After Emotional Abuse: Do the Side-Effects Ever Disappear?
After the 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 the 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 a 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, the 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 the 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.
Jo, K. (2012, September 14). After Emotional Abuse: Do the Side-Effects Ever Disappear?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, January 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/09/emotional-effects-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
I've been doing so good, felt strong until last night ....I started to really acknowledge all the verbal assaults, the not being allowed to do anything...the name calling. The gaslighting, not being allowed to visit family. . ..or work. It's all hitting me like an ocean of salty tears.
I'm not crying because of him, or because I miss him (not one bit do I miss his chaos). I'm crying because I miss me ...that girl who use to believe in life and having fun. I don't know if she's in me anymore. 🥺
I've had those same feelings. I used to get upset that I left a part of me behind and that I would never get it back. Now that I'm almost 11 years out, I've realized she served her purpose and that something even better was waiting for me. It's a new improved me. You WILL find her. Just be patient and kind to yourself in the process. Give her time to grow. <3
Love and light-Jenn
You are incredibly strong and an inspiration! You will absolutely find YOU!! Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time to heal. I also left a relationship filled with verbal and emotional abuse. I divorced my husband of 3 years in April. I find that I am struggling more and more with that decision but also miss the old me. But when I am feeling down I remember that often the best things are the hardest to do! If I went back to the relationship I would NEVER be the person I was meant to be! And I have faith that I will absolutely find the me that my abuser tried to destroy.
Be proud of yourself!! Leaving an abuser takes incredible courage and strength!! You did it!
When he’s upset with me, he would withhold affection, and often times, he would give the cold shoulder for days on end and make me constantly pester him about what the issue is. I would constantly sense something wrong. It felt like a dark cloud and air thick with negativity. I’d ask him what was wrong over and over. I would begin to carefully do things extra thoughtful and nice for him until he would finally talk to me. And when he would finally open up, it was always more of an explosion. An explosion of complaints on why I make him unhappy or why I was the cause of his alcoholism, or why he couldn’t be himself because I didn’t want him drinking.
Although we are awaiting the final judgment of our divorce, we have agreed to live together as friends. We get along great now. He is understanding of the implications on our daughter, so this arrangement has worked out for he both of us. When our house sells, we will go our separate ways with plans for weekly family dinner and to remain friends for the sake of our daughter.
Even still though, he does sometimes try to cast blame on me. I wrote in the parenting plan that even with joint custody, I had the right to refuse his parenting time if he had been drinking on his days. He was upset about that, but I wanted that protection for our daughter. He knows I would not abuse that. I am a fair person. His response was “No, I want a clause that says I can refuse parenting time for you if you go crazy.” He’s referring to the anxiety I have developed over the past 8 years. I simply told him that I am not crazy and that I have multiple therapists that would back that up in court if he wanted me to get a lawyer. He backed off.
Then yesterday, he thought he would pry once more by asking me if I ever thought that my cellphone addiction was the cause of the marriage breaking down. Yep, he ignored his alcoholism, gaslighting, and stonewalling once again. I simply told him that my cell phone has been an escape.
The truth is, I have become isolated, the sounding board to chauvinism dressed up as innocent jokes, been blamed for alcoholism that was there before we even met, blamed for unhappiness, and scapegoated for the reason for our divorce. I am waiting ever so patiently for my half of the house profits so that I can go start over fresh across town.
He has never been violent and doesn’t have a violent bone in his body.
Peace and love-Jenn
I almost feel jelous of such short recovery time. That people can keep going on with life and fully recover. Not once did i ever think this was even remotely possible.
I struggle with recovering, because of consistant abuse, my brain has become itself a muscle memory to bounce back to the ‘ptsd submissive victim’ after any singular reminder, past events of daily anxiety (and panic attacks due to interacting with 1 on 1 people being extremely dismissive and selfish for years) plus previous people in my life, and the months and years of trying so hard to be me again, and to blossom.
Iv been suffering time and time again since childhood with emotional abuse from my mother, sister, ex husband (physicale abuse, verbal, rape), ex bf (gaslighted), miscelanious exs who have only ever intended to use me for visas, current ex (psychological projection/ defensiveness/ critisizm), all of which made it harder to become aware it was happening or that it wasnt okay, bcs at any time i tried to defend myself or make them realise it wasnt okay, they wd become dismissive. And not once did i ever think to involve the police. Thats how severe my issues were. To not have someone listen or take me seriously i feared it and relived it daily in my head and through the desperate begging and interactinf with others. That i unforgettibly regret on a daily basis for all of them getting away with everything theyve put me through while they continue on enjoying their lives probably doing it to the next person after person they meet. But the likeliness of other people being “street smart”, “self aware” and able to avoid manipulative, cunning people who lurk on others vunerabilites to lure them in; is probably allot higher than my chances ever were.
