The Aftermath of Emotional Abuse
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
An individual may have suffered emotional abuse in an intimate relationship , but also during childhood, in the family environment. In both cases, the traumatizing effects on the victim of emotional abuse can be quite severe.
In a previous article, we discussed toxic relationships, where emotional abuse is a defining aspect.
What is emotional abuse?
In an emotionally abusive relationship, one partner regularly abuses the other by:
Playing mind games
Ridiculing and belittling
Blaming and accusing them for all that goes wrong in the relationship, without really taking responsibility for their own part in the interaction
Gaslighting them – denying their own perception of reality, thoughts and feelings
Undermining their intelligence, worthiness, looks and confidence
Disregarding their opinion
Making them feel fear or be ashamed and guilty of their actions
Invalidating their feelings (“You shouldn’t feel like this”)
Isolating them from their support network
Ignoring them and their needs
Systematically crossing their boundaries
The above are also often referred to as narcissistic abuse.
WHY would anyone sustain all the above ?
Why would they even stay in such a relationship, when it clearly seems it is unhealthy and damaging for themselves?
If you have never been in touch with the above behaviours, you may sensibly wonder why would someone stay.
Some would say, because of love. But love is not supposed to hurt like this. Love helps you grow- it doesn’t make you question your worth. Toxic love does hurt, because it is not nourishing; it is draining.
Yet- we learn to love in familiar ways. If you have been growing up to know that you gain love and approval by allowing yourself to be hurt by the very object of your love, then dysfunctional relationships may develop as a result in adult life.
Another reason is because of hope that things can get better in the future, or intermittent reinforcement (breadcrumbing).
Or because the “victim” may have embraced a caregiver or fixer role from an early age, and they wish they can also fix this relationship. After all, love is all you need, right ?
(Not. Love is necessary, but not sufficient.)
The effects of emotional abuse on the Self...
The relationship itself has probably been a lot like a rollercoaster… And if you’re a thrill-seeker (which you probably are- otherwise you would not be involved in such an unstable bond) then you must love rollercoasters… They are sure exciting and frightening at the same time, just like this relationship has been.
Lifting you high and then crashing you to the ground, right when you thought everything was going great.
Pulling you close and then pushing you miles away, as if you were some kind of human yo-yo or connected to your partner through an invisible elastic band. The closer they would pull you to them, you knew what was coming after; they would throw you far away, only to pull you close again shortly after.
And then you’d feel hope, you would get a glimpse of actual care and affection. And then you’d be disconnected again from them, feeling all fragile and broken and alone. And again, and again. An endless, vicious circle , where instead of leaving, you’d be coming back for more.
You’ve seen them interchanging from angel to demon so many times, that your perception of what is good and what is bad may be now blurry. You’ve turned your feelings from on to off countlessly, maybe you now feel as if your “emotional switch” is malfunctioning, and you wonder if you are ever going to be capable to love again.
You are probably aware of these devastating effects while you are still in the relationship; you may already realize it is damaging to you, but you feel somehow addicted to it- thus making it impossible to break free.
The adrenaline rush of all the highs is so intense, that you believed you’d withstand the lows. But that is not sustainable long-term. Humans actually crave stability, calmness. Happiness is tranquility of mind, which you most probably have been lacking for quite a while now.
When you reach your limits and you realize you have had enough, you think that once you break up, everything will suddenly start falling into place. Separation will be the resolution.
What may come as a surprise though, is that the actual aftermath of such a damaging relationship may actually be much more serious than you may have expected while still being in the relationship.
You may find yourself realizing how much damage has been inflicted on you, in the time following the separation. The effects may be quite devastating, needing a long time to heal, as well as secure relationships from now on, and a lot of patience and understanding from subsequent partners.
It can take a while till you feel safe again- but recovery is possible. Just allow yourself the time to heal.
Once free of an emotionally abusive relationship, you may experience a whirlwind of emotions. On one hand you may feel relieved, free, hopeful for the future ahead of you. On the other hand you may feel fearful, anxious, depressed, hurt and confused. These two states may interchange unpredictably.
But let’s focus on the possible effects on your Self…
If you have spent a remarkable amount of time being devalued, doubted and criticized, it is logical that you may feel worthless yourself. For example, perhaps you have been convinced that you do not deserve good things happening to you, or that you really did deserve the abuse that was inflicted on you, that you are utterly damaged. This can move even further, leaving you with a feeling that you are unlovable. After all, if you are worthy of love, then how is it possible that you were treated so hurtfully? Maybe you have heard “it’s your fault” so often, that you start believing that there is something deeply wrong with you. This feeling can be extremely hard to shake off.
