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.
Holly, K. (2012, September 14). After Emotional Abuse: Do the Side-Effects Ever Disappear?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/09/emotional-effects-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
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.
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 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
He began dating a girl we both worked with (one of his rules after the break up was neither of is could date anyone from work), and he dotes on her and she says he's the perfect boyfriend. I feel betrayed and hurt.
I could use the advice. I've been trying to date again, but I'm scared. Can anyone provide advice for me? It's time to move on.
Look, the main betrayal and pain people like us feel at this point is the betrayal and pain from the abuse. The idea that someone we loved and trusted used that to hurt us. The fact they could do that hurts just as much as the abuse- that someone could betray us like that. (I'm using 'us' because we've both been in similar situations.)
I'm also trying to date again; it's been four months, almost five, with the same new person and the main thing that's got me still looking up emotional abuse articles is the jealousy and insecurity. Mold yourself back together into an image you love, and then worry about a new relationship. And when you get in one, remember, it's going to be hard. You'll still have dreams about your ex. You'll still be worried that this new person will turn out just as bad or your trust will be betrayed again. Learning to trust again is the hardest part. Thankfully, the person I'm with is an old friend with whom I reconciled post-breakup (my ex entirely cut off my support systems, to include old friends I hadn't spoken to in years), so there was already a level of trust.
It's scary. And it's painful. And you think you're ready and then you jump in and you're terrified that now you're hurting someone else with all your melodrama tragedy. (Because it DOES feel dramatic- "He wasn't physically abusive, just emotionally... So it wasn't domestic violence and we never had to call the cops... He hurt my feelings..?" And you start doubting the true pain you feel.) But I think every new venture will feel just as frightening after this kind of betrayal; the idea is to lift your courage and power through. Watch out for red flags, make a list of what you won't allow in your new relationship (my list contains things like I wear what I want, my technology/social media is private, only I deal with my family, etc.), heal yourself, mend your broken pieces, and face your fears dead-on.
That's the best advice I've got. Have courage and faith in yourself. Trust is a muscle, not an instinct- it takes time to build up.
You've got this.
Well done for reaching out on this site. I'm Emma, new author of the <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog,</a> and I too have struggled immensely with the side-effects of emotionally abusive relationship, as well as the conflicting feelings of love and hate you describe.
It sounds like your ex-fiance is a dangerous man, and I hope he is no longer a part of your life. Having said that, I know that recovering from domestic abuse is not black and white. I know there will be times when you miss him, despite that he hurt you physically and emotionally. But please bear in mind that What you are describing is not a loving relationship. It's also far less than you deserve. The way your ex-fiance treated you is not OK, and it's no one's fault but his.
I have to ask, are you seeing a therapist? It sounds you're experiencing some symptoms of PTSD and could use some help managing your feelings about your ex -- I know this because I went through it too.
If you do one thing to look after yourself this week, Google domestic violence therapists in your area or call a <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">Domestic Violence hotline</a>. Recovering from abuse takes time, and it is definitely not a straightforward process. But it's the small steps that will, over time, restore your happiness and sense of self.