How to Heal from Emotional Abuse

Published on: 29 Sep 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Karmen Smith LCSW, DD 
man sitting holding head in hands

Even though emotional abuse doesn’t leave you with physical wounds, it can still cause significant damage. Living through emotional abuse can lead to trauma, impacting both your mental and physical well-being. Healing after emotional abuse can take time, but it is possible to recover from the emotional wounds that abuse has caused, along with the help of an online therapist. Keep reading to learn how to heal from emotional abuse. 

Addressing the Effects of Emotional Abuse 

The term “emotional abuse” describes a range of behaviors that can impact people in many different ways. Abuse can occur during childhood, in a romantic relationship, or may come from a friend, family member, or coworker. While some people live with it for years, even brief instances of emotional abuse can cause real and lasting damage.

Self-doubt, blame, and shame

People who are emotionally abused frequently doubt themselves and may struggle to admit that the behavior they experienced was even abusive in the first place. Many people struggle with feelings of guilt or shame about what happened to them. They might struggle to understand and believe that they weren’t the ones at fault. Emotional abuse can severely damage a person’s self-esteem, causing them to feel worthless, powerless, or unlovable.

Social isolation 

Social isolation is very common after emotional abuse. Abusers use many tactics to isolate victims from friends and family members to maintain control over the person and the relationship. In addition, survivors of abuse may choose to isolate themselves to protect themselves from future harm or because they now see themselves in a negative light. 

Mental and physical health 

In the long term, emotional abuse has been linked to several mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. The chronic stress of severe emotional abuse can take a toll on physical health as well, leading to digestive issues, body aches, and other health problems.

Interpersonal relationships

Emotional abuse can also interfere with future relationships. After being abused, it can be hard to trust. Some abuse victims may isolate themselves, while others struggle to bond with people. Healing from emotional abuse is essential if you want to learn how to build healthy relationships in the future.

What to Expect During Recovery & Healing

It’s common for people to experience a range of emotions as they heal from abuse of any kind. The healing process can widely vary from person to person, and there’s no one or right way to heal. Everyone’s feelings and emotions are valid. It’s not unusual for someone to have mood swings, feeling positive and confident one day, and anxious and sad the next. 

Controlling behaviors are a part of many emotionally abusive relationships, so adjusting to newfound freedom can be challenging for some. Many people struggle to feel independent and make decisions on their own. It’s even normal for victims of all types of abuse, including narcissistic abuse and verbal abuse, to miss their abusers. Sometimes they even consider letting them back into their lives.

“Recovery from emotional abuse frequently has many ups and downs. It can be painful to dig through past traumas, but the reward for coming out on the other side as a healthier individual is worth it! Look for a therapist who’s able to sit with you in the pain and celebrate with you in the triumphs.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

Some abuse survivors may find themselves re-experiencing traumatic events through nightmares and flashbacks, which can be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Victims of abuse may struggle with constant fear or feel as if they’re always on edge. Although healing after emotional abuse can be a long and difficult process, these struggles will get easier by focusing on the emotional abuse recovery process. 

Tips for Healing from Emotional Abuse

Although it can be challenging, several strategies can help you recover from an emotionally abusive relationship. These tips can give you strength and keep you focused during this challenging time.

“The path to healing from emotional abuse may look different for each person. Often, access to a strong support system is helpful. In all cases, strong consideration should be made for receiving therapy. Having an unbiased third party can significantly help you organize your beliefs about yourself, others, and the world in order to identify which are helpful vs which no longer serve you.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

Learn to recognize emotional abuse

Understanding emotional abuse will help you begin to process and cope with what you’ve been through. It’s possible that behaviors you once saw and accepted as normal were actually abusive. Deepening your understanding of emotional abuse will ultimately help you understand what a healthy relationship should look like, allowing you to build better connections with others in the future.

Remember that it’s not your fault

While it’s normal to blame yourself for the emotional abuse that you’ve experienced, you should remember that none of it is your fault. Emotional abusers might try to make you believe that you deserve mistreatment, but that’s never true. Your emotional abuser is the one responsible for their actions, not you.

Document your feelings

People often struggle with feelings of self-doubt while healing after emotional abuse. As time goes on, you may start to question if the abuse you experienced was actually that bad. Keeping a journal can help you track your feelings and experiences, which might allow you to learn to trust yourself (and others) again.

Focus on your own needs

In your toxic relationship, you may have learned to neglect your own wants and needs so you could focus on what your emotional abuser wanted. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to make other people happy, be aware if you have developed a pattern of always putting someone else first. Take the time to think about your desires and goals and work to get back in touch with your emotions.

Create a support system

Your abuser may have isolated you from friends, family, and other sources of support. While you can’t change what happened in the past, you can work to rebuild relationships or make new connections. Not only can a strong support system reduce the risk of depression, but positive relationships with others can help you to learn to trust again.

Start therapy

Healing after emotional abuse can be a long and difficult process. When you seek professional help, through online therapy, you’ll have access to the support that you need. Therapy can help you process your emotional trauma, develop healthy coping strategies, and stay strong as you begin to rebuild your life.

A Path to Healing with Talkspace

When you’re struggling, it can be hard to figure out how to heal from emotional abuse. You may feel hopeless, or you might believe that you’ll never feel better. Although the path to healing can be challenging, it’s important to remember that an abuse survivor can recover and even thrive. 

You might feel lost and overwhelmed, but this isn’t something that you have to deal with on your own. Reach out to a professional to get the help you need. Working with a therapist, you can protect yourself, learn to practice self-compassion, and develop coping strategies that can help you in every aspect of your life.

Some people find it helpful to start with online therapy since it’s easily accessible and affordable in most cases. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that offers therapy and support from experienced mental health experts. You might consider Talkspace if you think you could use the help of a trained professional to start the process of healing from an emotionally abusive relationship. 

Sources:

1. Yun J, Shim G, Jeong B. Verbal Abuse Related to Self-Esteem Damage and Unjust Blame Harms Mental Health and Social Interaction in College Population. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-019-42199-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449380/. Accessed July 19, 2022.

2. Li M, D’Arcy C, Meng X. Maltreatment in childhood substantially increases the risk of adult depression and anxiety in prospective cohort studies: systematic review, meta-analysis, and proportional attributable fractions. Psychol Med. 2015;46(4):717-730. doi:10.1017/s0033291715002743. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26708271/. Accessed July 19, 2022.

3. Anderson D, Saunders D. Leaving An Abusive Partner. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. 2003;4(2):163-191. doi:10.1177/1524838002250769. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1524838002250769. Accessed July 19, 2022.

4. Gariépy G, Honkaniemi H, Quesnel-Vallée A. Social support and protection from depression: systematic review of current findings in Western countries. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2016;209(4):284-293. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.115.169094. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/social-support-and-protection-from-depression-systematic-review-of-current-findings-in-western-countries/F2A2532B9A2259834041AFE67DA72E97. Accessed July 19, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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