Long-term Effects of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Abuse isn’t always about bruises, black eyes, and trips to the emergency room. Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse, and is likely to leave the victim with life-long psychological problems. A victim of emotional abuse may suffer from some or all of the side effects listed here.

<strong>Low Self- Esteem</strong>

The emotional abuser is notorious for making the victim feel insecure and unworthy of love. Abusers convince their victims that they are fat, lazy, stupid, incompetent, ugly and unwanted. If a victim of emotional abuse hears those insults enough, she begins to believe them. She wonders if she has any worth to herself or anyone else. It can take years of extensive therapy to free the victim from the negative feelings she harbors.

<strong>Insecurity</strong>
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If a victim of emotional abuse manages to escape her abuser, she often has trouble functioning on her own. She wonders about her ability to manage a checkbook, buy groceries, or even care for her own children. The abuser has made her feel so incompetent she is reluctant to take the necessary steps to function independently.

<strong>Inability to Trust</strong>

An emotionally abused person loses the ability to trust. When a relationship breaks down as the result of emotional abuse, the victim loses trust in the person who was supposed to love her. She begins to ask herself if she can trust anyone, including relatives and close friends. Re-establishing the ability to trust can be a long process, and usually requires the intervention of a health care professional.

<strong>Denial</strong>
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Denial is common in people who are emotionally abused. Victims have difficulty admitting they are being abused if their abuser is not physically assaulting them. Some victims question their own sanity when the abuser denies the abuse, or responds to accusations with kind word or a gentle touch. This is all part of the abuser’s plan to maintain control of his victim. Women often choose to remain in emotionally abusive relationships because they can’t admit that abuse is taking place.

<strong>Extreme Stress</strong>

The stress of long-term emotional abuse can cause physical symptoms. Tension headaches, panic attacks, tense muscles in the neck, back and shoulders, and an overall feeling of poor health, are all symptoms that can be attributed to emotional abuse. A trip to the physician is advised if physical symptoms persist. Physicians can make referrals to other professionals who might be able to offer assistance to the victim.

Emotional abuse can happen to anyone. Men can also find themselves in an emotionally abusive relationship. Though circumstances vary, emotionally abusive relationships are damaging and destructive. The effects of such a relationship can cause hardships for victims long after the relationship is over.

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