Healing the trauma of emotional abuse is a complex topic and a daunting task because of how deeply rooted trauma from emotional abuse can be. In this article, we’ll explore some interesting and need-to-know facts about healing the trauma of emotional abuse.
There are infinite causes and equally infinite consequences of emotional or psychological trauma caused by emotional abuse. Knowing what emotional abuse is and more about these causes and effects can help you to understand what’s happening, and easily navigate the journey of healing the trauma of emotional abuse. Knowledge is power, so the more you know about healing from emotional abuse, the better.
The effects of emotional abuse can look a lot like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, because that’s effectively what you can develop as a victim of emotional abuse. These symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, hyper vigilance, anxiety, depression, guilt, self blame, startled and exaggerated responses, isolation, numbness, and feelings of helplessness. If these symptoms ring a bell, you may be traumatized by emotional abuse, and that’s ok because you can heal and recover from it.
It’s important to realize, however, that you can’t begin to heal until the emotional abuse stops and you remove yourself from the abusive relationship or situation, and this can sometimes be the hardest step depending on your circumstances. The reason that trauma caused by emotional abuse is such a complex and deep trauma is that this type of abuse is continuous and often daily, and causes a profound change and systematic breakdown of the identity and self worth of its victims, effectively changing their psyche and personalities.
These effects can be very deeply rooted and difficult to reverse, so it’s important to catch emotional abuse early and put an end to it before it dig its talons into you and its effects begin to plant their toxic roots. See how complicated healing the trauma of emotional abuse can be? Here’s what you need to know:
1. You’re Not Alone
The first and probably most important thing you need to know is that you’re not alone, emotional and psychological abuse is unfortunately rampant and very common. When compared with physical abuse, emotional abuse is harder to prove because there aren’t any physical marks or wounds to show for it, so it can more often go unacknowledged and be harder to escape.
Ironically, it’s the emotional abuse that leaves the deeper and longer lasting wounds than physical abuse, contrary to the popular saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Psychological abuse leaves a mark you can’t see, which can be far more damaging. Furthermore, with a lack of hard evidence, many victims of emotional abuse can start to normalize the abusive behavior as a coping mechanism, even blaming themselves for it. It’s easier to make excuses for abuse when it isn’t physical, and emotional abuse can be well hidden.
A tricky thing about emotional abuse is that with physical abuse, the violence is seen more as the offender’s flaw, while with emotional abuse, the victim sees the abuse as a result of their own flaws and begins to internalize the abuse. This is why we say emotional abuse is usually more damaging than physical abuse—it’s a gradual erosion of the abused person’s sense of self and self-worth.
Here are some interesting statistics about emotional abuse you may not know:
- 4% of women have experienced psychologically aggressive behavior by a significant other
- 8% of men have experienced psychologically aggressive behavior by a significant other
- 40% of people have experienced one form of force or control by a significant other in their lifetime
- Women who earn 65% + of the total income for their household have an increased likelihood of psychological abuse
In a study of 1,000 women aged 15+ conducted in Canada by Women’s College Hospital:
- 36% had experienced abuse while growing up
- 43% had experienced some form of abuse as children or adolescents
- 39% reported experiencing emotional abuse in a relationship in the past 5 years.
- And that’s in Canada!
2. Emotional Abuse Isn’t Just Verbal Insults
Many people believe that emotional abuse is just verbal insults, but it has many more layers and is far more manipulative than just verbal insults. While it’s true most emotional abuse victims experience verbal insults, they usually experience much more than that.
After all, I think we can all agree we wouldn’t think twice about the homeless drunk guy on the corner verbally insulting you one day as you walk past, it’s the systematic verbal insults from a person who is important to you or who can exercise control and dominion over you by holding something over your head day after day.
These things can be money, power, a personality flaw, a physical characteristic, a mistake you made 15 years ago, parental custody, even immigration status, anything! Emotional abusers tend to capitalize on any advantage they can rationalize in order to control the victim and take away their power, keeping them under their thumb so to speak.
These mind games are how a victim ends up brainwashed into believing they deserve or should tolerate the abuse, or that it isn’t even abuse at all. The gradual and habitual manipulation is what leaves emotional and psychological scars over time and eats away at the victim’s self respect and identity.
