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

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.

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.

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, 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.


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.

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Kellie Jo Holly advocates for domestic violence and abuse awareness through her writing. You can find Kellie Jo on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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

  1. This has really shed some light on my own situation. I left my ex about 2 months ago. He’d been extremely emotionally abusive for the majority of the 3 years we were together. He started doing drugs and cheated on me at the end of it and I had enough. He tried to manipulate me to stay and when I didn’t he went around telling lies (although he had done that before also) about me and about our situation and he turned one of my best friends against me and slept with her. It took me a while to accept that I’m a victim of abuse. So far these first couple months have been hard. Adjusting to life now is rough. I had moved across the country with him a couple years back and made so many wonderful friends, but I had to go back to my family and leave all my friends behind. It’s been hard having to deal with that. Healing is hard. I hope I can get through this sooner rather than later. I’ve got other things to focus on now. Sometimes I feel like my recovery is going well and then something comes crashing down and I feel awful again. Hopefully things begin to go smoother. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. It was very enlightening to read. Much love, Lori.

  2. I have suffered physical, emotional and spiritual abuse since early childhood. I was not a wanted child and was blamed by mother who had no.oroblem telling me I was unwanted and to blamed for why she had to stay in a marriage she wasn’t happy in. I was beaten, dragged by my hair, beaten so bad with a belt for not making it to the toilet on time so.i vomited on the floor and got beaten on my bare fanny until.i wet the floor and got beaten for that. The verbal abuse was everyday. I was called every me.in the book and told to go toy room everyday because she couldn’t stand to look at me. There were s many times she wouldn’t even en a knowledge my existence. I was choked because my sister’s room was a mess. Needless to say I left at the age of 17. I married someone just as abusive. So for the next 18 yrs input up with the second exact treatment and worse. Even though I’ve been divorced for 18yrs now, I’m extremely sensitive to others comments when they are hurtful. I can’t seem to trust anyone. And I’m tired of not being strong enough to overlook other peoples bad behavior. When this happens, I get super defensive and I Rumi ate about it for days.y feelings are deeply hurt and I feel angry and sometimes find dyslef wanting to fire back. I trust no one and am tired of waiting g for the next bad thing to happen. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. But my frustration also comes from not wanting g to feel this way anymore. I’m tired of being the odd duck that can’t overlook what I consider inappropriate comments.

  3. Hello, I could use some direction in our situation. My wife and I have been married for 12 years and we are in individual and couples therapy over a whole myriad of issues. At first it was infidelity on her part, but then it came out that I had been physically abusive toward her in the first half of our marraige. The infidelity was pushed aside, needless to say. When I say it came out, neither my wife or I understood that what I had done was physical abuse. We were both floored, and horrified. I/we have come to understand that because of both of our abusive upbringings, we normalized the few instances it happened. We knew they were bad and wrong however, so the 3rd time I shoved her in a fight, saw red, and had a panic attack when I realized I had handled her again, I determined I’d never touch her again in anger. I haven’t. The problem did persist, we found out, because everytime we’d have a fight during which I’d get angry, she would feel scared because I had put my hands on her before. This causing emotional abuse. I know, I’m a son of a bitch, you don’t have to tell me. I hate myself right now and am sick to my stomach all the time over this. We are in a separation stage right now. She may leave me over this when the separation time is over, and she’d be completely justified in doing so. Of course, if she will stay, I want to make this work. I never tried to blame her for my actions, only wondered why I would lose control. I hated it. This is where my question comes in. We have always had a very destructive cycle of unhealthy communication that has lead to psychological abuse towards one another, even before any physical abuse took place. When I read the list of symptoms of the victim of emotional abuse, I can check every one of them for myself. My actions are my responsibility, nothing she has ever done warrants being touched in anger. Having said that, my wife is heavily psychologically abusive towards me, and has been since the first couple weeks we became a serious couple. She knows I am desperate for her and our marraige, and she uses that against me to get things she wants. She withholds affection, calls me names, hits me, and uses me when it comes to sex with almost no return. I’ve been lectured during sex about how I was not performing well enough. Very uncomfortable. My question is: because my physical abuse is on the table, does that over shadow everything else? Does any of the other abuse have a way to be addressed for my own benefit of healing and recovery, or do I need to set that all aside until we find more stable ground? Until she heals and recovers…or leaves? I just dont want to have a counceling session where I come across as trying to defend or justify my actions…i just know that with this whole situation i’m messed up and need help.

    1. My current partner was in a very similar situation. All I can tell you is “run”. I’m sorry but the abuse you’ve gone thru will not stop. You are married to a narcissist. I’m not condoning what you’ve done in the past, you’ve accepted what you’ve done is wrong long ago and put a stop to it. You both should have gone to counseling back then. However after living with a narcissist myself for 13 year (I’ve gotten out of the situation), I can tell you the abuse she filed out is far more damaging. For your sake once your counseling is over, I hope she decides to leave. Understood the violence in the beginning…but that doesn’t override the abuse you’ve taken.

