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PTSD from Emotional Abuse

Table of Contents

Can You Have PTSD from Emotional Abuse?, Signs & Symptoms, Short-Term & Long-Term Effects, PTSD from Emotional Abuse Relationship, Childhood, Marriage & Healing

Can You Have PTSD from Emotional Abuse?

You may not think you are being abused if you’re not being hurt physically. But emotional and verbal abuse can have short-term and long-lasting effects that are just as serious as physical abuse. Emotional and verbal abuse includes insults and attempts to scare, isolate, or control you. It is also often a sign that physical abuse may follow. Emotional and verbal abuse may also continue if physical abuse starts. If you have been abused, it is never your fault.

Psychological maltreatment, or emotional abuse and neglect, has been theorized to cause adverse development consequences equivalent to, or more severe than, those of other forms of abuse.

Individuals who report a history of emotional abuse often have memories of the abuse, eliciting negative feelings and tense physical sensations that are difficult to regulate and control due to the nervous system and brain changes. Those who report emotional abuse suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, moodiness, and extreme or dulled emotional responses.

The good news is that for individuals who have suffered from emotional abuse, research shows several evidence-based mental health treatments that help with the psychological consequences of such abuse. [1]

PTSD from Emotional Abuse Symptoms

PTSD can develop after a threatening or shocking circumstance. Your doctor may make a PTSD diagnosis if you experience high stress or fear over a long period. These feelings are usually so severe that they interfere with your daily functioning.

Symptoms of PTSD from emotional abuse may include:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Being easily startled
  • Negative thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Reliving the trauma (flashbacks) and experiencing physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat

Signs of PTSD from Emotional Abuse

What are signs of PTSD from emotional abuse? Most children who are abused don’t grow up to abuse others. But some research indicates that they may be more likely than adults who weren’t abused during childhood to engage in toxic behaviors. [2] Adults who were abused or disregarded as children may also be more likely to develop chronic health problems, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Mental health issues
  • Obesity
  • Substance use disorders

You may be more inclined to develop PTSD if you have the following:

  • Been through traumatic events before, especially in your childhood
  • A history of mental illness or substance use
  • No support system

Common PTSD signs from emotional abuse include:

  • Vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Nightmares
  • Intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • Physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea, or trembling
PTSD from Emotional Abuse
Can you get PTSD from emotional abuse? And PTSD can happen to anyone, even children.

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Complex PTSD from Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse causes interpersonal trauma, a form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) known as Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD and emotional abuse damage are hard to identify, which causes more problems for victims. Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over months or, more often, years.  If you have complex PTSD, you may be particularly likely to experience what some people call an “emotional flashback,” in which you have intense feelings that you originally felt during the trauma, such as fear, shame, sadness, or despair.

According to Veterans Affairs regarding Complex PTSD symptoms, [3] an individual who experienced a prolonged period (months to years) of chronic victimization and total control by another may also experience difficulties in the following areas:

  • Emotional regulation. May include persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, and explosive or inhibited anger.
  • Consciousness. Includes forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes in which one feels detached from one’s mental processes or body (dissociation).
  • Self-perception. It may include helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings.
  • Distorted perceptions of the perpetrator. Examples include attributing total power to the perpetrator, becoming preoccupied with the relationship with the perpetrator, or being preoccupied with revenge.
  • Relations with others. Examples include isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer.
  • One’s system of meanings. It may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

How to Deal with PTSD from Emotional Abuse?

You may be experiencing emotional or verbal abuse if someone:

  • They want to know what you’re doing all the time and want you to be in constant contact
  • Demands password to things like your phone, email, and social media and show other signs of digital abuse
  • Acts very jealous, including constantly accusing you of cheating
  • Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family
  • Tries to stop you from going to work or school
  • Gets angry in a way that is frightening to you
  • Controls all your finances or how you spend your money
  • They prevent you from seeing a doctor
  • Humiliates you in front of others
  • Calls you insulting names (such as “stupid,” “disgusting,” “worthless,” “whore,” or “fat”)
  • Threatens to hurt you, people you care about, or pets
  • Threatens to call the authorities to report you for wrongdoing
  • Threatens to harm himself or herself when upset with you
  • Says things like, “If I can’t have you, then no one can”
  • Decides things for you that you should decide (like what to wear or eat)

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you aren’t in immediate danger, reach out to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or volunteer with an abuse shelter or domestic violence hotline.

If you need extra support, reach out to a mental health professional. A therapist can help you identify and cope with your complex PTSD in a safe and supportive setting.

Evidence-based psychotherapies for PTSD, including Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE), have benefited individuals with chronic complex presentations of PTSD. Furthermore, clinical research shows that individuals with PTSD and co-occurring conditions—including substance use disorder, dissociation, borderline personality disorder, and sleep problems—benefit from these evidence-based psychotherapies. These comorbidities are often associated with complex PTSD.

How to Get Over PTSD from Emotional Abuse?