3. Emotional Abuse Can Be Subtle, Nobody Knowingly Enters An Abusive Situation
You’ll hear people all the time say things like “I’d never allow myself to be in a situation like that” or “I’d never let anyone treat me like that,” and we’ve all heard “it’s her fault for not leaving him.” What we don’t realize, though, is that nobody knowingly enters an abusive situation or relationship. Emotional abuse can start small and very subtly, and snowball into a monster that you don’t even see until it’s on top of you.
The daily and systematic nature of emotional abuse allows it to creep up on you and allows the victim to begin to normalize it. By the time you realize you’re experiencing emotional abuse, you may be so manipulated and brainwashed by it that you aren’t mentally strong enough to stop it, or maybe you’ve started to make excuses for it, blaming yourself.
Remember that emotional abuse can actually seem normal, especially at the beginning. “Oh, we just had a heated fight” and that fight can start to happen once a month, then once a week, then daily over time. You may even brush it off because the abuser apologizes and “makes it up to you” after verbally degrading you time after time. That doesn’t make it ok. Emotional abuse can sneak up like an odorless, poisonous gas, a silent killer. Before the victim realizes, she’s already trapped in an abusive relationship with no easy escape.
Some red flags that you may be experiencing the subtle or not so subtle signs of emotional abuse are:
- Making it difficult for you to take part in independent activities such as work, social events, or empowering activities such as college classes, drivers-ed, learning a language.
- Isolating you from your friends, family, or community, or preventing you from talking to or seeing people.
- Intentionally embarrassing or humiliating you.
- Controlling what you do, wear, your cell phone, or social media accounts (demanding passwords for everything).
- Acting unreasonably jealous or possessive, like accusing you of having affairs if you talk to a man or wear makeup, constantly questioning your where-abouts, checking your phone, etc.
- Blaming you for their behavior.
- Constant criticism of your actions, personality, education, appearance, weight, abilities, etc.
- Using a disability, flaw, or a circumstantial advantage over you to demean or control.
- Threatening, intimidating, harassing, or punishing you if you don’t comply with their demands.
- Keeping you in the dark and not consulting you when making important family decisions, or managing finances.
- Threatening to harm you, someone or something you love, or themselves to keep you from ending the relationship.
- Threatening to expose your secrets, get you arrested, have your children taken away, or other forms of blackmail.
- Unreasonable control over your finances- giving you an unnecessarily small allowance, needing to know what, how and when you spend every cent, not allowing you equal access to the family’s finances.
4. You Can’t “Fix” the Abuser
One reason that victims stay in an emotionally abusive relationship is that the victim thinks they can fix the abuser’s behavior. This is a huge misconception that can perpetuate the emotional abuse cycle. What a victim must realize is that most of the time, the abuser can’t be fixed and the root of the abuse is the abuser’s inability to morally and emotionally self-regulate.
This is a problem that can’t be fixed by the victim by simply changing their own behavior. The only way to “fix” the abuser is for the abuser to seek professional help, the victim can’t do it for them. It’s also hard for a victim to realize this because they often blame themselves for the abuser’s behavior.
Even if the abuser seeks professional help, this is a lengthy process and the victim shouldn’t stay in the abusive situation just because the abuser started going to therapy. The victim is still in a toxic relationship that isn’t going to improve over night or any time soon, for that matter. For the victim to begin their own healing process, they need to remove themselves from the relationship and the abuse altogether, whether or not it may get better in the future.
The problem when it comes to emotional abuse is the behavior of the abuser, not that of the victim. So it isn’t up to the victim to fix the abuser and it is out of the victim’s power altogether. In fact, the best thing you can do to help the abuser is actually to leave, despite the abuser’s protests. This is because in many cases, the victim tolerating the abuse can contribute to the abuser’s own self-loathing, perpetuating the toxic cycle.
Abusers can’t control themselves so instead they try to control others and make them act or think how they feel they should act or think. It is when people don’t follow these parameters that the abuser has set that the abuser then becomes angry, and in their mind their anger is justified. This is an incredibly flawed thought process and behavior pattern. And the flaw lies with the abuser, not the abused.
This thought pattern is as engrained in the abuser as the emotional trauma it causes is engrained in the victim. That’s why it’s so important to get out of the abusive relationship or situation and to get away from the abuser, because otherwise the cycle won’t stop, as the abuser usually believes his/her behavior to be justified.
Have compassion for yourself and know that you are deserving of love from others, and most importantly from yourself. Emotional abuse is never your fault, and you can and will heal from it and find yourself again if you just try.
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