approval and support. But I was too exhausting to allow him to be back in my life. I pushed him away and he never contacted me again. I have been happier ever since, with my loving family and many supportive friends who share similar interests and worldview with me.

    8 years later, I learnt about emotional abuse, I realized he is an abuser. I am not the problem, but he is. I have been working on healing for 4 years now. Sometimes I still have nightmares about him, waking up wondering if I’m worthless and unlovable. I also have difficulty in finding partners. I can’t help but keep finding something trivial on every guy I met and like reminding me some parts of him. This makes me so scared to start a new relationship. I’m still very young at 22, I’m afraid that I’m too emotional damaged to even find my first ever serious date. Honestly I don’t know what to do, even if he’s no longer in my life.

  7. I have just read all of this and can’t beleive it …after 13 yrs of not being with my abusive pattner now he is trying to control my son who is 18 which he left when my son was 3 ..don’t know what to do

  8. I was married to a doctor for 13 years, didn’t know he was BIPOLAR……he refused treatment, he was a spend a holic…………out of control………slept with over 16 women that I knew about ……..most were patients and old fat and ugly,,,,,,,,,,,,,threw things at me, screamed at me daily, belittled me, when I was ill he let me rot, never once tried to give me medication, he used my sick time as perfect for going out with women.
    My cardiologist told me if I didn’t leave I would be dead in so many years.

    Seven years since the divorce, still in a legal battle of my life, he spent over half a million in legal fees seven lawyers later and still won’t settle, for the first four years he paid me at will my alimony. He moved in with one of his women the night I booted him, ten months later he dumped her for someone else………..It took me years to learn how to be calm,
    he lives a lavish lifestyle while I struggle. But I wouldn’t change my life for the world, I never look back.

    I have been told that he lives with a woman that he fears, SHE TREATS HIM LIKE HE TREATED ME……………KARMA CAN BE A GOOD THING

  9. I have never felt so much resonance with an article in my life. Most of you and the author suffered emotional abuse from your partners but I was a abused by my father from as early as I can remember till I left home at 20. It was strictly verbal abuse except once when I was a teenager and I almost killed him. My mom was his punching bag though till I was big enough to to scare him physically. From the age of about 7, I knew I was differebt from all my friends and classmates. I would be crying on my way to school but somehow become
    normal by the time I got there, laughing and playing like normal. By the time, I was 13, I had completely withdrawn from my family and friends and started hanging with people who got high…..and boy was that wonderful. Beautiful escape from reality for a few hours. Anyways am now 29, and suffering from all the above symptoms. Probably a borderline alcoholic as well ( i Binge drink about twice per month). could anyone of you good people reccomend an online forun like this where I could get some sort of therapy. I live in Uganda, Africa and therapy is not as advanced or regulated as it is in the west. When I was in high school, I spoke to the school counsellor about the abuse at home and she told all the other teachers. Thanks!

    “Weep not child, these dark clouds shall not long hold the sky”

    1. Michael, I can’t help you find anything in Uganda because I’m ignorant of the country’s services. I’m sorry for that. But, you can contact the NDVH at http://thehotline.org and perhaps they can help you find some support.

      Maybe you could find an AA group or something similar (online or in Uganda) to start. If possible, take a chance on the best therapist you can find in Uganda, within reasonable traveling distance. I’m sure there are good ones despite regulation and advancement in general. Don’t lose heart – some of my best therapy hasn’t come from therapists but from people who have been in my shoes.

      I sincerely hope you find some beneficial contacts in Uganda. A quick Internet search didn’t turn up much for me, but I did find one page that may get you started: https://recoveryministries.wordpress.com/ministries-2/aa-support-group/aa-meetings-uganda/

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