Long Term Effects Of Emotional Abuse And How To Cope

Updated April 9, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Content warning: This article contains references to abuse. If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced relationship abuse or domestic violence, please seek help. The number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text “START” to 88788 or use the live chat option on the website at TheHotline.org. The Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse. 

Emotional abuse may not result in visible scars, but it is still very real. No matter how strong or self-assured a person is or seems, they can be a target of emotional abuse. An abuser may be a person you’re romantically involved with, or they could be a boss, friend, relative, or another person you have a relationship with. Nobody deserves to experience abuse of any kind for any reason. It is crucial to know that it is not the fault of the person who is the target of abuse, and that help is available.

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior in which one person deliberately and repeatedly uses non-physical acts and words that affect the mental well-being or functioning of the person who is the target of the abuse. Instead of using physical force, the abusive person may use emotional manipulation as their weapon of choice. Looking into the emotional abuse checklist can help you determine if you have been emotionally abused.

In romantic or intimate relationships, abusive behaviors may be used by one partner to control or hold power over the other partner. These behaviors may become woven into the fabric of the relationship over time, and can be hard to recognize as abuse, particularly when they first begin.

Emotional abuse can be painful and overwhelming

Signs of emotional abuse

Abuse can be obvious, such as one partner belittling another in front of friends or calling their partner disrespectful names, but often, it can be covert and subtle.

Common signs of emotional abuse can include:

  • Preventing or discouraging spending time with friends, family, or others.

  • Insulting, demeaning, or shaming.

  • Telling an individual that they never do anything right.

  • Extreme jealousy of others, including friends or family.

  • Anger at spending time away from them.

  • Controlling finances or withholding funds for necessary expenses.

  • Pressuring a partner to engage in sexual activities they’re not comfortable with or to use drugs or alcohol.

  • Intimidating through looks, body language, or words.

  • Threatening to take away pets or children or insulting caretaking skills.

  • Name-calling or using insulting nicknames.

  • Dismissing or belittling what’s important to the partner.

  • Questioning or belittling a partner’s accomplishments.

  • Insulting or questioning a partner’s interests.

  • Constantly monitoring where a partner is.

  • Using silent treatment.

While an abusive partner may become angry, yell, swear, and perform other means of intimidation, they may also often behave in a more insidious, less obvious way that can make their partner doubt themselves and chip away at their confidence over time. One of the most well-known examples of this is known as gaslighting.

This type of abuse can be constant, or it may occur in a cyclical pattern through which the abuser showers their partner with attention and affection only to later devalue them and knock them off the pedestal they created. This can wear down the ability to trust others and may erode self-esteem. The person being abused may begin to question themselves and wonder if they are the cause of the problems in the relationship. There is never an excuse for abuse; an abused individual should not feel that they caused the abuse or deserved it in any way.

If a partner is questioning whether they are in an abusive relationship, it can be helpful to recognize that emotional abuse is not an occasional fight or partners raising their voices during a stressful time. It's not making a mean comment in the heat of the moment and apologizing for it later or offering constructive criticism. It's a pattern of emotional manipulation meant to control and undermine a partner, and it may involve planting seeds of self-doubt.

Questions to consider if you feel you could be in an emotionally abusive relationship

  1. Do you feel like you're constantly "walking on eggshells" around your partner or afraid you’ll say the wrong thing?

  2. Do you worry about what will happen if you make your partner angry?

  3. Do you find yourself apologizing to your partner frequently, while they never take responsibility?

  4. Do you feel isolated from your friends and family?

  5. Does your partner insist on knowing where you are at all times?

  6. Does your partner criticize you constantly?

  7. Does your partner refuse to speak to you for extended periods despite your requests for communication?

  8. Does your partner push you into doing things you're not comfortable with?

  9. Does your partner have full control of your finances?

  10. Have you confronted your partner, only to have them deny their behavior despite evidence or say that you’re “crazy?”


Emotional abuse can be painful and overwhelming

Why do emotional abusers act this way?

