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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.

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

  1. Diane says:

    I love that you listed the symptoms of abuse to conquer. I am in the process of divorce after a 31 year marriage. Things started out great at 21 & very slowly deteriorated. The issue became that I was raising 4 kids & so focused on their well being that I forgot who I was. When my youngest graduated college I no longer saw my reflection when I looked in the mirror, the woman I once was, had disappeared. I was peering at an empty shell with no self esteem & little hope. When I neared my 50th birthday I made a decision to reclaim my self. It has taken me 3 years & countless nights of sleeping in my car & several admissions to psychiatric hospitals but now I am ready to discover life & spread my wings. I was so close to giving up but somehow I held onto my strength & the hope of what was in my future if I could get away.

  2. Carol says:

    I don’t know if the emotional effects ever go completely away. I had a little rough child hood. No abuse really, just neglect I think. Maybe a bit of verbal abuse but it has changed me. I am in my 50′s and still look at things lots differently than the regular person. I am very sensitive to others and their feelings because of what I’ve been through. Maybe it made me a more thoughtful kind person than if I hadn’t endured what I did. I do know that I can get my feeling hurt easily and it is very hard for me to confront the person that has been offensive. I enjoyed your article! Thanks!

  3. Louise G says:

    I was severely emotionally abused to the point I was suicidal. Today, almost ten years after he was arrested, I am in love with me, my life and everyone in it.

    Yes, you can heal. In fact, I believe my life is better, brighter, more brilliant than even before I met him.

    It is a wonderful journey to heal. Because in healing, we let go of the voices that would have us believe abuse is all we deserve.

    I followed you here, btw, from Jodi Aman’s blog. Glad I did!

  4. Jocelyn says:

    This was very helpful. Thank you. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who experienced this.

  5. I am so grateful to have found this post via Twitter. I’ve already shared it there and with a blog friend too.

    My joke is instead of “you had me at hello”, “you had me at ‘conquer’”! :) I’m looking forward to learning and growing. I wish you all the best!

    Blessings, Love & Peace,
    RH

  6. Zoe says:

    I was severely mentally, emotionally physically and sexually abused. I feel like you are writing about me in many areas. I am on the road to recovery through therapy but it’s a long hard road. I’m so glad you got out and are on your own journey to recovery!

  7. Michelle says:

    I was married for 16 years , on our honeymoon my husband slapped me across the face because I wasn’t looking at him while he was talking to me, I was only 18 he was 23 yrs old. After that it was emotional abuse from not only him but his mother too. After 10 yrs of the emotional, mental and physical abuse, more mental and emotional although I did get thrown across the room, shook the life out of me and hit a few more times. It got to the point were I started having panic attacks and deep depression, after 6 more years of this he left me and our 2 young boys for another woman. I’m now Addicted to Xanax and still need so much healing, even after 10 yrs after divorce. When he talks to me he’s still abusive. His mother was just as abusive so I had it coming at me everywhere , I knew if I stuck up for myself he’d leave me so I kept quiet, the last time he hit me I got in his face and told him if he does it again I would call the cops. I still have nightmares weekly of his abuse, I can’t afford counseling , I feel frozen with anxiety and fear most of the time with low self esteem. I can’t go on this way much longer. I’m still depressed and tried meds they all have very bad side effects. I’m tired of pretending my life is fine when I’m so lonely and confused .

  8. Al says:

    I think the one that sticks out for me: not trusting future relationships, for fear that I will allow even nastier people in my heart who will also ill-treat my children. I also fear that there will be a honeymoon period after which I will fall for her self-serving “love” again. These people are such good con artists that even if you know they’re doing you wrong, you so desperately want to believe that they are not as bad as they behave. And many times you pull out all the stops to make them happier only to be told time and again that you are not romantic enough, i.e. you don’t know what romance is since they are the sole authors of truth in the universe. Then sooner or later you stop believing in romance and your belief is strengthened that “lovers” only want to know you because of their own selfish reasons and not because their need to be your soul-mate.

  9. joann dixon says:

    wonderful article, thank you. My hx. is child abuse, 23 yr. abusive marriage,10 yr.second marriage,totally abusive, 7 yr.relationship,abusive now ended. I cannot seem to change ingrained automatic patterns of behavior/response. What has changed is my (slowly) growing awareness of my male partner’s tactics and techniques as they assume their chosen position of dominance and control

  10. Heather says:

    I just read this, broke down crying because every word was like reading the story of my life ….knowing these feeling are legitimate, that I can overcome this, that there is hope. I am beginning my journey, back to myself. I have been gone for too long….

  11. jane says:

    I have never cried while reading any other articles on line ,but I cried reading every one of your writings.i don’t know why.i am dating a narcissist sadist for a few months now. we don’t live togrther so im free to leave but cant.i don’t know why. maybe you can tell me.he has abused me every way.i need to understand why Im staying with him before I can leave so I don’t go back to him over and over.

  12. One of the reasons you may be staying with him is because abusers work very hard to scare you out of leaving. They manipulate you into thinking that without the relationship with them, you will fail. This manipulation is covert and you won’t see it in the beginning, but you can learn to see it now.

    There are several good books on the topic, but you could start with almost any book by Patricia Evans or Lundy Bancroft. Lundy Bancroft has one called “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Abusive Men” and your library should be able to provide it to you if you cannot purchase it. Goodreads has many excerpts from the book at https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/217475-why-does-he-do-that-inside-the-minds-of-angry-and-controlling-men

    I understand the desire to understand why you’re staying BEFORE you leave. But I challenge you to do that in reverse. Leave, and then with the clearer mind that results from being away from the abuser, you will more easily see why you stayed.

    Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or (1-800-787-3224 if you’re hearing impaired). Their website is at http://thehotline.org and offers a chat service. The hotline is a great place to start when you know you need to do something about the abuse now – and it seems that you know you do need to do something.

    Best wishes – Stay strong.

  13. Mia says:

    I got married at the age of 18, before meeting him I was confident independent, vibrant, full of joy and life. I knew what I wanted in life and didn’t hesitate going after my dreams. It started off just like a fairytale he swooped me off my feet. Roses, dates the feeling of being a queen. We were inseparable. The abuse was very slow a nudge here and there, then the emotional abuse begin. He was controlling manipulative and physical abusive I finally left after 9 years. We have 3 beautiful daughters which is why I worked up the courage to finally leave. Its been 2 years since I left and every time I feel like Im completely healed….a wound re-opens. I got involved with another relationship after that failed and the third relationship that failed again. I took the third relationship the hardest because I was finally able to let my guard down and now we dated for a year in a half and he disappeared on me without any closure or goodbye or explanation I cant help to think of course I was the cause for him leaving because IM too emotionally damaged. Now I’m depressed and have to start the healing process all over again. I’m just at the point in life where I don’t see any reason to trust love again. How can someone who loves you treat you like crap for that many years after supporting them and being by their side.

  14. Mia, remember that healing is a two steps forward and one step back process. The wounds may re-open, but they can’t hurt you as badly as the first time. You’ve gotten stronger since leaving, so don’t sell yourself short.

    As for the relationships, some people find that being by themselves for awhile allows them to recuperate and regroup. Maybe it could help you too.

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