After Verbal Abuse Ends, There's Still Left-Over Anxiety
After verbal abuse, my mental health didn't automatically return to normal. The first year after my verbally abusive relationship ended was tough. Not only did I struggle with the after-effects of verbal abuse -- namely anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem -- I also met someone new (let's call him A) and fell in love all over again. A was everything I had ever wanted in a partner and my instincts were telling me "he's the one" from the day we met. So why couldn't I let myself be happy? With my verbal abuser firmly out of the picture, why was I still plagued with anxiety? Mental health problems may follow us long after verbal abuse ends.
Anxiety and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) After Verbal Abuse
The first few months with A were typical of any new relationship. We walked hand-in-hand along the canal, ate in restaurants neither of us could afford, and lay awake talking until the sun came up. Soon enough, personal circumstances, coupled with our desire to be constantly together, meant it made sense for us to be living under the same roof.
I swore I could never live with a man again, so the prospect of moving in with A terrified me. A was the polar opposite of the one who verbally abused me: he was gentle, unaffected by ego, and completely in tune with my emotions. But despite how happy and secure I felt with him, I'd only just begun to relish my freedom as a single person, and I couldn't escape the fear that once I was living with A, he would start making endless demands and criticisms like my ex-boyfriend had done (Warning Signs of Future Abuse in Your Relationship).
My first year living with A should have been wonderful, and in many ways it was. For the first time since I was my childhood, I finally felt at home. I was safe and loved exactly as I was, warts and all, but severe anxiety crippled me. I woke in the night to terrible panic attacks, had overwhelming doubts about A's faithfulness to me, and was always shaky and on edge. I suffered nightmares so terrifying I had to seek therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. It didn't make sense.
Why It's Hard to Feel Safe After Verbal Abuse
Although my instincts were telling me I could trust A, my anxiety made me feel like I could never trust again. After all, how could I rely on my instincts when they had been so wrong before?
Considering the physical traumas some victims go through, I didn't feel comfortable identifying myself as someone with PTSD, but I now know that I was dealing with PTSD symptoms. My mind was struggling to process the constant threats and verbal attacks I'd been subjected to for the past two years.
Delayed-onset PTSD can occur months or even years after a traumatic event. Symptoms arise as a result of triggers, which typically only affect us when we feel safe enough to process them. For me, the trigger that caused me to revisit the abuse was living with a partner again and feeling that my newfound freedom and sense of identity were at risk.
After Verbal Abuse, We Question Our Instincts
For years, being in a verbally abusive relationship destroyed my sense of self-worth. I abused myself with self-blame for not trusting my intuition, but I now see how complicated domestic abuse can be. While I know there were times my instincts were screaming at me to get out of the toxic relationship, most of the time my feelings were unrecognized or diminished, so I just stopped trusting them.
Despite that, I still struggle with the after-effects of my previous relationship, A and I now have an amazing son and are incredibly happy together. However, my first year overcoming verbal abuse was one of the hardest of my life and I know it was challenging for A, too.
I didn't think I could trust myself ever again, let alone someone else. But with both time and treatment, I am able to be patient with myself and believe in the process of recovery.
Smith, E. (2017, October 17). After Verbal Abuse Ends, There's Still Left-Over Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/10/after-verbal-abuse-anxiety-vs-instinct
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
Please respond if you see this. I’d love to hear that you’re still on your own and doing well without him. I didn’t believe I’d get over the heartbreak. It was forever. And he was cruel through the separation, divorce and post divorce. I lost every friend I had along with my closest family because I never told them of the abuse and I never told them how I suffered. He made himself the victim as they constantly do, while ruining what respect I had with so many people that I dropped out of social media and became as private as possible. If I could afford to pick up and move far away I would. There’s always something I hear or see or learn from someone I don’t want to hear. Plus, he drives by where I moved to after we lost our home and I was forced to move. He could have cared less. It broke my heart how the one man I loved could walk away and turn his head from responsibilities as if they were nothing. They WERE nothing to him. He had women on the side just waiting for him to move in. I’m still alone 6 years later. I still don’t trust myself to be in a relationship. I’ve dated a few times but those were nothing and the peace of mind I do have without him is priceless even though I still wonder if he ever really loved me. In educating myself about them, I know he was only able to love himself. There was a very good act he played for years but the ugly fact is that they’re not capable of loving another human being. I sincerely hope you’ve made the break and are on your way to a healthy and hsppy life.
Me too! I'm so glad you found some some peace within yourself. There's an Atticus quote that says "Watch carefully the magic that occurs when you give a person just enough comfort to be themselves." I gave myself that comfort, and it sounds as though you did too :)