So, you’ve been through some emotionally traumatic experiences lately. Maybe a toxic relationship, a verbally abusive boss, or a controlling parent. Now you’re having trouble sleeping, feeling anxious, and on edge—like the emotional abuse you endured is still haunting you. You’re not alone.
While PTSD is commonly associated with physical trauma, the lesser-known truth is that emotional abuse can be just as damaging and lead to the same disorder. The scars may not be visible, but the impact is real. In this article, we’ll explore how emotional abuse can cause PTSD, signs you may have it, and steps you can take to start healing from invisible wounds.
What Is Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is a form of mistreatment or manipulation that primarily targets a person’s emotions, self-esteem, and mental well-being. It is a pattern of behavior used by one person to control, manipulate, or dominate another person, most often within the context of a close relationship, such as a romantic partnership, marriage, family, or friendship. Emotional abuse can have severe and long-lasting effects on the victim’s mental and emotional health.
Emotional abuse can appear in a variety of ways and can be difficult to detect. Common forms of emotional abuse include:
This involves using hurtful words, insults, name-calling, yelling, or screaming to demean or belittle the victim. Verbal abuse can also include threats and intimidation.
Emotional abusers use actions or words to shame the victim, including mocking, ridiculing, and making derogatory comments about their appearance or character, often in front of others.
Abusers may try to separate their victims from friends, family, or sources of support. They may use tactics like controlling who the victim can see or talk to, preventing them from participating in social activities, or making them feel guilty for spending time away from the abuser.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which the abuser makes the victim doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. They may deny things they’ve said or done, accuse the victim of being overly sensitive or paranoid, or distort the truth to confuse the victim.
Emotional abusers often shift responsibility for their actions onto the victim. They may blame the victim for their own abusive behavior or project their negative qualities onto the victim.
Abusers may use various tactics to control their victims, such as controlling their finances, monitoring their activities, or making decisions for them without their consent. They may also use guilt, threats, or emotional manipulation to keep the victim compliant.
Emotional abusers may withhold love, affection, or emotional support as a means of punishment or control. They might threaten to withdraw affection or support if the victim doesn’t comply with their demands.
Continuous criticism and nitpicking can erode the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, making them feel worthless or inadequate.
What are the Mental, Physical, and Social Impacts of Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse can have significant and wide-ranging impacts on an individual’s mental, physical, and social well-being. These effects can vary in severity depending on the duration and intensity of the abuse, as well as the individual’s resilience and coping mechanisms.
Emotionally abusive relationships rewire your brain in harmful ways. You may develop PTSD, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and problems with decision-making or emotional regulation. You may feel confused, ashamed, and self-blaming. These mental health concerns can endure even after the abusive situation has stopped.
Your body keeps the score. Emotional abuse can cause a host of physical problems like insomnia, chronic pain, stomach issues, and high blood pressure. The constant stress and tension damage your body and brain over time. In response to the distress, you might resort to harmful coping strategies such as excessive eating, smoking, or substance abuse.
Emotional abuse isolates you from friends and family. The abuser systematically cuts you off from your support network so they can maintain control. You may feel alone and neglected like you have nowhere to turn. Rebuilding trust and reconnecting with others can take years.
The impact of emotional abuse is undeniably real and deeply damaging. However, by recognizing the signs of abuse, acknowledging the harm it has caused, and taking proactive steps to enhance your mental, physical, and social well-being, you can begin the journey toward safety, happiness, and reconnection with others. Remember, there are supportive individuals and valuable resources in Los Angeles, CA to help you recover and move forward from emotional abuse.
How Can Emotional Abuse Lead to PTSD?
Emotional abuse can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when the psychological trauma caused by the abuse overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and adapt. PTSD is typically associated with exposure to life-threatening or severely distressing events, such as combat, natural disasters, or physical assault. But it is crucial to acknowledge that emotional abuse can be just as traumatizing, if not more so because it targets the core of an individual’s identity, emotions, and sense of safety.
In addition to the development of PTSD in Los Angeles, CA, emotional abuse can also contribute to another related condition known as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). CPTSD, sometimes referred to as complex PTSD, differs from PTSD in that it typically arises from prolonged and recurring exposure to traumatic events, including emotional abuse.
The good news is that PTSD from emotional abuse is treatable. Options include talk therapy, medication, support groups, and self-care strategies like exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones. Recognizing the signs, reaching out for help, and committing to the healing process can help you overcome your trauma and rebuild your life.
Emotional Abuse and CPTSD
While traditional PTSD is often associated with a single traumatic incident, CPTSD from emotional abuse is characterized by prolonged exposure to chronic interpersonal trauma. It is characterized by a range of symptoms and experiences that are less prevalent than those of traditional PTSD.