And fact i never had support from my family, at a younge age even in childhood. They wd constantly alienate me, critisize me negatively and never encourage or praise me when i did anything meaningful or worth praise, which always left me feeling like i wasnt good enough or valued in their eyes ment it kept happening. It left me in constant state of despair that i try and still try to ignore and focus on good things time and time again as i searched for love and comfort and support elsewhere in another human being (because essentialy loving myself was not going to happen bcs i never felt able to grow, feel safe, or express myself without being harshly critisized or punished in order for that to happen). I continualy tried with my family even after leaving home as a teen, and they kept failing me and critisizing me every step i made in life. Like they were poison and didnt want any good to happen to me.and so i had only option to continue cutting them out of my life, and periodicly hope like hell that they wd show me love i deserved. So yes i kept going back. They expected me to be subserviant, obeying, respectful, empethatic, responcible and independant, all while completely being emotionaly void towards me, ignorant, arrogant, dismissive, and selfish always expecting “better” from me and shaming me when i did things wrong even when they were pushing my boundries and speaking out of line towards me bt it was never okay for me to do the same.
So everytime it happened i was essentialy pushed back from all the good effort id made for myself to feel ‘free’ and ‘hopefull’.
Its given me many issues to sort out in myself. And its made me less of a human being and more of a shell of a person who believes that i deserve this and its what i was born for because even the little things that i get happy about dissipear and never last long. (They never do anyways for anyone i suppose?).
But its like happiness never lasts long enough for habitual turnover to take place.
I feel like the whole world is against me, that i will never be able to heal, so over time i have lost my will and given up many times, and just accepted that its what life wants for me bcs of being a realist.
That being in abusive and psychologicly abusive relationships and friendships do change you. Shape you. Without your own concent of change bcs of such subtle process.
Even though iv lernt to adopt the whole “you only live once” rule, its so hard to find things to be happy about bcs of consistant ongoing trauma that i cant escape or that always comes my way with every new person who i carefully let into my life.
The trauma does something to you. I know many cd relate to this. It affects every future endevour, relationship, adventure, hobby and interest you decide to try and take on in life. It shapes your experiences of it. It feels so crucial that i feel desperate wishing and hoping that it turns out to be a good experience bcs it will just go into the “NOPE” pile with the rest of what iv tried to say “yes” to, if it ends up negative, sad, overwhelming, anxiety provoking, hurtful, or frustrating experience. When all i want is to take interest in and to experience all life has to offer in order be happy and grow. Its a terrifying thought to know interactions with others can shape how you feel and possibly destroy your experience and view of how life “should” be lived due to early childhold alienation and “self discipline” anytime you hear someone say something that you should or shouldnt do. (Via psychological subtle consistant habitual suggestion by others that lingers for a while in your subconsious making it re emerge as a good idea after a while, or a hard “NO” when someone denies you a conversation or doesnt like the idea or action that you wish to pursue. Somehow the brain feels complied to obey. Echoing through your thoughts irritating you for a while until you comply. Makes you doubt your own opinions and feelings when everyone you know leads you to believe that your the one in the “wrong”. Regardless of how much you communicate to them that its hurting you. They dont listen and they dont stop. They continue it because your a desperate victim looking for closure and validation.
It leads one, it leads ME to feel useless, helpless, distrusting, even though id tell a perfect stranger anything and everything if they asked bcs of being an open book (and maybe bcs of early childhood guilt and shame and justifying every choice i make to anyone who cant/wont accept me) of being okay with who i am as a person and accepting myself).
I always find myself paranoid having learnt to constantly second guess peoples intent and the words that are left unsaid bcs of psychological games played on me, which makes me both internally and externaly critisizing(though i keep the thoughts to myself unless they r constructive) and judgemental, better or worse, i in no way EVER wish to bring a child into this world just to have them be treated like how my mother treated me and her mother before her. No child shd ever have to go through this ordeal. But it still happens and much of it goes unnoticed.
The cycle has to stop.
In new zealand, abortions are illegal.
