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