    2. Dan,
      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

      1. Thank you so very much. Your article and feedback have been invaluable. What I didn’t mention was the time and trust that I have put into God (or attempted to through all the pain), praying for reconciliation of some kind. After a month of wild ups and downs emotionally for us both and a week separation, things have settled down significantly and she and I both have taken a step closer to each other as opposed to apart. The couples therapist and individual therapists have been invaluable aswell. None of this would be manageable without them. I didn’t think it was possible to find a place from which repair and recovery could happen, but we are here. The event that caused her to turn back to our marraige and the possibility of success? I finally made the decision that this marraige may not be the best thing for _me_. Something about letting go, about being honest with what is best for me as well, changed the entire landscape of the issue. Being as frantic as I was to not lose her, that was a difficult resolve to come to. She came to me without prompting and broke down, apologizing for her part in our struggles and always drawing out the worst in me. I had done the same once I realised what I had done to her over the years. We are working out a month separation for December to continue to work on ourselves, coming back together for Xmas (4 kids). Thank you again for being here. I assume men in my situation do not have many places to go for advice/support. I wanted mention one thing for any who may read this. There wasnt any constructive advice I could find on how to work through/get over the massive pain of betrayal I was in from being cheated on, until I found a book about a man in almost my same situation. He wrote that we must walk through the pain, not away from it. On his advice, I take time whenever the pain comes back up and is overwhelming to lay down and think through each horrible moment of the affair, starting with her saying “I slept with someone”, to every detail I came to find out about what they did together, to her sitting next to me on our bed the morning after acting as though nothing had happened. I let the pain of each memory and image do it’s thing. Increase and overtake me, and then after a time subside a bit. Then I move on to the next image and repeat. After I’ve walked my mind through the entire event, I forcably shake it off and go do something else. Each time I return to that process or an image pops up the sting of pain is less than before, and the most amazing part is that after each time I go through it, I find actual relief, even some joy strangely enough. A month into this I find myself relating to others who have been trying to recover for 6 mo-1 year. I don’t know how this guy figured out his method, but it has saved me. One other thing helped immensely. As soon as we were comfortable enough to touch each other, we did. It started with grabbing her hand. I would cry, but that’s all I could do. Over time it turned into holding each other until we fell asleep. Sometimes it was difficult. I believe that physical contact helped repair the broken bond between us aswell. Thank you again so much for your help.

        1. Dan, I really commend you both on your commitment to couple’s therapy and working through so much of this, on your own and together. Also, I must say I agree, physical contact and working on that intimacy can be very therapeutic and healing as well. I wish you both well in the coming month and hope your coming together for Christmas will be exciting and loving for everyone. Best of luck to you! -Emily

  4. After 4 years after leaving my abusive and controlling ex-husband I still have some mental trauma due to him. It took a long time to say, “it’s ok to leave a dish in the sink. ” or to leave finger prints on the faucet. I still can’t handle a guy or anyone mad at me or yelling at me. I get frustrated and panic to where I literally freak out on the person. When they ignore me I panic even more and deperately try to fix the issue. I’m very defensive as well, and always try to explain myself. My boss said I always had an answer and tried to explain myself when I did something wrong. I had a man who controlled me and yelled at me daily for no reason. No matter what I did I was in the wrong even when I did nothing wrong. The last time we were together he yelled in my face screaming, “you bitch.” over and over again. He blamed me for turning down his stereo when I wasn’t even near it. He even threatened to burn my hand on the grill and deprive me of dinner that night. He was very good at starving me and denying me to go food shopping at the grocery store. I had no money or a credit card, and I was only give $20 or less for gas money when I needed to fill my tank. I was only allowed to go to school or my in laws house. I had to fight to hang out with anyone or do school clubs.This was the same man who punched me in the face for lightly tapping his shoulder and threatened to push me down the stairs when I was 8 weeks pregnant all because I wouldn’t go with a mahogany crib. I know what abuse is, and I still cry when I tell my story. It will take a long time to undo all the damage he has done to me mentally and emotionally.

    1. Erin, that is just horrifying, I am so deeply sorry for your experiences. I am so proud and impressed that you were able to muster the strength and courage to leave. Have you seen a therapist for Post Trauma therapy? That may be really helpful. You are very right, it will take time but you already have four years under your belt and for that you should be proud. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story with us. Take care Erin, Emily

  5. Hi there. I am in a pretty serious relationship, we have been together for 7 months now and we’re very happy. Prior to that I stayed single for nearly 5 years after my abusive marriage. As the abuse was not physical (although sometimes aggressive), and was subtle and slow acting, it has taken a long time for the enormity of it to sink in. I’m going through a phase at the moment, a big internal shift, and I believe it is my power coming back fully. So while it’s very uncomfortable it will be worth it. But the problem is I am finding it very hard to trust my current partner. At the beginning I thought I saw many ‘warning signs’, but they all keep amounting to nothing. I keep getting surprised by how awesome he can be actually! But I still cannot let go of the feeling that something could be wrong. I cannot tell if my gut is telling me something or if it is my understandable trust issues. I’ve really no clue and it is putting a dampener on what should be a wonderful time in my life, the first year of a relationship. He is very patient about it, but of course I mistrust that too, thinking he’s modifying his behaviour in order to conceal a dark truth. Do you have any advice? Many thanks .