Feelings of Inadequacy
Very relevant to the decreased self-worth, feeling inadequate means not feeling enough. Not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not smart enough, not resilient enough, not strong enough, not confident enough, not dynamic enough, not skillful enough- there’s a whole list of not “enough” you may find yourself contemplating. But in reality-You Are Enough. You are incredibly enough. Allow yourself to embrace this affirmation, day by day.
Following an emotionally abusive relationship (or a series of), you may doubt yourself and your decisions constantly. That’ s what your partner taught you so effectively after all; no decision you would make would really be applauded, not before it would be criticized and laughed at first. Maybe you seek approval from others, uncertain about your own decisions. You check with others often, wishing to figure out if the way you think is alright, if your request to another is justified, if you should act this way or maybe there’s a better way… Caring friends of yours may in fact sometimes deny their advice and opinions to you, because they actually want you to start believing in your own choices instead of depending on them.
Trust in Self and Others
Trust issues… Quite a popular term, quite a challenging aftereffect of emotional abuse. If you have been hurt so often, trusting that a new partner is actually good and is not going to destroy you, like what happened in the past may feel impossible to achieve.
Your relationship(s) taught you that love and hurt, truth and lie, betrayal and affection, sometimes go hand in hand. So how can you believe that you are not going to be hurt again? When you come across someone who’s nice to you, sooner or later you may feel as if they are just “too good to be true”.
You maybe find yourself in a state of constant hypervigilance, scanning your surroundings and your partner for signs that they are no different. You consider it impossible that there’s no hidden agenda in them- there must be one. This is actually exhausting, but you keep looking for signs and reasons not to allow yourself to trust the other- because trust means becoming vulnerable to be hurt again.
What you may not realize while you’re doing this, is that you might be sabotaging your happiness. It is easier to let go than to hold on to fear, yet you don’t seem to know how to do that- it just seems too dangerous.
Because of the lack of trust in yourself and the self-doubt , you may be unsure of your judgement skills. “If I got so mislead in the past, how do I know that I am not illusioned again?”, you may wonder. You may even have lost trust in your own intuition and “gut feeling”. As cheesy as it may sound, if you never try then you’ll never know. Yes, trusting can be extremely scary just now. But resisting may be even more destructive. You may tire others, you may exhaust yourself, you may actually push them away, when all you want is that they stay.
The path towards healing
Healing from emotional abuse and recovering all of your hurt and fragmented Parts of your Self into a Whole again can take a while.
It may feel like you are slowly finding the pieces of your psyche’s puzzle, that may be scattered all over the place.
Therapy is a worthwhile supporting agent in your process.
In the meantime, it is helpful to remember the following:
*Recognize your pain
Don’t run away from recognizing the consequences of the toxic relationship on yourself. You cannot hide this under the carpet or minimize it; the damage is real, accept it and admit it. Face your demons, then start to inquire how you are going to ultimately make them go away. What do you need from yourself and others?
Be soft on yourself. Realize you are more resilient than you think, and understand that your progress may often be two steps forwards, one step backwards. That’s ok. You will rebuild and reinvent yourself piece by piece at your own pace.
The night is dark and full of terrors, the road is rough and with lots of zig-zags… But rest assured, you will reach your destination. You will heal. This too shall pass, and better days are ahead. You deserve it.
Be real and honest to yourself and others about what you need and what you’re going through. Even when pretending may seem like a better and safer option, dare to be transparent about those darker moments that you feel most affected by your past.
*Remember the Five A’s
Attention, Affection, Allowing , Acceptance, Appreciation. If you have people around you that fulfill these 5 needs, that show patience to you, appreciate them, be grateful about them and cherish them. Their presence contributes to your healing.
*Dare to trust again
Trust may be the most significant consequence of emotional abuse. Remember that, at the end of the day, trust is a leap of faith. There is a tremendous sense of exhilaration if you can take the jump and move into the unknown, even if the idea scares you to death. Yes, you may doubt yourself, you may be suspicious of others- but eventually it will be beneficial if you just let go and jump! You’ll figure out what happens next…
Does this resonate with you?
Are you struggling with emotional abuse?
You are not alone in this.
I can help your process towards healing.
You may contact me here.