(I am infertile anyway among other things and yes i felt robbed of that decision, but
not everyone is ment to be a mother, or a good mother at that).
Some are better off being single or in civil relationships with lifelong friends. Which is what i hope for myself to have a support network. There are TOO many Seniors in the world living alone too, unable to have their own independance but to rely on their families for sustenance and support.
But what can i hope for in life if nothing brings me happiness and i am not only limited by my own desires needs and wants but also because of trauma, lifelong struggles, and roadblocks preventing me from getting on with life?.
Thats what will always scare me the most. People.
I hope whoever reads this finds relative mutual support and is not triggered by what iv said.
I've felt lonely, unvalued, unloved, broken and mistrusting for as long as I can remember. This all before I was even a teenager. Then came the toxic relationships...trying to find value in myself through boyfriends and Platonic friendships. I found myself in bad situations and all my mother ever did was rub it in my face. I was the ultimate black sheep. I was the person that disagreed with my mom...that showed the world how twisted my inner family life was. Eventually I moved away and didn't talk to her for 10 years until recently. Till this day she acts like the victim and hasn't changed much. I've come to realize that she too is a narcissist like my ex.
I have two children and I am a widow at 31 years old. My ex died a few months ago and some people would say God is giving me the chance to start over (my mom's words). I have been through hell and back...I have seen the Devil in my ex husband's eyes when he would physically abuse me. Things can only get better for me and my kids. You are not alone in what you have been through. Dont be so hard on yourself. You sound like a wonderful woman. How do I know this?? Just by what you wrote and how you view the world tells me your a special person. Let the hope you have inside you blossom ....that light of hope is in there you just have to feed it. Pray that God can help you find your way. He has done that for me. Man may fail us but God never does. God bless you in your journey of love and forgiveness. Hugs from the U.S!
As well as his other book "the powerful self"
As a young boy I suffered verbal and physical abuse growing up. As a result I have self esteem issues and abandonment issues. My step father was abusive and my mother didnt stand up for me.
Im yet to have a healthy relationship as a result as I fear I'm not good enough and sooner or later partner will leave me.
After a failed relationship attempt which left me completely broken hearted I'm seeing a psychologist.
Though I'm able to open up easily with friends and write, feel and cry about things this stuff I need help with as it was too much to deal with myself.
It's so sad when you know your an amazing guy with heaps to offer that everyone else sees it but you just don't believe yourself.
Hence the decision was made to change my life and the journey has begun! You can all do this too!
I have learned through my years that there is not another person who can completely understand I have been through. There are, however, so many people who can understand the pain and feelings of deep, dark depression, hopelessness, helplessness, deprivation, sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, and not loved. I am sorry to hear you do not have family or a close friend to help hold your hand through these tough and challenging times. You surely have been through so much. What I can tell you, and promise you is that God knows it all and gets it all. Michelle, He made for a purpose that nobody else can fulfill. It is hard and trying but a step is to stop listening to the negative thoughts about yourself and start choosing to believe what God has said about you. He loves you. He cares for you. You are His daughter, a daughter of the King. Read the Bible, continue to pray, and I promise He will speak to you. He is already there beside you even though you probably don’t feel Him near. I have not lived your life, but I have lived through your feelings due to my own story. I pray this gives you some hope and reaches you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
I admire your strength and it does get better
Wow, this was a heavy comment to read. First of all, thank you for reaching out and being so candid. From what I can see, it seems like you are invested in your therapy and trying to find a solution. I commend your ability to accept responsibility for your actions, that's crucial for any changes or improvement to happen. Also, I see your point -- you fear to bring up things that have hurt you, because of the gravity of your own actions; like the things you have done kind of overshadows everything else so it seems like you could be deflecting or trying to rationalize. I think it's fair for you to bring those things up when the timing is appropriate and if you acknowledge that it may be misconstrued as deflection when you do decide to talk about it. I hate to say it because I feel like you are so committed to working on things, but your relationship sounds like it's been pretty toxic from all sides here. I'm also only hearing the bad stuff of course, so I am aware I can't see the whole picture. Have you considered that things may be broken beyond repair? Also, you are correct in her behavior meeting the criteria for verbal and emotional abuse. In addition, her infidelity and emotional abuse should not be deflected from or rationalized either by only addressing your abuse. I think you are correct in handling how you address that sensitively, find an appropriate time and work through it then. Good luck to both of you Dan. Thanks again for reaching out. -Emily