Many people associate posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with war veterans, first responders, and victims of violence and abuse. Patients can include people that have experienced childhood abuse and domestic abuse. The truth, however, is that PTSD can happen to anyone, and it can result from any form of traumatic experience — even emotional abuse. So if you’ve ever wondered, can you have PTSD from emotional abuse? The short answer is yes. 

We now understand that emotional abuse can cause a subcategory of the mental health condition PTSD, known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It’s actually one of the most severe forms of PTSD. Emotional abuse can cause both long- and short-term effects on mental (and physical) health. Frequent crying, anxiety, confusion, guilt, and shame are just some of the feelings commonly felt by those who’ve been emotionally abused. And if left untreated, PTSD can also trigger the patient to develop other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder, depression, etc.  

“People who have experienced emotional abuse can develop symptoms of PTSD. Learning about PTSD, and talking to a licensed therapist or psychiatrist about your experiences can be healing and supportive in helping you integrate what happened so you can move forward in your life. If we do not explore what happened to us with a trusted mental health professional, we run the risk of coping with our experiences in unhealthy ways.” 

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Keep reading to learn more about how complex PTSD can develop from emotional abuse. You’ll also get information on the various steps you can take to better manage symptoms, so you can lead a peaceful, healthier life, free from the effects of your trauma.

How Does PTSD Develop from Emotional Abuse?

PTSD doesn’t always develop because of emotional abuse, but it definitely can be a result. Emotional trauma is a common outcome when someone has been manipulated, abused, or gaslighted. This form of abuse may involve verbal insults, exertion of physical or mental control, or causing fear to the point where you socially isolate yourself.

There are several risk factors that mean you’re more likely to develop PTSD after experiencing emotional abuse. For example, you might develop symptoms of PTSD from emotional abuse if you: 

  • Already live with mental illness
  • Engage in substance abuse
  • Don’t have an effective support system
  • Have a history of trauma, particularly during childhood

Effects of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can come in many forms and may or may not happen along with physical abuse. 

Examples of emotional abuse can include:

  • Being belittled or humiliated
  • Being yelled at or name-called
  • Being threatened with anger or violence
  • Having your freedom or privacy stripped away from you
  • Being gaslighted (making you question yourself)
  • Having somebody always keep track of your whereabouts
  • Being kept away from your family, friends, and loved ones

As mentioned earlier, emotional abuse can cause both short- and long-term effects that can manifest both physically and mentally. 

(Behavioral and physical) Short-term effects of emotional abuse can include:

  • Moodiness
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Nightmares
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling tense
  • Having a racing heartbeat

(Mental) Short-term effects of emotional abuse can include:

  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Hopelessness

The effects aren’t always short-term, though. Research shows that severe emotional abuse can be just as detrimental as physical abuse and can cause long-term effects. 

Long-term effects of emotional abuse can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Insomnia
  • Loneliness
  • Chronic pain
  • Social isolation

Understanding and identifying signs of PTSD that can develop from the psychological trauma of emotional abuse is important.

Common Signs of PTSD from Emotional Abuse

There are several common signs and symptoms of PTSD from emotional abuse. They can include:

  • Being nervous
  • Developing an eating disorder (ED)
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Reliving past traumas
  • Having nightmares or flashbacks
  • Feeling negative
  • Emotional issues
  • Having insomnia
  • Being jumpy or startling easily
  • Having uncontrollable angry outbursts
  • Often feeling extreme anger or rage 
  • Substance abuse
  • Experiencing excessively negative thoughts
  • Struggling to fall or stay asleep 

It’s possible for children to develop PTSD from emotional abuse as well. Some common signs that a child may be experiencing this treatable mental health condition might include bed-wetting, regressing, or being overly clingy.

How to Heal from the Trauma of Emotional Abuse

How to treat PTSD from emotional abuse? Since living with the aftermath of emotional abuse can cause extreme physical and psychological symptoms, it’s important to get the trauma treatment you need to recover. Addressing the trauma as soon as possible is ideal. Integrating healthy lifestyle choices can be instrumental in the successful long-term management of PTSD. You may find any or all the following options helpful in alleviating your symptoms.

Use your support system

Living with the aftereffects of emotional abuse isn’t something you should have to do alone. Talk with your family or trusted friends. 

If you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking to someone you know, you might want to think about seeking help from a licensed therapist. 

