What are the effects of emotional abuse?


Emotional abuse is a serious form of abuse that may come before, during, or after periods of physical abuse. Emotional abuse is never the fault of the person subjected to it.

Emotional abuse can have several long- and short-term effects. These might be physical (racing heart and tremors), psychological (anxiety and guilt), or both.

Keep reading for more information on the different types of emotional abuse, its short- and long- term effects, and some tips for healing and recovery. This article also discusses how to seek help.

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The effects of emotional abuse can be both long and short term.

A person may be subjected to emotional abuse from a number of different people throughout their life.

Emotional abuse has a number of potential sources. These include:

  • parents
  • romantic partners
  • friends
  • colleagues

The sections below cover each of these sources in more detail.

Parental emotional abuse

People of all ages can be subjected to emotional abuse, including children. Contrary to what some people believe, a relative or close family friend are more likely to abuse a child than a stranger.

According to HelpGuide, some signs of emotional abuse toward children include:

-yelling, bullying, or threatening a child

  • shaming, belittling, or humiliating a child
  • telling a child that they are worthless, a mistake, or bad
  • giving a child “the silent treatment” as punishment
  • limiting signs of affection
  • exposing a child to violence against others
  • calling a child names
  • negatively comparing a child with others

Relationship emotional abuse

In romantic relationships, people who are emotionally abusive may not be physically or sexually abusive at first. However, emotional abuse can lead to physical abuse if the relationship continues down an unhealthy path.

Emotional abuse can take the form of name calling, demeaning, or any behavior that makes a person feel belittled or worthless. In some cases, a person may start to believe that they are ugly or unwanted, or that they cannot “do better” than the person they are with.

Marital emotional abuse

Marriage does not give anyone the right to abuse their partner physically, sexually, emotionally, or in any other way. The signs of emotional abuse within a marriage are similar to those of emotional abuse within a nonmarital relationship.

Emotional abuse within a marriage may make a person feel as though they are worthless or do not deserve better. It may also lead them toward other unhealthful thoughts.

Emotional abuse in the workplace

Emotional abuse at work often goes unnoticed. However, it can occur in several different forms, from intimidation and deceit to shaming someone or making them feel guilty.

It could also manifest as a person being led to build false hopes and not having a colleague or manager to listen to their concerns.

Being subjected to emotional abuse in the workplace may result in unfinished tasks. However, more importantly, it can have deeper emotional effects on a person’s self-esteem and self-worth.

There are several signs of emotional abuse that a person can and should look out for. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, some signs of emotional abuse within a romantic or marital relationship to watch for include:

  • use of weapons as a means of threatening
  • withholding affection as a punishment
  • name calling, insulting, and continuous criticism
  • trapping a partner at home or preventing them from leaving
  • threatening to hurt children, pets, or other members of a partner’s family
  • demanding to know where a partner is every minute
  • refusing trust, such as by acting jealously or possessively-trying to isolate a partner from their family or friends
  • destruction of a partner’s property
  • gaslighting, or making a partner believe lies
  • monitoring where a partner goes, who they call, and who they spend time with-humiliating a partner
  • making accusations of cheating
  • jealousy of outside relationships
  • serially cheating on a partner and then blaming them for the behavior
  • attempting to control a partner’s appearance
  • cheating to “prove” that they are more desirable than a partner
  • telling a partner that they are lucky to be with them
  • telling a partner that they will not find anyone better

If a person spots any of these signs within their own relationship, they should seek help as soon as they are ready.

If a person suspects that a friend or family member is being subjected to emotional abuse, they can consult a healthcare professional for advice on how they can help.

Learn more about the signs of emotional abuse here.

Emotional abuse can be difficult for the person on the receiving end to accept. At first, they may be in denial that the person they are in a relationship with is engaging in emotionally abusive behavior. For example, they may start to feel:

  • shame
  • hopelessness
  • fear
  • confusion

As they deal with emotional effects of this, they may also start to feel some physiological effects of the abuse. These effects can include:

  • moodiness-aches and pains
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle tension

The longer the emotional abuse continues, the more prolonged these effects can become.

Emotional abuse, like physical abuse, can have long-term effects on the brain and body. In fact, according to one study, severe emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse and contribute to depression and low self-esteem.

The study also suggested that emotional abuse may contribute to the development of chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

In addition, a person may experience:

  • insomnia
  • chronic pain
  • social withdrawal or loneliness
  • guilt
  • anxiety
  • eventual feelings that their partner or parent is correct, and that they are “no good” or ugly, for example

Children experiencing emotional abuse may develop effects such as:

  • a core feeling of worthlessness
  • difficulty regulating emotions
  • difficulty establishing trust
  • regression
  • sleep disorders
  • trouble developing relationships with others

Effects on personal relationships

A person who is subjected to emotional abuse, either as a child or within a relationship, may be less likely to trust people in the future.

For example, as they grow up, children might seek negative relationships that may continue to expose them to emotional abuse.

A person who is subjected to emotional abuse within a relationship may have trouble getting close to others in the future.

As a child grows into adulthood, they might develop additional effects to those of the emotional abuse they experienced.

According to some research, children subjected to emotional abuse are more likely to develop toxic behavior and may choose poor relationships over healthy ones. They may also be more likely to experience emotional abuse again in their adult life.

There are also some long-term medical issues that can affect people subjected to emotional abuse. These include:

  • headaches
  • eating disorders
  • obesity-substance use disorders

In some cases, emotional abuse may lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A person who survives emotional abuse may not develop PTSD, but if they do, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • negative thoughts
  • angry outbursts
  • insomnia
  • nightmares

They may also be easily startled.

There are a lot of potential support networks a person could lean on. However, it is important to remember that everyone moves at their own pace. Some people may not feel ready to seek help at any given point.

Some ways to seek help without professional intervention include seeking advice from trusted family members or friends. For children, a trusted teacher or school counselor may be able to help.

Additionally, people who are ready to take the next step can reach out to support organizations. For example, the Domestic Abuse Hotline is available 24/7 to provide help for those experiencing emotional and other types of abuse.

There may also be other local organizations available in a person’s community, such as a place of worship or a community center.

Some people exposed to emotional abuse may want to speak to a professional psychologist or counselor. These professionals can help people deal with feelings of worthlessness often associated with emotional abuse.

It is important for a person who is currently experiencing or who has ever experienced emotional abuse to know that the abuse is never their fault.

In some cases, a partner may even be using emotional abuse to prevent the person from leaving or seeking help.

Some tips for healing and recovery include:

  • getting adequate rest
  • eating a balanced diet
  • becoming more physically active
  • reaching out for help from family members, friends, or a health professional
  • reaching out socially to others, such as friends or coworkers
  • volunteering

Emotional abuse is never the fault of the person experiencing it. It can cause both long-term and short-term consequences for people subjected to it.

Children who have been subjected to emotional abuse may continue to feel its effects into adulthood. These effects could include extremely low self-esteem, seeking bad relationships, and other physical or mental effects.

There are resources available for people who experience emotional abuse to seek help.