Since this type of abuse can cause so much pain and psychological distress, it's natural to wonder why abusers do what they do. Abusive people can be anyone, it can take form in an emotionally abusive mother, abusive relative, or abusive spouse or partner.

Some emotional abusers may be so dependent on the partner or individual that they feel the need to control them. While they may feel like they love their partner, that feeling may be coming from an unhealthy place. Those who engage in emotional abuse may have endured past trauma that hasn’t been sorted through properly, with abusive behaviors potentially reflecting ways they themselves were treated in the past. In other instances, they may have a mental health issue or condition and require therapy or other treatment to help them recognize and resolve abusive behaviors. In many cases, they may have low self-esteem or lack a strong sense of self, and emotionally manipulate or abuse others as a means of feeling control. 

In other cases, the abuser may be fully aware of what they're doing and the negative impact on the individual. The goal is still to achieve full control over their partner, but the motives may be a bit different. Abusers who fall into this category may see their partner as more of a possession than a human being. They may be less likely than the first group to be willing to try to change or to believe that they could benefit from therapy.

Regardless of why someone engages in abuse, it is never alright, nor does anyone deserve to be abused in any way for any reason.

How emotional abuse can begin to affect you

People may assume that an abuser’s behavior and intentions are obvious from the start of the relationship or that there are signs that a partner should have recognized. This may come from unrealistic representations in media, movies, and shows that we're fed with from an early age. If someone were to throw a chair through a window, call you horrible names, or punch you on the second date, most people would never see them again and perhaps have them arrested for assault

But emotional and psychological abuse usually progress gradually, over months or years. A partner may appear to be loving and caring at first. Then they may start to become more critical and harsher over time. They may begin to undermine their partner’s abilities, pointing out mistakes with greater frequency or berating the partner for even minor mishaps. An abused partner may enter a frustrating cycle as the abuser ignores or dismisses them when they confront them about their abuse.

Long-term effects of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can leave people with invisible wounds, including:

  • Confusion

  • Fear

  • Shame

  • Self-doubt

  • Hopelessness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Moodiness

  • Anxiety

  • Chronic Pain

  • Guilt

  • Insomnia

  • Withdrawal

  • Headaches

  • Fear

  • Depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How to cope and find help

If your partner or anyone else is emotionally abusing you, know that it is not because of anything you did, nor do you deserve it. Abuse of any kind is never merited and is never the fault of the person being abused.

If you're a survivor of this type of abuse or if you’re living with it, please seek help. A first step can be to reach out to someone you trust. You may have been isolated by your abusive partner, but a friend, hotline, family, therapist, or co-worker may be able to offer you support as you begin the process of seeking help. In addition to the National Domestic Violence Hotline listed at the top of this article, which can be reached at 1-800-779-SAFE (7233), you can find support by texting HOME to 741741, which is the number for the national Crisis Text Line.

Other recommendations include not trying to reason with the abuser, as it is their responsibility to end the abuse and reasoning is not generally likely to help. Disengaging and setting boundaries is also advised. For instance, you might try limiting your interactions with the abuser and trying not to be drawn into arguments. Leaving the relationship and cutting ties can be the best course of action.

Takeaway

Therapy can help you heal and recover from the effects of an emotionally abusive relationship. A therapist can help you find healthy ways to move forward in a positive, healthy way. Regain offers therapy that can be utilized anywhere you have an internet connection, including your own home or wherever you feel safe. This can be of benefit to those with disabilities, transportation issues, or those in abusive relationships in which in may be difficult to leave the house in order to get help. Online therapy is discreet, affordable, convenient, and can be built around your needs, preferences, and schedule.

Additionally, the National Center for Health Research dove into a multitude of studies comparing online therapy to face-to-face therapy. They found that online therapy is just as effective as traditional therapy for issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, trauma, PTSD, and more.

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