    1. Carla, Hi, I’m Emily, one of the authors of Verbal Abuse in Relationships. Your comment really struck a chord with me! First of all I think in the first year of any relationship, things will be that way to a certain extent because although we’ve grown increasingly close to the person we’re with and things are feeling serious, I would say the first year is filled with getting to know the ins and outs of eachother and learning the way the other responds to all different types of situations, what upsets them, what they’re surprisingly understanding of, etc. So while I think that part is normal, I also think that your circumstance is naturally going to be altered considering what you’ve been through. It is completely natural for you to be on your toes regarding the way anyone you’re in a relationship communicates, handles conflict, etc. We live and we learn and so once we’ve been through something traumatic, our minds naturally look for red flags as a way to protect ourselves in the future. I think if you’re aware that your difficulty trusting your guy is putting a damper on things, that maybe you can ask yourself if you’re willing to let yourself be vulnerable and go all in with this, or if you’re just not ready for that yet and you really need to take things slow. It sounds to me like you’ve communicated with your boyfriend that you’re having a hard time, I think that’s a great way to handle that. Keep open communication so he’s not left in the dark wondering why you’re put off by something, a little reassurance can go a long way for some of us! If so far he’s been wonderful, maybe you can start to give him the benefit of the doubt, while still trusting your instincts, and go from there. Falling in love can be scary! When things feel too good to be true, you can start to feel this overwhelming sense of impending doom, but that’s more often than not, anxiety from all the previous trauma. You’re recovering!

  6. My ex and I broke up months ago. It was mutual. I didn’t feel the pain of what he had done until after he was gone, and now I’m having trouble letting the pain and anger go. I fell like I still need him to understand what he put me through. He never felt as if he was in the wrong. Didn’t matter the issue, he was faultless, so I don’t think talking to him would change anything.
    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.

    1. He- what??? One of “his rules after the breakup”?? Honey. After the breakup, his rules don’t matter anymore. My ex tried that too- setting rules and boundaries to maintain some leash of control over me even after the breakup. I’m in the same boat, it was months after the breakup before I realized it was emotional abuse, and I still have the temptation to go on his Facebook and furiously inform him of everything he put me through- but the fact is, it won’t matter. As you said, “he was faultless.” (Seems a common trait of abusers.)
      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.

  7. I don’t know how to stop being so nervous and afraid of everything. See my thoughts and fears aren’t dilusional, or paranoia it’s real. My ex fiance mentally broke me down. He became a Jekyll and mr.hyde. I may have hurt him while he was locked up. And I’m not condoning my behavior. I understand I gave him the reason to distrust me firs. We were only together for 9 full days when he went to prison for 6 months. I am wrong and I know that for what I did when he was gone, and I can never change the past or erase how he felt when he found out.i will forever be sorry for that. But he took it to a whole new level.i still was there when he was locked up. I had time on the phone almost every day, I wrote him letters all the time I did visit him. Once but I did. I would carry the couple of clothes that he loved the best and I loved around wherever I went. I even had my dad like himwhich never happens. I became cold hearted in the end because the f everything he did to me or put me through.he stole from me, tried to pin things o. Me that were proven to not be me by his own friends. He became dilusional. I was held captive in what seemed like a rollerdex of pain and made up lies.he lied about damn near everything. Every person I talked to weather I waved at the mail man and said how are you or texted my father. I was living.but I wasn’t tho. He stalked me. He manipulated my dad in to thinking everything was my fault. I sold all the laptops.no I didn’t. I broke every phone no I didn’t.i owned up to what I broke or gave away. It seemed that no matter what I did I was in the wrong. I couldn’t even walked to the mail box and back (5) minutes I’d be gone at tops without him saying you went to fuck orblow every black man in the city. He would sign me up for dating sites I never signed up for under my email he changed passwords to my emails, deleted pictures off my Facebook I will never be able to retrieve. Ever. All of my make up and got stolen because he stole from someone else.and made it look like it was me. I lost a beautiful beautiful apartment because of him and his sneakyness, he treated me like a dirty dog from the street. Physically hurt me. Had me in a curled up ball in the shower balling my eyes out his hand around my neck all because I decided to take a shower and get pretty up for him while he went to the store. I can’t just put it behind me.i can’t I tried…I loved him and will always love the part of him that’s long gone.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Well done for reaching out on this site. I’m Emma, new author of the Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog, 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 Domestic Violence hotline. 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.

  8. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS. You just articulated everything beautifully and are giving me hope that I’ll get through this. thank you so much

  9. I could identify with everything u said mostly the part about having people in your life that are safe; and u could tell them exactly what your feeling and they respond to u with love. I cried…I can only feel that way around my mother And everyone eles around me makes me feel like im crazy.

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