Talk to a therapist

A therapist can listen to you without judgment and offer expert advice and techniques to help you cope with your PTSD symptoms more effectively. Through therapy for PTSD, you’ll learn to recognize the symptoms of PTSD from emotional abuse that are most interfering with your life. Most importantly, you’ll also learn how to manage them before they take hold. If you’re not sure you have PTSD, a therapist can five you an official PTSD diagnosis.

Take control of your breathing and thoughts

There are proven benefits of mindfulness meditation for the symptoms of PTSD. Meditation can be done anywhere, at any time, for free, with no equipment needed. The equipment is your attention. The facility is your body and mind. 

Staying in touch with your breathing and thoughts means you can learn to remain in control of your emotional responses. If you feel symptoms of PTSD arising, stop what you’re doing and meditate. The effects are powerful and often immediate. If you struggle with meditating on your own, you can download an app to guide you. 

Enhance your sleeping environment

Getting proper rest is essential for successfully managing PTSD from emotional abuse. Create a safe, relaxing environment in your bedroom. Make it cool, clean, calming, and restorative. 

Let your mind wind down before lying down in bed. Turn off the television and stay off social media for a while beforehand. Run a fan or turn on other white noise. Breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, and move into a peaceful night’s rest.

Keep your body strong through exercise

You can also work on healing from PTSD naturally. The benefits of exercise are undeniable. We all need regular physical activity to stimulate our circulatory, lymphatic, endocrine, and immune systems. Exercise can have a positive effect on your mood, help you sleep better, stimulate your appetite, and build the confidence you need to overcome the effects of emotional abuse. Your body and mind work together. Meditate for the brain. Exercise for the body.

According to researchers at The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, exercise can offer an effective way to treat PTSD. Even better, the more you get, the better the benefits.

Fortify your cells with healthy foods

The nutrients you take in are crucial for your physical and mental health. Without adequate intake of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients), your body and brain will struggle much harder to perform. 

Chronic malnutrition can lead to multiple system failures. That’s why it’s so important to ensure you get enough produce, single-ingredient foods, non-processed foods, and foods without preservatives. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too!

Get creative and express yourself

Few things can be as stimulating and restorative as expressing yourself in a creative way. Let your uniqueness shine by writing a poem, reading a book, singing a song, playing some music, banging some drums, or even by dancing. 

Studies show that art therapy, especially when used in conjunction with a more traditional therapy (such as cognitive processing therapy for PTSD), can be a very effective treatment. 

Avoid self-isolation

Many people living with PTSD from emotional abuse tend to avoid contact with others. Social isolation can set in very slowly, so slowly in fact that it’s often difficult to recognize. 

It’s important to make it a point to get out of the house now and then and socialize with others. If you don’t have family or friends to hang out with, consider joining a new club or group of some type to make new connections. Enjoying the company of others who aren’t emotionally abusive towards you can go a long way toward boosting your spirits.

It’s also about what you don’t do

Don’t allow yourself to fall into depression thinking about the emotional abuse that you endured in the past. The goal is to move past the trauma so you can live a happy, fulfilling life. So, reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a long time for a chat. Call an old friend and ask them out for a bite to eat or to go see a movie. Avoid stressful situations that remind you of past trauma and trigger emotional responses.

Create a safe, peaceful environment in your home

You can make your home a safe, peaceful place by doing simple things. Burn candles or diffuse essential oils that calm your nerves. Lavender, chamomile, and peppermint are all known to be effective. Dim the lights, put on some soft music, set up a meditation corner, do anything you can to make your home your sanctuary. Do whatever it takes so you can become confident in your environment.

“Healing from the trauma of emotional abuse is not a linear process. You might have moments, or years, that will feel like progress, and then something triggering can happen — like the death of a loved one — that can bring these PTSD symptoms back in some capacity. Learning your trauma triggers, as well as what works for you to support yourself when you’re feeling triggered, can be supportive in your healing. You deserve help and healing.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

A doctor may diagnose PTSD if you experience excessive levels of fear or stress for at least six months and your symptoms affect your daily living. Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment is typically most successful when treated with a combination of talk therapy and prescription medications, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers. 

If you’re living with PTSD from emotional abuse, it’s important that you know, and believe, you deserve more. You are worth it, and with strength and support, you can overcome the abuse you endured in the past. Consider learning about your symptoms with a PTSD test. It also doesn’t hurt to consult with a therapist, even if you do it through online therapy. That way, you can start to heal from your emotional scars.

Medically reviewed by: Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Reviewed On: May 11, 2022