CPTSD often involves heightened emotional dysregulation, resulting in intense mood swings and difficulty managing emotions.
Those with CPTSD frequently experience an enduring sense of emptiness, leading to feelings of hopelessness and despair.
CPTSD leads to significant difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships, characterized by trust issues, boundary challenges, and fear of intimacy.
Negative self-esteem is a central aspect of CPTSD, with individuals often harboring critical and self-deprecating views of themselves.
Survivors of complex trauma may hold a complex and contradictory perception of their abuser, simultaneously fearing and longing for their approval or oscillating between idealization and demonization.
Dissociation, while present in both PTSD and CPTSD, tends to be more persistent and severe in CPTSD, leading to experiences like depersonalization and derealization.
CPTSD can manifest with physical symptoms, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, and psychosomatic complaints.
Unlike traditional PTSD, individuals with CPTSD may struggle to establish a sense of safety, not only in the present but also in envisioning a secure future.
Memories of complex trauma are often fragmented and disjointed in CPTSD, resulting in complex and interconnected flashbacks and intrusive thoughts.
CPTSD is not universally recognized as a distinct diagnosis in all diagnostic manuals, such as the DSM-5. However, it has gained recognition in certain mental health communities. Clinicians often diagnose individuals with CPTSD using the broader criteria for PTSD while acknowledging the unique challenges and symptoms associated with complex trauma.
How Do I Heal from PTSD Caused by Emotional Abuse?
Healing from PTSD caused by emotional abuse will take time and effort. Here are some key steps and considerations for those seeking to recover:
Speaking with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma can help you work through your PTSD. They can provide coping strategies and help reframe unhealthy thought patterns. Support groups also allow you to connect with others who have had similar experiences.
Make sure to exercise, eat healthy, engage in hobbies, and get enough sleep. Prioritizing self-care can enhance both your mood and your ability to bounce back from challenges. Do small things each day that you find meaningful or enjoyable.
Learn to say no and set clear boundaries to protect yourself from further harm. Don’t engage with your abuser or expose yourself to triggers when possible. Setting limits will help you feel empowered and secure.
Notice negative thoughts about yourself or your experience and try to reframe them in a more constructive way. Your abuser made you feel worthless or unlovable, but that is not the truth. Replace negative messages with more positive ones.
Healing from emotional abuse and PTSD will take time. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate small wins and milestones. While trauma may always be part of your story, you have the power to overcome its effects. With support and perseverance, you can build a happy and fulfilling life free from abuse.
What are the Treatment Options for PTSD From Emotional Abuse?
Treatment for PTSD from emotional abuse typically involves therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. The most effective treatments are:
Talk therapy, especially counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy in Los Angeles, CA, can be very helpful for PTSD from emotional abuse. Talking to a therapist about your experiences can be liberating and help you work through feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to trauma. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has also been shown to be effective for PTSD. It helps process traumatic memories and reduce their painful influence.
Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and other medications can help manage PTSD symptoms like depression, worry, insomnia, and hyperarousal. Medications do not treat the underlying trauma, but they can make therapy more effective when used in combination. Common medications for PTSD include sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and venlafaxine (Effexor). Medication can take several weeks of use before effects are felt, and adjustments are often needed to find what works best for each individual.
Making positive lifestyle changes can also support your recovery from PTSD. Exercise, eat healthily, limit alcohol and caffeine, practice relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, connect with others and engage in hobbies or activities that you find meaningful or joyful. Taking good care of yourself will boost your mental health and make you better equipped to cope with traumatic memories and emotions.
The impacts of emotional abuse can be deep and long-lasting, but with support and the right treatment programs in Los Angeles, CA, healing is absolutely possible. Don’t lose hope; you deserve to live a happy, healthy life free from the effects of past trauma. Remember that healing is a unique process for each individual, and there is no fixed timeline. But with time and effort, you can overcome PTSD from emotional abuse.
Westwind Recovery® Can Assist with PTSD from Emotional Abuse
Westwind Recovery® in Los Angeles, California is here to provide compassionate and effective care tailored to your unique needs. Our team of experienced professionals understands the profound impact that emotional abuse can have on mental health and well-being, and we are dedicated to helping you heal and regain control of your life. Our approach to treating PTSD resulting from emotional abuse is comprehensive and holistic. We believe in addressing not only the symptoms but also the underlying causes of trauma.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, please reach out to us today. Our dedicated team is here to answer your questions, provide guidance, and help you take the first steps toward a brighter and healthier future. You don’t have to face this journey alone. We are here to support you every step of the way. Contact us now!
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.