Abuse is a common cause of many mental health problems. It is often a root cause of substance addiction. But we often hear people talking about physical and sexual abuse. Many forms of emotional abuse happen in people’s lives without them being aware of it. Emotional abuse may have long-term effects on one’s body and mind, especially when it comes to self-esteem and mental health.
What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse refers to unhealthy patterns in relationships when one party exerts power over the other in a way that is disrespectful, humiliating, or demeaning. Emotional abuse may happen in all kinds of relationships, as in the home, at school, in communities, and at the workplace. Emotional abuse is dangerous because it doesn’t leave physical marks. It’s hard for outside parties to understand that there is abuse going on and step in to stop it.
Take the example of parental abuse, which is the most common form of emotional abuse. This can include behaviors from parents such as shaming their child, telling them they are worthless, and negatively comparing a child with others. A near equally common type of emotional abuse occurs in a marital or partner relationship. This kind of emotional abuse happens when one party makes the other feel worthless by words or actions.
In romantic or family relationships, a heightened sense of control over a person’s whereabouts or jealousy of outside relationships can also be manifestations of emotional abuse. There may also be deceit, where one person might use manipulative gaslighting techniques to make a partner believe lies or question their understanding of a situation.
Workplace emotional abuse often goes unnoticed because of the employer-employee power difference. It may range from intimidation and deceit to shaming a person in front of others. Workplace emotional abuse is often characterized by a superior’s using words and actions to damage an employee’s self-image, self-esteem, and sense of security.
What are the Harmful Effects of Emotional Abuse?
The person on the receiving end of emotional abuse often doesn’t realize they’re being abused or finds it difficult to accept that they are in an abusive relationship. This is because for emotional abuse to happen, there has to be an emotional bond or attachment between the two parties, which becomes distorted. At the same time, they feel a combination of strong emotions about the abuser. These emotions include confusion, fear, shame, resentment, hopelessness, and even despair, usually overridden by dependence, love, or obligation.
Over time, these negative emotions can accumulate to impact physical health by showing up in the form of insomnia, moodiness, headaches, muscle tension, chronic pain, etc. The longer emotional abuse continues, the more prolonged these effects can become. If left unchecked, emotional abuse may contribute to depressive disorders and suicidal thoughts. Other mental health issues include social withdrawal, anxiety, or compulsive disorders. People who have been emotionally abused by being shamed or made to feel less-than may internalize and accept these harmful beliefs about themselves.
Children who experience emotional abuse during their childhood may develop low self-esteem, a core feeling of worthlessness, difficulty regulating emotions, lack of trust, and difficulty developing relationships with others. These all tend to have negative long-term effects on their mental health. Children who were subjected to emotional abuse are also at higher risk of developing toxic behavior themselves.
In children, teens, and adults, emotional abuse can lead to all kinds of mental health concerns. One of these is substance use disorder. People who have severe trauma like that from emotional abuse are likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain they experience from abuse. Unfortunately, substance abuse only compounds negative health outcomes and needs to be addressed alongside other resulting mental illnesses.
How Do You Heal from Emotional Abuse?
Caring for people who were subjected to emotional abuse is a very challenging task. One needs to be sensitive and informed about trauma to do it well. An effective way to care for a person who has been emotionally abused is to connect the person with a mental health professional who uses a trauma-informed approach. Trauma-informed methods acknowledge the need to understand a patient’s life experiences to deliver effective care.
Understanding the impacts of emotional abuse helps therapists identify the deeper causes behind mental health issues. Trauma-informed therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space to come to terms with what has happened and to navigate the way forward. Clarify that emotional abuse is never the fault of the person who was subjected to it. Many times, that person needs to be affirmed and validated to heal.
If you have suffered emotional abuse, the best first step is to seek professional help. A licensed therapist will help you work through your past, find validation in your worth, practice self-care, and set boundaries for healthy relationships moving forward. They can help you challenge your negative self-talk and replace that with uplifting and affirming thoughts grounded in reality. The road to recovering from emotional abuse is long and winding, but it is rewarding and worth the effort.
If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, you might feel scared to confide in your friends and family. You do not deserve to be treated in a way that makes you feel scared, guilty, or ashamed. People who have suffered long-term emotional abuse often find it difficult to trust again. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists know how to help you recover from emotional abuse and regain confidence in life. We offer inpatient and outpatient programs that address a range of mental health issues. Therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space to come to terms with your experiences and navigate the safest steps forward. You can work through in therapy so you can move forward and build a fulfilled life. You will benefit from our trauma-informed diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and custom-made treatment plans. Call us at (866) 906-3203. We are here to help you achieve wholeness.