Most people find emotional abuse difficult to identify because it can have less clear boundaries than physical or sexual abuse.  People who engage in abusive behavior (emotional abusers) may make deliberate or unconscious attempts to exert control over their victims by making them doubt their perceptions of reality.

As a result, victims of emotional abuse frequently feel uncertainty and psychological pain in silence. Understanding the destructive cycle of emotional abuse will help you become more empowered to see instances of emotional abuse and know what to do to stop them and get help for your PTSD.

Emotional abuse is an attempt to use highly charged emotions to control the actions of another person by undercutting their sense of self, self-confidence, and mental health. To get over PTSD from emotional abuse:

Acknowledge the Abuse

Thinking about and accepting your past abuse as a real event can be very challenging, but it’s the first step to healing from your experiences.

Change Negative Thought Patterns

By lying to you about the world and who you are, emotional abusers change how you perceive reality until you start to believe their version of events instead of your own. You eventually start to embrace these thoughts, which change how you view yourself. These negative ideas may eventually turn into a self-talking voice in your head that repeats what your abuser said to you. One technique to start healing while you process your previous trauma is to challenge your self-talk and eliminate any negative thought patterns you discover there.

Engage in Self Care

When you start taking care of your needs, you’ll have more strength, resources, and nutrition to overcome your challenges.

Set Boundaries

In emotionally abusive relationships, setting boundaries can frequently enrage abusers and cause the situation to become tenser. This occurs because those who abuse you don’t want you to take charge of your life. They feel more chaotic, and out of control the more control you start to regain. To regain control of your life, you must first learn how to establish and enforce healthy boundaries with other people.

PTSD from Emotional Abuse
You can recover from PTSD from physical and emotional abuse. Take back yourself and your life. Seek help now!

Know When to Seek Help

The goal of emotional abusers is to make you rely on them for guidance on your identity and worldview. Your ability to regain control over your life will increase as your knowledge base expands. Even though recovering from past and present abuse and the emotional trauma it causes is challenging, many tools and options are available to support you. No matter where you are in the recovery process, therapy can be a useful tool for you.

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How to Know If You Have PTSD from Emotional Abuse?

Can someone have PTSD from emotional abuse? Yes, but PTSD starts at different times for different people. Signs of PTSD may start soon after a frightening event and then continue. Other people develop new or more severe signs months or even years later. PTSD can happen to anyone, even children. [4]

Several self-assessments or PTSD from emotional abuse tests can be found online. These tests may help you gain awareness of your PTSD symptoms, but only a licensed mental health professional can make a mental health diagnosis.

A doctor with experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, can diagnose PTSD. Looking for the “Do I have PTSD from Emotional Abuse Quiz?” Taking quizzes online cannot be a diagnostic tool, nor is it intended to replace a proper diagnosis. A licensed mental health professional or doctor should only diagnose mental health conditions.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have all of the following for at least 1 month:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. The symptoms can start from the person’s thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing symptoms.

Avoidance symptoms include:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Having angry outbursts

Arousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic events. These symptoms can make the person feel stressed and angry. They may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

Cognition and mood symptoms can begin or worsen after the traumatic event but are not due to injury or substance use. These symptoms can make the person feel alienated or detached from friends or family.

It is natural to have some of these symptoms for a few weeks after a dangerous event. When the symptoms last more than a month, seriously affect one’s ability to function, and are not due to substance use, medical illness, or anything except the event itself, they might be PTSD. Some people with PTSD don’t show any symptoms for weeks or months. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders. [5]

What are the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse can lead to mental and physical symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored. If you’ve been emotionally abused, know it’s not your fault. There’s also no “correct” way to feel about it. What are symptoms of PTSD from emotional abuse? PTSD symptoms from emotional abuse are the same as physical abuse or worst for some. Emotional abuse can also have several long- and short-term effects.

Short-Term Effects

At first, you might be in denial. Finding yourself in such a circumstance might be unsettling. You might also experience the following:

  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Hopelessness
  • Shame
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness
  • Muscle tension
  • Nightmares
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Various aches and pains

Long-Term Effects

Studies [6] show that severe emotional abuse can be as powerful as physical abuse. Over time, both can contribute to low self-esteem and depression.

You may also develop the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Guilt
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal or loneliness

Some researchers theorize that emotional abuse may contribute to the development of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. [7]

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PTSD from Emotional Abuse

Searching for “PTSD from.emotional abuse treatment?” Working with a therapist makes overcoming PTSD from mental and emotional abuse possible. Remember that it’s easy to fall back into old relationship patterns, and while you may have to work to recognize this pattern in your life, you will be happier once you’ve addressed your trauma.

Many people with PTSD from emotional abuse struggle to work with others because it requires trust, which they’ve learned to be wary of due to their histories of abuse or trauma. Establishing stronger relationships and healthier patterns will help people cope as they move forward.

PTSD from Emotional Abuse Relationship

Can you have PTSD from an emotionally abusive relationship? Yes. Emotional and verbal abuse may begin suddenly. Some abusers may start behaving normally and then abuse after a relationship is established. Some abusers may purposefully give a lot of love and attention, including compliments and requests to see you often, at the beginning of a relationship. Usually, the abuser tries to make the other person feel strongly bonded to them, as though it is the two of them “against the world.”

Over time, abusers begin insulting or threatening their victims and controlling different parts of their lives. When this behavior change happens, it can leave victims feeling shocked and confused. You may feel embarrassed or foolish for getting into the relationship. If someone else abuses you, it’s never your fault. Take a step forward to reclaim your life and receive treatment for PTSD from emotionally abusive relationships.

PTSD from Emotional Abuse
PTSD from long term emotional abuse can also trigger the patient to develop other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder, depression, etc.

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PTSD from Emotionally Abusive Childhood

Is it possible to have PTSD from emotional abuse? Yes. As with adults, the emotional abuse of children can go unrecognized. A child experiencing emotional abuse may develop social withdrawal, regression, sleep disorders, and PTSD. If left unresolved, these conditions can continue into adulthood and leave you vulnerable to more mistreatment.

PTSD symptoms displayed by abused children and young people include learning difficulties, poor behavior at school, depression and anxiety, aggression, risk-taking, and criminal behaviors, emotional numbness, and a range of physical issues, including poor sleep and headaches.

You might be diagnosed with PTSD from childhood trauma if you have recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event. Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks) Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event. Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something reminds you of the traumatic event.

PTSD from Emotionally Abusive Marriage

If you’ve experienced emotional abuse for a while, you might inadvertently think these behaviors are to be expected from partners, family, or friends. Long-term emotional abuse may impact your ability to tolerate certain actions and how you view yourself in relationships.

  • Long-term emotional abuse can make you feel your needs don’t matter as much as everyone else’s. This can lead to codependent behaviors or ignoring your own needs and boundaries. You might also engage in people-pleasing behaviors or tend to establish relationships with abusive partners.
  • You might have high levels of stress or abandonment anxiety in your relationships if the emotional distance “tactics” was utilized as a manipulative technique. This could appear clingy behavior, sometimes characterized by a strong fear of losing your support network.
  • Even a supportive, caring partner may be difficult to trust if you have experienced emotional abuse. It can require guts and openness to trust that someone won’t intentionally hurt you again after being let down in the past.
  • If the emotional abuse you endured frequently consisted of criticism or picking apart your every move, you may have internalized some of these remarks, which has caused you to feel ashamed. As a result, opening out to a spouse could appear challenging and intimidating, which could cause emotional distance in the relationship.

Having PTSD from an emotionally abusive marriage or entering a marriage with PTSD from childhood trauma can be challenging for you and your partner. Seeking professional help can help you build a fresh start with your family. For people with PTSD, couples counseling with their partner may ease their PTSD symptoms and support their relationship.

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Healing PTSD from Emotional Abuse

After experiencing emotional abuse, finding the proper therapist can be beneficial. It is good to speak with a therapist to see if treatment may benefit you or if a loved one suffers from severe PTSD from emotional abuse symptoms or other mental health concerns. Finding a practitioner who is knowledgeable about emotional abuse’s impacts, especially the mental and physical warning signals, is crucial. There is never a bad moment to begin therapy or return to it after a break because it may take a while before you feel like you have processed the trauma. Call today to speak with one of We Level Up FL treatment specialists. Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.

PTSD from Emotional Abuse
Seeking help from a therapist or mental health professional is a huge step in overcoming PTSD from emotional abuse.

FAQs

How to heal from PTSD from emotional abuse?

Recovering from PTSD from emotional abuse is a gradual, ongoing process. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, nor do the trauma memories disappear completely. 

Can you get PTSD from an emotionally abusive relationship?

Yes. It is possible to develop PTSD from domestic emotional abuse and PTSD from an emotionally abusive relationship.

Can PTSD come from emotional abuse?

Yes. You can get C-PTSD from emotional abuse or PTSD from verbal and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to PTSD, but it can. 

Can you develop PTSD from emotional abuse from parents?

Yes. You can develop PTSD from parental emotional abuse. Research shows that children and young people who are victims of emotional abuse by their parents usually report the most severe post-traumatic stress symptoms. 

Search PTSD from Emotional Abuse & Other Resources
Sources:

[1] Dye HL. Is Emotional Abuse As Harmful as Physical and Sexual Abuse? J Child Adolesc Trauma. 2019 Dec 10;13(4):399-407. DOI: 10.1007/s40653-019-00292-y. PMID: 33269040; PMCID: PMC7683637.c – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7683637/
[2] Effects of child abuse and neglect for adult survivors – https://aifs.gov.au/resources/policy-and-practice-papers/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-adult-survivors
[3] Complex PTSD – PTSD: National Center for PTSD – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/complex_ptsd.asp
[4] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
[5] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – NIMH – National Institute of Mental Health – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
[6-7] Karakurt G, Silver KE. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and age. Violence Vict. 2013;28(5):804-21. DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00041. PMID: 24364124; PMCID: PMC3876290. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/

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